Ants Never Say “I Can’t”…Do You?

The ants are back. This time with a vengeance. A couple of months ago we had some ants on the counters in our kitchen. In a climate filled with all kinds of creepy crawlies, it could be much worse. The last time they appeared our exterminator came over, and in a matter of a day or two they were gone. But now they have come back. And it’s more than I’ve ever seen inside of a house. It’s really not good.

But our trusty exterminator has been called. I have every confidence that he’ll once again take care of it all. But in the mean time it’s been disruptive. We’ve had to spend time killing ants. Our cooking has been done to maneuver around those little buggers. We can’t wait until they are once again gone. They’re not really icky or gross. They’re just annoying.

These pests may be annoying to us, but they’re only trying to get their job done. They all seem to be carrying something. They’ve got some kind of project going. As they do so:

  1. they are persistent, and
  2. they are disruptive.

Sounds like a pretty good lesson in productivity and growth, doesn’t it? If you’re trying to make a ruckus in ministry or in the marketplace, you could do worse than to:

  1. be persistent, and
  2. be disruptive.

Those ants don’t quit. They just keep coming back. They will not be deterred. They keep going. Even when their mates go down the work continues. Nothing will hold them back (except maybe The Exterminator).

They’re also disruptive. They have our attention. We can’t seem to get around them. They are most definitely noticed.

Here’s your assignment for today:

  1. Be persistent, and
  2. Be disruptive.

In other words, keep going. Whatever it is you’re working on, it’s worth it. Someone’s going to benefit. If another person doesn’t, you most certainly will just by virtue of the work you’re putting in.

And be disruptive. Do something to draw attention to your important work. There are all kinds of tools these days to do just that. Just one example: Facebook Live. It jolts people into paying attention. They are naturally attracted to video. They can’t look away. I’m sure you can come up with other ideas.

An ant never says, “I can’t.” Why should you?

What do persistence and disruption look like to you?

Are You Patient Enough to Let It Pay Off?

Last week my wife and I attended a Social Media conference. It was for businesses and non-profits that use social media to advertise, expand business, and spread the word(s). There were people who were wildly successful and people who were just starting out. I was there to learn how I could help our church’s ministry with online resources. My wife was there to learn ways to help her newfound business grow. What I noticed is that one has to be patient to watch risks pay off. A good number of business and projects aren’t built overnight.

To be completely honest, we’re in the “patience” phase of Tammy’s business right now. She quit her teaching job at the end of December with an eye toward starting her own thing. She was paid through the end of February. We have money saved up. But now we’re having to dip into that savings a bit.

We’re to the point where we’d really like to see the business begin to take off a bit more than it already has. Tammy asked me whether I thought it was a good idea to quit her job and take this risk. I responded that it absolutely was. She has more freedom. She’s been able to spend time with our grandson. We’ve been able to do things together that we never would have had she still been working.

We’re finding ourselves in the phase of Tammy’s business that Seth Godin calls “The Dip.” The dip is what happens when someone starts a business, a task, or a project and then doesn’t immediately experience the result that they had hoped for. The majority of people at this point quit. They can’t see their way through the dip. But those that push through often see success on the other side of the dip.

To make it through the dip requires one to be patient. It’s not easy when the money isn’t coming in or people aren’t responding to your project as you’d like. But if you keep creating, learning from mistakes, and refining on the fly, your patience will often pay off.

Patience doesn’t pay the bills, but it most certainly often pays off. Push through the dip with patience and you might just see results greater than you could have ever imagined. We’re certainly beginning to see signs that this could be true for my wife’s business. If we’re patient we might just see what’s on the other side of the dip.

What are you patiently waiting for? Can you find your way past the dip?

Advice for Your 21-Year-Old Self

One of the highlights of my life has been the opportunity to mentor people. A few years ago I created a mentoring group for four young men. They were all in their mid-twenties. We met together monthly for discussion, support, and prayer. Part of the time was reserved for advice-giving. I would share thoughts with the guys. They would share thoughts and ideas with one another. And though they learned a great deal, I’m certain that I learned even more in that year.

