Only the Good Die Young … Baloney!

Celebration of a good long life

I was a freshman in high school when Billy Joel’s record company released his controversial song “Only the Good Die Young.  I didn’t realize at the time that it was controversial, probably because I’m not Catholic.  I actually knew nothing of the history of the song until today, when the title came to mind.  You can read about the song and Joel’s take on it here.

My purpose today is not to reflect on Billy Joel or controversial music, but to celebrate the long life of a good man.

A week from now at this time I will be either in or on the way to Ukraine for my fourth Ukraine music mission trip with the Singing Men of North Central Texas. My first trip was in October 2010 and I had no idea at the time how amazing this opportunity would be.

We saw responses to the simple gospel in song and spoken word that few people seen first-hand. In our trips there since 2010, we have sung to over 40,000 people and have seen over 20,000 registered commitments to follow Christ.

But, back to that first trip.  I remember clearly the rehearsal before our final concert.  I was looking at a group of men seated on the front row, all of whom were in their 70’s and 80’s.  I felt a wave of emotion, wondering how many of these older saints were on their final mission trip—certainly the final one overseas.

Don was one of those guys.  He was 81.  I had met him a few years earlier when he and his wife had been camp missionaries at a pre-teen summer camp where I was the worship leader for the week.  They spent the week loving kids and telling stories and showing artifacts from their 36 years serving as missionaries to Korea.

When I got reacquainted with Don several years later through Singing Men, he was widowed and walking at a slower pace, but his life was full.  He was active in Singing Men, his church ministries, taking in concerts, and posting his encouraging thoughts on social media.

We have shared every Ukraine trip and not only was he signed up to go again next week, he was already registered for our trip to New York City in October 2018!

Now 88, he was upbeat about a cancer diagnosis from about a year ago.  His doctor told him that it was slow moving and that he could live another 10 years.  He said that 97 was a pretty good prognosis and he would just keep right on rolling.

Thursday of last week he was in his place on the front row at the Singing Men concert in Dallas. Friday night, he attended a concert of the Fort Worth Symphony and posted his report on Facebook.

Sometime after returning home Friday evening, he went outside and fell, suffering a head injury that resulted in a massive brain bleed.  On Sunday afternoon, he was promoted to the choir of heaven. 

I’ll miss him in Ukraine next week and in all subsequent concerts.  Billy Joel has made a lot of entertaining music over the years, but “Only the Good Die Young” doesn’t know much about faith, age, or death.

With these inadequate words, I celebrate a man who spent a long life reminding people of their worth to God.  See you later, my friend.

It came from the dryer screen: one Baptist’s perspective on Lent

The Kingdom of God is bigger than our labels

Yes, this is the actual bag I pulled out of my pocket

 

Some who read my weekly ponderings know that I am Baptist.  Baptists have provided my heritage, my education, and my employment for the past 33 years. Some readers care about that, but I think it is irrelevant to most.  I don’t make a big deal about it because I try to keep my writing focused on the larger community of faith and even offer words that are encouraging and helpful (hopefully) to those who have not yet embraced that community.

One benefit of doing life in the same community for 26 years is that it makes possible trusting relationships that supersede labels. It can also result in invitations that might never be possible if all one is known by is a denominational brand name.

Such an invitation came to me a few weeks back to participate as one of a series of devotional speakers during the Lenten season.  I was actually not the only Baptist asked to speak.  The other one has also been in the community for almost two decades and is a dear friend.  I was not there to hear his message, nor was he there to hear mine, but I understand that both of us publicly admitted a similar dilemma: We are Baptists!  What do we know about Lent?

Now since my Baptist preacher friend is much more polished and distinguished and much less, shall we say “warped” than I, he probably didn’t mention that all he knew about lint was that it came from the dryer screen, the pants pocket, or maybe the bellybutton. But I did.

Neither, I assume, did he produce a ziplock bag of dryer lint and assure the gathered worshipers that it did indeed come from the dryer and not from the bellybutton.  But I did.  (I told you he was a higher class of speaker).

