The Man In The Mirror

So much of what is in the world around us seems to be one thing until we open our eyes and look a little deeper. Once the veneer is removed and the spotlight is off, the real condition of things is unveiled, and a much different picture often emerges. For instance, we are led to believe that fame and money are the things that can really make our lives happy and meaningful. If that is the case, then movie stars should be the happiest and most fulfilled people on earth. However, the recent suicides of world famous, academy award winning actors Heath Ledger and Robin Williams proclaim a very clear and different message.

My wife and I watched an interview being done with Mr. Williams some time ago. His candor, humor and personality were off the charts. He was a master at his craft and he kept the interviewer and the audience in a state of wonder and laughter. His view of life was so different and he could interpret it in such a way that he kept everyone in awe. Yet when the conversation moved in the direction of who he was as a person, the vacant, questioning look that came to his eyes and swept over his face was sad, if not heartbreaking. There was a dark side to him that few knew about.

What we discovered was that he did not know who the real Robin Williams was. He lived his life through the person in the script he was hired to portray. Thus his acting ability was so powerful because in front of the camera he actually became his character, or perhaps I should say His character became him. His life was being scripted by screenwriters, and he lived it well during the filming of each movie. Yet when the filming was over, and he left this fantasy world of Hollywood, he also left his identity as well.

The truth he exposed in that interview was hard to believe but tragically true. He said he had no clear concept of who he was, no defined personality of his own. When he opened his eyes the morning after a shoot was over, he looked in the mirror and did not know who he was! In spite of all his brilliance on the big screen, and his flawless comedic ability in front of a camera, he was never certain about his real value as a human being or who he was as a man.

I minored in counseling/psychology when I got my masters degree in Biology. One of the disciplines I studied was a style of counseling called “reality therapy”, by Dr. William Glasser. The main premise of Glasser’s method is that it’s impossible for anyone to be emotionally healthy until they know themselves. Every person must eventually open their eyes and face the reality of who they are. More importantly, they must take personal responsibility for the life they have and embrace the consequences for the way they have lived. Until that happens, people are clueless dreamers, sleepwalkers who hurt themselves and everyone they meet along the way. As strange as it sounds, this is exactly how much of the world lives and it is what finally caused Williams to hang himself. He did not know who he was, he felt alone in the world and therefore concluded he had no reason to live.

Now comes the big question: are your eyes open, I mean really open to the truth of who you are? What do you see when you wake up and look in the mirror each morning? Do you see a failure who is emotionally isolated from others, or someone who is interconnected by meaningful relationships that hold promise for the future? Is there hope for improvement or the feeling of being a helpless victim who is locked in a cycle that never changes? Do you have joy in the journey or does life feel meaningless and directionless? Your honest answer to those questions can bring a life-changing revolution. Why? Because how you see yourself makes all the difference in how you live your life!

Know thy self! In other words, open your eyes to the truth of who you are, and face the reality of the life you have. Then ask yourself this question; is this what I was created to do? If the answer is no then you have to open your heart to the reality of the life you should have. Allow the desire of the life you want to provide direction and compel you to change so you can begin moving in that direction. Remember, desire literally means “of the father”, and that’s powerful. The life you desire is the one God the Father made you to fulfill. In case you missed it, nothing else on earth will bring you satisfaction.

The bottom line is simple, when His desire becomes ours, that reality grips our life with purpose and great things will happen! Unless we find our identity and our purpose for being here, life really has no meaning. However, once we uncover these amazing truths they bring with them the vision, focus and satisfaction we need to fulfill our destiny. It all begins when we open our eyes and take a hard, honest look at the one staring back at us in the mirror. When we like what we see then our life has finally begun.

