Why New Years Resolutions Don’t Work.

frapI was in the line at Starbucks last week and the lady in front of me ordered a mocha latte, with whip, and a formidable looking pastry item.  She lightheartedly mentioned, to the Barista at the register, that with only a few days left till the New Year she “…might as well enjoy it now”.  The girl at the registered, who might have weighed 105 pounds, politely acknowledged the sentiment, but didn’t truly understand the inner turmoil manifesting itself at her register.

I, on the other hand, knew exactly where she was coming from, having struggled with weight for most of my life, and I wanted to give that lady a hug.  However, I also wanted to tell her that “New Years” never comes and smack the pastry out of her hand. (I also decided jail was bad.)  I wanted to share with her that if she didn’t have the internal capital to accomplish her goal starting today, that merely changing the last digit on her calendar would truly offer her little sustaining motivation.

Maybe, like you, having tried every fad diet out there to lose weight: Atkins, The Zone, Starvation, South Beach, Grapefruit, Krispy Kreme.  (Krispy Kreme was my favorite diet) understand these attempts usually last for a little while and then fade out.

New years resolutions are usually doomed, from jump-street, because they address behavior modification but rarely look at heart transformation. We try to change how we act without ever examining why we act the way we do.

If the behavior you are addressing is to eat less there are a million reasons to do that. Those reasons could range from being healthier, so you can play with your children, to looking better for the summer.  The more you look at your heart motivation the better chance you have to reach your goals, whatever they are.    For those of us who use food as comfort or as a coping mechanism this process is invaluable.

Behavior modification is also one of the biggest mistakes people make about maters of faith.  Many people believe that being a Christian is about behavior modification, when in reality, Jesus is after heart transformation.  Many think being a follower of Jesus is about being a “good enough” person in order to curry favor with God.  We believe, incorrectly, that God has a checklist of things that you are and aren’t supposed to do, and is keeping score.

You shall help the old lady across the street.
You Shall Not push the old lady into the street.

In Jesus ministry he was always attempting to change people’s behavior by transforming the way their heart perceived life and truth.  Jesus used story and cognitive disequilibrium (unbalances people’s thinking and preconceived notions, on purpose, to get them to re-think life and truth) to get then to examine where their heart is.  Just take a look at how Jesus talks to the rich young ruler, Nicodemus, the woman at the well and of course, his disciples.

One of my all time favorite Bible verses is Romans 12:1-2. Here Paul explains that he is giving over his life to God, not merely because it is written to do so in the law.  But, “to offer our bodies as living sacrifices in view of Gods mercy.”  He is saying that in light of the cross, in light of the nails, in light of the whip, in light of the blood, in light of the price paid, in light of the unmerited love of grace, my heart has been so transformed, so altered, that I can’t help but to change my behavior.

Now, to be honest, you only need to talk to my wife, or my kids or someone at work, to tell you that I am far far from perfect.  In fact, some days I wonder if I am even going in the right direction.  Yet, as I look back over my life, as a follower of Jesus, I know that I’m not perfect, but I also know that my heart doesn’t look the same as it did yesterday.

What do YOU want for Christmas?

image_154 Hey Everyone! Merry Christmas!

Last week, against my better judgment, my friend Denny and I went to the “Ginormous” Tyson’s Mall, to do some Christmas shopping. I am not usually a fan of shopping, crowds, Christmas sales or pushy kiosk sales people. However, we did have an exciting brush with the Big Man himself, and his entourage, coming down the escalator. (See Picture: Denny and I both agreed that this was one of the most legit Santa’s that we had ever seen. He was also the most diesel Santa we had ever seen too.  He looked like maybe he played linebacker at North Pole State.)  Anyway, somewhere between 5 Guys Burgers and Cinnabon Denny asked me what I wanted for Christmas.  At first, I had a hard time answering the question. I don’t know why, I am usually pretty good at telling people what I want. I think it’s my spirituals gift.  I tried avoiding the question as the two of us walked into the Apple store.  We both immediately went into apple-salivation mode, it was like a sick and twisted Pavlovian-Jobs experiment (as in Steve Jobs? Get it?). I thought I had avoided the question, but he had the nerve to ask me the question again, “Barry, what do you want for Christmas?”  I found myself giving a rehearsed answer about a new pair of pants or shoes or something.  Now, I didn’t mention this at the time, but I have always wanted to get my wife, Rachel, and I tickets for Oprah’s new gift Christmas show. You know the one, where she shows a television studio full of ravenous women all the cool stuff she bought over the last year.  She then proceeds to give one, free, to every member in the audience. Rachel would love that! I just love watching the people in the audience going absolutely insane! Like, “Beatlemania” level crazy.
giftcard1 “Starbucks gift cards are always one of my favorites!” I usually get a lot of those little gems. Starbucks even has these cool little Christmas gift card holders that are pretty festive.  I was telling Rachel that, next year; I was going to use the gift cards as Christmas tree ornaments, on my “all Starbucks Christmas tree”.  I could string some coffee beans together as garland, get some green lights and use a lighted Venti cup, on the top of the tree, as a the star.  She looked at me as if to say, “Your an Idiot.  Aren’t you a Pastor?”  I get that look a lot.

