Thursday, December 22, 2011

New Year Changes

First let me wish everyone a very joyous Christmas, happy holidays, and a healthy New Year.

As 2011 draws to a close I am making some changes in my life.

First, I will discontinue this blog and move to Facebook in the New Year. I will do my Blog under Notes on Facebook. I have had so many people encourage me to get connected to Facebook for communication purposes and I have finally given in. I am not a "social network" kind of guy so this is just a move for function - I hope it will make communication easier for all interested.

Second, I plan to include on occasion a list of the books that I have enjoyed over the past year and the ones I am reading now. I am saddened by the fact that many people simply do not ever read a book. They do not read for leisure, for study, for spiritual growth - this great joy in my life is not shared by many. I hope to encourage you to cultivate an appetite for reading.

Third, I plan to listen more and talk less. I have spent too much of my life trying to talk people into things instead of listening with no agenda, only genuine interest. Slow to speak and quick to listen - this is the word from scripture - James 1:19 - the promise is that this will lead to a "righteous life." That would be very good.

There are so many blessings in my life - my sweet Linda, our 38 year adventure of love continues - my Grand kids - Ella and Owen, their parents are pretty remarkable too - what joy they bring to my life - my work - it is good to do what you love to do - my friends who laugh at me in the kindest way and treat me much better than I deserve. Life is good and I am grateful!

See you on Facebook in the New Year!


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thoughts on Gratitude

I had no idea that Thanksgiving was so controversial until I caught about one minute of a radio talk show argument about celebrating Thanksgiving. I am sorry but give me a break. How can pausing to reflect on the things we are grateful for be anything but a good thing?

Thanksgiving as a holiday is fine, if you get one. Some folks don't and so it is not so great for them. In a world driven by shopping, Thanksgiving is certainly not loads of fun for people in the retail business, just lots of long hours with too many rude customers. My heart goes out to those who have to work through the holidays. I have worked on holidays too often myself - it is not a fun part of my job.

What I am in favor of is a time to reflect and be grateful. I need this is my life and not just for a day or two but to live with gratitude daily.

Grateful people are wonderful to be around. My dear Mom was one of the most grateful people I have ever known. She was grateful day in and day out, even when I could not find any reason to be thankful. She had a grateful heart and we were all blessed by that. I want to be that kind of person.

Ungrateful people are a burden to be around. We have to spend all our time trying to cheer them up or change their attitude and usually it doesn't work. Being around people who complain, whine, moan, criticise, and see only the dark side of things is exhausting.

Paul has this line that has always been a challenge for me: "... give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (I Thess. 5:17) That is the heart of the matter. Gratitude is easy when we are flying high and everything is going your way. Being a grateful person when life is kicking you in the shins is something else all together. What Paul knew was that we cannot control our circumstances but with God's help we can control our response to them. He would say, "... I have learned to be content whatever the circumstance". (Philippians 4:11)

I have noticed that grateful people have a quiet strength about them that is truly inspirational.

One person told me all the things they were thankful for, even though they were confined to a hospital bed with an illness that was not going away.

One parent explained to me their gratitude for lessons they learned by being the parent and caregiver of a child with special needs.

One minister told me about how grateful he was for his church when his wife died - his eyes overflowed with tears as he expressed his thankfulness for the way they rescued him again and again and helped him raise his three young children.

The Psalms are really an old songbook and some of the songs are really sad songs. But the Psalms ring with thanksgiving and praise -
"Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise, give thanks to him and praise his name." Psalm 100:4

It's Thanksgiving week and I am grateful -so grateful... and I want my gratitude to last.

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, November 17, 2011

You Can Call Me....

One of the things that happens fairly often for me is people asking me what I would like to be called. Recently I was being introduced as a speaker and the woman who was introducing me asked me, "How do you prefer being introduced?" This is always tricky for people who do not know you - they are trying not to offend and I fully understand it.

