8 Ways to be Kinder

Recently I received a card that included an article cut out of The Wall Street Journal. The columnist wrote about the effects of kindness to our brains, particularly if we are the giver. She referenced Jamil Zaki’s book The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World. Beside the article was a list of kindness suggestions, particularly needed in our current climate. Check it out below.

5 Months in the Mirror

My friend Larry and I had breakfast yesterday. Without question, that conversation always includes sports and politics. But since being able to meet again after COVID lockdown, the conversation is more about what we’re observing and experiencing through these unusual times.

One thing we both agreed on: who people are is being exposed. 

  • If they are go-getters, they are still getting it. They may have to do it differently, but they are still going, still getting.
  • If they are glass-half-emptyites, they are having a hard time even picking up the cup.
  • If they are people people, they are figuring out how to stay engaged and connected.
  • If they are get-by-with-as-little-work-as-possible apostles, they may never vote to come back to an environment built on responsibility.

A reference was made that we’ve all been forced to look in the mirror. Some are fine with what they saw because they were already, for the most part, used to looking in the mirror and making adjustments. Others, well, they were taken back by what they saw. So they had a choice to make-which is the reality we all have when we look in the mirror. And good on us when we choose to do something, make adjustments, with the stuff we observe that needs improvement.

Larry stopped shocking me years ago; however, when he started a sentence with,”My favorite Michael Jackson song,” I thought he might be showing his first symptom of a new virus strand. When I let him continue, he made a good connection. 


So after five months of looking in the mirror, what are you doing with what you see? What conversations are you and God having about what you are both seeing?

“Self,…”

Fear is exhausting. Well, at least misplaced fear can be. Proper fear can actually provide joy and comfort.

Several people have commented how that in spite of being slowed down since March they still feel tired, maybe even more so. Perhaps fear is to blame.

I started a new book this afternoon, Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn. His book contains 48 devotionals written as notes to “Self,” reminders of what you know based on Scripture. Note #3, entitled “Fear,” includes these thoughts:

Worldly fear will lead you to toe party lines, compel you to try to live a safe life, and lead you to so prize the good gifts of God that they mutate into idols.

Your possessions can go up in flames, but you have treasure in heaven and stand to inherit the kingdom. Your reputation may be sullied, but you are justified in Jesus. You may be rejected by those who you admire, but you are accepted by God. You may be hated, but your Father in heaven loves you with an undying love.

The fear you need to maintain and cultivate is a fear of God, for in it you will discover wisdom and develop strength that enables you to persevere in faith to the end.

Somewhere in those reminders may you find rest from fear, whether you’re fighting your own or burdened by other’s.

What if you wrote your own note to self? What reminders would it include?

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Melanie Wasser

“Have Some Tortellini!”

Yesterday morning a group of our church leaders shared what we’ve learned from the last 13 weeks since we were forced to respond to COVID-19. It was helpful for us to share with one another. In the spirit of sharing, here’s something I learned, maybe was reminded about last week while in the grocery store.

A while back I came across this brand of chicken salad in the deli that I now consider a staple. It’s an every-other-trip-to-the-store item. So as I headed to the shelf where my tub waited for me, another staple-finder beat me. He stopped right in front of my chicken salad. No big deal. What’s a few seconds to wait?

Well, he needed more than a few seconds. So you know, I rarely need more than a few seconds on any aisle in the store. I was getting a little irked waiting, but keeping my cool and my distance. I told myself, “Take a look around right where you are. If nothing else, distract yourself. Maybe there’s something here worth trying.”

One of my favorite pastas is tortellini. You can stuff them with just about anything, and I’ll pass you my bowl. Oddly though, I don’t buy it to make at home. It’s not a staple, more of a restaurant-only choice.

So…guess what I discovered after listening to myself. Yep, deli tortellini that I’ve walked by dozens of times…clueless and unfulfilled. (Yes, that’s over dramatic.) I had stopped right in front of it, but only because I was forced to.

What did I learn in the deli? Waiting has benefits.

  • Respecting others
  • Looking and learning
  • Seeing what you’ve missed
  • Discovering a new routine or staple
  • God may smile on you with a surprise…”Good job, waiting! Have some tortellini!”

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Izzy Boscawen

The Power of Christian Contentment (book review)

Releasing this book last year, there’s no way Andrew Davis knew how helpful this book could be this year.

