Siri, can you help me?

I am lying quietly in bed.  The pitter patter of the small paws of our Lhasa Poo awaken me as he pushes our bedroom door open.  I lay there motionless for a few minutes before rolling over to see what time it is.  It is 5:45 am.  I squeeze out another two minutes before dragging myself out of bed.  I throw on my sweatpants and shirt and traipse downstairs to get some coffee.  I flip on the light and squint as I look for the Keurig machine.  I start a cup of dark roast and immediately grab my phone.  I check email and texts.  I scroll through the list.  I next open Facebook to see if there is any news.  My coffee finishes and I stroll into the living room.  I open the Bible and begin to spend some time with God.  After a few minutes, my phone buzzes as a new email comes in.  I lean over and check it to see if it is urgent.  Nothing pressing this time.  Over the next twenty minutes my phone alerts me a couple of more times.  Each time I check it just in case.

After spending time with God, I get dressed for work.  Once I throw on my clothes, I grab a quick bite to eat.  As I eat my Cheerios, I press my ESPN app to see the previous night’s sports scores.  I click on the Chicago link to see if there is any urgent news that has happened since the last time I checked it, some 8 hours before.  Throughout the day, my faithful companion sits in the front pocket of my jeans.  It alerts me to new emails, texts, and phone calls.  As I spend time studying for the upcoming sermon, I grab it every few minutes to see if there have been any messages from church members.  At times, there is a pressing matter that comes up and my secretary will text me for assistance.  Even when I use the bathroom, my phone is handy.  I don’t have magazines but I can utilize the time by checking the daily news.  Throughout the day, I check my phone at least a hundred if not a couple of hundred times.  In fact, I have checked it twice since writing this blog.  Tonight, I will go see my son practice Karate.  I thoroughly enjoy seeing him kick and block.  During the lulls, I will hop on my phone to see the weather for the next day or what happened in the market.  Later that evening, I grab a quick bite to eat before going to bed.   After I check the doors, I look at my phone one more time to see if anyone has responded to my emails for the day.

I am typically off on Friday.  It is a wonderful time as my wife and I usually go out for coffee.  Usually we grab some coffee before relaxing for the day.  I am fairly good on Fridays in that I only check it occasionally, maybe 50 times instead of 200.  It is certainly nice to be connected.  At times, it is not such a good thing as I see a church email related to some concern.  In those cases, I open up a file in my mind and think about it for awhile before attempting to close it.  If it is urgent, I respond to it.

It has been busy lately.  In a couple of weeks we will take a weekend off.  It will be nice to detach and disconnect from life.  In my opinion, rest is underrated as a means of emotional and spiritual refreshment.  I’ll be out of the office.  I might even be away from home.  If the weather is nice, it would even be great to go on a hike.  Regardless of where we go, I am thankful that we use a company that provides coast-to-coast cell service so that my phone is accessible.  Yes, this is important.

As I think about Christmas, I am starting to wonder as to why we are so anxious in society.  Why are we so wound up?  Why is that we are always tired?  Why is that we always feel like we don’t connect with God?  Why is it that I never feel like I can rest?  There are some great questions.  Perplexed, I am wondering if Siri can help me answer this question.


Risk-taking with God

I am a thrill-seeker.  There is something about an extreme sport or adventure activity that woos at my desire to live on the edge.  My family knows this about me.  Over the years, they have given me numerous gifts wrapped around adventure.  Several years ago I jumped out of a plane courtesy of my wife.  Interestingly, I am afraid of heights.  Yet, my desire for adventure outweighed my phobia therefore I jumped.  For Father’s Day we went kayaking on the Chicago River underneath the skyscrapers.  This alone is an adventure as we navigated through numerous dinner boats and avoided some dead rats floating in the river (you gotta love Chicago!)  This past week, they surprised me on my birthday by taking me ziplining.  Two hours of flying through the air with one run a whopping 1,000 feet and another one causing you to reach speeds over 50 mph.  I loved it.

Even though I love adventure, I am not a reckless thrill-seeker.  I calculate the risk and reward before doing something.  Skydiving is no problem because I was strapped to a professional who had access to both a parachute and a backup one.  When it came to ziplining there were two lines attached to the cable, one as a failsafe.  I would be hesitant to do other adventure sports because of the uncertain risk.  Bungee jumping is one of them.  Not sure if I trust the safety protocols.  Or, I recently watched a video of someone scaling El Capitan in Yosemite without any ropes.  Yeah, this is not going to happen.