Later, as I was reflecting on the day, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed. You see, when Denny asked me what I wanted for Christmas, without even thinking about it, without a hesitation, I instinctively spewed out a litany of “things” that I “wanted.” This was unfortunate because the question that Denny asked was not specifically about “things”. You see, I could have answered that question in a ton of different ways, like, “I want the Phillies to win the World Series.” (Oh, yeah, Sorry, they already did that) or, “I want the Eagles to win the Super Bowl.” “I want World Peace.” or “I want to have a safe and fun Christmas with my wife and kids.” I would have been happy if this sentiment had been even a tiny part of my answer.  Was it? No.

Now, before you go and write me an angry letter, realize, of course, that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with “stuff”.  I like stuff just as much as the next person! It’s just that I feel, as of late, that “stuff” and the desire for “the stuff” have infiltrated my perception of reality.  “The stuff” has cast a spell over me and I remain unaware of how deep my sleep is.  This spell of “stuff” has the power to skew my perception of my needs verses my wants. The spell has made the “stuff” my first response and my last hope.

img1There is a picture that I have, at home, in one of my childhood photo albums. It’s a terribly dated 34-year-old snapshot of me, when I was 4 or 5, opening either a birthday or Christmas present.  I am holding up the present with this indescribable look of elation.  I am victoriously holding the present in the air like an Olympian after winning the gold medal.  In this picture I look triumphant, elated and assured that all is right in the world.  The only thing wrong with the picture is that, for the life of me, I have NO IDEA what the heck I am holding.  No clue as to what this present I am frantically waiving about is. I have asked my parents, siblings I have even considered a hypnotist to bring me back to that day.  The point is, at that moment, I was beyond excited about that specific present, but the excitement didn’t last! Even the very best presents in this world fade away and turn to dust.

I think back to my “All Time Favorite” childhood presents that I do remember:

#3. Rock’em Sock’em Robots: AWESOME! My brother, Brandon, and I actually disconnected the spring-loaded head from the body.  Then, every time the robots head popped up, after being hit in the chin, it would fly across the room instead of just merely bouncing up and down attached to the body.

#2. Stretch Arm Strong: (Poor Stretch Arm Strong.  Let’s just say that we discovered that the mystery syrup-guts, inside stretch arm-strong, do not light on fire.)

Atari 1600: One red button. Just one red button! Brilliant!

All these toys are long long gone! Dust!

Last week, at my weekly 5:30 am High School boys small group, we read through Matthew and Luke’s account of the Birth of Christ.  Whenever I hear Luke’s account I hear Linus, as the narrator, in my head.  Luke 2:8- Maybe you will recognize this scripture from the clip below.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKk9rv2hUfA]

If you read on though, just a few verses later, after the Sheppard’s Find Mary, Joseph and Jesus, hanging out with some donkeys, they retell the story about hanging out with the angel of the Lord and then a cameo from a heavenly traveling Choir and, most importantly, how the angel told them of  “a Savior”, “the Messiah”, that had been born to them that day.   We find Mary, still a glow from just giving birth to her child, she is listening to the amazing story the Sheppard’s are telling.  She is holding the story up against the backdrop of a tumultuous and mysterious 9 months, where she silently wondered, many times, if she had just imagined the whole thing.  Enter the Sheppard’s divine appointment that assures Mary that the child asleep, on her breast, is no ordinary child.

Then, the Author of Luke Says, in verse 2:19 “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” In Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible, The Message, he writes: “Marry kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.

