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Blogger, Christ-follower, Encourager, Friend, Husband, Dad

Friday, November 25, 2011

There's An App for That

One of my good friends recently sent me an email detailing his plans to surprise his wife with a special evening out for their 11,000 day anniversary.  He said he instituted this celebration when they hit 10,000 and he is planning something special for every 1,000 days for the rest of their lives.  What a cool idea!

Since I knew that they had been married just a couple of years longer than Mrs. Sweetie and me, I started wondering how far we were from 10,000.  I knew that I could sit down with pencil and paper and figure it out.  I did that a few years ago when I calculated the days that I had been alive and figured out the precise day that I had been married for exactly half of my life.  It was January 17, 2007 and I wrote a Life Matters (in the pre-blog/newspaper column days) on the subject.

As I prepared to start the process again, I wondered if my trusty iPhone could provide me with an app to do the work for me.  It seems like the phrase, “There’s an app for that”, has become a part of our culture’s vernacular.  So I checked, and sure enough, there was indeed an app that let me know 10,000 was just under a month away.  As I sit here in my inspiration and prayer rocking chair typing this morning (November 21, 2011), today is the day—Sweetie has been a Mrs. for 10,000 days!

Since this is Thanksgiving week, I have been thinking a lot over the past few days of all the things for which I am thankful.  Other than my personal relationship with Christ, nothing ranks higher than the privilege I have had for the last 10,000 days of being Mrs. Sweetie’s Mr.  I’m so glad I married her!  And I’m glad I found that date calculator app that made it so easy to identify day 10,000.

Since I am a techie only in the sense that I use a lot of technology, I often wonder what it would be like to be one of those seriously techie guys who develop things like smart phone apps.  If I were wired that way, I think there are some apps that I would like to develop.

One would be the Thanksgiving All Year app.  Instead of only thinking about our blessings for one day of the year, we could get a daily blessing reminder sent directly to us.  Of course, we could always go old school with the idea.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed, 
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.  
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done; 
Count your blessings, name them one by one; 
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.
(Johnson Oatman, Jr. 1856-1922)

And while we’re at it we could always read Philippians 4:4-7. 

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don't worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving (emphasis mine), let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” 

Now that I think about it, we apparently already have an app for that.  It’s called being intentionally thankful.  It’s called acknowledging what we have instead of focusing on what we’re missing.  It’s called perspective.  Your life matters to God and no matter where you find yourself in life, that reality never changes.

Wow!  There really is an app for everything!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Powerful Questions

I am a coach. I’m not the kind of coach that stands on the sidelines calling plays, sending signals, and wearing my voice out.  I don’t do Xs and Os.  Even when my kids were young and played sports, I didn’t do a lot of that kind of coaching.  I’m glad there are folks that do that and I’m equally glad that the success of young athletes does not depend on the expertise of folks like me.

I am what is often referred to as a Life Coach.  You have probably heard the term but may not have a clue what it is (other than some trendy psycho-babble-ish term that people call themselves who want to give you the six secrets to ultimate happiness).  Now, if you think that I possess the six secrets to ultimate happiness and are willing to pay me a lot for my great wisdom, maybe we can talk.  It won’t do you any good, but we can talk.

One of the reasons that I have invested a lot of time and money in learning how to coach is that it takes the pressure off me to be an expert.  You know what an expert is, right?  All you have to do is break down the word.  “Ex” means “former”.  A “spurt” is a “drip under pressure”.  As a former pastor, I would appreciate it if you could resist the temptation to apply that definition to me.

When I coach someone, there is an expert present.  It just happens to be the person that I am coaching.  I don’t bring any great secrets, expertise, or agenda.  I just ask some questions to help that person see himself more clearly.  I just help her tap into her passion and vision.  I listen, ask powerful questions, assist in brainstorming, and provide support and accountability to help people take their next step.

Now that I have spent half my allotted space with introduction, I am finally going to get to what is running through my head today.  That sounded like a preacher, didn’t it?  Sorry, old habits are hard to break.

I ran across a statement this week that really stood out for me.  Do something today that your future self will thank you for.”  When I saw that, it reminded me of a question that I have both asked and been asked in coaching settings.  “What would you like to be able to say about your situation 3 months from now that you cannot say right now?”  The next question would be, “What will it take for you to be able to say that?”

So, my friends, have I got a deal for you!  I am offering you an absolutely free, no obligation, blog-based coaching session right here and now.  Why?  Because your life matters to God and He wants you to be all that He created you to be.  Are you ready?  Here goes!

What could you do today (I mean in the next 24 hours) that you will thank yourself for on January 1, 2012?  What would a successful ending for 2011 look like for you?  What is keeping you from being the person you want to be?  What is the first step (even a baby step) that you could take that would move you closer to your goal?  Who do you know that could help you?

The greatest teacher who ever lived was also the greatest coach who ever lived.  Jesus knew when a question was more powerful than a statement.  Four different times the Bible records Him asking, “What do you want me to do for you?”  (Matthew 20:32, Mark 10:36, Mark 10:51, Luke 18:41) Since He was not only a great teacher and coach, but was also God in the flesh, He did not ask the question for His own benefit.  He could have easily evaluated the situation and said, “Here’s what you need and here’s what I’m going to do.”  But Jesus wanted them to put words to what was in their hearts.

