Sunday, November 18, 2012

Bumper Sticker Moment


I love the Book of Proverbs.  This is the bumper-sticker section of the Bible.  When I regularly preached I developed a quarterly ‘bumper sticker Sunday’ whereby I would choose a Proverb speak extemporaneously on that verse.  Typically I would select the verse about thirty minutes before the service and without much preparation and no notes; I would deliver the morning message on that verse. Surprisingly, they were often the best received messages!

The Book of Proverbs (in Hebrew: מִשְלֵי Mish'ley)  derives its name from the 4th Century Latin translation of Scripture, the Vulgate, as Proverbia.  They are generally considered the writings of Solomon, who was consider to be a wise man (remember the words of If I Were a Rich Man from Fiddler on the Roof?  “…they would ask me to advise them, like Solomon the Wise’).  There is also reference to Agur and Lemuel but it is generally accepted that those are other names for Solomon.  The book is included in what many scholars refer to as Wisdom Literature which includes Psalms, Job, and the Song of Solomon.

I find myself visiting www.biblos.com often as it has a large variety of translations and study guides.  Especially helpful to those of us who like to pick apart scripture down to each word, the translation history, and origin of the words (I’ve always wanted to go back to school and study Etymology in-depth!  I suppose a true sign of a word-geek!).

Gill’s Exposition on the Entire Bible shares Proverbs 15:22 as such:  

Without counsel purposes are disappointed,.... If a man determines and resolves upon a matter, and at once hastily and precipitately goes about it, without mature deliberation, without consulting with himself, and taking the advice of others in forming a scheme to bring about his designs, it generally comes to nothing.

In other words:  it is the wise man who seeks many counsels before acting.

I strongly believe in asking for counsel from people I trust when I have a decision to make.  I make many decisions on my own but when there is one that is particularly tough, or the consequences could be grand, I prefer to ask around and see what others have to say about it. The answers are as varied as the human race.  Some of it I discard but I do chew on all of it, taking in to account my own personal believes and values. 

My mother was a wise counselor.  That’s not to say she was never wrong.  None of us are right all the time but what was helpful was the way we talked about things.  We would both approach a situation from our already pre-conceived set of assumptions and then share them with each other.  We would try to see it from other perspectives and work it out to try and come to a conclusion that we agreed upon.  However, we recognized that the goal of seeking the opinions of others was not to persuade us or to make up our minds.  It was the process and time spent on mentally chewing upon each different thought and perspective that gave us the satisfaction.  Many times it can actually make the decision process harder but in the end I am always thankful that I had the counsel.  Sometimes I would go back to the counselors and let them know they were right and I chose wrong.  I would always share my final decision and the outcome so we could all add that experience to our collective mind and thereby call upon the experience should we encounter similar situations in the future.In that process of seeking counsel and coming to a decision, we encounter disappointment. 

G. Hutchinson Smyth reminds us that “there is one thing that can make all disappointments into blessings.  It is said that Croesus had some magic power about him by which he turned everything he touched to gold.  There is more than a magic power which the believer wields over the trying dispensations of life; there is a Divine power.  All things – disappointments included – work together for good to them that love God.” 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I Dare You To Step Out of Your Box


A story my high school English teacher, Mr Fleming, taught goes something like this:

