Friday, December 25, 2009

Year’s end a good time to bring closure to unresolved conflict

Most of us struggle with unresolved conflict with other persons. Truth be told, some of our disagreements are unsolvable. There are some problems we simply cannot fix. However it is possible to bring closure, at least in our own minds, to some of the conflicts that create inner turmoil. The ending of the year is a good time to mull this over.
Take anger for example. Sometimes we “permit” minor things to push our anger button. A driver cuts in front of us. A friend’s subtle criticism hurts our feelings. Some idiot makes us wait forever in line at the super market. Anger is kindled within us. How do we put out this fire that rages within?
The solution involves using your brain. Back away and think about what is happening. Then admit three things to yourself. First, anger hurts you, not the person who is the object of your rage. Second, no one can make you angry unless you give that person permission to do so. Third, you can choose to give up your anger and let it go. You can spit it out like a plum seed.
It is clinically true that anger disrupts the normal functions of the human body’s organs. That being true, why allow your own attitude to injure your liver or your kidneys? Common sense tells me it is stupid to hurt myself with my own thoughts.
As this calendar year ends, we have a choice. We can choose to dispose of any lingering anger within us just as we do the garbage – throw it out! That is what anger is anyway – garbage. And the longer we let it hang around, the worse it stinks.
Bitterness and resentment are kissing cousins of anger. They are like demons lurking in the darkness, waiting to hurt us. If we allow them lodging in our hearts, they can rob us of our joy and eventually destroy us. No one is immune to these villains. Like the flu, they can attack us and wound us.
So we need to guard carefully the door of our hearts. If a friend gets a promotion we thought we deserved, we must deal sternly with the resentment that pops up. We can tell ourselves that our turn will come later – or we can embrace the face that it may never come. But we can overcome our resentment by choosing to congratulate our friend for the promotion. It is living out that “Do unto others” thing that Jesus talked about.
Tension with others sometimes develops when we insist that people live by the standards we have chosen. But our society is highly diverse, and more so every day. So it is necessary to allow others freedom to make a myriad of personal choices, many of which may be different from our own.
None of us can make choices for others. We must make our own and learn to be comfortable with the “strange” decisions some people make in a free society. It helps to remember that we are not all alike.
Some people like chicken; others like fish. Some folks like country music; others like opera. We can make ourselves miserable if we constantly insist that everybody eat chicken and like country music.
People are different. The art is to learn to enjoy our own personal uniqueness rather than focus on the weirdness of others. When we do, we find our stomachs will digest either chicken or fish without the need for Tums or Alka- Seltzer.
Hairstyles pose a dilemma for some people. Parents can become embroiled with their teen-agers about the length of hair. Some young people challenge the authority of their parents by demanding the freedom to make their own decisions about issues like music and hair style. To survive, parents have to learn to give and take rather than trying to exercise total control of a teenager’s behavior.
This brings up an important principle for life. There are some ditches not worth dying in. Both sanity and peace are soon lost if we choose to fight about every issue that comes up. We must, then, learn to choose wisely those ditches we are willing to die in. Obviously the length of a person’s hair is not worth a fight. We can save our energy for moral issues that demand a fight to the finish.
An automobile runs better if the radiator is flushed now and then. The human mind can benefit from a good flushing too. There are attitudes, ideas, and dispositions that, like rust, can be detrimental to our mental health. So flush them out.
If we are willing we can bring closure to some of the conflicts that keep our stomachs tied in knots. How? Well, stop insisting on having your way about everything. Embrace the fact that you are not always right. Stop trying to change other people. Forgive people you are holding a grudge against. Give people the freedom to disagree with your opinions. Choose to enjoy yourself – and be thankful for the people who genuinely like you. Such choices can give you a jump-start on making 2010 a happy New Year!@

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Growth through Study

Recently a dear friend and brother in Christ asked me for suggestions for a talk he had been asked to give on "Growth through Study." These are the rambling ideas that came to mind and which I shared with my friend. I thought these ideas might also stimulate the thinking of others so I am sharing them for the larger audience. I shall be blessed again if you dear reader should find any of these ideas helpful in your own Christian walk:

1. Take a look at the life of Harry Denman. Harold Rogers wrote a good book about him. He never married and was Mr. Evangelism of the Methodist Church for many years. He was a remarkable witness for Jesus. His style was simple, direct, transparent, and compassionate. He was a friend of mine, a mentor actually, being much older. He took an interest in me. He died at 83 in the Methodist Retirement Home in Birmingham. I went to see him there when he was about 80. I asked him to suggest how I might become a better preacher and witness for Jesus. He told me to pray more, and to write out in long hand the scriptures. He told me he was writing out the New Testament daily even then, and was at the time writing out the New Testament for the sixth time. He said writing it out by hand helps you get the Word into your whole being. I have done some myself but nothing quite like he did. What a tremendous "study habit"! He talked to ordinary people about "my friend Jesus" with the same ease that most of us talk about the weather or football. His witness was contagious and challenging.I admired him and learned from him. When it comes to study, I think it helps us grow to "study" the style and holy habits of Christians we admire.
2. As you prepare your talk, let the Spirit guide you to be transparent about your own life -- especially your weaknesses and mistakes. People can identify with these because we are all so much alike. But go on to share how grace has changed you, and how you have learned to let the Lord use and develop further your strengths. Be unafraid to share your uniqueness, especially the road you traveled that led you one day to embrace the living Christ, and how you came to surrender your whole life to him. Many people are surrendered to Jesus, but only partially and with great reservations. Fullness of joy only comes when we begin to serve Jesus with no reservations, holding nothing back. Surrender is the great key to becoming a child of God with a childlike spirit. Tell about your reservations, fears, and your stumbling, but also how like C. S. Lewis you have been constantly "surprised by joy."
3. When I read Thomas a Kempis' The Imitation of Christ, one of the all-time great classics, I discovered that it was almost impossible to tell when the author was writing his own words or quoting scripture. It dawned on me that Thomas had so absorbed the scriptures, "inwardly digesting them," (a phrase from one the great prayers from The Book of Common Prayer), that the holy scriptures were immersed in his own vocabulary. This book touched me deeply because it revealed how one's life and thoughts can be marvelously influenced by not merely reading but absorbing the Bible. Harry Denman was a 20th Century example of how loving Jesus and absorbing the scriptures can cause a man to become beautifully Christlike.
4. Dr. Tom Carruth taught prayer for many years at Asbury Theological Seminary. He was a dear friend. One day I heard him say that he had read the letters of John more than 3,000 times -- and he learned something new every time he read them! Interestingly, Tom was one of the most loving, Christlike men I ever met.
5. And what did dear brother John Wesley say: "I am a man of one Book - the Bible!" Too many Christians are running from John Grisham's novels to the latest popular Christian book (example: The Shack) and missing the life-changing power that comes from "absorbing" the holy scriptures.
6. The above reminds me of Eugene Peterson and The Message, and how the Book of Psalms are more "prayers to be prayed" than scripture to be read. It was Peterson who put me on to the grand idea of "praying the Psalms."

As you can tell, I have been rambling but praying that some of these ideas might stimulate the juices of your own thinking -- and at least prod you in some helpful direction. I know the Lord will prepare you with a message that will inspire those who will hear you gladly. -- Walter, sjc

Friday, December 11, 2009

Why Christmas is such a special time of the year

Ponder with me why Christmas is so special. The very word “Christmas” makes my heart sing. Since I was a small boy writing letters to Santa Claus I have loved this wonderful time of the year. But what makes it special?
Is it not the thrill of anticipation -- expecting something wonderful to happen? Anticipation adds zest to life. As we celebrate Thanksgiving we begin to anticipate Christmas. Most of us do so with wonder and joy. We have learned from past experience that good things happen at Christmas. As the 25th day of December nears, most of us are like children -- eager for the day to come! Life without the thrill of anticipation would be misery compounded.
The music of Christmas makes it special. We never sing "Silent Night" or "Joy to the World" in April or May; but who would want to live through December without the warm glow that comes from singing these songs with others who love them! And no December is complete without listening again to the majestic sound of Handel’s Messiah. Few things can set my heart on fire quite like The Hallelujah Chorus.
Of course the secular songs of Christmas are also delightful. Only Ebenezer Scrooge and his kin do not enjoy singing "Jingle Bells" or "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" or "Frosty the Snowman." An old favorite of mine is “I saw Mama kissing Santa Claus underneath the mistletoe last night.” But perhaps the most delightful of all is “Winter Wonderland.” The music and the lyrics make me want to go on a sleigh ride with my sweetie. Ah, Christmas music! It puts a spring in my step and a smile on my lips.
Colorful decorations make Christmas special. Most of us delight in decorating not only our homes but our stores, streets and public places. At no other time of the year do we hang lights and wreaths everywhere, or go to such an extent to add bright colors to the bleakness of life. Beautiful red and green ribbons, and clothes, cheer us up in the home, the school, and the work place. .
Then there is the food of Christmas! Our kitchens come alive with the sweet aroma of foods that make us merry – and overweight. Mama bakes delicious cakes and pies, and even old Bubba will toast some pecans and try his hand at baking a turkey. While the food of Christmastime is delicious to the palate, there is also the thrill of sitting down at a large table to eat with family members we may not have seen for many months.
Snow makes Christmas special too. I prefer the kind that comes out of a can, or the snow we see on television when we watch children laughing and playing on three feet of snow in upper New York State. When sometimes it snows in Alabama we chuckle to see how one inch of snow can paralyze the traffic in our area. If it snows this year, you can be sure we will all rush out to take pictures of the children throwing snowballs or building snowmen.
Trees loaded with tinsel, lights, and angels make Christmas fun for us. Chop down a tree and drag it into the house in July and your family would sign you up for the funny farm. But in December you are a killjoy if you balk at putting up a tree. Admittedly the tree, if a live one, may run up the water bill. But Christmas morning would not be the same without a tree, with gift surprises underneath it, and little children eager to find out what Santa brought them.
For some of us Christmas is special because it is a spiritual experience, a kind of journey to Bethlehem to celebrate once again the birth of the Savior named Jesus. Amidst all the wrapping paper, the tinsel, the music, the smell of food, and the tension of this busy season, we are wise to remember that it is more important for Jesus to come into our hearts than it is for Santa to come down the chimney. @

Saturday, December 5, 2009

More thoughts to ponder about the Manhattan Declaration

When you sign on, you will receive this encouraging response!



