The Power of a Thanksgiving Note

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In case you’ve forgotten Thanksgiving will be here this week. Plans for turkey, football, family and friends are undoubtedly underway, well at least for most people. I know that if I lived alone and wasn’t near any family I would probably have a package of sandwich turkey, half a dozen rolls and two pumpkin pies in the fridge.

Anyhow, some families also try to continue traditions of saying thank you, you know going around the room and asking people to think of something they are thankful for. And these can be meaningful times but often the preschoolers are most thankful for their beds or stuffed animals, the teens their significant others or electronics and the parents of course for their wonderful families, even though they drove them nuts all morning.

But sure, do whatever is still special and meaningful for you. We can’t say thanks enough.

However, let me suggest you add one little thing this year. How about writing a note to just one person who has been extra special, kind or even not so noticed the last twelve months?

We’ve lost the tradition of actually taking a piece of paper or note card and putting a few caring thoughts there that we actually send to someone in the mail. Why would a thank-you card make a difference?

First of all, the person knows you took time to single them out. This wasn’t a group email from the office. You noticed something about them for which you are thankful and made the time to say it. That’s going to mean something.

Second, it will  most likely be the only one they get that day perhaps the whole season. When a person gets an email it’s usually one of ten, twelve or a hundred that must be sorted through to decide which to read. Not with your note. It will stand out especially above the ads, bills and magazines and perhaps even read first.

Third, it took more effort than other forms of communication. You can’t write a meaningful note very quickly. You have to think about it, take your time and actually put your words in an envelope and mail it.

There are lots of people who never get thanked and who would remember a note from you all year long. Try it. You still have time. I’ll bet you have some unused cards laying around somewhere, don’t you?

 

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Honoring Our Causes While Not Harming Our Culture

takekneeI’ve been hesitant to jump into the kneeling/standing/athletes fray since so much has been written, said, argued and even flaunted from many different perspectives, angles and passions.

However, living in a country in which free speech, dissent and protest are welcomed in  proper settings is going to garner ongoing clashes of individuals, groups and societies. And we must continue to navigate and hopefully use those times in healthy, helpful ways rather than take actions that alienate and even dishonor others, intentionally or otherwise.

And that’s the main problem I see with the current, very public and in my thinking misguided choices of athletes and others of late as they have been making their sincere protests visible. Let me suggest several problems with using athletic contests to make political, personal statements.

1.  Their demonstration is out of context and one-sided. If they were protesting their athletic pension fund, too little concussion research or the cost to attend games that would make sense. Instead, their issues became clouded and actions disrespectful because they simply chose a platform the rest of us don’t have. It also unfairly suggests that their issue affords this kind of attention and disruption of a major event while others apparently do not.

2.  The demonstrations are a needless distraction. People paid high dollars to bring their families to watch a game. Many of the children are not old enough to understand the issues anyway and for parents to explain it further at the game or at home will not help either. Rather than add to the fun of the day, for which they are being paid handsomely in most cases, the players merely added to the confusion for many.

3. There are better platforms and actions that will accomplish far more. If you want to protest, go where that protest will actually accomplish something. Go protest before meeting with city officials to help solve the problem. Go protest by rallying others to do the same and actually make a difference. Go protest by cleaning up some of the problems in neighborhoods or businesses that are exacerbating the problems.

4.  Remember where your freedom came from. To protest during the anthem for a country in which you have the greatest freedoms and largest rewards of any country in the world to do what you do only dishonors the people who have worked hard, fought valiantly and protested appropriately in the past to give you those benefits. We can still protest without hurting or defaming others in the process.

Imagine if a seven-year-old boy or girl were having a birthday party with lots of friends and their parents. And right in the middle of the party, one of the parents puts up a sign on the wall of the room expressing their views about the new taxes that the local community is going to assess.

Wouldn’t we say that this was the wrong context, that it was a needless distraction, that there are better platforms for his comments and that this person was actually dishonoring the child at the party by protesting in this way? Of course we would. It’s common sense.

So maybe we would be wise to add a little more common sense to our discourse and disagreements by finding better ways to make our statements while welcoming those of others. And let’s let the games be that . . . games.

What I Won’t Do Out Of Guilt on Facebook

facebook-posts-11We’ve all gotten them, haven’t we? Those lofty petitions from our friends and acquaintances begging us to please post something so that they feel more loved (remember Sally Field at the Oscars?), appreciated, listened or noticed. And maybe those people mean well, but I’m just stubborn enough to refuse to respond even if my wife sends one (which she does not).

