Words

I’m a word guy. I love words. I love to paint pictures with words, to spin yarns, to create metaphors that help people remember things that they might otherwise forget.

Words are powerful, they’re important, they can lift a person up or tear a person down. We can share them quickly and then find that maybe we should have waited a little bit longer for them to escape our mouths.

The average person speaks about 16,000 words a day. That’s an awful lot of words. That’s the equivalent of about forty-eight pages of a double-spaced paper. Imagine that, each of us could write about fifty pages each day based on what we say.

But I wonder how many of those words we wish we could take back. I wonder how many of those words are words that we’ve really thought about, words that we’ve been intentional about, words that were meant to lift up and not tear down.

I don’t think words mean as much as to some others as they mean to me. We throw around words too easily today. I’ve used the metaphor before, but it serves repeating to say that we live in an age of digital hand grenades where we throw words over the “wall” of the internet and walk away feeling satisfied without always thinking about the “explosion” that is caused by those words that we just threw out.

During my sabbatical, I’ve felt the need to slow things down for myself. I’ve been writing in a journal….by hand. The first couple of days were brutal, my hand hadn’t hurt like that in a while. There wasn’t a whole lot of muscle memory since I’m one who typically writes while staring at a computer screen. But the more that I’ve done it, the easier it’s gotten. I still can’t write as fast as I type, but that’s the point, I can slow down.

I was extended a few invitations in the beginning of my sabbatical. I admit that some of them were my own invitations, inviting myself to visit someone or some place. When I got home from some of these trips, the easy thing for me to do would have been to hop on my computer and write a quick email, to compile my words in 300 words or less and press “Send.” But that felt a little impersonal to me.

I thought about the many cards and letters that I’ve received over the years. Birthdays. Anniversaries. Special occasions. Not so special occasions. The loss of a parent. The transition of a job. I’ve got a file where I keep a lot of these cards and when I’m having “one of those days,” I go to the file and start to read. I read words that someone took the time to write to me, words that were meant to lift me up and encourage me. Someone took the time to use a pen and paper rather than to simply send an email. And those words make me smile.

So, when I got home from those trips, I sat down with some blank cards that I keep for just such occasions. I thought about what I would write before I started, because you can’t just hit “backspace” when you’re using a pen. I wrote, not much, but I wrote. And I think that when those people got their mail and opened up those cards, they realized that I had put more into what was written than just sitting in front of my computer screen. I think that they knew how much it meant to me for them to take the time to spend time with me, to invest in me, to help me out. And I hope they smiled.

Words are cheap, but cheap words can still cut deeply. In fact, the cheaper the words, the deeper they might cut and the harsher the wound.

I’m doing my best to richen up my words. I’m doing my best to think about the impact before they’re out, out of my mouth or out of my hands. Others might still cheapen words, but I’m going to do my best to make sure that I’m thinking about them before they’re out. I’m not responsible for anyone else’s words but my own……well, and maybe the words of my children because they generally copy the things that I say. So, may my words be seasoned with salt and may they be used to build others up rather than cutting them down.

Speaking of Now

Having eulogized both of my parents at their respective funerals, I know a little bit of something about speaking words of someone when they’re gone. I consider myself fairly fortunate to have had an open and honest relationship with my parents, enough that not many things were left unsaid between us when they finally died. There were no major regrets felt by me, nothing that I felt I should or shouldn’t have said. Sure, there are always things you wish you could have said more, but I don’t feel like I missed saying anything important to them.

The thing is, while I know they aren’t wasted words, speaking kind memories after someone has gone, they sometimes feel as if they could have been even more significant if the person of whom they are about had been present at the time of their speaking. Like I said, I said all the things that I really needed to say to my parents, but I never stood in front of them and gave them one big tribute the way that I did at their funerals.

It kind of makes you think about the value of words said while people are still alive. Do we reserve the strongest and most powerful words for people once they’ve passed or are we honest with them while they sit across the table, room, computer, or phone line from us? Do we tell them the things that they need to hear or just what they want to hear? Do we encourage them and tell them how much they mean to us?