To all signers of the Manhattan Declaration:

Thank you for signing. We are now over 200,000 strong-and counting, for which we give thanks to God.

We have received thousands of e-mails asking what's next - a good question. The goal of those of us who drafted and signed the document is not just to get a lot of names on a manifesto, gratifying though that is. We are seeking to build a movement - hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Catholic, Evangelical, and Eastern Orthodox Christians who will stand together alongside other men and women of goodwill in defense of foundational principles of justice and the common good. These are people who could expose the lie which so many in our culture have embraced about self being the center of life; and then winsomely present, in the words of St. Paul, "a more excellent way."

We are looking for people who will work in every possible arena to advance the sanctity of life, rebuild and revitalize the marriage culture, and protect religious liberty.

So what's next for you? Let us offer some specific suggestions. More will undoubtedly follow in the weeks ahead.


Pray. We can do nothing apart from God. So lay this before the Lord every chance you have, and ask your friends and prayer chains to do the same thing.


Study and learn about these issues. We see the Manhattan Declaration as a great teaching and reference source. Share it with others. Only after you have tried to teach it to someone else will you have really learned it. And go deeper in your own study. There are many organizations that offer excellent resources in support of these foundational truths. If you can't find resources, the Worldview Resource Directory we've assembled might be helpful.


Come back to www.manhattandeclaration.org if you want help in answering questions others pose to you. We've posted a FAQ (frequently asked questions) tab on the home page, but most people signed the statement before this was added. So revisit www.manhattandeclaration.org - and watch for other resources we will be posting.


Invite all of the friends on your e-mail lists to go to www.manhattandeclaration.org, read the Declaration (that's most important) and sign it.


Talk to your pastor or small group leader in church. We have heard from a number of pastors who are already referring to this document in their sermons and using it in their teaching. We've also heard from bishops and other church leaders who are planning ecumenical gatherings in their areas of responsibility. Some are talking about campaigns to equip the faithful. Other pastors are asking their congregations to sign the document, and become informed. Go to your pastor; urge him to do this. You can really help in this area. Suggest it, and then volunteer to be a part of it. Step forward as a leader.


If you belong to a civic group like Kiwanis or Rotary, and you have regular meetings, that's a great forum in which to share information about the Manhattan Declaration. Explain to people what you've signed and why you've signed it. A lot of people are asking about this statement, its meaning and purpose. Educate them.


Letters to the Editor can be a very effective way to spread information about important issues. According to some sources, more people read the Letters to the Editor columns than the editorials.


Watch the issues being debated in the public arena, particularly as the health reform bill is moving through Congress. As a citizen you have a duty to let your representatives know what you think about the issues, particularly on profoundly important moral questions like those being raised now.


Get on Facebook or any other chat rooms or blogs that you have access to. Social networking, as we are learning, can have a powerful impact.


Finally, talk to your neighbors. Robert Naisbitt wrote that fads begin from the top down, movements from the bottom up. We are convinced that societies are changed over the backyard fence, standing around the barbeque grill, and sitting in the barber shop or hair salon. Learn to be an advocate in any environment.
In conclusion, in asking you to sign we were not just asking you to raise your hand, but to raise your voice. Great changes in society have often come about when Christian people unite in this way - think of the Wesley awakening, the Celtic revival, or movements for social justice and civil rights in our own country. We believe God is looking for good men and women who will pledge (as you have done in signing the Manhattan Declaration), never to compromise the gospel, and to become well-informed, effective advocates true and godly principles.

This is a message of hope for every area of human life and endeavor, and a call to discipleship for every believer.

God bless you.

Dr. Robert George
Dr. Timothy George
Chuck Colson
I agree with the Manhattan Declaration

Even though the media has not given much attention to it, I believe the Manhattan Declaration can make a difference. As of this day, December 5, 2009, more than 250,000 people have endorsed it and signed on. I added my name to the list two weeks ago. I encourage other Christians to endorse it, but even more to PRACTICE this declaration in daily life. Together we can make a difference. In case you have not seen it, I am printing it below. You can go to www.manhattandeclaration.org and sign on as a sponsor. I hope you will.


The Manhattan Declaration
A Call of Christian Conscience

Christians, when they have lived up to the highest ideals of their faith, have defended the weak and vulnerable and worked tirelessly to protect and strengthen vital institutions of civil society, beginning with the family.

We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are:

1.the sanctity of human life
2.the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
3.the rights of conscience and religious liberty.

Inasmuch as these truths are foundational to human dignity and the well-being of society, they are inviolable and non-negotiable. Because they are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture, we are compelled today to speak out forcefully in their defense, and to commit ourselves to honoring them fully no matter what pressures are brought upon us and our institutions to abandon or compromise them. We make this commitment not as partisans of any political group but as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

.255498 signatures in support
...and growing!

Sign the Declaration »
www.manhattandeclaration.org

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Take good care of your memory while you have it



Memory is an amazing and mysterious gift. At age 77 my memory amazes me. Though I perceive that it is gradually failing, I still remember things that surprise me. But often the things I remember, like telephone numbers, are of little value.

Like most people there are times when my memory is suddenly out to lunch when I need it the most. In Wal-Mart I chance to meet an old friend. He warmly calls my name. I smile and chat as though I remember him well. I do remember him, but my memory will not cough up his name. Moments like that are dreadful and embarrassing. Three days later I will recall my old friend’s name.

Some of us senior citizens can recall vivid details of childhood experiences but cannot remember at noon what we ate for breakfast. This bothers us because we know that loss of short-term memory is one of the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

Memory seems to work better with negative experiences than with positive. Someone can remember for 50 years the circumstances of being hurt deeply by another person. Resentment or hatred can fuel the memory so that some hurts are etched forever in our minds.

Faith often plays a defining role in our memory. Through faith we may find the grace to let bitter memories go. When this happens hurtful memories are erased and a healthy attitude replaces the resentment that once dogged us. Abraham Lincoln was once reminded that a certain man, whom he had recommended for a government position, had been publicly critical of the president. Asked if he did not remember the man’s criticism, Lincoln replied, “No, I distinctly remember choosing to forget his remarks.”

Clearly some people have better memories than others. There is no obvious explanation why this is true. One principle of life that may explain it is the familiar adage, “Use it or lose it.” Evidently this is true of our memory. If we do not use it, we tend to lose it. So it seems wise to keep the brain in gear – by working crossword puzzles daily or memorizing Bible verses. Anything that is good exercise for the brain.

Caroline, my mother, had a remarkable memory. She could rattle off the birthdays of 75 or more family members – even the year of each person’s birth. My wife Dean can recall the color of a dress she wore when she was six. These days she constantly recalls wise sayings her mother taught her when she was growing up.

Since my sister Laurida died at age 56, some 15 years ago, I have recalled many experiences we shared growing up. Nobody ever laughed like my sister. She laughed all over, and whenever she laughed, she made the most of it. Sometimes when I hear a woman laughing as Laurida did, I am plugged into joy. I recall how much she enjoyed life, and how our family still enjoys remembering her special kind of laughter.

Laurida was a good cook, a devoted homemaker. One of her favorite things was to bake cinnamon rolls. They were out of this world. Everybody wanted a pan of Laurida’s rolls. Nobody could make them like she did. Once her reputation was made, she frequently surprised different family members by baking their own special batch of cinnamon rolls. None of her rolls ever made it to the second day.

When Laurida was dying with cancer, and she knew she did not have long to live, a wedding for one of her daughters was arranged – at the foot of her bed in her home. I don’t think I will ever forget that occasion. We all felt the wedding was performed on “holy ground.” It remains a sacred memory in my heart. Surely her daughter and her husband will never forget their special wedding even though it was not a “church wedding.”

One day an older couple walked into my study and asked, “Do you remember us?” I drew a blank. I knew I had never seen these two people before in my whole life. After enjoying my embarrassment for a few minutes, the man told me their names and said, “You married us 38 years ago.”

Now armed with their names, and the reminder that I had married them, I still could not remember what they looked like almost 40 years before. I took their word for it, and enjoyed a chat with them. Their names I did recall, but that was all.

Occasionally someone will walk up to me and say, “Do you remember me?” Half the time I cannot remember their name. But I have a standard reply to this question: “I could never forget a face like yours.” Usually that produces a laugh, which gives me a few minutes to work overtime trying to recall their name.

Frankly I refuse to be terribly embarrassed when someone challenges me to remember his or her name. I simply say, “No, I know I should remember your name, but I don’t. Please help me.” If someone is ticked off by my memory lapse, I am sorry, but I choose not to punish myself with another guilt trip. I have been on enough guilt trips.

We should all be wise to exercise our minds daily and maintain a positive attitude toward our own capacity to remember. Never say, “I have trouble remembering names.” Instead say, “Your name is important to me; tell me your name again so I can write it down. I want to remember it.”