It’s been very satisfying for me to see where those young men’s lives have taken them since that mentoring year. One moved to a new city to take on a new job and became a father. One advanced in his career and is extremely happy with where his life has gone. One went back to school for a very specialized trade. And one purchased a van, traveled the country with his brother, and is now doing so on his own. You can follow his journey here.

Advice is a difficult thing. You never know when you should heed it…or from whom. It’s also sometimes dangerous to give. You never know how it might be misconstrued or misused.

But what if you could give yourself some advice? That’s what I asked my Facebook friends today: What advice would you give your 21-year-old self? The responses were fascinating. Here’s a sample:

  • Don’t be afraid to take chances. Be more confident. Buy stock in Apple.
  • Before you make a big decision, pray about it, ask 3 other trusted people, and wait a minimum of 30 days.
  • Go after your wildest dreams, and don’t get scared that you can’t handle them when they start to come true.
  • Don’t worry about what other’s think…be your own person!
  • Be sure to plan for your retirement. You never know what can happen.
  • Don’t waste time or mental energy worrying what people think of you. Everyone just pretends to know what they’re doing anyway.
  • Set better goals!
  • Get your butt back in church sooner!
  • Pick your battles wisely and fail fast.

And then there was this: 

Don’t let fear get in the way of pursuing your dreams. You know “you” better than anyone else. You know what you’re interested in and what you like to do. Talk to people who are doing it and ask for help. Get a mentor who will guide you along the way. Your parents may not understand what you want to do and may not know how to help you do it. Find trusted advice and make a path to your dream job.

An undercurrent of all of these responses could be summed up in one word: regret. One of the goals I had for the four young men in my mentoring group is that they wouldn’t live with regret. I sense that many of the people who responded to my Facebook question have regrets in life. They have learned from them. But some wish they had never done one thing or another. They wish they wouldn’t have done things just to please other people.

One person even messaged me personally to express regret. Advice to our 21-year-old selves reveals a great deal about our inner thoughts and where we wish we would have gone or what we might have otherwise done.

But here’s how to transform advice to your 21-year-old self: Take the same advice and apply it to your life today.

It’s never too late to reverse your regret. Live the life you’ve imagined. Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Say “I’m sorry.” Take the class. Go on the trip. Buy the stock. Don’t worry about what others think. Buy the van and head out west.

It’s not too late.

What advice would you give to yourself today?

What It Means When Your Church’s Worship Isn’t Cool

I have a pastor friend who serves a campus ministry. He has an intriguing way of piquing interest in his worship services. Every week he places a sign outside the door of the church for passers-by to see. It always has an interesting statement or question relating to the week’s worship. This week the sign said: “What is the best thing about church?”

It was interesting that this happened to be the question today. This very day I heard through the grapevine that a family no longer attends our church because the adolescents in the family think it’s boring.  So they attend the local mega church that has lights, sets, a professional band, and an attractive young pastor with an untucked shirt.

Here are my honest responses to that revelation:

  • It cuts like a knife. I probably take it more personally than I should that someone has left our church. But I (and our support staff, volunteers, and musicians) put a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears, into developing lively worship and engaging sermons. Like it or not, it’s personal.
  • You can’t be all things to all people. If entertainment is what you’re looking for, it’s probably best to look for a church other than ours. While our worship is engaging, and some would say “relevant,” it’s not going to be a highly polished production. I don’t believe it should be. Yes, it should be done with excellence, and well done, because we ought to be giving the Lord our best. But what’s more important is that the content of worship is filled with the Word of God.
  • Our church will never be able to compete with “mega churches.” We don’t have the personnel. Our resources are far more scarce. We’re not able (or willing) to “sell” our church with expensive gifts and incentives that draw people in. In an easily distracting world people tend to gravitate toward things that are more sparkling and flashy. Our church is not that.
  • I wish people would give small and medium-sized church’s a chance. They are filled with people who care. Most everyone knows your name. Your gifts and talents are needed in a significant way to move the ministry forward. You can have a real impact.

