Why You Need A Mountain or Two In Your Life

mark-basarab-157610-unsplash-1I have been working with someone who is going through some pretty serious personal challenges. And while he is making serious progress, he said to me that he just wishes everything could be going well and there wouldn’t be any serious problems in his life.

I know what he’s talking about. Do you ever feel that way? I’ll bet you do.

But problems, difficulties, barriers, mountains, if you like, also have important benefits and we need to keep them in mind when we’re complaining about how life is treating us. I have a whole chapter on this in Never Quit Climbing but let me share a couple of positives with you.

Mountains help us see with bigger, broader perspective. The analogy is obvious when we think of mountains of granite. I love being at high altitude, especially on a summit, and getting to now look scores of miles into the distance. The views are often breathtaking.

But when we climb a personal mountain, we can also gain much greater insight about people, life and what it means to go through pain ourselves. Our viewing point is now way above all the details of life down below. Which leads to a second benefit.

Mountains prepare and strengthen us for future situations. These might be challenges we face or ones we help others get through. But our climb can turn into experience, wisdom and expertise that we wouldn’t have had before our trek up that personal summit. Those new insights are now more powerfully shared or exercised because we’ve now been up a mountain.

Yes, every climb will have its uniquenesses, but experience is a huge teacher and mentor in some way on every trek after the first one. We become more ready to face even tougher challenges.

Mountains are usually hard, steep and relentless at times. But remember the benefits. They will probably come in handy and pay great dividends down the road.

(Get more on this topic with a copy of Never Quit Climbing in eBook or paperback form at Amazon.com.)

 

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Sometimes “Fair” Is Only A Carnival With A Bunch of Rides

FairWho doesn’t like a local fair with rides, elephant ears, greasy foods, games you rarely win, smelly animals, and more elephant ears and puddles of snow cone juice every ten feet? Okay, lots of people detest fairs, but millions more love them and can’t wait for the next one to roll around in a year or less.

But no matter your view on these colorful annual weeks of town, city, county or statewide excitement, the word fair also conjures up not so good thoughts about how life treats us and the cards we seem to be dealt much of the time.

In other words, most of us have experienced circumstances, treatment of others and perceived acts of God that don’t seem fair. And in human terms, they’re not! If fairness means equal treatment, benefits, joys and successes in life, most of us can think of our own situations where we were not treated fairly.

Our best friend got a great job, but we were fired. A neighbor’s house burned to the ground, but ours didn’t. My wife’s brother Paul died of colon/rectal cancer at age sixty but my wife had the same illness and is doing well.

We’ve all said, even groaned, It’s not fair!  Like little children arguing over why they can’t stay up late but a sibling can, we too yell at God, family, our minister or whoever might be nearby when we experience what appear to be huge inequalities that didn’t go our way.

We can feel like Job in the Old Testament who said, “Your hands shaped me and made me. Will you now turn and destroy me? (Job 10:8) What appeared to be unfairness to Job caused him at one point to regret ever living.

So how do we respond when life seems overwhelmingly unfair, when others are thriving and we are not, when others get the breaks, but all we have just breaks?

First, remember that life on earth will never be fair. It started that way, but we humans tainted God’s plans and we must all live with our tendency to continue living our way, not God’s. And if we’re really honest, we wish most that life be fair to us. We don’t care that much how the rest of the world turns out. That’s their problem. But that’s also why our world is a mess. We helped make it that way.

Second, God will bring ultimate fairness to our world in His time, not ours. We may never see fairness fulfilled in this life, but God will even the score in due time. Psalm 9:8, “He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice.” Like the perfect parent that He is, He will ultimately be fair even if we can’t see how now.

Third, remember that God sees what we don’t. He has a bigger perspective. I love it when my little grand boys grab my hand when we’re in a big crowd of people. They can’t see where we’re going, they don’t know the way out or the way home, they may even fear that the crowd will in some way hurt them. All they have at this point is their connection with me. In the same way, we must trust God to see the bigger picture for us and then hold on to him.

Finally, it’s important to recall that Jesus was rarely treated fairly. The injustice was most evident at his crucifixion. He didn’t deserve one hit with the whip, much less dozens. We were the ones who should have died, but instead he took our place and died a gruesome death. The good news is that He overcome that unfairness and won out over death.

When life seems unfair, remember that God’s enough, He understands and He sees outcomes we could never see.

And He knows the way home.

