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When to Say “No”

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Last week I was presented with two requests within two hours. Within two minutes of each one, I said the word, “no.” Let me explain.

The first request came from a man who came to my office requesting permission to rent our facility for a four day conference that would welcome between 600-800 people. “Six to eight hundred?,” I said. “Yes,” he replied. I then responded by saying, “Our sanctuary only seats 500. I’m sorry, but we cannot do that. You’ll need to find another venue.” “But your building is so tall!, he pressed. I smiled and said, “Unless you plan to stack them, you’ll need to find another venue.” We shook hands and he left. This no came from a place of inability. We could not accommodate the request, so the answer was easy. “No.”

The second request came from a missionary who was looking for financial partners for his family’s call to serve overseas. He had left a voice mail stating his desire to present his ministry to our congregation. So before I returned his call I did a bit of research. I had looked at his statement of faith on his website, and within 30 seconds realized his personal theological values were significantly inconsistent with our church’s theological values. I returned his call and quickly expressed that we were not interested in partnering with him, wishing him the best as he solicited supporters. This no came from a place of inconsistency. His ministry’s mission and values were inconsistent with our ministry’s mission and values, so again, the answer was easy. “No.”

The point is that when you know what you can and cannot do, you can easily say no. And when you know what you believe and value, you can also easily say no. But if you’re not sure of your personal ability, or what you believe and value, you’ll continue to struggle with saying the word “no.”

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For almost a decade I served a denominational youth camp as the leader of a group of students who were either going to be seniors or who had just graduated from high school. Those experiences were always the highlight of the summer! The worship was outstanding, and the speakers that presented each evening dynamic beyond belief. Students developed new relationships with others. They also strengthened their relationship with God. For each of us it felt like one of those “mountaintop experiences.”

Though the curriculum was strong throughout the week, the most important lesson I taught was the last one, scheduled immediately before students would depart for home. The lesson was brief, only 30 minutes or so, and was simply titled, “Re-Entry.”

The point of this most important lesson was to remind the students that though they had just completed a transformational experience of meaningful growth, complete with emotional and spiritual high points, they were going to return to families, friends, class mates, and churches who had not been to camp. In other words, just because they had been away at camp did not mean those at home had experienced similar things. They needed to be prepared for that truth. Just because those at home had not enjoyed the same journey in no way invalidated the journey. They just needed to know that they were responsible to feed and fuel the next 51 weeks of their journey.

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Welcoming 2017!

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Today is New Year’s, so I imagine many of you have either set goals or made some form of resolution for 2017. One of the problems we encounter with setting resolutions is that each resolution is accompanied by some kind of statement like, “I’m off to a fresh start,” or “I’m going to turn over a new leaf,” or “I’m going to begin a new chapter.”

The problem with these statements is that they are not real. There are no new chapters in life. Only next chapters. Edwin Friedman rightfully said it this way in his book Failure of Nerve: “Just because a page is torn off the calendar doesn’t mean that unit of time no longer exists.”

We can’t behave as though life hasn’t happened. But we can learn from each experience and move forward. The success we achieved cannot become our ceiling, and the failures we encountered cannot become our identity. So we’re faced with the choice to either move on as though things didn’t happen or matter, or to move forward with a growth mindset that is willing to learn, adapt and apply. I choose to move forward. I hope you do as well.

Happy New Year! Here’s to the next chapter of our lives!

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Why Do We Envy the Wicked?

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I came across this blogpost and thought it was exceptional. We generally don’t think of ourselves having this struggle, but given the frequency that Scripture discusses it must mean the problem has been around for a long time. If you have a few minutes, I’d encourage you to read it. If it doesn’t help you directly, I’m certain that this is a helpful tool that you can put into the hands of someone who could benefit from it. You can find the article by Tony Reinke HERE.

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Decision 2016

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Within a few short hours Americans will make their way to their precincts to cast their ballot for the next President of the United States. I have not missed a presidential election since I became eligible to vote 35 years ago. At no time during my brief allotment of ballots have I sensed this level of anxiety among the electorate. This election has dominated both our television screens and our personal conversations. As I have listened to people I have become increasingly concerned with the observation that this high level of anxiety is no different among people of faith as those who do not have any religious leanings.

To the people of faith who may stumble upon this simple post, I offer the words of Old Testament King David, who penned these words:

“Some nations boast of their chariots and horses, but we boast in the name of the Lord our God.”
(Psalm 20:7, NLT)

On Wednesday, November 9, we will awaken to our alarms and discover that the sun has still risen. And more importantly, God will still be on his throne.

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Back at the first of June we obtained one, female German Shepherd puppy. Needless to say, our summer has been busy, but limited. Puppies are a lot of fun, but also a lot of work. One of the things I’ve noticed about her is that she doesn’t care to be outside in the heat of day. Summers in Iowa are not renown for intense heat and humidity, but we have had several days of 100 degree heat indexes. On those days she immediately seeks shade when outdoors.

Shade is something that makes summer what it is. It is a place where we find rest from the heat of the noonday sun. There are times when we have to be in the sun, but its nice to have some shade available.

There isn’t really much about shade in the Bible, but recently I’ve been thinking of the story of the Exodus. When God led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, he provided his presence and guidance through the form of a cloud. The fleeing children simply had to keep an eye on the cloud to know the path to the land of promise. Interestingly enough, the same thing that provide them with guidance also provided them comfort, for those who followed the cloud walked in its shade.