One favor I must ask of the young. Be kind to us old codgers. If you hear one of us telling you a story we have already told you, just indulge us please. It is embarrassing to have someone say, “You must be getting old; you keep telling the same old stories.”

If it is a good story, be thankful for it. And remember, you may be old one day. Enjoy your memory while you can; it may not last all your life! @

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Many scenes on life's journey were the occasions of stirring moments



Memory affords me a long string of significant sights I have witnessed with my own eyes. So many I hardly know where to begin.

I first saw the snow-capped Alps from the window of an airliner. That was an incredible scene and it remains etched in my mind.

Our family visited the Grand Canyon when our boys were small. Like most people we could hardly believe the size and beauty of that place.

On a missions trip around the world, my wife and I stood before the Taj Mahal in India, so beautiful we wanted to gaze at it for more than a few minutes. We stood in the ruins of the Coliseum in Rome. We stood in the courtyard outside the Vatican, wondering why the Pope did not step out on the balcony to greet us.

We spent a week in Japan, another in Korea, and two nights in the intriguing city of Kathmandu, Nepal. The sight of “untouchable” children there and in India still troubles my soul. We saw the dead being loaded up on wagons on the streets of Calcutta and understood better why Mother Teresa devoted her life to helping the poor and the dying.

Greece came alive for us when we saw the ruins of the Parthenon on the Acropolis. The worldwide influence of Greek architecture is well known but we appreciated it more after visiting Athens and Corinth. There, of course, we kept wondering if we were walking where once the Apostle Paul had walked.

I admired the Tower of London and wished I could have stayed a week to learn more at Westminster Chapel. Visiting the places where John Wesley once preached stirred my soul.

History never meant more than when we visited ancient Bethlehem or walked amid the ruins of the synagogues where Jesus once worshiped near the Sea of Galilee.

My friend Al Krinke took me for a midnight ride on a dogsled in Alaska when I visited him in Nome. A friend took me up in small plane to fly over a nearby mountain range and see the frightened Caribou running for safety. I think Al called those the Saw-Toothed Mountains.

Having traveled in every state in the union, including Hawaii, I have seen so many unforgettable places that are important in the history of America. My mind is filled with memories of times spent gazing at sights that millions have seen only in pictures or history books.

Along the journey I have met few of the world’s dignitaries. No president ever invited us to tea in the White House. No governor ever called on me to come pray for him.

Yet on many occasions I have had a personal audience with the most important person in the universe. I met him in a holy place called the sanctuary of that sacred building called a church.

I met him there when my sins overwhelmed me and drove me to my knees. There he gave me the precious gift of forgiveness and boosted my hope for the future.

I met him there when I began to question the purpose of my life, and I felt him call me to preach. I met him there when I pledged my life to my sweetheart Dean in holy matrimony.

I met him there when our first child died. There I found comfort and healing for my sorrow. I met him there when in brokenness, I confessed my need for the Holy Spirit to take over my life, and he graciously filled me with the presence of his Spirit.

I met him there when my children, and grandchildren, were baptized and consecrated to him. I met him there when my sister Laurida died, and when my father and mother slipped away from us. Every time he touched me and met my need, despite my unworthiness.

I have met him there hundreds of times when praying for persons who were weary of emptiness and ready for God to cleanse and change their hearts.

All of this to say, of all the places I have seen, none has meant more to me than the sanctuary where I met the Master, and where I continue to go to find the peace that he alone offers thirsty souls. @

Monday, November 2, 2009

Do your best not to give up until you cross the finish line

One of the greatest privileges of a pastor is to encourage people not to give up. Pastors do their best work not by chastising people for their sins but by inspiring them to overcome their failures.
When ministry is based on encouragement, rather than judgment, there is always plenty to do. All around us are people who are struggling with defeat. A business or a marriage has failed. Debts seem insurmountable. Alcohol and drug use is out of control. Dreams have been shattered. The ox is in the ditch and there seems no way to get him out.
When the bottom falls out people do not need a lecture; they need compassion. Not pity. Compassion is that rare gift that inspires people to believe in themselves because someone else believes in them. Compassion is staying with someone that everyone else has given up on. Compassion is snatching a friend from the jaws of despair and convincing him that he has what it takes to get out of the mess he has made.
A man praised his pastor for helping him recover from alcoholism. He said, “My drinking had put me in a deep hole. Nobody wanted anything to do with me. But my preacher got down in that hole with me and helped me to crawl out. His love helped me believe in the love of God.”
Compassionate caring can help people set goals for themselves and refuse to quit until they succeed. Such caring can call forth in others the willingness to persevere. Few human qualities are more important than perseverance. That is why most of our heroes are people who refused to allow adversity to deter them from their goals.
Winston Churchill, for example, is one of the great heroes of the 20th Century. He will always be remembered for his tenacious spirit, and that which he inspired in the people of England during World War II. When it appeared that Hitler was about to bring England to its knees, Prime Minister Churchill kept hope alive with his defiant words, "We will be victorious!"
Churchill traveled all over England motivating the people. He inspired workers in the factories and on the farms to work tirelessly for their country. He visited the troops and instilled in them the conviction that England would prevail.
Few stories are more captivating than that of Churchill's visit with the coal miners. Hearing that the miners were discouraged about their contribution to the war effort, Sir Winston surprised them by showing up in the dangerous underground tunnels where they worked.
They were astonished that Churchill would risk coming into the mines and stared in trembling disbelief as his words rang in their ears:
"We will be victorious! We will preserve our freedom. And years from now when our freedom is secure and peace reigns, your children and your children's children will come and they will say to you, 'What did you do to win our freedom in that great war?' And one will say, 'I marched with the Eighth Army!' Someone else will proudly say, 'I manned a submarine.' And another will say, 'I guided the ships that moved the troops and the supplies.' And still another will say, 'I doctored the wounds!'" Then, with persuasive power Churchill shouted, "They will come to you, and you will say with equal right and equal pride, 'I cut the coal! I cut the coal that fueled the ships that moved the supplies! That's what I did. I cut the coal!"
From that hour no coal miners ever worked with greater courage than the men who heard Churchill that day. They refused to quit. They endured, and helped England preserve its precious freedom. Though the German bombs continued to fall upon English cities, the coal miners were never discouraged again.
Many admire Churchill for his wit. And he desires our admiration. On one occasion Lady Astor said to Winston, “If I were married to you, I would put poison in your tea.” He replied, “If I were married to you, I’d drink it.” When someone criticized him for ending a sentence with a preposition, he responded, “This is the kind of tedious nonsense up with which I will not put.”
Though Churchill’s gifts and achievements are extraordinary, I am thankful most of all for his personal example of perseverance. Voted out of office he refused to quit and was later re-elected Prime Minister. He earned the right to encourage others never to give up.
One of his most memorable speeches is a brief one given to the boys at old Harrow School, which he had attended as a boy. Imagine how these words must have inspired the young lads at the school:
"This is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."
So if today you find yourself struggling to carry on, allow me to encourage you to get up out of the ashes of your hardship and stay the course. Stay with it. Tie a knot in the end of your rope and hold on. Refuse to quit. Never give up. The finish line may be just ahead. Do the best you can until you cross it. @

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

People who fill the air with their opinions can become nauseating



A great lesson life has taught me is that people are blessed more by our caring than by our opinions. Yet many people seem oblivious to this truth.

If we are at all teachable most of us learn this basic truth in a hundred different ways. We learn it early as children. Wise parents do not insist that their children agree with them in all things; they recognize that people are different and even encourage individuality in their children.

Some children, for example, will not like spinach but may enjoy green beans. What is important is that children eat green vegetables, not that they are forced to eat spinach. Since green beans will do the trick, there is no need to blow a gasket because a child refuses to eat spinach.

The use of such wisdom by loving parents helps us to grasp this truth: Love is essential even though opinions may be different. So what matters is that a child feel loved, not that the child shares all the opinions of the parents.

My parents had strong feelings about many things. When I was growing up, they refused to work on Sundays unless the ox was in the ditch. They would not allow me or my siblings to go to a movie on Sunday. These and other principles they instilled in us when we were young. But they did not disown us when, as adults, we began to disagree with some of their opinions.

What I finally realized after many years as an adult is that my parents modeled this truth in our home for their children – caring is vastly more important than opinions. Opinions are really a dime a dozen. Love, however, is a fundamental need of the human spirit. Without genuine caring, all the opinions in the world are worthless.

I learned this concept also as a pastor. People are not sitting in their homes waiting for the pastor to come by and share his opinions about everything under the sun. Actually this is so true that nobody really gives a hoot about what the pastor thinks – until they know his heart, and that he truly cares about people.

This has given birth to the dictum that most pastors have embraced: people do not care what you know until they know that you care. Some pastors have learned the hard way that people will not even listen to their opinions, much less really hear them, until they know deep down that their pastor cares about them.

As a brash young pastor I had opinions about everything – from the evil of drinking alcohol to the healing services of television evangelist Oral Roberts. I learned fairly quickly that people were not waiting with baited breath to hear what I thought; they were watching and wondering if I had any compassion to share with them.

The real bore for me today is the person who pretends to know something about every subject and chomps at the bit to spray the air with his inflexible views. You can never have a decent conversation with the person; all you can do is listen or walk away in disgust.

Everywhere you turn in our culture you are bombarded with opinions – about health care, Iraq, Afghanistan, abortion, the President, illegal immigrants, medicine, fraud, crime, global warming, and a thousand other things. There are so many opinions you hardly know whose you can trust.