I was walking through the forest and came upon the nest of a bird.  As I gazed in to the nest I noticed the eggs were blue. I have, therefore, concluded that all bird eggs are blue.  As I continued my journey down the pathway I noticed that some leaves were falling from a tree in to what appeared as a lake of bright orange and red gathering at the base of the large trunk. I have concluded, therefore, that all leaves fall straight down and gather at the trunk of the tree and can be recognized by their color of orange and red.  As I came to the edge of the woods I noticed a small house with white smoke drifting slowly from its chimney. I have concluded that all smoke from the stove in a house, will rise as slow, white smoke from the chimney.  The lady of the home invited me in to warm myself by the fire and as I got closer to the fire I could smell the heavy scent of pine coming from the flames.  I have concluded, therefore, that all fire has the strong scent of pine.  As she wrapped her tiny fingers around her cup of tea, the lady told me of her heritage as a Jewish woman from a small village in a far off land.  It is safe to conclude that I will always be able to recognize a person of Jewish perspective because they will have small fingers and will surely speak of this village.  When I left the company of this lady I was confronted by an angry bear standing on its back legs and before I could react, the bear had attacked and killed me. I have concluded that anyone who walks in the woods will die from a bear attack and that all bears are angry and will kill humans on site.  As I sit here in the afterlife I wish to convey the following to mankind:
  • Any bird egg that is not blue surely is bad and must be destroyed.  Likewise, if you see a bird laying an egg that is not blue; it is also unnatural and must be destroyed.  Any person eating an egg that is not blue is also unworthy and unnatural and must be cast aside.
  • If any leaf be found that is not orange and red in color, it must be destroyed for it has wandered from the path that nature intended.  Likewise, the tree that pushed it away from its trunk and caused it to wander so far away must be found and destroyed before other trees learn of this behavior and follow in its ways.  Surely mankind will not withstand the mutiny of so many based on the actions of a few.
  • If any fire in the home produces anything other than a slow-drifting white smoke from its chimney, it must be immediately put out. Any food that was cooked must be destroyed and not eaten for it has been distorted by the radical smoke.  We must teach our children how to make fires that only produce this type of smoke and if they do not follow our ways it is important to not allow them access to fire for it will surely pollute the skies and the earth and all its inhabitants.
  • If any fire lacks the scent of fresh pine it, too, must be put out.  For the fresh scent of pine is the only indicator that a flame is fresh, pure, and is truly of the makers’ design.  Anyone building a fire that does not send out the divine fresh scent of pine must be cast out among you, singled-out, and not be allowed to partake in the daily functions of humanity.  For surely they will teach our children, they will breed other sour fire starters, and thus pollute all that is good.
  • In order for Jewish perspective to continue its purity of ancestry any person claiming to be Jewish but having long, thin fingers, is surely deceiving people and must be brought to trial and punished for providing false witness to the perspective.
  • Finally, if mankind is to conquer the wood as well as he has conquered the prairie land and the sea he must make it his purpose in life to destroy all the bears lest the bears destroy him first.


As a pastor it is assumed that, when invited for dinner, I will be the one who says grace.  As a singer it is assumed that I will start the singing of Happy Birthday to anyone who may be celebrating the day of his or her birth, regardless of my personal relationship with that individual.  As a Christian it is assumed I will vote one particular way because I have weighed the candidates against my own perspective and one of them surely plays far different than my Christian perspective instructs. 

The narrowness of the minds of man will surely lead us to our doom.  How can we make educated decisions when we refuse to understand all points of few?  How can we say we hate our neighbor when we have much in common with our neighbor?  How can we say that all Muslims are taught to kill people of other perspectives when the very tenet of that perspective teaches the opposite?  Why must we be so strayed and so jaded by the acts of the few loud squeaky wheels instead of the truth?  Likewise, how can other countries believe that all Americans are inherently evil because of the works and thoughts of a few loud squeaky wheels?  How do you feel when a noisy crowd of a few burn the American flag and would kill you in a heartbeat because you are American when you actually had no part in one made them angry to begin with?  Do you think that the millions of faithful Muslim believers feel the exact same way a few angry, misguided Muslims do?  Do you believe the exact same thing the midnight television preacher does because he does it in the name of Christianity? 

The loud, squeaky wheel gets the grease and all the attention and will actually get farther in its work because we allow it.  It will grab our attention because we are so narrow in our vision that we fail to see the other wheels working together in perfect harmony.  Our vision is narrow and we see only what is in front of us at that particular moment and then we call that truth.

Jesus Christ came not to put blinders over our eyes but to remove them so we may see all that is God’s Creation and that we may have life in full abundance.  Regardless of whom you believe Christ was whether from the perspective of the Jewish, Muslim, or Christian perspective – all perspectives teach that as one of the many aspects of Christ’s work on this earth. 

