Determined To Thrive

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For a season of my life I worked as a Pharmacy Technician in a local hospital while paying my way through college. My job was to fill prescription drug orders for inpatients. One of my assigned areas was the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. It was not uncommon to read on the patient record the diagnosis, FTT. FTT was short for Failure To Thrive. When a child is below a healthy weight and shows evidence of being underdeveloped he/she is given this diagnosis. Typically FTT is discovered during infancy and can be a result of any number of causes. What is interesting is that even if you have many healthy organs and normal operating systems, the entire person is still considered FTT.

Such is the case with many of us. We have areas in our lives where things are in order and operating in a healthy manner yet there is still that underlying issue that has consistently gone unaddressed and as a result we fail to thrive. Consider the potential impact of a toothache. Your heart, lungs and every major organ in your body could be operating perfectly. But an aching tooth could easily render you ineffective, distracted and uncomfortable. In the same way we must address as a lifestyle our wholistic health. What does it mean to thrive? To thrive is “to increase in stature; grow vigorously; to prosper in any undertaking.”

We are all familiar with the expression, “taking two steps forward and one back.” Thriving is about addressing the entire person. Thriving is about ensuring we continue taking steps forward and when we must take a step back it is part of an intentional strategy to exponentially and synergistically improve our lives. Thriving is about cultivating the entire person, specifically:

  • Spiritually because only a Biblically based value system and personal relationship with God is able to empower us in a way that stands the test of both time and eternity. Our value system cannot be built on the shaky foundation of culture, politics, race or socioeconomics. Only a foundation of truth is solid enough to not collapse under the weight of personal agenda, bigotry and injustice.
  • Physically because God still places his Spirit inside of a body. When we are sick, tired or out of shape it has an adverse effect on how we perform tasks and responsibilities. What I put in my body; where I take my body; Who I let touch my body and what I do with my body all impact to what extent I thrive.
  • Emotionally because it is unhealthy to ignore our emotions and they’re ability to be used by God to assist us in decision making. Although we should not make emotional decision we should also not make decisions before we have taken the time to inventory, assess and address our feelings. Grief, anger, fear, joy, trust are all God given. Learning to process our emotions is a necessary practice.
  • Socially because relationships matter. The state of our family matters, as do our friendships and casual fellowships. Those we spend time with have a powerful and valuable “banking property.” We give them “card access” to our time, feelings, dreams, resources, ideas, experiences and mind and on a regular basis and in many instances a daily basis, transactions are being made. If we wouldn’t trust a person to our ATM card with the pin we should question why we give them access to our personal resources that are much more valuable than money. Our time should be spent with those who already value themselves, are willing to make an investment in others and are willing to participate in a mutually beneficial relationship.
  • Intellectually because good decision-making requires critical thinking and the ability to synthesize a variety of data. Reading and exposure to multiple facets of life and the world around us ensures we understand our options and the consequences to our choices.
  • Financially because it costs money to live in this society. Without the ability to knowledgeably earn, invest, spend and give we place ourselves in a perpetual cycle of “time for money.” Eventually we run out of money before we run out of time. The objective is for our money to outlast our time.

You might be now wondering, “How in the world do I balance all of this?” This is perhaps one of the most practical aspects of Christianity. Our Christian beliefs are holistic. We believe that everything is within the purposes of God and the care and growth of the total person is in perfect harmony with God’s redemptive purposes. More and more I am convinced that we dishonor the name of Christ when we “cherry pick” the aspect of life we are most proficient at and ignore the others in some ritual of self-glorification. The man who manages his money wisely but ignores his obesity is no more justified than the man who is in great physical health but refuses to pay his debts. The church protesting abortion but ignoring racism and injustice is no more validated than the church protesting racism and injustice but ignoring abortion. The Deacon who teaches Sunday school but pays his employees poorly is no more justified than the member who misses Sunday school so they can work overtime. It is this lack of balance that is causing our failure to thrive.

Will you join me with a lifestyle change that will result in our determination to thrive?

What will you do to thrive? What area of your life is lacking and has the greatest potential to cause you to FTT?

I welcome your feedback.

God’s Not Dead

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Tonight our church featured for family night, the movie, God’s Not Dead. I was grateful for those that attended. I highly recommend it to everyone whether you are a believer or not. I also think this is an excellent movie for middle and high school students but the entire family will benefit from the themes that are woven throughout. I’d like to share a few of those that were most evident to me.

God can fix anything. Everyone in the movie had some issue or challenge and the one deal changer in all of them was a legitimate, abiding relationship with God. The moment we allow God in He begins the process of setting in order anything that is out of order. It’s almost as if He is waiting to be let in. We wrongly assume the relationship is wrong or the situation is wrong when in actuality it is simply devoid of God’s presence and power. Doing things God’s way results in great joy, peace and blessings.

God must be first. Several characters in the movie had to choose between family or friends and God. Admittedly, it is painful when those we care most for have differing opinions than we do regarding faith. What is evident is when we aim to please God he will ensure that the voids that are created are filled with something or someone far healthier for us. He also uses our faith as a tool to attract those we care so deeply for. We must worship with those closest to us but we must not worship those closest to us.

Don’t make decisions out of fear. Fear is paralyzing. When the motivation of our decision-making is fear of being alone, fear of people not being pleased, fear of failure or fear of being ashamed then we have already greatly hindered God’s work in us. God’s love for us provides us with a faith not a fear in that love. We then have faith that we will not be alone, faith we will not be ashamed and faith we will not fail.