Sorry, but I have better things to do and in my mind so do you but that’s your issue.

I guess I just felt compelled to try and change a few minds (okay, I won’t) and hope that at least some of you will  understand why I don’t take your passionate challenges.

Perhaps my most poignant reason for refusing to respond is that I’m pretty convinced that no one else cares about:

Whether anyone else reads your posts. What the eight or tenth or fiftieth picture is in your photo album. What color, movie star, animal or pop tart you or I might look like. And I’m too old now to even remember some of my friends names much more where I met them and again no one cares.

And actually it’s often after getting more of these posts that I do think of a word or two that reminds me of you who ask, but they are words I probably can’t use on Facebook

Are you seeing a theme here? This stuff doesn’t matter and few care or only people who don’t have a life do and so maybe you don’t want them for friends.

So yes, while Facebook can be a place for sharing lots of memories, fun moments, pictures of our food (really?) and other pictures of places we’ve gone believing that others not as important as us won’t go, could we skip the guilt-driven demands to our FB friends guilting them into things just because we tell them to feel bad if they don’t?

Can we quit suggesting that others are not nice, spiritual, Christ-loving or passionate about changing the world because they don’t jump on our cute and clever bandwagons of interest or our idea of what matters most to God?

Although while I’m thinking about it maybe you could share this post on your Facebook page for me. I think it’s really good.

 

I Just Had My Coffee And Now I Must Kill You . . . Well, Maybe.

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A new study from the University of Innsbruck in Austria found that people who prefer their coffee black often show psychopathic or sadistic tendencies.

The study, published in the journal Appetite, surveyed over 1,000 adults about their flavor preferences. They also took four different personality tests that evaluated  traits like narcissism, psychopathy, sadism, and aggression.

But you see,  I must ask if is this a fair and accurate study.  And I think Dr. Phil would back me up on this. First of all this research was done by people who yodel.

Second, it seems to me that if some of those in the study DIDN’T have their black coffee we might observe far worse problems like binge shopping at IKEA, extreme urges to eat rice cakes or watching whole seasons of Big Brother in one sitting.

I have friends who if they have not had strong coffee by 7am might actually tune in to MSNBC.

However, the Austrian research also found that individuals who enjoy milky or sugary coffee, and other sweet flavors, generally tended to have more agreeable personality traits like sympathy, cooperation, and kindness. What was not mentioned is that they also tend to like the Hallmark Channel and have seen Sound of Music (also filmed in Austria) at least seven times.

If black coffee actually does cause these severe reactions, then perhaps, like with guns, it should be required that anyone ordering straight up java must first fill out government paperwork and not receive their beverage until after a three-day waiting period. They would be then have been registered and fingerprinted to help expedite future purchases.

But the real question is: can’t we just leave well enough alone when it comes to our little moments of joy that aren’t really hurting anybody? Do we have to keep doing studies that potentially add more angst to such other guilty pleasures as downing whipped cream right out of the container, eating a whole quart of Haagen – Dazs or polishing off a complete box of Cheez Its and calling it dinner?

And frankly, when are they going to share results that suggest something most people don’t like is bad for you, huh?  Just once I’d like to hear . . . Today a study from the University of Fargo has proven that eating even one lima bean, maraschino cherry or black olive can have you in the grave in mere weeks! More on the evening news with Scott Pelley.

Now that’s a study I want to read more about while I’m drinking my morning cup of brew. Black. Sure, I can wait. You gotta pen?

 

Why Entitlement Is Hurting Our Culture Today

635840221397714875-66215785_577354We’ve all seen it and embraced it at times. I’m talking about entitlement which Webster’s Dictionary defines as: the condition of having a right to have, do, or get something. To be sure entitlement in its purest, most basic sense isn’t something evil. Rights were included in our country’s founding documents, for example.

There are certain other logical rights that simply make sense and are reasonable. If you pay for something you should get and keep that something in return. If you are invited to speak to a group of people, you are entitled to be heard and uninterrupted.

Our government, rightly, wrongly or some of both, offers entitlement programs such as social security and Medicare. And it seems reasonable that if we pay into those programs that we are entitled to at least some sort of benefit even if it can be argued that those entities are a poor use of funds or have been mismanaged for decades.

But entitlement today is rapidly moving to another threshold of expectation that has now gone well beyond the practical, fair and wise intent of Webster’s definition. Let me start with a few examples to illustrate my point.

Many people who have received government benefits for what were initially good reasons feel entitled to those benefits even if they no longer need them.

