Thursday, January 22, 2015

5 Vital Choices for Life

Life is hectic at times. Stuff happens. Things do not go as planned. Other people’s agendas will inevitably throw you off track. Angry and difficult people will curse you, Oversights you have made will leave you with egg on the face. That’s life. For years I've said that life is what happens when you've made other plans.

When life throws you a curve-ball, you may not be able to control what’s coming at you, but you can control how you respond. It is that critical choice that will make all the difference. Here are five genuine choices that you can make every day that will make your life better in spite of what surprises come your way.

1. Have to wait? Why not meditate?

It happens all the time. You are in a hurry and the line at the bank is taking forever. Your quick run to the grocery store stops cold because the person in the check-out line didn't realize the “10 Items or Less” applied to them. You want to have an important conversation with someone and they keep putting you off for whatever reason. That’s life. Sometimes we have to wait. Yet, how often do we react to these unwanted pauses in our busy schedule with irritation, disgust, or perhaps outright anger. Rather than get angry or frustrated, while you wait chose to meditate. Say a prayer. Focus your thoughts on positive outcomes. Pray a blessing over the person or situation that is contributing to your wait time. Breathe and accept the moment as an opportunity to center yourself and be blessed.

2. It’s a nuisance, not the end of the world. 

Human beings are biologically hard-wired to have a very strong “fight/flight” reflex. When faced with life-threatening danger, the adrenalin dump into the system is designed to protect and prepare our bodies to do whatever it take to ensure survival. This is really effective if we are faced with a very real and imminent danger and immediate threat to our life. Yet, honestly, how many times in your lifetime have you been truly in danger of imminent death? Perhaps a few, but thankfully that is not an everyday reality for the vast majority of humanity. In spite of that fact, many people get so spun up over little things that the body is literally being taught to go into fight/flight mode because the soda machine malfunctioned and kept the money or because we feel the need to get to the red light faster than everyone else on the road at that moment. If things do not go the way you desire, rather than treat it as a potential end to life, shake it off and be honest. It is a nuisance, but not life-threatening. Then act accordingly.

3. Don’t know—don’t go! 

The human mind is an incredible creation with an unrelenting capacity to imagine just about anything. As much as this is one of our greatest strengths, it can also be one of our biggest downfalls; particularly when we don’t know something. When we do not know something (example: “I do not know where my spouse is right now”) the mind is quick to imagine any range of possibilities. Unfortunately, those possibilities are often driven by fears, insecurities, or negative past experiences. Before we know it, rather than simply acknowledging something that we don’t know, we can become emotionally spun out over an imagined reality that is both irrationally negative and probably as far from the truth as possible. It’s a simple rule of life. If you do not know something, don’t go there as if you did. Instead, in life we need to focus on what we know.

4. Be Aware but don’t let worry consume your care.

Worry is perhaps one of the biggest killers in the world. Its negative affect on physiological health, mental health, and relational stability is profound. Worst of all, much of the stuff we worry about is beyond our control anyway. If you can’t control or change the situation, why invest precious emotional, physical, and mental energy into worrying about it. On the other hand, if you can change something, worry is not going to empower you to change a thing. Instead, worry will consume the precious energy you need to address the situation. When faced with a situation over which we are prone to worry, be aware. Look objectively at the situation and prayerfully discern what the options may be, what can and cannot be controlled, and how you are going to be able to positively address the situation. Then, without the burden of worry or fear, act on your awareness rather than give into worry.

5. Always radiate the Attitude of Gratitude. 

In all things, be thankful, express appreciation, and share your gratitude at every opportunity. Take time to thank the people who give you service. Acknowledge the efforts of others in all things. Tune your awareness to recognize the little things people do—especially if they are not done explicitly for you. Life is too short to be consumed by ingratitude and the negativity that accompanies it. Even the simple blessing of smiling and nodding one’s head in a gesture of appreciative acknowledgment of another’s genuine humanity goes a long way.

So. It’s up to you and me. What are we going to choose?

Be blessed and in so doing, be a blessing! May God’s grace and peace go with you. Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 19, 2015

5 Lessons from the Legacy of Dr. King and Why they Matter Today

Today the nation pauses to remember the life and teachings of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. With his prophetic ministry on my mind, I want to share with you five reasons why I believe Dr. King still matters and what we can do about it. 

