What I am reading this week

I continue to believe the maxim that if we are to lead well, we must read well. In fact, I read with keen interest in Harvard Business Review the sad decline of reading in America and around the world.

Note how many business titans are or have been avid readers. According to The New York Times, Steve Jobs had an “inexhaustible interest” in William Blake; Nike founder Phil Knight so reveres his library that in it you have to take off your shoes and bow; and Harman Industries founder Sidney Harman called poets “the original systems thinkers,” quoting freely from Shakespeare and Tennyson. In Passion & Purpose, David Gergen notes that Carlyle Group founder David Rubenstein reads dozens of books each week. And history is littered not only with great leaders who were avid readers and writers (remember, Winston Churchill won his Nobel prize in Literature, not Peace), but with business leaders who believed that deep, broad reading cultivated in them the knowledge, habits, and talents to improve their organizations.

Whenever I meet with a couple for premarital counseling, one of the first questions I ask is, “What have you been reading lately about marriage?” What do you think most of these couples said to me? Nothing.

Reading is critical to spiritual, intellectual, spiritual and emotional growth. If you are a writer, you must be a reader.

Here are a few things I am reading these days:

5 Disciplines of a Growing Marriage
My wife and I wrote this book, and we highly recommend it to seasoned couples, to new couples, even singles who are thinking about getting married.

The Meaning of Marriage
An excellent book, written by Pastor Tim Keller and his wife, Kathy.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
Though not written from a Christian perspective, this book by John Gottman is loaded with powerful insights for couples who desire to have a flourishing marriage.

I would also encourage you to read the bible. I tell couples that many if not all the books written about marriage find their ideas from Scripture. Read well, if you want to lead well

So what you are you reading this week? Share your comments below.

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Three Powerful Words

Forgivness

More than I care to admit, I often find myself in a state of conflict with my wife over something that I did, or she did.

Depending on what’s going on, sometimes the problem quickly dissipates, and we thankfully move on. But there are moments when we get stuck. Being stuck in ongoing conflict is draining and unhealthy.

We frequently remind ourselves that our marriage is a relationship between two imperfect people and a perfect God. Even at our best, we are weak, sinful and broken. There will be times when negative and less than desirable attitudes surface, resentments harden, and the once loving and excited couple becomes disillusioned, even wondering, why did we get married?

If this is where you are in your relationship, let me encourage you to use three powerful words to nudge your relationship toward a healthier place.

Please Forgive Me

These words travel in three directions.

Inward
First, these words say something about the condition of your heart. You are ready to lay down your weapons of pride, defensiveness, and hardness of heart.

It says that you are repentant, humble and willing to do whatever it takes to change you. You are no longer looking at the other person and what they are saying, how they are behaving, or reacting. You are taking responsibility for you; you recognize your need for personal change.

Outward
Second, these words say something about your attitude toward the other person.

When a marriage is in trouble, the marital pain is never one-sided. Saying I am sorry is recognizing that you played a part in the problems in your home.

You are acknowledging that it doesn’t matter who is right or wrong. You are more concerned about how the other person is feeling.

Upward
When you say, please forgive me, it is also a prayer to the Lord of your marriage. You have not only sinned against your spouse by what you have done and left undone, but you have also sinned against your God.

Good news
The gospel tells us that we are sinners, but through Christ, God has done something about the sins, the weaknesses and the flaws that impact our lives. Ephesians. 4:32: God in Christ has forgiven us; Christ loves us. Christ gave himself up for us as a sacrifice for our sins.

By focusing on the gospel, you discover a source of power, strength, energy, hope, resolve to be a different person.

You are able to imitate God. God gives you the power to live a life of love; God gives you the ability to be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving toward the other person.

Through the gospel, you discover a new willingness to sacrifice, give up your right for the sake of the other person. This act of giving up oneself for the benefit of the other is the heart of the gospel.

Paul applies this giving up of oneself to husbands: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. The model for love is based on the gospel of Jesus who loves us and gave himself up for us.

Let’s say it another way: saying “please forgive me,” being kind and tenderhearted, forgiving, are byproducts of Jesus at work in our hearts.