The bottom line for me is simply this: Opinions become useful only within the context of love, and nobody wants to know what you think until they know you care about them. Are we not all fed up with opinions – but still hungry for love?

Care about me and I may listen to your opinions but please, keep them to yourself until I ask you what you think. And do remember to shut up now and then – so you can hear what I think.

There is a good chance we may disagree, but that will be alright as long as I know you care about me and you know that I care about you. @

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Reflections on Zambia and some of the people we met

Adam was lonely so God made Eve for him. Walter was lonely and God made Dean for me. Together we have traveled to five of the world’s continents. We have met wonderful people everywhere we have visited, but none more charming than the gracious people of Zambia.
Dean has a vivid imagination. She sees things other people miss. She expresses her feelings well in poetry and prose. I hope you will enjoy reading a few of her observations about our recent journey to the African nation of Zambia. Here are her reflections:
It would be redundant to repeat what has already been said about Zambia. Yes, it is halfway around the world; it is a poor country. AIDS is a very serious disease that is killing more and more people every day. Dust and wind choke your breathing passages to the limit, but all these facts fade away when I think of some of the people who made an impact on my life while in Zambia.
Catherine is Alfred Kalembo’s sister. I was made aware of her existence a few years ago when Alfred shared a little about her life with me. She is a single mom with one daughter, Linda. I didn’t ask a lot of questions about why she was single, but I felt a strong desire to help her. Several times I sent her boxes of clothes and later I sent her some money through Alfred.
When our team arrived at Alfred’s home on the outskirts of Lusaka, the first person who greeted me was Catherine. We both held each other for a long time. There were no words because she does not speak English. Over the nine days I was in Zambia Catherine became more precious to me. Linda is a shy seven year old whose education is limited. She cannot read and is not on a par with Alfred’s seven year old twin girls.
Why was my heart so touched by Catherine’s plight? I discovered that she had birthed seven babies over seven years. Yes, she had a husband, but when she could not produce a child that lived, he deserted her and got a divorce.
She was left to care for herself as best she could. With no education there was little she could do. Alfred helped her open a little restaurant in Lusaka. Soon it was clear that she was in deep depression and someone had taken advantage of her. She was pregnant with Linda.
When she gave birth to Linda she needed to be with Alfred and Muumbe. He and Muumbe took her into their home, where she has been since that time. She needs a home of her own and she may soon have one thanks to the Frazer Sunday School Class at Saint James. The class has sent her a little money for several months. With that money she bought a small lot and has built a concrete foundation for what will be her first home other than a village hut.
I stood on this foundation with Catherine, Alfred, and one of her friends and prayed over this land. I had a vision of this house being completed. A well was dug by hand and it furnishes water to the people around Catherine’s lot. Where water gushes from the rock, I believe God is there.
Catherine held on to me for as long as she could. When it was time for us to go to the airport, she got into Alfred’s car and sat beside me. She walked as far as she could with me and when I looked back she was wiping tears from her eyes and so was I. I will not forget Catherine. I plan to continue helping her until I know that she has a home.
Alfred’s life began in a rural village named Siansowa. His mother, Maria, and sister, Catherine, gave up everything for Alfred to get an education. It is no wonder that he is trying to help them in every way he can. Maria does not speak English so I had someone say to her that whenever Alfred is in America I treat him like a son. Like Catherine, Maria bonded with me instantly.
She loved our son Matt when he came to her village five years ago. There were those times when Maria and I could say nothing but love each other with our eyes. There was a knowing look that was like looking into eternity. We stood side by side when the well was dedicated. The overflowing well that we prayed would never run dry is a great blessing to this village. The well was installed with funds donated this spring by the Frazer Class.
When we got on the bus to depart, Maria got on board to hug me once again. We both knew that we would never see each other again on this side of heaven, but Maria is a survivor and I know she will be all right even in that impoverished village.
Who would ever think that you would meet a boy named Anxious? We met him at the school where he is in the 11th grade. Walter gave him a new name -- Perfect Peace. Anxious is one of the orphans being supported by the Frazer Class. AIDS robbed him of both his parents. We were delighted to see him and learn that he is very bright. He has dreams of being an engineer and I have no doubt that he can achieve what wants to do. His teachers gave us a good report on him. I plan to stay in touch with this young man and encourage him in every way I can.
Hannah became my interpreter during the time I shared with the women in a three-day conference. She had such wit and wisdom. It was a great blessing to meet a lady who lives among the poorest of the poor and still continues to give her time and energy to the church. She was the pastor’s aide.
She copied my poem, “I’ve Done my Share,” for all the women and made me feel very special. On Tuesday night when we had our last service, she gave me a gift – a piece of crochet. The note read, “Whenever you look at this crochet, please remember me.” That will be an easy task, for Hannah,
like several others, will be in my heart as long as I live. @
Sharing a fire with a good friend on a cold winter day

My wife and I enjoy her fireplace. We have two in our home. Mine has gas logs. She lets me fire them up sometimes. Most of the time we just build a nice log fire in her fireplace.
When we remodeled our cabin, now our retirement home, I insisted that we put gas logs in the original fireplace. I insisted but she prevailed. “Absolutely not,” she declared; “Gas logs are nice, but I prefer building my own fire in an open fireplace.”
As I always do, I yielded to her wish, provided she would bring the firewood into the house. I had to cut and bring in wood when I was a boy. Now I am too old to bring in firewood. “If you want a fireplace, you will have to bring in the wood,” I said. Without flinching, she readily agreed. She would bring in the wood.
(I should have cut a deal also about the kindling but I forgot. Now it is my job to cut kindling and haul it in so she can get a fire started. I could buy some, but I am too stingy to waste money on a bundle of kindling no bigger than a handful of peppermint candy.)
When we added a great room, the focal point had to be a mantle, a hearth, and yes, gas logs. They should last 50 years since we use them so seldom. The gas logs are little more than our backup heating source. If we run out of wood, and the heat pump fails, we can turn on the gas logs to stay warm.
My wife has kept her word. She brings in the wood and never complains about it. And being the sweet soul that I am, I even help her now and then. I hold the door open for her when she brings in an armful. After all, I remind myself, we are “one flesh.”
The little woman can build a mean fire. Then we relax and watch all that heat going up the chimney. I like it so much I will even throw on a fresh log when needed. A small log, that is. I leave the big ones for her. That keeps her strong and healthy. Exercise is good for the body and the soul.
Watching a good fire on a cold day is mesmerizing, like a rubdown for the mind. We solve a few of the world’s problems, relax, and sometimes drop off to sleep. I would not want her to know how much I enjoy her fires. She might want me to start bringing in the logs. For the time being, kindling is enough for me. I do not want to get down in the back. My back got out of sorts thirty years ago, and I do not want to risk re-injuring it.
Last Thursday we shared our fire with a good friend, Grady Rowell. He drives down from the lake for a visit occasionally. I pretend there is something wrong with my computer so he will have an excuse to come see us. He gives my computer an adjustment; then we sit and talk a spell.
We go back a long way. We were in high school with Grady. After we grew up and went off to college, we went our separate ways. After retirement, we came home to Elmore County, God’s country. We renewed our friendship and it is stronger now than ever.
Around the fireplace we talk about life. That means we talk about suffering, dying, love, forgiveness, and lesser subjects. As we talk, I am participating in the conversation but also pondering it, musing over it almost as though I am observing the scene. In a strange way, it seems like an “out of body” experience.
We bounce from serious themes to frivolous ones. One minute we are talking about love being the key to authentic living; the next about how sick we were last week with a stomach virus.
Then, for no rhyme or reason, the conversation shifts to a time when my wife’s mother was cleaning her oven. “My sister walked into the kitchen just in time to see Mother passing out,” my wife said. Frantic for the moment, she would soon be laughing about why her mother had fainted.
She had mixed Clorox and Pine Oil together and was using it to remove grease from the oven. On her knees, she stuck her head into the oven while scrubbing. Quickly overcome by the fumes, she passed out and fell to the floor. She recovered and lived to the ripe old age of 99.
What relevance did that story have to our fireside chat? I do not have the slightest idea. That is not important. What matters, when friends are enjoying a fire together, is that life is being shared, and enriched by the sharing.
Grady is a good fireside companion. He likes to talk. He likes to listen, and even more important, he likes to laugh. He will even bring in firewood. We keep it by the front door so our friends can share the fun of bringing in another log.
Sharing a fire with a good friend on a winter day makes one glad to be alive. Saves gas too, and that’s good.@

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The preacher’s chest waders and 150 gallons of hot water



I will never forget the day I baptized Mike and Anna. They came to Christ, fell in love, and decided to get married. But before the wedding they wanted to be baptized. They were serious about having a Christian home.

There was only one small problem. They wanted to be baptized by immersion and most Methodist churches do not have a baptistry.

Methodists believe in baptism by immersion; we just don’t believe in it enough to install a baptistry in our churches.

We do, however, allow candidates for baptism to choose one of the three historic modes of baptism: sprinkling, pouring, or immersion. While I have baptized hundreds of people, I have never baptized anyone by pouring. Methodists prefer sprinkling or immersion.

Many Methodists agree with our Baptist friends that baptism should be done by immersion. They believe that you are not baptized until you have been “all the way under.” Frankly, I have never felt that the amount of water had a whole lot to do with it so I don’t quibble about the mode.

Lacking a baptistry in my own church, I have immersed people in swimming pools, lakes, ponds, the ocean, and rivers. In Pensacola I had one strange baptism on the sound side of the bay. The water was so shallow that the candidate and I had to wade out a hundred yards before the water was deep enough for an immersion. The family on the shore could not even hear my prayer.

