Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Shooting Blessings

The following excerpt is adapted from my first book, Filled Up, Poured Out: How God’s Spirit Can Revive Your Passion and Purpose:

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Driving down Main Street, several years ago with my little girl in the back seat, I glanced in the rearview mirror, and caught her aiming a finger gun at unsuspecting pedestrians. “Pow! Pow! Pow!”

“Hannah, cut that out!” I scolded, “It’s not nice. We don’t shoot people; we bless them.”

After riding in silence for a few minutes, she started up again—this time with two fingers, “Pow! Pow! Pow!”

“Hannah, didn’t I tell you to stop shooting people?”

“But Daddy,” she replied, “this time, I’m shooting blessings!”

Shooting blessings requires a few essentials.

Positive Energy
Some folks run on positive juice, and others run on negative. We bring blessing with the positive.

Encouraging Words
Everyone’s imperfect, but we must look for the good rather than finding fault. Building up others is called edification, and this begins at home. Are you speaking your most encouraging words to those closest to you?

We all need encouragement, but that won’t come in families or communities bent on devouring one another. Focus on the good in each other.

Common Ground
An attitude of superiority is easily detected and alienates us from others. We must remember that we are no better than anybody else. We are all made of the same stuff.

Mission Enlistment
One of the best ways to bless people is to get them to help you serve others. An invitation to join you in helping those in need is a great way to bring a blessing. You can’t bless somebody else without being blessed yourself.

The Big Yes Bias
When it comes to blessing people, we should always have a “Yes, I care about you” attitude, and every “no” must be spoken within the context of the bigger “yes.” The art of gracious refusal is a valuable skill to learn.

How you treat others is more important than just about anything else. Poet Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Thursday, September 24, 2015

How to Evict Worry From Your Life

Two men were climbing a steep hill on a bicycle built for two. When they finally made it to the top, the first man said, "Whew! That was a stiff climb. I think it was the hardest hill I've ever been on.""It certainly was," his companion replied, "and if I hadn't kept the brake on, we would have slid down backwards!"

When we worry, it's like pedaling uphill with the brakes on. Anxious thoughts make life ten times harder.

Unfortunately, our natural human tendency is to worry about our situations. Is there anybody on this earth who is not familiar with the uncomfortable gnawing of worry in the belly? I seriously doubt it.

Yet, although worry is familiar to us all, we don't have to treat it like a welcomed guest. In fact, we have every right in the world to kick it out! "No Vacancy" -- There's no place for anxious thinking here!

How can we evict worry from our lives? Let me offer a few suggestions:

1. Talk to yourself!
A great way to abolish worry is to ask yourself the right questions such as,
* Why am I feeling tense right now?
* Will the world end if what I'm worrying about comes true?
* Is stewing over this making it any better?
* Who else is worked up over this issue? Why or why not?
* Is this worth losing sleep?
* What is the bottom line fear in this situation?
* So what?

2. Sell yourself some hope.
Y ou've already been selling yourself on fear, tension, and all the "What if's". Why not switch gears and start looking for what's going right?

Elmer Wheeler, in The Wealth Within You, said, "we become courageous by the same process that we become fearful; successful and confident by the same process that we become failures. Both are ideas that we sell ourselves. If you are timid and fearful or feel inferior, you do not need to learn the technique of selling ideas to yourself. You are already a past master at the art. All you need to do is change the ideas you sell. Suggest confidence to yourself in exactly the same way you have been suggesting failure."

3. Seek wise counsel.
It really helps to talk the issue through with someone who has a level head and the wisdom of experience. Good advice is worth more than gold.

4. Pray about it. 
A burden is really a call to prayer. If it's big enough to fret about, it's big enough to pray about. The Bible tells us to cast our cares upon the Lord because He cares for us! Prayer increases faith, which puts the kabosh on worry.

5. Take a dose of reality.
Worry casts long shadows on little things. It exaggerates the problem, and turns mice into monsters. If you think your situation is really bad, why not look around? You will find lots of people who have it worse. Chances are, your problems are not nearly as terrible as they seem.