I love that verse.  I think, Mary somehow knew, at that exact moment, that that this child in her arms was the gift that would never stop giving.   He was the gift that would be “re-gifted” more than grandma’s fruitcake. He was the gift you can’t return, that always fits and is the perfect price.  This gift is free, but He will cost you everything.   Mary knew, at that moment, that she was to be intimately involved in Gods salvific plan for the whole world, yet to unfold.  Yet, the plan didn’t merely just unfold, the plan was born and lived among us! The reality of the situation began to settle upon Mary and that unlikely cast of characters.  The uncomfortable and spectacular reality that God was going to save the world through the seemingly illegitimate child of a homeless unwed teenage peasant began to sink in.  She realized that, in her arms, amongst the Sheppard’s, manure, a fiancé who should have run and angelic visitors, was laying the savior of the world.  Mary treasured up these truths and put them in a deep place within her spirit.  She put them in a place easily accessible for when the trials of being the earthly mother to, well, God, that this treasure buried in a place deep within her sprit would be her comfort and her hope.

So, if I could go back in time, and answer that question again, this is what I want for Christmas.  I want to treasure up all these things!  To keep deep within my heart this beautiful mystery that is Christmas!

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Waiting in line is the new front porch!

image_062A few weeks ago my wife, Rachel, and I were in Nashville with some friends for the National Youth Workers Convention. 12,000+ Youth Pastors in one room is always a good time. Anyway, I woke up early the first morning of the conference excited about the days activities and was equally excited that the hotel we were staying in was equipped with a Starbucks in the lobby! Bonus! As the elevator doors opened I was confronted by a runaway coffee line that was at least 25 deep. (This is the actual Picture of the line, you can’t even see the register yet.) Naturally, I was a little frustrated, but, of course, I got in line. What? Don’t give me that look! I can quit at anytime? After a few minutes I started making chatter with the Youth Pastor in front of me about the seminars that were on the docket for the day. Then we started talking about where, in the country, each of us were doing ministry, how many of these conferences we had each been to and about the time of sabbath, rest and rejuvenation that this conference provides for busy ministry folks.

Before I had realized it my new friend was ordering his drink, “A Dopio Espresso, please”, which made me smile even more! A purist! Then it was my turn, “A Venti Black Eye, please”! As we exchanged casual goodbyes and I made my way to the first seminar of the day I challenged myself to never stand in line the same way again. OK, I know, that sounds a bit weird, here is what I mean.

Did you have a front porch where you grew up? I did. we used to sit on it on summer nights and catch fireflies (by catch I mean hit with wiffle ball bats) chat with neighbors and listen to the sounds of a lazy summer evening roll by. The front porch was like home base for the activities that filled endless summer days and nights. I feel like, maybe, those days are gone, especially in the break neck culture of Northern Virginia and the North East. The invention of the air conditioner keeps us inside more. Our schedules and pace of life keep us more secluded from neighbors than ever before. Each generation becomes more nomadic than the generation before with fewer and fewer deep community and family ties.

Gone are the days of the front porch communities. Yet, I did some research and I found that the average person spends more than 5 Years in line. 5 years, that translates into 1,825 days or 43,800 hours or 2,628,000 minutes! That is more than two and a half million minutes. Think about that the next time you are standing in line at the local supermarket, bank, or at your local coffee house? What could you do with 2.6 million minutes? What kind of community could you strengthen? So I have 8 suggestions for the next time you are waiting in line!

8. Learn the name of the person behind the register. (Especially when you see him/her on a regular basis)

7. Pray for someone in line. No, I don’t mean to go up to them in the middle of Starbucks and ask them if you can pray for them! “God, Please heal Bob from his caffeine addiction.” Listen, you may not know their name, their struggle, or the praise that has captivated their spirit for that day, but God does. Praying for people in this manner transforms your heart and spirit to be more aware of the people around you and it makes your spirit more malleable in God’s hand!

6. Give someone your business card. After a few minutes of chatting with a person, when appropriate, give them your business card. You never know these days when someone may need to talk. I have found in my years of ministry and working at Starbucks that some people, initially, are more willing to share with a caring “stranger” than they are with a relative or spouse. Who knows you may get a chance to hear someones story? Awesome!

5. Pay for the drink of the person behind you? Set it up with the cashier to anonymously pay for the drink of the person 3 people behind you? Why? Why not! I know… I Know.. $4.50 a drink is why not, right? Listen, I am not saying do it everyday? It doesn’t have to be coffee either, I love doing this at toll booths!