Five Things Your Pastor/Leader Needs And Doesn’t Need

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I’ve been in church ministry for over thirty years. I’ve also served non-church Christian organizations for another ten years or so. I’m well aware of both the possibilities for greatness and the tendencies to fail inherent in people who pursue goals in both arenas. I also have no illusions that people who serve God are without their own wrinkles, warts and even deep dark places. I have mine.

But I also know that many in ministry, most of them actually, are trying to do their best to teach truth practically, help people compassionately and train others  effectively to be like Jesus in everyday life.

Unfortunately, many church attenders and leaders often have a warped, distorted set of expectations, that somehow instead of hiring a person to lead their fellowship, congregation or parish, they got Jesus Himself. And even Jesus might not meet their standards!

So in a day and age when church leaders are under the microscope more than ever (and some need to be) and when many church attenders are perhaps more interested in their own benefit rather than the health of those who lead them, I want to suggest several ideas of things to do for and say to those who lead you while adding a few to simply quit doing.

Your spiritual leader always needs:

1. To be told thank you now and then. Trust me, they probably don’t hear this as much as you might think.

2. A gift card or two to go out to dinner or see a movie with their spouse. Even if they can afford it, buy it for them anyway. That says a lot.

3. A weekend off at least every two months where someone else handles everything. The pressure to prepare, perform and be there weekend after weekend is more draining than the average person will ever know.

4. A vacation longer than a week and at least 3 weeks total per year. A one week vacation looks like this to most pastors: 1 day to prepare to leave, 2 days to come down from the busy schedule, 2 days off, 1 day to start thinking about what needs to be done when they return, 1 day to return.

5. A conference or growth opportunity that he or she chooses. Often these kinds of things are boring, same old, required denominational or other expected events. Let your pastor go to something refreshing and new.

Your spiritual leader never needs:

A. Drop-in visits to criticize the message, church style or direction. Healthy evaluation should be welcomed but not as a drive by shooting.

B. Unsigned notes or letters. I never read them. They are lazy, cheap and never helpful.

C. To be at every event,  service, hospital call or funeral. Your church isn’t growing if others aren’t taught and expected to provide care and some of the other services a pastor brings to the table.

D. To do the best without adequate equipment, staff or other resources. This doesn’t usually require large investment but we should be doing our best to help our staff do their job well with modern up-to-date resources.

E.  To serve without a trusted friend, mentor or coach with whom brutal honesty is accepted and respected. Pastors will not be totally honest or accountable with someone who has power over them so provide someone else. Check out http://www.standingstoneministry.org who offers this for free.

A church will ward off many problems if its leaders and attenders will treat the pastor and their spouse with kindness, wisdom and encouragement. Think about what you can do in the next couple of days.

One of Life’s Toughest Climbs: How You Can Help Your Minister

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Another pastor took his life this past week. He’d had a history of mental illness, but spoke quite openly about it and was getting help. There were people around him who cared about him very much and yet many said they didn’t know he was hurting as badly as he was.

I wish this were just some random, isolated, tragic event but it’s not. Of course, suicide is more rare than other problems. However, those in ministry are often hurting and it’s not necessarily all their fault.

Having been a pastor myself for over 30 years, I know that we can cause our own angst and challenges. We work too much, avoid our families and take too few vacations all in the name of the God we serve. We forget that even Jesus rested and took time to relax and pray and He was only doing ministry for three years.

However, there is much that your pastor can’t control. The expectations are myriad, many of them impossible to fulfill. People’s problems don’t avoid their days off, vacations or personal times. In smaller churches they have to be the CEO, treasurer, grounds keeper and counselor, at least that’s what most people think.

In bigger churches, they are often required to become a high level executive, managing more people than is possible while having to cater to the hundreds of executives in their fellowship judging their work. At the same time, they must prepare a cogent, interesting and theologically acceptable message that will no doubt be dissected later in the day or evening.

So, what can you do, an attender, leader, parishioner or fellow staff member?

First, tell your leaders that you appreciate them. You don’t need to buy them fancy presents or send them to Hawaii. Just say thank you now and then, take them to a meal or coffee and let them know that what they do matters to you. This isn’t the time to bait and switch them with, “Oh, by the way, I have some concerns, too.”

Second, support church leadership’s efforts to give the pastor resources for breaks and special help as needed. Every pastor needs a mentor, coach or confidante. Sometimes they need confidential counseling and there should be some funds around to help with that. Require that your leader take a sabbatical at least every seven years and help pay for that, too. Vacation time should not be optional. If they get three weeks (and they should get at least that), then they must use it.