Many workers believer they are entitled to health insurance even if their employer can no longer afford that insurance or never promised it to them in the first place.

Millions believe they are entitled to the benefits and resources of another country even if they are not citizens or never earned the privilege of those benefits.

Children and teens often feel entitled to whatever possessions (especially technology) their friends have such as phones, summer camp experiences, the right clothing, etc.

Even in churches people often feel entitled to know everything the leadership knows, to have their preferences about music, teaching, who leads the church and how the church is led adopted and enforced. Some even act entitled about programs that they want or ministries they believe must be adopted and become angry when the church doesn’t deliever.

But this level of entitlement is not only harmful – it’s dangerous. Let me suggest several reasons why:

  1. It breeds selfishness. It loudly proclaims, Listen people, I”m the most important one in this business, organization or church so give me what I demand.
  2. It fosters disunity. Organizations work best when people work together, have common goals and share resources. Entitlement steals unity.
  3. It distracts the group from its most important goals because the ones feeling entitled are making demands generally unrelated to those goals.
  4. It reproduces more entitlement as young children especially see the adults in their world expecting so much to revolve around them.

How do we battle against unhealthy, unwise entitlement? First, we share our perspective without demanding. We offer to be part of the solution, to join the team that could help us get closer to our goals without ignoring the bigger goals and vision of our organization.

Second, develop a more thankful heart. Entitled people are generally not very thankful people. Instead of demanding more from those who lead or serve you, go thank them, tell them how much you appreciate what they’ve done. If there are issues that need addressing do it in a grateful context.

Third, remember that everything we have is on loan from God. We don’t deserve it anyway. God has lavished us with so much, especially in America, that we would be wise to count our blessings and when those entitlements come along anyway we’ll appreciate them a lot more.

 

Golf: It’s Only A Game, Right?

golf-teeing-offI started playing golf again after a ten to twelve year hiatus because, well, I never quite got the idea of hitting the ball. And when I did connect, let’s just say people got out of the way.

But after watching the Masters and U.S. Open I decided to try again for several reasons – to get some exercise outside, spend time with friends and maybe get some cool clothes. So I did what any wise person would do to prepare I went straight to the first tee at a local course with a friend.

I mean what could be so hard and besides they now have that red line that follows your ball? I also got some new clubs that a pro told me were great for seniors like me. Something about they were lighter and wouldn’t strain my body so much as though golf is supposedly some kind of physically demanding sport.

So there we were on number one with me trying to remember what club Jordan Spieth would use.  Hmm, he hit three wood here about 260.  Yep, that works for me. These senior clubs are a little heavier then I thought!

I’m actually not sure how far my first drive went, but let’s just say I only saw it for a very brief time and I somehow missed spotting the red line behind it. Okay, so there is apparently still a rule about having to continuously hit the ball in a certain direction. The laughter from the carts waiting behind us also told me that golf is no longer a polite-person’s game. Oh, like I suppose you play like Phil.

I did eventually watch some golf instruction videos on You Tube. These free sessions, all hosted by people with British accents (of course Britain is the home of golf and beer), describe the 264 laws of physics that must be applied if you ever hope to see your ball travel past the ladies’ tees or avoid injuring the general public. By the way, why do the Brits measure their shots in yards instead of meters?

Apparently there are rules about take away, wrist cock, grip pressure, back swing, follow through, club speed (precisely 432 mph), shoulder turn, weight transfer, staying hydrated (and by this they mean beer) and Johnny Miller that must all be followed in just the right order or you will no doubt have to return to the first tee and start over.  I believe that’s called a Mulligan.

Anyhow, if my body could actually do all of those things, much more so in some kind of logical order, I might start preparing for America’s Got Talent right now! The snooty British guy seemed to think I would be able to get my swing down if I just did each of the exercises he prescribed a thousand times a day.

I decided that this was way too complicated so I determined to just try to hit the ball (a Titlist of course) as far as I could and then merely talk like I knew what I was doing. I got a little wristy there, Jon. Had a flyer on that one, Alan. I needed to aim a little more right, Dave, and take it down a club. Yep, flew my elbow that time. Just can’t seem to make a putt.  That sand sure seems damp today. Oops, the wind came up last minute. Where’s the beer cart?

Of course, some people getting up in years have the goal to shoot their age. I will be sixty – eight soon and am hoping to realize that achievement in the near future through at least the first five holes. The truth is that I would have to live as long as early biblical characters to ever shoot my age and by then Jim Nance will be dead and not available to call it.

Oh well, see you on the first tee. I may be there a while.

