It Was An Accident

When you reach for a knife to cut the potatoes, be sure you’re in the right spiritual frame of mind. Picking up a knife to cut the potatoes is routine enough. But if you’re angry or distracted or guilty because you’re not supposed to be eating potatoes, unless you’re extra careful, you’re more likely to have an accident. Same goes for reaching for a glass of grape juice or holding someone over a ledge as a joke. Regular, everyday routines can turn ugly quick with the wrong frame of mind.

I’m working on thinking positive and staying attentive to the present moment. That’s where the miracles are.

Philippians 4:4 “Finally, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whtever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.


Why I Can’t Accept Compliments

There are times when I hear a preacher preach, a musician perform, or a comedian stand up. To be completely honest, they did a good job. Not great, not incredibly inspiring to me personally, but good. When I shake their hand afterwards, I lie and tell them what a wonderful job they did and how moved I was by their efforts, and how I’m going to tell all my friends to watch their You Tube….

I try not to do it, but chalk it up to me just being too nice.

The thing is, if I do that to other people, someone is invariably doing the same to me.

“Really powerful sermon, pastor. I felt like the Spirit was talking directly to me.”

Call it vain, but that’s nice to hear. Also important to remember that there will always be people who are exaggerating the compliments for whatever reason. Compliments are the best, but they’re not meant to be taken literally.

I’m eternally grateful for the impact I make and the support I receive. But it’s important not to let the compliments inflate you too much.

The criticisms shouldn’t deflate you too much, either.

Five Years

There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Answer these questions for yourself–here are my answers:

What would you say to the person you were five years ago?

“No matter how audacious the 5 year plan you come up with, you’ll pretty much achieve it. And if you have little or no plan, you’ll achieve little or nothing. Either way, there’s no telling how hard it will be.”

What will you say to the person you’ll be in five years?

“You are the man in your own little world and all of that, but PLEASE be extra-vigilant about the traps of money, power and sex.”


Knowing What You Want

I want to be a professional athlete.

OK, gain about 40 pounds of muscle and keep it on for the next 10 years through diet and exercise; be prepared to spend about half the year away from home; and even if you have a sprained ankle or a concussion or a really bad argument with your spouse–none of those are good enough reasons not to show up and perform.

So do you really want to be a pro athlete, or do you just want to be rich and admired?

I want to have stronger faith…

Stronger faith is like anything else worth having–it comes at a price. Would you give 10% of your gross income to a church even when the numbers don’t add up? Would you drop a habit cold-turkey tomorrow and replace it with prayer? Will you listen to the voice of conscience in your head when it prompts you to apologize, forgive, walk away, or pick up the phone even those none of those things seems to make sens? Do you really want to have stronger faith, or do you just want to be rich and admired?

Beyond “Spiritual But Not Religious”

How many people do you know who identify as “Spiritual But Not Religious?”

My understanding of SBNR is that these people believe there is a God and a moral code that revolves around unconditional love. They want to live inspired lives of meaning and purpose and usually get a lot of satisfaction from helping people. They are spiritual, and that’s great.

But, for as much as they love God, seek wisdom, and strive to constantly improve, they just don’t feel comfortable identifying with a religion, especially Christianity in the U.S.A. Religion to them is about outdated traditions, empty rituals, ignoring scientific insights, money-hungry preachers, egotistical leaders, and pedophile priests. Besides, they figure, the average churchgoer is not demonstrably better-behaved or better-off than the average non-churchgoer. The only apparent difference is, if you don’t go to church, you get more of your weekend to yourself.

I’m a pastor, and even I have to admit, if I had to choose between being spiritual or being religious, I’d go with spiritual every time. Fortunately, though, I don’t have to choose. Because what is better than being one or the other is my decision to be both spiritual and religious.

Spirituality is the goal, and religion is the admittedly flawed, human-created vehicle that helps us achieve the goal. Religion can be a beautiful thing when it is practiced by spiritual people. Religion is what gives spiritual people an excuse to congregate and pool their resources for the greater good. Practicing religion encourages you to study scriptures, something most SBNRs wish they did more anyway. Going to a spiritual church, you will learn how to pray more effectively, be consistently inspired, get involved in community service, and meet an extended family who will help you however they can.

Granted, all churches aren’t created equal, but so what? By all means, if a church isn’t spiritual, stop going so that they either get spiritual or go out of business as quickly as possible. But for all the negative press and as unpopular as is sounds in today’s world, the best thing many spiritual seekers can do is get involved in a good church.

Butt Dialing God

“…pray continually…”
–I Thessalonians 5:17

You ever butt dialed someone before? You know, your phone is in your pocket or purse, and somehow, you call someone by accident. You didn’t realize you called them. More importantly, you have no idea that they are listening to your current conversation. Friendships have been ruined over this phenomenon.

I think we’ve all been guilty of butt dialing God. No matter how much or how little you pray, there are still moments most days where you are living life, times you’re just having a conversation, or losing your temper, or sneaking around trying to get away with something, and you’re not really not praying in those moments.

