Monday, February 28, 2011

Growing in Christ

Go to my sweeten life web page for teachings and videos on building great relationships.

Differences, Conflict and Divorce

The number of children being reared in one parent homes is a national crisis. Divorce leads to a feeling of rejection in the children, poverty for the mother and her kids and a lifetime of misery for most of the adults affected.

This post will focus on the main causes of divorce and what we can do about curing those causes. A few posts ago I talked about the research of Dr. John Gottman, a Psychologist that has spent decades trying to unravel the answer of couple failure. He is pretty sure he has gotten great, applicable insights into why most people divorce and what can keep them together.

The big reason folks do not stay together is an inability to deal effectively with difference between them. The differences do not have to be big or important. It is not the name or type of difference but the style of handling them that counts.

I have often seen lists from therapists and preachers offering the biggest reasons people divorce. They usually include sex, money, in-laws and so on. But according to Dr. Gottman, it is not the content but the process that gets people in trouble. For example, in his research he hooks a couple up to a brain wave machine and asks them to discuss a common activity of the family. Some choose a movie to see, a trip to the zoo or when to have sex. Then he observes what they DO and how they do it.

If the couple handles the discussion of differences in one of three ways, Gottman says they will live together for years. However, if they habitually choose a toxic approach, he thinks they have a very high likelihood of separation and divorce. Some partners never argue but stop the discussion whenever feelings get raw. That marriage will likely last.

Other couples talk every though and feeling thought carefully with great detail and do not get upset. This is the style usually recommended by counselors. However, it is not the only successful style. They will probably stay together.

The third style is feisty and volatile but not attacking. they will make it.

Here is the toxic, divorce producing style: Attack and Hurt Your Partner. Putting each other down, criticism or contempt is a series of ways we can lose our partner.

Next time we will look at the various styles of attack and how to stop them.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Power Thinking

Taking charge of your mind can lead to new habits of thinking and a new sense of peace. One of our Foundational Equipping classes helps believers apply a well known passage of scripture. I grew up in a church that believed in the Bible from genesis to maps and that included the index for some. But we all had a problem; none of us knew how to apply the biblical principles in real life.
For example, I heard this Bible verse of Jesus being quoted a lot. Preachers loved to bear down on it and used it to urge us to memorize the Bible. You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free! John 8:32
Any strong Bible based preacher can go off on that verse for a number of sermon topics. They can wend their way up the mountain of holiness and righteous living and right back down the valley of despair and sin. They would be able to tell us horror stories and tales of tragedy to show us what happens when people fail to understand the truth. The truth was should we run into any problem or temptations in life Bible memorization would be our escape hatch. We would rise and sing…

The B-I-B-L-E
That’s the book for me!
I stand alone on the word of God
The B-I-B-L-E!

Let me say before wandering off the subject that I agree with this verse and believe it points us to enormous power for healing, deliverance and freedom. But one thing was unfortunately left out of most preachers’ teaching: It is not enough to memorize the truth; we must also learn how to experience and apply the truth.

The term TRUTH in this passage is used in the Bible to mean sexual intercourse that led to pregnancy. When the scripture says that Abraham “knew” his wife Sarah, it does NOT mean that he read a book about her or even that he memorized hr vital statistics.

In the same way, to KNOW the truth means to experience, live in and apply the truth. In fact, the context of this verse says that Jesus is talking about more than Bible memory. Verse 31: “If you abide in my word you are truly my disciples”. Abide is to live in and feed on my word like a branch on a vine. Christianity and Christian truth are living, vital, growing and impacting. They are not static!

How Does One Know the Truth?

I was not taught much about how to abide in the truth. Jesus is The Way, The Truth and The Light! But I never heard anyone suggest a way to actually abide on Christ until I was an adult of 30 years. At this time I am going to share a simple but difficult way to start abiding in The Truth.