Third, pray for them. Pray specifically for their family, their heart, their relationships, their spiritual and emotional health and leadership. Prayer matters. Ask them now and then if there is anything specific but don’t be nosy if they don’t give you all the details.

Fourth, accept that they are human. Spiritual leaders get tired, need to rest, like to have fun, need to have time to build family traditions, like to do things that don’t involve the church. They’re not heathens because they engage in those things. They have goals and dreams just like everyone else.

Honor them, thank them, let them know you care. That will be a gift that a trip to Hawaii can’t match. Although they would probably take that, too.

Christmas: Some Will Experience Little Heavenly Peace This Year

Sad.Christmas

A friend still battles cancer. The fight has been relentless. His family has endured it all with him. He’s discouraged more than ever most days.

A family in our area lost six relatives in a fire. Another local breadwinner is out of a job. A Christian leader lost his pastoral role a few months ago and struggles to make enough in a new largely commission job.

Sure they’ll all likely try to squeeze some joy out of the Christmas holidays. They’ll smile here and there and hope that a gift here or there is actually wanted and appreciated. Family will get together but chances are the ones struggling hope they leave soon.

Christmas won’t be the same this year.

Though Jesus, the one whose birth we celebrate, will love each one, be near them and ultimately provide, He will not be the one most of them will seek out. Yes, He is here but He can’t be seen.

But we can. People who are hurting need someone with skin on to face the holidays. Let me suggest what they may need most.

Presence. Yes, I spelled it right. Not presents, but presence, our just being there for them on their terms, in their way, when they want us. We may just sit with them, do something fun or cover for them so they can rest.

Understanding. That means we don’t preach, offer advice or trite answers. We listen, we cry with them if appropriate, we leave our door open but don’t pressure them to come. We only understand what we can truly understand and don’t pretend that we can feel all that they feel.

Consistency. Lots of people will so things once at Christmas because that’s what people do at holidays. But hurting people need to know that we won’t be a one-trick-pony show with our compassion, but we’ll come back, follow up and not forget them once the lights, gifts and church services are over.

Who is out there in your world who needs Jesus in the flesh with them? Keep your eyes open because those people are closer than you think. And they just might need you.

 

Listen: Everyone Has A Story

Everyone has a Story“Half the time I’m here I’d just rather be dead. There’s no one to talk to.”

Those words were the first ones a century – old woman said to me last night. I met her again just before dinner in the hallway of my mom’s assisted living building. We’d chatted briefly  a couple of times during this most recent visit to Florida but our conversation this time would be a more profound one.

For all practical purposes she is also blind though she seems to manage getting her wheelchair to the dining area and a few other places she can find by feel. She is quite engaging, however, and obviously eager and willing to talk. So the counselor, pastor and listener in me urged her to tell me more about why she felt the way she did.

And she told me. She shared how she got to Florida, about how she lost her husband, where she was from, how long she’d lived here and most importantly why she doesn’t think she has much of a purpose anymore. So I listened some more and said only enough to help her think about what she still might do with a life imprisoned by blindness, old age and a wheelchair.

She may try one of my ideas, she may not.

The point of talking about our encounter is to remind us all  that most everyone has a story and sadly many never get to tell it. They long for someone to just listen, even more than fix their problem. To them their journey matters but seems to have gotten lost on most people.

You see listening to someone’s life tale acknowledges them as a valued human being. Even if their life was hard (and it is for most), the fact that someone took the time to hear about their sojourn helps to remind them that what they went through doesn’t disqualify them from personhood.

Listening puts a long-needed spotlight on them, even if for a few moments, that says that their existence in this life still matters to someone. Sadly, unheard stories are all around us, often lost because we and others first want to tell our story,. We somehow believe that the events of our lives are more important than theirs or we at least need to make them seem more important to others.

The next time you’re in a crowd at a party, church gathering, office meeting or whatever, stop and notice the interactions. How many people are talking about themselves? How many others are really listening versus how many can’t seem to wait to talk about themselves? There’s an old joke about a guy who says to a friend, “Hey, enough of me talking about me. Why don’t you talk about me?”

I wonder if our listening to someone who doesn’t get heard very much like that lady at my mom’s facility could be that little nudge or encouragement to still make a difference in their world, no matter how tough that world is. Somehow, I think more stories would be told . . . and yes remembered for a long time.