If You Need More Worship Leaders Or Team Members, Find a Josh.

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A lot of us lost a great friend the other day. More poignantly a family lost a dad, husband, son, grandpa and more. Josh Calvin was one of those guys who made a room, situation, band practice or simple fun time that much better. Sadly, cancer took him way too soon.

I was privileged to be one of his pastors and a fellow musician on our worship team from time to time over a period of eight years in Austin, Texas. And while I left a few rehearsals irritated with myself or others now and then, I can’t ever remember being disappointed in Josh’s contribution to our time together.

He always brought some things to the table of our rehearsal and playing times that I think we might be wise to look for and expect in those who lead or participate in our worship times and even other leadership roles. If nothing else we might pray for and seek out more team members just like Josh.

Let me suggest a few of the qualities that made him pretty special.

Josh was darn good at what he did – playing the guitar. No, Josh wasn’t the best player I ever met but he was always prepared, willing to be taught and eager to do the very best he could do. I’ll take that any day over the diva-like, primadonna players who cover their lack of preparation well but aren’t really ready for prime time and haven’t given their best.

Josh made others look good. If you’re a decent musician you understand the phrase less is more. Josh played less, but better so that the other parts in the band got the attention they deserved or the help they needed to sound even better. He didn’t use his talents to showcase himself while covering up the abilities or unique playing of the rest of the team. I remember time after time when I was playing keys next to him and we easily bowed out for a time while the other took the lead on some section of a song.

Josh sweated the small things while not making too big a deal out of the ones that didn’t matter. Like I said Josh always did his best but he wasn’t fiendishly worried about some little adjustment that perhaps wouldn’t be fixed and therefore he might not sound good enough. Josh often made things work with what he had or we had including potential limitations that perhaps couldn’t be avoided that week. I knew that when Josh was playing that week that we weren’t going to have any meltdowns when something didn’t work.

Josh always took time to care about others. He’d ask you how your week was, engage in fun conversation about hiking or whatever but included listening to your stories not just telling his. When he said he’d pray for you he meant it. He’d stick around and talk if you needed him to. He was willing to share his own weaknesses, too, as a bit of encouragement to someone else.

Josh took time to ponder and slow down. I remember looking forward to hearing about his next backpacking trip, getaway on some remote trail and what he’d be reading while he was gone. He knew the value of refilling and reflection that I’m convinced brought the depth he had to other parts of his life.

Frankly, I don’t know what all led to Josh being the way he was, at least in my experience, but I’m thankful for who he became and for the people I know he impacted, including me. Our teams could use a lot more like Josh. I’m just sad that we didn’t get more time with him, at least for now.

 

When You’re Losing People You Love Too Soon

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We’ve received news in recent weeks of the passing or entering into hospice of several close friends, ones who are way too young to die at least in human terms. My wife’s brother Paul died at age sixty two years ago. There are other challenges people we know are facing that I just don’t understand. And I would guess we’re not unique and that many of you reading this post are experiencing similar circumstances.

As I said, I don’t get most of these situations. Why do seemingly good people with spouses, kids, grandkids and many good years left to serve God and others pass away before their time? Why couldn’t evil people have taken their place and my friends and loved ones been spared, avoiding the grief that they themselves and/or their families are now facing?

And yes, there are legitimate, spiritual, bigger picture answers some of which we can understand to a point and others we must leave to God. I’m not going to re-visit those here. They can be helpful but that’s not my focus for now.

Instead I want to simply offer a few suggestions for any of us who are facing these tough, hard-to-understand losses that won’t take away the pain but will perhaps do something in us that we might miss otherwise.

First, don’t wait to embrace every moment with those you love. By embrace I mean that we slow down, hear their stories, enjoy the experiences and not rush to the next thing. I realize that this sounds like a prediction that these people are going to die soon. It can seem like the reason we don’t want to buy life insurance but it’s not. In fact this is one way that we insure that we don’t miss out on real life.

Now is the time to experience relationship at its fullest not later.

Second, accept that there are a lot of events we don’t understand and won’t change. Am I suggesting that Christians shouldn’t pray for healing and other miracles or that God never gives them? Of course not. He does still do what seems impossible but that’s not always His answer or choice for us or those we care about.

Too many Christians demand, claim or promise God’s response to what THEY want and then look foolish or respond with silly answers as to why their friend or loved one didn’t survive. God is God and He does things beyond our understanding, things that hurt, grieve and confuse.

