Loving People

I’m a firm believer that the Bible teaches that we should love one another. I don’t think that is limited in any way. Some Christians seem to believe that means we should love other Christians, but not anybody else. I think that’s wrong-headed.

Having been a preacher (I know, some of you are surprised!) for almost 50 years, I can tell you that a lot of Christians don’t even love other Christians. But that’s a discussion for another time.

I’m prompted to write this because of an incident I witnessed this week. I went to a local Burger King for supper. A couple of teenagers created an altercation with the lady behind the counter. They said they didn’t get what they ordered. The disagreement escalated from complaints, to shouts, to a physical assault. It was all so unnecessary. Thankfully, the lady’s aunt and uncle came into the store about the time of the assault and managed to separate the teens and convince them to leave. Police responded. It was just a mess. All I wanted was a burger!

That incident was just one in a long line of things I’ve noticed for a few years now. I could tell you about angry, volatile shoppers at Wal-Mart. I could tell you about venom-filled posts on Facebook. I’ve got more. None of these made the newspaper or TV news reports. These are just my anecdotal experiences, piled up on one another, and it’s causing me to conclude that we’ve got a deep problem that’s getting worse. People seem to hate one another.

I said, “seem”. I’m making a judgment here. I could be wrong. But you’ll have to convince me. I’ve been around for a while. Longer than many of you. I spent eight years in the Air Force and lived all over the world. I’ve traveled as a civilian in both Europe, the Far East, Russia, and more. It’s not like I haven’t seen any more than my back yard. I’ve even lived in seven different states right here in the good old USA. What I’m seeing today is not what I’ve seen during most of my life. We’re in trouble.

So, I think we’re in great need to learn to love one another. I don’t have to agree with people to love them. I don’t have to limit love to the people I hang with. I don’t even have to be emotionally invested in a person to love them. The church has failed terribly to teach this, to model this, and to practice this love. But criticize the church all you want, nobody else is doing much to instill this love of others either. If it’s going to be done, perhaps Christians should take up the cause.

I’m not going to quote a bunch of Bible to you, but I will say it might be worth your time to investigate what the book actually says about loving people. It has everything to do with things like kindness, patience, tolerance, and just thinking that others are equally as important as you are. It has to do with respect, and behaving toward people in honorable ways. It requires great effort because it’s much easier to do anything except love people.

Bottom line, I want to love people. I want you to love people. We need to love one another even when things don’t go right. Would the Burger King incident have gone differently if the lady behind the counter had loved those kids? Would it have gone differently if the kids had loved that lady? I think so. I think the reason it didn’t go so well is that it was one example when care for the other person, as a person, didn’t matter.

But saying this, I know the problem is huge. Let me simplify it for you. Quit worrying about loving the whole world. You’ll never get the chance to love on that scale. You will, however, run into individual people today. The challenge is to love that person. That’s really all any of us must do. Love the person right in front of you. Just do that. If you do it, I do it, we all do it, that will add up. If you do it every chance you get, you’ll make a difference. Doesn’t matter who the person is. Give them some love. No, they might not deserve it. You don’t either. If we keep waiting for others to deserve our love we’ll just excuse ourselves from the obligation.

The “Golden Rule” is about love. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Do for them like you want them to do for you. Speak to them the way you want to be spoken to. It’s all about loving others like you want to be loved. It’s not simple. It’s not easy. It is so much better.

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How To Avoid Getting Depressed Because Of The Old Folks At Your Church

I wrote the following for/to some preacher friends of mine. Many of them found it helpful. I post it here because at least one thought it needed a bigger audience. If you find that it speaks to your own church, especially your own preacher, please share it. Today’s church often thinks of its older members as nothing but a drag on progress. I’m sure that’s true in some ways, but it doesn’t have to be. Let me know if one or more of these thoughts helps the older folks at your church.

1. Remember they usually have a much longer time, energy, and money investment in the congregation than pretty much anybody else. When you want to change things, consider this. If you don’t think this is important, you would be wrong.

2. Remember that they have lived through several preachers before you arrived on the scene. Every one of those preachers wanted to change things. Most likely, every one of them wanted to change different things. Be patient while they figure out if your ideas are any better than what they’ve already heard, and had to change every few years.

3. Remember that chances are you will be gone in a few years and they will still be there. Yes, even the older folks. It’s quite possible you will be gone, and they will be left with whatever it was you created while you were there. It’s quite possible some previous preacher(s) left them a mess. They’re wondering if you’ll do the same.

4. Remember that some of them have heard some pretty good teaching and preaching for longer than you’ve been alive. Drop the idea that you’re the smartest, best-informed person ever to occupy a pulpit (even if you are, which is doubtful). They are suspicious of such attitudes.

5. Remember that most missionaries go through extensive training in how to deal with culture and social norms wherever they go to work. Too bad preachers here at home forget that our communities also have some long-standing cultural and social norms. You would do well to understand them.

