Don’t Let Politics Ruin a Friendship

Politics and friendship. Politics and family. These things don’t always mix. The other day, I had lunch with a dear friend. We talked about the election and he pointed out that this election season is ruining a lot of friendships. He’s right, and I wish he wasn’t. A week ago, a friend of mine sent an email out to a bunch of her friends talking about how she had worked up the courage to wear a T-shirt to the store for her particular candidate — and the various reactions she got as a result. According to her email, her neighbor shrieked when she saw the T-shirt and asked her never to speak with her…again, ever!

It’s truly a shame that friends and families allow differences over politics to undermine and even ruin their relationships. In this election cycle, let me say it plainly: Neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton are worth ruining a friendship over. They certainly aren’t worth severing family ties.

I recognize that politics are important. And I know the issues matter. But we have to not lose sight of the forest for the trees. We need to step back and ask ourselves why politics matter. Why do elections matter? We care about politics – or at least we should – because we care about each other. And if that’s the case, why would we let political differences jeopardize the very relationships we care about?

What’s more, given that we (meaning myself and most of my readers) live within a democratic republic, isn’t working through our differences the nature of our system of government? When we allow civility to break down and relationships to be destroyed, we undercut the very foundations upon which a democracy rests. If we aren’t willing to talk with one another and LISTEN to one another, democracy is doomed.

Politics and friendship don’t often mix. But they should. Politics and family don’t always go well together. But they should. If we can’t discuss our political differences in a spirit of civility, then much more is at stake than simply one election.

Five Ways to Deal With Stress

It’s sometimes difficult to juggle all the things life throws at us. As a result, stress can easily seep into our minds. It’s important that we get our stress levels under control. Otherwise, if left unchecked, anxiety can be toxic to the human body. High levels of stress and anxiety can cause heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. Here are five ways to deal with stress — before it deals with you:

1. Eliminate or significantly reduce your intake of alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants. They don’t decrease your levels of stress; they increase them. Alcohol is a depressant in large amounts — and a stimulant in small amounts. Drinking alcohol may seem like a good way to deal with stress, but health-wise, it’s one of the worst things you can do. Instead of reaching towards the alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, grab some water or herbal tea. These are hydrating and are much better with stress relief.

2. Increase your physical activity. Appropriate levels of exercise and physical activity can help your stress levels to go down. Consult with your doctor about what constitutes appropriate physical activity in light of your specific health, weight, age, and other factors.

3. Get more sleep. Not getting enough sleep can drive up one’s stress levels. Unfortunately, stress is sometimes the reason people can’t relax and fall asleep when they want to. If you are having this issue, try taking a warm bath or reading before bedtime.

4. Try relaxation techniques. Keep a ‘stress diary’ and record the things that seem to cause stress as well as those things which help you relax. And do more of the latter. Effective breathing techniques can help you relax. Prayer and meditation can also be quite effective. You could also attempt saying one word repeatedly to yourself that holds meaning for you. Don’t worry if these relaxation tips don’t work right off the bat. Relaxation is a skill that takes time to master.

5. Talk to someone you trust and who can help. Letting someone know how you feel is a great way to reduce your stress. Many people have said that it’s like a weight being lifted off their shoulders. Stress can cloud our mind and prevent us from thinking clearly. Talking through your situation with someone can help you figure out a solution to what you’re stressing about. Start with your doctor as well as your pastor (or rabbi or imam or whatever religious figure is appropriate to your faith).

Take care of yourself. Stress invades everyone’s lives, but you don’t need to surrender to this invader. You can effectively manage and deal with stress. With the right help and tools, you can even defeat it.

How to Make a Good Wedding Speech or Toast

Have you been asked to give a wedding speech? Speaking on the occasion of a wedding is a distinct honor and privilege, and it’s understandable that you want to do it right. Unfortunately, many people get quite nervous when it comes to speaking in public, and some have a difficult time putting their thoughts in order when it comes to public presentations.

As an ordained pastor, I’ve had lots of experience with weddings. And with this article, I want to provide you with a few tips that will help you make a good wedding speech or toast.