I have been introduced or called Dr. Yates, Reverend Yates, Pastor Yates, Father Yates, Brother Yates, and Mr. Yates. I have also been called "Yates", on occasion. If I had my preference, I would simply like to be called "Steve". If your parents taught you to be a bit more formal and you are much younger than me then I will understand if you call me "Mr. Steve or Mr. Yates".

Honestly I am not offended when someone attaches a title to my name but I find it very confining. I am by nature a rather informal person and find titles to be much like putting a label on someone - just call me Steve and I will answer every time.

If push comes to shove and I have to put a title with my name I think I would go with "Servant". I tried to do that some years ago and no one would cooperate - the closest I have come is "Minister", which basically means the same thing. People will say, "This is my minister..." Then someone wants to call you "Senior Minister" or "Pulpit Minister" or "Associate Minister", etc. What is it that makes us want to put titles on people?

I am always trying to remind myself that the inspiration of the Protestant Reformation was the idea of "the priesthood of all believers". I have a real aversion to any distinctions between believers by titles - the clergy and laity stuff just doesn't work for me and I think has a crippling effect on the creative energy for good of the Christian church in our world.

Whatever our gift or talent may be, we are all just servants and what an honor to be called a servant of our loving God.

Being an effective leader is not about titles - it is about authority, power, and influence that is rooted in your character and integrity as a person. We can wear any title we want but if we act like a fool, we will not be an effective leader.

So, you can call me....Steve, just a servant, of a gracious and loving God.

Unless you are my grandchild - I go by Papa. I hope in some small way I am able to show them that Papa is really just a servant and that it is truly a wonderful life.

Just thinking, Steve

Monday, October 31, 2011

Light After Dark

One of the jobs that comes my way fairly often is to talk with people going through a dark passageway in their life. Again and again these dear souls have apologized to me for feeling the way they do. I try to assure them that these kind of passageways are a normal part of being a human being. Some of the most amazing people who have ever lived on this planet had their own "dark night of the soul." Included in that list are people like C.S. Lewis, Martin Luther, and Mother Teresa: it seems that even those with great spiritual maturity face these times in their lives.

I recall a conversation with my own Father about such a time for him. He described his feelings of anger, sadness, confusion, and hopelessness. His great challenge was not that he did not believe in God but like Job, he did believe in God and could not understand why God would let him suffer the way he was suffering. It was a very painful journey but after a time the darkness of his grief began to fade and the light of God's love was shining again in his heart. His faith was even deeper and stronger on the other side of this hard journey.

Martin Luther had a period of great despair which he wrote about in 1527. His prayers seemed pointless, he said. God seemed silent and distant and unconcerned with his pain. Some of his friends were so concerned about him they thought that he might not survive and feared for his life. It was bad. Very bad. But somehow the darkness did not overwhelm him. In fact, he wrote a hymn during this time - one of the greatest hymns of the church: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. It is an old hymn so you may not know the words - here are some of them.

"A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing ..."

There are things in life that we do not get over - we simply must go through them. What I know now from my own experience with God is that I will never have to make that journey alone because he will go with me.

Remember: God is not afraid of the dark and when we pass through those dark places in our lives and are gripped by fear, God is not. God is not afraid of our questions, our grief or our doubts.

"God is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust." Psalm 91:2

A received a note not long ago from a person I had talked with, listened to, and prayed with during a very difficult time for them. The note said, "I have found God's "Yes", even after what seemed like nothing but "No" everyday."

So good to hear!

Just thinking, Steve Yates

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pumpkin Stuff and the Seasons of Life

For the first time in a long time the air outside feels cool! Perhaps it is finally Fall - Autumn has arrived! When Fall arrives this heart of mine turns to all things pumpkin!

I love pumpkin pie, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin patches, and carving pumpkins! I even like those little candy pumpkins that are really candy corn in the shape of a pumpkin. I watched a brief story about the new world record pumpkin that some farmer grew this year. I think it was about the size of Rhode Island. It filled the back of a large pick-up truck. I saw the elephants at the Houston Zoo chowing down on pumpkins - they were in pumpkin heaven!