Forgiveness is powerful. It releases both the offended and the offender. Often we are unaware of the deep-seated oppression and bondage the offender is sitting with. In other words everyone is hurting. We cannot heal a negative action with another negative action nor can we deny the depth of hurt attached to what others do to us. The very act of forgiveness attaches a sense of worth which alone can motivate us to change in ways punishing people will never accomplish.

We must share our faith more. There are so many individuals and people groups that do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ. We must be willing to witness regarding Jesus not in a condemning or judgmental way but out of our own biblically based experience. There is power in personal experience and conviction, when we recognize our faith is more than feelings.

God’s favor is real. What we often see as messy and hurtful are really disguises for the blessings of God. If we believe in God’s goodness (God is good all the time and all the time God is good) then we know he will never give us less than what is good. There are moments when our prayer for healing is answered in sickness or even death. Moments when prayers of comfort result in moments of heartache only for us to discover that was actually the place of his favor and blessings.

Have you seen the movie? What did you learn? I welcome your feedback.

A Pastor’s perspective on Ferguson, Missouri

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Heartbroken and hopeless characterizes the emotions I have sat with these past few weeks as once again I am called to witness along with the entire world yet another example of apparent injustice and systemic racism. The real issue before us is really not Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager nor is it Darren Wilson, a white police officer who did the shooting. Just as Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman were not the real issue. You see, in both situations we were forced to confront symptoms and not disease.

The issues that are most critical to us as a nation are not individual situations but rather institutional systems.

In our nation we have systematically determined some lives to be less valuable than others. This week we were faced with the image of James Foley, an American photojournalist being beheaded by the militant Al Qaeda splinter group, ISIS yet media outlets and commentators seem more compassionate and sensitive in their reporting over the death of James Foley then that of Michael Brown. As a bi-racial man leading a predominantly African-American congregation I find myself talking to myself incessantly over the issues of race, poverty and injustice. These themes are emotional for each of us but for different reasons. But, as a pastor where my calling is to carefully yet courageously lead the sheep I am mindful that perhaps my two most powerful tools are love and truth. Both love and truth are potentially problematic commitments.

Love becomes powerful and transformational when we choose to love all and to love unconditionally. As Christians are we not called to love each other equally? We simply cannot love a white life more than a black life. For some reason we seem to love the life of an unborn child more than the life of a born teenager. Life must be equally valuable. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a Testament of Hope said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Truth in my opinion is even more elusive which is why we have a tendency to argue it away rather than to embrace it. Do you remember the days when t-shirt manufacturers had actual labels in the backs of their product? Today those labels have been replaced with what are called “tag less” labels. I for one am grateful because before I could comfortably where my t-shirts I would have to rip the labels out. This is exactly how truth works. In order to wear it you must take the labels off. As a pastor I am called to proclaim the truth of the Holy Bible. In order for our members to embrace the truths I share they must remove their labels first. Truth does not originate from our political parties, our educational systems, our not for profits, races or balance sheets. Truth originates from God. Not enough of us are willing to take off our labels of Black, White, Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Liberal, Educated, Uneducated, Poor, Wealthy, Suburban, Urban, Public, Private, Male and Female. Perhaps my favorite children’s author, Shel Silverstein in his book, Falling Up said, “Tell me I’m clever, 
Tell me I’m kind, 
Tell me I’m talented, 
Tell me I’m cute, 
Tell me I’m sensitive, 
Graceful and Wise, Tell me I’m perfect–
But tell me the TRUTH.” We simply cannot approach our systemic issues from our labels. We must approach them truthfully and allow that truth to then govern our perspective. This one change would begin an instant reversal of much of what is plaguing our nation and our communities.

There are over 2 million people incarcerated. One of three black men between the ages of 18-30 are in jail, parole, in prison, or probation. In larger cities and urban communities like Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago that number increases to over one half. Our “system” has been distorted around race and around poverty. In our country we treat people that are guilty but wealthy better than those that are innocent and poor.

For those of you who are love and truth resistant perhaps common sense would be a more effective strategy to reach you. The United States is the only country in the world that sentences children to die in prison. We have life imprisonment for children in our country because our “system” provides judges the ability to place them on trial as an adult. But they aren’t adults. In other words our “system” allow us to make the child into an adult. What wealthy person who could afford the best legal counsel would want to be tried as a poor person with a public defender? What if the Judge just made them into a poor person for the sake of trial or what if we just made a white person into a black person for the sake of trial? Currently one in nine people on death row are found to be innocent and eventually exonerated of their crimes. In other words we know that for every nine times we do something one time it is wrong. That’s a pretty high error rate. Would you get on a plane if you knew for certain one out of nine was going to crash? Would you send your child to a school where every day one out of nine kids were gunned down? Would you buy a car if you were certain one in nine would catch fire and kill the driver? Of course not! You would change the system first. We have a systemic problem and we, as Christians must model a behavior of love and truth. We cannot insulate ourselves from the problems of people that don’t look like us. In my estimation the life of a white photojournalist is just as valuable as a black teenager. The life of the death row inmate is as valuable as the unborn fetus in a womb. The pastor in me just won’t allow me to love bi-racial people more than I love anyone else. Actually that’s not even the pastor in me I think that’s the Jesus in me. In the final analysis we will be judged not based on innovation or technology but loving our neighbor as ourselves. Only by love and truth can we model reconciliation as the body of Christ. This is perhaps our greatest mandate in this hour of turmoil and division. Paul writes in Galatians 3:27 – “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

What are your thoughts?