I agree with a life coach that said this about COVID-19: “It’s not creating fear. It’s exposing the fears we already had.” The same could also be said about our contentment.

Each of the twelve chapters are rich. The most helpful ones are entitled The Mysterious Mindset of Contentment (5), The Excellence of Christian Contentment (7), The Evils and Excuses of a Complaining Heart (8), and Contentment in Suffering (9). Here are quotes from the entire book to help you tap into the power of contentment:

  • Christian contentment is finding delight in God’s wise plan for my life and humbly allowing him to direct me in it.
  • It is no stretch to say that the Lord may orchestrate amazingly challenging circumstances for you and your family for the primary purpose of giving your supernatural hope and Christian contentment a platform.
  • Abiding, supernatural contentment is a “secret” to be learned, not part of the original equipment of conversion.
  • Cosmologists estimate the total number of stars in the universe to be 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Each of those stars is named and sustained moment by moment by God.
  • The combination of complete satisfaction in the world and complete dissatisfaction with the world is a mystery of contentment.
  • There is an inherent humility in Christian contentment and a basic arrogance in discontentment.
  • Tempting a content man is like shooting flaming arrows at an iron wall.
  • Christian contentment enables us to worship God excellently, in a way far purer and more glorious than any other form, better than hearing a sermon or attending corporate worship without contentment.
  • Esteem contentment highly; hate complaining passionately.
  • Old wicked habits die through starvation, and new godly habits grow through obedience.
  • American evangelicals of the 21st century are the wealthiest Christians in the history of the church. According to one study, evangelicals worldwide collectively made $7 trillion in income for that year. The Christian income in America represents nearly half of the world’s total Christian income. That is a massively weighty responsibility for American Christians.
  • The tapestry of our life’s history is made up of Todays.
  • God sees everything in super slow motion, and every microsecond of history is calculated and part of God’s providential plan. Don’t let Satan speed things up. Slow down! Breathe!
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how your electronic devices, especially your smartphones, are making you discontent.

So much beauty…for eternity

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart…”

This verse explains why a pandemic like COVID-19 creates such response. In our hearts we long for beauty and eternity. Anything that smothers that longing is threatening and unnatural. The promise of beauty and eternity gives us reason to desire heaven more. Why?

  • Eternity won’t have restrictions
  • Eternity won’t be isolating
  • Eternity will be peaceful
  • Eternity will contain yet-to-be-seen beauty

Yesterday a thought came to me while visiting a friend who is dying from cancer. He talked about all the different birds that visit his backyard feeder every day. Made me wonder, “Can you imagine what the wildlife in heaven will be like?” 

No pandemic can threaten eternity. Nothing will ever again separate man from God. So much beauty…for eternity.

Choosing To Lead (a book review)

As we walk daily through COVID-19, at times it seems minute by minute, we observe leadership. Regardless of the outcomes and personal opinions of decisions, we are learning what choices mean to leadership.

After finishing Harvey Kanter’s book Choosing to Lead, I’d encourage all leaders of any position to use your downtime in the next few weeks to dialogue with it. He addresses several practical and vital aspects of leadership such as communication, optimism, values, curiosity, humility, and decisiveness. His definitions are experientially based; his directions are growth oriented. His encouragement is that many people have position to lead but have yet to actually choose to do it, and pursue doing it well. Kanter doesn’t claim to have all the answers; maybe that’s why his thoughts are worth considering. His words model his values based on his choices. Below are a dozen highlights.

  • I am not my resume.
  • Leaders keep seeking answers until they find them…asking questions is paramount to leading well.
  • When a leader is seen “doing what needs to be done,” a precedent is established for the team that you need to jump in and take action, not wait for someone else to act.
  • Your ability to learn through the unexpected will grow your leadership capacity…the kind of leader you are shows up in adversity.
  • Your ability to grow is in direct correlation to your level of curiosity and inquisitiveness. Your orientation towards learning will either stretch you to expand your thinking or constrain you to live in a static world.
  • A confident leader is one who recognizes the best qualities in others without being threatened.
  • We like to work with people we can believe in. We tend to believe in people who genuinely believe in themselves.
  • Leading people in sharing their views, risking that they may be misunderstood or that their view may not be appreciated by others, is a critical leadership skill.
  • Trying things new and unfamiliar stimulates subconscience problem-solving, forcing you to see things from a new point of view.
  • Actions are the truest reflection of values.
  • Accountability requires vulnerability.
  • The smartest people surround themselves with even smarter people.

