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


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


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?


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:

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.

One Thought About Guns To Add To The Con(flict)versation?


gunAnother shooting in Florida has brought the usual round of easy answers about how to avoid these tragedies once and for all. And while many of the arguments are grounded in passion, grief and a sincere sense that things are out of control most of them miss guidance that can be found in more complex perspectives.

Some believe that all the tragedies would be averted if we just returned prayer and the pledge to our schools. And while those things might be helpful their absence in many schools did not cause the shootings. There were extensive problems in schools decades ago even when practices like those were in place. Others suggest greater police presence and that may be needed. Worth some more consideration.

But similarly, the calls for severe gun control, requests that clearly impede our Constitutional freedoms, are not an easy or only answer either. Guns will be acquired whether they are legal or illegal. Guns are not what kill people. People kill people for all sorts of horrible reasons.

But let me use an oft – referred to illustration in this vein that might help us consider some common ground on gun control. Consider cars. People driving cars kills tens of thousand of people each year. The results are tragic. But I hear no one suggesting that we ban most cars or severely limit the kinds of cars we can drive.

However, what if I suggested that because there is freedom in this country to have a car I want to own and drive a NASCAR level auto through town.? Imagine what I could do on I-465 getting around Indianapolis with 600HP or more!

However, there are rules (wise ones, by the way) that prohibit owners from having a car with that kind of power. I could argue, “But what if there were an emergency and I needed to rush a family member to the hospital? Wouldn’t it be better to have a faster car?”

And the obvious answer would be “no.” I can still have a car, I can even buy pretty fast ones, but a NASCAR level car isn’t going to be legal on our streets. Will a ban on NASCAR automobiles stop all the killing on our roads? Hardly. But we would be saying that there is a limit and we’ll put more restrictions on too much power for the average person. We can avoid some deaths that way and that is both a doable and wise choice. It’s one we’ve made for years.

In fact we’re not even banning high-powered cars from all usage. No one should be asking for NASCAR to completely shut down. But the limit would make sense. Only those capable of using those cars in an appropriate setting would be allowed to have them.

In the same way, we could find some middle ground concerning guns, limiting some of those higher powered, too much power, guns from getting into the wrong hands, the hands of people who are incapable of using them wisely. That seems to make sense and I think would calm some of the criticism concerning some people not willing to make any limits on guns. Let’s hope the conversation and some wise, corresponding actions are a result.

Think about it. I’m open to hearing what you think, too.

The Power of a Thanksgiving Note


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?


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.