Except you are. If the person you just butt dialed hears you say something incriminating, you can’t go back later and say you didn’t really mean it. They caught you in a total moment of candor.

Similarly, even though you usually only talk to God with head bowed and eyes closed, anything you say over drinks, in your sleep, or in the heat of passion, God hears that too. And even though it’s kind of like you butt dialed instead of calling intentionally, you’re still making the bed you’ll have to lie in later. You can’t go back and tell God, “that’s not really who I am.”

“Every word is a prayer,
So in life’s small matters
Be greatly aware!”


Big Picture Analysis

I was sitting in some conference last month and the speaker pointed out that some of the most stressful things that can happen to you are:

-Having a parent die

-Starting a new career

-Moving to a new city

-Having a baby

It wasn’t until that moment that I realized that all four of those things happened to me in 2009.

He didn’t mention “standing powerless while your wife regularly reminds you she has no health insurance for the first half of the pregnancy,” but trust me, that can add to the stress level.

At least I made it through the year without getting struck by lightning…

The point is, I didn’t realize in the midst of it all that I had so many stresses piling on me, but in retrospect, it explains a lot.

If I had taken a step back and looked at all that was happening at the same time, maybe I would have been a little easier on myself and everyone else.

From time to time, we have to look at the big picture of our lives. Pastoring a church, it’s easy to get caught up in the week to week duties of writing sermons, teaching, administration, visiting, phone calls, and everything else, not to mention personal business and being a decent father and husband.

But I can’t be too busy with all of that to work on a vision for the church. Same with a family. Same with stress. Take a step back sometimes from the details and analyze the big picture. That’s the only way to change it.

When the Golden Rule Ain’t Enough

I was talking to a member of the congregation, and she asked me, “You ever have one of those days where you come home and want to just close the curtains, ignore the phone and just hide under the covers?”

She was asking rhetorically, but if she really wanted to know, I would have told her that I absolutely have days like that. And while she lives alone and can spend her evenings in solitude when she wants, shutting everyone out is much more difficult when you have a spouse and two young kids under the same roof.

Now hear me, because I’d be a fool to complain about having a beautiful wife and a healthy son and daughter, not to mention a job that takes a lot of mental and emotional effort to do well. I’m just making a point about the Golden Rule:

“Treat other people the way you want to be treated.” You find this idea is taught in most religions and ethical codes all over the world, and it makes a lot of sense. You want respect, give others respect. You want to be heard, try listening. It’s pretty solid.

Except when it’s not. The Golden Rule will get you far, but what about those days when you want to chat it up but those around you would rather be left alone? You feel like being talkative, so you talk. You’re treating the other person the way you would want to be treated. Only problem is, everyone doesn’t want to be treated the same way you want to be treated all the time.

Some people enjoy being made fun of by friends because the feel the love in it. Some others will wilt when they are the butt of a joke.

Your feelings aside, some people love, need, and expect you to be a drill sergeant, some people would resent you if you acted as such.

Sometimes, the Golden Rule ain’t enough.

In my former life as a sales pro, I came across an idea called the Platinum Rule. It says to treat others the way they want to be treated. I don’t think this concept is all the way better than the Golden Rule because the fact is, a lot of people don’t want to be challenged and a lot of people don’t know what they want from others anyway. But it is still worth considering. I may want to be left alone to watch the game, so I pop in an Elmo DVD in the other room to occupy my 2 year old. But he wants to play a game, and he’s tugging at my leg. In that instance, the way I want to be treated takes a backseat.

Sometimes, the Golden Rule Ain’t enough.

How to Help Haiti

Everyone knows about the 7.0 earthquake that rocked Port-au-Prince Tuesday, Jan. 12. There are a lot of people who want to do something to help, and that’s good. If you have some real technical expertise (search and rescue, civil engineering, master plumber/electrician, licensed contractor, doctor, nurse, etc.), please connect with a team that is going there and contribute that way if you can.

There may be a temptation to send supplies directly, but the airports and sea ports are facing a bottleneck, so what you send may be stuck in customs literally for months. This was the case even before the earthquake. 

Donating money to reputable charities working in the area is the best way to go.  Here are a few that I can endorse without hesitation:

American Red Cross– They promise 100% of these donations will go to help in Haiti.

Haiti Outreach Mission-They send doctors and construction teams to Haiti annually. I’ve worked with them directly.

Baptist World Alliance– My church will be channeling our contribution(s) through this org. Support for the baptist hospital, schools, and churches in and around Port-au-Prince. They already have a search and rescue team on the ground.

Project Medishare– I’ve worked as an interpreter for them. They sent 11 doctors to Haiti withing 24 hours of the quake and are accepting donations to support that team.

Partners in Health– Led by Paul Farmer. They’ve set up a triage unit about 2 hours outside the capital and are working around the clock.

