Thursday, March 28, 2013

Just in Time for Easter

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Bouncing Like Tigger on the Inside

“I’m Tigger!” little Suzie shouted as she jumped up and down in the back seat of the car.  Her frazzled mother repeatedly asked her to stop bouncing.  “Be a nice little Tigger and sit down.”  “Precious, Mommy wants you to stop being so active right now.  Be a good girl and buckle up!”  Sweetheart, this is getting on Mommy’s nerves!”

Finally, realizing that her requests had fallen on deaf ears, Mother pulled to the curb and screeched to a halt.

“This is IT!” she shouted, “I’ve had ENOUGH!  If you don’t sit down and start behaving this minute, you are going to regret it, young lady!”

Instantly, the little girl stopped bouncing and settled down.

“That’s much better.” Said Mother.

As the car pulled from the curb, Susie muttered under her breath, “I may be sitting down on the outside, but I’m bouncing like Tigger on the inside!”

As a pastor, one of my jobs is to help people behave themselves.  I have witnessed the tragic results of wrong choices and sinful misbehavior.

I’ve preached plenty of “behavioral” sermons on a wide variety of topics such as stealing, dishonesty, sexual immorality, unforgiveness, gossip, greed, grumbling and the like.

Yet, although most folks would agree that these vices should be eliminated from our lives, I’ve discovered that few actually live victoriously over them.  There’s a vicious pattern of struggle and failure.
            Try to behave – fail – feel bad – determine to do better.
            Try to behave – fail – feel bad – determine to do better.
            Try to behave – fail – feel bad – determine to do better.

Many people think that if they continue this cycle long enough, sooner or later, they’ll be able to live right.  There’s a big problem with this viewpoint – As long as you’re stuck in the mud, You won’t go anywhere by pushing the gas pedal to the floor – You’ll just spin your wheels and throw mud!

The bottom line issue here?  Even when we’re trying to “sit down” on the outside, we’re still “standing up” on the inside.  There’s something “Tiggerish” that rises up within us and knocks us off course.

The answer?  If you want to get out of the rut and experience genuine life change, you need to quit striving with human strength, and surrender completely to God. 

He can help you “become” on the inside what you’ve always wanted to be – and out of that “becoming”, the “behaving” will naturally flow.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Poem for Those Who Allow Little Things to Upset Them

Sometimes we let a little thing
No larger than a midge's wing
Destroy a whole day's happiness.
We give it leeway, more or less,
And let it buzz and nip and sting,
Till one gets cross, and two get mad,
And three or four are hurt and sad.

And then, next day, on looking back,
We spy the microscopic beast.
Alas, alack!
Was that what started all the fuss?
That mite? We should have thought at least
It was a hippopotamus!

-- Nancy Byrd Turner, 1880-1971, Public Domain)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Lent, Lutefisk and Great Faith

