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3 Questions to Ask Yourself Today (And Every Day)

3 Questions to Ask Yourself Today (And Every Day)

Shouldn’t the questions you ask yourself at the end of your life be the same questions you ask yourself each day?  If you were about to face your final judgment, what would you be asking yourself?  Did I spend enough time at the office?  Were my teeth white enough?  Did my butt look big in those pants?  Did I spend enough time at the gym?  Was I popular?  I don’t know what the ultimate questions would be.  However, when I was given my two weeks notice by the doctor, the following questions are the ones that came to my mind as I thought about my most treasured relationships.  Perhaps asking yourself these questions daily will prepare you to answer them in the days to come … and help you become built to love.

Question 1:  Have I Listened?

Listening is like being loaded up with log after log of life’s heavy lumber that you must haul away and stack in your own woodpiles of memory and experience.

To listen is to love. To be a sponge that absorbs the venom and toxicity of a poisoned soul is difficult. To mourn with those who mourn is painful. To listen to others can be a burden. It’s like being loaded up with log after log of life’s heavy lumber that you must haul away and stack in your own woodpiles of memory and experience. But this is what fuels relationships. This is what fuels love. As author and Mennonite minister David Augsberger wisely observed, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.”

This soul-to-soul communication puts you into communion with God because, remember, the “least of these” you listen to is a proxy for Jesus. (See Matthew 25:31-46.)  Hence, to truly listen to another human being is to hear the voice of God.

“Listening is as close to acting for God as God will allow.”

Listening is also as close to acting for God as God will allow. Listening is, in essence, a form of receiving prayer. The realm of listening, therefore, is sacred ground. The miracle of listening is that it elevates you while you lift others. All of that lifting, hauling and stacking of life’s lumber transforms and strengthens us in the process, as well. We get to vicariously learn and experience life.

The hardest part about listening is that mere mortals are ill-equipped to solve problems. But that’s the beauty of it. You don’t have to solve anyone’s problems. You don’t have to have all the answers … or even any of them. Listening is its own medicine. Saying, “I honestly don’t know what to tell you because your burdens are so enormous and complex” to someone who is truly overwhelmed with life will be reaffirming to them, especially if you follow that with, “you’re an amazing person. You teach me so much.”

Listening is loving.

Question 2:  Have I Encouraged?

It only takes a second to offer encouragement.

There really is no excuse for failing to offer encouragement. You can text. You can message. You can email. Even just sending two or three words can make all the difference to someone’s day.

There are so many times throughout my battles with illness when a simple text made the difference between a day spent in loneliness, battling wrenching, nauseous pain, and a day where at least I didn’t feel so alone.

What can you say to offer encouragement?

“I’m hurting for you.”  “You don’t deserve this.”  “Keep fighting.”  “Your example gives me strength.”  “You are so strong.”  “I’m on your side.”  “I’m cheering for you.”  “Don’t quit. We need you.”

There are a hundred simple things you can say to make someone feel loved and acknowledged.  Of course, taking the time to explain what someone means to you and how they have influenced your life for good is even better. The point is, you must act. You must speak. You must say something. In the face of suffering or trial, your silence says a thousand things and none of them are good. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” “In the end,” he said, “we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

If you don’t know what to say, say that. For someone suffering from extreme trials and burdens, to hear someone say “I don’t know what to say” is, strangely enough, very encouraging to them because it is validating. It shows that you “get it.” If you understand, maybe God understands. If God understands, then maybe there’s hope.

If all else fails, just remember listening is loving. Hugs are almost always welcome. Your tears also say a lot. It’s okay to cry with others. Tears are the cleansing and encouraging solvents of the soul.

Question 3:  Have I Given?

The miracle of God’s plan is that the best way we can keep God’s love is by giving it away. It seems that if you want to feel God’s love, you have to share it.  If you have listened or encouraged someone, you have given. But it also brings you a lot of happiness to physically give something to someone on a daily basis.

Giving is living. Be generous.