I’ve had two fairly distinct situations in the last week where encouraging words were spoken over someone who is still here. I shared about one of those experiences the other day, celebrating the 85th birthday of my wife’s grandmother. It was neat to hear the legacy tributes that were shared, the encouragement to her of her faithfulness, devotion, faith, and selflessness. It was probably also great for her to hear those things. While she exudes confidence, I am sure that in her 85 years of life, she’s had some doubts here and there, wondering whether or not all the sacrifices that she was making were really worth the efforts and, well, the sacrifice.

But those words were spoken over her, not over her lifeless body, over her life-filled body with ears that can hear, eyes that can cry, and a brain that can process. Those words will mean the same and still hold their power and strength either way, but they are so much more satisfying to the giver when the receiver can actually hear them.

The other distinct situation was the small birthday gathering of a friend who turned 40. A bunch of guys gathered around a firepit to just talk and hang out. While I had had grand plans of having everyone share stories, I realized in the midst of the time that co-opting it from what it had organically become would have turned it into something that it was not and most likely would have devalued it in some way.

As the time wound down as these men stood around a fire celebrating this brother and friend who is moving into a new decade of his life, the one who was being celebrated looked around the circle and spoke encouraging words over each and every person there. I had to chuckle to myself as I thought, “Wait a minute, this is supposed to be about him, not all of us.” That’s just him though, always wanting to spur others along.

I couldn’t resist co-opting the moment after he had finished his journey of encouragement around that circle. I spoke words over him and we all circled up around him, laid hands on him, and prayed over him. It was a holy and sacred moment, a moment of which you don’t experience many in life. Heaven touched earth and I had a sense that the Father was pleased by what he was seeing.

Not only was the Father pleased, but I am pretty sure that the one who was being celebrated was pleased as well. I think he was glad to have been the recipient of this time and celebration. I think he enjoyed it far more than he would have had he not been there, right?

Words are important. It was a stark reminder to me throughout all of these events, a reminder that I sadly need more than I’d like to admit. We can be quick with words or we can be slow with words. Sometime we wait too long to share them, sometimes we share before we’ve really had the chance to think through just what it is that we plan to say. Either way, words can hurt. In the words of INXS, “Words are weapons, sharper than knives.”

But words can lift up, they can lift us out of the pit, the ash heap on which we currently reside, and carry us up to the mountain, or at least out of the muck and mire in which we find ourselves. It’s important that we share them, especially those encouraging ones, now rather than waiting until tomorrow. After all, none of us knows what today or tomorrow holds.

If you’ve got something to say, say it, don’t wait until it’s too late. The words will be much sweeter for you when they’re shared with someone who can be physically and emotionally present to hear them and appreciate them. Everyone likes to hear an encouraging word, so why not share one today!

Everybody Loves You Now?

When I became a pastor more than 11 years ago, the first position that I had was a difficult one. To say that it was a volatile situation is probably an understatement. I’ve likened it to having a target painted on my chest as I would weekly receive emails and letters from people who expressed their disgust with me and what I was doing.

Now, I had grown up in the home of a pastor, so I knew what it entailed, I wasn’t naïve at all. But no matter how you might prepare for it, no matter how you might not be surprised by the audacity of some people, it doesn’t change the fact that criticism stings.

I don’t remember who it was or when they told me, but someone had instructed me early on in my ministry career to keep a folder of good notes that came in. Being the rebel that I am, I had to include some of those not so good notes as well.

Call me a glutton for punishment or maybe just plain stupid, but I kind of thought that it was important for me to keep some of these notes. A kind of “Best of” collection of the notes which were full of such vitriol, spite, anger, and hatred of me that they would be worth my while later on.

Frankly, I don’t think that this is what the person who urged me to keep a file of notes was thinking when they recommended it to me. Their explanation of the file was that it could be opened up on difficult and hard days so that I could remember the ways that God had used me and the appreciation that some people had expressed for me and what I had done.

But the opposite was true as well. Those other notes could serve a purpose. While it was nice to remember that people appreciated me, I thought it was important to remember that not everyone loves me. In fact, based on some of these notes, I think there are some people who wished that I had never taken a breath before.

We live in a very self-centered and selfish world. We are constantly told how important and special we are. While I understand the importance of an adequate self-esteem, I really think that there are times when we need to be reminded that we aren’t necessarily God’s gift to the world. There will be times when we will encounter people who just don’t like us (and have even stronger feelings than that).