Along with my pumpkin love, I love the change of seasons. People say the seasons don't really change in Texas - we only have two seasons some say - hot and less hot. But on days like today, I feel the change of seasons in the air. Thank God for the change!

The truth is human life is seasonal and thank the Lord that things change. Thank goodness I do not have to be 13 years old (the nightmare year of my life) all my life. It was nice to run those Marathon's in my 30's and 40's but I have no interest in going back. Life has never been more enjoyable than it is right now - this season is the best so far!

With the seasons of change that come with life we experience newness that you cannot experience any other way! The arrival of my Grand kids took me by such surprise - the love and affection and joy they have brought to my life is a serendipity I could not experience until now! In my 30's I was a know it all - in my 50's I see how little I really know.

There is the line about Jesus in Luke 2:52 - it says he grew in wisdom, in stature, in favor with God, and with man. He was 12 years old when we hear that and the next thing we know he is 30 and beginning his public life of ministry that would change our world forever.

While I likely will not be any taller in the days ahead, I do want to grow in wisdom, favor with God and in favor with my fellow human beings and the seasons of life give me the opportunity to do so.

Welcome the seasons and grow!

Just thinking, (about pumpkins and stuff)
Steve Yates

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Serious Humor

I love to laugh. It is good medicine. In fact, I believe that it is one of the most readily available ways to "be healed" from a tough day, a hard week, or even a difficult year.

One of the things that I have noticed is that when I try to be funny, I am usually not. There is a kind of natural humor that comes with just being transparent and honest. When I am not concerned about protecting my ego I find that humor is a blessing to me and to others. Canned jokes often go over like a lead balloon but a story that reveals my humanity and presents the joy of living life with family and friends who love you, even when you look foolish, is received with big smiles and often genuine laughter.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, "Joy is the serious business of heaven." I love that line.

There are things that you can talk about that are very serious and important matters, that are communicated much more effectively when presented in partnership with humor.

I have watched people burst out in joyous laughter and a few minutes later they are so touched by something serious that tears flow down their cheeks.

I love the scenes in Genesis where Abraham and Sarah laughed when God told them they would have a baby. They were both old and beyond the normal years of having kids. It was a moment of serious humor - who would not laugh at such an idea! At the same time, they were called to trust God in a way that was truly amazing and they did! (Gen. 17:17; 18:11-15)

Thank God for the gift of laughter - gracious humor - that can help us deal with some of the most serious things of living.

Just thinking and laughing, Steve

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I Like People!

We laugh in my line of work and say that this job would be easy - a piece of cake - if it wasn't for people! The truth is I really like people. This job would be boring with out people and it is certainly not boring!

People are amazing! They deal with the most complicated lives, families, jobs, and situations and many of them keep a smile on their face.

People are surprising! I keep experiencing things with people that I could have never imagined. Just about the time I have decided I have seen it all and heard it all, a human being will do something so surprising.

People are mysterious! I know people who live the most mysterious lives imaginable. They work at jobs that even when they explain what they do, I still do not really know what they do. I know a guy who commutes to work over 200 miles each day, four days a week. Six plus hours in a car every day - wow, that is something that is beyond understanding to me. (My commute is 10 minutes each way.)

People are durable! My father was one of the kindest guys you could ever have met but he was so tough. He could endure things that seemed so daunting to me. Work three jobs at a time, caring for his dear ailing wife for years without one complaint, and giving people a second chance, time and time again!

Give me people - all kinds, all so interesting, challenging, and spectacular!

In the Psalms there is the line about human beings;
"You made humans a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned them with glory and honor." Psalm 8:5

C. S. Lewis commented that we should be careful when we meet a person because there is the potential, because of God's design, for true greatness - the kind that would take our breath away if we could see all that will come of their life.

Enjoy people - welcome them into your life and get ready for something truly amazing!

Just thinking, Steve