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. ROMANS 12:1

It is a remarkable thing to read that St. Paul considers true worship to be offering our work, our fellowship and play as well as our romantic lives to God daily. What happened to the notion that reading the Bible, attending church and evangelizing our neighbors was real worship? He destroys it in one sentence. The he says something else that challenges our way of thinking.

2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. ROMANS 12:2

This focus on our mind seems secular, fleshly and sinful to a lot of Christians. Aren’t we supposed to forget the mind, stop thinking and going to school and be spiritual? Nope. Just the opposite. Give our mind and our brain to worship God all day every day.

Most of us need some simple, easily remembered principles to follow if we are really going to break old habits and start new ones. In order to start a diet and lose weight I need to stop old ways of eating and start new habits. The same is true of thinking patterns. We have developed very strong habits about the ways we think about life from the world around us. As St. Paul says, “Stop thinking like the world and start thinking like Jesus.

For example, the Bible exhorts us to remember that we can have perfectly developed peace if we keep our minds focused on Jesus. Many people were reared to have anxious thoughts and fearful ways of thinking that lead them to have sleepless nights and harried days. The answer is to focus on the love and presence of God and stop worrying, but that is quite difficult and may take months to accomplish.
What is an Emotion?

Emotions have four parts. So, when I feel nervous, anxious and fearful for no reason we must analyze what is causing the worry so we can change it and find perfect peace. Here is the secret: Are you ready to see it? The four parts of Feelings are:

Activating Events
Belief System
Consequential Feelings
Decisive Behavior

There are two of these that I cannot change directly and two parts I can change directly. I cannot change external Activating Events. When the Middle Eastern Muslim nations began to flare up many people got very worried. The Muslim revolts are Acts that I cannot change. When I think and ruminate on how awful that is and what will happen to oil prices I think of higher prices and how much money it will cost to drive and those thoughts make me worried. Because I was worried I stopped driving so much. The Activating Events (Revolts) did not make me worried but my Beliefs about the Events did make me worried. And, the Feelings caused me to stop driving and that was a Decisive Behavior.

A=Revolts in the Middle East
B=This will cause higher gas prices
C= Fear, Worry, Anxiety
D= Stop driving so much

The Bible is the most powerful book on psychology and behavior ever written. I am forever amazed at how insightful and healing it is to know and follow the Bible. The key is to know and apply the truth that sets us free. For more on how to “Take every thought captive to the mind of Christ" watch a video where Cyndi Wineinger and I teach the basic components of Power Thinking. It is all in the "How to Have a Peaceful Heart in a Stressful World” video. Our notes for the video are also available.

So, taking charge of your mind can lead to new habits of thinking and peace.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Building a Better Relationship with God

Building a lifetime of great relationships

This means our ongoing relationship with God as well as with self and our neighbors. On Monday night, February 28 we will have a workshop on Spiritual Disciplines or "How to build a better relationship with God". I hope we can see you there and build a relationship with you as well as God.

Preparation for the workshop.

“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” – Colossians 1:9

Following his graduation from Boston University in 1923, Raymond Edman arrived in Ecuador as a missionary. Two years later, the 25 year old American had contracted a rare tropical disease and was dying. He was so near death that the villagers had already dug his grave. His wife dyed her dress black for his funeral. He had great beads of sweat on his brow and there was a death rattle in his throat. But one night, he suddenly sat straight up in bed and said to his wife, "Bring me my clothes!" Nobody knew what had happened to cause this miraculous change of events.

Edman recovered and eventually became the president of Wheaton College.

Many years after his time in Ecuador, he was retelling the story in Boston. Afterward, a lady with a small, dog-eared, beaten-up book, approached him and asked, "What day did you say you were dying? What time was it in Ecuador? What time would it be in Boston?" When he answered her, her wrinkled face lit up. Pointing to her book, she said, "There it is, you see? At 2 a.m. God said to get up and pray - the devil's trying to kill Raymond Edman in Ecuador." And she'd gotten up and prayed.

