What Four Things Describe You?

paperbagIf you had to put four things in a bag that describe you, what would they be?  That was an interesting question posed to the radio audience on a station I was listening to this morning.  An interesting question.  One that I think is often harder to answer than we might think.  Most people can pick one or two pretty quickly.  Get into number three and four, it’s sometimes a bit more challenging.  Can you do it?

Someone once said to me, “It would be a terrible thing to go through your entire life not really being known by a single person.”  That would be a tragedy.  Unfortunately, I think it happens much more frequently than we would care to admit.  Even worse, how often do we go through life not really knowing ourselves?  Think back to the question.  Do you know what would go in the bag?  Do you know yourself well enough to come up with four things?  Give it a shot.

Since I can’t ask you to do something I’m not prepared to do, here are my four:

1.  A Bible.  OK, this could easily be a cop-out.  Sort of like the Sunday School answer where everything is “Jesus”.  Every Christian could (and probably will) put this one.  Though it should be assumed, my circumstances as a pastor (yes, I’m playing the pastor card!) make this an exception.  Much like an accountant might put a calculator in or an NSA agent might put a picture of us in there.  Just kidding…they’re watching me, aren’t they?  Alright, just so you don’t think I’m cheating, I’ll add an additional item: a book.  I love to read.  I love libraries (personal more than public) and “studies”.  I read a lot of ebooks, but love the feel of a good quality book in my hand.  I enjoy the solitude that I find in my study or home library, surrounded by my books, sometimes reading and sometimes just enjoying the surroundings.  This speaks to the introverted part of me…which is substantial!

2.  A coffee bean.  Yeah…love coffee.  Coffee is not only a hobby (I roast it, grind it and serve it…haven’t learned how to grow it yet), but it represents all that is great about my marriage.  Sounds weird, doesn’t it.  Some of my most special moments with Karen are over a cup of coffee.  We have always loved visiting coffee shops together, looking at coffee-related books, and tasting different kinds together, but the best is our “porch-time” whenever we can grab it just to be together.  I never think of coffee without connecting it to my relationship with Karen to some degree. That’s a big blessing to me.

3.  Sand.  I love beach life.  Though I don’t live it very often, it’s very much who I am (actually, there is much about our home that reflects this lifestyle. If you’ve been there, you probably know what I’m talking about).  There is nothing more worshipful for me than the glory of a sunrise or sunset over the ocean.  There is nothing more unifying than playing on the beach with my family or walking down the seashore together.  The beach lifestyle very much captures a big part of my personality: laid-back, relaxed and fun-loving.

4. A songbook.  I love music.  Always have.  My life has always been full of music, whether singing, playing guitar, listening to it…whatever.  Rarely, is there not music playing wherever I am.  Though I go through stages where I focus on one particular genre for a while, I love most styles of music.  Classic Jazz is an exceptional favorite of mine.  Whether I want music to reflect my mood or shape my mood, it’s almost always a part of whatever I’m doing.

Now, I guess the interesting thing would be to see if your friends agree, are surprised or disagree with your self-assessment.  Give it a shot.  You can use my comments section below if you want.  Dare ya…and feel free to interact with mine (if you know me…or at least think you do).  🙂

5 Reasons You Should Keep A Journal

moleskineFor more than twenty years, I have kept a journal…on and off. Yeah, probably more off than on, but I have journaled and think you should, too. As a matter of fact, I have just recently purchased a new journal (my favorite is a Moleskine sketchbook, but use whatever works for you) and have enjoyed getting started on it more than at any other time in my life that I have engaged in the practice. I’ll tell you why in a minute. First I want to give you some reasons why you should do it:

