Thursday, March 31, 2016

Renovation Project

Renovation of cities and neighborhoods has recently become a more popular movement as we realize the need to help make positive changes where we live. I am a believer in the need for responsible citizens and Christ followers to invest deeply in their community. Leonce Crump’s book, “Renovate: Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You Are” echoes that sentiment in a way that made me exclaim “Yes!” several times while reading it.

Leonce is a pastor in Atlanta who understands the need to be committed to your present city while being fueled by a passion to facilitate positive changes. He issues a powerful challenge in his introduction by telling his readers they are in their current location to be part of God’s solution and meet the need around them. This is in opposition to the societal norm that applauds transience. Pastor Crump instead is looking to reinforce the principle of having a “theology of place” and staying somewhere long enough to help contribute to positive change.

His book isn’t just a challenge to work long-term towards lasting change, but also to eradicate segregational barriers that prevent true unity. He encourages readers to identify everyone through the eyes of Christ to see the “new humanity” and “new community” we are called to have through the cross of Christ. This is a passionate plea to work together in our neighborhoods with respect and commitment so we can see a partnership of lasting renovation.

Leonce is obviously passionate about the need for the church to be a leader in true renovation and he isn’t afraid to share hard truths. He made me think very carefully about my own efforts to make a difference and to make sure my motives were clear. He was able to clearly communicate tough principles without seeming judgmental or condescending. His book was challenging enough to make me think about driving to Atlanta just to spend some time with him and see how he is living these principles out. I definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to be part of positive change in their community and wants to be part of something that lasts.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Shift of Attitude

There is beauty in a simple, genuine prayer of humility. If we want to have a positive effect on our community and those close to us we have to choose to act in kindness. Even if you aren't a follower of Christ the words of St. Francis of Assisi are wise to follow:

Make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon,
Where there is discord, union,
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is error, truth,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is sadness, joy,
Where there is darkness, light.

O Divine Master, 
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Finding Fulfillment

Recently someone asked me a question about personal fulfillment and I had to stop and think about my answer. I was able to share a few things that fit that description, but I've been pondering the question more this past week. Unfortunately, it can be easy to move through a crammed personal and professional schedule and not find a great deal of fulfillment. That doesn't necessarily mean tasks aren't getting accomplished, but that there may not be a deep satisfaction when we're done. I'm not suggesting that everything we do has to bring a deep personal sense of zen. I do think we have to find a way to balance what must be done with those things that bring us satisfaction.

I know very few people who can find all they are searching for in their professional life. Most of us are (or should be) more well-rounded than just career focused. I am still working on my personal definition, but I know of a few places I can find it already. Physically, it's in my consistent exercise and especially running where I find joy in gains and positive changes. With my family, it's in our consistent family time and the things we share together. In ministry, I find it when I see people grasp the consistent good nature of God and start to live in His pathway. In my friendships, I find it when there is honest accountability and encouragement and a willingness to believe the best in each other.

I think we can often identify when something leaves us less than fulfilled. Perhaps we'll find contentment more if we pause to search for what delivers true meaning.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Do You Agree?

I doubt many people take the time to carefully read each part of the terms and conditions associated with using software. I admit I have never really read each sentence to make sure I am in agreement with the user license. In my eagerness to use the program/app, I just click the "accept" button and move on. It's a good thing these companies are (mostly) ethical or we would all be in trouble.

Isn't it interesting how quickly we will acquiesce to the conditions provided to us when we are just focused on getting what we want out of it? I'm assuming there won't be any hidden clauses or tricks and am very quick to offer my acceptances. Why is it we can do that for our technology, but rebel against that same principle when dealing with our spirituality? It's almost as if we expect God to sneak in some clause we never predicted and won't want to follow. Instead of stepping forward in faith to follow His better path we hedge our bets in case something we don't like comes to light.

We probably should place a little less trust in self-serving, capitalistic entities and a little more in a selfless, caring deity who has proven His reliability.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Dark Day

The day after a tragic event presents unique challenges. I can think of several times in my life when I have faced these circumstances and how difficult the next day can be. When waking up that morning, it may even take a minute or two to remember how drastically things have changed. Of course reality sets in quickly as we remember that things are now very different. The day after a sentinel event isn't easy to reconcile because there is now a brand new reality for us to live with. We have experienced death, loss, and disruption of our normal life pattern and still haven't had the time we need to process what comes next.

I think about the followers of Jesus and how the day after the crucifixion must have been for them. All they had committed their lives to for three years was apparently gone. Their tight-knit community was scattered and no one knew what to do next. I'm sure they were in fear for their own lives as their seemingly invincible leader had been executed. Their entire perception of reality had been radically altered and no one knew what the future held for them. I would imagine this is the day depression, anger, frustration, and hopelessness settled in and began to take root.