After admitting my limited knowledge of Lent and sharing some internet research I did to catch myself up as much as possible, I shared two thoughts on this season of reflection and sacrifice.  As we approach the end of the Lenten season, I share them now with you, whether you are a faithful observant or just hear it mentioned occasionally.

One lesson from the Lenten season is that our own personal sacrifices are inadequate.  No matter how much we give up or sacrifice, we will never sacrifice enough to make ourselves acceptable to God.  We are only acceptable to God because of the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf.  It is good for us to remember that Jesus was not just a nice guy who shared some good thoughts about love and kindness.  He was God in flesh, whose sacrifice on the cross paid the penalty for the sins of every person who ever has or will inhabit this planet. That’s how much our lives matter.

A second lesson of the Lenten season is that the community of faith is bigger than our labels. In heaven, I won’t be known as a Baptist, so it doesn’t make much sense for me to make that a litmus test of who I talk with, listen to, and learn from in my current location.  We don’t all have to “do it” the same way to be sharers in the Kingdom of God.

We don’t all have to “do it” the same way to be sharers in the Kingdom of God. Click To Tweet

And I didn’t just pull that out of my pocket.

3 ways to keep FOMO from controlling your life

How to make the most of those many opportunities

Have you seen the great Bob Newhart video where he is a psychiatrist trying to help a patient get over her fear of being buried alive in a box?  It’s a few years old, but it cracks me up every time I see it.  Check it out here.  It is six minutes well spent.

This is my third (and final for now) installment on the topic of the FOMO (fear of missing out) epidemic that has been running rampant through our culture.  You can read the first two at drgerrylewis.com/fomo1 and drgerrylewis.com/fomo2.

I’ve talked about the prevalence of the ailment, admitted my own struggles, given some history of the term, and even pointed out that many of the opportunities that come to us are really good opportunities.

Last week, I even included the passage of Scripture that I can use to justify my overcommitment and my inability to push the no button. “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)

Make the most of every opportunity.  My biggest fear is that I will miss out on an opportunity that God sent me.  So, is FOMO simply a description of a fully devoted follower of Jesus wanting to fully live the life to which we are called?

The answer to that is a resounding NO! 

If we will take a moment and look at the phrase within the context of just the three verses referenced, we can get three clues on how to keep FOMO from controlling our lives.

  1. Pay attention to your life patterns.  The phrase be careful means to look at or pay attention to something.  How you live refers to the patterns or habits of your life.  Is your lifestyle one of consistent awareness and wise choices? When a new opportunity arises, pay attention to how it may affect the rhythm of your life.
  1. Pay attention to your life seasons and challenges. The phrase translated making the most of every opportunity may also be translated rescuing your season.  Some translations say redeeming the time. A good opportunity may knock at a bad time. Having a strong sense of purpose for this season of life will help us prevent the burnout and disappointment that inevitably comes from trying to do everything.  When a new opportunity arises, pay attention to how it may undermine your current focus.
  1. Pay attention to the revealed will of God. Understanding the Lord’s will is not nearly as mysterious as it sounds.  Most of the time, when the Bible mentions God’s will, it is in reference to the development of Godly character, as described in the Bible, not to the completion of tasks. When a new opportunity arises, pay attention to how it may affect the progress you are making in becoming the person God made you to be.  You can find more about my thoughts on God’s will at drgerrylewis.com/backporch.

Our lives matter so much to God that He does not want us living in fear of what we are missing, but in peaceful fulfillment of our identity as His children.  

So, when FOMO rears its ugly head, just stop it!

FOMO: chasing (but not living) the dream.

So many opportunities ...

“Are you tired of chasing pretty rainbows?  Are you tired of spinning round and round?”

Those words are the opening lines of a 1975 song entitled “Give Them All to Jesus” by Bo Benson and Phil Johnson.  It ages me to admit that I only had to look up the author.  I’ve had the words memorized for 40 years.

Before we ever heard of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), we were wearing ourselves out chasing rainbows.  Of course, some people in the 60’s and 70’s were chasing rainbows in a different way, but that’s not what I’m talking about!

