I stopped into a coffee shop recently to write for an hour after dropping a friend off at a doctor appointment. It was way earlier than I'd normally be awake, so I got to see how the other half lives (I'm a night owl).
I wish I could tell you about the coffee shop aroma because I'm sure it was fantastic, but I still don't have a sense of smell after having COVID-19 back in November. Even so, I can imagine how it might've smelled.
Intermittent conversation and worship music set the mood. And I was encouraged to see four women with their Bibles open at a nearby table.
A sixty-something-year-old man walked in. "It's another beautiful morning," he said to the barista in a louder voice than my night owl brain would've preferred.
"Yes it is," she said.
"My man died yesterday."
"Who? Oh ... Rush Limbaugh?"
I love that she knew him well enough to figure that out.
"I've been listening to him for thirty-two years. He was my mentor."
"I'm so sorry."
I know how he felt. I'd been feeling pretty melancholy about Limbaugh's death too. And that came a day after CCM artist Carman passed away. Both men were part of my formative years.
After Limbaugh died, I traded texts with a friend who also admitted to feeling blue about his death. I love that I have male friends who admit such a thing.
Most people want to connect with others on a deeper level, so once in a while, we take risks and mention something that really matters to us when talking to people we don't know very well to see if we can find common ground. And if we do find that conversational spark, it's gold. It may even lead to a new friendship.
This is one of the reasons that coffee shop culture fascinates me – so much so that I wrote a book of coffee shop essays called Common Grounds: Contemplations, Confessions, and (Unexpected) Connections from the Coffee Shop. People tend to connect in coffee shops in ways they don't in other places. Something about coffee shops makes people feel more willing to talk to strangers.
One of the stories in "Common Grounds" is about a woman named Sharon who entered a coffee shop I was in and sat down at a nearby table with a friend. She introduced herself to me and began politicking for votes on a singing competition website. I was glad to help her, so I opened a browser and went to the website.
"If I get enough votes," she told me, "I advance in the contest and have a chance to win a $5,000 cruise."
“Are you doing homework?” she asked.
“I’m a writer.”
“Oh, do you have a card?”
I handed her one and she pulled up my website on her tablet. She was thrilled to find out that I wrote for the Christian market.
She handed me her card and the tagline on it said, “God Loves Me Too!”
After she left, I opened my browser and clicked on her song to listen to it. It was a cover of “Mr. Melody” by Natalie Cole. I have never heard Cole’s version, but Sharon’s was quite good – maybe good enough to win. I should probably pull out her card and email her to find out if she did. But I've since moved, so I have no idea where it is.
But the point is, we found common ground by connecting over our art. And I love that. As introverted as I am, I crave meaningful connections. While they never come easy for me, I always love it when they happen
What do you want your obituary to say?
I know that question seems a little morbid, but stick with me for a minute.
A couple of podcast hosts kicked this very question around recently. The idea is, once you figure out what you want your obituary to say, then you live life in reverse, taking the necessary action to make it happen. Dare I say, living with the end in mind?
The thought behind it is, if you want to be remembered as a loving person, then you better start now. If you want to be remembered as someone who always showed up for people, then you better start showing up.
I wrote my devotional book Finishing Well: Living with the End in Mind with the same premise. The difference is, the book isn't about your legacy – at least not in the "remember me" sense of the word, but rather, it's about giving you ideas about ways you can finish the Christian life well for God's glory.
Here's one of the devotions from the book that you might enjoy.
Finishing the Course
But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
When Paul was in Miletus, he called for the elders of the Ephesian church (Acts 20:17) to say goodbye to them and ultimately, to encourage them in the faith. The Holy Spirit was leading him to Jerusalem and he didn’t know what would happen there, but in his second letter to Timothy, he seemed to expect the worst when he said, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come” (2 Timothy 4:6).