Northern Wisconsin is Lutheran and Catholic territory, and this means two things: Lutefisk before Christmas, and Lent before Easter. I didn’t know much about either growing up. Until moving to Hayward, I had never heard of Lutefisk, and figured Lent was stuff you trap in the dryer.
Living in the Northwoods, I’ve discovered that Lutefisk is a piece of cod that passes all understanding. (Actually, it’s a rather unappetizing, gelatinous Nordic dish made from dried, salted whitefish and lye.) We’ll let the Lutherans keep it.
Lent, however, is something we’ve happily pilfered from our more liturgical brethren. We start with Ash Wednesday, forty days before Easter. I smudge ashes on the foreheads of willing parishioners, repeating, “From dust you’ve come, to dust you shall return.”
For a few years, I drove over to St. Joe’s a couple days before the Lenten season and borrowed ashes from my Catholic priest buddy, Father Bill. He pulled my leg when I asked him where he obtained the ashes. “From the funeral home, of course.” He said it with such a straight face that I believed him at first.
When Father Bill retired, I lost my ash stash. Before leaving town, he finally divulged that the ashes come from last year’s Palm Sunday branches. So now I hoard dead palm branches in my filing cabinet.
The first time I tried to burn palm branches, I nearly set the house on fire, and our smoke alarm shrieked. Cathy sent me and my pan of smoking palm fronds out the back door, and instructed me to never burn them in the oven again. So, I’ve had to take my cremation operation outdoors.
It’s fitting that the ashes are leftovers from Palm Sunday. We can’t depend on yesterday’s praises to get us through today’s problems. Former glory fades to ashes and dust.
A couple of years ago, while smudging foreheads, I decided what to sacrifice for Lent. Normally, people give up stuff like candy, coffee, television, and Facebook in order test their spiritual resolve.
I gave up doubt. I determined that for forty days I would respond to every situation with this question: What would great faith have me do?
This commitment was tested immediately. In fact, I still had the ash smudge on my forehead when our high school pastor, Loretta, came bursting into my office with an exciting but expensive idea. Her enthusiasm bubbled over. “So, what do you think?” she asked eagerly. Dollar signs rolled in my head. How on earth were we going to pay for that? But I needed to keep my vow. What would great faith have me do? I gulped, grinned through gritted teeth, and replied, “Sure, what a splendid opportunity. Let’s go for it.”
And that’s the way it went for the next forty days, responding to every situation with the greatest faith I could muster. Was I ever glad when Easter came, so I could go back to my old pattern of doubting and fretting!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Just Think of What You Carry!

"Think of the world you carry within you," said poet, Rainer Maria Rilke.

My friend Emily, a student at Kingswood University, reflecting on this quote, re-phrased:  "Think of the Christ you carry within you."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Eight Thoughts on Board Leadership

1.  Intelligent boards don't mind making complex decisions and they don't want the decision made for them ahead of time.

2.  The higher the engagement and leadership horsepower, the less likely rubber-stamping will be satisfactory.  They will not settle for the first, simple solution.  They need to think it through.

3.  Intelligent boards need good information in order to make good decisions.  This requires a good amount of homework on someone's part, and a clear presentation of options at the meeting.

4.  The best way to frustrate (and lose) intelligent board members is to clog the agenda with trivial non-essentials.  Every meeting should be built around the highest priorities.

5.  Hearty, constructive, debate, expressing differences of opinion is a good way to discover the best answer.  This requires at least some measure of emotional health on the part of all the participants.

6.  Understand that stress and anxiety from home and/or work will seep into the discussion, and can lead to over-reactions.  If someone erupts at a board meeting, it may not be all about the issue at hand.

7.  There is a difference between processing and hashing.  After it turns to hash, the conversation becomes increasingly unproductive.

8.  Meetings go better when bathed with prayer.  Go into the meeting "prayed up."

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

I Might Have It But It Doesn't Have Me

Last week, at Janet Johnson's funeral service, her cousin, Pat,shared this beautiful observation, "Janet might have had a disease, but the disease did not have Janet."

I was astounded by that powerful comment.  Too often, people allow themselves to be defined by their difficulties.  This breeds a victim mentality.  Because troubles abound, we can find all kinds of reasons to be unhappy and discontent with life.  In the end, however, those reasons are just excuses.  The key isn't what happens to you - but rather, how you respond to what happens.

Here's an important question:  do you really want to be defined by troubles and negative experiences?  If you wish to be miserable, then just go ahead and let life's painful situations  dictate your attitude and perspective.

If, on the other hand, you know you're made for more than that -- then there's a better way.  It starts deep within your soul.  

Speak the truth to yourself.  You are a special creation from God.  You are a treasure and a gift to those around you.  Your difficulties in life do not, in any way, lesson your worth.

The other day, I took a $20 from my wallet and wadded it up into a tiny ball.  I asked my kids, "How much is it worth now?"  My kids replied, "Twenty dollars!"  Then, I threw it on the floor and stepped on it a couple of times.  "Now, how much is it worth?"   Again, my kids replied, "Twenty dollars!"  Finally, I threw it in the trash can.  "NOW, how much is it worth?"  The kids shouted, 'TWENTY DOLLARS!"  So, I quickly retrieved it from the garbage.