In last week’s post, I mentioned FOMO. Many of you were already familiar with the term; others got a brief introduction.  In case you missed that you can read it here.

Since writing last week’s post, I have learned some things about the origin of the term FOMO. I happened to hear an interview with the person who coined the term.  When Patrick McGinnis first used the term back in 2004 as a part of a research project with fellow Harvard MBA candidates, he had no idea that FOMO would become cultural vernacular.  He actually thought their first acronym, FOBO (Fear of a Better Option) would be more prevalent and popular.

While FOBO may result in hesitance to commit because something better might come along, FOMO leads to overcommitment because we don’t want to miss out on anything. And while I haven’t done extensive research on the FOMO effect worldwide, I am convinced that Americans have set the bar for FOMO.

We are bombarded with the subtle ideas that opportunities and resources are limited and that our lives will be incomplete if we don’t take advantage of them.  And they are good opportunities.  They are opportunities to learn more, to achieve more, to accomplish more in a shorter time, to live better, to enjoy more family time, to be more efficient and effective, even to be better and more effective followers of Jesus.

That last one is where a lot of us get hooked.  We realize that we haven’t been the best that we can be and we so desperately want to be all that God created us to be. We realize that the time we spend on this planet is short and we want to do God’s will.

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)

It’s that every opportunity thing that gets me.  What if I miss something God sent me?  What if I say no when I should have said yes?  I know I can’t do everything at once, but maybe I can figure out the right sequence.

I have one more post to write on this subject (for now).  In the meantime, let me ask you this: are you working so hard chasing the life for which God created you that you are not able to live it?

Are you working so hard chasing the dream that you are not able to live it? Click To Tweet

Physician, heal thyself … from FOMO.

Fear of Missing Out can rob us of the very best opportunities.

I have a confession.  I suffer from one of the most common diseases in our culture.  It is insidious, highly contagious, and terribly debilitating.  You may not have heard of it, but I guarantee you know someone who has it, and chances are high that, if you will closely examine yourself, you will see some symptoms, if not a full-blown case.

Some of the symptoms:

  1. The inability to say “no” to a request or the need to over-explain or apologize when you must say “no” because you feel guilty every time you say it.
  2. A to-do list that gets longer every day, no matter how many things you accomplish because you add two items for every one you check off.
  3. More “back burner” projects than you have burners.
  4. Physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion because every part of you is reminding you that your pace is not sustainable.
  5. Resentment toward new requests that come (and those who bring them), followed by guilt because you are feeling resentment.
  6. A growing collection of unused or underused productivity and time management tools (either electronic or physical).
  7. The word “busy” shows up in almost every conversation you have.
  8. A day off or a vacation usually involves so many activities that you come back more exhausted than when you left.
  9. Incessant checking of social media, email, or news outlets to be sure you are keeping up with what’s going on in the world.

Do any of those sound familiar?  If so, you may be a FOMO sufferer as well. 

What is FOMO?  Fear Of Missing Out.  Check out how it works with those symptoms:

  1. I can’t say “no.”  They will stop asking or they will be upset with me.  What if God sent them to me and doing this is His will?
  2. There are so many opportunities.  What if I miss the big one?
  3. I know these things are important to do sometime, but there’s so much that has to be done right now.
  4. I’m so overwhelmed that I’m not really enjoying my life, but I’m so deep into it that I can’t stop.
  5. If one more person asks me to do something, I’m going to lose it!  But that is not a good Christian response.  Man, what’s wrong with me?
  6. Maybe this tool, this planner, this course will be “the one” that makes everything fall into place—at least until the next one comes along.
  7. You only Iive once. Life is short.  “Make the most of every opportunity” is Biblical, right?
  8. The only thing worse than a busy day is a boring day.
  9. What if something really important happens and I’m the last to find out?  What if I miss an opportunity because I didn’t know until it was too late?