 

Depression from a Pastor’s perspective

images-23The recent apparent suicide of famed actor and comedian Robin Williams was my motivation to address the greatly misunderstood and under recognized issue of depression. This blog is way overdue, as this same tragedy has hit the church community several times this past year. Many have heard the story of the most famous and popular clown in harlequinade and pantomime. His name was Joseph Grimaldi. He was known for making audiences laugh as he entertained them in ways people had never seen. At an early age he was forced into retirement due to medical and mental ailments. The doctors not knowing what to do for him thought that what he needed most was a good healthy dose of laughter so they recommend he go see the performance of the clown named, “Grimaldi.” He then looked at the doctor and responded, “I am he.” Grimaldi died penniless at the age of forty-five.

It is wrongly assumed that fame, money, success and influence disqualify a person from exhaustion and depression. It does not. Too many of us have what the 16th-century Spanish poet and Roman Catholic mystic Saint John of the Cross calls, the “Dark Night of the Soul.”

Some of the most gifted, anointed and intelligent people can suffer from depression. Musical genius Ludwig van Beethoven, The Presbyterian minister and president of Princeton, Ashbel Green, Super Bowl Quarterback Terry Bradshaw, thirtieth United States President Calvin Coolidge, Princess Diana, writer Charles Dickens, novelist Ernest Hemingway, singers Billy Joel and Janet Jackson and even in the Bible we find King David, Elijah, Nehemiah and I would even argue Jesus Christ himself for a brief moment while in the Garden of Gethsemane all battle bouts or moments of depression.

Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of inadequacy, dejection and despondency. Depression is that “thing” that eats away at your insides causing you to feel less than. Depression is that feeling of aloneness in a room full of people. Depression is that feeling of maybe everyone would be better if I weren’t here. Depression is the feeling of it’s never enough, I just can’t do this, no one understands me, and no one is for me. Depression can be painful and disabling. Just as we must fight to keep the weight off in a physical sense, we must fight to keep the weight off in an emotional sense. Maintaining emotional health must become a priority for people that are in the public eye and have high demands and expectations placed on them. I can write first hand about this because very few occupations and callings carry the high percentage of alcoholism, drug use, suicide and depression as Pastoral ministry. According to the New York Times, “Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade their life expectancy has fallen.” Whatever your occupation allow me to share some of my thoughts on how to battle this demon of depression.

  • Have a healthy outlet. Too often our outlets become activities that are equally damaging to us as the depression. Eating and drinking are NOT good outlets. I recommend some type of physical, recreational and preferably outside activity. One of my favorite outlets is my motorcycle.
  • Get missing. Only God is omnipresent. Too often we function as if we need to be at everything. We do not. Choose wisely and as far in advance as possible what you will attend and don’t let people guilt trip you for not being available all the time. The Bible says of God that He doesn’t slumber or sleep. We need to do both.
  • Get off the roller coaster. If you like rides then go to an amusement park but don’t allow people or positions to take you for a ride. Being up one hour and down the next can slam wear you out. Learn to manage your expectations, not stretch the reality of things, be honest with yourself and know your triggers and buttons.
  • Live between the “C’s.” We all have two sets of extremes in our lives. We have the critics on one end who regardless of what we do find fault and something negative to offer as if we have been placed on this earth to please them and them alone. Or we have the compliments on the other extreme where no matter what they keep stroking your ego and patting you on the back even when it isn’t warranted. Ignore both and live between the two. The reality is we allow people to pull us in their direction and this pull can be taxing and overwhelming. None of us are as good as everyone says nor as bad so maintain a healthy and balanced self-perception that isn’t dictated by others.
  • Seek professional help. Especially us “Christians.” If someone gives their life to Christ and hobbles down the isles of some church with a cane because they have a broken leg you are going to encourage them to go to the doctor and get a splint or cast placed on it. In the same regard mental illness requires medical attention and not just spiritual anecdotes. There is nothing wrong with going to a counselor, support group or seeking medical attention.
  • Get a life. Despite what we have been told we are not what we do. We are human beings and not human doings. We function best when we learn to “be” before we learn to “do.” Too many of us have an identity crisis and we see ourselves in light of our occupations or relationships. This is an unhealthy view of your true self.
  • Turn off. Too often we are expected to be “on” all the time. We all need people and environments that love us and accept us when we aren’t on our best behavior and having our best thoughts. We all need a safe place to be vulnerable and unprotected. A place where our hair isn’t in place, clothes aren’t ironed, face isn’t shaved, words aren’t being measured and struggles aren’t being judged.

My heart goes out to the people who have lost family members and friends due to depression. May we all learn to manage our mental health and be mindful of the pressure we place on others and ourselves.

What do you recommend as a possible solution to help battle depression? I welcome your feedback.

The Scandal of the Pulpit

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Let me begin by apologizing for luring you here with such a seductive title. This blog is not about a hot steamy affair between a clergyman and a temptress nor is it about the use of church offerings to pay for exotic cars, vacation villas and European clothing. No, the greatest scandal OF the pulpit actually occurs IN the pulpit.

Preaching without preparation is scandalous.

Preaching your word and not God’s word is scandalous.