The Holy Spirit’s ministry is to take truths about Jesus and make them clear to our minds and real to our hearts—so real that they console and empower and change us at our very center.

What other strategies do you use to resolve conflict in your relationship?

Check out our newest resource to encourage you in your marriage!
5 Disciplines for a growing marriage: Falling in Love Again.

Ordering Your Private World

Integrity

For me, Ordering Your Private World (OYPW) is one of the best books I have read in the last thirty-years on what it means to live with integrity, authenticity, and openness to the Spirit of God, as a father, husband, pastor and human being.

Warning: Do not read this book if you prefer to live unruffled at the level of mediocrity. OYPW shatters our propensity to live with private and public selves. We spend time propping up the public self for many reasons: it’s good for business; we can create a persona that makes people shower us with accolades, or deep down we are afraid of what people might think if they actually saw us from the inside out.

This explains why many of us ignore the private world—that uncharted region of the soul that no one actually sees—that we don’t even know, except for our Creator. But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” I Samuel 16:7.

Not long ago a young woman told me how surprised she was at the many fans and followers who loved and adored her much-acclaimed father. She later remarked, “I don’t understand why they love him so; he’s a different person at home.”

OYPW helps the reader integrate these often-divergent worlds so that the follower of Christ might be “holy,” in the real and complete sense of the word.

Do not read this book if you are afraid of being challenged in several key areas of your life.

•I’m living at too fast a speed.
•I am awash in too many choices, and I’m not good at saying no.
•I’m overwhelmed by the complexities of my organization.
•I compare myself to other people…and I always feel like I lose.
•I think that technology and talent can solve my problems, but they can’t.
•I am tempted to think that all I have to do is preach to people and they come around.
•I have not expected the force of the anti-faith culture I’m living in.
•I am not seeking times of deep reverence, prayer, in the presence of Jesus.
•I fritter away my time on things that do not matter in the eyes of God.
•I live with self-pity instead of dwelling in the full and rich grace of God.
•I want to stop living with secrets, lies, and fears.

But do read this book if you are interested in growing in grace and in the knowledge of Christ.

Do read this book if you are ready to live a life with significance and steward the time you have on this earth.

If you are a pastor, parent, man, woman, teenager, believer, unbeliever, or just a person seeking to harness your gifts, your time, your energy in full-hearted devotion to Christ, then this is the book to read or in some cases, re-read.

What’s your greatest challenge in ordering your inner private life with your outer public life?

3 Strategies For Saving Your Marriage

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5 Disciplines small groupOur Books

Marriage is both the sweetest and the toughest experience a couple will ever undertake. When a marriage is in a sweet, harmonious spot, and things are working according to plan, it is a beautiful thing to see.
But when that same marriage stumbles or the couple lose their way, there is nothing more painful than watching a marriage implode.

In this post, I want to share three strategies that will help you rescue your marriage from misery and possibly even divorce.
During our thirty-four years of marriage and counting, Judith and I have had our highs and lows. But very early in our relationship, we embraced a few life-giving strategies.

Reconnect with God

Problems in a marriage belie not just a failure to communicate or other psychological problems between two people, but a spiritual problem with God. If you are trapped in the cycle of never-ending conflict remember this core idea:
For those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen (I John 4:20).

In other words, it is rather hypocritical for me to claim that I love this God whom I have never seen, but then show utter contempt for the woman who sleeps on the bed next to me.

Reach out to a believing community
Despite the heavy usage of social media as a form of connection and friendship, people are lonely. Couples are afraid to open up and share their struggles out of fear of rejection and shame. Our hyper-individualized culture makes us think that we can make it on our own. The result is some couples find themselves isolated and overwhelmed by life. Fearing rejection and shame, they have little support or advocates who challenge and speak into their lives. Consider forming a 5 Disciplines small group (check here for resources on forming a group) for intentional sharing, support, and change. And then find a local church and begin forming friendships with other couples. In our church in Evanston, we have a Building Strong Relationships class designed to encourage couples at all stages.