Third, be Jesus to those who are hurting. Yes, Jesus healed many when He was on earth, but not all. He also wept when his friend Lazarus died. He loved the unlovely, the grieving and the lost. Sometimes our faith will discover its deepest meaning and growth in the fertile soil of pain and loss. We may find Jesus most tender and real through our tears, not just our smiles.

This is the time when those facing the worst need us to be at our Christian best, not perfect, but caring, loving and listening.

 

The Heresy Of Calling Others’ Thinking Heresy

WLC-ThePerfectChurch_ThePerfectChurch-SS-CurrentI just read an article written a  year or two ago by a Christian leader called The Heresy of Worshiptainment. As you might guess the article suggests that because a church’s worship might be exciting, include a large number of people and be even the slightest bit attractive to others, it can’t really focus on God – it’s just entertainment. [NOTE: the word entertainment actually means to keep the attention of, something many churches have great trouble doing.]

This writer suggested that people would be best to do what his church decided to do and get rid of all the extras and just teach the Word. Thousands have come they said so I guess that’s what we should all do and consider, right? Of course there were no references to the church being the Body of Christ, encouraging one another, discipling others, missions, helping the poor or caring. Sounded like just meeting together and studying the Bible (was there application too?) would be enough. And frankly, I’ve not heard to too many other churches having the same success with that approach.

But this article follows the common practice these days to pan anything that’s not acceptable to the author or group making the statements or writing the book. So they look down on big churches, contemporary ones, those that aren’t radical or big or small or something enough. If you don’t have enough small groups or a mid-week prayer service or become integrated or teach using this method or that, you aren’t acceptable.

You see I’m not writing today about worship styles, preaching methods or church structure though I have my opinions about those. No, I’m writing to ask supposedly well-known leaders to quit trying to set the specific standards for today’s church and how God must and does work. God is a creative, powerful, multi-faceted God who made people and cultures and societies very different. No one size, style or approach fits all so quit writing books and teaching at conferences suggesting there is!

We have no right to demand methodologically that our way is the best or only way. If there are important principles then yes, by all means share them, model them, live them. Of course there are foundational concepts that God has made clear for his church. So let’s focus on those but concurrently celebrate our differences and the fact that God reaches people in thousands of ways and settings. And yes some are being reached in those services that appear to others to be mere entertainment, where a different translation is used or where the preaching style isn’t what we claim to be the biblical style.

And if those leading those services are caught up in merely doing a show not leading worship or preaching truth then shame on them and they’ll need to deal with God on that. But it’s not the style of service, preaching or coffee service that was necessarily the problem.

Churches are not going to change because we change the style or format though those choices may have their place and purpose. Churches change when people change, when they develop a common vision about the importance of Matthew 28, making disciples, the process of helping a person meet Christ to growing into a fully devoted and commitment follower of Christ. And frankly, I hope they don’t all end up looking alike, especially like me!

The Power of ONE Thing You Do Today

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There was a song sung decades ago by Three Dog Night called One Is The Loneliest Number. Of course we talk these days about the importance of having people in our lives, those who care about us and not feeling alone.

However, there are also regular challenges and exhortations from preachers, experts and motivators to combine our efforts with others, do something BIG and create a movement that will change the world somehow.  And all of that has its place and purpose.

But sometimes I think we need a few more reminders about what just ONE person like us can do to initiate change, genuine transformation and long-term impact. One isn’t necessarily lonely.

Perhaps it borders on trite or cheesy but the picture of a rock thrown into the water and the corresponding ripples created by that single rock still makes the point.

One action, comment or decision can have results that are both big and lasting for years even generations to come. They ripple beyond that one choice.

I like the picture of a giant domino display,  you know the ones very disciplined people set up over dozens of square feet of space using all sorts of twists, turns, rises and falls for the final result.

Once their preparation is completed, however, what starts the process? The designer knocks over one domino and the rest just happens. Hundreds, if not thousands, of dominoes begin to fall at a rapid pace, initiating a fascinating, often beautiful display of motion, color and flare.

You see, our one action today, tomorrow or the next day – a word of encouragement, an act of kindness, a listening ear or hundreds of other possibilities – could be that first domino in the life of someone.  It could be the one domino that leads to another falling, another after that and then hundreds or more after that in a family, office, community or neighborhood.

But if we don’t knock it over, think of what might be missed or never happen? You see, we can all be that first domino no matter our past, present, limitations or struggles. We just need to have our eyes and ears open. If you’re a person of faith, you might listen for that whisper or quiet voice saying Do it now. Whatever, don’t miss out. Don’t stay paralyzed. Knock one over – today.