The other day, I went to my file and pulled out an anonymous letter. As I read the letter about all of the ways that I had ruined this person’s church and how I had single-handedly caused a mass exodus of people, I smiled to myself at this reminder. Sometimes people just don’t like me.

Here are some of the things that I read:

“Everyone I have talked to tells me you have run everybody off.”

“I was going to send a $100.00 for the church fund, but what you said about evangelistics (sic) I changed my mind.”

“God is angry over the way you have destroyed his house of prayer and have made it a den of thieves (sic)…”

“Billy Graham is 87 years old and still preaches the Word of God, all over the world for the past 60 years, I don’t believe you will last that long.”

“…until you came along and wrecked everything.”

“I’ll never come back to [church name] as long as you are there.”

Ministry isn’t for the faint of heart or the thin skinned.

I handed the letter to my wife and let her get a good laugh from it as well.

But honestly, as much as I can laugh at it, the person who wrote it meant every word that they said, and that’s what saddens me. They never took the time to get to know me. They never met with me to express their concerns face to face. They simply wrote me a letter.

Words are important. It’s a lesson that I learn more and more every day. Using them flippantly can be a dangerous pastime. As Hawk Nelson sings, “Words can build you up, words can break you down.” But equally important to me is the lesson in humility that I can gain as these letters serve as a reminder to me that not everyone loves me.

After having been sufficiently humbled by the reading of this letter, I pulled out some others to remember that we don’t dwell on the negative. As I read the phrase, “We were so blessed by you coming to attend to our needs….we love you,” how could I do anything other than smile.

I put the file away. I’ll pull it out again another day. For now, I’m smiling as I remember that God has used me to be a blessing to some and a thorn to others. It’s a tough job, but I guess someone’s got to do it!

Missed Opportunities

I sat in Starbucks, typing away on my computer and waiting for a meeting that would eventually come. While I sat there, I did what I do so often in public places, I watched people. It’s a fascinating endeavor. As I soaked it all in, I suddenly realized that the two baristas were flying solo, they were the only ones there.

I guess it had occurred to me while I was standing in line upon coming through the door, but the point was hammered home to me as I sat at my table and watched the steady stream of customers walk through the door and wait.

The two baristas went about their work, trying their best to move the line along and fill every order that walked in. I didn’t notice any frustration or anger on their faces. I noticed them working diligently to accomplish what needed to be accomplished.

During moments when the line had tapered down, they caught their breath. I heard them talk about how they couldn’t believe what time it was already. They bantered back and forth with a general sense to the outsider that they got along fairly well with each, even enjoyed working together.

My meeting occurred and I even pointed out the somewhat impossible task that these two baristas had inherited through no fault of their own. Not long after, I left, not thinking about it again until this morning.

As my body woke me up way earlier than any human should have to get up, I made my way downstairs to go about my routine, and in the middle of that routine, my mind went to those two baristas and I realized that I had missed an opportunity. I had missed an opportunity to let them know that I had noticed what they did.

Sure, I pointed out their feat to my friend and I applauded them in my mind, but I didn’t acknowledge them to their faces. I didn’t take the time to tell them that I had noticed how they worked together, how they hadn’t complained, how they pushed through a situation that could easily have brought them both down.

I felt like I should have said something to them. I felt like I should have affirmed them to let them know that someone had noticed. I felt like I missed out on this opportunity.

It seems that life could easily be made up of missed opportunities, whether intentional or not. IF we are rushing around, we can easily miss things that are going on right in front of our nose. We may be preoccupied with something in our own life, we may be selfishly focused on whatever it is that we need to get done right at that moment. And in those moments, we might fail to seize an opportunity.

I’m realizing that sometimes, it’s not always preoccupation that takes me away from these opportunities, but it’s a general cowardice and fear. A fear that people will look at me strangely and wonder why I did what I did, why I noticed, why I took the time to notice.

But isn’t that what I would want? Wouldn’t I want them to wonder why I was doing this, why I had noticed what I noticed?

I’m praying for boldness. That was my honest prayer this morning as I thought through what I didn’t take the time to do. While I noticed my own missed opportunity, I gave myself a break and realized that while this may have been a missed opportunity, I have been seizing many other opportunities that I may have once not taken the time to seize. It’s all about the growth and forward motion, right?