Being In The Right Place

I often have an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time. Strange things just seem to happen that don’t often manifest in the lives of others. Some may call it a divine coincidence while the skeptics just fluff it off as pure chance. I however, see something much greater in all these situations. I have always been fascinated by all that God has made. His creativity and diversity is absolutely amazing, and I deeply appreciate every nuance of it. I believe God enjoys showing me just a few of the amazing things He can do. I am an “audience of one” and He continually says, “Hey Bill, take a look at this! What do you think?” Let me give you just a few examples and you can judge for yourself.

I once was less than 10 feet away from a 3-foot diameter ball-lightening that came sizzling down the river. It hit the metal bridge I was standing on and boiled the water where it went into the ground. Fish floated to the surface completely dead yet I was fine. On a clear day a small tornado about 50 feet tall and 5 feet in diameter came roaring down with the sound of a jet engine and cleared the treetops. It dropped down on the water and passed within a few feet of the canoe my wife and I were in. The thing threw up a spray of water, weeds and cattail fuzz, but we were untouched.

Want a few more? A massive bolt of lightning hit a large rock fireplace 15 feet from where I was sitting. Every hair on my body stood straight up and stones the size of my head were blasted into the air. I was momentarily deaf and blind from the flash and concussion. When I came to my senses I saw that fragments of rock and large stones had been driven a foot or more into the hillside right behind me, but not one thing had hit me. How about this one?  My wife and I were in our canoe one day and a wild duck flew right in alongside us. It stuck with us for the better part of an hour. When I started up our electric trolling motor and we glided off, it continued to fly right next to us just above the water, refusing to leave.

The list could go on and on but I am sure you get the point. I seem to continually experience the most bizarre and unusual things, and I love it. It keeps my life exciting, it keeps me alert and I am in awe of all that surrounds me in the natural and spiritual world. In fact, three days ago I had another interesting encounter that showed me just how good God is. I am certain that only He could have set this one in motion and I am so glad I actually got to participate in this one as it unfolded.

My phone rang, and that’s not unusual, but the area code was not one I have ever called. In my mind I was thinking “Oh great a telemarketer has gotten my cell number”. I was about to hit the reject button when I had a “knowing” I was supposed to take this particular call. Against my normal actions I picked up the line and said, “hello?” The moment I did there was a noise at the other end that sounded like someone had just had the breath sucked right out of them.

The tone of the voice I heard next was part fear and part unexplained expectation that had a hint of pure terror in it. A young woman said, “Hello? Hello? Who is this?” I was caught off guard by the urgency of the request so I also hesitated for a moment to respond. Finally I said, “Did you intend to call (and I stated my number)? “Yes, yes” she replied, “that’s the exact number I dialed. Who is this? Are you…..”. and then her sentence trailed off with no ending. Once again I responded, “Well who were you calling?” Then what she told me brought the entire conversation into focus.

This had always been her grandpa’s phone number and when I answered, for just a split second she thought I was him. I actually sounded like him in so many ways and even the tone of my voice made her think that she may have somehow made a divine connection to this man she so dearly loved. You see, her grandpa had died back in March and his phone had never been turned off. She would call his number once in a while, when she really missed him, just so she could hear his voice on the answering machine and be comforted. When I pickup up the line, and my voice sounded like his, well… you can imagine it was quite a shock.

We talked for quite a while. During our conversation I told her that I was a pastor and she actually choked up a bit when she heard this. Apparently she had been looking for some sign that her grandpa might be in heaven. I discovered that in her mind I was that sign, and now she was at peace. When we said our final “good-by” she said, “I’m so glad a pastor has my grandpa’s number. He was such a wonderful man. It makes me feel good to know this little part of him is still here even though he is gone. God bless you pastor, and thank you.” And I said “Your are welcome my dear, call this number any time.”

Could God use a phone number and a stranger on the other end to bring comfort to a young woman in a time of distress? Absolutely! If you understand His creativity and boundless love for His creation, you also know that nothing is impossible for Him. He can reach across the miles, restore the missing years, heal a broken heart and bridge the gap between the living and the dead. He is just amazing and that’s why I get so excited when I can see and even participate in the little miracles He does.