It doesn't matter how much a $20 bill is wadded or trampled -- it's still carries the same worth!

And that's the way it is with you!  Perhaps you've been crushed by adversity.  Maybe you've trampled by troubles.  Guess what?  You're just as valuable as ever!  You're a treasure and no painful circumstance will ever diminish that!

To paraphrase what Pat said about Janet, "I might have trouble, but my trouble doesn't have me!"

Let's just play it out into a few scenarios:

*  I might have had a rotten childhood -- but my rotten childhood doesn't have me.
*  I might have gone bankrupt -- but my bankruptcy doesn't have me.
*  I might be unemployed -- but my unemployment doesn't have me.
*  I might be going through a heart-wrenching divorce -- but the divorce doesn't have me,.
*  I might made some terrible mistakes -- but my mistakes don't have me.
*  I might have failed -- but my failure doesn't have me.
*  I might have cancer -- but cancer doesn't have me.

Can you see how important this is?  You are much, much more than what you've gone through.  In fact, when you go through the hardships in the right way, you come out better on the other side.  That's what Janet did.  She suffered much -- therefore, she loved even more.  I think this is what the Bible means when it speaks of gold produced by suffering.

So, tell yourself the truth, stay sweet through the struggles, and never let life's setbacks redefine who you are.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Breastplate of St. Patrick

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river,

His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spic├Ęd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom

I bind unto myself today.
I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,

The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord

And purity of virgin souls.
I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,

The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.

The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;

Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,

Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Directions for Taking the High Road

I love these thoughts from John Maxwell about taking the high road:

If you need a little help moving to the high road, then follow these "directions":

1.  Stay on Kindness Street as long as possible.
2.  Turn right on Forgiveness Avenue.
3.  Avoid Get Even Alley because it is a dead end.
4.  Climb to the top of the hill, for there you will see the high road.
5.  Take it and stay on it; and if you lose your way, ask God for help.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Learning to Dance

"You will lose someone you can't live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved.  But this is also the good news.

They live forever in your broken heart that doesn't seal back up.  And you come through.  It's like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly -- that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp."  -- Ann Lamott

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Encouragement and Personality

“We live by encouragement,” said actress Celeste Holm, “and we die without it – slowly, sadly, angrily.”

Every person you meet needs encouragement.  It’s part of what it means to be human.  All of us need a boost from time to time, and nobody lives constantly on the mountaintop.  We need each other for regular upliftings.

Most of us recognize this responsibility, and have a desire to encourage others, but often our attempts misfire.  Perhaps this is because personalities differ, and what encourages one person may not encourage another.

Authors such as Joyce Littauer, Gary Smalley and Tim LaHaye, have identified four basic temperament types:

  1. Sanguine – “Let’s have fun.”
  2. Melancholy --  “Let’s go deep.”
  3. Choleric --  “Let’s get moving.”
  4. Phlegmatic – “Let’s get along.”

Personally, as a sanguine, I’m inspired by inspiration.  Just give me an uplifting quote or idea, and that will pump up my spirit.  Positive thoughts help me combat a sagging spirit.  I peruse books and other resources regularly, looking for a good, positive thought that will brighten my day.  It helps me to keep on the sunny side.

Sometimes, I mistakenly believe everybody else will be uplifted by the  same things that encourage me.

However, when a melancholy shares a burden, I’ve discovered the last thing they need is a trite pep talk, “ No worries!  Everything’s going to be just fine !  You’ve just gotta believe!”  Those responses aren’t helpful at all.

Instead, the way to encourage melancholies is to understand them.  They need a caring friend who will truly listen, empathize, and comprehend the depth of the situation.  The encouragement comes from not feeling alone.