  1. Know that EVERYONE wants you to succeed. The bride and groom are on your side – as are all the attendees. Chances are, you’re among friends and family — people who know, like, and appreciate you. They’re also wanting you to succeed with your speech for selfish reasons. No one likes to sit through a boring talk. They want you to make a good wedding speech or toast, so they can enjoy themselves. And even if there are a handful of people in the room who may not be among your fans, they still have common ground with you when it comes to the purpose of your remarks — and that is to help make the day more special for the bride and groom. That’s right, everyone wants you to do a good job. They’re rooting for you. Rather than make you nervous, this should give you confidence. The audience supports you.
  2. Focus on your mission. Obviously, you should take a look in the mirror before speaking. Make sure your hair isn’t sticking up, you don’t have food in your teeth, or you’re not ready to manifest an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction. All that is fine, but… As quickly as possible, get the focus off yourself and on your mission. The less you think about yourself, the less nervous you will be. The reason people fear public speaking is that they’re focused on what people (namely the audience) will think about them. Again, see #1 above. People want you to succeed. So, as quickly as possible, get your mind off yourself and focus on your mission, which is… Make the bride and groom look and feel good. You want to help make their day more special. If you want to give them a tiny bit of wisdom or advice…that’s fine, but the best time to do that is in private….and frankly before the Wedding Day (when they have time to focus on the conversation). The purpose of a wedding toast or speech is NOT to provide marriage counseling. The purpose is to make the bride and groom feel good. Make them laugh. Make them smile. Make them feel good. In so doing…you’ll make everyone else feel good too. And you’ll succeed!
  3. Have a general outline in mind (or on paper). Unless you’re a great orator or at least a very experienced public speaker, it’s not a good idea to “wing” it. Yes, you want to speak from the heart, but that doesn’t mean rambling your way to a point. Preparation doesn’t take away from heart-felt remarks. Preparation enhances heart-felt remarks. You don’t have to write out your entire speech, but you should at least write out a general outline of what you want to say. Know your key points, jokes, etc. before you stand up and start talking. Most people think in terms of three points, so a 3-point outline is a good place to start. Think in terms of a Greeting (to get everyone’s attention), and then 3 points you want to make about the bride and/or groom, and then your Conclusion (which is your toast or whatever is appropriate for that particular wedding).
  4. Keep it fun. A little seriousness is okay, but again, don’t use a wedding speech or toast to pontificate on world events, show off your knowledge about life and relationships, or give the wedding party lots of marital advice. The only person who should be doing that on the Wedding Day is the minister. Your job is to keep things light and fun — and, again, to make the bride and groom feel good. So, keep it fun.
  5. Keep it brief. As a pastor, I’ve officiated many weddings and been to many receptions. Wedding speeches are usually brief — and the audience is usually very appreciative of that. Don’t launch into a 10-minute oration. Your remarks should be 30 seconds to a minute. No more than 2 minutes. The only exception to this is if the bride or groom specifically ask you to speak longer than that.

There you go!  Follow the above tips and you’ll be on your way to giving an effective wedding speech or toast. And if you’d like my help, you can contact me through Fiverr where I offer to help people compose wedding speeches.

Best wishes to you – and enjoy the wedding!

Whatever Happened to Personal Responsibility?

Recently, a Pittsburgh teenager crossed a street while playing our society’s latest obsession Pokemon Go. Unfortunately, she didn’t look both ways (as most parents teach their kids) and was hit by a car. And who does she blame? Herself? Not a chance. She blames the makers of Pokemon Go. Oh, and her mom does too!

The human race has always had its share of people who pointed fingers of blame at others for their mishaps, setbacks, and failures. But the refusal to accept personal responsibility seems to have reached critical mass in recent years. Denying personal responsibility is frankly becoming the norm. That’s not just sad. It’s dangerous.

Embracing personal responsibility is a crucial cornerstone of maturity, health, introspection, mutually rewarding relationships, wealth or at least financial stability, and an orderly society. When parents don’t teach personal responsibility to their kids, they rob them of an indispensable ingredient of success. They also foist upon society kids who will likely weigh their communities down as opposed to helping build them up.

It’s true that life isn’t fair and that the world is full of bad people. It’s true that we all face obstacles in life — some more than others. It’s likewise true that much of the misfortune and many of the calamities that befall us are brought on by people or circumstances beyond our control. All that is true. But the answer isn’t to jettison personal responsibility. The answer is to cling to it.

History is full of people who were dealt a bad hand, and yet who achieved extraordinary things in their lives. The toughest and most honorable men and women in our history were those who refused to accept defeat and who refused to succumb to bitterness and cynicism. They pressed on – and made the world a better place.

Be a man or woman who embraces personal responsibility. And when things get tough, be the person who looks for solutions, opportunities, and important lessons.