How about you? Are you amazed and delighted by the creativity found in His creation? Are you still touched by the beauty before you and moved by the wonder of the life that is all around you? If you have lost that amazing sense of expectancy then let me encourage you to begin looking for it again. Take a moment to pause and see all the incredible things that are happening all around you. Slow down and participate in life, don’t just move through it. Take a chance, start a conversation with a stranger, become present to the moment and enjoy the journey. Who knows, today you might become someone’s answer to prayer!

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When Sons Become Men

I had the great pleasure of having my eldest son, his wife and their children stay with me for five days over the Easter weekend. My wife is in LA visiting her family, so it was wonderful having my end of our clan with me in our empty house. Let’s face it, any holiday without family is really not a holiday at all. When they come and fill the air with that glorious chaos, it’s always a reason to pour on the love, celebrate the joy of life together and enjoy one another while that fleeting time lasts.

We see many of our kids through the year but our eldest is closest so we see his family the most. They only live about 3 ½ hours west of us, but even that short distance, and the time we spend apart, has been quite a change. Several of our kids and grandkids have always lived just down the street, a block or two away or just over in the next community. However, due to job promotions, military careers or job losses in the past two years they are all now scattered across the nation. My eldest lives in New York, another is in Georgia, another in South Dakota and the rest are in California. The family has been hit like seeds scattered in the wind and we really don’t like it, but that’s the way it is.

When we do get together with any of them it’s always a time to reconnect, get caught up and reinforce the bonds every family has to have, if they are healthy. We praise the grandkids for how they have grown. We learn about the new job and discover how the new house is going. We watch our kids and look to see how their lives and marriages are developing. Are they finding that place of peace and stable maturity? Will the lessons we taught them and the ones they learned since leaving our care last a life time? Most of all, are they happy, are they plugged into a good church and are they settled in their relationship with God?

These are profoundly important questions. They are the bedrock of solid, productive, happy families. So, when our kids are at such great distances the answers to these questions may not always be clear. Thus, when they come home, or we go there, we want to…. we have to… we need to know they are on track and moving in the right direction.  How that knowledge is uncovered may come as a surprise, but however it comes, it is essential to the well-being of dad and mom’s mental health, and the focus of our prayer life until the next visit.

During this visit my son touched me deeply in a way I had never experienced before. We had several quiet times alone together when his wife took their children to visit friends on play dates. One of those days we had breakfast at my favorite out of the way family-run diner. I then revealed the location of one of my “secret” trout streams, and then we sat in the sun and just connected on a heart to heart basis.  It was an amazing time orchestrated by God that built a memory we both will hold for a lifetime.

What impacted me deepest was the genuine wisdom my son wanted to share with me, once he discovered I was willing to listen. I stepped out of the “you’re the son and I’m the father and I have the answer” frame of reference, and allowed him as a man, to share with me what he had learned about life. He started hesitantly and with an uncertainty as to whether I would even listen. However, when I realized what he was doing, I sat back quietly and out came a flood of insight, concern and instruction that made me proud.

In all honestly, I had to fight back tears several times as he spoke. For 37 years I had seen him as a son who needed to be taught. But, in that moment I realized, though he was still my son who had made his mistakes, he had grown into a fine man who could now teach others what he had learned, and that included me. Because I decided to listen and embrace my son as a man, we were both forever changed, but I found something more, I found my place of honor!

Fathers, do your best and then let your sons (and daughters) grow up as best they can. Believe in them, and in what you have put in them. When the time is right, sit back and let them talk. Listen with an open heart and keep an attentive ear to their voice. Once they trust you enough to share what is living within them it’s amazing what can happen. As they being to speak, you will be shocked and deeply touched, as I was, at just how much they really did learn and have to offer. Why is that so important? Because, when you know your sons have become men, then you as a father find your place of honor. Trust me when I tell you that there is no better place to be!