The best way to encourage a choleric, on the other hand, is to do something!  They become discouraged and frustration when people sit around flapping their jaws without taking action.  Hashing in circles is the way to drive a choleric up the wall.  They interpret inaction as apathy.  The encouragement comes from getting things done.

Finally, phlegmatics are encouraged by peace.  They are disheartened by quarrelling, arguing and negative nitpicking.  Gary Smalley compares them to the golden retriever, loyal and easy going.  For them, encouragement comes when people work together in harmony for the common good.

This brings me to three important points:

First, if you only use your natural encouragement style, you won’t hit a bulls eye with 75% of people.  Nobody connects naturally with everybody.  It takes understanding and hard work..

Second, if your effort to encourage someone backfires, pause and ask if it might just be a personality collision.  You might need to make adjustments.

Third, the best way to encourage others is to speak it in their language.  The more deeply you know a person, the more likely you will know what they need.  This requires paying attention, careful listening, and a willingness to step outside of the comfort zone.  It helps if you remind yourself that this encouragement is for them and not for you.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Only Way to Get There is to Go There

Self examination and difficult conversations are hard.  That's why so few are willing to "go there."  It's painful.

"Going there" means humbling yourself enough to face the truth, regardless of how uncomfortable it may be.

"Going there" is mustering up the courage to say what needs to be said, even if the other person may not react well to it.

"Going there" means caring enough to confront, but often feels uncaring.

"Going there" takes the risk that things will never be the same.

"Going there" forces you to face your fears.

"Going there" reveals your secrets.

"Going there" requires looking beneath the actions to the underlying cause.

"Going there" shows your shadow self.

"Going there" is nerve wracking and gut-wrenching.

"Going there" means seeing or hearing things you would rather ignore.

"Going there" may make you feel defensive.

"Going there" may make you feel vulnerable.

"Going there" may make you feel under attack

But. . . 

"Going there" leads to beautiful breakthroughs.

"Going there" transforms relationships.

"Going there" increases mutual understanding.

"Going there" helps you get unstuck.

"Going there" reveals truth that will set you free.

"Going there" brings boldness you'll never discover by avoiding.

"Going there" is the first, courageous step towards healing.

Consider the improvements you desire in your life and relationships.  The only way to "get there" is to "go there."

Friday, March 08, 2013

Trusting Through Darkness

An excerpt from my book, Filled Up, Poured Out:  How God's Spirit Can Revive Your Passion and Purpose:
Sometimes, for unknown reasons, God seems distant and far removed from current reality. In fact, some of God’s most treasured and dutiful saints are plagued with what St. John of the Cross called the dark night of the soul.
For instance, letters from Mother Teresa to her superiors, published a decade after her death, revealed an inner struggle to feel God’s blessing and presence. “There is so much contradiction in my soul,” she lamented. “No faith—no love—no zeal . . . I find no words to express my pain.”  Martin Luther often battled with what he called anfechtungen, a conflicted spiritual state, where God’s absence seems greater than his presence, and his love appears somewhat questionable. The desert monks referred to acedia, the dreaded “noonday demon,” that describes a deep soul weariness and the serious malady of being unable to care.14 Charles Spurgeon warned young preachers of “the minister’s fainting fits,” where all seems lost in the valley of despair.  From the cross, even Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).
Yet, in his perceived absence, God is ever present.
A university philosophy professor wrote “God is nowhere” on the whiteboard. After class, one of the students grabbed a marker and drew a line between the w and the h, so the board said, “God is now / here.”
When you feel like God is nowhere, rest assured, he is now here. The river is still there. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1). Seek the Lord with all your heart, and you will find him.
But, if he doesn’t seem to show up for some reason, then trust him with all your heart in the dark. “Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God” (Isa. 50:10). If you keep on trusting through the darkness, he will bring you to the light.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Compassionate Candor

Most of us are less than candid. We don’t want to hurt feelings or upset people, so we keep quiet and let troubling things slide by.