Equal Access

Occasionally someone will say to me, “How about you pray for me? Your connection is better than mine.”

We both understand the thought, but reality is it ain’t true. Just because one person may practice praying more than another doesn’t mean their connection is better. For a really clear illustration of that, check out Jesus’ teaching in Luke 18:9-14. Frequency of praying doesn’t assume better.

Does that mean we shouldn’t bother praying regularly? SMH. It means we should take advantage of the access God graciously gives everyone. My connection ain’t better than yours. No ones is. Well, except Jesus. Why? Because of Jesus’ resurrection. That’s right. One of the many impacts of his resurrection for all people is direct access to his Father through him. His sacrifice gave everyone equal access. His job right now is to sit by his Father to intercede on your behalf.

So if you’re tempted to believe the lie that you don’t have equal access and maybe give yourself an out for praying, why not tell Jesus, “How about you pray for me? Your connection is better than mine.”

God of My 20’s: 2 Things I Would Tell Myself

(Post #10 in a collaborative series)

Guest Blogger Eric Vorhies

The things that the 35-year-old Eric would tell the 20-something Eric would need a TLDR (too long didn’t read) section. Don’t go to college unless you have to, travel before having kids, don’t eat too many gummies (they will lead to cavities), learn more about leadership, manage your time better with routine and discipline, stop eating dessert after every meal, etc. There are specific reasons for each of these, and for the ones that I did not share. BUT the problem is that the 20-something Eric wouldn’t have really heard these nuggets of wisdom. He was too sure of himself. So, I have narrowed it down to two things that I wish I could tell myself when I was 10, 15, 18, 21, 25, 27, even yesterday: choose your treasure wisely and stop seeing the world in a binary way.

The Treasure We Choose

Jesus tells a parable in Mt 13: 44-46 about people finding something valuable and doing whatever it takes to obtain it. Elsewhere, the Bible tells us that where our treasure is, there our heart will be. Look…the Bible has a lot to say about treasure. So much so, I think I got lost in the things that I treasured. Now, I didn’t treasure ridiculous things. I like movies, playing frisbee, hanging out with friends, and sleeping in…you know, the normal stuff. Those things are important to me; but when I consider the value that my treasure had, it feels empty.

Before you think I am crazy, let me explain. Friendships are good. Relaxing is good. Exercise is good. What I did wrong is nuanced. I regret making those things the goal in and of themselves. When relaxing or friendship becomes the goal, I subtly shifted from serving God to serving myself. Subsequently, those things are then viewed from a self-serving perspective.

Something needed to shift. That’s when I realized just because we treasure something doesn’t mean it has value. To find treasures of value, we have to pursue God to discover what He values and treasure those things. When we do, everything else becomes a by-product of that pursuit. For instance, the more I pursue God, the more I understand His grace and His love for people. Therefore, I serve at my church, I lead a small group, I foster kids, I push myself to become a better parent and husband. And all the while, I have found more peace and patience, deeper friendships, stronger relationships, and a faith that comes from God because I have reached the end of my rope so many times that I have nothing else to do except trust in Him.

So, I would tell myself to treasure things that have real value, relentlessly pursue them, and learn how to merge what you are naturally passionate about with that pursuit.

There Are Two Kinds Of People In This World

Yes/no. Black/white. Right/wrong. True/false. Iphone/android. Are there really only two options for everything? I used to think that in very mathematical terms. If I put in the right information into a solid equation, then I can predict the outcome. If it failed, then I had a bad equation or didn’t have the right information. A better understanding of the variables and their relationships was the solution to the world’s problems. The thing is…the world is messy. It’s messy in such a way that it shouldn’t always be seen as a problem to be solved, but rather a tension to be managed.

Can’t find the perfect person to date? The perfect church? Your dream job? Well, that’s because they don’t exist. That’s a problem you can’t solve. So you manage the tension. I have learned this is the most deeply personal and profound way that I could. Here’s the truncated version: We fostered a teenager. It was amazing for 1.5 yrs. After getting guardianship, she developed mental disorders. I became a parent of a child I never thought I would have. In a nutshell, I have quit judging other parents…and people in general.