The other thing about missed opportunity is that it’s not wasted if I notice and I make a change. Like I said, my observation of what I had missed pushed me towards action. You know, there is a difference between a missed opportunity and a wasted opportunity. Wasted opportunities don’t do any good while the missed opportunities might end up shaking us awake to the point of realization.

I’m praying for boldness and waiting for the next opportunity to come my way. We’ll see what happens when it comes!

Perfect Love and Fear

We’ve been going through a series in my church on 1st John. As John writes the letter that is 1st John, he speaks over and over again of the love of God and how that love needs to play out in all of us. We love because we have been loved by God. We love and it’s a testimony to who we are in God. We are different and changed by the love of God that he has shown us in Christ Jesus.

In the middle of John’s letter, he writes a verse that has come back to me over and over again in the past few months. John writes in 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” That verse has been a gift to me.

Lately, it’s been really hard to keep my head up. It seems that everything around me is reminding me of the fragility and frailty of life. Cancer. Severe burns. Infections. Leukemia. Death. It’s all fairly overwhelming when you take it at face value. It’s hard to see past what’s right in front of you. It’s hard not to be overcome by fear of the outcome.

That’s where John’s words resonate in such a powerful way. There is no fear in love. NO FEAR. Not only is there no fear in love but perfect love drives out fear. There is only one kind of perfect love, the love that we receive from God and that love drives out fear. In fact, the Greek word for “drives” here literally means, “to throw.” Perfect love takes fear and throws it away, it’s not there anymore.

I can too easily be caught up in fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the current circumstances. Fear of what MIGHT happen. But none of those fears come from God. While the circumstances might, and probably will be, difficult, we need not fear them if we really trust that God is sovereign and in control of everything and that he loves us. Do we really believe that he loves us?

Over and over again, I’ve had to recite this word in my mind. Over and over again, I’ve had to allow the love of God to throw my fears away. Fear has to do with punishment, as the verse says, and God is not about simply seeking ways to punish us when we live in obedience to him.

As you enter this day, remember the love of God. Remember that his love is perfect. Remember that perfect love throws fear away and there is no reason for us to give in to that fear. Perfect love drives out fear, so may we seek out the love of God in the midst of the ruins of our lives. May we find that perfect love is able to combat every fear that we might entertain. May God’s love help us to conquer all of our fears.

The Encouragement of a Friend

Have you ever been in a really difficult place, needing encouragement, and just hoping that someone could say or do the right thing to help you out?

In the book of 1 Samuel, David has been anointed by Samuel to follow up Saul as King of Israel and Saul is showing some extreme signs of jealousy and paranoia. Saul has been pursuing David and has tried to kill him multiple times. But David has formed a very special friendship with Saul’s son, Jonathan. Jonathan has helped David escape from his father and has made a covenant with David that he will protect him.

As David runs from Saul once again, he is discouraged. Imagine what he’s feeling as he waivers between trust in God, who anointed him, and fear of this disturbed king. And there in 1 Samuel 23, there is a verse that is fairly easy to pass right by without noticing. Verse 16 says, “And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.”

As I was reading through the narrative the other day, I stopped on that verse to really consider what it was saying. Jonathan had everything to lose by David being the next king. Typically, Jonathan would have been next in line for the kingship, so Jonathan could easily have been filled with his own jealousy and rage against David, but he wasn’t.

Not only is Jonathan not full of jealousy and rage, but he reacts in the opposite way, he loves David. He protects him from his father. He makes an oath and covenant with him. And while David is discouraged and feeling low, Jonathan goes to his friend and helps him find strength in God. Jonathan did not wait for David to come to him, he knew what his friend needed. He was paying attention. He could tell that something was wrong AND he knew just what David needed.

Jonathan was a true friend. He didn’t try to assuage David and distract him from his problems. He didn’t offer him false promises and tell him to put his hope in fleeting things. He pointed him to the God who had anointed him, the One who had created him, and the One who had sustained him all along. What an incredible friend Jonathan was to David.

All of us might not realize how desperately we need friends like this. We need people who will come alongside us, listen to us, love on us, and give us words that will help us put things in perspective. We need people to point us to the place from where our trust and strength needs to come.