For Mike and Anna a nearby Baptist church was chosen. The pastor was a good friend and always willing for me to use his baptistry on a Saturday without any charge. I had too much pride to tell him I had never baptized anyone in a baptistry before and that was a mistake I would pay for dearly.

When the pastor offered to let me use his chest waders I thought that would be neat. He told me he would be out of town attending a football game but the custodian would have everything ready for me.

What he failed to tell me was that the custodian was new on the job. He had never prepared the baptistry before and heated the water twice as long as necessary. Not only that, he had also put too much water in the baptistry.

As I slipped into the chest waders that Saturday morning, I felt alone and uncomfortable. I was uncertain about my underwear but assumed I should leave it on. I did. Pulling a white robe over me, I walked uneasily out to the baptistry.

I had noticed the water was steaming but thought nothing about it. If you cannot trust a Baptist, whom can you trust? But as I walked to the center of the baptistry, I suddenly realized the water was not only warm, it was hot. And it was only three or four inches below the top of the waders.

I invited Anna to come in first. Barely five feet tall, she frowned as she realized how hot the water was. The water was up to her shoulders. Quickly I offered a prayer and leaned her head backward and under the water. Immediately I lost her; she had lifted her feet off the bottom and was sliding to my left, at least a foot under the water.

No one had told me to tell Anna to plant her feet firmly on the bottom and bend her knees as I put her head under the water!

Instantly I realized the only way to retrieve Anna was to bend my knees and get my hands under her back so I could raise her up before she drowned. When I came up, I had Anna back under control but I also had about 150 gallons of that hot water inside those chest waders.

Mike was much taller than Anna and much easier to immerse. In record time I baptized him, offered a quick benediction, and somehow managed to stagger to the dressing room with all that water still in my waders.

I soon learned that it is not easy to get out of chest waders when they are filled with water. Exhausted I sat in a chair looking at my wet underwear and thinking how dumb I had been not to bring an extra pair of shorts. I could not even find a plastic bag to use to take my wet stuff home.

Mike and Anna may one day forget their “hot water” baptism and the green horn Methodist preacher who immersed them. But I am pretty sure I never will. It was the last time I ever used chest waders. @
Ambrose makes journey of Lewis and Clark come alive



Strange it is the discoveries we make as we grow older. In my 70th year by chance I picked up a book by Stephen Ambrose. The book was titled To America: Personal Reflections of an Historian, published ironically the year Ambrose died, 2002.

I was immediately attracted to the man and his writing. The more I read, the more embarrassed I felt for having been ignorant of his books for the past 35 years. The reason for my ignorance was no mystery. As a pastor my reading had focused almost entirely on theology. Now I am the poorer for my tunnel vision.

I never met Stephen Ambrose but I wish I had. He made history come alive for me like no other writer. For that I am in his debt.

Last week I finished Ambrose’s excellent account of the Lewis and Clark expedition, Undaunted Courage. Since I am not a fast reader, I was on the journey with Lewis and Clark for many weeks. My ritual was to read a few pages every night.

Earlier I had enjoyed reading Wild Blue: The B24s Over Germany, 1944-45. I had hoped Ambrose might have mentioned my Uncle Luke Johnson who served as a B-24 pilot, but his was not among the names included. Still the book is a fascinating account of those unsung American heroes.

Ambrose is best known for his histories of World War II, especially

Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne, from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, and D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II. He wrote several volumes on Eisenhower and Nixon that were well received. I plan to read them after I finish my next selection: Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869.
Another title that interests me is Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors. That has to be a good one.

Every American owes it to himself to read about the courageous journey of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. It is truly a remarkable story that tells of the expansion of the United States from “sea to shining sea.”

The author gives us a fresh appreciation for Thomas Jefferson, the man responsible for the Louisiana Purchase. Ambrose says this was “surely the best thing Jefferson ever did as president.”

If I were a younger man I would try to follow the trail of Lewis and Clark, sit by some campfires in Montana and Oregon, and read again the account of their adventures.

Lewis and Clark enjoyed a marvelous friendship and an undying respect for each other. They complimented each other and worked as one in every major decision. Clark, however, never managed to share Lewis’ love of barbecued dog. Lewis admitted liking dog more than venison.

Through the eyes of the two men we see the west as it was only 200 years ago when it was the home of thousands of Indians, buffaloes, beavers, deer, and elk. Startling for me was learning how many different tribes of Indians possessed the land until they were pushed aside by the frontiersmen.

Lewis was the greatest of all American explorers, a splendid company commander, and a truly gifted leader of men. He was gifted at identifying and describing plants, trees, and animals. Both he and Clark were good at mapping the rivers and streams.

Unfortunately, Lewis was done at 33. He failed as a politician, unable to handle the honor Jefferson gave him of serving as governor of the Territory of Louisiana. Heavy drinking may have influenced his decision to end his life by his own hand.

Only once in the story is God mentioned. If Lewis and Clark loved God, they forgot to speak of it. The only reference to God in 484 pages comes at the end when Lewis commits suicide. A woman hears him cry out, “O Lord!” after shooting himself in the head.

Undaunted Courage is a book every American should read. We have a great heritage and we owe a lot to Lewis, Clark, and Jefferson. @

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Mysterious strangers shows up in some of our old color slides

Somebody has been messing with our old color slides. Mysteriously, two strangers appear in some of them. One is a lovely brunette with a slim waistline and a winsome smile. The other is a young man with Elvis-like sideburns, long and dark.
I puzzled over the identity of these two people during a slide-show on a bedroom wall the other night. We have ignored these slides for 40 years. The pace of our lives allowed no time for viewing old slides. That changed recently when the CEO of our family decided to buy a slide projector and go through several boxes of slides.
For several days I walked by quietly “on the other side,” like the Priest and the Levite passing by the wounded man, as my wife watched one picture after another. I was thankful that she ignored me. The slide project was her pet project and I was glad. I should have guessed that judgment day was coming.
“Would you like to sit down and look at these slides with me?” she asked sweetly. By “sweetly” I mean that she invited me, graciously, to watch the slides. However, after 52 years of marriage, I know how to tell when there is a hidden meaning in her invitations. I knew she really meant, “If you have half a gnat’s brain, you will sit down right now and watch these slides.”
So I took a seat.
She had arranged many of the slides based on trips we had taken. First, she said, “These are pictures from your trip to Alaska.” Right off, she had me hooked. I saw pictures of majestic snow-capped mountains, Eskimos in Nome where I preached for 10 days, and the dog sled I rode on a moonlit night. There were a few shots of unforgettable scenery I had taken when a local pilot flew me over a nearby mountain range called the Saw Tooth Mountains.
Al and Shirley Krinke were my hosts in Nome. Al was a school administrator there. I had met the Krinkes when they lived in Minnesota. After teaching and serving as a principal for years, Al and Shirley had answered the call of the wild and moved to Alaska. They loved it and stayed on even after Al retired. Our hearts still ache from sharing Al’s loss of his dear Shirley who slipped away to the Father’s House last year.
Next we looked at the pictures taken when we traveled in India and Nepal during the sixties. Despite their age, the slides remain remarkably good, depicting memorable scenes of Hindu temples, untouchable children begging for coins, and people bathing in the Ganges River.
We saw dead bodies on the sidewalks in Calcutta. Everywhere there were poor people whose only possessions could be carried in a sack. Everywhere there was poverty unlike anything we had ever seen in the United States. Yet in every place we met beautiful people whose faith had made them strong and caring. Our journey there was so long ago that we sat wondering, “Were we really there?”
Then the big surprise. The boss showed me some slides of small boys. Handsome devils they were. There was one of our son Tim (now 48) taking his first step at the age of nine months. What startled me was the stranger who was holding his hands, helping him to walk. She was a slender brunette with a sweet smile. Suddenly she was no longer a stranger but the beautiful young woman I had fallen in love with so many years ago. I said nothing but silently asked myself, “How was I so lucky?”
Finally there was an even bigger surprise. Yep, there was another stranger – a young man with black hair and those long Elvis-like sideburns. I laughed out loud as I realized, “That is me!” Was I ever that slim, that young, and that bright-eyed? Wow! How the old boy has changed!
If you have some old, fading, color slides around the house, let me offer some sage advice. Get them out at your own risk. The shock may be quite a test for your aging heart. It surely was for mine. @
Forgive an old man for cherishing memories of boyhood days on the farm



Younger folks can skip this column today. I don’t want to bore the young with talk of my childhood. But maybe the older generation will understand why it is important to look back now and then. Yes, I know, we must not live in the past. We need to look to the future. But there are some things about the good old days that we must not forget.

Family reunions were always fun. My mother was the oldest child of the Seth Johnson clan and I was the oldest grandchild. By the time I was eight or nine, there was quite a crowd at the annual gathering. The occasion was usually the Saturday nearest the fourth of July.

The old home place was a beautiful country home just off the Atlanta Highway west of Montgomery. To the great sorrow of many in the family, the stately home was torn down years ago to make way for what is now the Carol Villa subdivision.

Few families can afford to maintain a home big enough to raise 13 children. The house served its purpose and was gone in less than a hundred years. Life goes on. Change takes its toll.

His friends may have called him Seth, but the only name I ever heard my grandfather called was “Papa.” He and my grandmother, for whom my sister Neva was named, raised 13 children on their farm, along with cotton, corn, and cattle. My mother, who was born in 1902, had seven brothers and five sisters.