Don’t just pray once for someone, keep on praying for them. Today in prayer, lift up to the Lord someone who needs your prayers.

“Pray often.” – John Bunyan

God’s Word: “I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.” – 2 Timothy 1:3

What is in your prayer journal? Dreams, visions, words, answers? What might be added Saturday?


Gary Sweeten

See Sweeten Life Systems for more resources.

Contact the Lifeway Health Initiative to register.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Hiders, Fighters and Lovers in Marriage

Building a lifetime of great relationships.

Dr. John Gottman has done research with couples for almost three decades. He has focused a lot of his studies on how couples deal with differences between them. And, there are many differences between them.

He has concluded several things but allow me to mention one. Gottman is convinced that a couple can manage their differences in three positive ways and one very toxic and dangerous way. The three healthy ways lead to long term marriages of satisfaction and functionality but the toxic process almost inevitably leads to divorce.

I. Some couples deal with differences and the conflict they cause by Avoiding each other and the topic of disagreement until things cool down. They says things such as, "Our marriage is so much more important than any small difference of opinion".

In one family, the man would go down to his workshop and the wife would sew. They might never mention the conflict again but simply stay committed to each other despite the difference.

II. Other couples are Volatile and like to argue. They disagree all the time and argue about many small, insignificant issues. However, the arguments do not get personal. They tend to stay focused on the details of the disagreement not the personal characteristics of their mate.

III. Lastly is the style that a lot of Counselors and Relationship Coaches suggest. It can be called, "the Lovers Style" because they talk everything through and share all their feelings and thoughts until they agree. This style eshausts every topic until there is little left to say.

What style did your parents use to disagree? Did they like to hide their disagreements by going to the workroom or kitchen until it blew over? Or did the like to dialogue about things in a deeply sharing manner? Some of your parents liked to keep things interesting and exciting by arguments.

Fill in this blank: My parents dealt with disagreements by _____________.

How about you and your spouse? We handle disagreements by _______________.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Christmas Food Court Flash Mob, Hallelujah Chorus - Must See!

Why Do Christians Try to Rescue Others?

I am getting a lot of great comments on Face Book about the last post on the need to equip the church congregations to minister hope, healing and change to people in pain. One lady said that church members need to be taught how to be a Paraclete and "Come alongside people in pain". She indicated that far too many folks try to change the person in pain not support them.

I could not agree more. I know so well from my own addiction to trying to rescue people in pain. I was so committed to being a "HERO" that I constantly looked for Victims to rescue. Why? I needed them to need me!

Did you hear about the man who pushed people into the lake by his house because he loved to rescue them? Or about the Boy Scout who lost his merit badge because he insisted on leading old ladies across the street even if they did not want to go?

As Pogo the Possum said, "I have met the enemy and it is me!"

I am better now. But I am still tempted to rescue people. I feel "ashamed" if I say "NO" to requests to be a hero. Please pray for me. And, download and read my book Hope and Change for Humpty Dumpty from the Sweeten Life web page.It is my confession of an awful addiction that many Christian Ministers have and Christian Counselors have in spades.

Conflict is Inevitable

There are few marriages that are conflict free. In fact, there are few relationships that are conflict free. The Bible says it this way:

James 3
Taming the Tongue

1 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.

5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.


So, if we humans are essentially uncontrollable in what we say, conflict is inevitable. How many times have we opened our moth, inserted a foot and wished we had kept silent? Or, as some tend to do, give our mate the "silent treatment"? A cold shoulder is as painful and difficult as a sharp tongue.

Proverbs reminds us that "Death and life are in the power of the tongue." How we treat each other either builds up or tears down the ones we love. As the old song says, "We only hurt the ones we love..." Conflict, fighting and interpersonal pain is so awful because we care so deeply about our partner.

One time Don Paisley and I were attending a concert in Indy when we passed a very drunk stranger on the side walk. He stopped, looked at me and began to call me some very bad names. He also so included my mother in the diatribe. I was not upset, hurt or angry. Why? Because I knew he was drunk stranger who did not know me. However, had it been my wife I would have been deeply offended.