When I think of risk-rewards I can’t help but think of a relationship with God.  People take risks all the time.  Thousands of airplanes fly every day jammed with people eager to get somewhere quicker even though there is a risk of a plane crash.  People who are afraid to fly determine the rewards of flying outweigh the risk.  Others engage in adventure sports just like me based on the conclusion that the adrenaline rush is worth the nominal risk of physical harm.  Others have jumped out of a plane without a problem; therefore, it should be safe for me.   There are no guarantees in life, even when we jump in the car.  We take risks because enough evidence has been shown to minimize the risk.

I have seen breathtaking sunsets this fall.  The sky has been filled with displays of color that take my breath away.  It has been like an artist painted the horizon.  People have experienced unexplainable health turnarounds.  Some would call it human will; I call it a miracle.  I am not referring to a person recovering from surgery but someone dramatically turning around when given little hope of survival.  I am amazed at the marvel of birth.  Yes, we can cite biological processes; however, the creation of life still blows me away.  And I have witnessed incredible kindness and forgiveness in the midst of paralyzing hurt and pain.  Rather than resort to bitterness and despair, a person has chosen hope and grace.  God has provided evidence galore.  Yet, there is still hesitation by many.  They say the risks need to be non-existent to believe in Him.  This is not true in life.  Life always involves risks.  Why should it be different with God.  We give him the reins on our lives.  In doing so, He gets to call the shots.  We might have to sacrifice something (a risk).  We might have to change our behavior (another risk).  We might have to forgive someone that hurt us (still another risk).  Yet, the rewards far surpass any risk.  Freedom, joy, peace, grace, and hope are accessible by stepping out in faith despite the risks.  God has provided so much evidence as to His goodness that we should have very little trouble taking the plunge.  Surely, God is far more secure than a parachute or zipline!

What is the appeal to Donald Trump?

Donald Trump is an interesting phenomenon (no, this blog is not an endorsement.  I am a self-described independent).  Rarely does a day go by when he is not in the news.  Apparently, he does not have to spend massive amounts on the campaign trail because he enjoys free media through news coverage.  He has attracted large crowds.  He continues to lead the Republican polls.  He makes bold and controversial statements.  For many, his appeal is perplexing.  Yet, in many respects its makes perfect sense.

He is authentic.  This is neither good nor bad.  It is simply a statement.  A person can be authentically bad by being crass and rude, e.g. “this is who I am so live with it.”  Or, a person can be authentically good by sharing honest struggles in their life.  Donald Trump is a bit of both in my opinion.  Yet, I think this is one reason people are attracted to him.  We all have opinions.  Yet, we rarely fully express those opinions.  We think them but we don’t divulge them.  Yet, here is a person who simply says what he thinks.  I think there is an attraction to this as most people wish to have such a freedom to be brutally honest.  People wish they could just tell his or her boss, coworker, or neighbor exactly what they think about that person.  Yet, we are not in a position of authority to say such a thing so we remain silent.  Donald Trump has no such limitations due to his wealth and status so he just says it.  However, this is not a good thing.  Scripture challenges us to be “slow to speak” (James 1:19).  A wise person carefully considers his or her words.  Opinions can be hurtful, mean, and reckless.  Should we share them at times?  Yes.  Should we restrain ourselves most of the time?  Absolutely!  Someone who shares every thought in his mind is not to be envied.

He is not a people-pleaser.    This is connected to the previous point.  Donald Trump does not care whether people agree with him or not.  I am sure he is concerned about the polls; however, he is not your typical politician who is obsessed with public opinion.  He marches to the beat of his own drum in this regard.  If people like him, great; if people hate him, oh well.  This is clearly evident by his response to other candidates, politicians and reporters.  Most people in life are people-pleasers.  We want those around us to think well of us.  We want to give a favorable impression.  As a result, we sometimes get consumed by living for other people.  Internally, this drives us nuts as we end up chasing the approval of others which oftentimes never comes.  Many of us wish we didn’t care what others thought about us.  We wish we could simply be ourselves.  There is a necessary balance between thinking of other’s opinions and not being consumed by it.  Jesus challenges us to love “your neighbor as yourself”.  This is the balance.   Love your neighbor enough to not lay into them every time you have an opinion.  Love yourself enough to share your thoughts when it is necessary for the good of the other person or the relationship.