It doesn’t have to be big. Give a child some money. Stop at the lemonade or cookie stand and see what happens when you whip out a $5 bill. Don’t be a stingy tipper. Pay for the food order behind you in the drive through line. Donate money to charity. Give  someone a book (especially mine!).  Make cookies for someone. Send flowers.  Take someone out to lunch. Find out what they like or enjoy and get it for them. Buy someone their favorite drink or smoothie.  Sneak some money into your kid’s wallet or purse.  Do it.  It will make you feel good.  I promise.

Remember the Platinum Rule.

The only rule here is be sure that your giving is empathy-guided.  Remember the “platinum rule,” which is the proper interpretation of the golden rule. That rule, when properly understood, is not “do unto others as you would have done unto you.” It’s “do unto others as they would have done unto them.” What is it that “ye would [have] men … do to you?” To treat you the way you want to be treated. Jesus understood this and taught this simple truth. Give people what they want.  (See Matthew 7:9-11.)

The reason I call this the “platinum rule” is because it takes a higher investment in others to live it. You have to know people well enough to understand what they want and need. You have to understand them. Love takes empathy.

The whole condescension of God illustrates this. The condescension of God teaches that you cannot truly love someone unless you somehow become them and experience their life vicariously and then love them the way they want to be loved.

Give today.  Giving is living.

The Way of Discipleship

Daily asking yourself these three simple questions—“Have I listened? Have I encouraged? Have I given?”—will keep you focused as you strive to become built to love. It will also help keep you happy.  Finally, asking these three questions of yourself daily will help you in the noble endeavor of trying to follow Jesus and prepare you for the day when there’s no more time for questions.

It Doesn’t Matter What You Do, It’s Doing It With Love That Counts

It Doesn’t Matter What You Do, It’s Doing It With Love That Counts

dentist-1427291_1920It’s a fact, as confirmed in a recent International Dental Journal Article—there is “systematically a suicide rate among dentists higher than those of other occupations.”  (See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21302740 .) While we don’t yet know why, dentists suffer unusually high rates of suicide and depression.  The two dentists in my life—well, one’s not really my dentist—seem to have bucked this trend on their own and seem to be two of the happiest, kindest people I know.  I think this is because they are both built to love.  Maybe if I tell you a little more about these two dentists, you’ll get a better picture of what I’m trying to describe.

People who are built to love are some of the happiest people you’ll ever meet.  They’re confident, grounded and give off a positive energy.  They make you feel special when you’re around them.  They have a servant-leader mentality.  They tend to love what they do and it shows.  They love what they do because they love who they serve and, so long as they have the opportunity to help and heal others, they’re as happy as a two-tailed puppy.

Many years ago, Dr. Richards, my regular dentist, who I had been seeing for years, was out of town or on vacation or something for the Christmas holiday.  As luck would have it, I developed a very large abscessed gum, which was causing me excruciating pain.  Think of a massive boil inside your mouth, pressing in on the nerves surrounding your teeth.  If felt like Satan, himself, had found the center of my nerve universe and, with a red-hot poker, was continually stabbing me with it over and over and over.

If felt like Satan, himself, had found the center of my nerve universe and, with a red-hot poker, was continually stabbing me with it over and over and over.

Luckily, my next-door neighbor and dentist, Dr. Pitts, had not left for the holidays.  I think Christmas was on a Sunday that year and, being a man, I made the genius move to tough the pain out all week long until Friday night, when, of course, it was too late to get in and see the dentist.  After much pride-swallowing by me and coaxing from the wife, I sheepishly called Dr. Pitts, explained my situation and asked if he had any advice for me.  He told me to meet him at his office in about 15 minutes.

So, as I recall, at night, on a weekend—a holiday weekend nonetheless—Dr. Pitts met me down at his office, lanced the abscess (or whatever kind of voodoo magic he did) and sent me home with some kind of antibiotic rinse that almost immediately relieved my pain.  He didn’t charge me a thing.  And, even though I wasn’t one of his patients, he dropped everything to help me.  I reminded him of this years later and he didn’t even remember helping me, which signals to me that he must help so many people that this just blurred into all the other acts of kindness he has performed over the years.

