No Waiting: Not Necessarily

waitI made one of my several-times-a-week visits to a Starbucks near where I am both a chaplain and pastor. (I believe most seminaries teach a class on studying in coffee shops. Mine did.)

Anyhow, I noticed something that I think I’ve been missing in most of the places we go that have drive-thru windows. If you’re in the outside line, you get better service. I’ll see eight or ten cars go through and receive their orders while I wait on mine.

On the one hand I get it. They have to keep the line moving. But it’s a bit discouraging to realize that those of us inside who have made the effort to get out of our cars and slow down a little, get treated with less importance then those who are hurrying to the next place or commitment.

And I suppose I should be thankful that it works this way because these facilities are actually helping me slow down! But there’s a bigger point here.

Our culture doesn’t like to wait and many of us have bought into that way of life as the best way. We have Amazon Prime now where our packages come the same day or next at worst. They’re even talking about sending them by drone at some point. Geesh, I hope mine doesn’t get confused with a military drone that ends up sending a heat-seeking missile at my front porch! Either way no waiting.

We can order our food and drinks ahead of time and just pick them up when WE want them. No waiting. We can pay a little extra or become really important so that we don’t have any delay boarding our airplanes. No waiting.

Is there much of anything that you can’t get online without much of a wait? I don’t think so except maybe another child. I’ll wait.

Is there anything wrong with increasing some of our conveniences and helping us avoid so many lines and delays?  Of course not. But I think there are some reasons why we shouldn’t always avoid the waiting.

One, waiting can help us learn that everything good in life isn’t necessarily instant.  I wonder if young people today are actually learning that if they can’t get something right now – a skill, talent, benefit, gift or whatever – that it isn’t worth having. And yet some of the best, most lasting, inspiring, life-changing moments and experiences can never be instant.

Great paintings, Olympic medals, intimate relationships and miracle producing skills were not obtained in a No Waiting line.  They are usually the result of years of work, sweat, practice, training and perseverance.

Two, waiting teaches us to slow down and see some things we might miss by just rushing through. It’s like flying versus driving. There are great benefits to flying but driving lets us see little towns, meet new people and view things from up close at 40 or 60 miles per hour, not four hundred. I think of the people I’ve met along the way in a car or train, the fun signs or little towns we’ve stopped to see or the wildlife that just happened along the way that we would have missed traveling faster.

And even when my slowdown was caused by less desirable circumstances, the waiting has often had special benefits. I remember having to spend the night in Frankfurt, Germany because of missing my flight back to Chicago. However, that evening before I slept I had dinner with a wonderful Austrian man in a small, airport restaurant. That may never happen again and I’m glad I didn’t miss it.

So, okay there are times when the fast lane is best. But remember that waiting may be part of God’s way to slow us down so that we don’t look back on our lives someday and wish we’d seen and experienced all those things that others enjoyed by skipping the drive thru. I think I’ll have another latte – inside.

No Politics From Me: Just Principles That Might Help Us

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I’m on Facebook quite a bit along with nominal looks at Twitter and of course other places where people get adamant about their political and social views. I appreciate the passion they have about their perspective because I’m pretty passionate about my views, at least the ones that I think have a moral basis and are not just my preferences.

However, I don’t spend much time debating those views on public sites and you might think about taking the same position. Why?

First, very few people will change their mind because of your rant, meme, believed absolute, attack or guilt trip. Most of us are pretty convinced we’re right and don’t change sides easily. That doesn’t mean we can’t change our views but it will take some time, thought, deeper conversations and nuanced insights to do so.

Second, people are rarely drawn to us to know more about anything if we come across as arrogant, know-it-alls. Frankly, I want to keep the door open to connecting with people, even those who disagree, so I’ll share more about my views  with people but it has to happen in another, better setting.

You see, there are several kinds of posts that we need to quit posting. To keep doing so will lose us friends, make us look trite and convince more people that we really aren’t that insightful. Not much of a legacy or reputation.

One, let’s stop exaggerating and suggesting that anyone’s actions are going to do something to all, everyone, forever or the culture. They aren’t. Hyperbole is cheap, lazy criticism and if we’re going to make a statement then at least back it up.