How to Stop the Hate and Heal Our Nation

With all the violence in the news, we are seeing the catastrophic consequences of group identity politics. When you allow yourself to believe (and/or encourage others to believe) lies such as all (or most) blacks are ‘thugs,’ all (or most) whites are racist, all (or most) Muslims are terrorists, all (or most) evangelical Christians are haters, all (or most) police officers are trigger-happy and abusive, and so forth….you get the divided, polarized society we have today. We need to stop dividing ourselves up by groups and start loving and appreciating one another as individuals. We need to love one another, forgive one another, be gracious to one another, give each other the benefit of the doubt, and treat everyone (to the very best of our ability) with kindness, civility, and respect.

Don’t Give Up on America

Don’t give up on America. Whether it’s corrupt high-ranking officials getting off scot free or heart-wrenching police shootings or the decline of our civil rights and basic freedoms, too many people want to take the “easy way out” and just give up on America. Some will even cite the Founding Fathers as inspiration, forgetting or ignoring the fact that the Founders took many YEARS (and multiple resolutions, at the continental and colonial level, calling for prayer and fasting) before finally taking up arms against the British Crown.

No country is perfect. And this nation will always have problems and challenges. But the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, not eternal cynicism. Humanly speaking, the solution to our problems is civil, constructive, and informed ENGAGEMENT – not rebellion. And spiritually speaking, the ultimate answer is prayer. If people of faith spent more time praying than we do complaining or worrying, I imagine we’d see much greater progress.

The men and women who gave us our great nation and have helped preserve it for now 240 years didn’t give up. We shouldn’t either.

The Bible and Magicians: Is Magic a Sin?

magic hatThe other day I watched a video where Justin Flom, a well-known magician and believer in Jesus Christ, was responding to critics alleging that he was using demonic power to perform his magic tricks and illusions. At first, I thought this must be the case of a few off-the-wall critics. I was mistaken. Digging a little further, I found numerous websites, blog posts, and a bunch of YouTube videos – many with a staggering number of views – arguing quite strongly that magicians (including Christian magicians like Flom) were either intentionally or inadvertently consorting with demons to pull off their feats of trickery and illusion.

While this blog aims at a broad audience consisting of people of many faiths, I hope my readers will indulge me a bit as I address one of the controversies within the Christian faith specifically. I imagine that there are similar debates among practicing Jews and Muslims as well as perhaps adherents of other religions. But this is certainly a matter of controversy in the Christian community. Many Christians vociferously argue that magic is demonic and therefore a sin.

Is Magic Demonic?

The most dangerous and persistent lies have some truth mixed in. Let’s be clear that, over the course of human history, many magicians have indeed consorted with dark forces. Some have worshiped pagan gods. This was certainly the case with Pharaoh’s magicians in ancient Egypt (Genesis 41, Exodus 7-9). Some practitioners of magic have dabbled with or immersed themselves in the occult or in Satanism outright. One of today’s magicians (who I won’t name) openly boasts of engaging in satanic rituals and communicating with demons. When I saw the video on YouTube, I thought it was a joke. Nope. It was no joke. This guy really is a Satanist and calls himself a practitioner of “black magic.”

Other magicians, while not outright Satanists, are very much into tarot card readings, spirit guides, and all kinds of other deeply troublesome practices and beliefs. As but one example, an America’s Got Talent contestant from a couple seasons back spoke openly about his “spirit guide” named “Desmond.” Spirit guides are a fairly common element in New Age practice.

As a Christian, I encourage those who share my faith to stay away from any magician that, in any way, associates himself or herself with spirit guides, mediums, sorcery, the occult, demons, Satanism, and so forth. That’s what the Mosaic Law forbids (Deuteronomy 18:10-13) and what the Apostle Peter condemned when he confronted Simon the sorcerer in Samaria (Acts 8:14-25). But…

The vast majority of magicians today are not actual sorcerers. They are simply entertainers. There’s nothing sinister or supernatural going on when they work their “magic.” Their tricks and illusions, while impressive and often mind-boggling, are a combination of craftiness of design, misdirection, and technology. To argue that such a magician is a sorcerer is like saying Henry Cavill is really Superman.

Doubt me? There are countless books on magic available to read, many magic tricks for sale on eBay, and numerous videos on YouTube that reveal the secrets behind some of the most popular illusions and magic tricks. Check it out yourself. Anyone with the ability to think (at all) will quickly surmise from all those books, videos, and tricks for sale that “magic” today is, for the most part, harmless entertainment.