Of course, we’re taught that from childhood. Parents and teachers said “good boys and girls stay in their places with zipped lips.” “Tattle tale” is the worst possible childhood crime.

This mindset is reinforced in the workplace, where people who rock the boat often receive the boot. Most bosses are more concerned about “keeping peace” than “making things right.” Of course, as Teddy Roosevelt said, “There is no unrighteous peace.” Thus, the whole environment becomes a haze of unspoken tension and discontent. The very peace we’re trying to attain by silence eludes us.

Usually, everybody knows the issue, but nobody wants to talk about “the elephant in the room.” We’re like the villagers in Hans Christian Anderson’s tale, who gawked at their emperor strutting his stuff in the buff, believing he was fully clothed. It took a guileless child to point out the obvious truth that no one was willing to speak.

The problem is, our situation won’t change unless it’s resolved, and that won’t happen until someone has the gumption to bring it up. The truth shall set you free.

Unresolved issues, like dead skunks, won’t smell better by hiding them under the bed! If you know of a situation that needs changing, and are wondering why somebody doesn’t do something about it -- guess what – YOU are somebody! Maybe it’s up to you to speak the truth.

Of course, the truth must be spoken in love.

Candor without compassion makes one a jerk. Nobody wants to hear from a jerk, even if that jerk is right.

In every communication there are two communications:

1. What I need to say.
2. Whether or not I care about you.

The second communication should be the first and last! In other words, a difficult conversation should go something like this:

1. I care about you.
2. Here’s what I need to say.
3. Again, I really care about you.

Compassionate candor is the primary communication key that unlocks the door to resolution.

Monday, March 04, 2013

20 Stress Busting Questions

When you are under tremendous stress, and life feels like a pressure cooker, then it's time to stop and evaluate what's happening inside of you.  Stress is like the red lights on the automobile dashboard.  It indicates a warning that something under the hood needs attention.  Here are a few questions to consider when you feel the tension rising:

1)  What symptoms indicate that I am stressed out?  

2)  What are the immediate and underlying causes of my tension?  Often, the thing that is "stressing us out", is just a symptom and not the cause.  Look beneath the immediate situation.

3)  Am I living at a sustainable pace?  Look back at your schedule over the past two weeks and ask yourself, "Is this sane?"

4)  Do I have enough breathing room between events and responsibilities?  If not, what can I eliminate from my life?

5)  Is this temporary or permanent?  Is there light at the end of the tunnel, or am I just digging a deeper hole?

6)  Am I operating out of my delight, passion and giftedness?  If not, is there a way to rearrange my duties to live more in the sweet spot?

7)  What do those closest to me feel about the way I'm interacting with them?  

8)  How has stress impacted my relationships?  

9)  How important is this?   Does it fit with my stated priorities?   Ask yourself this question before agreeing to anything new.

10)  What drains me?  Where and when are energy leaks occurring?  Can I do anything about that?

11)  How am I doing spiritually?  Is my soul well nourished?  If not, what can I do to replenish?

12)  Is there bitterness or resentment in my heart?  Unresolved anger is a primary source of inner pressure.

13)  Am I eating right?  Poor nutrition and unhealthy stress are partners.  People get crabby when they're not being fed.

14)  Do I have a schedule of exercise?  Physical exertion is a great way to reduce frustration and inner pressure.

15)  Am I a praying person?  Prayer builds faith, and faith reduces anxiety.

16)  Am I getting enough sleep?  With limited exceptions, humans require 7-8 hours of sleep per night.   Fatigue makes troubles seem bigger than they are.

17)  Are there relational conflicts that need resolution?  Is there anything I can do about that?  Am I humble and courageous enough to take the first step?

18)  What do I do for fun?  As the old saying goes, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."

19)  Am a taking time for sabbath?  We are wired to rest on a regular basis.  Take some time to stop working and rejuvenate and refresh your mind, body and soul.

20)  Am I thankful?  Gratitude and happiness are lifelong partners.  You can't find one without the other.