Two, on a related note, let’s quit using tired, unfair labels for anyone who disagrees. People aren’t necessarily bigots, haters, racists, un-Christian or losers just because they don’t see eye to eye with us. Name-calling is merely unkind and won’t help any further discussions to happen, ones that could actually help the discourse.

Three, let’s stop suggesting that our way or ideas should have no limits. Statements like I’m for freedom or no wall or refugees or faith or forgiveness or . . . .may be irresponsible, impossible and dangerous if there are no parameters.

The bottom line is that we need to learn to tolerate and at least listen to those who don’t see it our way. There’s  too much yelling and screaming, even on Facebook, these days. How about a little more listening and learning first?

What I’d Rather Be Way More Than Famous

being-famousThere are lots of well-known Christians in today’s media, internet and popularity – driven culture who are now household names. I’m not one of them and quite thankful about that.

Now to be fair, many of them didn’t ask for their fame, status or iconic status and like me, might prefer they didn’t have it. Some of it came with the territory (or perhaps after reading The Prayer of Jabez.)

Nonetheless, it’s seems important to first realize the inherent perils of even religious notoriety and if possible give serious consideration to avoiding more popularity. Why? What’s the problem with being a big name?

First, you start becoming an expert on certain topics or even THE voice for much of Christianity. People start saying ____________  (you) said instead of Jesus said. Some start believing your way, your church, your ministry, your latest I just discovered concept, your video is the answer that Christians have been missing all these years. Do you attend conferences? Do you keep seeing many of the same experts speaking at them? I do.

Second, your followers keep asking for more. They want the next book, blog post, conference message, brilliant outline, word or concept that will keep them excited about their faith until you or someone comes up with the next one. They want to hear your stats – how many books you sold, people came to Christ, churches were started or concerts you had this year. It’s a black hole that your groupies started and which may never end.

Third, you can’t mess up. Now I’m not condoning that we in ministry should be able to stray and have it overlooked or come without consequence. But when you’re famous, every action is evaluated, compared and examined by those who think you should be comparable to Billy Graham and Mother Teresa. And even the smallest chink in your armor may show up in People or Christianity Today.

You know what I’d rather be and do with my life? I want to merely be someone who influences others to be more like Christ. But there are no numbers associated with my wish. Could I become famous? I suppose so though my wife prays against that most of the time.

But if I’m content with influencing and impacting smaller numbers, one at a time or maybe a few hundred through my speaking, blogs or small books on family, then I won’t be so driven to try to find out how there can be more.

Granted, some will say that if I have more potential I should seek it. But perhaps we’ve forgotten that potential is often beyond our understanding or view. Could it be that touching and influencing just one person could have the same potential as someone who speaks to or writes for thousands has? I think so.

So rather than seeking fame go after influence and impact. Being famous could still be the result and if so handle it well. Stay humble. If you don’t, then instead of gaining notoriety you may just end up notorious.

 

A New Year Change Means A New You In Some Way

newyearsWe’ve all tried the resolution route, right? We start off the new year (or new season of life) with great expectations that THIS time we will really stick with that exercise program, Bible reading plan, savings commitment or reduced sugar lifestyle. We promise not to get so angry but rather to unload one or more of those other bad habits or even destructive attitudes.

But before long, we haven’t just stopped our discipline. We didn’t even notice that we quit!

Why is that? Well, I would like to suggest that at least one significant reason for our lack of follow through is that we didn’t deal with the issue or issues inside that were fueling our dysfunction, unhelpful habit or lack of discipline. You see, often, in fact most of the time, the reason we’re overeating, spending too much, being lazy or angry much of the time lies somewhere deep within us.

There is pain, disappointment, even despair that hasn’t been addressed so many of our actions are actually painkillers. And frankly we don’t want to face the pain so we hold on to the drugs so to speak rather than release them. And if we do get rid of one drug, but don’t take care of the inward cause, the tumor, we’ll either go back to it or find a more socially acceptable drug to get people off our back.

So, what’s a better way? Deal with the source of your pain, discouragement, anger, despair or major disappointment. Perhaps you’re still grieving a loss, feeling like a failure, angry about a recent series of events or with an adult child. There are hundreds of possibilities that you and a pastor, therapist, counselor or insightful friend or spouse need to talk through. Let God also show you where the real problem resides.