I have followed and observed Dr. Pitts over the years.  His patients love him.  He serves the community, donating his time and products to countless football teams and youth groups.  His employees love him.  He is physically active and takes good care of himself.  He is always propping up others, whether it’s his wife, his daughters, his former teammates, etc.  His Facebook posts are not “Look at me!  Look what I did!”  His Facebook posts are, “Look at this amazing person I’m with!  Look at this incredible person I get to do stuff with!”  He’s happy.

Her jaws were locked.  She was in full fight or flight—actually, just fight—and she wasn’t letting go.

Dr. Richards, my regular dentist, seems to be cut from the same cloth.  I have so many Dr. Richards stories that I could fill a book.  But I’ll just share a few.

My daughter, Abby, must have been about 5 years old.  It was one of her first trips to the dentist and she was so nervous she asked me to hold her in her arms while Dr. Richards worked on her teeth.  Dr. Richards was so nice and kind to her, just chatting it up the way dentists do, when all the sudden I heard this blood-curdling scream come out of his mouth.  As it turns out, my sweet little Abby had chomped down on his finger with a python death grip and wouldn’t let go.  Her jaws were locked.  She was in full fight or flight—actually, just fight—and she wasn’t letting go.

There were no harsh or negative words from Dr. Richards.  No scolding.  Nothing like, “What the heck is wrong with your kid!”  As I recall, he complimented Abby on her strong jaw muscles and made her giggle about the whole thing.

Dr. Richards is patient with me, too.  You see, my body metabolizes lidocaine and articaine faster than a lawyer can take money.  By the time the doc has given me the shot and gets his drill turned on, the numbness has gone and I can feel everything.  Dr. Richards and I learned this the hard way.  So, poor Dr. Richards must give me multiple injections and stock up on the lidocaine, articaine, adrenaline and epinephrine just to keep me numb.  I take about twice as long as all of his other patients.  But never, not once, has he complained or made me feel like a wimp.  He seems to say just what I need to hear to make my bruised male ego feel better.

Dr. Richards has done acts of kindness for my family that he probably wouldn’t want me to write about publicly, so I won’t.  He has helped us out in rough times.  I’ll leave it at that.  He has made multiple trips to the Dominican Republic or Haiti (I can’t remember which one) with members of his staff and family to provide free dental care to those in need.  He has a gift for putting people at ease and making sure they are comfortable.  He makes people feel loved and important.  I don’t know how he does it.  He just does it.  I can’t explain it.  It’s a gift, I suppose.  He’s physically active.  He loves the outdoors.  He is a happy person and I love being around him.  There’s a positive energy I get.  He just exudes it.  The license plate on his truck says, “Dr. Smile.”  That’s a good description.

So, what do these two dentists have in common (other than I think they might be cousins or some distant relation)?  How do they buck the trend that seems to afflict so many others in their profession?  I think they have both learned what I wrote about in my book, Built to Love:

Choosing love adds purpose to an otherwise meaningless existence.  To a heart built to love there are no mundane jobs.  As long as there are people where you work, your work is the most important work on earth.  This is because you will see your work as being larger than the work itself.  You’re not there to build the company.  You’re there as an emissary of God to build others.  And in so doing, you build yourself and experience joy and happiness.

Thank you, Dr. Richards and Dr. Pitts, for serving your community and building others up.  Hundreds of people pass through your doors and sit in your chairs each month.  You are doing more than healing wounded teeth.  You are healing wounded souls.  You are healing a wounded world.

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Everyone, whether they be a Wal Mart greeter, a fast food worker, a teacher, an accountant, an engineer, etc., could take a cue from you.  All it takes is a paradigm shift.  All it takes is the realization that, so long as you interact with people, you have the most important job in the world.

There may be days when you feel empty, like you have nothing to give, like you just can’t give.  But dig deep.  Push through.  Force yourself to get outside yourself.  Force yourself to think of others first.  Stop processing your own feelings and start trying to empathize with those around you.  We were created as conduits, not reservoirs, of God’s love.  The miracle of God’s plan is that the best way you can keep God’s love is by giving it away. It seems that if you want to feel God’s love, you have to share it.  Try sharing it today and that empty void inside of you will soon be replaced with love and contentment.