Not only do we need this kind of friend, but we need to be this kind of friend as well. How aware are we of the circumstances surrounding our friends? How aware are we of what they are going through? Do we pay attention? Are we willing to come alongside them, even when our interests lie elsewhere? Are we willing to turn aside our own needs to help out our friends?

Never underestimate the power of a friend and their encouragement. Never underestimate how valuable the encouragement that you can bring to a friend as well. Pay attention to what’s going on around you, you never know when you’ll be able to bring encouragement to someone who desperately needs it.

Dream Big Dreams

dare to dreamFor the next few days, I am hoping to be energized. For the next few days, I am hoping to be reminded that I am not in charge, but God is. For the next few days, I am hoping to be reminded that dreaming dreams that are big enough that I can accomplish them on my own is not enough, I need to dream dreams that are big enough that ONLY God can accomplish them.

I am spending the next few days at a conference with others who are seeking to see what God can do through the imperfect vessels that make up his church. I expect that it will be a lot like drinking water from a firehose. I am glad to be with others with whom I work on a daily basis, all of us with different perspectives, talents, and gifts.

When you live a life in the trenches of full-time ministry, it’s too easy to become complacent. It’s too easy to get bogged down in the details and needs of those who are already convinced that Jesus is Savior. That’s not to say that those who already believe in Jesus as Lord are inconsequential, but just like any of us can become self-consumed and elevate our own needs above those around us, they and we can easily lose sight of the sheep that have yet to be called into the fold.

When we get caught up in our own needs, desires, and wants, we easily lose sight of the needs of those who still don’t know Jesus. When our own needs crowd out the needs of those who need to hear the Gospel of Jesus, that is a tragedy that, sadly, happens all too often within the Western church.

I once heard a speaker at a worship conference talk about dreaming dreams that are so big that only God can fulfill them. That same phrase was spoken to the pastors and staff at my church not too long ago by a minister from Latvia. It’s a phrase that I need to be reminded of every day, and I think all of us need that same reminder. We need to remember to stop putting God in a box, to stop making him in our image and try living into his image more and more every day.

I am excited to see what God will do. I am excited to be challenged. I am excited to be shaken out of my own complacency in order that I might encourage, teach, and shake others as well. May we dream big dreams and seek God’s help, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to fulfill those dreams!

Compliments

This morning, someone paid me a compliment.  It’s not an unusual occurrence, nothing that should have thrown me for a loop like it did, but somehow, I felt myself tongue tied and uncertain of what to say.  In my momentary state of confusion, I think I probably said something dumb that could very easily have taken the wind out of the sail of the person who was paying me the compliment.

People are strange, and I include myself in that generalization.  When we are faced with uncomfortable situations, we have a tendency to fill the awkward silence with trite words rather than embrace the awkwardness of the moment.  Unfortunately, I don’t think I did a good job with that when I was complimented.  Sometimes, the best thing to do is simply say, “Thank you” and move on.

Compliments are funny things too, though.  Some people pay compliments easily, I am not one of those people.  As I have understood the importance of positive affirmations in leading people, I think that I’ve grown and gotten better at paying compliments, but I am always intentional about how I do it and what I say.  I don’t ever pay compliments unless I absolutely mean them.  I have encountered other people who seem to pay compliments without paying them much mind at all.

When I was younger, I remember having a conversation with my father or hearing him preach a sermon about people paying him compliments.  He had a very distinguishing voice, especially when he would sing.  He was called upon to sing at the Memorial Day service that our town had every year.  He would sing at the Good Friday service that area churches participated in as well.  The thought of my father singing brings a smile to my face.  Although his style wasn’t my own cup of tea, I knew how much he enjoyed singing and how much my mom, as well as others, enjoyed hearing him sing.

My dad spoke of how people would compliment him about his singing and he downplayed his singing until one day, someone told him that downplaying compliments stole the joy from the person who was offering up the compliment.  It made him think hard about how he was receiving compliments and from that point on, his response when someone would compliment him was always, “Praise God.”  He said that it acknowledged God as the giver of the gift which was being complimented and took the praise off of him.  He seemed to be happy with the rhythm that he had found in that.