The space between tragedy and hope can feel overwhelming. The realization that nothing will be the same as we once knew it isn't easy to grasp. If we can empathize with the followers of Christ through our situations however, we might be able to see the potential for hope on the horizon. Sometimes the smallest sliver of light is enough to convince us the darkness won't last forever.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Inching Forward

Sticking to the commitment to making changes in our life isn't always an easy decision. The early days of new behaviors are tough as we retrain our mind and body to behave differently. Our old habits threaten to overtake our new desires and we can become discouraged by the difficulty of this change. There are different studies that suggest it takes 21 days for a new habit to take effect, but I've also seen some that suggest it is closer to 66 days before something is ingrained. I think the exact number might be different for each of us, but there is one common element that helps us keep going--seeing positive results.

When we start to see even small, incremental progress from our new behaviors this encourages us to stay on this new track. Our relationships might start to improve because we've committed to approaching things with a more peaceful attitude. A new runner is able to run for 1/2 mile when that wasn't a possibility before. Changes in muscle tone become more evident after struggling to complete repetitions. Kicking a smoking habit is a bit easier when the cravings start to lessen even if they haven't disappeared completely.

Positive progress makes us aware that what we are doing is working. We all need forward momentum or we'll get discouraged and quit before we can create new, healthier habits.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Hard Question

One of the hardest questions we can ask ourselves is, "Why?" It's easier to ask the question of "What?" because we can list the symptoms of a problem without having to address the cause. We can ask the question of "Who?" because we need someone to blame. We ask the question of "When?" as we figure out the time frame of the problem. There is even the question of "How?" to lay out the actions leading to our predicament. None of these questions, however, will help us discover the reasons we end up where we are.

When we shift our focus to wanting to know the rationale behind our circumstances, we can start to solve the problem. An internal audit brings us face to face with our own motivation and moves us beyond complaining about our current circumstances to actually doing something about them. Without knowing "why" something has happened we only address things superficially. Getting to the heart of the matter means peeling back uncomfortable layers and looking deeply at the root cause so healing can begin.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Where I'm Going

"Don’t judge me in terms of what I am, but how far I’ve come, 
and in terms of where I hope to go in life." 
Tony Campolo

It’s too easy to do the opposite of what Tony says and only judge people by what we see in the present. Even when we know someone well we can ignore their personal growth journey and only focus on what we see in this moment. Instead of hammering them for what they haven’t achieved yet, we should celebrate the steps along the journey of growth. This highlights the difficult personal choices they have made and encourages them to keep moving forward in maturity at the same time.

I often forget to extend that idea of gracious thought to myself. I want to be so much more than I currently am—a deeply devoted follower of Christ, more thoughtful husband, an encouraging father, and a helpful colleague. When I look at where I don’t measure up in those expectations, I can fall into the trap of neglecting how far I’ve come in my own growth. This doesn’t give me license to stop moving forward, but should encourage me to keep maturing and developing as a man.

I’ve got to believe this is true for the people my life intersects with so that it can also be true for me.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Falling Down

The game of dominoes is not one I've ever played, but I do remember setting them up in a row to be knocked over. There are even online videos of intricate, lengthy circles and rows ready to be pushed down. It's a fascinating thing to watch, but is less enthralling when it feels like your personal life is being treated like a row of dominoes.

There are times when it seems as if one circumstance after another piles up and knocks down our resistance, endurance, courage, and health. It feels like this falling motion is completely out of control and we have to wait for everything to hit the floor before we can recover. How can we stop this from happening? How do we regain some of our lost courage and find a way to stop the cycle of disappointment and pain? Is there a way out or are we doomed to waiting out this pattern and hoping we have strength at the end to survive?

When things are threatening to careen out of control, we have to learn to ask for help. It’s extremely difficult to jump in front of the avalanche and stop this momentum on our own. It is possible, however, to halt this destructive pattern if we humbly ask for help. In fact, it’s the only way we can expect to find lasting recovery from the hurts we are enduring.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Family Has Value

Yesterday, Adam LaRoche unexpectedly retired after a solid baseball career. He has been a contributor at the major league level for 12 years and is a respected player. Adam wasn't a superstar, but had played solidly for several different teams. He is also a devoted father who often brought his son to the ballpark to be part of the game. This had not been an issue at any other point during his career and in fact, his son was considered the unofficial team "mascot" for his time with the Washington Nationals.

LaRoche had just finished the first year of a two year contract with the Chicago White Sox when he decided to leave the game. His retirement means he walks away from $13 million instead of playing out his contract. The main reason he chose to leave is that a senior leader in the White Sox organization asked him to keep his son away from baseball activities. With Adam knowing this was his last year no matter what, he decided he wasn't willing to spend it without his son. Instead of decreasing his family time, LaRoche chose to leave a very large sum of money on the table and walk away.