Magic is an Art Form and a Tool

Magic is an art form. It’s a tool – a tool used for entertainment. In fact, many magicians (like Justin Flom) use their magic skills to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How sad that so many Christians today, rather than appreciate the work of Christian magicians like Flom, instead condemn them as demonic charlatans. In so doing, they tear down their own, divide the Christian community, and make Christians everywhere look foolish.

Don’t be a knee-jerk critic who assumes the worst about people and sees a demon behind everything you don’t understand or which you find disconcerting. Instead, be discerning. Be informed. Yes, we should be careful when it comes to the world of magic. (Of course, that can be said about the realm of entertainment in general). There are indeed some magicians we should stay away from. But to assume all or most magicians today are either secret agents or dupes of Satan is grossly unfair and utterly ridiculous. It’s also morally irresponsible.

For more on this subject, I encourage you to watch the video “I am not a Demon” by Justin Flom and read “Should a Christian Do Magic?” courtesy of the Fellowship of Christian Magicians.

5 Reasons Why George Washington Was a Great Leader

496952669_63c8d2f127_bGeorge Washington was the most beloved American of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and is still regarded as one of our greatest leaders. There were specific qualities that defined Washington and that enabled him to become such a monumental figure in not only American, but also world history. What made George Washington a great leader? Here are five reasons why George Washington was a great leader:

  1. George Washington was passionate. When Washington committed himself to a task or mission, he was “all in.” There were no half measures with Washington. And even when things got rough, Washington remained committed because of his deep-seated passion. The Revolutionary War is a perfect example. Washington considered the American cause a “sacred cause,” and put his entire heart and soul into the fight. Great leaders are men and women of passion….just like Washington.
  2. George Washington was morally upright and trustworthy. While the “I cannot tell a lie” cherry tree legend is regarded as a myth by most historians, there is no dispute that Washington’s contemporaries regarded him as an honest and moral man. Thomas Jefferson would later write of Washington: “His integrity was pure…He was, indeed, in every sense of the words, a wise, a good, and a great man.” Washington’s greatest act of integrity was his refusal to become king or dictator after the war and to instead resign his commission and go home. Even when called out of retirement to serve as President, Washington served only two terms and retired once again to Mount Vernon. Washington was, as King George III exclaimed, “the greatest man in the world.”
  3. George Washington was prudent. Jefferson considered this Washington’s strongest feature of leadership, writing that Washington never acted “until every circumstance, every consideration was maturely weighed.” Certainly there are situations where slow, deliberate decision-making isn’t always possible. As a battlefield commander, Washington understood this. But more often that not, leaders get themselves into trouble by saying or doing things before or without thinking those things through. Washington was careful and intentional as a leader. And America was better for it.
  4. George Washington was courageous. If more people knew of Washington’s bravery under fire during the French and Indian War and later the American Revolution, they would be in a state of perpetual awe. Washington defied danger. When one reads of his exploits, which included recklessly riding in between lines of British and colonial soldiers firing on each other by accident during the French and Indian War as well as deliberately exposing himself repeatedly to enemy fire during the Revolution, it’s amazing the man lived as long as he did! One might even argue that he was too brave with his life, but no one can question his courage. And it was a courage that inspired his men and won the respect and admiration of his country.
  5. George Washington was a man of prayer. While not all of my readers are people of faith (and I respect that), it would be unfair to not recognize that George Washington was a man of faith. Whatever the specifics of his faith (and there has been much debate on that subject), Washington believed in the power of prayer – and regularly practiced it. This shaped his view of the world, influenced his character, and made him recognize there was an Authority outside of himself.

If you’re a leader or wish to be one some day, there’s much you can learn from George Washington. The father of the United States is indeed one of the greatest leaders in the history of the world.

**For more on George Washington, check out The Religion of George Washington by Brian Tubbs

10 Best Leadership Books for New Leaders: Must-Have Leadership Books for Your Bookshelf

Those new to leadership or looking to get into leadership positions should grab the following ten leadership books as soon as possible. Add them to your library and read them. These leadership books are excellent and are must-reads for new and experienced leaders alike.