Referencing your text and not taking the time to read the text is scandalous.

Making programs more important than preaching is scandalous.

Those in the pew sanction such behavior by choosing churches based on secondary or even tertiary considerations like music, prominence and location and not primarily over whether the Word is properly being proclaimed.

I have often said that the greatest recurrences of malpractice aren’t in hospitals or law offices but rather in the pulpit on Sunday morning. If the biblical task before the preacher is to surgically divide the word then butchering it is indeed malpractice. A lot is being written about regarding preaching. I can hardly keep up with the latest definition or trendy angle on what preaching is. This is particularly the case with expository preaching. I am not scholarly enough to pontificate with these experts. I do however pastor a large congregation that most would even term a mega-church – although that terminology wasn’t really mainstreamed when I began the pastorate. That church has largely grown on biblical exposition. I share these thoughts as I head to Dallas for my annual pilgrimage to the E.K. Bailey Conference on Expository Preaching. Allow me to give you six thoughts that shape my preaching and why it should matter to those who sit in the pews:

Stay in a Series

Who gets in a car with a driver that admits they have no idea where they are headed? Too many pastors are just driving around the Bible with no real destination in mind. Series preaching gives direction to your driving. Pastors must drive with a destination in mind and members need to stop hitchhiking their way thru church and life.

Book by Book

I can never recall a time where I read a sentence out of a secular book whether it was fiction or non-fiction and without reading the entire book could clearly understand the intent of the author. The Bible is a book of books with a single theme. When I open my Bible I do not see a list of themes, topics or subjects but rather books. For that reason I preach thru books of the Bible to gain the meaning of that book to ensure the authors intent is being communicated to the people. It is only then we can make it relevant for today. Any biblical sermon, even topical ones should take into account the intent of the author.

 Holiness not Hype

We are not called to be spiritual hype men for God. Sunday morning is when we are going over the playbook. Sunday morning is when the instruction occurs. Too often we are exciting people to believe something that God just didn’t say. The message of the cross is also a message of personal responsibility. The danger of a “tell your neighbor…” gospel is we have no idea if our neighbor has done the preparation necessary to receive the blessing that is being preached about. It is unkind and irresponsible to promise something that God never said. Yes, I enjoy a good shout like everyone else and I love the emotion attached to the church but the Spirit of God taking the Word of God and showing people the Son of God should drive that euphoria and not a Hammond B-3.

Christ over Charisma

The preaching in our churches must be more about Jesus then the personality of the preacher. Too often, the preacher is the hero and not God. I pray before I preach for Jesus to be seen and then once He is seen that He would heal, deliver and save. When that Samaritan woman left Jacob’s well declaring, “Come see a man” she was not talking about us preachers.

Scriptural Synergy

The Godhead hits a ceiling at three. God the Father as author, God the Son as agent and God the Holy Spirit as administrator. No one else gets a vote. I am amazed how the Sunday message can change based on what is currently happening in our world. We must not allow the local newspaper editor or some hot news cycle to drive what we preach. I recall during the last presidential election how many pastors were “led” to preach on Israel, abortion and same sex marriage. Similarly, many pastors preached on violence, racism and injustice when Trayvon Martin was killed. Now let me be clear all of these issues MUST be addressed from our pulpits. But they cannot be addressed on our timetable but God’s. Yes, I too preached in a hoody but only because the text gave me permission to address the issues of violence and injustice. This is “scriptural synergy.” It is when the current series or sermon lines up with what is going on in the community or world and you then have free clearance from the Holy Spirit to speak to it with Godly authority. We must not be schizophrenic pastors who when it is convenient tells the government to stay out of the church but then use CNN, MSNBC or FOX News as an “assistant Holy Ghost” at the church to direct our preaching.

Don’t Taint the Text

If not careful, we can make muddy what should be a clear word from God. This happens when we use the pulpit for our own personal sounding board and we allow how we feel, what people are saying about us or what is going on in our lives to drive the Sunday sermon. Order matters. Scripture first not situations first! The wrong time to preach a stewardship sermon is when the offering decreases. The preacher already has an emotional bias as he approaches the text. Rather, the stewardship series should have already been on the preaching schedule.

Whatever your preaching style, let’s resolve to be faithful to the text and to the God who has called us. Whatever church you attend be more concerned about the preaching than anything else.

 

What concerns do you have regarding the preaching in today’s pulpits? I welcome your feedback.

15 Life Lessons from the movie, Frozen

Recently we sat down as a family and again watched the movie, Frozen. This time we specifically watched with the intent of blogging about what the movie taught us about life. Before we share our list, let me say it is a great movie. Even the teenage boy in the clan enjoyed it. It’s a reminder for me as a dad that we aren’t too old to learn and our children have a lot to teach. Let me also encourage you to do things with your children. Engage them in constructive conversation and enjoy them as the amazing gift they are from God. Here’s our list:

Lesson #1 – The mind can be changed but the heart is not as easily persuaded.

That’s pretty much a direct quote from the movie after Elsa accidentally harms Anna and their parents take her to the trolls for a remedy. In life it’s much easier to teach principles than to repair hearts so we must guard each other’s hearts and not be careless with our words or actions.

Lesson #2 – Fear is your enemy.

Elsa was so fearful of hurting someone again with her gift that it never occurred to her that it could be used for great good and enjoyment. It reminds us that fear cannot be the driver by which we make our decisions. We do not gain control of our lives until we let the fears go.