While there may be merits for both sides of this disagreement, I have to respect Adam's choice as a father. His time with his young teenage son during the last year of his playing career was too important for him to compromise. He wanted to tell his son that family was more important than finishing out a contract even if the money involved is larger than most people will make in a lifetime. Adam clearly communicated where his values were and left no doubt in his family's mind.

Am I doing that with my own family? Can they tell how much of a priority they are to me by the decisions I make? Have my actions removed any doubt about their value and how much I care? There may be times when I am better at this than others, but I pray my wife and daughters can see their importance through all of them.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Winning Formula

March Madness is one of my favorite times of year. I am a big fan of college basketball and enjoy watching this tournament take place with all of its drama and unexpected results. The upsets are part of the beauty of the tournament. They aren't always predictable and it leads to teams taking on the mantle of "Cinderella" as they make surprising runs deep into the tournament. This unstable environment is part of what makes filling out a bracket such a fun challenge. No matter what I read to prepare or how I trust my instincts I still won't be 100% correct. Regardless of what popular opinion reveals, the game must still be played out for a win to take place. A team won't move on just because they should progress.

The same is true for us. There are many things we should be capable of conquering and working our way through, but it won't happen just because it seems like it should. We've got to have a plan to put into action and then execute that plan to get the results we desire. While this won't bring a 100% certainty of success, it does set us up for the best potential outcome.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Staying Together

The idea of improvement is appealing, but not always easy to fulfill. In fact, I want to get better at many parts of my life yet realize the amount of hard work it takes to make it a reality. One of the keys to successful advancements is to have someone to help push you along.

When I ran in my last half marathon I was able to run at a good pace and wondered if I would be able to maintain it in other races. One of the keys to my successful run was a fellow runner who set a good pace in front of me. We were able to run together for several miles and find an easy rhythm. It's a proven fact that having someone pushing (or pulling) on your journey helps the overall results.

This is true for other parts of our life as well. If we want to develop stronger character, we need to align ourselves with people possessing the same ideals and motives. If we want to be more committed to our families, we need to find people who are passionate about healthy family values. Developing a deeper spiritual life happens best in a community of like-minded mature people. Our fitness levels can increase if we find accountability with others who have the same goals and similar physical health values. 

To help us improve, we should look for people moving in the same direction and at a similar speed. This way we can find a healthy, but challenging rhythm to help us grow.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Biggest Risk

What if I’m honest with you about who I am and you don’t like me? Then I’ve been real and my real self has been rejected. Is that a risk we are willing to take? That’s why we don’t practice transparency. If you criticize a false image of me, you haven’t really hurt me even though it might sting a little. This leaves us with a choice to make: hide who we really are in an effort to protect ourselves or be real and hope for the best. We might feel safer with the former choice, but we’ll never engage in a relationship of significance unless we choose the latter.

Authentic community doesn’t happen without the risky step of being who we really are.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Making Things Personal

Yesterday, I ran in a local race supporting clean water through World Vision and a local partnership with GCSU. Each registration fee would be directly funneled through this organization to help provide clean water for one person in a country where that is not readily available. The race distance was 6 kilometers (about 3.7 miles) which is the average distance someone travels to reach an often unclean water source. This particular event brought together two of my passions: running and helping others.

What made the event even more unique was that the race bib had a picture of the person my funds directly supported. This wasn't just a nameless, faceless organization, but an individual whose life was impacted by me. While I will most likely never meet this young man, I can be strengthened by knowing our two lives have intersected in a very real way. Being able to identify those we help increases the bond between us and makes our impact more tangible.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Make It Happen

I'm on a quick 48 hour trip with my girls to see my family in Florida at the end of this week. We packed small overnight bags since we'll be back home tomorrow. I did increase my luggage slightly by bringing some running gear however. Thursday is a regular run day for me and I wasn't willing to let it go by without getting in some miles.

I realized there are some things we are all unwilling to forgo. Can we clearly identify those habits and behaviors we want to hold on to? Are they healthy enough to keep? How will we prepare to make sure we can accomplish them? We might believe there are non-negotiable practices, but we will need to prep to make it an actionable reality.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Sorting Through It All

We were heavily involved with a local homeless assistance shelter when I worked in youth ministry in Florida. Periodically we would take groups down to help prepare and serve a meal. This gave our youth a chance to take part in something bigger than themselves and also helped them become aware of a need in their community.

There was one time in particular when we asked to help sort through some food that had been donated. In this batch was a large donation of fresh green beans which were no longer able to be sold. Obviously, not all of these green beans were edible so we were tasked with sorting through them to keep what was good and toss what could not be served. There are really no specific words to describe the feeling of a slimy, inedible green bean between your fingers-even when wearing latex gloves. It was an unpleasant, but necessary task if we were going to keep what was useful while getting rid of the trash.