4. When appropriate give a compliment to someone in line! Hey, those are nice shoes! Do you think they sell those in a 14? My favorite is to compliment mothers on how cute their children are, even if the baby looks like Winston Churchill and is licking the frappuccino display stand.

3. This is one of my favorites. Play 6 degrees of separation. There is a theory that we are all only separated by 6 people. That you could pick any 2 people and somehow link those 2 people together using 6 other people as the human links in the chain. Now, I am not trying to find a long lost relatives or anything. However, I will just ask people, “Where do you work?”, “Where did you go to school?” or “Where did you grow up?”. I can usually find a connection with people that will spark a conversation.

2. This next one can really set the stage for the previous 6. Hold the door for at least one person. Even if you have the right of way, hold the door!

1. OK, I lied. I only have 7, but this is where you come in. This is where you comment on your ideas of how to build community and love your neighbor with your 2.5 million minutes! Remember, time is of the essence!

DISCLAIMER: On most of these lines I use the caveat “when appropriate”. Most of the time, married men should not compliment, learn the names of and or buy drinks for 22 year old single attractive women. That is not called building community, it’s called something else!

"Where everybody knows your name"

image_136I bumped into an old friend in the line at Starbucks a few days ago.  He eagerly approached me to say “Hi” and as he closed in I could feel the tickler file, in my head, racing through all the contacts of everyone that I had ever met before, it was desperately searching for this persons name.  Isn’t that terrible? We have all been there before, of course, where we see someone who we know, and for the all the coffee beans in Seattle, we can’t remember their names.  Now, I did remember this persons name about half way through the conversation, which I then started to periodically sprinkle throughout the conversation to make sure he knew that I remembered him.  However, at that awkward initial greeting at the line at Starbucks I had to give him the old; “Hey…(pause) Bud!?”  The worst!

There is something powerful when we remember someones name, isn’t there? I mean, everyone wants a place that they can walk into and have everyone yells their name, like, “NORM!,” in the classic TV sitcom Cheers. I think we live in a culture where so few of us feel like people really “Know Us”. The truth of the matter is that we were designed to be known!

During my tenure at Starbucks I tried very hard to learn the name of every regular that walked into our doors.  I even developed little tricks to help learn names.  The first few times that I would meet a new person I would try to use their names 3 times by the end of the initial conversation.

I would use it once in the greeting; “Hey Bob, its’ nice to meet you”.

Then, I would use it one time in conversation; “So, Bob, tell me your opinion on the human genome project?”

Lastly, I would use the persons name in the closing or goodbye; “Ok, Thanks Bob, Have a great day, and have fun storming the castle.” (name the movie?)

There is something powerful that is communicated when you remember, or don’t remember, someones name.  Just consider all of all the amazing events that your name has been intricately involved in.  I remember the first time I heard my wife, Rachel, say my name when we were dating, It was hypnotic and sexy all at the same time! The million times I had heard “Barry” to that point never sounded like that. I wanted to ask her to just say it again and again! Then, of course, she said it on May 24th 1998, the day we were married.

Remember, in school, when you name got called over the loud speaker by a what sounded like a muzzled school administrator to come to office? “Would Barry Hill please come to Principal Skinners office.”  Which is always closely followed by a prepubescent chorus of “OOOOOOOOOOooooo’s”

As a senior Varsity Basketball player at Eastern University I was able to hear my name called over the loud speakers at The Palestra announcing the starting line up.  “At Center, from Springfield PA, standing at 6’8″ tall BARRY HILL!”

People get names of the people they love tattooed onto their bodies…. FOREVER! (That’s a whole different blog post).

Some of us are named after family members or our name means something significant.

I also think that we need to realize, really grasp, that the God of the universe knows us by name.  That is, He knows us at the most personal and intimate level possible, even if we believe it to be true or not.  So, when people ask me how I got “so religious”, I usually tell them I am not religious at all.  I like to  tell people that I have a relationship with a God who knows my name! God knew Saul so well that he even gave him a new name after his transformation on the road to Damascus.  I believe that God cares about us at that level of detail and intimacy.  He knows our deepest wants and desires our fears and secrets, and he still calls us by name, into his presence.   Our churches should be modeling this truth as well.  Our first job is to worship Him and call on the name of God as a community, but right after that we need to be loving the community around us in meaningful relationship.