That conversation or sermon, whichever one it was, stuck with me.  It’s rare that I receive a compliment that I don’t think back to that and think back to my father.  Being complimented is always nice, especially when you have worked hard to present something to people, be it a song, a sermon, a piece of writing, or something else, it’s nice to feel appreciated.  But in the midst of that appreciation, it seems that it could easily be distorted one way or another.  We could let it go to our heads and forget that there is a Giver of gifts or we could downplay the compliment and steal the joy from the person giving out the compliment.

In the midst of some of the stupid things that I say, I am grateful for grace.  I am grateful that people understand that there are awkward moments in life and I hope that they realize that I’m not immune to those awkward moments.  I have to work on taking compliments and do a better job with receiving them.  The next time that someone compliments me, I’m going to think twice before I say anything.  If nothing comes to me, I think the best that I can do is just say, “thank you.”

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

Little help (457x264)Anyone who reads this blog with any frequency may be tired of me talking about the difficulties contained within the last few years of my life.  I try not to come across as complaining, that’s not my intention at all, but I am different, changed by all that has taken place.  I’ve pushed through and just continued to put one foot in front of the other.  I’ve not always liked it and I’m sure I’ve had my fair share of complaining, but I can see some progress in myself, and others can as well.

For the past 10 months, I’ve been part of a mission church that consists of about 400 members.  Our beginnings were difficult and the road that we have traveled has certainly not been easy, but it’s been a wild ride.  Over those 10 months, I’ve been working towards transferring my ordination into the denomination in which we now find ourselves.  The process has not been an easy one for me, mostly because of the events taking place in my life over those 10 months.  My heart was torn between this preparation and the care of my father over the last few months of his life.  He passed away in April, while I was working towards getting through my written examinations.

In August, after passing my written examinations on the second try, I sat for my oral examinations in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Although I had studied, I wasn’t prepared for the depth and breadth of the exams.  I wouldn’t say that I thought I would breeze through them, but my head and heart were still not completely into the process.  I was struggling.  I came home from my trip to Charlotte very frustrated and disappointed.  I wasn’t sure whether or not I was going to subject myself to the process any longer.  To be honest, it was a tough ride alone back to Richmond.  I was glad for God’s grace at the end of it…..and glad that I had no companions to hear me venting my frustrations to the air surrounding me in the car.

As time went by, my disappointment didn’t necessarily subside, but I felt that God had given me a little bit of objectivity.  In the midst of where I was, I was surrounded by (and am still surrounded by) some great people.  A friend that I called on the way home from Charlotte after that initial disappointment told me things that stuck and made a mark in my brain.  I began to see the possibilities and the benefits that might come out of the whole experience.

The day for my retesting was rapidly approaching and my wife and I had talked for a considerable amount of time.  We just weren’t sure what the next step would be for us.  There really had never been a question as to whether or not I was supposed to be doing what I was doing, but where I was supposed to be doing it began to emerge in our minds.  There’s nothing more frustrating than knowing your own potential and yet experiencing the difficulty of finally realizing that potential.

I continued to prepare, feeling as though my preparation was keeping me from other things.  A test of this magnitude is not something to approach lightly.  I knew that this would most likely be my second and last attempt.  If things didn’t go well, I had no idea what the future would hold.  As I prepared, the people who were closest to me knew the details of what was happening, but I didn’t share a lot about it with others.

Shortly after I knew when my reexamination would be, a friend told me that he would join me for my trip.  I didn’t think much of it at first, but as the time approached, I checked in with him to see whether or not he was serious.  He was, so I booked a room big enough for the two of us.  Days and weeks went by and the two of us became the three of us as another friend made the decision to come.  Then the three became four and the four became five.  All of a sudden, I found myself preparing for a road trip with some pretty incredible friends.  These friends were willing to make the sacrifices necessary for me to feel the support.  They took off from work, they left their families behind, and they spent time in a car with me for 10 hours (round trip).

When the day came, I felt like everyone else had more confidence in me than I did in myself.  Of course, I’m always my own worst critic, and this was no exception.  I knew that I had studied and prepared as best as I could.  I knew that there were people praying for me.  I knew that by the end of the day, I would have some clarification as to what the future held for me.