Lesson #3 – Don’t conceal.

Elsa had an unusual gift that allowed her to freeze anything. She spent much of her life in isolation and when in public, wearing gloves. We must embrace what God has given us and not hide our true selves. Do you!

Lesson #4 – Shutting people out doesn’t make the situation any better.

In the movie, Elsa and Anna grew up with no interaction, even after the death of their parents. The isolation was so severe that the gates to the palace were never opened. This did not change anything but rather gave a false sense of security and created the illusion that all was well. In life when we choose to not talk about issues, not address concerns or to otherwise ignore people and problems, we have done nothing to bring us closer to a solution. Let people in! Open up the gates!

Lesson #5 – There are both snowmen and snow monsters in all of us.

When Elsa finally “let it go”, she found that she had in her the capacity to make both good and bad. She made Olaf who was the pleasant playing companion of her childhood but then to protect her made a snow monster. We too have good and bad, pretty and ugly within us. We must endeavor to not bring out the worse in another person and to be mindful that when pushed there is something raging inside of all of us.

Lesson #6 – Love is putting someone else’s needs before your own.

Just as she is about to die, Anna jumps in front of a sword that Hans is swinging with the hopes of killing her sister, Elsa. There will be moments in all our life where we don’t get to go first. Live with an “others first” perspective!

Lesson #7 – Love conquers all.

In the final analysis there was very little, if anything, that love didn’t fix. Love actually thawed the frozen heart of Anna. Love will turn winter to summer and night to day. None of us are discerning enough to know who the conduit of that love will be. It could be where you least expect it!

Lesson #8 – Some people are worth melting for.

This was a quote from the snowman, Olaf. Although he required freezing temperatures to remain alive, he was willing to start a fire to keep Anna warm when in time of need. This reminds us of the self-sacrificing nature of life and our responsibility to place others before ourselves.

Lesson #9 – Time will tell.

At the coronation of her sister, the Queen (Elsa), Anna meets Hans and by the end of the evening they were “in love” and discussing marriage. Eventually his heart and evil ways were revealed. True love must be tested over time and can only be revealed in the midst of varying circumstances and situations. Give it time!

Lesson #10 – Even the craziest dreams can come true.

Olaf desperately wanted to experience summer. This was a ridiculous dream for a snowman. He pictured himself on the beach, in the heat, tanning and doing a multiplicity of other things “in summer.” In the final analysis, Elsa provided him with his own personal snow cloud so he wouldn’t turn into a puddle. Dreams do come true!

Lesson #11 – Don’t be fooled by appearances.

When Kristoff takes Anna and Olaf to his “family”, they think he is crazy because they appear to be a bunch of stones. Eventually they come to life and are revealed to be trolls. These trolls offer both great love and wisdom. What looks like a rock might actually be our greatest blessing so be careful in judging.

Lesson #12 – Sometimes things just don’t work out.

Like in life, people have their own agendas and sometimes those agendas are contradictory to ours, so inevitable things can’t always work out for everyone all the time. The Duke of Weselton and Hans both found this to be true.

Lesson #13 – Fixer-uppers can be a legitimate option.

The trolls sang a song about Kristoff being a “fixer-upper.” Aren’t we all? Don’t we all have some rough spots and unattractive attributes that require some attention and repairing? Don’t look for the perfect person. First, they don’t exist and second if they did exist they would want another perfect person, which would disqualify all of us.

Lesson #14 – There’s nothing wrong with being special.

Elsa was “special.” She was a “special” child. Her parents really never learned how to embrace her and to help her most. Our society is filled with children that are also special. Children with autism, cerebral palsy, deafness, Down syndrome, epilepsy, mental retardation, spinal bifida and other development disorders. We must learn to best support and love them thru these challenges and not be embarrassed or ashamed of them.

Lesson #15 – Family matters.

The life of Elsa and Anna changed drastically following the death of their parents and in the end these two sisters needed each other. One family can change an entire community!

 

What lesson do you connect most with? Do you have a lesson you would like to add? We welcome your feedback.

10 Life Lessons from March Madness

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Who doesn’t love the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, better known as March Madness? There was a time in my life that I would be able to attend many of the games in person but the demands of pastoral ministry in North Carolina have left that near impossible these past nine years. So, like many NCAA enthusiasts I am resigned to living out the excitement at home as I check my brackets on a weekly basis. The odds makers stated that eighty percent of everyone that completed a bracket had lost after the first game. My final four brackets had Florida vs. Virginia in the South and East and Baylor vs. Michigan in the West and Midwest with Florida wining it all. I still predict Florida to win it all but I must say I am still a sucker for the underdog so for the fun of it I am giving Kentucky my vote. But the real value of the NCAA Tournament for me is in the life lessons. The games were more meaningful for me to watch, as I stayed clued in for how I could relate it back to everyday life. As you watch the Final Four consider some of these lessons:

  1. I don’t always get to play another game. So often in life we approach our opportunities, friendships and relationships like we always have tomorrow. There is a day called, “too late” when we no longer get to pursue our greatest dreams, hopes and aspirations. While you are still playing (have life) pursue your greatest hopes now, while you can.
  2. Games are won when the basics are mastered. I remember my father teaching me how to dribble a basketball when I was a very small child. He placed folding chairs in the basement of our home teaching me to dribble with both hands. Yes, we see remarkable plays but the team that can make free throws, dribble, pass, play solid defense and make few mistakes is going to win the game. Like life, games are won not based on sensational play but solid and stable play. Spend your life being solid, making few mistakes and being accountable and responsible on the court of life.
  3. My weakest areas must be developed. I am sure we have all seen games lost over missed free throws or low percentage shooting. In life, we assume that our strength in an area will automatically compensate for my weakness in another. This is not true. I have seen preachers with great style but no substance. This is always a formula for long- term failure. Each of us must identify where we are weak and then develop a strategy for strengthening that area. It is in the strengthening of our weaknesses that we take the strain off of our strengths. This is essential because when our strengths get strained they get reduced to weaknesses.
  4. My mental game is as important as my physical game. Have you ever seen players make mental mistakes? Of course. This is usually a result of fatigue or frustration. Games are lost when our head is not in it. This is where compartmentalization comes in. We must learn to focus on the matter at hand. Admittedly, this is a difficult discipline. I am learning this requires a regular purging of the emotions that are not associated with my current activity. In basketball this means not allowing the frustration of the last play to hinder me on this next possession. Keep the past in the past. Keep the present in the right container remembering that not everything even deserves a container.
  5. Learn to anticipate what’s next. Rebounding is so important in basketball because you can’t score without the ball. Time of possession in every sport is important. Anticipating when and where the ball is coming off the rim or backboard is required to be a good rebounder. So often in life opportunities pass us by because we had no clue what was about to happen next. One reason I have learned to pay attention to politics is that very little happens over night. A new or expanded highway may take five or ten years to complete but the result is a subsequent increase in real estate values. When we have an idea of what is next we can be in place ahead of time and benefit from good positioning.
  6. Assists matter. One of my old basketball coaches would remind us that there needed to be “three touches” before someone shot the ball. Nobody likes a “ball hog.” When I was running ball in North Philadelphia, it was not uncommon to hear someone say, “Give up the rock, man.” In basketball and in life we must learn to share the ball and to help other people score. We all win when the people we share life and experiences with succeed.
  7. Expect the unexpected. In any NCAA game an upset is possible. A key player can be injured or just have a bad game or some ninth or tenth man could get hot from just past the arc and have the game of his life. Yes, anything is possible. I am learning to live my life with a spirit of expectation and anticipation because any day could just be the day when the unthinkable and unexplainable occurs in my life. I look forward to that day.
  8. A work ethic is essential. Hustle, man! I loathe seeing an easy score because an opposing team didn’t hustle down the court. I learned from my father the value of hard work. The game is played on both sides of the court and both require our absolute best efforts. Too often we turn in marginal or sub-par performances because we simply didn’t give it our best.
  9. Don’t wait until game day to make the play. I remember be a young minister laying out my Bible on the iron board and preaching my sermon in the mirror. I still made mistakes in the pulpit but I made fewer of them because I was already working on the plays. Practice. Practice. Practice. And remember it is not practice that makes the master but perfect practice makes the master.
  10. Everyone needs a coach. Those players aren’t out there by themselves and we are not in this life by ourselves.They have people to develop their skills, draw up plays and evaluate their performance. All of us need people in our lives to evaluate us on the court of life. With each passing day I am learning the value of having people that can speak into my life and that I will actually listen to. They are making me better.

Who did you have winning the NCAA Championship?

What life lesson have you learned?

I welcome your feedback.

Life and Daytona Beach Bike Week

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Every year I make my annual pilgrimage to Daytona Beach, Florida for Bike Week. No year seems to be a good year to go with the demands of my schedule but I find a way to get there on Wednesday and to return home on Saturday so I can be back in the pulpit Sunday morning to preach. This year was no exception. After driving all night I checked in at the hotel in Palm Coast and early Thursday afternoon started riding. As usual, the ride was an amazing outlet. I thought I’d share some of the discoveries I had this year.

Scenery. Deciding to skip the fast route on Interstate 95, we made our way down to Route AIA, which is Ocean Shore Blvd. The view is breathtaking as you travel south for 20 miles or so through Flagler Beach, Ormond Beach and into Daytona. You are literally yards from the beach and ocean and during most of the ride you are looking toward the water in awe of the ocean and the beauty of nature. The only thing missing is the sound of the waves beating against the beach but the pipes on my bike won that war. It made me realize the importance of changing our scenery and our environments. Too often we become complacent and an occasional change in our lens is helpful for gaining an appreciation for all that life has to offer. Maybe it isn’t a ride in Florida but could just as easily be a stroll in the park, a day at the state park, a walk around a museum or an hour drive in any direction. We can be so busy moving fast that we neglect to enjoy the scenery and lose awareness of where we are going and why.

Stories. You have to go to Bike Week to appreciate it fully. But, every imaginable motorcycle is there and every type of rider. Everyone from laborers and lawyers, divas and doctors, executives and engineers, bankers and bakers, preachers and politicians, teachers and techies. We come from every state and many foreign countries. I could not help but to think, “man, we all have a story.” Some of us were there to run away and others were there to just get away. Some were divorced, some happily married and some widowers. Some had Ph.D.’s and others less than a GED. Yes, we all had stories. Isn’t that just like life? Everyone we encounter has some background, some past, some history with them. We should be careful in judging anyone. The important thing isn’t what you are riding or what you come from but rather the fact that you are still around to enjoy the ride and to finish telling your story.