What Are You Leaving Behind?

I was in the woods not long ago, making my way to a trout stream, and stepped on a few bones that had once belonged to some small creature. It had apparently been there for quite some time as they were all bleached white from being exposed to the elements. It looked to be the remains of a rabbit by the fur that was all around, and it made me wonder what had happened here. The thought crossed my mind, “how had the animal died”?  Even more interesting to me was the idea that the bones and fur which remained actually defined how had it lived.

Whenever I come across things like this it is a sober reminder that ultimately we all end up just like that rabbit. Every one of you reading this blog will eventually be just a pile of silent bones. However, every life is a process and what we leave behind may often be a lot more than we have considered. That reality can be either good or bad, depending on how well we have lived the life we have been given.

Several months ago I did a funeral for a very dear friend and fellow minster. He was 85 and had lived a rich, well-rounded life as both a teacher and a minister. He touched a lot of lives in his classroom, and served God with all his heart in our congregation. However, as he was nearing death there were things he wanted me to take care of. Some were very personal and some were very practical, but it was clear to me he wanted to wrap them all up before it was too late. In other words, he needed me to help him make sure nothing was left behind that he would regret.

A week or so before he died, he called me on the phone and asked that I come to his bedside. When I arrived at his home he immediately shooed his wife out of the room. I pulled a chair up beside him and waited as he composed himself to share the secrets of his life and heart. During that two hours he began to bare his soul about regrets he had and mistakes he had made. Most of all he had a deep desire for his family to be united and going to the same church. This had actually happened at one point a few years earlier. However, a demonic deceiver in our congregation brought a division to the family and because of him, the family was split and some had left the church.

Our conversation touched me deeply and we both wept and prayed until he found the peace to let it all go into God’s hands. What really got to me was his concern for all the things that were left undone. Some were taken care of that very day, while others are still in process. There were things he asked me to throw out that he deemed “unsavory”, but others would never give a second thought to. There were requests to be his voice to his family at his funeral in hopes of exposing the lie that had divided them. And… there was the request to keep praying for his family until there was unity. The bottom line was simple. I wanted him to die knowing all his request would be honored and everything left undone would be taken care of.

What has been left undone in your life? If you were to die today, are there things that would be left behind you would be embarrassed or sad about? Have you put off certain tasks that really need to be taken care of? Why not make a “to do” list and post it where you will see it and pray over it daily. Put on it the things you always needed to do, or planned to do, but just never got around to. Enlist the help of others like my friend did, if necessary. Just do whatever is necessary while you still can. You might be amazed at how life changes as you check things off your list. Best of all you will find peace and be really happy about the things you are leaving behind.

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Your Best Investment

What would you consider to be your best investment? For some it is a portfolio of blue-chip stocks or solid bonds that have a good rate of return. These will undergo long-term, financial growth and provide a comfortable retirement. For others it is a home they purchased at pennies on a dollar. This will be “flipped” after doing some quick and relatively inexpensive upgrades. The increase in property value will net a hefty profit for the sellers in a very short time.

There is no doubt that these are both time-tested ways to invest your time and money in order to secure the future for yourself. That being said, the question I have for you is a relatively simple one, and few ever ask it. When all is said and done, and you are nearing your last days, will you be filled with a sense of deep, rich satisfaction from all your investments? For many, the answer is no!

Several years ago I began to consider this very thing. I asked myself a question and the answer I had to face was quite disturbing. What am I investing in and is it really bringing me satisfaction? The conclusion I came up with told me in no uncertain terms that it was time for a change. I felt a great void within as I began to examine how my investment choices were impacting me, and those around me. In other words, I got the shock of my life when I realized my best investment was not in a promising stock or a 401-k. My best investment was never into my own life. It was and always had been into the lives of others!