Because once you start to let go of what caused that pain and the scar or tumor truly begins to heal, you won’t find yourself needing the medication so much. You’ll actually overcome some of your fears, try new things and accomplish a resolution (change) or two. It’s not an easy road, but try starting somewhere this year. Take a step or two but first look inside. It may be more readily fixed than you think. God certainly knows it can be handled. Give Him a chance.

If Your Heart Is Hurting This Christmas

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Janice sat by herself in the mall waiting for Carol to buy another present at a nearby store. Janice had agreed to accompany her friend to the mall for some Christmas shopping but was now regretting that she had come. Janice hadn’t bought one gift and probably would not today or the next day.

While Carol had kindly asked her to go into just one more store and give her an opinion about her gift choice, she simply couldn’t. All she could think about was that her mom, who passed away six weeks ago, wasn’t here this Christmas. It was always Mom and me who went shopping together. But not this year or ever again.

So Janice sat in the mall corridor watching seemingly happy people talking, drinking coffee, laughing and obviously anticipating another wonderful Christmas. How could the world just keep going and celebrating when her world felt so dark, empty and cold?

Janice isn’t a real person but there are lots like her out there this Christmas and one of them may be you or someone you know. And while everyone grieves differently to some degree and for varying lengths of time, there are a few important concepts to remember and embrace when going through grief at a holiday.

First of all, you don’t have to live up to everyone’s expectation. People will want you to go places, be there at certain times, stay for a while and enjoy yourself. You don’t have to. If  someone asks you to come over, say that you’ll see how you’re doing that day and may only come for dessert if at all. You decide. Whether they are happy or pleased about it doesn’t matter.

Second, you don’t have to do all the things you normally do for a holiday. If you feel like decorating, do it. If not, skip it or find somewhere in between. There’s no one right way to do Christmas after a loss. Do it your way. It’s okay.

Third, enjoy at least a few memories of your lost loved one. It may be in conversation with one or a few, depending upon what you can handle. It might be alone with a journal, looking at pictures or reading old letters. Whatever works to remind you of the good things that person placed in your life is the way to do it. If tears come, embrace them. If you smile, then feel free to laugh, too.

There will be more Christmases and other holidays. They will get better. But it might just take a while, longer than you think. But that’s okay because that’s the way you are. And that’s all that really matters.

 

Christmas: Merry, Messy or Both?

messy_christmasA good friend lost his dad today. Another relative is still missing her husband who died far too soon. I had a call this afternoon from a company leader who watched the rescue squad carry a worker away who had been killed on the job in a tragic accident.

Those people will probably not enjoy a very merry Christmas this year. No, their emotions, circumstances and thoughts will likely form an often messy cauldron of hurt, sadness and pain. Maybe your Christmas doesn’t look very merry either. And yet it seems like everyone around  you is still having a great time and wonder what is wrong with you.

The reality is that you are not alone. Many are experiencing what you’re facing though they may never talk about it. It doesn’t matter. You’re not weird or abnormal. The very first Christmas was messy too.

Jesus was born into a messy situation to a woman who would be thought of as having an illegitimate child (though in reality she was married.)  He was born in a manger, not even a home, special room or place of care. Within two years the king was trying to have him killed. Yes, he had some special visitors, even supernatural observation and rejoicing,  but very few celebrated his birth beyond that.

You see, Christmas doesn’t have to be a totally happy, merry time. It only takes on its  complete significance in the context of messy. Christ was God’s answer for the world’s rejection of him, his way for us to get to God, become His child and find hope and strength to deal with messiness.

So how can we act if we’re facing messy this Christmas? First, if you’ve never done so, invite this Jesus into your life, your messiness, your selfishness and sin. He will help you overcome your mess every day you need Him.

Second, accept the mess as fertile ground for God to work, grow you and bear much fruit. Mess can be the compost that actually helps nourish the soil and causes greater growth.

Third, enjoy the special moments you can still experience this season. Don’t miss joy that you could relish because you keep staring at your mess.

Fourth, talk to God, get to know Him in the mess of your life. He specializes in fixing messes or showing His greatness in them.

Emmanuel means God With Us, even in the mess, especially in the mess. When Jackie had her cancer we left our Nativity out for the entire year. Why? Because we needed reminding that God would be with us IN the mess. He’ll do the same for you.