Today’s verse captures an essential part of what Paul told the Ephesian elders. As he considered his remaining time on earth, he wanted to finish well by completing the ministry he received from Jesus—to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. He had a clear understanding of the ministry Christ had given him, and he was ready to suffer and even die for it.
Near the end of my grandmother’s life, she was suffering from multiple health problems—congestive heart failure, diabetes, and arthritis to name a few. At one point, when she openly wondered why the Lord hadn’t taken her home, she concluded that he still had work for her to do here. I suspect it had to do with her fully investing her remaining time and prayers into one of her great-grandchildren with special needs, and if you would have asked my grandmother, she would have said her suffering was an acceptable price to pay to do that.
Oh, how I wish my grandmother would have lived long enough to see her great-granddaughter grow up and have a son of her own now—one who also has special needs. Even though she didn’t get that opportunity, I suspect that she spent time praying for him long before he was ever born because that was the ministry she had received from Christ.
When she was younger, she spent decades serving in a church nursery. As she aged and gave way to a younger generation in the nursery, her focus was on praying for the next generation. Both were vital.
What is the ministry you have received from the Lord Jesus Christ? Has it changed as you’ve gotten older? As you think about finishing well, how can you be intentional about making that ministry a priority? Are you willing to suffer to do so if that’s what you are called to do? What are you willing to give up for it? Freedom? Comfort? Something else?
Authors have this thing about seeing their books “in the wild,” which means anywhere beyond their control, like a bookstore, in a backpack, on a bus, etc. Books were meant to be read – out there, in the wild.
In Cheryl Strayed's book titled "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail," she wrote about what she thought the founders of the trail had in mind when they created it. She believed, "It had only to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles for no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way."
I've been thinking a lot about the wild, in a broader sense, for some time now. I don't think it's as aimless as Strayed portrays it, at least for the Christian, although I do believe she's on to something regarding how powerful and fundamental that the experience can feel.
In the twenty-first century, we've grown accustomed to indoor life. Before the pandemic, we got up and went to work in buildings. We sent our kids to school buildings. We attended worship services and classes in church buildings. We shopped in buildings. We attended movies, plays and sporting events in buildings. And we worked out in buildings.
This isn't a knock against buildings. I love staying out of the elements too. But it tends to kill our sense of wonder. I heard an interview on a podcast recently in which the interviewee said that the average human (who lives to the age of 70) will get two billion heartbeats, which led the person to say, "Why use them on a treadmill when you can be out on a ridge somewhere?"
We have to plan camping and fishing trips, hiking excursions, hunting trips, and long walks on trails. But every time we get back from such a trip in the wild, we feel invigorated, alive and ready to take on our next challenge.
It makes me wonder if we shouldn't be more intentional about spending time in the wild. I don't just mean spending time outdoors as much as I mean spending more time out and about among people, seeking ways to minister.
First-century Christianity was wild.
Jesus preached on the sea from a boat. He cast demons into pigs, sending them running down a hill and into a pond. He turned water into wine at a wedding feast. And he appointed 72 people to proclaim the kingdom, sending them out without a money bag, belt or sandals.
Paul preached in someone's house (or maybe it was barn) where a young man fell asleep and plunged to his death from the rafters of an upper room, only to have Paul raise him from the dead.
Believers met house to house, breaking bread and praising God together.
Philip met an Ethiopian eunuch along a road who was reading the book of Isaiah, preached Jesus to him, then baptized him in a nearby river.
Peter walked on water, briefly, when Jesus called him forth from a boat.
Like I said, first-century Christianity was wild.
Church buildings didn't exist when Jesus walked the earth. And while the temple was still standing, ministry often happened in the streets, next to pools, on hills, in barns, in homes and in or near rivers. Christianity was wild and organic – the opposite of programmatic.
Is twenty-first century Christianity supposed to be as wild? I tend to think so. Church buildings are fine and useful for worship and the equipping of the saints. But they aren't meant to be the central hub for ministry to the unconverted. Jesus called us to go, teach, and baptize. I don't think it gets any wilder than that.