This weekend I received the amazing dividends that come from this kind of “other-centered” investment. My wife and I are frequently asked to do outside ministry. We are called upon by other pastors and leave our own church to minister in theirs. This past Saturday and Sunday is one such example. We were gone from our home church and went to Ticonderoga, in upstate NY. For two meetings several churches gathered in hopes of developing their vision and fuel their hunger to go deeper into a more Spirit-lead kind of worship. For two other meetings my wife and I preached and did prophetic ministry over many who came.

In order to do the above, two other things had to happen first. To begin with, we had to have someone minister in our own church on Sunday. Secondly, I asked the worship team from our church join us on Saturday, so we could demonstrate the things I would be teaching. These were possible for one reason only. My wife and I had taken the time to invest our lives and hearts in our spiritual sons and daughters. I can tell you with an absolute certainty that we were not disappointed.

The reports that we received from both places were wonderful. Those who came with us learned how to connect with other churches and how to help other worship teams go deeper. Those who did the Sunday morning service at our home church also did a fantastic job in our absence. Talk about a proud moment for dad and mom! Our investment had paid off in a big way and it will continue to do so for generations to come. In other words we have made a difference and we are feeling very satisfied.

If you are going through personal re-evaluation and you are wondering about your investments, this might be one place to start. What kind of return are you getting, and is it the kind you really want? If you don’t like your answer, then take heart in the realization that it’s never too late to start a new investment strategy. Begin to pour into the lives of those around you who are teachable. Encourage and water those who are growing under your care. Mentor and support those who are following in your foot steps. If you do, you will see what we have. You will behold the future unfolding before your eyes and that vision brings a satisfaction no money can buy, and no stock market crash can take. For us, this will always be the best investment!

Picking Up The Wrong Monkey

I learned a hard lesson the other day on why it is so important to think things through before you jump in to “get her done”. Not that I am opposed to helping when I can, but I have now accepted the fact that I don’t have the answer for everybody. Every opportunity which presents itself where I can assist is not necessarily my monkey to carry. There are some monkeys I simply need to let somebody else pick up. What just happened to me this week is a sad case in point.

About six months ago I upgraded my phone from a Nokia e72 to an LG Optimus E970. The Nokia was a good phone but I needed better access to the internet when traveling. I had just gotten the LG for my wife and it was wonderful. So, I bought another one on ebay and ported my number to the new phone. The old phone went in my top drawer and I left it inactive on my Straight Talk account as a backup.

About a two months ago one of the young men in my church broke his Nokia e72 and was without a phone. Thus, I thought it was a good idea when another of the young men said “Hey Pastor, why don’t you give Chris your old phone. His just died and he really needs one”. Without giving it a second thought I did a noble and good thing. I gave him my old phone. He was happy, I was happy and all the world was at peace once again.

Then the unthinkable happened. I dropped my new phone and the touch screen cracked. After a few frustrating days I knew I had to have a new phone so I went and bought one. The sales clerk easily made the switch to a new Galaxy S III and then tossed out the SIM card from my broken phone. However, at the last moment I decided to keep my old phone and I left the store with both. I was such a happy camper!

That evening, after considering the massive outlay of cash for the new phone, I decided to look into the price of repair for my LG. To my shock, I saw how reasonable it would be. Thus, the next day I mailed my old phone out to Arizona for repair and returned my new phone to the store.  Within minutes I got the cash credited back on my bank card and I happily headed out of the door.

However, something hit me when I was driving back home. I forgot to think through one minor but very important detail. My Nokia e72 was my backup phone and it was not on my account. When I shut down the new phone there was no back-up phone for the sales clerk to port my number to. He had not only deleted my phone, he had also deleted my phone number. It felt like the life was being sucked out of me as I realized I had just lost the number I had been using for the past 20 years!