Do You Really Want a NEW Year? I Do. Many don’t.

change-taylor-swiftOkay, I’ve got your attention by putting a Taylor Swift picture above this blog post. And yes, I know that Christmas isn’t even here yet so maybe you’re probably wondering why I’m already looking at January 1 and beyond. However, the next few weeks will fly  by and frankly with the election now over, there are a lot of possible new ways of doing things that are ahead for our country. We of course don’t know what they all will be but hopefully many of them will be what we’ve all been waiting for whether we want to admit it or not.

The problem is that there are many people in our country who really don’t want to see significant change happen. For example, they don’t want more tolerance as I wrote about recently. They merely want their views to be the only ones acceptable and applauded.

Others will perhaps find opportunities for better jobs, more education and greater choice but would prefer to keep getting their government checks and other help rather than take the initiative needed to embrace those improvements in their lives. Staying where they are by choosing the easy way is better than having to actually accomplish something to receive their gain.

Millions will also likely look the other way when crooked, arrogant and self-serving leaders aren’t challenged, much more so prosecuted for their actions because that would mean that they were wrong about many of the  people they supported.

In additions many politicians on both sides don’t really want reform if it means losing their popularity with their constituents, relinquishing some of their perks and maybe not having a job with all that power anymore. They may talk about change, but will give little effort to see it happen. Remember our current president’s mantra about change we can believe in? Sadly, there has been little of that the last seven plus years.

So while New Year’s Day is just weeks away now, I wonder how much of the year will actually be new. I hope a lot of it. But it’s going to require that more of us actually desire the change that will make our country truly new, different, healthier and more prosperous. It will be change that requires both sides to listen, respect and respond kindly to those who disagree.

If we even did that on a small scale in 2017, it would really be a new year!

 

“Give Pence A Chance,” And Others, Please.

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Recently, our Vice President – elect,  Mike Pence, and his family attended the highly acclaimed musical Hamilton in New York City. Tickets apparently cost in the hundreds of dollars apiece and Mr. Pence’s tickets were not free.

However, at the end of the show, the lead in the cast, with his fellow actors nearby, took the time to lecture Mr. Pence and his family about diversity and being a country for all the people. Of course, there was no opportunity for response, perspective or listening to his common or opposing views. There was no thank you for serving, Governor Pence, or other accolades. Like so much of today’s commentary, it was a one-way ambush, intolerant of others who might disagree.

And before we argue that actor’s right to his views, compare the Vice President elect’s treatment with the current President’s greetings when his family attended the same musical. They were welcomed backstage, honored and thanked for coming with no lecture in sight. Sadly, this one-way sermonizing has become too common in our country. Too many claim openness and honesty if it’s one direction, if it agrees with their perspective but not the other side.

Similar responses are everywhere and growing more acceptable at least in the Hollywood, media, New York, music and other elitist worlds. And while we would be wrong to say that people can’t speak honestly about people, politics and perspectives, we need to keep talking about and exposing how disingenuous  and intolerant dissent against certain acceptable views is these days.

And it seems that much of this one-sided attitude and arrogance comes from those who have little reason to be heard in the first place. Why should we base our moral and wise choices on the thoughts of an actor, musician, writer, professor or athlete any more than anyone else. Just because they have a platform doesn’t make them right.

But if there is a truth that much of our country at least claims to be universal it’s that all people have a right to their views and opinions, even actions, provided they don’t hurt others or break a current law. Sadly, many in the public arena don’t accept that. From what I could tell from the Hamilton clip his comments about accepting all people didn’t really include anyone who disagreed with him!

So, we can respond in whatever way we choose. And I’m not suggesting boycotts here but I plan to quit attending some of their performances, or buying their music or watching their late night programming or following their Facebook pages  or reading their books and the like if they’re going to lecture me on what they think but not hear or respect the other side.

I’ll also increase my respect for and interest in those who disagree with me and yet do it with open mind and a listening ear to the opposition. It’s that kind of openness and dialogue that this country was founded on and that I’m hoping to see more of once people quit embracing the vocal majority, many of whom don’t know what they’re talking about anyway.