In fact, we might just save a life or two.

 

Two Celebrations Today For Our Family

Dad SinclairAnother 4th has arrived. Many will enjoy a day off. Barbecues will be blazing, picnics festive and fireworks magnificent. It’s a day most Americans immensely enjoy and which brings  a sense of pride, thanks and solemnity towards those who battled for our freedom.

I have to admit it’s tempting today to challenge those who have benefited from our liberties and yet publicly trash our leaders, standards and traditions. But that must be for another time.

Today I want to also celebrate my dad. He would have been 100 years old today. He loved having his birthday on the Fourth of July reminding us every year that the whole country was celebrating it.

More importantly he was also one of those who fought for the freedom we celebrate today. He served in the military for four years, a significant portion of that time in combat overseas in Germany. He won the Silver and Bronze Stars for bravery, something our family didn’t know until after his death, rescuing several caught under fire.

I’ve heard a few interesting stories about places he went and people he met during his service. There’s the German lady who introduced him (and later us indirectly) to shortbread. Thank you, ma’am! There were the famous landmarks he visited and a few of the souvenirs he brought back.

But we never heard about the bad parts. Maybe that’s why we never knew about the medals. We learned more later discovering there was much he kept inside like so many who served and faced the horrors of battle. They just didn’t want to talk about it.

Instead he came home, married and had kids enjoying that freedom that he fought for.  He didn’t gripe about the leaders or bemoan the fact that this country wasn’t perfect. He got a tear in his eye when he heard a patriotic song or a fireworks display.

So today reminds me of how good we have it in America. But it also reminds me of people like my dad who gave so much for us to still have a very special place to live today. No, it’s not perfect. My dad wasn’t perfect, but I hope we’ll appreciate it a little more this year and thank God that we get to live here.

Happy birthday, dad.

 

Are You Trying Too Hard To Do It All?

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I read today where a teenager was hospitalized with an usual and possible deadly disease. The cause wasn’t drugs, eating contaminated food or catching a rare bug while traveling. He’s in the hospital with rhabdomyolysis caused from working out too much.

Of course there could be many reasons why his commitment to regular exercise became obsessive, but it makes me wonder what drove him to excess. I also wonder why so many today seem to express their drive to hurry, get more and do more in similarly dangerous ways.

Families juggle myriad extra-curricular events, drive at blinding speeds around town endangering others and themselves and feverishly add new possessions, degrees and other accomplishments to their personal portfolio.

And yet, what’s being accomplished? Are marriages and families getting closer? Are workers more satisfied? Recent studies suggest they are not. Are churches generally getting healthier? If we’re honest, while there are always positive, balanced people, groups and organizations doing amazing things, it appears that in the big picture, culture in general isn’t faring that much better than several decades ago.

What’s missing? Well, there’s certainly no magic pill or silver bullet that has caused or can fix it all. But in my opinion one component of family life has disappeared for the most part. Rest and margin.

We still don’t know how or won’t choose to slow down. We continue to believe that more is better – more events, more accolades, more money, more stuff, more knowledge, more everything.

And yet, Jesus said it well when He expressed in the New Testament, “What does it profit a person if they gain the whole world but lose their soul?”  Important question yet today. What does the soul crave?

Meaning, purpose, affection, appreciation, value, significance. And it will certainly be a major loss if we never understand that our current hunger for more is actually being fed at the wrong restaurant. More of the above will never fill us up. The things we long for will only be enjoyed as we slow down and begin to seek after family, rest, faith, friendship, etc. that will provide more of those soul-filling nutrients.

But we’ll never even taste them at 100mph.

Respect: Lost Under The Blanket of Disagreement

respectA year or so ago, I wrote an article for my Safe At Home blog about how respect in our country is almost gone. I urged parents to make a concerted, even passionate attempt to keep teaching and modeling respect for others to their children, especially those with whom they disagree. Here’s a link to that post if you want to read it: https://bit.ly/2q54AA7

Just because we don’t see eye to eye with politicians, business leaders, neighbors or even family is no reason to then trash their character, personality or view in public or private. When we lose genuine expressions of respect, we lose a vital part of our culture’s fabric, vibrancy and strength.

One year later I can easily say that respect for others has dropped to new lows. Late night television and awards shows have substituted people bashing (generally of conservatives but not entirely) and preaching about social views for the entertainment the public looks to them for year after year.