    • Rarely do we stop long enough to think. If you doubt that, think of how many time people (including yourself!) have done things without thinking. That’s just in the small stuff. If we’re not careful, we can do our whole lives without thinking! Journaling gives you the opportunity and the means through which to stop and reflect on what is going on around you. Jot a thought. Write down an idea or a truth discovered. Any and all of these things prompt THINKING and that is a good thing.
    • Along with failing to take the time to think, in general, we too often fail to think about ourselves…I mean in a reflective sort of way that doesn’t involve the bathroom mirror. Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” There is a lot of truth to that. Through the practice of journaling, I can examine my thoughts and actions and, over time, I can look back through my journals and find patterns of thought, attitudes and practices that I’m unhappy with (and even more than that, things in my life that don’t line up with the Scripture I claim to live according to!) Once I’ve identified those things and prayed through them, I can journal as I work through the change. It’s an incredibly cool process.
    • Journaling helps me live on purpose. I am more aware of my surroundings. I think about what I’m doing and why, especially since I will want something to write about later. When I’m actively journaling, I notice little things more. I listen more intently to conversations I’m apart of and I examine what I’m doing more carefully. In some ways, journaling is personal accountability. If I’m doing something or thinking something I wouldn’t want to see down on paper, I’m more likely to refrain.
    • I journal in order to see what God is doing in my life. Whenever I counsel someone, journaling is usually a part of the process. If someone asks for wisdom about direction for their lives, along with any hints I may provide, I encourage them to begin a journal, working out their thoughts on paper, writing out fears or hopes or dreams. If it’s marriage counseling, I will often encourage both spouse’s to journal in order to help identify the underlying issues. After a season of journaling, it often takes very little detective work to see areas of conviction, short-comings and attitudes. In my own life, I do this in order to see the results of God’s work in me as I change over time, often as a result of identifying those areas of conviction and molding.
    • Journaling is great for meditating. It’s a great time to grab a cup of coffee (though any time is a great time to grab a cup of coffee) sit for a while and be still. For the follower of Christ, it’s a great time to open the Word, read expectantly, being still and knowing He is God (Psalm 46:10) and then writing down what you hear. Jot down your prayers, your confessions (if you’re so bold), your heartache and needs. Sometimes, the journaling process helps you clarify what really is a need. There are times I look back at my requests and ask, “Would I answer that?” The answer is often a humbling “NO.”

There are probably many other reasons to journal including the simple act of chronicling a life (hopefully, well lived!). If you have some that I’ve left out, tell me. I’d love to hear them. The most important thing is to do it. It’s an incredible discipline and practice that, with a little bit of consistency, you can turn it into a lifestyle.

journalOK, I promised to tell you why I’m having so much fun with my most recent journal.  I love to travel.  Always have.  While traveling, I love to journal.  Travel journals are the most fun because you collect stuff along the way, tell about what you saw and reflect on what it meant to you.  There are pictures and ticket stubs and sketches and all sorts of little memories.  So I thought, you know, there is no greater journey than life itself.  Why not, then, take the same approach in my everyday journal that I do when I hit the road?  Now, that may not seem so radical of an approach, but it made the difference to me.

Now, every day is an adventure!

I look at it the same way I do when I’m traveling so that I have the same kind of fun which is the key.  Make it fun!  My journaling in the past has often been tedious and boring.  It doesn’t have to be.  It shouldn’t be. Make it what you want it to be, but give it a shot.  I think you’ll find yourself growing in ways you never thought imaginable.

If you decide to dive in, let me know.  I’d love to hear of your progress.

Reflections

contemplative_eyes

I was looking through some posts on my old blog and came across the one from two years ago (tomorrow) after a good friend of mine died suddenly.  The points I made then as I dealt with the loss seem very appropriate now in processing emotions and stress and considering “legacy”.  I thought I would re-post it here for whatever reason for anyone interested.  On the one hand, it’s uncomfortable exposing your insides, but in the end, it sure is helpful.

For Brad.

The Difficulty of Saying Goodbye to a Friend

October 3, 2007

A friend died last week. We were childhood friends, three days difference in our ages, both with two kids, our parents are best friends, and both thinking we had years ahead of us.

We haven’t seen each other in over twenty years, but kept up with each other through our parents. Strangely, sometimes it’s not until someone is gone that you realize how you wish you had done a better job keeping contact.

That’s the reason for the long delay in posting anything here. Well, partly. I was out of town attending his funeral much of last week, but I think the biggest reason is that I knew what I would have to write…for me, that is. I would have to write about this.

When I first found out about his sudden illness and quick death, I was, of course, shocked, but more than that I was simply hurting for his parents. I made the arrangements to go back home for the service, but didn’t really take the time to process. I knew it would be hard, but I think I kind of compartmentalized it as I am, oh, too good at doing.

Karen wisely decided to come with me (we had not planned on that initially), because I guess she had a hunch I would need her presence. She was right. She doesn’t feel like she did much, but she didn’t have to do anything but be there.