FEAR Of Missing Out.  Fear is the key word.  Fear most often shows up in “what if” questions.  FOMO can rob us of the very best of life’s opportunities while we are chasing life’s opportunities.    FOMO can distract us from the reality of how much our lives matter to God. There is so much more to say about FOMO because it is a big, big deal.  Stay tuned.

FOMO can rob us of the best of life’s opportunities while we are chasing life’s opportunities. Click To Tweet

Don’t read the comments!

It really serves no purpose.

As a blogger/columnist, I read a lot more than I write.  It’s important that I hear more voices than my own.  It’s also important, perhaps even more so, that I hear voices that come from a different viewpoint.  As much as I like my own opinions and am convinced about my own values, I’ve never really learned much from reading my own stuff.  (Some others might say they have never learned much from reading my stuff either.  That would be really mean of them to say, but they might say it nonetheless).

There was a time, in the not-too-distant past, when reading was not interactive.  You picked up a book, magazine, or newspaper and read what was written.  It may have sparked some kind of response or comment, but it took some effort and some time to interact with the author.  You might write a letter to the author (if you could find an address) or a letter to the editor of the periodical.

With the invention of email, interaction became easier and more immediate.  It also added additional risk because you could fire off an email in the heat of the moment, whereas the time taken to handwrite a letter might allow for some calming, perspective, and self-editing before the final draft went in the mail.

With the advent of the blog (originally called a “web log” for something written and posted on the world wide web), authors began inviting readers to interact with them through comments.  And now that blogs can be posted to social media, we are all invited to get social and not only interact with the author, but also interact with other readers and commenters.

And suddenly social media gets really unsociable.

Social media can really become unsociable. Click To Tweet

I feel the necessity to read the comments that are posted on the things I write or share.  If I have invited the interaction (an invitation that is implied on social media), then I should be prepared to respond if necessary.  I will delete comments that I deem snarky, offensive, or sometimes clueless.  And I am entitled to do that on my posts.

Here’s where I mess up time after time: by reading the comments on other people’s posts.  Seriously, I know better!  But sometimes it’s like watching a bad wreck; you just can’t look away once you’ve looked.  And you can’t unsee what you’ve already seen.

I often disagree with the authors, but I tend not to get mad at them.  I get mad at the obnoxious commenters and then I get really mad at the obnoxious commenters who want to attack other commenters!  It would be better if I just wouldn’t read the comments!

Proverbs 18:2 says, “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.”

Proverbs 26:17 says, “Like one who seizes a dog by the ears is a passer-by who meddles in a quarrel not his own.”

Our lives and opinions matter very little to any online commenter.  Maybe we should pay more attention to the One for whom every part of our lives matters.  I read some of His comments this morning.  How about you?

Please pity my busyness!

It makes me look so important

How’s it going? Crazy busy! 

Yep, I’ve said it.  You probably have, too.  It’s the first thing that pops out of our mouths, even when it is not true.

What do you mean it’s not true, blogger boy!  Maybe you are not crazy busy, but I sure am!

I have a theory.  It’s not research-based; it is observational.  If we are all as busy as we claim to be, we would be dropping like flies.  The problem is that we truly are so busy much of the time that we let busyness define us all of the time.  As a result, we ignore and minimize the opportunities we have for renewal and recharging.

We truly ARE so busy MUCH of the time that we let busyness DEFINE us ALL of the time. Click To Tweet

Here’s some research for you.  According to a recent post by Michael Hyatt

We spend a lot of time online.  The average adult spends 20 hours online per week, including time at work.  All of us together send over 200 emails per minute.  Almost 5 billion videos are viewed on Youtube every single day with the average person watching 40 minutes worth.

We spend a lot of time working and going to work.  The average work week is closer to 50 hours than 40.  Unless you use a smartphone for work.  In that case, you are likely to work closer to 70 hours per week. The average round trip commute to work is 47 minutes. 70% of American workers have experienced stress related illnesses. 34% of them think they will burn out on the job within the next two years.

We are tired.  An estimated 50-70 million adults have some sort of sleep disorder.  Most adults need a minimum of 7 hours of sleep per night for maximum effectiveness.  1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep.