  1. The Book of Proverbs by King Solomon and others — Featured in the Bible, this collection of ancient biblical proverbs is something no leader should be without. Most of the Proverbs are attributed to King Solomon, but others (including Moses, Lemuel, etc) contributed to the collection. No matter the particulars of your faith, don’t even try being a leader without availing yourself of the wisdom from Proverbs.
  2. The Art of War by Sun Tzu — Every leader should read this classic ancient text on military leadership. Much of the wisdom contained in Art of War applies not only to war, but also to politics and business.
  3. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie — Leaders must deal effectively with people. Dale Carnegie’s classic is the best book on people skills ever written. If you want to better understand people and develop productive and mutually beneficial human relations, then read Carnegie.
  4. The Success Principles by Jack Canfield — This is one of the most personal development books I’ve ever read. Canfield, co-creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, knocks it out of the park with this comprehensive and systematic take on personal success.
  5. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey — A leader must be a master of effective habits. That’s what Covey’s classic is all about.
  6. Winning With People by John C. Maxwell — Maxwell’s Winning With People is probably the second best book on people skills ever written.
  7. Lincoln on Leadership by Donald T. Phillips — There have been many biographies written on our sixteenth President. Among the best are Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals and David Herbert Donald’s Lincoln. I highly recommend each of those, but this book focuses specifically on Lincoln as a leader. No question that Lincoln is among the most effective leaders in history. The more you study him, the better off you’ll be.
  8. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell — Maxwell explores all the key principles and facets of leadership in this well-renowned classic. Definitely a must read.
  9. See You at the Top by Zig Ziglar — This is probably the late, great Zig Ziglar’s magnum opus. It’s one of the best self-help books written in the 20th century and is something any leader (especially new leader) can benefit from.
  10. The Art of a Leader by William A. Cohen — A retired Air Force general and former student of the great Peter Drucker, Cohen authored over 50 books and textbooks, including The Art of a Leader. While some may not agree with my including it on this “Top 10” list, it was one of the first leadership books I read after college and was helpful in getting me started on the path to leadership. I believe you’ll find it a very influential and helpful addition to your library.

There are many other great leadership books, including biographies of and autobiographies by famous leaders from our past, but the above ten are must-haves for any would-be leader’s library. Get them and read them as soon as you can. You’ll be a better leader as a result.

Leadership Characteristics: Learn to Accept Correction if you want to be a Good Leader

Good leadership requires humility.

Good leadership requires humility.

One of the most important leadership characteristics is the willingness to accept correction. Solomon, the great Israelite king, said as much when he wrote: “Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1). Truer words cannot be spoken. The acquisition of knowledge requires humility, the desire to learn, and the willingness to accept correction from others. Those who resist such correction, including those who never admit they are wrong, are (in the words of Solomon) “stupid.”

History is full of leaders who became casualties to their pride and stubbornness. And if they somehow escaped much of the consequences of their stupidity, their followers and those around them weren’t as fortunate. Few people are more dangerous than a stubborn, proud, narcissistic leader who rarely listens to the counsel of others and seems unwilling (if not incapable) of admitting when he or she has made a mistake.

Most historians agree that the two greatest Presidents in U.S. history were George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Some put Franklin Roosevelt in that camp as well, but it’s hard to top Washington and Lincoln. And one of the greatest attributes each man had was the willingness to seek counsel and accept correction. President Washington surrounded himself with aides who were arguably much smarter than him. His first Cabinet included such intellectual giants as Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. A lesser man would have been intimidated by such men and would’ve wanted to avoid anyone else taking attention. Consider the jealousy President Richard Nixon often had with Henry Kissinger. Not so with Washington. Perhaps an even more commendable example is President Lincoln who invited political rivals onto his Cabinet. Lincoln was more than willing to humble himself to accept advice, counsel, and even correction from those whose wisdom he valued.

To be a leader requires that you are constantly learning and growing — even as (one might say “especially as”) you actually occupy a position of leadership. Many years ago, my mother bought my paternal grandfather a mug that read “Don’t bother me with the facts. My mind is already made up.” A funny mug, and my grandfather was actually a very well-read and well-studied individual. But there was some truth to my mom’s jab. Grandot (that’s what I called him) could be quite stubborn at times. And stubbornness is not always a good trait for a leader. Not when it comes to receiving counsel and accepting correction, that is.

It is of course refreshing to see a leader stand on conviction. I’m not suggesting that leaders shouldn’t, when appropriate, draw lines in the sand and refuse to surrender. What I’m saying is that leaders should never stop seeking out and receiving information. And they should always learn from their mistakes. A true leader keeps himself or herself humble. Good leaders know they always have something more to learn.