The pump house was one of my favorite spots. It was in the back yard, not far from the steps leading up to the kitchen. I loved to go inside the pump house and listen to the old water pump wheezing, coughing, and sputtering as it struggled to pull cold water out of a deep well. I believe the old pump was powered by a gasoline engine. .

My cousins and I shared many adventures during those daylong reunions. One of our favorite sports was to find a yellow jacket nest, disturb those stinging devils, and run for our lives. The slowest ones sometimes got stung. I remember being stung a time or two.

Our uncles would lecture us about messing with wasps and yellow jackets, then treat our stings with wet tobacco from a cigarette. We were proud of those stings. They were our badges of courage. I guess we thought our bravery impressed the girls.

No reunion passed was complete a good time playing in the hay barn. It gave us boys a good place to hide and smoke rabbit tobacco. That was exciting for a few years, but we gave that adventure up after burning down one of the barns.

None of us ever owned up to being the guilty party. I guess the truth is we were all guilty. Our parents must have thought so because we all got a whipping, one of the worst ones my rear end ever suffered. My dad said I was more responsible than anyone because I was the oldest. Makes sense I guess.

One aspect of growing up in a big family was the teasing we endured from our uncles. To survive we had to learn how to deal with friendly ridicule and sarcasm. They taught us many lessons, often through the art of embarrassment. If we were too loud, or impolite, or unwilling to wait our turn, we were sure to get a stern reprimand. No sin was left unnoticed.

In my late teens I brought my girl friend to the reunions. Having been raised in a small, quiet family with no boys, Dean was shocked by my boisterous family. She blushed with embarrassment when one of my uncles said, “Walter Junior, is that your girl friend? She’s cute. Where did a country boy like you find her? Has she let you kiss her yet, Walter Junior?” Both of us wanted to die.

My grandmother saved the day. She liked Dean and made her feel welcome in her home. The two of them developed a special relationship that lasted until grandmother died of cancer in the early fifties. Dean admired the inner strength and strong faith of this courageous woman who faced her impending death without whimpering. As much as anyone we have ever known she showed us how to face the harshness of life without losing faith in the love of God.

At each reunion every family brought loads of food. The only tables I have ever seen to compare with those meals were dinners on the grounds at country churches. Sumptuous meals they were.

Desserts were as plentiful as meats and vegetables. There were chocolate cakes and apple pies and banana pudding and always a juicy German chocolate cake. But the main dessert was freshly frozen, homemade ice cream.

When my cousins and I were old enough, it was our job to turn the cranks on the ice cream freezers. It was hard work but our uncles saw to it that we turned those cranks as long as we could. Then one of them would take over and give the crank a few more turns to show us how weak we were.

Those were the good old days. I would not want to go back to the way things were then, but looking back is good for the soul. Nostalgia has its value. We just need to be careful not to reminisce too much and neglect the greater value of looking ahead. @

Monday, September 28, 2009

Valuable lessons learned from Robert E. Lee



My son Tim, an experienced forester, is an admirer of Robert E. Lee. When he learned how much I liked the new book on character by Alabama Chief Justice Drayton Nabers Jr., he suggested we swap books.

He wanted me to read one of his favorite books – Robert E. Lee On Leadership by H. W. Crocker III. I found it a delightful book, full of Lee’s “secrets” for successful leaders and fascinating stories of his courageous leadership during the cruel war between the South and the North.

It has been fun to note the passages highlighted by Tim and to celebrate his desire to be a good leader and a man of exemplary character like his mentor Lee. Tim will never lead an army but he has become a man whose strength of character is worthy of imitation.

General Lee was known as “the Grey Fox.” The blue-coated “hounds” of General Ulysses S. Grant failed repeatedly in their attempts to trap Lee. Though usually outnumbered two to one, Lee inspired his troops to stymie the Union Army throughout the war. Even though his men were tattered and hungry, their stinging assaults inflicted 50,000 casualties on the Federals in a single month – May, 1864.

Still, in the end the North’s superiority led at last to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House. Crocker describes in his book the incredible cost of the war to General Lee:

“A successful soldier, he was not used to defeat. Now he had lost his home, his career, and virtually all his worldly goods – including his carefully harbored savings and investments. Worse, he had suffered the premature death of a daughter, a daughter-in-law, two grandchildren, and countless colleagues and friends.

“A patriot who had devoted his life to the service of his country, who venerated George Washington, who was the son of a Revolutionary War hero (‘Light Horse Harry’ Lee), and who had married Martha Washington’s great-granddaughter, was now deprived of his citizenship and liable to be tried for treason. His home state of Virginia was under occupation, its citizens deprived of their rights, its fields, towns, and cities devastated by the Union’s policy of total war.

“And yet . . . and yet, Lee was not defeated. Soon after the war’s end, he was increasingly regarded not merely as a military genius but as someone to be venerated by the South and by the North, to be venerated, indeed, throughout the Western world as a great man.”

I hope this lengthy quote will whet your appetite enough that you will want to read this good book. Crocker generated my profound admiration for the man Winston Churchill called “one of the noblest Americans who ever lived, and one of the greatest captains known to the annals of war.”

The author provides many examples to support his claim that Lee’s greatness sprang not from what he did but from what he was, and the way he lived. Lee was not merely a military genius; he was a gentleman, so much so that even his enemies admired him.

Douglas Southall Freeman, who wrote a four-volume biography of General Lee, wrote this concluding remark, “I have been fully repaid by being privileged to live, as it were, for more than a decade in the company of a great gentleman.”

One of Crocker’s conclusions is worth noting: “In our own materialistic age, we can especially benefit from Lee’s example of leadership, which reminds us that ultimately what matters is not how much money we have made, how many businesses we have led or acquired, how many jobs we have created, or how many ‘toys’ we have accumulated, but who we are.”

Lee, Crocker observes, “is an ever-present reminder that we can be much more.”

There are indeed many valuable lessons that Robert E. Lee can teach us about how to live a noble life! I commend Crocker’s book to anyone wishing to live a truly successful life. @

When your feelings are hurt you can process the pain and move on




If someone hurts your feelings now and then, relax. No need to panic. It is simply a reminder that you are a human being. You are not alone. It happens to everybody. Chances are it will happen again. That’s life.

The only way to avoid such pain is to live in a cocoon, shut off from people. But that is impossible. None of us can live alone on an island. And even if we could the pain of loneliness would be worse than that of having our feelings hurt. To relate to people is to run the risk of being offended.

What can we do to heal the wounds caused by the behavior or comments of other people? Let me offer some suggestions out of my own experience.

First, give the other person the benefit of the doubt. There is always a chance that the offender was not attacking you but someone else. The offensive comment may not have been aimed at you. If you can believe that the person’s barb was not meant for you, it will help you to cope with the sting.

Second, if you are certain that the hurtful words were directed at you, then try to excuse the offender for some sensible reason. Perhaps the person had hemorrhoids or was stressed out by marital problems. Maybe the person’s friends at work have been giving him a bad time and he was just passing on the pain.

Third, remain calm. Do not overreact. Try to understand what motivated the attack upon you. Had you made remarks that triggered the offender’s anger? Before you put all the blame on the other person, make an honest effort to determine if you helped to create the problem.

Fourth, try not to nurse your hurt feelings and make a mountain out of a molehill. So your feelings were hurt; get over it. Grab yourself by the nap of the neck and put the problem behind you. Bounce back. Refuse to let the acid tongue of another person ruin your day.

Fifth, examine your shirt sleeves. You may be wearing your feelings on your sleeves. If you decide that is true, then ask the good Lord to give you a tougher skin, like the hide of an elephant. Decide that you will not be so easily offended next time.

Sixth, forgive the person who hurt you. Do it in your heart first. Then, as soon as you have cooled down, share how you feel with the person who hurt your feelings. Say something like, "What you said really hurt me, but I value our friendship. If I have done or said something that was offensive to you, I want to ask you to forgive me."

Seventh, resist the temptation to begin sending cryptic messages to the offender. Life is too short to waste time sending hidden messages in the hope that people can read your mind. If you have something to say, say it, and if possible, say it graciously. Leave the barbs for the fence. Speak truthfully but speak in love. Otherwise you may make an enemy.

Eighth, if offering forgiveness is difficult for you, then be sure you never sin. You may be sitting in the holier-than-thou seat. Be careful not to assume that you are the innocent one who has been injured by the hateful offender. There is a good chance you are not innocent. You offend people too. You are capable of speaking carelessly or sharply when you are suffering from heartburn or some other agitation. Because you also can be offensive, you can forgive those who offend you.

Ninth, seal your lips about the incident. It only gets worse when you start telling your friends about the terrible thing someone has done to hurt your precious feelings. Much talk will hinder repair and recovery.

If you keep the matter to yourself, you will not drag your friends into a problem which none of them need, and which none of them can solve for you. Give your friends a break; don’t burden them what may be a minor problem for you.

Tenth, move on with your life. Focus on beautiful things. Your life is too short to spend a lot of time wrestling with issues that have no eternal value.