Starts. I for one was there to start over in some areas of my life. As I rode and contemplated my life, the people in my life and the decisions of my life all I could think was this could be a defining moment for me. What if I could go back new, clearer, more resolute and more determined? What if I could begin again? Clearly, I couldn’t be the only one of over half a million bikers making some decisions as he rode. Life is that way. At some point what matters is our willingness to begin again. We all have the power of choice. We can choose to be different and we can choose to be better. And we can make that choice today.

Soul. Probably my favorite thing to do at Daytona is to go over to Mary McLeod Bethune Drive and hang out in the “hood.” This is unofficially called the “dark side.” The music, the food and the people watching can keep you busy for hours. It was my reminder not to neglect the soul. The soul houses our intellect, will and emotion. Spend some time catering to that part of you that feeds your personality. It’s ok to do your dance, hang with the folks and enjoy culture. Caesar Chavez, a civil rights activist and co-founder of the National Farm Worker’s Association said, “Preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures.”

Support. Twice while in Daytona I witnessed riders who dropped their bikes. You have to understand the bike I ride is almost 900 lbs. Many bikes are much heavier than that. Often when you drop your bike you need help to get it back up. I am always in awe of the bike culture and how we quickly run to each other’s rescue. No one cares why the bike was dropped. What we care about is getting that rider back up and on their bike. People will stop riding and begin to run to the succor of that other rider who almost invariably is a total stranger. Yes, some riders drop their bike because of their own neglect and other times because of poor judgment or uncontrollable road conditions. None of that matters to us. What matters is getting that bike up and making sure our fellow rider is able to go again. In life we all drop our bikes. Those bikes might be in the form of relationships, finances, health, reputation, careers, decisions or family. If we could adapt this same perspective of helping each other up rather than talking about why a person has fallen or ignoring their fall or even speculating how many other times they have fallen that we didn’t know about. Help somebody up. Get somebody riding again because after all one day you may drop your bike and when you do, wouldn’t it be great if someone just helped you up and left you with your dignity and hope for the future as you kept on riding.

What outlet do you have and what life lesson is it teaching you? I welcome your feedback. 

The Five Absolutes of Achievement

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The Eighth Commandment admonishes us not to steal. Embedded in this Biblical standard is the expectation that we obtain, achieve, possess. There are only three ways we can obtain anything. First, by gift. These are those possessions that we have done nothing to earn but someone has found us fitting enough and deserving enough of them. Air and water are two great gifts that we rarely think twice about and of course the greatest gift is our salvation. Second, by work.  Work was created before Adam sinned and must never be viewed as a result of sin. Actually, it is a sin NOT to work. When we receive as a result of our work it produces a sense of self-worth and self-respect. We must be mindful that most of what we will ever possess comes by way of our working for it. Yes, occasionally I may get a good grade because the exam was graded on a curve (gift) but generally my grades in both the classroom and life are a result of our work ethic. We are entitled to very little in this life. Most of what we will experience and enjoy will be the result of sweat, labor, blood, tears and sacrifice. Finally, by theft. This is the whole reason for God telling us not to steal. In this life there will be moments when all the gifts have been opened and when we have acquired all we can through our hard work and gaps will still remain. When those gaps surface when our deepest longings and desires are yet to be fulfilled we must trust the timing of God. I am learning that acquiring by ill gain is far worse than not having at all. When these moments surface and they will for all of us, keep these five imperatives in mind and do your best to practice them.

Prioritize your time. We have all been allotted only so much time and even the longest life is short in view of eternity. A.W. Tozer once wrote, “Time is a resource that is nonrenewable and nontransferable… when it is lost it is unrecoverable. When you kill time, remember that it has no resurrection.” Achievement requires great time management. I am relentlessly working on getting everyone and everything that matters to me on my schedule. More and more I am learning that if I do not schedule it, it probably will not get done. I am also learning that idle time is still the devil’s playground. People that are busy doing things that matter don’t have time to do things they will regret.

Perfect your titles. We all have them, Janitor, Teacher, Doctor, Attorney, Husband, Wife, Student, Pastor, Christian, etc. As we take a step back to consider what these titles mean – the characteristics, expectations, demands and potential results – it will challenge us to recommit ourselves to be the best of it we can possibly be. Too often, we are more focused on getting to the next rung of the ladder having not steadied ourselves and mastered the rung we are on. Additionally, we must be careful not to claim titles we are simply not deserving of. Too often we exaggerate our accomplishments and apply it as a topical sedative over our failures and like of drive with the hope of numbing ourselves from the truth that we can do better and we have not earned it yet.

Participate with your talents. Each of us has been given very unique and specific gifts from God. My experience is people are successful in the area or areas they have been gifted to be successful in. Writers rarely become successful by playing athletics. Baseball players don’t become successful playing hockey. When we endeavor to gain our success in areas outside our place of giftedness or “calling” we steal the needed investment capital from the area of my purpose. Most of us need all the time and effort we can muster to achieve and rarely do we have the luxury of expending the time, energy or resources in other endeavors. I am convinced that each of us can live a good life when we identify and commit ourselves to a very unique role and specific assignment. You have something that is marketable to our society. Find it, focus on it and relentlessly invest in it and you.