Those we love can hurt us much more deeply than a stranger. That is why family conflict is so painful and far too often ends in a divorce. In fact, in many marriages, the couple continues to fight many years after the divorce. Why? Because they are still deeply enmeshed with each other.

So, conflict is inevitable because we care so much.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Why Do We Not Prevent Divorces?

What causes most divorces is pretty well known. Researchers such as John Gottman has studied couples in his laboratories for several decades by hooking them up to brain wave machines while the discussed a family situation. He says he can tell in a very short time which couples will stay the course and which ones will bail out.

I suspect you wonder how he can be so precise. I did. Then I read his famous book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail. Now I understand how he did it.

In that and other books Dr. Gottman explains what happens when a couple attempts to plan a simple vacation or how to discipline a child. If they do not have the skills of communication, problem solving and conflict management, the discussion will turn into "Toxic Conflict".

There are four styles of conflict management: Three that work and one that is toxic and a huge failure. The good news is this: Churches can and need badly to teach couples how to handle conflict in ways that build the family rather than destroy it. Unfortunately, very few have any sort of premarital preparation, let alone preparation that focuses on managing differences.

Prevention is fairly simple but it is not easy. The least we can do is start by teaching the Gottman skills. Get my book, Listening for Heaven's Sake and ask Equipping Ministries or some other ministry to train you how to do premarital prep. That would be a great start to preventing couple break ups.

Monday, February 14, 2011

More on Couple Conflicts

I am in a good number of discussions about divorce and dysfunctional families in America. Everybody is a critic but so very few are producing any ways to slow down the pain and panic that leads to divorce.

What about the Pastors and leaders who deride couples for giving up on their marriages but do little or nothing to prepare young couples for the stresses and strains that come with "Til death do we part." I get pretty frustrated with those who have an opportunity to prepare couples but do not do it.

I saw a famous marriage and family teacher on TV the other night. The commentator asked him to name the main cause of divorce and he was predictable but wrong. In fact, most clergy are wrong when they offer insights about divorce prevention. Most of them say it is a "Lack of commitment". I disagree.

Dr. John Gottman, a Psychologist and researcher about all things marriage wise, has studied marriages and divorce for decades. He says it is not wobbly commitment but an inability to understand and resolve DIFFERENCES. And their are some big differences between men and women.

"She says tomato and I say tomahto".

Couples who figure out how to deal with differences and enjoy each other stay married. Period.

Friday, February 11, 2011

People Skills Count Most

One of the most important things I ever learned had to do with mastering people skills. It matters little what the job is or what the context is, if people are involved the key is understanding them and getting along with them.

The book you see here, Hope and Change for Humpty Dumpty, is focused on teaching people how to relate with others and be a positive influence on them. Go to my web for a free download of the book. If you want to influence others as a manager, a leaders or a minister, it is the book for you.

I have failed many times at interpersonal relations. Despite my commitment to listening, understanding and respecting people I still fail at it and I regret it. It is one of the things that drives me to keep learning and growing in relating to others with understanding and mercy.

I read an interesting interview in the Wall Street Journal Fins Section of a top executive from IBM tonight who agreed with my assessment of the importance of communication, problem solving and conflict management.

IBM's Bridget van Kralingen, 47, runs a $40 billion business, accounting for 40% of total revenue at the computer services and software giant.

Van Kralingen was appointed general manager of North America a year ago and is based in New York. She began her career at Deloitte Consulting in Cape Town in 1989, joining IBM in 2004 to run its global financial services business out of London. Born in the U.K., she spent 15 years with Deloitte, mostly in South Africa with a brief stint in New York from 1997 to 1999.

FINS spoke with her about meritocracy, how to boost morale among sales teams and her boss, Ginni Rometty, No. 8 on Fortune magazine's 2010 list of Most Powerful Women in Business.