My church is filled with people who are ready, willing, and able to welcome you with open arms. I am pleased to serve one of the friendliest church’s of which I have ever been a part. They want you to be part of the family, and they’re genuinely concerned when they haven’t seen you in weeks.

Instead of turning away from a church like this, why don’t you give it a try? You just might like it.

What are your thoughts?

Beethoven’s Trick for Inspiring the Creative Process

Beethoven inspired me. I was having trouble coming up with a topic for this post. That’s when I remembered something that lit my creative fire. A couple of weeks ago I attended the Senior Piano Recital of a good friend. Incredibly, he played by heart three movements of a Beethoven piece (as well as two other compositions). It got me to thinking: What was it that inspired the great masters in their creativity? For Ludwig von B it was a very simple thing: He took walks.

Beethoven discovered that he needed the time for his ideas to incubate into something concrete. So he took regular walks through the wooded valleys of Vienna (that’s modern day Vienna in the above photo). He took along with him a pencil and a few sheets of paper. When he came up with solid musical thoughts he would jot them down.

It’s such a simple lesson, but it’s one that I so often fail to do. The whole idea is to feed your creativity by putting yourself in a different environment. It’s giving yourself time to create. Psychologists tell us that we are more apt to be creative outside of our regular work environment than inside of it.

Let’s take the example of this very post. The idea for it came while I was listening to incredible music played live by a skilled musician. I’ve been letting the idea for a series of posts on the creativity of creative masters ruminate in my head since then. Just now I came inside the house from a short time sitting on our delightful front porch with my wife. As I came inside the idea began to crystallize. Sitting outside in a different environment helped the idea take root and grow.

This whole concept of taking a walk, and “differentiating” spaces, is also true in the creative work I do in my vocation. Most every week I have to write numerous pieces for work, not the least of which is a sermon to preach. I have found that when I write my sermon in my office at church, it’s often like pulling teeth. The background work has been done, but creative ways to communicate the message are difficult to come by.

But when I write in a coffee shop, or in my quiet home, the ideas seem to flow much more freely. In these environments I see different things, I think more freely, I feel more relaxed. More ideas are hatched and they come to fruition on a much more consistent basis.

So thanks to Beethoven, I’m going to try taking more walks and writing in different environments. Why don’t you try the same. I bet it’ll get you off the creative dime. And, as I’ve said many times before, the world needs your art…whatever it may be.

What inspires your creative process?

This is the first of an occasional series of lessons in creativity from creative masters. 

How a Hamburger Can Bring Back Special Memories

Memories are a funny thing. The faintest scent, an old song, or even a hamburger can take you right back to a certain place and time. This comes to mind because they just opened a Culver’s in our neighborhood down here in Florida. Of course I had to get my first Florida butter burger almost immediately.

As I sat there in the familiar blue dining room, I couldn’t help but be transported back. I can’t tell you how many times we went to a Milwaukee-area Culver’s while our kids were growing up. There were the frequent times we went after Little League baseball games. We went after dance recitals. I can even remember being there with our kids and their high school friends a time or two.

Funny how a simple little fast food place can bring families together and create memories. The taste of that burger reminds me of little Benjamin, our son, covered in dirt from playing catcher. There he sits around a table with his baseball buddies. They’re cramming down burgers and fries, then coming over to ask for their ice cream. In the mean time the parents are at another table discussing the finer points of Little League baseball.

Those were formative times. Our kids learned a great deal about life playing baseball. And they learned plenty about good families and family life when they hung around fellow players and their moms and dads after games.

That hamburger reminded me how much I love being a dad. Times change. The kids are grown. I don’t know if we’ll ever all sit around a table in a blue Culver’s dining room. But I’ll never forget the days we did, and the memories they created.

All because of a Culver’s hamburger.

What are the things that jog your memory?