Why Prominent Christians Should Skip Endorsing

1412621043000-endorsement-16x9Another well-known and popular Christian personality just spoke out against one of the presidential candidates. She has a heart-wrenching story in her past that makes her criticisms and lack of support perhaps warranted. Other famous Christians have chosen to do the same on one side or another and they’re, as far as I know, not committing a crime by taking a stand.

But in my opinion they are unwise and don’t help the outcome of the election or the cause of Christ. Let me suggest several reasons why.

Too many people think that famous Christians are always right. These people in their minds might just as well have been one of the original twelve (well, not Judas Isacriot) and speak words equal to that of Holy Scripture. So when they go public, millions listen and I would guess are swayed toward feeling the same way. And whether it’s not voting for a certain candidate (or not listening to a particular rock band or whatever), their loyalists will often follow blindly.

Secondly, they often come across to some and better known as arrogant know-it-alls  rather than the Christian leader they’ve been for decades.  Of course, their adherents don’t feel that way but many others do and that’s unfortunate. Because instead of having the potential to have even more learn or be impacted by them, those same people often walk the other way.

Thirdly, while they may clearly express their opinion about a person or group, they rarely have solutions or better answers. For example, in an election if people are told one candidate is bad, then that seems to imply they are for the other. But are they really? What if the other candidate is worse? Or are they saying they won’t vote at all? What’s the better alternative? Few ever go there, they just vent.

So what should famous people do with politics, religious debates and responding to others in the public arena? Well, excuse my bluntness but to famous Christians I say . . . Keep your mouth shut, at least publicly. Express your personal views the way the rest of us do. We vote. We try to change the people and culture around us. Some will run for office themselves and try to be part of the solution, as they say, rather than the problem. There are lots of ways to still take a strong stand if you so desire.

Use your platform, famous ones, for positive change, modeling truth and inspiration in the middle of tough times. Am I suggesting Christians shouldn’t be bold or face tough opposition? Of course not. But Jesus had multiple opportunities to use his greatness, being equal with God and power to dominate, coerce and even supernaturally change everyone’s point of view and yet he was often silent, subdued and distant. But He still changed the world.

We can too. But we don’t have to influence millions at a time. We might just impact more the other, slower way.

The Lost Art and Discipline of Waiting

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Had to wait for anything lately? Your food at the restaurant, the light to turn green at the intersection, a baby to be born, a needed check to arrive, a potential employer to call or critical test results to emerge from the doctor’s office or hospital?

We’re not much of a waiting culture anymore are we? People sit for days outside of the Apple Store, yes waiting, but only because they won’t be able to stand not getting the latest phone or pad one day after it’s available. Young couples get married but often take on huge debt because they don’t want to wait for the big house, fancy car and rooms full of possessions that others already have.

We used to wait for our pictures to be developed but new technology allows us to see them immediately (and I’m glad for that). During the upcoming election we will get results and nearly-always-right predictions of state decisions within seconds of the polls closing. Only rarely is there any waiting involved after that.

And of course there is nothing inherently wrong with some things happening quickly minus the lag time of an unnecessary delay. But sometimes waiting has a purpose or two both in the everyday world and the spiritual realm. Waiting is a common practice in the Psalms.

Psalm 130:5-6, “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning . . . . ”

But there are at least three reasons why we should embrace some of the waiting we must still do in this life and not try to merely speed everything up.

One, we will learn to trust God for the ultimate timing of events and answers to our concerns. Waiting is a form of a fast where we let go of our trying to control everything and give the controls back to God at least on that issue.

Two, we can better remember where our hope and satisfaction come from. Getting everything right away can become like a fix for our addiction to our own pleasure and satisfaction. Parents are wise when they don’t always give kids the newest, latest and coolest even though everyone else seems to have it. Couples are wise when they don’t spend all they have on bigger and better. God is our only hope, our only water for the thirst that is deep within us for more. Waiting reminds us of that.

Three, we slow down, appreciate and see things in the world that we would miss otherwise. When we don’t wait, we don’t stop or even back off our personal gas pedal. When we are willing to wait, we have time to think, meditate, ponder and be thankful for what we do have. When we wait, we focus more on the things that matter and less on the ones that just our longings for a bit longer.

So let me end with a pun of sorts. Learn to watch your wait. And if you’re waiting for something that you really think you must have now, don’t run faster, move slower for a change. You just might enjoy the time and have it take the wait off your shoulders.!