The Pathway Out of Uncertainty

We’ve been living with uncertainty for over a week now. Throughout hurricane season our local meteorologists keep an “eye on the tropics.” Already at the end of August they said we’d better watch Invest 93L because it could form into a major storm. Sure enough. Here we are making preparations for Hurricane Irma to hit the state of Florida. The projections have been going back and forth for days. The uncertainty is maddening.

Leading up to a hurricane uncertainty is all around. When you’re at the store buying the mandatory bread, water, and wine you hear people talking about how they’re going to evacuate if it comes this way. On social media you see reminder after reminder and myth after myth about what’s going to happen (or not going to). The weather channel incessantly shows the path’s track and the “cone of uncertainty.”

This is all really just a metaphor for life. As the old saying goes: “Nothing in life is certain but death and taxes.” Everything else is uncertain. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. It could be good or bad. There might be failures or successes.

So how do we deal with uncertainty about a hurricane…or anything else? What is a pathway out of it? Here are three things I learned in the uncertainty of a potential hurricane:

  1. Don’t believe the best or the worst. In any kind of conjecture there will be those looking at it with rose colored glasses and those who always default to the worst case scenario. As far as the hurricane goes we are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. Seems like a good philosophy for any uncertain time.
  2. Seek advice from experienced people. We are relatively new Floridians who have only experienced one other hurricane. So we look to those who have had much more experience with this kind of thing. We ask them questions, seek their advice, and listen to them.
  3. Place faith in the One who never changes. In an email to our congregation this week I wrote: “Please join me in praying to the God of creation for safety and protection. In His sovereignty, which is high above ours, He has allowed this storm to form and He has His purposes for it. But He is also the one who with only His words calms the wind and the waves. Let’s pray that if it would be His will He would do just that.”

What is your pathway out of uncertainty?

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5 Things Guaranteed to Encourage Someone

The more I watch network news the more I think this world needs more encouragement. Recent events have shown that we are at each others throats both literally and figuratively. Everything from Berkeley to Charlottesville have revealed our country at its worst. I guess I should probably stop watching the network news. But then I saw the demonstrations of compassion and humanity after Hurricane Harvey. It was a joy to see people encourage Houston from all over the country.

But it all starts with one person taking the initiative to encourage another. Here are five ideas to help you do just that:

  1. Send a handwritten note. A couple of weeks ago in our Bible class at church we decided that we were each going to send a handwritten note to someone. The idea was to provide some encouragement. Though it wasn’t my intention, I received a couple of those notes. They made my day. I truly felt encouraged.
  2. Say something. If you’re thinking something nice about someone, say it. It does no good if you keep it to yourself. A few kind words go a long, long way. In fact, it just might completely improve someone’s day.
  3. Pay a public compliment. In this day and age it’s so easy to do. Use your social media channels to tout a friend or family member’s gifts or talents. Create a post about their work, business, or artistic ability and draw attention to it.
  4. Pick up the phone and make a call. I know, I know. A telephone call is such a throwback, such an inconvenient thing to do in this day and age of texts and emails. But a real phone call for “no reason” is just special enough to provide a proper amount of encouragement on any given day.
  5. Pay attention. When someone in your office or home mentions something they like or use, make note of it. When you have the opportunity, purchase it as a gift and give it on a day other than a birthday or holiday.

Do you agree that we could all use a little more encouragement? 

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What is the Essence of True Bravery?

Lately there’s been a great deal of bravery reported in the media. Over the course of Hurricane Harvey we saw photo after photo, video after video, and post after post of people risking life and limb to help and save others. A mother lost her life saving her infant child. People with boats came from hundreds of miles away to search and rescue. Even Chick-fil-a got in on the action sending workers to rescue an elderly pair of regular customers. But there’s been another kind of bravery that’s a little more subtle.

You have to look for it, but it’s there. You’ll find it in the middle of a culture that caters to the least common denominator. In our day it seems as though anything goes as long is you enjoy it, “love” is involved, and you don’t hurt anyone else.

You can easily find pastors and religious leaders who are called “brave.” They’re described with that adjective because they support the continuing decline of culture. People will praise them on social media, stand up and applaud, and heap accolades upon them. This all happens even though what they support is contrary to the clear word of Scripture.

But they’re not the brave ones. It’s really the easy path to follow right along with overarching culture.