Choose to enjoy yourself. Enjoy your friends. Enjoy life. Live. Laugh. Love. Forgive. Reconcile. Leave your hurt feelings choking in a cloud of dust! And one final thing: remember to ask forgiveness from the people whose feelings you have hurt! @

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A new phrase that afflicts our daily conversations

I am amazed at how commonplace the phrase, “No problem,” has suddenly become in daily conversations. If you haven’t heard it more than ten times this week, then you must have been vacationing on the moon.
Everywhere I turn someone responds to me by saying, “No problem.” For the life of me, I cannot explain the widespread usage of these two words.
Did I miss an act of Congress requiring the public to start using this phrase? Did Lucy popularize it by saying it to Charlie Brown? Did the Pope mandate its use? Did Billy Graham get it started in his crusades?
Was it in a song by Hank Williams or Elvis Presley? Whatever its source, I missed it.
I wonder if our Hispanic friends gave us this phrase. In Costa Rica my friends there responded to almost every need by saying, “Small problem.” But what they meant was, “We have a solution to the problem.” So it seems unlikely that we have changed “Small problem” to “No problem.”
No matter where the phrase came from, it is apparently here to stay, like it or not. Actually I like it sometimes.
If I ask a clerk in a store to direct me to the electronics department, it seems appropriate for the clerk to say, “No problem,” and then give me directions.
If I return an item I purchased to exchange it for something else, it seems alright to have the clerk say, “No problem,” and assist me with the matter.
In another setting I may interrupt a colleague at work and say, “Do you have a minute?” More often than not he or she will reply by saying, “No problem,” and I find no fault with that.
In the context of these examples, the phrase seems to be a shortened version of “I have no problem assisting you with your concern or your need.”
What bothers me is that its usage has gone wild. People are using this phrase in settings where it simply makes no sense.
Here is an example. In a restaurant the waitress asks what I would like to drink. I reply, “Sweet tea please.” And she says, “No problem,” and walks away.
Soon the waitress returns with the tea. As she puts it down on the table, I say, “Thank you.” Again she says, “No problem.”
When I tell the waitress what I want to eat, she says it again, “No problem.”
A few minutes later she brings my food and I say, “Thank you.” And believe it or not, once again she says, “No problem.”
By this time I am so tired of hearing the phrase that I am on the verge of trying to create a problem!
I have tried to analyze what people mean by this phrase, and what words were used before the phrase was coined.
Some people must mean, “I am happy to be of assistance to you.” Or perhaps, “Even though I have other things to do, I am willing to stop and gladly help you.”
Such usage seem perfectly reasonable to me.
But I have a problem with the phrase being used as a substitute for “You are welcome,” the traditional response to “Thank you.” In that context, “No problem” makes no sense.
The good news about this new phrase that has wormed its way into a thousand daily conversations is that no one seems to use it to be offensive. Nor does its use stir any feelings except possibly mild appreciation for the service rendered.
In time I suppose I can get used to it. After all I have learned not to be bothered by other meaningless phrases such as “How you doing?” or “Stop by sometime.”
We do sometimes afflict our conversations with a lot of hollow and insincere phrases in an effort to be “nice” to others, when what we really mean is, “I am so busy that I really don’t have time to squeeze you into my schedule.”
I guess the best thing for me to do is to stop fretting about how many times a day I hear the phrase and simply say to myself, “No problem.”
I hope you don’t have a problem with that solution. If you do, then all I can say is, “No problem.” @

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Our Mission Team was exhausted upon our arrival in Lusaka, Zambia, in July, 2006. But we soon forgot about being tired as we began our ten days of working with Alfred and Muumbe Kalemba. Those days of service and discovery were among the most rewarding of our lives. We still thank God for allowing us to make the journey and team up with our Zambian family in the service of Christ. Now we often given thanks for the privilege of being partners in the gospel with the Kalembo family as they minister to orphans there and strive to help their people find grace, health and strength for a better life.
The freedom we enjoy as Americans must not be taken for granted

Wars stain the pages of all recorded history. The human race has never found a way to live in peace. Twice America has fought in “the war to end all wars,” but wars continue to the present hour.
The issue in most wars has been land. Japan is a good example. The Japanese felt they needed to expand their territory. Germany is another example; Hitler wanted to rule the world, not just his homeland.
When one nation attempts to conquer another, people rise up in anger to protect their freedom. Some wars last for years, resulting in unbelievable bloodshed. Most people feel their freedom is precious and worth dying for if necessary.
People with power and money have always wanted servants or slaves. We all know the sad story of slavery in America. That story illustrates the truth that slavery has never been popular among the slaves. The Jews hated their enslavement to the Egyptians and later to the Babylonians. Slavery in America was insufferable to the blacks who were shipped over like cattle from Africa.
Sooner or later oppressed people will rebel against their oppressors. The simple truth is that people have an innate desire to be free. People of my persuasion believe that inherent desire for freedom springs from the fact that all people are created in the image of God. Our Maker has planted within the human heart the longing for self-determination, or to put it more simply, liberty.
When Jesus announced to a stunned synagogue crowd his mission in life, he said he had come to proclaim freedom for captives. He spoke to Jews who longed to be free of the harsh heel of the Roman Empire.
Across the centuries men and women have fought and died for freedom. In the 14th Century William Wallace of Scotland fought against injustice and died trying to free his people from the English tyrants. Who can ever forget the breathtaking moment when Wallace (Mel Gibson in Braveheart) raised his sword and screamed the word “Freedom!”? Wallace’s fellow patriots went on after Wallace’s death to win Scottish freedom, but at the cost of thousands of lives.
In churches across the land the men and women who fought and died for our country are often remembered in prayer. Prayers are offered for our troops who are in harm’s way. These brave men and women deserve our support and prayers regardless of our position on the present wars.
Like many Americans I have relatives and friends serving in the military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. I want our troops to come home as soon as possible. I have questions about the war now raging in Afghanistan. . However, I do believe we are engaged in a global war against terrorists who want to destroy, and eventually control, our land.
The conflict in which we are engaged is much bigger than most people imagine. As the most powerful nation in the world, America cannot turn a deaf ear to the millions of oppressed people in the world who long to experience the freedoms we enjoy in the United States. We stand to lose our own freedom if we refuse to help other nations defend their own freedom. And we shall surely face the wrath of God if we turn our back on Israel, the nation that remains precious to our Sovereign God.
In our church we sing songs about freedom, songs like “God Bless America,” “America the Beautiful,” and “Proud to be an American.” We will sing with gratitude to God about our “sweet land of liberty,” the land precious to us because it is the “land where our fathers died.”
We sometimes sing a prayer to God, pleading for his help with this sincere request: “long may our land be bright with freedom’s holy light; protect us by thy might, great God, our King.” Surely no nation can long enjoy freedom without the help of almighty God who makes freedom possible. @
Must I explain all my secrets until no mystery remains?

Basically I prefer openness to secrecy. I like honesty. It wears well on the people who will tell you, without rancor, what they really think. I like them more than the folks who simply smile and leave you wondering what they think.
The impersonal nature of our culture troubles me. The “super” stores sell us stuff for less money but they have robbed us of something valuable. In the Mom and Pop stores we could ask Pop how a certain gadget might work. We knew Pop and Pop knew us. But no more. The “super” store clerks have no desire to know who you are; they just want your money. If what you bought does not work, do not come back crying about it to us; contact the manufacturer in Hong Kong.
I gave up on the big chain drug stores for that reason. I pay a little more for my medicine at a small independent store but I am willing to do that because Barney knows my name. I want the person who sells me drugs that can kill me to know who I am. I want to be more than a customer. I want to be on a first-name basis with my druggist.
But I must admit I do like a little anonymity. There are times when I rather enjoy being just another man in the crowd. Obscurity is not all bad. Obviously no one wishes to be “known” all the time. Famous people must cherish moments of solitude when they are free from public scrutiny.
This raises the question in my own mind: just how personal am I willing to become? An old story comes to mind. One Sunday only one man showed up for church. The pastor preached his full sermon, all 30 minutes of it. Afterward he asked the one man in the audience what he thought about his message. The man replied, “Well, it was not bad, preacher, but it did seem a bit personal.”
Any preacher worth his salt wants his hearers to feel he is talking directly to them. A pastor knows he was on target when a parishioner says to him after church, “Preacher, you have been reading my mail.” One man said to me recently, “How about preaching about somebody else’s sins one Sunday? You have been stepping on my toes for three weeks now!”
Actually secrecy is less and less possible in our society. There is a website now that has collected a lot of information about many of us. I entered my name and was surprised to see how accurately the site listed the addresses of places I lived years ago. I understand you can request that they remove information about you from the site. I chose to ignore doing that out of indifference. Who cares?
After all, Big Brother in Washington knows almost everything there is to know about most of us. Few people are able to fly under the government’s radar. Then there are at least three credit bureaus that are ready and willing to reveal your credit history to banks and businesses. And you never know, unless you ask, that they have done it.
All of us have secrets and there is a certain freedom gained from exposing our secrets to the light of day. I found as a pastor that it helps people identify with you if you will admit your own sins. Some preachers are reluctant to admit their humanity. They want people to think that clergy are above sin.
On my last Sunday in a church I was leaving, a woman said to me, “I am going to miss you. You are the only preacher I have ever known who was a sinner.” That may have been so, but I think she meant that I was the only preacher she had ever heard admit being a sinner.
To become a truly authentic person, must I share all my secrets? To be honest, I would rather not. I am not sure I am ready for total exposure. I want to cling to a little mystery a while longer.
But I reckon it is a losing battle. Finally mystery will yield to openness and truth. I might as well accept it. That is the only way I can explain what Jesus meant when he said, “What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight.” That means, in the end daylight wins. + + +

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Do your best to not give up until you cross the finish line