I listened to an episode of the Mighty Blue on the Appalachian Trail podcast recently that featured a women named Caroll Coyne who thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2019-20. She quoted a hiker named Ned who gave her some great advice.
“Before you start hiking a long trail, decide if you’re a hiker or a camper,” he said.
She went on to explain that hikers are the ones who are focused on daily miles – the more, the better. Their mileage count is what drives them.
“But then there’s the campers,” Coyne explained, “that see a beautiful meadow, and even though they’ve only gone ten miles, they are going to stop there and have a long watch. Or they’re going to stop there and camp for the night because it’s gorgeous.”
She's a camper.
If you read this newsletter, you are probably a camper too. Or maybe you are a hiker who sees the benefits of camping and you want to experience more of it. Let's use terms we can probably all relate to. I like to differentiate between do-ers and be-ers.
Do-ers are all about productivity. Be-ers are all about enjoying the journey.
With thru-hiking, as in life, you have to do both. It's just that do-ers are sometimes forced to be and be-ers are sometimes forced to do.
In my case (as a be-er), I get a little grouchy when I don't make time to be. And I suspect that do-ers feel the same way when they slow down for any length of time. We're all wired differently. That's okay.
But since most of you are be-ers, I want to speak directly to you this week. Be-ers sometimes get a bad rap from do-ers. Mary and Martha come to mind. Even so, be anyway. Find ways to pull away by yourself. Or just slow your pace and let the do-ers rush past you. You'll end up with other be-ers who are existing at the same pace as you, and you'll form a special bond with them. I suspect the same thing will happen with do-ers. They'll bond with other do-ers.
That doesn't stop me from trying to go deeper with do-ers though. It's often more difficult to get them to stop long enough to hang out for a while, but I keep trying because we can learn something from one another.
As I pulled away from the bank, my tears surprised me. I’m probably the only guy in history who got emotional after closing my safe deposit box.
It used to be my grandma’s. After she passed away in 2002, I took it over. She opened it at a bank she’d been using for years. That bank closed after she passed away and a bank across the street took it, and her safe deposit box, over.
At her new bank, her box had a P (the first initial of the old bank) in front of the box number to differentiate it from all the other boxes. I liked that. It made me feel a connection to her, even though her bank was gone.
And the box required a different colored key than their other boxes. I liked that too. Every time I got into the box, I had to remind them that they needed to use a different key because this box was from the bank that used to be across the street – where a Walgreens now stood, which, by the way, will never look right to me.
Inside the box, Grandma had an envelope full of birth and death certificates from our family, as well as purchase agreements to a house that is no longer in the family, Grandma's funeral agreement and receipt for the lot in the cemetery she wanted to be buried in, receipts for various purchases and more. Back in the day, she had kept savings bonds in there that she and my grandfather worked so hard to buy.
After she passed, I put other family keepsakes in the box. But the problem was, I hadn’t been in the box since 2014. And the bank kept raising the price. And it was on the other side of town from where I'd moved a couple of years ago. So I decided to close the box. But I wasn’t prepared to get emotional over it.
I blame it on the bank representative who helped me close the box. When she learned that the box was from across the street, she wanted to know more.
I told her why it meant so much to me. And then she told me that her grandfather died in 2006. He raised her. And she still misses him so much.
As she was filling out the paperwork to close my box, I saw the original form my grandma signed when she opened it.
“Can I see that?” I asked.
I snapped a picture of it. That was her signature, all right. It was sure and steady, unlike when she got older and had a hard time signing anything without her hand shaking. It reminded me of how strong she used to be. And that reminded me of how she’d been the glue of the family for so many years, especially after her husband passed away.
Driving home with tears in my eyes, I was grateful for the banker's sensitivity. And I was also hyper-aware of what it feels like to be human – to feel something on a deep level, even though I was alone in my vehicle, surrounded by traffic. I'd been privy to a moment that connected the generations, and even though it was an end of an era, it still felt good.