A Question of Gratitude

The other day as I sat around the table with my parents, boys and girlfriend we asked our now-traditional mealtime questions:

1. What was your best thing today?
2. What was your worst thing today?

Afterwards I asked all of us a question, and this is the question I pose to you now:

In this season of giving gifts, what is the best gift you received this past year?

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A New Year’s Blessing

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Yesterday was Christmas
and New Year’s is coming;
do you know what you want
or do you want for nothing?
Was 2012 gentle and sweet,
full of friends and good times,
or has this year been painful
and rest hard to find?
Is your life on the upswing
with success by it’s side,
or have you weathered failure
and put some dents in your pride?
Will this year be remembered
by the loss of a loved one,
or have you found your true love,
your soul mate, your lost son?
Perhaps yesterday brought a barren tree,
no house to hold it and loneliness, too;
will 2013 be as unwelcome to you?

At a time of year when we celebrate plenty
a little seems much smaller
and nothing is an sullen friend.
Earthquakes and storms
on earth or in homes
can reshape the terrain
of our lives in a moment.
Instead of carols we sing a funeral dirge;
Christmas puts away it’s colors
and wears black.

To all for whom Christmas
brought laughter and joy,
plenty to eat and new favorite toys,
may your heart be humble
and your hands generous
towards those less fortunate,
and may God bring you more
of what this year provided.

To those who mourn
and for whom Christmas brought
fresh tears,
deep sighs,
tender fears,
may the New Year bring
refreshing grace,
true peace,
renewed joy,
open hands instead of fists
and a soft heart instead of flint.

In the words of Tiny Tim,
this is my prayer for you and me:
“God bless us every one.”

How to Stop Creativity

Anyone can stop creativity with a little intentionality.  If you are searching for ways to turn off the creative juices that keep you up at night and that interrupt your carefully planned meetings, these ten steps should be very helpful.

  1. Be Practical.  The creative process often involves exploring impractical ideas.  Nip that tendency in the bud; insist on only entertaining ideas that make financial and logistical sense.
  2. Be Correct.  Make certain to correct creatives often.  Their statements are often off the wall and completely devoid of scientific reasoning.
  3. Be Realistic.  Never suspend reality.  Keep imagination within the bounds of the five senses.
  4. Be Cautious.  Creatives like to break the rules and kill sacred cows; ban all ideas that might offend someone somewhere sometime.
  5. Be Structured.  Make certain all meetings strictly adhere to a set agenda and never wander.  Rabbit holes are the devil.
  6. Be Respectful.  Only one person make speak at any one time.  Period.
  7. Be Present.   Absolutely positively do not allow technology into your meetings.  No one should be surfing the net and crowdsourcing your ideas.
  8. Be Reverent.  Irreverence is a sign of immaturity and has no place in adult discussions.
  9. Be Quiet.  Insist on silence or quiet conversation only.  Raucous laughter should be kept out of the work environment.
  10. Be Still.  Hand motions should be reserved for indicating information on charts, writing, and drinking coffee.  All other hand motions are distracting and should be avoided at all costs.

If after implementing these ten steps you still are encountering large amounts of creativity, quit your job and find a more reasonable place to work.

Of course, if you wish to encourage creativity for some reason, you could simply do the opposite of everything I mentioned above.

How do you stifle or encourage creativity at work or at home?

How to Love Others Better

In order to love others better you need to love God first.

Father and Son

So often in my life I have allowed the approval of others to control how I feel about myself, when God’s opinion is what matters most.

The oxymoron that in order to fully love someone else you need to give them second place in your life behind God is completely true.  No one person can truly fulfill you.  No one person can truly fill your heart.  No one person can perfectly love you.

Except God.

God loves unconditionally, gives grace to those who seek him out, and never fails.  God made you and me, and he knows the condition of our hearts better than we do ourselves.  Naturally, then, he is going to be able to meet our needs better than anyone else.

Once you have submitted control of your life to God and are completely relying on his view of you, then, and only then, will you be able to fully love someone else.

Everyone else is broken just like you and me, and everyone else is looking for fulfillment just like you and me.  You and I know that we cannot fulfill someone else’s every need, so when someone else puts that pressure on us we fold.

But when a God-reliant person meets another God-reliant person, expectations for the relationship settle into their proper place.  Ultimate fulfillment is expected from God, and companionship for the journey is expected from the relationship.

Companionship does not mean perfection.  Companionship means two God-redeemed broken people walking the path of life together and helping each other when the going gets tough.