Our State of the Union address this past January saw one entire party (minus one brave senator) sit on their hands during the speech by the President. There was not one moment of applause from them even for comments and initiatives that would totally support their agenda. And yet during a previous administration’s speech one representative from the other side offered an inappropriate in my opinion outburst during the presentation.

The firestorm of negativity from the press and the sitting-on-their-hands this year group burned hot for weeks. Respect? I don’t think so.

And of course the lack of respect is not limited to politics or media. We see it from sports stars, through protests about the military to school demonstrations.

In fact, we now observe what I would call one-way disrespect. I can make fun of you for your views but you dare not make fun of mine.  We protest today largely over one side of an issue’s story, but not the other.

Some protest (and show disrespect) against police who have killed their loved ones. and they have a right and purpose to do so.  But they don’t protest against their own who kill far more within their city!

You see R-E-S-P-E-C-T must go both ways. We can respect each other and our views without trashing each other. Someone is not necessarily a bad person because they don’t agree with us.

Our leaders can still be shown respect when we don’t see eye to eye on their politics or business practices. When’s the last time you heard anyone in public say,“I do disagree with Senator Jones views on this but I respect her, her leadership and her right to have that view.”

Are we teaching our kids to feel and act the same way? Looking at our recent school events and responses I would say probably not. But that can change if each of us will do our part to keep respect a part of the dialogue and disagreements that we enter into this year.

Perhaps unity could come from modeling it rather than demanding it. We’ll see.

 

Reflections About “Billy,” America’s Pastor

billygrahamI had only been married for four months in 1976 when Billy Graham came to the Pontiac Silverdome for a crusade, something those events were called back then. That huge stadium holding 80,000 people, was the home at the time of the typically hapless Detroit Lions, who God knew could certainly use all the prayer and religion they could get, even vicariously. Apparently it didn’t help.

Nonetheless, I was excited to attend this historic event near where I lived at the time. I was also there to serve as one of the counselors for those who would come during Billy’s famous altar call/invitations. It was an incredible, hard-to-believe scene, even for a 26-year-old newlywed, seeing the stadium quickly filled with people beforehand. More amazing was the rapt attention given to every component of the evening and then the thousands who flocked to the field in response to his invitation to receive Christ.

I remember thinking, How is this happening? Why would so many come and then respond as they have? My only answer at the time and still is now is that God was there and these were holy moments ordained for that time and through a man everyone called ‘Billy.'”  I truly think we were standing on holy ground.

Will such a personal and accompanying phenomena occur again?  Maybe. Nothing is too difficult for God. But I doubt it. Our culture has changed. People respond, connect and communicate in very new ways today. God is still at work but through other means.

But the man bold enough to be used in this way and sadly, to be criticized perhaps most by other Christians much of the time, is now gone. He actually quit preaching over a decade ago, his health failing, but He has now had a face to face encounter with the one, Jesus, who He proclaimed so valiantly!  Wouldn’t that have been something to see? Will Heaven have instant replay or On Demand?

Somehow, I have to believe Dr. Graham has already heard those famous Biblical words, Well done, thou good and faithful servant.

I do find myself wondering what his long-time critics, ones who questioned his leadership, theology, acquaintances and teaching style among other things for decades from pulpits, college chapels and popular periodicals, are saying today. I will be saddened, even angry to hear more of what has been for the most part pompous rhetoric void of its own evangelistic fervor, strategies or commitments in sharing the Gospel, even if Billy’s vehicle and organization might have been at times flawed.

But think about it.

What Christian has known and impacted more U.S. Presidents than Billy Graham? Lyndon Johnson, likely not on Billy’s side of a lot of issues, requested that Billy officiate at his funeral at his Western White House. He did.

What person, including most U.S. Presidents, has had more meaningful, deep, eternity-focused relationships with world leaders than Billy Graham?

Who in the last 150 years has had a helping hand in more personal decisions for Christ than Billy Graham?

Many of those who were criticizing Dr. Graham in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s or later have themselves passed on. I hope that their heavenly re-connection with Billy will put aside the past and joyfully become a rich discussion and thankfulness for God’s faithfulness to them all. Those who remain I trust have mellowed.

You see I don’t think Billy Graham ever wavered from the unchangeable truths of the Gospel. But more importantly He never wavered from his love of an unchangeable God and Savior who he knew always was far smarter than him.

Perhaps one of Billy’s famous quotes says it best:  Knowing we will be with Christ forever far outweighs our burdens today! Keep your eyes on eternity.!”  And he is doing that today.