Instead, bravery is the title that ought to be bestowed on another group of people. The truly brave ones are those who stand up against the moral decline in our society. They hold fast to God’s clear Word even though it’s not popular. It puts them in the path of name-calling, they are criticized, and they seemingly stand alone when it feels like the whole world is calling them out and condemning them.

They are the brave ones. The essence of true bravery is standing on the clear Word of God when it’s not popular, when it’s not easy, and when it seems as though one is standing in the minority. True bravery sometimes has to go in a direction very few others will dare to go.

Where have you seen bravery exhibited?

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Are you Paying Attention to Your Senses?

I wish you could have seen his face. For years now one of the older members of our congregation has sporadically shown up for church. It’s just been too frustrating for him to be there. His lack of good hearing, one of our most crucial senses, makes it extremely difficult for him to participate. He wants to be in church. But when you can’t hear well you may as well stay home. But then something happened.

He brought a simple device to church. I wore it around my neck. It fed directly into his hearing aid. And for the first time in a long, long time he heard every word I said. When he walked out of church he was nearly in tears. He gave me a hug and said: “I heard every word.”

It’s like those videos you see online of a little baby putting on glasses and seeing her parents for the first time. Our senses are a God-given gift. When they’re not working properly we are at a definite disadvantage. We’re not able to experience the world the way God originally meant it to be experienced. It’s so great that we live in a day and age where there is technology to help those who have hearing or sight disadvantages.

And it’s also a reminder to those who have fully functional senses. We dare not take them for granted. In fact, we ought to take every opportunity to heighten them and pay attention to them.

I once heard someone speak about this at a pastors’ conference. He encouraged us pastors to walk into our churches and pay attention to all of our senses:

  • What do you see? Is there clutter?
  • What do you smell? It should be pleasant (not moldy, musty, or bad).
  • What do you taste? When your congregation shares meals is the food good and fresh?
  • What do you touch? Do people welcome you with a handshake or a hug?
  • What do you hear? Is the music too loud or too soft? Is there appropriate help for those who are hard of hearing?

How can you apply all this to your own home or workplace? Pay attention to your senses. How can you enhance the sensory experience for your family or co-workers. One of the things my wife and I like to do in our home is burn Ranger Station Candles. The scents are amongst the best I’ve ever experienced from a candle.

Don’t take your senses for granted. Pay attention to them today. You may just experience something new.

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Finding a Coping Strategy When Life Puts You on Edge

Have you ever had one of those weeks? It’s filled with stress, disappointment, and hard work. The moments of rest are few and far between. A family member treats you unfairly. People are relying on you to get things done when your “to do” list is a mile long. You want it to be Friday but it’s only Tuesday. What you need right now is a coping strategy.

I’m in the middle of a week like that. These kinds of weeks don’t happen all that often, but when they do they put me off kilter. I feel burdened for some of the people who have revealed their heartaches and problems to me. My “to do” list is longer than usual because my fall is filled with commitments and speaking engagements. Some of my regular work has been put off, but it needs to be accomplished by Friday. It’s not really all that bad. It’s just that when things like this add up I can’t seem to relax.

Right in the middle of it all I was reminded that we all sometimes need coping strategies to make it through. I’m blessed to be part of a clergy council for our local Christian counseling center. We get together every quarter to learn and to talk. It’s always well worth making the time to be there.

Today we learned about coping strategies. Some strategies distract you, some ground you, and some calm you and relax you. Not all coping strategies are healthy. They might mask your stress, or even make it worse.

But a healthy coping strategy is beneficial and helpful. As we discussed this at our meeting today I realized that one of my coping mechanisms is doing what I’m doing right now: writing. It’s why I try to be consistent by posting right here two to three times a week, and writing other things on most other days.

Here are some other strategies:

  • Exercise
  • Take a nap
  • Talk about it
  • Listen to music or a favorite song
  • Thirty seconds of deep breathing
  • Change what you’re doing for a short time
  • Help someone else
  • Eat a healthy snack
  • Read something enjoyable
  • Write or journal

What coping strategies have been helpful for you?

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Why the Solar Eclipse Should Make Us Look Down (And It’s Not What You Think)

I hope you’re going to look down today. As you know, a wide swath of our nation is experiencing a total eclipse of the sun. People are buying “eclipse glasses,” traveling across state lines, and even having viewing parties. I’m certain you’ve received more than sufficient warning not to look at the sun. People have gone blind doing so during previous eclipses. So make sure you’re looking down today. But not just to protect your eyes…

A solar eclipse reminds us of the miraculous wonders of the creation that surrounds us. Our God created the universe for our benefit. He gave it to us as a gift to live in, and love, and celebrate, and steward, and manage. Instead of looking up, maybe we should be looking down, and around. I suppose that being able to witness a solar eclipse is like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time, watching the aurora borealis, or studying a hummingbird in flight.