That’s what having kids does to a person. See a frazzled woman with a stain on her shirt — yeah, she could be just some unhinged woman, but she’s likely just a mom. Some guy sleeping in church…of course he could be bored out of his mind, or maybe he didn’t get any sleep because his 5-year-old climbed in his bed and was repeatedly kicking him throughout the entire night.

The world is messy. People are suffering and hurting. Some of them do not have the tools or capacity to know how to respond. So, rather than turning from the mess and complexity, the 20-something Eric needs to embrace it. But not as a problem to solve, but as a tension to manage. A tension that will never go away. But it can get better. And when it gets worse, that’s okay too, because I can always get better also.

TLDR

I get it. 20-something Eric would not have listened well through this either. So, the bullet points:

  • Treasure the things that God says have value
  • The world’s messiness isn’t something to be solved but a tension to be managed

Hopefully, the words of 40-something Eric will be more like, “always have ice cream with your pie,” or “it’s ok that you bought that tool for that thing that you never actually fixed because your neighbor got a lot of use out of it.” I just pray to God that these two are burned into my character at this point. Otherwise, I will make some easily avoidable mistakes.

Covid-19 Update: I wrote this before the pandemic. I have learned some new things, but I will spare you…except for this one last one: Wisdom is a depreciating asset. I am glad to have re-read this today because it reminded me to look at the season I am in now with a fresh perspective. So, be open to re-learning something that you already knew.

5 Ways to Combat Forced Fear

Yesterday I saw the CBS commercial featuring actors from their shows sending this message: “We’re in this together.” Yes, community is important, always but certainly now.

If you think about that message for a moment, you can be more descriptive by replacing “this” with a specific noun. Like…

  • …We’re in economic uncertainty together
  • …We’re in confusion together
  • …We’re in isolation together
  • …We’re in media overload together
  • …We’re in the drive through together
  • …We’re in the grocery line together
  • …We’re in fear fatigue together

I’ll stop there to chew on that one. This “this” is one of the major things we are in together. 

Some of us by nature, personality, or any number of reasons tend to live more fearfully. But this is different. This feels like we’re all in fear together whether we want to be or not. Feels forced, on many levels.

We all have natural tendencies in responding to fear. Generally, we are defined as fighters or flighters. I tend to be the former, which explains why I tend to believe much of the fear we are in together is forced.

Regardless of its origination or our response tendency to it, fear does not get an automatic win. It can be overcome when we choose to combat it. You probably are already trying to combat it, subconsciously or thoughtfully. In case you’d like more help, because we’re in this together, here are five ways I’m combating forced fear.

  1. Created a Playlist…just this morning I decided it was time to create a COVID-19 playlist. My list includes songs that address fear directly, bring God into the picture, and focus on the hope of eternity. Pretty sure I’ll be playing it daily.
  2. Exercising Early…many years ago I had to overcome not being a morning person in order to pursue better running training. I’m not in training mode right now. But I’ve put my mind in combat fear mode, meaning setting the alarm on most mornings to get up and exercise first thing. My guess is, if you don’t already do this, when you give it a try you’ll like it.
  3. Increasing Peace Intake…this “this” is to combat that media overload we’re in together. Here’s a challenge to consider: however much time you spend watching, reading, scrolling, engaging in media that produces fear in you, spend at least that same amount of time or more taking in peace. Whatever produces peace in your heart, mind, and spirit needs equal time. Personally I’m barely looking at Twitter, looking at Facebook less, and pretty much looking at headlines only.
  4. Making Others First…this one can be very simple. Something as simple as letting someone go ahead of you in the grocery line, greeting the cashier by name, thanking them for the extra work they are doing, being empathetic with those you’re together with in the grocery aisles (practiced these Wednesday). For something more impactful, ask God to bring to mind someone to bless and how to do it (doing this today).
  5. Reading>Meditating…in particular, biblical characters that endured forced fear. Examples: Joseph, Esther, Ruth, Daniel, Mary and Joseph, and certainly Jesus. Many of them were forced to face the fear of death. Read their stories. Meditate on how they combated fear. I’m taking a look at Genesis all this weekend.

How are you dealing with forced fear? Got something else to share? Please do. We’re in forced fear together.