The same thing is true today. Following God provides some marvelous benefits, including his comfort. The more closely we walk with God, the more we sense his comfort. The Psalmist understood this principle far before I did. Psalm 121:5-8 says, “The Lord watches over you–the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm–he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forever more.”

So next time you see a park bench under a shade tree, remember that the Lord is your spiritual shade, provide rest and refreshment from the noonday sun.

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Here’s the poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox that I recently shared at the Memorial Service of a member of our congregation. It’s titled, “Two Kinds of People.”

“There are two kinds of people on earth today,
Two kinds of people no more I say.
Not the good or the bad, for it’s well understood,
The good are half bad, the bad are half good.

Not the happy or sad, for in the swift-flying years,
Bring each man his laughter, each man his tears.
Not the rich or the poor, for to count a man’s wealth,
You must know the state of his conscience and health.

Not the humble and proud, for in life’s busy span,
Who puts on vain airs is not counted a man.
No! the two kinds of people on earth I mean,
Are the people who lift, the people who lean.

Wherever you go you’ll find the world’s masses
Are ever divided into these two classes.
And, strangely enough, you will find, too, I mean,
There is only one lifter to twenty who lean.

In which class are you? Are you easing the load
Of the overtaxed lifters who toiled down the road?
Or are you a leaner who lets others bear,
Your portion of worry and labor and care?”

Here’s to a great day of living as a lifter!

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How can you really tell if someone is good at what they do? I mean that’s a pretty subjective value, isn’t it? What is good to me may be average to one or excellent to another. Over time I have come to a very simple conclusion to help me decide if someone is good at what they do.

My conclusion? I think I can do what he or she does. There is something about those who are good at what they do that make it look effortless. The good ones always make whatever they do look easy, and the exceptional ones motivate you to actually try it.

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The Last Car Ride

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About five years ago, after a heartfelt, written request by my middle child, we piled into our vehicle and drove to the Perry rescue shelter to look at a dog. The dog we went to see was a reddish colored Golden Retriever, who looked more like an Irish Setter than any Golden I had ever seen. Once he was free from his kennel, he ran round and round the fenced area as though he’d never been free.

Then there was a second Golden. He wasn’t on the website, the woman explained, because he’d just been seized by the local police department after several complaints from neighbors. This one simply came over and sat in front of us. As we deliberated over which one to pick, the dog picked up his paw and put it on my daughter’s leg, a habit we would come to adore, and I said, “I think this one has picked us.” After more conversation and $100 changed hands, we loaded the dog into the car and headed home. By loaded I mean literally. He wouldn’t get into the car and we had to lift him in.

As we drove home we discussed possible names. I’ve always thought dogs needed goofy names, and we went back and forth, no one willing to give an inch. When we got home my son walked through the living room. He was the one dissenting vote on getting a dog, reasoning that the energy and expense would be great. Hearing our conversation, my son simply said, “His name is Jackson.” And so it was.

Those early days were exhausting for sure. Within a couple of weeks he had destroyed two pieces of furniture and, if memory serves correctly, at least one pair of shoes. He was scared of his own shadow, refusing to go down that dark, dangerous hallway that led to the bedrooms or down the long, steep set of stairs that led to the basement. It would be months before he would jump into the back seat of a car without being hoisted in. Most of those fears would diminish over time. Though he still barked at any non family member that came into our home, he would would go down the hall, down the stairs, or jump into the back of the car.

Today Jackson took his last car ride. Jackson was dealt a crummy hand, and when we got him we had no idea how hard his life had been. He was blind in one eye from blunt force trauma. He had Addison’s Disease from being beaten across his back. His anxiety was so profound he took Prednisone to help calm him down. In December he was diagnosed with severe diabetes, and our Vet even suspected cancer of the liver, due to the increased enzymes in his blood system. Last night we agreed enough was enough.

Its funny the way memories flood back as you wait in the exam room…things you’ll never forget…like the way he carried my wife’s shoes through the house when he wanted attention or how no steel kennel cage could hold him. We’ll never forget the long night of force feeding him canned spinach after he ate razor blades or how he could hear a jar of peanut butter being opened from across the house. I’ll miss him following me around the house and lying about needing to go outside at night so he could get a treat.

Even more, I’ll miss the things he taught me about unconditional love. That’s one of the great things about a good dog. They love because they love. No strings attached and no performance standards to be met. And I’ll miss that the most. No matter what kind of day I had, Jackson was always Jackson. Though we didn’t have him all that long, I am comforted that we gave him the kind of life he deserved all along.

I would like to thank and acknowledge Dr. Robert Foss of Ashworth Road Animal Hospital for five years of great care and for his compassionate counsel regarding our pet’s health and well being. I would also like to thank Dr. Jessica Merk, whose compassion and care for Jackson this morning was exemplary. Those of you who knew Jackson know the stories I’ve alluded to in this post. And what stories they are.

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Hello Again!

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Some of you have inquired where I’ve been for the last month and a half. Like anyone else, things have been very busy for me both personally and professionally. But I’ve taken some of this time to rethink what I want to do with this blog. So bear with me, and don’t give up. Regular posts will resume soon! Thank you for your support!

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