When An Important Moment in Life Comes By Surprise

We were in the middle of eating dinner. My phone rang and it said the call was coming from West Palm Beach, Florida. Usually I let calls like that go to voicemail. If it’s important enough they’ll leave a message. For some reason I picked it up. A fellow pastor was on the other end of the line. Now stick with me because this gets a little convoluted. A pastor in Wisconsin had called him because a husband and wife from his parish in northern Wisconsin were at Disney on a mommy and daddy getaway. An important moment was taking place.

You see, The unimaginable happened. The husband suddenly passed away, and they needed a local pastor to go be with the wife at this most difficult of times. I told them that the hospital where they ended up was about fifty minutes away from our house. But I’d get there as quickly as I could. So I hopped in the car and headed out.

I got to the hospital and met the poor woman in the Emergency Room. All I could do was give her a hug. I told her how sorry I was. The nurse gave us a room where we could have some privacy. She cried and told me what happened. She cried some more. They were supposed to go back to Wisconsin this evening. Now their pastor at home was telling their three young children that Daddy wouldn’t be coming back. To their credit, Disney gave the grieving woman a room in the Animal Kingdom Lodge until her parents and father-in-law could join her tomorrow.

I listened to her and let her cry. Before I left for the hospital my wife and I decided we would offer to have her come back home with me so she wouldn’t have to be alone for the evening. She was appreciative of the offer, but declined. I gave her my phone number and told her to call for anything at all. Pretty soon a taxi came to pick her up. Before she left the hospital we prayed. We thanked the Lord for all those who helped and cared throughout this ordeal. We prayed for the kids. The prayer included petitions for peace, comfort, and help. In such an important moment it’s not easy to know how to pray. But pray we did.

Then she got into the taxi. And off she went.

You never know when an important moment will enter your day. Two people who had never met before were able to share faith — the very essence of life — at a time when it was needed more than any other.

This poor woman has a long road ahead of her. I don’t know why this had to happen to her. And I don’t know why, in the grand scheme of things, I was the one chosen to minister to her. But I do know that these most important moments are the reason why faith in Jesus matters. It matters eternally.

Faith in Jesus is the only thing that will help us through any and every surprise life tosses at us. Nurture it. You never know when it’s the only thing that will be able to sustain you.

3 Things Modern Medicine Has Caused Me to Appreciate

I’m just now recovering from two days revolving around modern medicine. I had to have a “procedure.” You know, the kind you have to have when you get a little older and have to be screened for potential cancers and other issues.

Yesterday I had to fast all day. All day. Then came the awful “prep.” Early this morning my wife took me to the medical clinic. I was put under sedation. And in what seemed like five minutes it was all over. I woke up and went to have some breakfast. Then I spent the day today “taking it easy” just as my doctor told me.

Going through all this has caused me to appreciate modern medicine and the things that revolve around it. Things like these:

  1. Food. When was the last time you went through an entire day without it? The Bible calls Christians to prayer and fasting. But I wonder how many of us really do it. It’s a discipline that enables us to focus on the Provider of all things and sharpen our thoughts and hearts on what really matters. I did some of that as I fasted. But I’m here to tell you that I was hungry. I love food. I was so thankful to be able to eat again today. What a gift it is.
  2. Caregivers. By my count there were at least nine people who cared for me in one way or another while I was at the clinic. Every single one of them was as nice as could be. Not only that but, more importantly, they were educated and skilled in what they had to do to help me through it all. From nurses, to the anesthesiologist, to the doctor himself, every person carried out their duties to perfection. It was modern medicine at its finest.
  3. Rest. It’s difficult for me to sit still for two entire days. But that’s pretty much what I did. I did a little bit of work. I started a great book. There are some awful shows on daytime TV. But mostly I rested. I even took a nap. That’s a rarity for me. But every once in a while some forced rest is a good thing. It’s even godly. The Lord Himself rested on the seventh day and called us to do the same.

There is much more to appreciate about modern medicine. What a miracle it is. But these three things came to the forefront of my mind this time around.