One of the greatest privileges of a pastor is to encourage people not to give up. Pastors do their best work not by chastising people for their sins but by inspiring them to overcome their failures.
When ministry is based on encouragement, rather than judgment, there is always plenty to do. All around us are people who are struggling with defeat. A business or a marriage has failed. Debts seem insurmountable. Alcohol and drug use is out of control. Dreams have been shattered. The ox is in the ditch and there seems no way to get him out.
When the bottom falls out people do not need a lecture; they need compassion. Not pity. Compassion is that rare gift that inspires people to believe in themselves because someone else believes in them. Compassion is staying with someone that everyone else has given up on. Compassion is snatching a friend from the jaws of despair and convincing him that he has what it takes to get out of the mess he has made.
A man praised his pastor for helping him recover from alcoholism. He said, “My drinking had put me in a deep hole. Nobody wanted anything to do with me. But my preacher got down in that hole with me and helped me to crawl out. His love helped me believe in the love of God.”
Compassionate caring can help people set goals for themselves and refuse to quit until they succeed. Such caring can call forth in others the willingness to persevere. Few human qualities are more important than perseverance. That is why most of our heroes are people who refused to allow adversity to deter them from their goals.
Winston Churchill, for example, is one of the great heroes of the 20th Century. He will always be remembered for his tenacious spirit, and that which he inspired in the people of England during World War II. When it appeared that Hitler was about to bring England to its knees, Prime Minister Churchill kept hope alive with his defiant words, "We will be victorious!"
Churchill traveled all over England motivating the people. He inspired workers in the factories and on the farms to work tirelessly for their country. He visited the troops and instilled in them the conviction that England would prevail.
Few stories are more captivating than that of Churchill's visit with the coal miners. Hearing that the miners were discouraged about their contribution to the war effort, Sir Winston surprised them by showing up in the dangerous underground tunnels where they worked.
They were astonished that Churchill would risk coming into the mines and stared in trembling disbelief as his words rang in their ears:
"We will be victorious! We will preserve our freedom. And years from now when our freedom is secure and peace reigns, your children and your children's children will come and they will say to you, 'What did you do to win our freedom in that great war?' And one will say, 'I marched with the Eighth Army!' Someone else will proudly say, 'I manned a submarine.' And another will say, 'I guided the ships that moved the troops and the supplies.' And still another will say, 'I doctored the wounds!'" Then, with persuasive power Churchill shouted, "They will come to you, and you will say with equal right and equal pride, 'I cut the coal! I cut the coal that fueled the ships that moved the supplies! That's what I did. I cut the coal!"
From that hour no coal miners ever worked with greater courage than the men who heard Churchill that day. They refused to quit. They endured, and helped England preserve its precious freedom. Though the German bombs continued to fall upon English cities, the coal miners were never discouraged again.
Many admire Churchill for his wit. And he desires our admiration. On one occasion Lady Astor said to Winston, “If I were married to you, I would put poison in your tea.” He replied, “If I were married to you, I’d drink it.” When someone criticized him for ending a sentence with a preposition, he responded, “This is the kind of tedious nonsense up with which I will not put.”
Though Churchill’s gifts and achievements are extraordinary, I am thankful most of all for his personal example of perseverance. Voted out of office he refused to quit and was later re-elected Prime Minister. He earned the right to encourage others never to give up.
One of his most memorable speeches is a brief one given to the boys at old Harrow School, which he had attended as a boy. Imagine how these words must have inspired the young lads at the school:
"This is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."
So if today you find yourself struggling to carry on, allow me to encourage you to get up out of the ashes of your hardship and stay the course. Stay with it. Tie a knot in the end of your rope and hold on. Refuse to quit. Never give up. The finish line may be just ahead. Do the best you can until you cross it. + + +
When times are hard you can sometimes
smell the fragrance of the broken


Recently I read again about the accidental death of Maria Sue, the five-year-old daughter of Steven Curtis and Mary Beth Chapman. That tragedy reminded me of a profound idea I had gleaned from an earlier story about this popular Christian singer.
The idea was capsulated in the phrase, “The fragrance of the broken.” The words came to Chapman during a walk in the woods. He had gone into the woods to pray, desperate for release from a drought in his soul. Pleading with God for a breakthrough, he gathered some rocks, stacked them into a makeshift altar, and began to pray.
While praying he began to smell cedar, so strongly that it distracted him from praying. Opening his eyes he soon spotted a little cedar tree that he had snapped in half by stepping on it. The broken tree was the source of the smell that Chapman felt was a sign from God. Quickly he wrote down the words, "The fragrance of the broken."
God does provide a "fragrance" that we may learn to cherish as we wrestle with our brokenness and that of our loved ones. Like the little cedar tree, it may not be easily recognizable. We have to look for it as Chapman did. Finding it, we begin to enjoy what may be called the "aroma of grace."
Each of us must learn to handle brokenness of one kind or another. How we deal with it determines whether we live well or merely endure life until it ends. Misfortune can make us better or bitter. The good thing is that we have a choice.
My friend "Miss Jimmy" was a poet. In retirement she became legally blind. But she declined to complain. Instead she chose to think of her blindness as a blessing. “There is so much I would have missed had my sight not failed,” she said.
“I had not bothered to read the Bible very much," she told me, "but when I became blind, I began to listen to the Bible on cassette tapes. Only then did I understand why it really is the greatest book every written." My wife and I enjoyed tea with Miss Jimmy many times. While we admired her poetry we admired her spirit even more. She was not a whiner.
Fanny Crosby and George Matheson were blind hymn writers but refused to complain about their blindness. Both composed beautiful songs which millions still enjoy singing. They refused to let their brokenness "blind" them to their opportunity to live useful lives.
Alabama’s famous Helen Keller became blind and deaf as a young child. Her attitude was profoundly inspiring. She regarded her handicaps as “mere impertinences of fate.” She said, “I resolved that they should not crush or dwarf my soul, but rather be made to blossom, like Aaron's rod, with flowers.” Can you say “Wow”?
A good friend made a trip out west one summer. He and his wife drove their motor home through Montana, Wyoming, Arizona, and California to see the sights. He explained why, "I had been diagnosed with an eye disease which could result in blindness in a few years. I wanted to see all that I could see while my vision was still good."
He could have stayed home fretting about the question, "Why is this happeningto me?" Without complaining he began to adjust to the possibility of brokenness. Instead of whining he used his time to design a plan to cope with blindness if it happened.
Brokenness comes soon or late to us all. Whining about it, or asking "Why me?" gets us nowhere. Pain is inevitable but misery is a choice. As we face the pain with honesty and hope, something wonderful can occur. Character can happen. We can become finer people because we have faced our troubles with courage. Courage is contagious. Deal with your brokenness bravely, with a positive spirit, and your example is bound to encourage someone else.
Thankfully you have a choice. You can refuse to whine. You can find a way to smell the "aroma of grace" in your pain. Then the fragrance of your brokenness becomes a sweet perfume to all who savor the essence of your life. + + +

A cluttered desk is a beautiful thing


I hate an organized desk. On rare occasions I had one. It was my first day in a new office. But it never lasted. After two days my papers, folders, and books were everywhere. And I dared anybody to straighten up my desk.
People with an organized desk are disgustingly proud of the accomplishment. They are apt to say piously, “A messy desk indicates a cluttered mind. A neat desk suggests an organized person.” That is nonsense and I can prove it.
My philosophy is that a messy desk is a sign of a hard-working person who is good at multi-tasking. Why settle for mono-tasking when you can do several things at once? Doing one task at a time requires much less creativity.
I know the argument against multi-tasking. If you focus on one project at a time, you can get your work done more quickly. You will be much more efficient if you will concentrate only on one task – the one in front of you.
But that approach can make work rather dull. It removes the challenge of trying to do three things at once. We all know that the truly brilliant person is the one who while talking to you on the desk phone can put you on hold, talk to someone else on their cell phone, and at the same time carry on a conversation with a visitor in his office.
Now that impresses people, just as a cluttered desk convinces people that you are capable of working on five projects at a time. The clutter convinces people not that you are disorganized but that you have amazing creativity.
It takes a lot of skill to find something on my desk. I have piles everywhere but I know what pile to look in when I need to find something. Only a person with my kind of competence could find a lost document as quickly as I can. With me, hope springs eternal; nothing is ever lost. It is here somewhere so I keep rambling until it shows up. Sooner or later it will turn up. The lost will be found.
The best way for me to lose something is to file it. If I file it, I forget where it is filed. The other day I searched for the manual for my riding lawn mower. Since it is a John Deere, I looked under “J.” It was not there. I looked under “M” but no luck. Well, maybe I filed it under “G” for grass. Wrong again. Finally I looked under “L,” and there it was.
I gave up on filing cabinets. I prefer now to stack folders on the floor around my office. You can lose stuff in a filing cabinet. I came across some stuff the other day I had not seen in 44 years.
I am glad I am not looking for a pay raise. At my age pay raises are a joke. When my pay changes it goes down not up. A recent study reveals that most employers factor in an employee’s level of organization when considering annual reviews and pay increases.
One company even dispatches workers to look in the car window of an applicant’s car to see if it is clean while the interview is being held. If there is clutter on the car floor, this indicates the applicant does not have organizational skills.
That company would never hire me. My car is cluttered with papers I may need while I am away from the office. Ride somewhere with me and you will have to wait five minutes while I move my stuff to the trunk or the back seat.
Any fool knows that if you want to find a highly skilled, competent, hard-working person, you look for a messy car and a messy desk. The reason is obvious. The person with a neat desk does not really want to work. And inside the drawers of that neat desk are piles of paper that need attention. The person who thrives in clutter is the one who can get the job done.
Somewhere on my desk is a new book written by Dave Crenshaw. It is titled The Myth of Multitasking: How “Doing it all” Gets Nothing Done. I hid it under a pile of papers. I don’t plan to read it. He is entitled to his opinion. I am content with mine. A cluttered desk is a beautiful thing and brilliant people can do three things at the same time. That’s my story and I am sticking to it. + + +