Our to-do lists are too long. 41% of items on our to-do lists never get accomplished.

Here’s some more research.  According to a recent article from the Harvard Business School, having no life is now considered a status symbol.  Bragging about busyness is often an attempt to prove how valuable we are.  It’s almost like saying, “If I were not around, nothing would ever get done.”  One author has coined the term “Humblebrag” to define a veiled boast hidden within a complaint.  Researchers found that 1 in 10 social media posts by celebrities mentioned how busy they are.

You see, it’s a double-edged sword.  We really are too busy, but we embrace busy as our identity because we think we have to prove our worth by our busyness.  We measure our lives by what we accomplish.  We even try to prove our worth to God by doing as much as we can for Him.

What if there were a better way?

“Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10). Some translations say, “Be still and know that I am God.”

“O taste and see that the Lord is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:8)

Neither of these verses excuse laziness (something the Bible never condones).  They call for deliberate cessation of activity for the sake of renewal. They call for finding our identity in relationship with God, not activity for God.

God created the world with a certain rhythm of light and dark, work and rest, doing and being.  If we are fighting against that rhythm, we shouldn’t brag about it, nor should we be seeking pity.

I’m as busy as I choose to be. Pray that I’ll make good choices.  I’ll do the same for you.

It’s not too early to start working on your two-minute drill.

Keep the little things from piling up

Yes, I know football season is over.  Baseball season is right around the corner. I will offer my apologies now to any fans of hockey, basketball, soccer, golf, badminton, curling … oh, wait a minute.  When I started thinking of other lesser sports, I got carried away. (Please remember I apologized first).

While I have an appreciation for all sports that do not involve style points and judges, there are really only two professional team sports that I pay much attention to. Besides the fact that I only really pay attention to football and baseball as a fan, those two really have the only useful metaphors that I use as a writer.

That brings me to the two-minute drill. You know how it works.  The offense takes on a whole new look once the two-minute warning has sounded before the end of each half of the game.  The objective is to move the ball  as effectively and quickly as possible in order to score points before time expires.

Teams practice their two-minute drill from the very first part of training camp, in the hopes that they will move like a well-oiled machine when the game is on the line in the playoffs.  Do I need to remind you of how Aaron Rodgers broke the hearts of all of us Cowboys fans just a few weeks ago?

So, maybe it’s time for all of us to work on our two-minute drill.

What’s our two-minute drill? I don’t know what yours looks like, but here’s what it looks like for me.  I have a pretty full life – work, family, ministry, personal interests, dreams.  I don’t spend a lot of time sitting doing nothing.  And as I look around my house, my office, and any other place where I hang out, I can see more things that need doing than I have time to do them.

Little things pile up until they become big things.  To-do lists get longer and longer.  Requests keep coming.  The back burner gets completely overloaded.  Have you been there?  Are you there right now?

Little things pile up until they become big things. Click To Tweet

David Allen, in Getting Things Done, talks about the two-minute rule.  To paraphrase, when you are looking at your lists or considering a request, ask this question: Can it be done in two minutes?  If so, do it!

Many of the things we have listed as tasks are really projects that require multiple steps.  Some of them, however, could honestly be handled in two minutes or less and there is something about getting a few of them done that creates positive momentum and energy. 

What if you devoted 30 minutes a day to complete a batch of two-minute tasks and then devoted the rest of your day to deeper work, deeper conversations, and intense focus?  What might your prayer time look like without all those little distractions?  How might your marriage be strengthened if you were able to spend more focus on conversation and less on little honey-do’s?

Our lives matter to God. It doesn’t even take a full two minutes to celebrate that.

Do you have money problems?

Depends on whether you use it or serve it.

Money, jobs, the economy, economic impact, the working class, the one percent, the national debt – Have any of these been discussed recently?

No, I haven’t missed the discussions; that was a poor attempt at sarcasm.  As a matter of fact, it seems that money often drives all other decisions.  Even the current discussion over a proposed bathroom bill in the Texas Legislature (whoever thought we’d be having this discussion) is often couched in economic impact terms.  How much money will our state lose over businesses and events that will not come to Texas if we demand that people use the restroom that coincides with the gender on their birth certificate?