You can’t love Him if you don’t encourage, lift and support your fellow human beings. However much you learn about God doesn’t mean a hill of beans if you don’t learn about the people you share this planet with. Figure them out and you’ll figure Him out. Get connected with them and you’ll get connected with Him. Take care of them and He’ll take care of you. It’s that simple.  Like Dr. Richards and Dr. Pitts apparently did long ago, make the decision to become built to love today and you, too, will buck the trend and find happiness in a dark world.  Decide today that you, too, will become built to love!

The 2016 Election? “It Just Doesn’t Matter,” Said Jesus (and Bill Murray)

The 2016 Election? “It Just Doesn’t Matter,” Said Jesus (and Bill Murray)

If you are stressed out about the 2016 presidential election, take some advice from Jesus (and Bill Murray) … it just doesn’t matter. Rarely, if ever, will I comment on politics. But as I look around and see the growing angst and conflict permeating society on the eve of the election, I wanted to offer a few words of comfort, regardless of your political orientation.

Two millennia ago Jesus was caught in the cross hairs of a geo-political question that the Jews of his time probably thought threatened their very existence. The geo-political power of the day, the Roman Empire, had conquered Jerusalem and imposed its will on the Jewish people, taking control of everything. The imposition of Roman power was everywhere. In the case of the puppet kingdom, Judea, Herod’s rule and Herod’s forces would have been the superficial, nominal political entity. But everyone knew that Rome was the power behind the throne and that Herod was a puppet leader, really. Many Jews resented this and were looking for a politico-military leader, a Messiah, to overthrow the Roman domination system and restore the divine theocracy the Jews longed for. They wanted to make Jerusalem great again (sorry couldn’t resist that).

The Pharisees would be among those religious extremists who were seeking to restore the greatness and glory of an independent Jewish state and who resented the power of Rome. The Herodians, on the other hand, were a party among the Jews who were supporters of the Herodian family as the last hope for retaining for the Jews a fragment of national government, as distinguished from absolute dependence upon Rome. Herod held his dominion by grant of the Roman Empire. Therefore, the Herodians supported Rome and would be in favor of paying tribute to the supreme power. They were part of “the crooked establishment” (sorry, couldn’t resist that one, either).

Even though the Pharisees and the Herodians were politically at odds, they were united in the dislike of the newly-introduced subversive reformer known as Jesus of Nazareth. So they joined forces in an effort to silence him once and for all. The account in Matthew 22 goes as follows:

16 And [the Pharisees] sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.

17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Cæsar, or not?

18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?

19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.

20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?

21 They say unto him, Cæsar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.

Jesus out-maneuvered this perverted alliance by brilliantly waiving the question and putting it back on them to decide whose “side” God was on. In essence, he rose above the political fray and said “you’re both wrong” and “it just doesn’t matter.” “God is on neither side.” “You’re asking the wrong question.” Jesus realized that the “true” kingdom is not geo-political. It is the kingdom of the human heart. To Jesus, the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:21.)

To Jesus, elections or revolutions are not the way to seek or find peace. Remember, trying to find worldly solutions to what are, in essence, the spiritual problems of society never works. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27.) Our hearts get troubled and afraid when we try to control things (or people) outside ourselves. Our hearts get troubled and afraid when we look out “there” and what’s wrong with everything out “there” as the cause of what’s making us feel bad “in here.” That type of outside-in thinking will never make you very comfortable because you cannot control anything (or anyone) out there. And the more you try to control what’s out there, the more frantic and helpless you will feel “in here.”