Revisit your vows
If possible, go back to the day of your wedding and try to remember what you felt on that day. Try to remember not just the bells and whistles, the beautiful clothing, food, and music, but try to remember your vows. May you said the following:

“I, [name], take you [name], to be my [husband/wife], to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.

You didn’t commit to something that was easy. Your vows predicted that tough and painful times would come, but you promised to stay faithful to each other. Strength comes through pain and struggle. Ask the Lord to help you remain faithful to your spouse.

Question: What are you doing to sustain a strong marriage?

The Blame Game

Ray's Blog

Marriage is not for the faint of heart. It is heavenly when a couple lives in peace and harmony.

But when heaven comes crashing back to earth, couples find themselves playing a variety of survival games.

One that I am quite familiar with is the blame game. The game goes something like this: if only he would get his act together; or if only she would get her act together, we would have a better marriage.

What’s wrong with that approach? Well, we cannot forget that whenever a relationship breaks down, both people contributed to the breakdown.

This game is toxic and eventually, destroys the quality of the marriage.

In my pastoral work, I often meet with couples trapped in this game. One of the ways I help couples end this vicious game is to have them “look in the mirror.”

By looking in the mirror, or examining your role in the struggle, you take your eyes off the other person; what they do or don’t do, what they say, how they act and react, and you place the focus on yourself.

This act of self-examination means “I take responsibility for my part in creating difficulties in our home.”

Instead of trying to fix your spouse, look at yourself. Take the log out of your eyes before trying to remove the speck from the other person’s eye (Matthew 7:5).

Question: What other games do you, or other couples play? (Answer with a comment below)

Family Priorities

Ray's Blog

One day I came home from participating in a memorial service and I happened to turn the TV on and caught the tail end of a documentary about the life of Lawrence Taylor (or “LT”, as he was known by his fans).

Lawrence Taylor is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for being one of the greatest defensive linemen ever to play in the NFL.

The part that I caught was a scene at his daughter’s wedding. He walked her down the aisle and for the entire wedding LT wept like a baby. His head was bowed, eyes closed and the tears bathed his face.

Later on, he looked into the camera and expressed nothing but regret. Regret that he was not present for his wife, and his kids. He felt horrible that he had missed the most important times in their lives.

I felt bad for him. And I remember saying a prayer that LT would know the comfort of God’s forgiveness and grace.

As he struggled under the weight of regret, I started doing a quick inventory of my relationship with my wife and children.

I am not an NFL player. But I am in a line of work, where, if I am not careful, my work can become something of a mistress and a competitor for my wife and children.

In no way am I better than LT, but here are four safeguards that I and my wife have tried to build into our lives over the years:

  1. Our children didn’t ask to come into the world. So we felt a loving obligation to care for them.
  2. Our careers, while important to us, does not define us.
  3. I know this sounds strange, but we also do not make our children the most important part of our lives. God loves our children more than we could ever love them, and Judith and I were here before they got here.
  4. We set priorities and try to live into them:

First:  Jesus Christ is Lord over everything in the Hylton home.
Second: Faithfulness in our marriage is non-negotiable.
Third: Build healthy communication with our children
Fourth: Commitment to excellence in our jobs.

Communication

Ray's Blog

For the longest while, I thought I was good at communication. What I later found out was that I was good at talking and horrible at listening.
Communication is not just speaking; it is listening. In fact, if we don’t listen well, we will never communicate well.
So I want to share with you my top ten commandments for good communication.

Ten Commandments of Good Communication

1. I shall listen and not interrupt while the other speaks.
2. I shall not bring up past events to shame or belittle.
3. I shall not walk away in the middle of a conversation.
4. I shall not shout at your spouse or use sarcasm.
5. I shall not accuse/blame your spouse of wrongdoing
6. I shall not use silence to avoid communication: don’t go through the day without talking to each other.
7. I shall not use profanity with your spouse.
8. I shall speak the truth in love: disclosing my wants, feelings, and thoughts.
9. I shall remember that my spouse is not a mind reader.
10. I shall not go through a day without complimenting my wife.

Question: Which of these commandments do you need to work on?