Christ modeled companionship when he stepped out of heaven and came to earth as a child to walk alongside of us.  In our brokenness and sin he came down and gave us a hand up.

If you want to love others better this Christmas and throughout your life,

  1. Seek God for true fulfillment.
  2. Become a true companion on the journey.

Where are you seeking fulfillment that can only come from God?  How can you become a better companion to those closest to you?

What Fishing Teaches Us About Life

Lots of people fish; it’s how you fish that determines whether or not you will actually catch anything.  The same is true about life.  Lots of people are physically alive, but how you live will determine whether or not your life is actually full and meaningful.

Dad the FIshing Guide

I grew up rod-and-reel fishing with my dad.  Over the years we have fished for trout, walleye, bass, and recently, Alaskan sockeye salmon and deep-sea halibut.  Each fish differs in many respects:

  1. Diet
  2. Habitat
  3. Season
  4. How they engage the bait or lure

One thing never changes:  how you manage your line.

Early on dad drilled into my head the truth that you must always keep tension in the line; not too much or the fish will not be able to sufficiently swallow the bait, and not too loose or you will never know if something bites.  You have to keep it just right.

If the tension is right you will feel the nibbles and hits transmit through the line, up the rod, and to your hand like your rod and line are a giant antenna.

If the line tension is right you will be prepared to set the hook when the time comes.

The same is true with life.

You have to maintain a little tension; not too much or you will be anxiety-driven, but not too little or you will be apathetic and unresponsive.

Maintaining the just the right tension is called active waiting.  Active waiting has several characteristics:

  1. Peace.  You have ordered your life so that distractions and noise are balanced with sufficient refreshing time.  Personally I believe this requires significant time nurturing a relationship with the Creator of the universe.
  2. Attentiveness.  You are actively observing your life and experiences.
  3. Anticipation.  You expect opportunities to come your way.
  4. Engagement.  You recognize opportunities and take immediate action.
  5. Balance.  If your action fails you learn what you can and return to active waiting.  If your action succeeds you continue looking for the next step in the process.

Most of us say we want a life without tension, when that kind of life would be enormously unfulfilling.

A healthy life involves actively waiting for what God is going to bring your way and responding when the time comes.

Where in your life do you need to engage active waiting?

Should My Church Have a Choir?

Whether or not your church should have a choir is not the right question.  So often we ask questions about details when we have not looked at the big picture.

Some better big picture questions:

  1. Am I providing opportunities for all of the musicians in my church to use their gifts?
  2. What styles of music minister the best to the people of my church?
  3. What role does music play in the service, and what kinds of bands or ensembles are needed to fill that role?
  4. If you do not yet have a choir, do you have enough musicians for the groups you already have, and do you have someone who could lead a choir well?
  5. If you have a choir, are they effectively leading in worship or are they simply a social club that meets regularly?
  6. What does my senior pastor support and believe in regards to music?
  7. What kinds of people is the church trying to reach?

These are just a few questions.  What questions would you ask?

Why History Is Important

History is often our greatest teacher.  Events that were unclear when they occurred become clear in the future and can teach us great lessons, if we are teachable.

Going through life and ignoring your history is like driving a car without mirrors.  You are likely to hurt yourself or someone else because you may miss some important information.

Red Sports Car in Mirror

I just had a long conversation with my parents and was struck by how much of my value as a leader and human being today can be attributed to how I responded to my history.

Over 11 years ago I began my first full time church position as a Director of Worship Ministries at a moderately large church.   I have written about this experience before.

This position was both exciting and intimidating, inspiring and exhausting.  I brought a rich personal background in with me, but I slowly discovered I knew very little about real church work.

When I left that church in 2009 I left knowing I had many close friends and colleagues; I also left with a lot of scars and a little more humility.  Every experience there, however, has become precious to me for many reasons.  Here are a just a few of those reasons:

  • I realize I have much to learn.  Humility can only be caught, not taught, and is essential to leading well.  Jesus said the greatest will be the servant of all.  I am still learning this virtue, but my past experiences helped me tremendously.
  • I deal better with conflict.  I have always been a bit conflict-averse, but once you have been through some conflict and survived you start to realize the world will not come to an end if you run into a difficult situation.
  • I listen better.  Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and realized you just missed the last thing they said because you were constructing your response?  I used to do that a lot.  I still catch myself trying to do that from time to time, but now I usually am able to be present mentally and emotionally and listen well.
  • I love more fully.  The bumps in my road up until now have made me more aware of the hurting people around me; now I am more likely to have compassion for them rather than just feel sorry for them.

How about you?  What can you learn or have you learned from your past?