6. Think "through" not "to".
Often, people think "to" a difficulty and then panic. When we come up against a big problem and then camp out, it only leads to frustration and worry. The much better path is to keep exploring solutions. Refuse to let the issue get the best of you. Working at a solution drains the worry away.

7. Keep moving forward.
Worry and positive action don't usually go together -- You're either invested in one or the other. If you're spinning the worry wheels -- it's better to get onto another track of thinking.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

A Bike Race Brings the Difference Down

A poem I wrote a few years ago in honor of Hayward's Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival  

Amid cheers of loved ones, out-of-towners, and smatterings of locals
 congregated on Main Street's crowded side, 

 The vast Bicycle Armada glides.

 Two thousand five hundred, did I hear?
 Sailing furiously down Main Street
 Into wooded wilderness.

 Two thousand five hundred look-alikes
 On fat tired bikes.
 But they, themselves seem neither fat nor tired (yet!)

 Hunched over handlebars, determined
 The helmeted hopefuls fly
 In wild-eyed animation.

 Wave after wave, the countless waves go by
 inspiring awe, and even tears from sidewalk sentimentalists
 who with wave and cheer, race on with them -- vicariously.

 Two thousand five hundred souls hodgepodged,
 Cobbled together from different ilk.
 Following the clarion call. . .

 From Minnesota and Montana
 Texas and Kentucky.
 From urban sprawl and hamlet

 Together, they ride.

 Farmer and Banker
 Undertaker and Mechanic
 Minister and Bartender

 Together, they ride.

 Republican and Democrat
 Believer and Skeptic
 Liberal and Conservative

 Together, they ride

 Management and Labor
 Judge and Lawbreaker
 Teenager and Elder

 Together, they ride

 Male and Female
 Minority and Majority
 Builder and Boomer and Buster

 Together, they ride -- side by side.

 So very different, but on this September day
 So very much alike.

 On Main Street, in a small Wisconsin town
 A Bike Race brings the difference down.
 Sailing, they cast it all aside -- and together, they ride!

 All hearts united.
 All minds directed
 To the common end
 A common friend -- the finish line.

Friday, September 11, 2015

A Bingo Hall Invocation for Veterans

Today, I was privileged to give the invocation for the Field of Honor, a tribute to veterans, sponsored by the Boys and Girls Club of the LCO Ojibwe Reservation.  A couple hundred people gathered to honor the veterans in a heartwarming ceremony.

We started at the Bingo Hall and then went in silent procession to the field of flags, a few hundred yards away.

  I have never been asked to pray at the Bingo Hall before -- but there is a first for everything.

I decided to share "When You are a Soldier" by Steven Curtis Chapman.  Sometimes, a prayer is expressing our heart to our Creator.  Sometimes, it is the other way around:  our Creator expressing His heart to us.  The invocation I chose is the second type.

Steven Curtis Chapman -- When You Are a Soldier

When you are a soldier I will be your shield
I will go with you into the battlefield
And when the arrows start to fly take my hand and hold on tight
I will be your shield, 'cause I know how it feels
When you are a soldier

When you're tired from running I will cheer you on
Look beside you and you'll see you're not alone
And when your strength is all but gone I'll carry you until you're strong
And I will be your shield 'cause I know how it feels
When you're a soldier

I will be the one you can cry your songs to
And my eyes will share your tears
And I'll be your friend if you win or if you're defeated
Whenever you need me I will be here


When you're lost in darkness I will hold the light
I will help you find your way through the night
I'll remind you of the truth and keep the flame alive in you
And I will be your shield 'cause I know how it feels
When you are a soldier.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

A Great Redemption Price

Pinky was a little slave girl -- only nine years old when her mother died. To lose your mother at such a young age is terrible -- but being a slave child made it even worse.

Pinky would not go to the home of loving relatives. Neither she nor her loved ones had any voice in her future whatsovever. She was considered "property".