6. If you’re a new preacher, figure out as quickly as possible where the power is in your church. It might be the elders, but maybe not. It could be a seldom-heard widow, an elder’s wife, or a businessman with lots of money. Then figure out how to interact positively with that/those person(s). If you don’t do this, plan on being frustrated.

7. Instead of complaining about your older folks, understand that they are just as much a part of your congregation as the younger crowd. Avoid setting them in a corner or counting them as irrelevant. You’ll regret that!

8. Understand that older people have many different needs, both physical and spiritual than younger folks. If you’re unwilling to minister to them in meaningful ways, then hire someone who will. You will be a hero if you’ll take care of the aged.

9. Rather than dividing your church into age-based sects, figure out how to use your older members to mentor the younger folks. That usually takes a lot of effort and encouragement because for years, older people have been told they have nothing to offer, and many of them now believe it. Counter that lie.

10. Never discount the wisdom that comes with age. Older people often have insights into human behavior that you might not. I’ll change that to: that you probably don’t. A few of those older folks will have amazing insight. Spend time learning from them.

11. Be aware that some of your older folks are just tired. They have fought the worship wars, fought the doctrinal battles, fought the irritable members, etc. They manned the Sunday school classes for decades. They lived through the series of preachers, each of whom came with a new pocket full of “what the church must do to be what God wants”. They’re tired. Give them a reason to press on instead of complaining about them.

12. Love them. This may be the key to everything. They’ve lived through a steadily declining season of respect. Younger people (including younger preachers) can make them feel unappreciated, unwanted, and unnecessary. Is that really what you want to do? Didn’t think so. But you’ll have to convince them. So love them – in more than words.

13. Keep in mind that if you think they have negative attitudes, bad understanding of scripture, awful concepts of church, etc., they likely got that (or at least some of that) from the preachers who came before you. That should cause you to think about what your own attitudes, your teaching methods and concepts, and overall influence are doing to/for them (and the younger folks too for that matter).

14. One important idea for older folks is to help them understand that they have much to contribute. You’ll never convince them if you treat them as if they don’t count, and that everything they’ve ever done must now be discarded. Yes, some things need to change. Not everything. If your older folks are still part of your church, treat them as if they are.

15. Understand the above fourteen points aren’t the last word, but they are pretty good words, even if I did write them. Remember, I didn’t write these as a young preacher. I wrote them as an older preacher. You can ignore me. If you do, I’ll reserve the right to consider you a brash young whippersnapper who doesn’t know what he/she is doing. See how this negative stuff works both ways? Now, smile at this and go forth better armed to preach and minister even to the old folks at church.

Divided We Fall

Aesop wrote a little story about a Dad and his sons. The boys constantly argued and fought with one another. One day, the Dad had them bring a bundle of sticks. He tied them together and handed them to the boys, asking each one to break the bundle. None could. He then took the bundle apart and handed each boy one stick. This time he asked them to break their stick. They did so easily. His lesson was simple and profound. Together, the sticks could not be broken. Separated and divided, the sticks were easily destroyed.

It’s sad the way the U.S. has failed to learn this lesson. We’re so divided. Men vs women. Young vs old. Democrats vs Republicans. Conservatives vs liberals. Rich vs poor. Educated vs non-educated. White-collar vs blue-collar. The list could go on. It’s more than just one classification of people against another. Today, we’re enemies to be fought, ridiculed, and demolished.

The end of this is tragic. Such division makes us weak, not strong. Unless there is some kind of correction where we once again understand the power of unity, it will eventually destroy us. I wonder if we’re all big enough to admit we need each other, that our differences can actually make us smarter, wiser, more capable than when we’re fighting each other?

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Everybody Needs A Place

Life can hurt you! I’m not talking about literal wounds and pains as much as I am addressing the problems of busyness, responsibilities, all the things you need to do, have to do, just to survive.

Experts talk about stress. Stress creates tension, pressure, a sort of slow crush that causes you to be anxious, worried, or even to despair. Yes, some evidently thrive on stress. Most of us can take it for a while, but eventually, we just need to get away.

That’s where the “place” comes in. Everybody needs a place. The “place” is where we can retreat, recharge, rest, relax, and just unwind. I want to talk about the place.

I have several of these places. Most of them I stumbled across accidently. I didn’t know they were there. Some, I found while doing other things. Some, I found with the help of other people, who didn’t know I was looking for, or in need of, a place, but they helped me discover one anyway. A few I found by turning the right corner at the right time. I have always known it immediately upon finding one of these places. If you only have one, or maybe two, it’s still good. Having several just gives you options to choose from. I find that even better.

So, how does one recognize one of these places I’m talking about, what do you do there, and why are they so important?