1. Dr. King dared to believe humanity could be better than we are. He understood our shared humanity as God created us. His ministry challenged an unwilling nation to rise to a new reality—one that embraced our greater side and affirmed the sacred nature of what it means to be created in God’s image. Today there many people who hold tightly to dehumanizing visions and actions toward other people. Race, class, language, education, the way we dress, the neighborhood in which we live, the job we choose, the car we drive, the church we attend, and the school we attend are often used as markers that others use to determine our value. We have a long way to go, but Dr. King’s legacy remains a vital and inspired challenge to rise above who we are to be who God has created us to be. 

2. Positive change is impossible if we are not willing to get out and work for it. In today’s world it is increasingly hard to remember—let alone personally relate—to the level of racial segregation and discrimination that spurred the epic Civil Rights Movement. Yet, for many who casually believed in equal rights, the fear was that rocking the boat, making a stand, and marching for equality was too dangerous, too threatening to the status quo, and too volatile. It would have been better to just accept things as they were and hope time would change things on its own. Dr. King believed differently. While holding fast to the principles of Non-Violence, Dr. King confronted the evil of his day in God’s love and with a tenacious spirit of active determination. Today, we have a long way to go to realize the power of Dr. King’s Dream. Discrimination and prejudice remain prominent driving forces in our culture. For people who believe in the Dream, this is no time to sit back and hope things will change soon. We have to be the change! 

3. No matter how desperate the circumstances, violence is an evil that must not be embraced. There were those who vehemently criticized Dr. King for not doing enough to accelerate the drive for Civil Rights—many who turned to violent and militant means of pushing the change they so urgently desired. Yet King was resolute! Violence begets violence and King knew this. Tragically, it was cowardly violence that claimed his life in Memphis, but as Dr. King refused to lift his hand in violence when he lived, his legacy continues this day without violence. In a world where weapons and military might frequently dominate national politics, we must remember that there is a higher calling in Non-Violence—one we must all faithfully embrace. 

4. Prejudice is an expression of both fear and laziness. People tend to fear that which they do not understand. It is, to a great extent, part of human nature. This naturally leads to prejudice and that ultimately leads to hate. The challenge that Dr. King reminds us to consider is that hate is essentially the lazy approach. As long as I can hate another defined group of people or blame my problems on their existence, I neither have to take responsibility for my own life, nor invest the energy necessary to get to know them for who they truly are. Dr. King challenges us to get out of or lazy world-views and invest both the personal accountability for the world we have helped create, as well as truly getting to know the stranger in our midst. We are, after all, all human. It is time we started acting like it. 

5. God is in the streets as much as, if not more than, the comfortable church sanctuaries where we worship. Dr. King was, first and foremost, a man of God, Christian, Pastor, and Spiritual Leader. Raised in the sacred teachings of the church, Dr. King’s faith was the source of his wisdom, energy, and vision. As such, he appreciated and faithfully honored the importance of the church, the sanctity of the Sunday worship, and the singularly vital significance of corporate Christian worship in the context of being the church. But for Dr. King, worship was empty without out also embracing the reality of the streets. His faith was expressed in Sunday Worship as well as Monday marches in the name of Jesus Christ. For faith to be truly vital and meaningful, the same holds true for us today. Spirituality lived in social activism, yet without a foundation in a worshiping faith community is fragmented and unanchored. Worship in church without activities in the streets is shallow and empty. We need both and it is a healthy balance of the two that will transform the world for God. 

Dr. King’s Dream is alive today and still transforming the world. Our call is not simply to declare a holiday and remember the man that once was, but live the dream that still is. Our challenge is not to remember civil rights for a weekend and move on with life, but to make every day a day to honor the legacy left to us by Dr. King. Ours is a call to justice, peace, and mercy because that is what Dr. King stood for … and far more importantly, that’s what God stands for! 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Addressing the Real Problem!

Today we stand on a difficult precipice in the United States.

With the dawn of 2015 now a half-a-month behind us, much of the hope, promise, and enthusiasm that naturally comes with a change-of-calendar is fading away in the melee of media-driven hype, political banter, and irrational fear.  In many cases, it is Christian Faith that is being used as a highly influential tool of persuasion—for the good and the ill—when it comes to getting people to take “our” side on the issue of the day.

What’s a Christian to do?