Pinky's owner decided to sell her on the slave market. He figured he might get up to $900 for her.

It just so happened that Henry Ward Beecher, a pastor from New York was visiting in town and heard of Pinky's plight. He approached the slave owner and asked if, perhaps, he could take Pinky back home with him. "I'm sure the kind people of Plymouth Church would be happy to provide a loving home for her.", he said.

"Not on your life!" declared Pinky's owner. "I could get $900 for this girl! I'll tell you what, give me the $900 and she's yours."

Rev. Beecher did not have $900 -- but her persuaded the owner to allow Pinky to travel back to New York with the promise of full payment, or her return.

The next Sunday, the people at Plymouth Church were surprised when Rev. Beecher brought Pinky to the front of the church during the worship service.

"We are going to have an auction to purchase this little girl's freedom!" Beecher declared, "Who will start us out with $5? Yes! Now $10?"

He proceeded until they reached $900! Everyone cheered. There was hardly a dry eye in the place.

Rev. Beecher called the ushers up to take the offering right on the spot -- and when they brought the plates forward, they had more than enough cash for Pinky's freedom!

Someone had placed a golden ring in the offering. Rev. Beecher took it out of the plate, and placed it on Pinky's finger. "This is your freedom ring, Pinky!" he said. "Wear it proudly, and remember, you are free now, and nobody can take that away from you!"

Pinky was "adopted" by the Ward's, a fine family of the congregation. They raised her as their own child, gave her a good education and sent her to Howard University. She later became an excellent teacher, a loving wife and a devoted mother.

Many years later, in 1927, Pinky (Mrs. Rose Ward Hunt) returned to Plymouth Church for a special aniversary celebration. In a beautiful display of gratitude, she returned the ring to them, saying,

"Thank you so very much for what you did for me when I was just a child. You paid the price to set me free, and for that, I will always be thankful!"

-- personal note: I happened upon Plymouth Church quite by accident a few years ago, and was intrigued by a painting of the auction which hung in the hallway. Inquiring, I heard the story from a very gracious and kind hostess.

She says another portrait of Pinky, by Johnson Oatman, hangs at the Hallmark headquarters.  For many years, they had no idea of the the painting's meaning.

Also, interestingly, three weeks later, Abraham Lincoln came to visit the Plymouth Church. The next day, he gave a powerful speech which really launched his presidential campaign nationally.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Ancient Pastoral Search Committee Report

A report from an ancient pastoral search committee (from my-pastor.com):

We do not have a happy report to give. We’ve not been able to find a suitable candidate for this church, though we have one promising prospect still. We do appreciate all the suggestions from the church members, and we’ve followed up each one with interviews or calling at least three references. The following is our confidential report on the present candidates.

  • Adam: Good man but problems with his wife. Also one reference told of how his wife and he enjoy walking nude in the woods.

  • Noah: Former pastorate of 120 years with no converts. Prone to unrealistic building projects.

  • Abraham: Though the references reported wife-swapping, the facts seem to show he never slept with another man’s wife, but did offer to share his own wife with another man.

  • Joseph: A big thinker, but a braggart, believes in dream-interpreting, and has a prison record.

  • Moses: A modest and meek man, but poor communicator, even stuttering at times. Sometimes blows his stack and acts rashly. Some say he left an earlier church over a murder charge.

  • David: The most promising leader of all until we discovered the affair he had with his neighbor’s wife.

  • Solomon: Great preacher but our parsonage would never hold all those wives.

  • Elijah: Prone to depression-collapses under pressure.

  • Elisha: Reported to have lived with a single widow while at his former church.

  • Hosea: A tender and loving pastor but our people could never handle his wife’s occupation.

  • Jeremiah: Emotionally unstable, alarmist, negative, always lamenting things, and reported to have taken a long trip to bury his underwear on the bank of foreign river.

  • Isaiah: On the fringe? Claims to have seen angels in church. Has trouble with his language.