But if we look around us there are all kinds of miracles and wonders every day. Flowers bloom, babies take their first breath, and the tide at the beach comes in and goes out like clockwork. Cars hurtle us down the highway at seventy miles per hour, computers with massive memory fit in the palms of our hands, and TV screens are larger and clearer than they’ve ever been. Some even let us see the picture in 3D.

Martin Luther once said:

[Most people] are so accustomed to [the works of God in nature]; they are as permeated with them as an old house is with smoke; they use them and wallow around in them like a sow in an oats sack. Oh, they say, is it so marvelous that the sun shines? That fire heats? That water contains fish? That hens lay eggs? That the earth yields grain? That a cow bears calves? That a woman gives birth to children? Why, this happens every day! You dear dolt Hans, must it be insignificant because it happens daily? … If God created all other women and children of bone, as He did Eve, and but one woman were able to bear children, I maintain that the whole world, kings and lords, would worship her as a divinity. But now that every woman is fruitful, it passes for nothing. … Is it not vexing to see the accursed ingratitude and blindness of mankind?

So as you appreciate today’s nearly once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon, let it serve as a reminder. The miracles of a loving God surround us. Though we may take them for granted, they bring benefit to us. These miracles comfort us, make life more convenient, and deliver health or healing. Sometimes they even amaze us.

Look up today for a moment or two (with the proper eye protection). But then take a look around and notice the miracles that happen everyday.

What regular miracles do you often take for granted?

*Special thanks to Charles P. Arand for the ideas behind this post and for bringing to my attention the above Luther quote.

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When Your Emotions Get the Best of You

When I was babysitting my grandson the other day, I noticed something. Babies’ emotions can change on a dime. At one moment Crosby would whine, almost to the point of crying. But all I had to do was read him a book, play with blocks, or distract him in some other way and he smiled or laughed. When he started to get just a little fussy, I changed his environment and took him outside. Crosby loves to be outside. When he’s out there he’s often as still, as quiet, and observant as a baby can be.

Emotions are a funny thing (get it?). Today I experienced a wide variety of emotions in the adults with whom I interacted. I laughed heartily with a group of people as we shared common experiences. A man called me on the telephone to tell me he got the job he hoped for. He was so full of joy and thankfulness that it brought him to tears. I heard the fear in the voice of a woman who has family members facing medical issues.

Emotions are a blessing from God. They make life interesting. Emotions give us a truly human outlet for the variety that life delivers. We express them already as babies. They help others know how to respond and react to us.

Unfortunately, as adults we tend to muffle them, cover them up, or mask them. We learn to “control” our emotions rather than give ourselves the permission to set them free. When I watch Crosby I realize that since he cannot yet talk he uses his emotion to communicate his needs and desires. And maybe that’s why they change so quickly. When a need is met his emotion changes. But he most certainly isn’t afraid to freely express his emotions.

Sometimes I wish I were more like Crosby. I know it’s not socially acceptable to openly and freely express my emotions. But I wonder how much better I would feel — and how much better people would be able to help one another — if we adults would be more open with our feelings. Even if that means our feelings change on a dime, as they sometimes do.

So I give you permission today to do an experiment. Express your emotions a bit more freely. Be sensitive to the feelings of others. Then react and respond in kind. And I really mean: in kind.

What would our world be like if this would happen more frequently?

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Using Chapters of a Story to Think in a Different Way

A John Mayer concert is a showcase of creativity. One could talk about the guitar playing, the lyrics, the lighting, the sound, and the visual effects. I recently had the chance to witness him in concert at the arena in Nashville. All those creative elements were present in spades. But what really fascinated me was the structure of the concert itself. Mayer presented it in five chapters.

Chapter One included the full band. Chapter Two was an acoustic set. Chapter Three was the John Mayer Trio. Chapter Five was the encore and epilog. It was a fascinating way to present a show. The way the sets were broken in chapters added interest and intrigue. It was broken up in a way that kept the collective audience on the edge of its seat.

The form of a regular concert is the band playing one song after another, until finally they end with an encore. It becomes rather predictable. But break it up into chapters and it’s a whole new ballgame, as it were. One simple tweak to a concert and the creative sparks fly.