So, the day of visitation came which was the night before the funeral. I stood in line with, literally, the hundreds of others who came to pay their respects. When I finally made it to his parents, standing just before the beautiful, metallic silvery blue casket, it just came out. I couldn’t stop the tears. I managed to get “I love you” out to his dad, but not even that would come out as a clung to his mother. A kiss on the cheek was all I had to give.

Leaving the room, I quickly put it back in it’s little compartment, knowing it was not fully in and knowing it could not stay there. The next morning was the funeral where I was to be a pall bearer.

I sat in the service, listening to all the wonderful things being said about my friend…remembering back on our years together and knowing it was all true. Memories that had been long ago lost, I thought, came flooding back and we were kids again, traveling to Mississippi State games, camping down by the Strong River with our families, water skiing at the reservoir, playing blind-man’s bluff in his sister’s room, breaking out his sister’s window…playing blind-man’s bluff. The emotion rose to the surface again.

Since then, I’ve wondered a lot about “Legacy.” What will mine be? If the nice things are said about me, will they be true? If I die tomorrow, will it be said that mine was “a life well lived”? Will my kids know that I loved them? Really loved them?

Truly, life is, as Scripture says, merely a vapor. It is so fragile and tomorrow…even the next breath…is not promised. What are we doing with them?

I didn’t know the extent to which all of this had affected me until Monday. So much of this has been internalized without my really knowing it. That is, until the stress within became an expression. Strange how that happens. Within a matter of a couple of hours I had blown up at my wife and son and certainly convinced my staff that I’m a maniacal, paranoid freak.

OK, after all of the apologies, I began going through the process of dealing with the stress that was always under the surface following such a difficult week. The thing that I find most ironic is that as much as I have been dealing with leaving a good legacy and appreciating those around me and the time I have with them, the more I end up expressing the exact opposite of how I’m feeling. I love my wife and sons dearly…I appreciate my partners in ministry with which I work. I love the fact that God has blessed me with the opportunity to lead a warm and caring people. Yet over the past few days, the evidence of that has been sparse.

Bottom line…stress kills. It kills us physically by the affects it has on our bodies, but it also kills relationships when left unattended. I have realized that if I want to leave the same kind of legacy that my friend has, I have to manage the stress in my life and prioritize life in such a way that people around me are blessed and God is glorified.

I have been and continue now grieving for the void my friend’s death has left in the lives of his family. I mourn that he has a one year-old and a five year-old that will never really remember or know their father. I hate that, because of our similarities both in stature and attitude, my very presence will be a reminder to his parents of the absence in their own lives. All of this is mentally and emotionally tough. Yet I know that God is God…that His grace is sufficient for all of these concerns and that, because of His mercy, my friend has not been lost. He’s merely changed addresses…and based on that fact, his funeral was a celebration of life ongoing.

But it is still difficult saying goodbye to a friend.

Boroughing Through the Blahs

Tick, tock, tick, tock.  We’re down to the last several hours of 2008.  Another year flown by…memories of what has been accomplished flood my mind.  For me, it’s been a good year, but I’m finishing more on a whimper.  This holiday season has been absolutely exhausting for me.  Between travel and trying to squeeze in all of the work that has to go on regardless of “days off,” I just feel beat.  Funny how I can’t wait to get back to a regular schedule so I can rest!  Sounds strange, but a regular schedule allows for enough time throughout the week to pace yourself.

One of the most frustrating things for me this season is that before the holidays we were experiencing a good deal of momentum at The Gathering.  Attendance was increasing, excitement was building and giving was up.  Altogether, those are some pretty good signs that people are getting the idea of discipleship.  We’re starting to get excited about The Mission.  With the holidays comes a scattering of the people and the danger of losing something of that focus.  I know I’ve struggled with it a bit.

My prayer is that God will counter that with an anticipation of what He can and will do in 2009.  I want to see so many lives touched and changed this next year through the ministry of The Gathering that we can barely keep up!  I want to see God use me this year like never before.  Maybe, just maybe, God is allowing me to go through the “frustrations” of the holiday blahs to gear me up for the New Year blast-off.

I pray it’s so.