What do you appreciate about modern medicine?

What To Do When You Doubt That You’re Good

My parents were here last week. We had a great time doing the Central Florida thing. If you’re ever in our area you ought to check out Port Canaveral. Head over there and watch the cruise ships go out to sea. We did that one evening. It’s such a pleasant thing to do: have a snack and a drink or two, listen to some live music, and watch the ships. While we did that I learned a little lesson about what it means to be “good.”

The guy playing the guitar finished his set and started packing up. My dad, being the supportive and affirming guy he is, went over and said: “If you didn’t know it already, you’re really good.” The guy replied immediately: “Thank you.”

Then he paused for a moment.

After some brief thought he said:

“Actually, I don’t know that. I don’t always know that I’m good. I doubt myself. You know how it is. But thank you. That means a lot.”

I’m here to tell you the guy was amazing. How could he have ever doubted his ability? How could he not know that he’s good? Really good!

It’s called “Imposter Syndrome.” When someone takes a leap into something they really love, something they’re really passionate about, they tend to fear that they’re just an incredible faker. They feel everyone can see straight through them and they’re about to fall flat on their face.

Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt that you’re just not that good? We all do at one point or another.

When you feel that way, here are a couple of suggestions:

  1. Don’t listen to the critic in your head. That critic will always be there to tear you down and doubt yourself. She or he is a liar. Cast that liar out. You are far better and more capable than that little liar will ever know.
  2. Listen to the people who compliment and encourage you. They’re out there. Pay attention. Listen to those who encourage you. Give ear to the ones who speak compliments, even if they’re simple and small. Grasp hold of the phrases that come from the people who know how good you really are: anyone who’s not you.
  3. Keep going. As I listened to that guy play his guitar and sing that day, the thought crossed my mind that he could be one of those people who end up on The Voice. He’s that good. I hope he keeps going. He should be playing in venues far bigger and better than a weathered deck, in front of fifteen people, on a mid-afternoon Friday. You, too. Keep going.

You’re good.

What advice do you have for gifted and talented people who don’t think they’re good?

Breathing in Your Post-Easter Sigh

When I got home from church on Easter Sunday I changed my clothes, sat down on the couch, inhaled deeply and let out a big sigh. Seven services later Holy Week 2017 was in the books. It’s the most glorious week of the year, recounting the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Savior. But it’s also one of the most fatiguing for church workers.

A deep, heavy sigh sometimes feels great. It brings a cleansing to our lungs and certain relaxation to our bodies. Whenever I exercise, get my heart rate up, and do some heavy cardiovascular work, I find myself breathing a heavy sigh when I’m all finished. It’s my body replenishing the oxygen that it needs and that our God gives in abundant supply.

Isn’t it interesting that the Sunday after Easter we hear the Bible reading of Jesus breathing on the disciples? This isn’t just a post-Easter sigh because He’s tired and in need of some rest. This is the very breath of the Holy Spirit, the Ruach, the Pneuma of God. It is the Lord Himself replenishing His disciples with the strength and faith they need to carry on. This is Jesus giving His disciples the gifts to be His shining lights in a very dark world.

We can take two things away from all this post-Easter breathing:

  1. Physically: Take the time to breathe. When you are stressed take a deep, cleansing breath and notice your stress float away. Breathe deeply as you regularly work out and keep your body and lungs in shape. Be sure to take your own “Sabbath Day” each week to get an entire day’s worth of “breathing deeply.”
  2. Spiritually: A physical deep breath just isn’t enough. We need the breath of the Spirit to wash over us consistently and fully. When we are fatigued in body, soul, and spirit, the Holy Spirit comes to us in His perfect Word and glorious Sacraments to breathe the very breath of God into our existence. Take advantage of that breath by being consistently in the Word and receiving the gift of His Holy Supper.

In this post-Easter time breathe in the goodness of God and find rest in Him. He is your breath. He is your strength.

When and where are you breathing in the Spirit?