  • Jonah: Refused God’s call into ministry until he was forced to obey by getting swallowed up by a great fish. He told us the fish later spit him out on the shore near here. We hung up.

  • Amos: Too backward and unpolished. With some seminary training he might have promise, but has a hang-up against wealthy people. Might fit in better in a poor congregation.

  • John: Says he is a Baptist, but definitely doesn’t dress like one. Has slept in the outdoors for months on end, has a weird diet, and provokes denominational leaders.

  • Peter: Too blue collar. Has a bad temper—even has been known to curse. Had a big run-in with Paul in Antioch. Aggressive, but a loose cannon.

  • Paul: Powerful CEO type leader and fascinating preacher. However, short on tact, unforgiving with younger ministers, harsh and has been known to preach all night.

  • Timothy: Too young.

  • Jesus: Has had popular times, but once when his church grew to 5000 he managed to offend them all and this church dwindled down to twelve people. Seldom stays in one place very long. And, of course, he’s single.

  • Judas: His references are solid. A steady plodder. Conservative. Good connections. Knows how to handle money. We’re inviting him to preach this Sunday. Possibilities here.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

This Cleaning Lady Was Invited Back

The Little Country Maid
by Camille Pissarro
Recently, my friend, Ron McClung passed along the following story (from my friend Kevin Myers) of an entrepreneurial woman, who started her own cleaning business:

As in most businesses, the competition was keen. She heard about a wealthy woman in her town who never asked any particular cleaning service to come back a second time. She had a large home, but never asked any organization to clean her house twice.

Our entrepreneur finally got her turn. When the lady called, she was determined to do her very best. She and her workers went into the home and cleaned it as thoroughly as possible. Along the way, they found a variety of loose change and put it in a cup in the kitchen.

When she completed the job, the lady paid her and she left.

She could hardly believe it when, a few weeks later, the lady who never used the same cleaning service twice called her to come back and clean her house a second time. She was amazed at getting a second chance.

She told the woman, “I would love to clean your house again. But can I ask you a question? I know that many people have cleaned your house once. Why am I getting the opportunity to clean it a second time?”

“The answer is simple,” the wealthy lady said. “One dollar and sixty-one cents.”

“Excuse me?

“You were the only one who found the entire $1.61 in change that I had strategically placed throughout the house.” She continued, “Some people found eighty-nine cents. Some found ninety. Some found $1.25. One found $1.40. But you were the only one who found the entire $1.61.”

The fact that she recovered every nickel, dime, penny, and quarter that had been hidden told the wealthy lady at least two things: the entrepreneur and her workers were thorough and they were honest.

How great to be known for your integrity and your thoroughness. No slipshod work for this crew. They gave it everything they had. And no pocketing the loose change. They put every cent in that cup in the kitchen.

Friday, September 04, 2015

What Effective Church Boards do Well

An effective church board will do the following things well: 

B --  Believe:  Operate by faith rather than fear.  Prayer for guidance is essential.  When faced with a big challenge, what you do next reveals what you  really believe about God.

O --  Optimize:  Look for ways build up, strengthen and move forward.  Focus on the possibilities, rather than the problems.  No nit picking or circle spinning.

A --  Argue:  Perhaps I should say "argue constructively."  A good board is not just a bunch of rubber stampers.  Nor should it be a collection of cantankerous cranks.  On a healthy board, divergent viewpoints are encouraged and expressed positively.  The best outcomes occur after the various perspectives are weighed.  There's a way to disagree agreeably, keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  Of course, this requires humility, love and understanding.

R -- Respond:  Difficult issues come before every board.  The quality of the board is displayed in how it responds to them with wisdom, compassion, courage, and faith.

D -- Decide:  Whatever you do -- do something!  Don't just flap your jaws.  Refuse to be paralyzed by indecision and fruitless hashing.  God has called you to make good decisions -- so gather the facts, make the best decision you can together, then support it and ACT on it.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

When You're In the Pressure Cooker

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.