No, I am not wading into the political waters on this.  That was just an example of how money can be the driver in almost every discussion.

I’ve been pondering the whole money problem since I recently re-read these words of Jesus in Luke 16:13 – “You cannot serve both God and money.”

In considering this statement from Jesus, I’ve come to some conclusions about the relationship between God and money.  These are not in any particular order, except the order in which I thought of them during one of my early morning pondering sessions.

  1. You can serve God without money.  People all over the world, in the deepest poverty, still manage to center their lives around the living out of their faith.
  2. You can serve money without God. People all over the world, no matter their economic status, are driven by the consuming passion to acquire more.
  3. You can use money to serve God.  People all over the world, no matter their economic status, have figured out ways to use the financial resources they have in a way that serves the focus of their faith. Some of them have continued to prosper and their prosperity has resulted in increased generosity and impact for the Kingdom of God.
  4. You cannot use God to serve money. There are certainly charlatans and hucksters who have claimed faith and ministry as a means to line their own pockets.  It may work for awhile.  How long it works is always longer that we think it should be. But a time of reckoning will come.
  5. God is the proper focus and motivation for worship and service. God is not particularly interested in being anyone’s #1 priority.  God’s place is not the first of many, but the Center of all.
  6. Money is a tool to be used in worship and service. It is a neutral object. When an object becomes the focus and motivation, it becomes service to a false god.  One word for that is “idolatry.”
  7. God is to be worshiped and served because we love Him and have come to understand His love for us.
  8. Money is to be used. It is not to be collected and hoarded but used for good and Godly purposes.
  9. God is always good. Always.
  10. Money is good when it is used for its intended purpose.  I was once on the Board of Directors of an independent ministry organization whose stated financial purpose was to rejoice as much in money that they spent in ministry to others as they did in contributions made to their ministry.

I’m not suggesting that a commitment to God will solve all your “money problems.” I am suggesting that a recognition that your life matters to Him can keep you from being enslaved by it.

#Tombstone Tweet

What will they say about you?

I once heard someone say that we wouldn’t worry so much about what people think of us if we realized how little they actually think about us.

So, why do we do the things we do?

I was recently challenged to think of legacy in a couple of ways.  The first was this question: “Who will be at your funeral and will not be looking at their watch?  Now, that’s a visual!  To ask it a different way – “Whose life are you really impacting?

A man died who was reported to have amassed a small fortune over the course of his life.  People around town began to speculate on the value of his estate.  One person finally worked up the courage to ask, “So how much did he leave?”

A thoughtful sage answered, “All of it.”

The value of our legacy is not measured in the size of our estate or even to whom we bequeath it; it is measured by our impact on other lives.

The second way I was challenged to think of legacy was to compose my tombstone tweet.  That’s a Twitter reference, in case you’re wondering what the heck a little bird has to do with a tombstone.  The idea is to describe what I want other people to say about me when I’m gone AND only use 140 characters (including spaces and punctuation).

After pondering my life’s mission and storylines, I came up with this: “He helped me envision what Jesus could be in me and then he championed my vision.

It’s not my desire or calling to tell people what they should be or do.  It is my desire to awaken a vision in each person of what life could be like if they allowed Jesus to fully live through them—in their unique and God-given personality, passion, and giftedness—and then champion that vision.

I dream of communities filled with people who are experiencing the full realization that their lives matter to God and living out their uniquely designed calling on an amazing life’s journey.  I imagine people passing on that legacy to each subsequent generation.  I imagine people who will never think about me or know my name being impacted by choices I am making today.

What about you?  What’s your tombstone tweet?  What will you leave behind that can’t be lost, corrupted, stolen, or destroyed?

Jesus said, Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20)

I have 59 characters left before I use up my 140 character limit.  I’m considering that representative of the indeterminate amount of time I have left to make my calling a reality. At 55, I’ve almost certainly lived more years than I have remaining.

What are you doing with the time you have left?