So what do you really, really want?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Angry Birds

Ok, raise your hand if you play Angry Birds on your phone or computer.  I see those hands!  I am pretty sure that someone reading this blog plays that game because I heard on the radio this week that those who do have become a part of a world record.  This app has now been downloaded more than half a billion (with a B!) times.  That makes it the most downloaded app of all time.  

As one who has neither downloaded nor played this game, I have two things to say to you (and I believe I speak for all Foul Fowl non-enthusiasts when I say this).  First of all, congratulations on the record!  Secondly, I’m sorry you have no life!  

Just kidding about that second one.  Really, I hope it is fun for you.  I have never been much into video games, even back when all my friends were popping their quarters into the machine to play Pac-Man and Asteroids at the 7-Eleven.

If you are reading my blog for the first time, you are now thinking,”This guy may be a couple of nuggets shy of a Happy Meal.”  If you are one of my faithful readers, you came to that conclusion months ago.  But you know what is about to happen.  When I hear something like that little Angry Birds factoid on the radio, the wheels start turning and I start pondering how it applies to our everyday lives.

My pondering this week led me to think about the non-gaming version of Angry Birds—that is to say, the Angry Birds we often encounter (and sometimes become) in life.

I first thought about the Mocking Birds.  You know them.  They have a remark for every situation.  They are experts at making others feel small and insignificant.  They know how to point out how people are inferior or unusual.  They notice weaknesses in others and know how to exploit it to their own advantage.  They love to offer “constructive” criticism and never seem to notice how rarely it is genuinely constructive.

Then I thought about the Birds of Prey (I hesitate to use the word “vultures” but that is probably an appropriate label).  These birds go beyond simply mocking.  They actually feast on the wounded.  They can be mean-spirited for the sake of being mean-spirited.  They sometimes even enjoy seeing others in pain.  They may even find justification for how someone else “deserves” the pain that they have experienced.  Their criticism has no constructive agenda; they just like to “put people in their place”.

Then I thought about the Hummingbirds.  They seem so busy.  They flit from bloom to bloom and make a lot of noise, never really causing harm, but not really staying in one place long enough to do any good.  Once the sweet nectar of a situation becomes depleted, they zoom off to find the next “happy place.”  They don’t really mock or prey on the misfortune of others; they just don’t hang around long enough to notice.

You notice that I keep using the word “they”.  I wish it were always “they” and “them” who act like Angry Birds, but I am afraid it is sometimes “me” and “we”.  So, what are we to do?  

Here’s my suggestion for all of us: how about trying to be Songbirds?  I’m not just talking about those with a musical talent.  You may have a voice like a raven.  When you sing, those close to you may plead that you do it nevermore. But, how about letting our lives, our words, our attitudes, and our actions “sing”?  How about “singing” over the wounded and weary?  How about helping those around us to see and experience the beauty of a life that matters to God?   

Psalm 150 says, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”

Are you breathing?  Let’s tune up and “sing”.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Transitions and Layovers

For as long as I can remember, going to church on Sunday has been a part of my life.  For thirty-four of my (almost) fifty years, I have been in ministry of some kind, so “church”, for me, has involved a lot more than Sunday.  There is not much in church life I haven’t seen or experienced.  

I did, however, have a new experience this past Sunday.  I was a part of the final service of a church that had decided to disband.  Because it is a congregation I have worked with for the past three years in my current ministry, I was there to support and encourage them as they met for the final service.

Bittersweet would be a good word to describe the day. These dear saints, almost all in their seventies and eighties, laughed and sang and loved each other.  Their pastor recently celebrated his sixtieth year in pastoral ministry. Did you get that?  Six, Zero!  When he told the congregation that I had been an adviser to him, I had to laugh.  How could I possible presume to advise a man who has been a pastor a decade longer than I have even been alive?  I hope that what I have been is a friend with a listening ear.  I know that I consider him to be my friend.

Including lunch, Mrs. Sweetie and I spent about three hours with these folks, encouraging and being encouraged.  As so often happens when I begin to reflect on particular experiences, my mind goes to the bigger picture of life.  I shared some of these reflections with this congregation on Sunday.  Some have continued to unfold for me since then.

I don’t know of anyone who really likes the idea of being in transition. Regardless of whether a transition was initiated by our choice or someone else’s, it can be an unsettling time in life.  When our ministry headquarters burned last year and one of our churches offered us the use of office space, we decided to call it “transitional” instead of “temporary”.  It made it sound like there was a plan in place, even though we did not have a clue what the plan was! 

There is something in us that longs to be settled and secure.  Even the folks who seem to be constantly on the move would probably admit that their restlessness stems from a sense that they just haven’t found the right place … yet.

Maybe that’s part of our problem.  Because there is that longing in us for a sense of being settled or of having arrived, there is that underlying sense of frustration at the transitional nature of life.

What if we saw life as a series of layovers, rather than a destination?  In the past three years, I have visited several cities for the first time—Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, Charlotte.  With each of those, the sum total of my experience is the airport.  All of them were layovers on the way to somewhere else.  These layovers have ranged from twenty minutes to four hours, so there was some variety to what I was able to experience.  But they were still layovers.

I pastored a church in the same community for seventeen years, but now I can see that it was a layover.  We have lived in our current home for twenty years and have no plans to move, but it is a layover.  I have appreciated anew the wisdom of the old southern gospel song that says, “This world is not my home, I’m only passing through.”  In John 14:2-3, Jesus said, “I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

Until we see face to face the One for whom our transitional lives matter, we will not be at the destination. I’m glad my reservations are made at His place.