It was a funny sight walking into the church where the examination took place.  Here I was, walking down a hallway towards the room where we were all gathering, followed by four guys: one half Chinese, one bench-pressing champion, one tall race track owner, and one good ol’ boy who looked as if he has stepped off the set of “Duck Dynasty.”  One of the examiners asked me if I had brought the Mafia down from Virginia.  I refrained from telling him his knees might be broken if I didn’t pass……a wise move on my part.

The end result of the day was a positive one for me.  I passed.  I’m not quite sure what would have happened had I not, but that’s really not an option that I have to consider.  The amount of peace and calmness that I experienced over those 2 days was incredible and I know that it was due to many friends who were praying for me and supporting me.

Through those days, I was reminded of the Beatles’ song, “I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends.”  Boy, did that mean that much more to me now.  I’ve had a lot of opportunities in the midst of the difficulties of the last few years to be frustrated and downtrodden, but I’ve also had some great opportunities to see just how many blessings are around me.  I am grateful for all that I have and am blessed to know that I am loved by many people.  When the time comes, my hope and prayer is that I can be the same friend to those around me that they have been to me.  And when that day comes, I hope that they can say or sing those same words, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

The Happy Folder

Greeting-cards-pileWhen I started in full-time vocational ministry more than nine years ago someone gave me the suggestion to keep a file of good notes that I got.  Anything that struck my attention or brought a smile to my face would go in this file.  I can’t remember who it was who gave me the suggestion, but boy, if I could remember I would give them a big, big hug.  Over those nine years, I’ve had to pull out that file on many occasions.

Over those years, I’ve gotten lots of notes.  Some were “Thank you” notes, some were “Drop dead” notes, and some were just cards for special occasions.  It’s such a jolt of encouragement to open that file and read some of those notes from people who appreciated something I did, something I said, or just the job that I was doing.  Believe it or not, I’ve actually saved some of those “Drop dead” notes.  It’s always important to keep myself humble in the midst of everything that I do.  Reading notes from people who I’ve ticked off, frustrated, or who just don’t like the way I wear my face is an important part of that humility process.

I never really kept tabs on the specific days when I opened the folder the most, but I can almost assure you that a large percentage of the times that I did were Monday mornings.  A pastor that I once worked with told me that some pastors didn’t believe in God again until noon on Mondays.  Now, that’s a gross overstatement, it doesn’t happen until at least 2PM.  No, no, just kidding.  But Sunday has the potential of sapping the emotional and physical energy from a pastor if he/she isn’t careful and if God is really moving in the hearts of the pastor and their people alike.

Last week, I had a friend ask me what it felt like the day after a particularly encouraging time together as a church body.  Honestly, there were a bunch of years in there where it didn’t really make a difference because Sundays just weren’t that encouraging to me.  Nothing incredible was happening, I didn’t really see a lot of God work happening, so it was frustrating.  Lately, it’s been almost the complete opposite of that as I have felt like so much is happening.  Coming down off of the emotional high that it can cause can be a real downer.

As I was cleaning up around the house for some upcoming birthday parties, I stumbled upon a lot of notes.  In the past two years, I’ve lost both parents and was asked to resign from my job as we went through a church split.  Needless to say, I have received a lot of notes in those two years.  What I stumbled upon was really the outpouring of love that I received during that time.

I read through every note that was in the pile again, some more personal than others.  As I read, tears began to form in my eyes as I was just overwhelmed by the love and support that I received over the last few years.  It wasn’t just during these hard times though, it was fairly normal for me to receive notes “just because.”  I have been so blessed by people who took the time to write notes to me, all of them handwritten on cards.

Sure, I’ve received my fair share of notes that don’t edify me or make my day, but they have been far overshadowed by all of these notes.  That’s kind of what this folder is for, to pull out on all of those days when the streams of discouragement seem to be flooding in.  Just a few notes is generally all that it takes to help me remember that things aren’t as bad as I thought that they were.

So, next time you feel the urge to send a note to somebody, follow that urge.  Take the five minutes that it takes to simply write a few words down on a card.  Send it off and pray that it gets there at just the right time.  I can tell you from experience, it will mean so much more than you could ever know.  Who knows, maybe when you’re the one feeling down, someone might just return the favor.