SP: How do you suggest people get used to working with different cultures and teams?

BvK: Two things. First, go in with the stance of listening before you jump to conclusions or take an approach that may have worked in the place you worked before.

Secondly, go ahead and ask about leadership style in the place you're in. Ask your team, your peers.

SP: What would you advise someone going into sales as a career?

BvK: We sell around solutions rather than products now. So you need to have the skills to consult and understand.

It's not just the selling and solutioning, but also delivery. We're in an era of analytics and making sense of data.

Wherever you go and whatever you do, interpersonal skills of Genuineness, Respect, Empathy and Warmth are critically important. Go to our web page and download the Humpty Dumpty book. Take a look at the skills and start using them at home, school and work. They will save you a lot of time, energy and pain.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Christian Growth Under Communism

My friend Dr. Richard Kidd, a member of the Sweeten Life Systems Board, sent me the following remarks. It coincides nicely with my experience in the former USSR where our ministry of equipping Christian leaders is growing and getting stronger. This is despite the strong persecution of Christians who actually want to live out their faith in daily life.

I ran across this quote in Rodney Stark’s What Americans Really Believe. Nothing fundamentally new here but started in a ‘stark’ fashion that drives the point:

“By far the most interesting data in this table are those for the former Soviet bloc. For more than seventy years atheists controlled the Soviet state and enforced an official policy of atheism. Beginning in the first year of school, and
each year all the way through college, students in the Soviet Union were required to take a course in atheism.

Following World War II, when the Soviets took control of the nations of Eastern Europe, a similar system of atheist education was imposed. Year after year, students were rehearsed in all the angry anti-religious arguments to be found in recent tracts
such as Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion.

And it wasn't merely education that atheism had going for it in the Soviet bloc. There was intense discrimination against religious people- if you wanted to have a good job, you professed atheism. If you were too intensely or too overtly religious, you might get sent to a hard-labor camp or even be killed. The result? In Russia itself the score is: God 96 percent, atheism 4 percent, precisely the same as in the United States. Nor did the atheism campaign do significantly better anywhere in the rest of the old Soviet bloc.

In his very recent book, The Plot to Kill God: Findings from the Soviet Experiment in Secularization, Paul Froese demonstrates the utter ineptitude of the Soviet efforts to instill atheism. In part the educational program made no progress because it was staffed by, and the teaching materials were prepared by, people who knew next to nothing about religion. The assumption was that since religion is nonsense, there is nothing much one needs to know to refute it. Hence, what the atheism faculty regarded as unanswerable criticisms of faith were, in fact, quite elementary matters of theology and easily refuted by the average church-goer.”

Here is my view of such things. God cannot be stopped. Those who persecute Christians end up destroying themselves and others. As Tertullian said, "The blood of martyrs is seed for the church." When missionaries left China in 1949 there were 2 to three million Christians. Now there are over 100,000,000.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Jesus and Civility

There has been a lot written recently about the need for civility. Much of the furor and hand wringing came about when a very sick young man shot and killed six people and severely wounded a politician.

When something happens to a politician the media and other politicians take up the cry to stop selling guns and stop politicians on the other side from talking. Such gnashing of teeth and wailing is short lived and done mostly for selling papers and getting a political advantage. In some ways, it leads to even more uncivil talk and even greater polarization in our nation.

But I am convinced that Jesus would be unhappy with the ways we talk about each other and the ways we make villains out of those we differ with. Jesus had a lot to say about such things and I think it is wiser than anything written by a modern therapist or politician.

Jesus described the problem better than anyone I have ever read. Why? because He differentiated different levels of anger, conflict and personal attacks. This is not something that I have seen anyone else do in the weeks since the shooting rampage.

Here is a great and very accurate teaching that is practical and helpful from Jesus.

Matthew 5:21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.

Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca, is answerable to the court.

And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Read and tell me why this is not the greatest teaching on relationships ever written.