I know a place almost immediately. It’s almost always a place I consider beautiful. Understand, that is a personal judgment. You might not think the same as I do. Still, these places are, for me, invitingly pretty. Beyond that, it’s a place where I feel comfortable. Most of mine are outside the hustle and bustle of city life, or they are tucked away in a corner somewhere, peaceful, quiet, and easy to be there. I find natural, wooded areas, or a beautiful lake, or another scenic setting to be my choices for a place.

As for what to do there, I would say it depends. For me, I can enjoy doing absolutely nothing. That’s probably not entirely true. Rest is something. Letting go of everything that is creating stress is something more. Allowing yourself to drink in the setting, the sounds, the smells, and to allow your senses to tune in to the world that often gets ignored, is also something. Often, I take a good book and get deep into the story. Living in an alternative universe through the medium of literature is really something.

I’m a serious amateur photographer, so my camera is a frequent companion. It allows me to record a slice of time, to return to the place I enjoyed, to relive it days, even years, later the wonder of the place where I made the photo.

Why is this so important? I think we were created to connect with the world. It’s amazing how estranged we are from it. Someone once encouraged us to purposely “stop and smell the roses”. This is the idea I’m talking about. There is something about having a place that allows us to release the venom of life’s stings, shedding our woes and troubles, and discovering once again that living is more than worthwhile.

My grandfather had a room. I think that was his place, at least one of them. It was just a small room, big enough for a desk and a chair. There was a small table over in one corner, and all four walls were covered with shelves, and the shelves were filled with books. I imagine he found it a great place. Yours might be similar, just a room that you call you own. Or it might be a lake surrounded by tall pines, shaded and cool even on a hot summer day. You might even be on the other side of one of my lakes! It’s really not hard to find such a place. You just need to pay attention. I think  you’ll recognize your place when you get there.

I wish for you a sense of wonder. I hope for you an appreciation for this world you live in. It’s too easy to be disappointed in it and to hate it. Instead, I want for you a place that makes you feel alive. I’d give you one of mine if you needed it. I’m confident that I would find another one.

Everyone needs a place, at least one. Please, if you don’t have one, promise yourself that you’ll find one this week. Don’t put it off. It’s that important. I won’t bother trying to convince you that I know what I’m talking about. I will only say, that if you find the kind of place I’m thinking about, you won’t need to tell me I was right. All you need to do is go there. I’ll be satisfied to know that you will be blessed, and you’ll be a better person because you have a place.

Can I Just Vent A Bit Here?

[Note: This article was originally a post to my Facebook page. I thought I’d give it a little wider circulation.]

I have tried to stop posting [to social media] in response to events that tend to polarize people. Seems when I do, I manage to offend all sorts of people, and I end up being accused of all sorts of interesting offenses. So, I quietly read the highly flammable, knee-jerk, and woefully uninformed opinions of others who seem to think it’s perfectly fine to say things that offend the daylights out of me.

Recently I’ve read posts from folks who seem to think that Christians are the cause of all the problems in the world. I’ve never known any Christian who thought they were perfect, or that they didn’t create their own share of trouble.

That said, I’d like to kindly suggest that if tomorrow, all the Christians just quit doing the tremendous amount of good that they do daily, the world you think is bad now would suddenly become horrible. People who harp on Christians, accuse them, blame them, etc., seldom speak from a rational, factual base. Now where something is true, and worth pointing a finger at, I’m on your side, but unless you know what you’re talking about, how about just cooling your angst and getting a grip on yourself.

The baseline teaching of Jesus is that one should love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength and that we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Everything else flows from that. Do we get that one right all the time? Nope. Neither does anyone else. Yet no other religion has the heart of Jesus at its core.

It’s become a trend to dump on the Christians. Fine. History has shown that this happens quite frequently, and when it happens, Christians may get upset, angry, frustrated, or worse. But the core beliefs of Jesus followers don’t change, and we love our enemies as we love our friends.

More care for the hurting, the poor, the disenfranchised, the sick, the displaced, the hopeless and helpless, comes from Christians than most people can imagine. That doesn’t mean there are no other equally caring people in the world. It simply means that before you decide that Christians are the cause of all the trouble in the world, you might want to look around first. Your view might be skewed by unexplainable mistakes on your part.

It’s true that Christians frequently irritate people because they consider some things right and other things wrong. Nobody wants to be told they’re wrong. But we do it, not because we want to sit on our “high horse” and condemn others, but because we understand this is God’s view of human life.

We speak from the “we” problem of sin, not the “you” problem of sin. In other words, I have the same problem of sin as anybody else. I also believe there’s an answer for those sins, and it’s not by becoming better than others, it’s by putting one’s faith in a Savior who paid the price for our sins.

A lot of folks might benefit from giving Christians the same break they insist that Christians give to people. Truth is, we’ve been giving those breaks for a long time. You ready to step up too?