“Why is that such a big deal?”, you may be asking? Well, this messed up all of my 1200 contacts. It impacted my business cards, letter head, security conformation texts, my bank accounts, credit cards, checking account, etc, etc, etc….  All of these are invalid now because the phone number connected to them is gone. Think of it, all texts, sms, and the like are now unable to find their target. Every app between my phone and computer is unconnected. Every program or account I have on line, every on line purchase, calendar sync, global contact, rocket lawyer contract and political official I know uses my old phone number. Beyond that, every family member, friend and fellow minister around the world are all being told “this number has been disconnected and is no longer in service”. Why? Because I did not take a moment think through what would happen when I gave my phone away!

One simple act that is not well thought out can ended up causing a massive amount of work and trouble. Doing what is good instead of what is best, can send our lives into a black hole of disconnected chaos that will have to be laboriously put back together. The point is that at times, it is best to just give things a bit more thought. Instead of rushing in to rescue every person from every need, think about it first. If you do, many of life’s great difficulties will be avoided. Living can then take on a majestic, peaceful rhythm that is pleasing in so many unsuspecting ways, when we just pause to consider the consequences.

How many monkeys have you picked up in life just because somebody had a need, and you had the answer? I have now learned that some answers are much better off being spoken by somebody else! I have also learned that the monkey you pick up today, that is not yours, will have the tendency to transform itself into a gorilla tomorrow. When all is said and done, it’s always best to pick up only the monkeys with your name on them. Once you have those in place, you will be able to help others pick up their monkeys without destroying all that holds meaning for you. Perhaps this would be a good week to do a monkey check in your life and let go of every one that does not have your name on it. You’ll be better off for it and so will everyone around you! 

The Power Of A Life Well Lived

When you consider how you or those around you have lived, what stands out the most? That is, what makes any life have real meaning and significance? Is it the money that has been made or the lives that have been influenced? Perhaps it’s recognition from the general public or acceptance among those who are rich or famous. At some point in everyone’s life the question, “did my life have meaning” will have to be asked, and when it is will you be happy with the answer?

In case you are wondering, I am dying at this moment. Did that statement shock you? The fact is, so are you! I don’t mean we all have a terminal illness that is quickly taking our life. What I mean is, like it or not, every day that passes by brings us one day closer to our final moment. We are all dying one day at a time. This is a reality that no one can escape, and it can’t be stopped. Some have a month to go, some a year, some 20 years, others 50 or more years. In the end we all die when our time is up, but dying is not the issue. It’s the living we do that makes all the difference!

For some the final conclusion that will be reached may be quite satisfying. This is because they have considered not only what they did with their life, but more importantly how they did it. In the final analysis the real power of a life is found in how it is lived. The living we do before others is what brings peace to the stormiest situation and clear vision to the darkest night. Such a life is never spent on achieving great things. No, it has a much higher vision. A life well lived is invested. It is sown like seed into the lives of those who are touched and inspires others to do even greater things.

So the question we all must ask is, “who has my life inspired”? What I do from this day forward will determine that answer. Will I leave a rich, vibrant legacy of care, encouragement and blessing in the hearts of those I have touched, or will I simply be another picture and personal article in the obituary section of the local newspaper?  You know what I mean; “they were born and died on such and such a day, they are survived by so and so kids and grand kids, they worked at thus and thus until they retired. End of story!

I believe we can all live life in such a way that it inspires others to go further, deeper and higher than we ever dreamed. It is possible to live and impart such passion into others that they are motivated to do the impossible. Let’s decided today that we will live a life with such purpose that it encourages and propels others forward to do better and greater things. People imparted that into me and it caused me to step off the path of a mediocre, half-hearted, lukewarm existence.

Now I want to…. I have to make a difference! In fact I believe this is one of the highest callings in life. We are all here for a reason, and if we choose to have a life well lived we will leave this world a better place. More importantly we will so enthuse others that they will do the same. What is the result? Let me quote Louie Armstrong, “and I think to myself, what a wonderful world”! So, go live your life with passion and purpose. Inspire others to do great things and you will discover the amazing power of a life well lived.