He is entertaining.  Everyone enjoys being entertained.  We have grown tired of the same old political games.  Here is someone who acts different and responds differently.  This lack of predictability appeals to us.  We can sit back and see the fireworks.  We can chuckle and shake our heads.  We turn the news on to see the latest antics.  Honestly, we enjoy being entertained.  It breaks up the boredom of life.  It gives us something new to talk about.  Yet, we should not live for entertainment.  It is enjoyable yet it should not be what inspires us.  We should be inspired by “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable” (Philippians 4:8).  Entertainment can be a fun but is should not direct our thoughts or motivate our lives.

When we consider public personalities, there are always things that attract us to them.  When this occurs, it is important to ask if those qualities measure up to God’s standards.  Are the qualities Biblical?  Are the particular personality traits we see in celebrities good ones to pursue?  Are the qualities reflective of Christ?  We should not be persuaded by charisma but character.

Getting a Handle on Our Emotions

One of my responsibilities is to counsel people.  The topics range from marital issues to depression.  At times, it is informal when someone asks me after church, “What should I do with this particular job situation?”  Or, there are other times, where it is a sit down situation because a couple is on the verge of separation.  In each case, I ask God for wisdom.  I do not know all the specifics about a person.  Therefore, I tread lightly when giving counsel.  I feel the weight of that responsibility.  I want to guide them appropriately not recklessly.

One issue that occurs regardless of the situation is the presence of what I call real, reactionary, and imaginary issues.  Whenever we face a difficulty, there is a real issue.  It might be a financial problem, conflict with a boss, or health concern.  Connected to the real issue, there oftentimes emerges a reactionary issue.  Because we are having financial problems, we get frustrated at our spouse or co-worker.  It is not the real issue but a reaction to it.  Or, we might begin to control things in life due to a health concern.  We can’t control our heart problems (real issue) but we can control family decisions (reactionary issue).  Lastly, we experience imaginary issues.  I see this frequently in marriage conflicts.  There is stress at work (real issue) therefore the husband begins to withdraw from the family (reactionary).  The wife interprets this withdrawal as a lack of concern for the family (imaginary) when in reality it is related to something at work.  Or, a woman senses shortness from her boss (real).  In response, she begins to panic (reactionary) leading to a conclusion that the boss is getting ready to fire her (imaginary).  To be honest, my mind goes down these trails as well.

Unfortunately, these layers simply complicate the issue.  Our emotions shift all over the place.  We find ourselves frustrated at numerous things.  And, it becomes very hard to see the real problem.  One of my first tasks in counseling is to help the person sort through the real, reactionary, and imaginary issue.  It is amazing to see the confusion and anxiety decrease as the person begins to see how the reactionary and imaginary issues are unprofitable and unnecessary.  When I find myself in the same situation of getting frustrated at non-real issues, I take time to ask God to clean out the junk in my head so I can see life clearly.  I usually then ask Him several things.

First, I ask God to calm my emotions.  I have found that my emotions distort my thinking.  Emotions are like thick fog that prevents you from seeing objects clearly.  God has been so good to dispense these emotions or at least soften them so I can begin to process life appropriately.

Second, I write down what the issues are.  I find that when I put it on paper it begins to make more sense.  When it stays in my head, it becomes jumbled.  I oftentimes ask this of people who are confused about some decision.  Write down what the issue is, how you might be responding to it, and what are you imagining about the situation that might not be true.  It makes the decision-making process easier.

Third, I ask God to give me wisdom on the real issue.  How should I respond to my health issue?  Should I get more information from a doctor?  Should I bring the anxiety to prayer?  Or, if there is a conflict at work, should you go and talk to your boss about it?  Rather than imagine the worst, get some clarification.  Ask God to give you the right questions about the situation.  If it is a relational issue, how should you biblically approach it?  Denial is not the solution; however, dealing with it immediately might not be good either.  God can give you wisdom about timing.

Truthfully, these tips don’t resolve every situation.  However, I do believe it clarifies things in our life.  Rather than chasing emotional rabbit trails, we are able to deal with the source of the frustration straight up.  And, more importantly, it draws us closer to God who knows our lives intimately, emotions and all.