What if what is going on inside of you matters more than what’s going on out there? What if you looked in the mirror and decided to change the person you see there instead of looking at your big screen and trying to change what’s going on in the reflection of the world you see there? You can’t change the world. But you can change you.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. This is a secret that all of the great spiritual leaders have always known. Politics don’t matter. Personal transformation does. I’m not saying you shouldn’t vote. I’m not saying government is unnecessary. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to elect the very best leaders. But let’s be realistic. At the end of the day, YOU are the problem. YOU are the one that needs to change. Jesus said the kingdom of God is within you. Gandhi is reputed to have said “be the change you want to see.” Michael Jackson (yes, MJ) sang it beautifully this way:

I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
(If you wanna make the world a better place)
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change
(Take a look at yourself, and then make a change)

The election is scary, but who we are as human beings and how we treat each other matters so much more and, in the end, will determine what kind of world we have. What we need is a revolution of listening, loving and caring more than a political revolution.

So when your man or woman loses the election this year, whatever the case may be, take a cue from Jesus, Gandhi and Bill Murray. “It just doesn’t matter.” YOU matter. And if you want to stop feeling frustrated and powerless, take control of your life, change who you are. Stop blaming “the system” and become the change. Transformed people transform the world.

Can You Remember Him If You Forget About Me?

Can You Remember Him If You Forget About Me?

2016-27-9-16-50-23At 6’3” “Bob” weighed only 128 lbs.  He was very weak from starvation caused by a chronic illness.  He was slowly dying.  With tears in his eyes, he recently told me the story of how people in his faith community would drive by and wave to him as he struggled to mow his front lawn.  He would walk very slowly down one row, mustering every ounce of strength he had to push the mower, and then, at the end of the row, he would stop and rest for a few minutes, then start the lawn mower back up and tackle one more row.  No one stopped to help.  Bob eventually had a partial recovery and is doing much better physically—at least he is no longer dying.  But the emotional scars left by his faith community are still very evident.

Hearing Bob’s story caused me to reflect deeply upon the words of covenant I hear each week as I attend church.  Evangelical churches typically recite these words when taking communion—or the Lord’s Supper: “Do this in remembrance of me.”  The Eucharists or communions of other Christian faiths typically have similar calls to action, which are based upon the admonition of Jesus, at the Lord’s Supper, to “do this in remembrance of me.”  (See Luke 22:17-20.)  My own faith tradition invokes a covenant to “always remember Him” each week as we take the sacrament.

But what does it mean to “always remember him?”

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For many, the call to action to “always remember Him” manifests itself in more rigid adherence to dogma, more faithful observance, more faithful attendance, more scripture reading, more praying, more thinking about Jesus during the week, all of which aren’t bad things.  For others, it results in visualizing the suffering of Jesus and trying to think more about all that Jesus has done for them.  But are you missing the point?  And can you remember Jesus if you forget about me?

Can you remember Jesus if you see a sad look on my face and don’t take the time to sit down with me, listen to me and find out why I’m sad or struggling?  Can you remember Jesus if you see me discouraged and don’t do what you can to offer encouragement and hope?  Can you remember Jesus if I’m sick and you don’t come visit me?

Can you remember Jesus if you forget to call your mother, your mother-in-law, your brother, your sister?  Can you remember Jesus if you forget to visit the sick and the shut-in?  Can you remember Jesus if you forget to hug, to encourage, to cheer up the sad?  Can you remember Jesus if you forget the dance recital or the soccer game?

Jesus saw no distinction between himself and all of those people.  He taught, “whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”  (Matthew 25:45.)  So, to Jesus, remembering others is remembering him.  Forgetting others is forgetting him.

He also saw no distinction between himself and you.  Have you ever thought about why Jesus instructed the disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood?  (See John 6:53-66.)  Could one of the reasons be that he was trying to use the strongest metaphor possible to convey the message that you need to be Christ to others.  You need to be their Savior.  He needs to be in you and act through you.  He wants you to incorporate who he is in the very fiber of your nerves, in the very tissues of your skin, in every sinew, in the very marrow of your bones.

He wants you to be worthy of the name “Christian” in every sense of the word.  He wants you to be Christian, not just in thought, but also in deed.

So next time you take communion, the sacrament or whatever your faith tradition calls it, remember that to remember others is the way, the truth and the life that Jesus is calling you to live.

Don’t ever let the Bobs of this world mow the lawns of life alone.