I have seen all sorts of church greeting teams over the years.  Some wear name badges, some are huggers, some are not welcoming at all and are more like 150 pound religious door stoppers.  I have a new welcoming team model in mind, The Name Model, where the greaters job is to greet you by name.  And,  if they didn’t know you, they learned your name right there on the spot.  Or, for some churches, a little more drastic measure is needed to wake us out of our slumber.   For these churches we need to greet every person that walks in the door, especially the folks that have been there a really long time,  they need a loud, “NORM!” Unless, of course,  their name is Bob.

“Where everybody knows your name”

image_136I bumped into an old friend in the line at Starbucks a few days ago.  He eagerly approached me to say “Hi” and as he closed in I could feel the tickler file, in my head, racing through all the contacts of everyone that I had ever met before, it was desperately searching for this persons name.  Isn’t that terrible? We have all been there before, of course, where we see someone who we know, and for the all the coffee beans in Seattle, we can’t remember their names.  Now, I did remember this persons name about half way through the conversation, which I then started to periodically sprinkle throughout the conversation to make sure he knew that I remembered him.  However, at that awkward initial greeting at the line at Starbucks I had to give him the old; “Hey…(pause) Bud!?”  The worst!

There is something powerful when we remember someones name, isn’t there? I mean, everyone wants a place that they can walk into and have everyone yells their name, like, “NORM!,” in the classic TV sitcom Cheers. I think we live in a culture where so few of us feel like people really “Know Us”. The truth of the matter is that we were designed to be known!

During my tenure at Starbucks I tried very hard to learn the name of every regular that walked into our doors.  I even developed little tricks to help learn names.  The first few times that I would meet a new person I would try to use their names 3 times by the end of the initial conversation.

I would use it once in the greeting; “Hey Bob, its’ nice to meet you”.

Then, I would use it one time in conversation; “So, Bob, tell me your opinion on the human genome project?”

Lastly, I would use the persons name in the closing or goodbye; “Ok, Thanks Bob, Have a great day, and have fun storming the castle.” (name the movie?)

There is something powerful that is communicated when you remember, or don’t remember, someones name.  Just consider all of all the amazing events that your name has been intricately involved in.  I remember the first time I heard my wife, Rachel, say my name when we were dating, It was hypnotic and sexy all at the same time! The million times I had heard “Barry” to that point never sounded like that. I wanted to ask her to just say it again and again! Then, of course, she said it on May 24th 1998, the day we were married.

Remember, in school, when you name got called over the loud speaker by a what sounded like a muzzled school administrator to come to office? “Would Barry Hill please come to Principal Skinners office.”  Which is always closely followed by a prepubescent chorus of “OOOOOOOOOOooooo’s”

As a senior Varsity Basketball player at Eastern University I was able to hear my name called over the loud speakers at The Palestra announcing the starting line up.  “At Center, from Springfield PA, standing at 6’8″ tall BARRY HILL!”

People get names of the people they love tattooed onto their bodies…. FOREVER! (That’s a whole different blog post).

Some of us are named after family members or our name means something significant.

I also think that we need to realize, really grasp, that the God of the universe knows us by name.  That is, He knows us at the most personal and intimate level possible, even if we believe it to be true or not.  So, when people ask me how I got “so religious”, I usually tell them I am not religious at all.  I like to  tell people that I have a relationship with a God who knows my name! God knew Saul so well that he even gave him a new name after his transformation on the road to Damascus.  I believe that God cares about us at that level of detail and intimacy.  He knows our deepest wants and desires our fears and secrets, and he still calls us by name, into his presence.   Our churches should be modeling this truth as well.  Our first job is to worship Him and call on the name of God as a community, but right after that we need to be loving the community around us in meaningful relationship.

I have seen all sorts of church greeting teams over the years.  Some wear name badges, some are huggers, some are not welcoming at all and are more like 150 pound religious door stoppers.  I have a new welcoming team model in mind, The Name Model, where the greaters job is to greet you by name.  And,  if they didn’t know you, they learned your name right there on the spot.  Or, for some churches, a little more drastic measure is needed to wake us out of our slumber.   For these churches we need to greet every person that walks in the door, especially the folks that have been there a really long time,  they need a loud, “NORM!” Unless, of course,  their name is Bob.

About The Ordained Barista

Barry Hill

Barry Hill

Story Teller, Writer and Coffee Lover

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