Doctors Without Borders– These Nobel Peace Prize Laureates have had a legitimate and trusted presence in Haiti for years.

I was privileged to spend 2 years in Haiti with the Peace Corps. Even before the earthquake, the poverty and desolation there were heartbreaking. Now, I can’t imagine. This is an opportunityfor EVERYONE to do something to help these people. If your pastor doesn’t mention this on Sunday, you have my permission to slap him or her silly, hijack the collection plates, and raise some money for this cause.

Just kidding, but why not call a pastor before Sunday and ask “what are we going to do?”

Whether you go to church or not, we all have to ask ourselves that very question.

10 Ways to Stay Young

Well, I celebrated another birthday this week. It was a terrific day, but still, none of us can run from reality. I have more family and job responsibility than ever before, not to mention gray hair!

Don’t get me wrong, I think people tend to get better as they get older, and I’ve written before about how I’m looking forward to life after 60. Still, even though the years will continue to pile on, I’ve put together a few ways to stay young. It’s not about fighting the aging process, but rather, embracing it.

1. Smile/Laugh often. Are you smiling right now? In about 98% of the circumstances life throws at us, a smile is not an inappropriate response. I realize that smiling can make you feel good, rather than waiting until you feel good to smile. And laughter exercises the diaphragm, nervous system, and organs, burns calories,  and promotes healing.

2. Keep active. I still play basketball every week, and I hold my own with younger guys. Sports are mental as well as physical, and I find that wisdom and perseverance can beat superior athletic ability. Now, will I be dunking and taking charges at 60? No. But maybe I’ll pick up golf or jogging or horseshoes by then. Kids play all day. If you want to stay young, you gotta play.

3. Never refer to myself as “the pastor” or “we”. When I say we, I mean “we,” as in my wife and me or my staff and me, but I’ve heard clergy people use the royal we like, “we are honored to be invited to speak today.” Who’s we?  You came by yourself. Are you talking about you and your Cadillac? You and your cuff links? You (all) are just asking for dementia to set in.

4. Remember age is just a number. I woke up on my 32nd birthday feeling “old.” That bothered me until I remembered that I woke up on my 15th birthday feeling “old” too. Same with 23. None of those ages is really old, it’s just a state of mind. I knew a guy who when asked how he was doing, always said, “not bad for an old man.” He was in his fifties–not a young buck but still full of vitality. He died at 60. Not saying his words killed him, but they couldn’t have helped.

5. Play with my kids. Elmo, the Smurfs, Spiderman, The Wiggles, The Princess and the Frog, that pit full of multicolored balls–this is the life when you’re raising young kids. But instead of just throwing a Thomas the Tank Engine at my 2 year old, I get down and play with him. Seeing the world from his point of view helps me with these next 2 ways of staying young….

6. Use my imagination. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut and a professional wrestler and a fireman all at once. I used to pretend that my house was a spaceship and the bathroom was the control tower. In my mind, it took off from its foundation and I had lasers to fire at the enemies….When you get “old,” you are told to stop letting your imagination run wild, which is really a shame. Letting it run wild as an adult while staying grounded in reality is the only to accomplish great things.

7. Keep learning. One of the things that I’m most proud of is the fact that I’m educated. But saying “I’m educated” is one of the most dangerous things you can say, because it implies that you have finished learning. For their own good, we force kids to memorize and learn whether they want to or not, and it’s important to do the same for ourselves. “When you stay green, you grow, but when you get ripe, you die.”

8. Don’t take “no” for an answer. Rejection is a part of life, but sometimes, as I’ve learned from kids, a no can turn into a yes pretty quickly. If a kid wants a graham cracker and you say no, they can really be persistent about it until you realize that they want to have it more than you don’t want them to have it. Anyone who ever has to ask for anything could learn from that. Once you’re “old,” you assume the worst and don’t even bother to ask.

9. Get more discipline. Kids don’t know much, so we set their bed times, control their diets, monitor their TV intake, spending, wardrobes, and just about every other aspect of their lives. Without that discipline, they would be in pretty bad shape. One of the good things about being an adult is that no one can tell you what to do, but looking at some of our lives, maybe we need someone telling us what to do.

10. Release the past. Two kids get into a fight over something trivial in the morning, and they’re sharing an ice cream cone by lunch. Two adults get in to a fight over something trivial, and they never speak again. Accumulating emotional baggage will not keep you young. Let it go. You are the one weighed down by all the anger and resentment you feel toward another. The fact that you’re so pissed you can’t sleep or eat is not hurting that other person in the least.

11. Don’t let society constrict me. A kid will walk around naked without shame, eat desert first, invent words, and use a fork for a comb. In 2010, I promise to do all of those things at some point! I’ll always play by the rules when it counts, but if you’re always chasing what everyone else is chasing, it’s guaranteed you’re missing what everyone else is missing, too. Besides, where is it written that your top 10 list can’t have eleven?