Sorting through things in our life can often have the same unpleasantness. There are habits, relationships, dreams, and beliefs which need to be picked through and cast aside for our overall health. Unless we thoughtfully separate the good and the bad, we can end up with an overall negative influence spreading throughout our lives. The task of dividing what stays from what must go won't necessarily be pleasant and may even leave a distasteful memory. The cost of not sorting things out, however, is much higher than we should be willing to pay.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Practice or Real Life?

When I was involved in theater, we would always get the cast together to do a read through of the script. This gave us a chance to get to know each other, hear the director's thoughts, and start to discover more about our characters. It was a safe practice that wasn't open to the public because we weren't ready for that step yet. We needed time to rehearse and become more comfortable with our show before it was time to step under the lights. The read through wasn't the real performance and didn't reflect what things were going to be once we had more time to refine

Life might be easier if we were able to do a read through before the big performance, but it's not how things happen. Every piece of our life is real and part of the larger show of who we are and who we're becoming. Each conversation we have carries weight and our actions have a more powerful impact than we might realize in the moment. I don't think this means we should live fearfully, but that we should see how each interaction and event in our life is part of the big show. We can't casually dismiss pieces of it as they all contribute to the sum of our lives.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Releasing Your Grip

There are people who are hoarders of possessions. They continue to stockpile things without being able to get rid of them until it overwhelms their home and family. It's not something I completely understand, but I offer no ridicule either. It is a true anxiety disorder which can be quite debilitating.

While we may not all suffer from this particular disorder, I do think we practice hoarding in other ways in our life. We may be hanging onto our talents and abilities and not finding ways to use them. We have positive words and encouragement we can speak to our family and friends and choose not to speak them. We have financial resources (even when limited) we can use to help others and cling tightly to them instead of releasing some to make a difference.

This type of hoarding is harder to classify and doesn't get the same consideration as the more widely recognized disorder. It can still cause unexpected anxiety while limiting our person growth and depriving others around us of a potential blessing. If it's within our power to make a positive difference, we should use whatever we have for that purpose.

Friday, March 4, 2016

It's Not a Quick Fix

It’s sometimes difficult being a person who wants to fix things when they aren’t going well. I want to assess an issue, come up with a solution, and put it into action. Unfortunately, part of this desire can work against me by looking only for a quick fix. Long-term and deep problems can’t be remedied with a snap decision and limited time. As I often share with people in counseling situations, “You can’t change in a day what took a lifetime to create."

There are some situations which can’t be corrected with a shift in strategy, an innovative approach, or a perfectly timed word of wisdom. I think this is good counsel for personal relationships and an especially valuable perspective for the church. Instead of trying to quickly fix a person’s problem(s) and then assimilating them into the church body, we should be focused on engaging with people on a journey of faith and healing. God didn’t put His church together just to provide a overnight medication for what ails us. He intends this to be a thriving, committed group living in healing grace together each day.

The church should be viewed as a long-term, loving community instead of a religious, urgent-care clinic where we want to diagnose, treat, and dismiss people as quickly as possible. True religion isn’t a quick fix, but an ongoing commitment to seeking God together.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

It's a Dangerous Practice

There is a simple thing that can quickly bring instability to any relationship. It's been known to disrupt marriages, friendships, and even work environments. When I lead premarital counseling I always caution against the inherent danger in this common practice. It's the poison of unmet, unexpressed expectations. 

We all have expectations for how things should develop and how certain situations should unfold. By itself this isn't necessarily negative. Problems start to arise when we get upset or greatly disappointed when our expectations aren't met. When we allow this to impact the people around us when we have never shared those thoughts, we are now adding another qualifying characteristic: unreasonable

It's not very wise to believe other people will be able to anticipate how to respond exactly how we want them to. Learning to share these thoughts creates an opportunity to discover what is realistic while making our feelings known. A clear communication of desires may not necessarily bring the results we intended, but it does open up the pathway to honest expression. Too many relationships fail when one person gets upset and the other person has no idea why. 

Either learn to share these expectations (and make realistic adjustments) or stop taking things personally when they don't happen according to an internal, unshared script.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

An Extra Day

How often do we wish for one extra day? I know I've felt that way near the end of a good vacation when I've wanted just one more day of relaxation. Perhaps it was while on a honeymoon or while having a great time with friends and family. In crunch time at work, I know I've often wished for one more day to get things done and get caught up.

I realized yesterday that I've been given the gift of one more day for this year. Instead of the standard 365 days to use, we have 366 due to leap year. It may not seem like much since the calendar keeps rolling along, but the truth is there is still one more day in 2016 than in 2015.

How should I spend this gift? Leap day has already passed me by, but that doesn't mean I can't take advantage of another day in the future and do something special with it. What do I do with this gift? What's the best thing I can do to take advantage of an extra 24 hours this year? I don't want to take it for granted and just let it pass me by. These don't come around every year after all.