Thank you for reading this far. If you’ve read this as some “holier-than-thou” spiel, you’ve missed the point. It’s simply to suggest that it’s time for folks on all sides to just stop the crazy, insensitive, unreasonable, rock-throwing.

Thank you for considering my point of view.

Just Stop The Excuses

I have a lot of excuses. Believe me. If I don’t have a real one, I can whip up something off the top of my head if necessary. I bet you have excuses too. Most of us are better than we need to be explaining why we don’t do something that we want, or should, do.

Excuses begin early in life and stay with us until we die. Age only enables us to perfect the practice. We all just need to stop it.

High achievers amaze me. Yes, sometimes a person is just really smart, or very talented. I won’t deny that. I’ve known people who found most things easy, or at least easier than other people’s experience. Still, much of what human beings accomplish isn’t always the result of intelligence of talent. I know some pretty smart, talented people who haven’t done much at all. Instead, they have excuses.

I cannot explain how one person, with the same 24-hours in a day, manages to do so much more than the next guy. Except that Mr. Next Guy is full of excuses while the other one just gets on with things.

People say, “I don’t have time.” Long ago, I came to believe that we all have time to do whatever we want to do. Yes, we all bump into those legitimate excuses like illness or things truly out of our control. But for most of us, that’s not every day. I once heard a motivational speaker say that we make a huge mistake in our thinking about motivation. We look at one person, high-achiever, busy, always doing things, and we say, “Wow, that guy is really motivated.” Then we look at another person who just sits around, inactive, wasting time, and we say about that person, “Wow, that guy just isn’t motivated.” He said we’re wrong. The truth is that both people are motivated. It’s just that one is motivated to do something and the other one is motivated to sit around doing nothing.

So what’s your excuse? Every one of us has something we say we’d like to do, should do, need to do. We have things we’d like to accomplish or learn. Why aren’t you doing them? Don’t have time? Wrong. You know that’s not true. You have time do whatever you’re doing except what you say you’d like to do. The truth is you want to do something else more, even if it’s just to stare at the TV. The first step at eliminating excuses is to identify them.

For me, I’ve never found an easy way to overcome excuses. They are pretty powerful little critters. They attach themselves to our mind, emotions, energy, and will. There is no simple answer requiring no effort. Excuses are tough to overcome. I guess that could become the next excuse.

So I’ll just challenge you to join me in the battle. If you think I’ve got the excuse thing all worked out, you’d be wrong. It’s a daily battle. If you are an excuse maker, I can only say welcome to my world. But both you and I are better than our excuses. It’s a daily fight, but you won’t beat your excuses unless you get up, toss your excuses away, and get on with things.

Are you resisting what I’m saying. Stop it. That’s your excuse-making mind setting you up for more inaction. I wish you well in your personal war against excuses.

On a personal level, if you’re wondering why I’m writing about excuses, I’d suggest you look at the date this article was published, then look at the date of the last article in this blog. I don’t really have an excuse for the gap. Well…. I do, but none of them are legitimate.

Just An Average Day

BiloiHarborJuly2_15

Life is made up mostly of average days. That must be true or it would mess up the whole definition of extraordinary or dull. Chances are you don’t even pay much attention to the average day. They’re not particularly memorable. After all, they are… well… just average.

Down here on the Mississippi coast, my average day is unique. Today, for  example, I spent the day getting some work done, doing some chores, running errands, making phone calls, and putting together a storage thing for shoes. Oh, I  also stopped by the harbor in Biloxi to take a few photos. That’s where “average” for me connects with “special” for lots of others.

I watched a lady with two young boys do a bit of fishing over the outer harbor wall. Those guys will long remember catching fish from the Gulf of Mexico. I saw a boat full of young folks headed out to do some parasailing. I bet that one goes down in someone’s digital scrapbook. Plenty of folks were in boats going out with fishing guides. Some of those people might come back with the catch of their life! Others were cruising along the coast getting a nature tour, learning about shrimping, and getting lessons on life along the coast. Then there were the shrimpers with coolers loaded down with gulf shrimp chilled with crushed ice. Somebody was going to have a rather tasty supper.

I got to see all that in about 30 minutes this afternoon. Every one of those people I saw was enjoying anything but an average day. They were vacationing, trying new things, making memories. Me? I was just observing it all, enjoying the view of other people enjoying the day. Pretty much an average day down here on the beach!

I write this, not to brag that my average day beats your, but to say that I love it that my average is made up of other people’s anything-but-average. If you start looking around at your “average” days, you might discover that it is also made up of special or unusual snippets of activities. I’ve wasted a lot of time ignoring how very special my average days are. They have taken on new meaning since I started to notice what my average days are like. Turns out, “average” isn’t a good word at all. There is a constant variety, things are always changing, and nothing is really the same every day.

I had a pretty special day today. But that’s average for me.