Present your tithe. Obviously as a Christian I believe in giving ten percent of my income to God through a local church. The significance of this strategy is first to teach us about prioritizing our finances. It is to teach us that not all we attain or achieve is for us. It is to teach us that the real measure of our worth is not found in our money. It is to teach us that there are no free lunches and that each of us has a proportionate, proper and perpetual responsibility to give. Our achievement cannot be money motivated. Our earnings are a by-product of our calling but not the reason for our calling. I have often said, “I don’t Pastor to live but rather I live to Pastor.”

Publicize your testimony. Share your story because you have one. Our forward focused mentality can often rob us of the encouragement of our previous successes and the distances we have already traveled. It is true that although we may not be where we ultimately desire we are not where we used to be. Look in the mirror from time to time and speak to yourself about yourself and celebrate how far up the ladder you have gotten and let that be motivation for you and for others to take another step today.

Success like failure may not be an exact science but it is a deliberate one. Whatever you want in your life you must be intentional about it. If you intend on achieving you must be absolute about it.

What is your absolute for achievement?

Why I am a Political Independent

ImageI am a Christian. I am also a Political Independent. Technically, “unaffiliated.” Unlike the overwhelming majority of my friends, my family, and those I Pastor, I do not see my politics as a donkey or an elephant but rather as a lion. Partisan politics is damaging the American quilt. Slowly but surely threads are being taken out and individual parts are being discarded. What was once a melting pot, kaleidoscope and cornucopia of diversity is quickly becoming a nation of two quilts – “ours” and “theirs.”

From my laymen’s mind, all American politics is about one thing and one thing only – pie. Yes, pie. How often have we heard the expression, “as American as apple pie.” Politics is about making, baking, protecting, slicing and distributing pie. It’s amazing and disheartening how much we fight over getting our piece of the American pie. On the Republican Right you have a fight over not sharing the pie and on the Democratic Left great advocacy around making sure groups of people never participate in helping bake the pie. Jim Wallis was correct when he said, “the right gets it wrong and the left just doesn’t get it.” The Right is using the language of faith to hide their real political agenda and the Left is ignoring faith to hide their real political agenda. The Right is wrong for forgetting history. The United States has a long history of people of faith supporting and driving social change and driving progressive causes and movements. This is seen in the abolition of slavery, women’s right, public education, child labor law and civil rights. In other words faith is connected with social change. There is no record of people of faith being disconnected from social movements. Therefore, if your politics is devoid of conversations around poverty and social justice it is a perversion of your professed faith. There is nothing moral or Godly about not wanting to share the pie.

But the Left is no better. They are just wrong for a different reason. The separation of church and state does not mean abandoning morality from public life. To debate the issues around how the pie is sliced without respecting the pluralism of our democracy is ineffective and disingenuous.  Yes, wage laborers, unions, educators, social servants and the unemployed should have a piece of the pie but the pie will never get distributed by mixing in “non-pie” issues. Probably the biggest “non- pie” interests are moral issues. So, while the Left works so hard on the issue of whether you should be able to eat your pie with a person of the same sex or whether you need a drug test before you can eat the pie or for how long you get to eat the pie for free, those they work so hard to advocate for still don’t have any pie. Rather than protecting the pie eating rights of those without drive and determination, legislate that everyone have the ingredients and access to an oven and wish them well on their pie making future. So, while the Right is legislating you don’t get a choice about the pie, the Left is legislating pies with no fillings and that never get put in the oven. Hello, everyone. This is America. We do pies here. We fill them, we bake them and everyone should have a slice.

This says nothing of all the other issues that both parties are inherently dishonest about – race, the poor, the penal system and how life is viewed just to name a few.

When the dust settles, until both the Left and the Right ratchet their way toward each other our nation will remain gridlocked. Since the solution is somewhere in the middle, wouldn’t make sense to just start there if you could? People in the middle can reach in both directions and grab those on the Left and the Right, forming coalitions and linkages that are far more reaching and rational. Our political system is institutionally stagnant. I find it interesting that the same nation that values advances and entrepreneurism has institutionally entrenched itself in a two-party political system. I thought we believed in and supported innovation? Evidently, in regard to everything but our politics. I for one still believe in the American dream, in innovation, and in the pie making opportunities for all people. As an Independent I have benefited by:

Critically thinking through political issues. The issues that face us are very complicated and we must be informed voters and not simply “big lever” voters. Not everyone of our color, race or political party is worthy of our vote.

Allowing my faith to help form my politics. As an Independent my vote is based on principles and beliefs and not party affiliation. Those that want absolute separation of church and state are in the minority. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has done extensive research on this issue and has determined, “people of faith and the institutions they build, play a critical role in our nation, and those contributions are not a purely private matter…”

Not allowing my vote to be paternalized. In other words no one owns or is entitled to my vote. It must be earned. One ray of hope for our nation is that there is an ever-increasing block of independent voters who sometimes vote one way and other times vote another and cannot be taken for granted by either party.

It keeps me more “centered.” We all have a tendency to disregard and discount those who disagree with us. This is how both parties wound up with factions that are now considered “extreme” sects of their own parties (this is also how we got the Tea Party).We now hear terms like “far right” and “far left.” I am learning that by listening to both groups of people it helps keep my personal political philosophy a lot more grounded and neutral. It is a form of self-correction that we all need to remain mindful and aware of the interests of others.

Whether you are Democrat, Republican or Independent, it is my prayer that we can identify those issues which we can agree on and exhibit common sense solutions to benefit the common good for our nation. I for one am reaching in both directions.

What is your political preference and why?

 

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