It seems to me the same type of tweak could apply to our own creativity. Split your task up into chapters. Focus each “chapter” on a different form or function. For instance, why not split your day up into chapters. Each hour of the day could be a different one, with a different focus, or a different task. The simple variety is sure to bring new thoughts and ideas all along the way.

Another way to split a day into chapters would be to find a new place to do your work for each “chapter” of the day. Start your work in the office. Then move to a coffee shop. Go back to the office. Do some work at home. Make some notes before you go to bed. You’ll be surprised at the creativity that springs up.

How would you use the idea of chapters to be a springboard to your own creativity?

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When Fame Begins With a Piece of Paper and a Pen

They say the heart of rock and roll is in Cleveland. I recently had the chance to feel that heart beat when I visited the city and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. One of the highlights for me was to see artifacts from one of my all-time favorite bands: Electric Light Orchestra. I got to see highlights of their induction which happened earlier this year. In addition, there were guitars, clothes, and other artifacts from the band that brought back memories and fascinated my creativity. It was fun to see how fame often has humble beginnings.

I was most fascinated by the numerous handwritten artifacts. Most of them were the original manuscripts of famous songs. The songwriters took pen to paper and scratched out lyrics that are now on the hearts, mouths, and minds of millions. It speaks to the power of simple paper and pen.

Jeff Lynne, the founder and front man of ELO, talked about the encouragement he received from his father. He picked up a used guitar and started writing songs. His dad saw Jeff’s potential, bought him a new (used) guitar, and told him to keep on writing. That encouragement led to a lifetime career in music, working with former members of the Beatles, and being part of a “supergroup” named the Traveling Wilburys.

Certainly not everyone needs, or even wants, fame. But we all need a certain kind of fame if we want effectiveness in our work or vocation. Every leader needs to be known well at least by those one leads. What better way to become known than by writing?

While we were in Cleveland I ran into a good friend who wants to do just that. Their kids are now all out of the house and she wants to start a blog. So she asked me about how to get started, logistics, and content. She has a great idea for her blog. I’m certain that she will attain the kind of fame she desires. She has the passion and the ability. She’s about to use her newfound fame for the benefit of others.

All it takes is putting pen to paper. Who knows where it might lead? There are all kinds of people in my life that I wish would write and put their musings out into the world. It would make this world a far richer place.

Why not you? You might even end up in some kind of hall of fame, even if it’s your own family hall of fame.

What can you write today?

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Simple Tactics for When Life Keeps Getting in the Way

Recently I received a request from a reader of my blog. He was looking for tactics to help complete a project that had been on the back burner for years. The project is a writing project, and the questioner is fully capable of doing exactly what he wants to do. He can check this item off the bucket list with just a little concerted time and effort. Here’s his exact question:

What type of encouragement do you have for someone that has this innate desire to accomplish a task, but yet it seems life keeps getting in the way?

 

Is there something you want to do but feel like you don’t have the time? Here are six tactics to help motivate you to get going starting today.

  1. Get up. Every single person has the same amount of time in the day. Yet some people seem to accomplish more than others. One of the ways they do it is by getting up earlier in the morning. It can be very difficult for those who aren’t “morning people.” But if you promise yourself it’s just for a month or two while you accomplish an important task, it’s very doable.
  2. Stop wasting time. Do you watch TV after the kids go to bed? Turn it off and work on meaningful things instead. Are you spending time on Facebook or other social media? Start a timer and limit that kind of activity. Then use the rest of the time to work.
  3. Set manageable goals. If you’re a writer, set a goal of writing just 500 words per day. Sometimes it’ll be a struggle to write those 500 words. But other times you’ll get on a roll. When you do, keep going. The same applies for all kinds of other activities, too.
  4. Use the Pomodoro TechniqueThe Pomodoro Technique is, in a nutshell, doing a task for 25 minutes, then taking a short, three to five minute break. Do that four times in a row, and then take a fifteen to thirty minute break. You’ll be surprised how much this tactic will help you accomplish.
  5. Pray. Ask the Lord for more structured time in your life, more free time, and for the ability to juggle everything well and in good balance.
  6. Use a Deadline. Deadlines are powerful motivators. They are even more motivating when you tell someone else what your deadline is and ask them to hold you accountable.

Sometimes simple tactics used consistently can help you accomplish that one thing you’ve always wanted to. Try these six things and watch yourself do the thing you’ve wanted to do for months, or even years.

What tactics do you use to accomplish an important task?

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