In Mark 3:25 Jesus speaks the often quoted words, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Interestingly, he was speaking in response to allegations that he, himself, was evil and thus using evil to cast out evil in the guise of good.

Without comparing Jesus Christ to any human leader or governmental entity, it is noteworthy to at least draw a comparison to some of the rhetoric used in Washington DC. Generally, the other side is depicted in harsh, cruel, degrading, and even outright evil connotations.

President Obama is a deluded socialist (a.k.a. evil enemy of democracy).

John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are tyrannical fascists (a.k.a. evil enemies of democracy).

Interestingly, if we take the implications of Jesus Christ in Mark 3:25 seriously, it is possibly also true that there is more at risk than political correctness.

If President Obama proves that he is right and the Republicans are wrong, America will lose.

If Mitch McConnel and John Boehner prove that they are right and that President Obama is wrong, America will lose.

Social media makes it even worse.

It does not take long on Facebook, Twitter, or similarly popular social media sites to highlight extremist rhetoric “proving” how right and wrong the clearly defined sides are. The implications are powerful! One had better be on your side or they are just as evil as those frighteningly destructive forces that are out to destroy our way of life. If we disagree, you are not merely wrong, you are evil and thus part of the problem.

In the meantime:

The economy lumbers along. Some get very rich. Some fall deeper into poverty. Some live paycheck to paycheck.

People cultured in violence use deadly force to destroy others in fear, rage, or a lust for power. Some may wear a hoodie and others may wear a badge—human lives on both sides of the law suffer. Blood continues to flow.

Terrorists continue to cling to fear-driven models of violence intended to bring some form of self-serving redemption and retributive violence continues to fuel the fires of hate.

Some cry for peace through force, others peace through surrender. Some decry the tyranny of power while others decry the tyranny of weakness. Violence continues to escalate.

And what will ultimately change?

Hopefully, we will!

The time for that change is now!

The government is not the problem

The media is not the problem

Immigrants are not the problem

Terrorists are not the problem


It is far too easy to blame the problem on factors, policies, presidents and politicians over which you and I truly have no control.

“They” are not the problem.

I am the problem. You are the problem. Together We are the problem.

As long as we continue to show love of God and Country by spouting off hatred and disparagement toward other Americans simply because we see the national issues differently, we are the problem. As long as we are hell-bent on undermining our national leadership, we are the problem. As long as we are determined to “take back our country” from Americans who have just as much right to live here just because they belong to another political party, we are the problem. As long as we are determined to force partisan control over seeking the common good, we are the problem. As long as we treat legitimate differences of opinion as battlegrounds in a war of dominance and control, we are the problem. As long as we are determined to demean the intelligence, degrade the humanity, and undercut the validity of others over political issues, we are the problem.

Galatians 6:7 is very clear that we will reap that which we sow. For many years now, the American people have been sowing intolerance, hatred, insults, mistrust, and outright hatred toward people and politics that differ from our own. We are the problem and we have been for a very long time.

In the name of God, Stop being the problem.

Instead of shouting the other side down, try listening and learning.
Instead of professing how ignorant they are, try understanding why they believe as they do.
Instead of taking up verbal (or worse yet, physical) arms to defend what you know is right and destroy those ideas you know are wrong, try affirming the humanity of others.
Instead of calling on the Name of God to justify your hatred of everything that you are so convinced God wants you to hate, remember that God’s ways are much bigger than your ways and God’s love is much broader than you may realize.
Instead of self-rigorously flaunting that you didn’t vote for the leader that you hate, try working to empower our elected leaders for success for the benefit of the nation!
Instead of decrying the failures of somebody else's religious perspective, focus on humbly perfecting the relevance of your own religious authenticity. 

Truly, we stand on a precipice of failure as a nation.

If we fail, it will not be the Obama Administration that brings over the brink, no matter how much you may wish to believe otherwise.

If we fail, it will not be the Republicans that bring us over the brink, no matter how much you may wish to believe otherwise.

If we fail, it will not be ISIS, Al-Qaida, or some other radical religious faction bent on hate and violence that brings us over the brink, no matter how much you may wish to believe otherwise.  

If we fail, it will be because good, honest, patriotic Christian Americans chose hate, fear, division, insults, dehumanization, and control over love, understanding, and grace.

The time is now!

How willing are you to be a part of the change?

As for me, I am choosing the path God’s love. I ask you to please join me.