Do, Do, Do, Do, Do, Do, Do, Do, Do

I am guilty. I didn’t know I was guilty until I stopped long enough to consider it and then it hit me. Yeah…I’m guilty. Of course, if I’d considered it earlier, I would have understood the depth of my guilt, but as it is, I was too busy to get it. I get it now.  I’m too busy.  That’s it.

I don’t think I’m the only one who is guilty.  You’re probably guilty, too.  Of course, you are taking the time to read this, though that can be just another sign that you’re guilty.  I guess it depends, doesn’t it?

There used to be a great exercise…a discipline, really, that great men and women used to engage in long ago.  Some still consider it a necessity, but on most, it is a lost art form; a craft long since abandoned as we have bowed to the ever-powerful god of the full schedule.  That great lost comodity is the ability and the practice of Thought.  Deep thought…extensive thought…meaningful thought.

Why have we given up on thinking?  Well, first, one might say that we haven’t; we think all the time.  If we didn’t think, we wouldn’t function.  True on the most shallow level of thought.  Real thinking, though, is taking time to consider, to contemplate, to roll things through our mind undisturbed by the outer world until we come to a conclusion.  It is considering the state of the world, the state of our souls or the state of Man.  It is wrestling with a problem until a solution is reached.  It is asking the greater and deeper questions about life and God and the human condition and staying with it until there has been progress made towards understanding (even if we never fully get it).  That is “Thinking,” and to answer my earlier question, we have given up on it for at least three reasons:  we’re too busy, it takes work, and it’s unproductive.

Now, I’m not going to tackle the first two in-depth for the sake of space, but I will a little on the last one because it goes to the state of our minds and, for lacking of a better word, our thinking. I’ll talk about it in the first person, because I am the one here who is guilty…not you (?).

I get so busy (sometimes for busynesses sake) with life and ministry and all of the other stuff in life that I fail to build in time to just think.  I always have to have noise.  There needs to be something going on.  I feel as though if I’m not doing something, I am being unproductive.  I need to produce something…results! We are a results-driven culture and if we do not produce those results, we have wasted time…been un-productive, the greatest sin of all in our society.

I counter that thinking first pragmatically.  Quite simply, great thoughts produce great ideas, which in turn, produce great results.  Without great thoughts there will be bad ideas, and substandard results.  Perhaps there would be better production if we valued “think-time” enough to actually build it into our schedule!

Secondly, on a more holistic level, we become better people when we value the time of contemplation.  Constant noise leads to inner chaos and emaciated souls.  When we fail to cultivate the mind, we are shallow, weak-minded and under-developed.  The great leaders throughout history have always been great thinkers…men and women who valued the inner life and actively shut out the noise of the world to consider the drama being played out in their own souls.

These are things that I know; I understand deeply.  Yet I’m guilty.  I know that I will be a better husband, father, pastor…person if I will simply but intentionally build in time every day…every single day for contemplation.  On some days, it needs to be extensive.  On other days, it may just be ten minutes (and I’m talking here about in addition to any devotional time).  This is not a waste of time if I am truly contemplating life; if I’m asking tough questions about myself or the world at large; about life and relationship and suffering and solutions.  Great thoughts lead to great solutions, and I want to be a “solver.”  I want to be a great leader.  Maybe I will be or maybe I won’t be, but I bet the answer to that question is certain if I fail to be a Thinker!

the_thinker1

Pushing 40

This Saturday, I officially turn 40. I use the term “turn” intentionally because I’ve been “pushing” 40 and, unfortunately, it’s been pushing back pretty hard. I don’t think I want to “hit” 40 for fear of what might happen.

I’ve spent the last three days in the hospital with acute sinusitis. Very painful ailment, I might add. Yes, one week before my 40th birthday. I guess I wanted to go out with a bang…or is that a wimper…defintely a moan or two.

I figure that I’ve gotten it out of my system and am ready to go ahead and hit my 40s with a bang…and you better believe I’m gonna hit that sucker with everything I’ve got…gonna knock it out so it can’t return the favor.  So, here’s to the 30’s: they taught me a lot, showed me many changes and gave me many wonderful opportunities.  Both of my children were born during my 30s and they are a wonderful blessing.

I actually look forward to my 40s.  They’re a gift from God and, if it’s His good pleasure, I’ll make to say the same about my 50’s.  Every good and every perfect gift comes from above, as the Scripture goes, so thank you, Lord, for the wonderful gift of turning…and hitting…40.

…now bring it on!

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