Friends, I challenge you – no, I DARE you, to stop limiting your opinions and thoughts of your fellow humans based solely on your limited experience with such a small number of them lest you become as foolish as the man in the story. 

Grace and Peace of God our Father to each of you. 




Monday, September 24, 2012

Um...Yeah...I Can Work With This


I have shared my personal testimony only a few times over the past ten years.  I do not share it just for the sake of sharing; for it is painfully personal and a journey that I am still, after ten years, trying to reconcile.  But today I want to skip to the pivotal moment along that painful journey because I want to focus on that, not everything that led up to that.

I had been falsely accused of something and the repercussions were more than I imagined.  I had lost everything but my family.  My entire identity had been taken from me and in my absolute despair, in that moment in my life when I could not possibly go any lower – I had a vision.  I’m not a man of visions but this one was very clear to me.  I saw God sitting, leaning forward, his forehead resting in this right hand, and his head was shaking back and forth slowly.  This is what He said, “no no no…my dear son believe me this is not what I wanted for your life but I promise you, if you give me some time I will work with this”. 

The miracles that have happened since that time have been far too many to count.  The life I lead today is one that is free from any type of bondage be it spiritual, emotional or physical.  The pain of the event is something I am still processing through but the outcome – well, I’m here to say that God did, indeed, work with it and much has been achieved!

I know another man who sits in prison.  He, like thousands of others, claim he is innocent and the truth is – he is innocent.  But the laws of the land and the hearts of the wicked prevailed to the degree that he is now in prison and may very well be there for a very long time.  I talk with him often and his spirit remains strong.  He is a powerful witness to those around him, he leads worship in the prison, he writes, he is a wise counselor to many and the list goes on.  You see, God worked with it.

When you encounter something unexpected that has a negative impact on your life, can you work with it?  Can you allow God to work with it?  If your best friend, brother, sister, mother, father or lover betrayed you somehow and caused you pain would you be able to work with it?  Would the two of you be able to agree that time heals and that God CAN work in and through all things?  Would you just surrender and decide that there’s nothing that can be done, cut your losses and go? Moses led his people in to the middle of nowhere but God worked with it, didn’t he?  Daniel was stuck in the middle of the hungry lions, no escape, no light at the end of the tunnel, hardly a hope…but God worked with it, didn’t he? 

God doesn’t purposely send wicked your way.  It happens.  But God can work with anything if those who are in it will focus on Him. 

What did you do today to focus on Him while he is so intent on focusing on you?  While things are being put in to place to bless you and to make your life, yes, even you very soul – jump with joy…what are you doing in return?  Are you saying to God, “yes, you better work with this!” or are you saying, “Really, God?  Wow!  I didn’t know You saw that…thank You…I will continue to praise You and recognize You through all things and I will wait patiently on You while You work with this”.

They that wait upon the Lord SHALL renew their strength; they SHALL mount up with wings like the eagles; they SHALL run, and not be weary; and they SHALL walk, and not faint…Isaiah 50:31

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Not Now, Lord - It's Too Scary



One of my business clients kicked my butt this morning.  Ok, she’s much more than a client.  She is one I have come to call a friend and I appreciate her authentic call to ministry.  She posted a blog entry today (assisted by her virtual assistant from www.orcvirtual.com, me) that moved me to action. 

First, I want to invite you to read her blog entry and then come back to mine.  Go ahead…I’ll be here when you get back….go….www.vgladding.blogspot.com

So what did you think?  As I mentioned, I was moved to action.  The Lord has been nudging me to do something all week long and I put it off.  I’ll be brutally honest as to why I up it off.  I was scared and did not want to confront the possible outcome.  Yes, I said it.  I was scared of something that may or may not have occurred as a result of my action.

Do I make the pot of coffee this morning knowing full well that something could go wrong?  The pot could break, coffee will spill everywhere, the cat gets burned by the hot water and I cut myself on the glass, and then run to the hospital for stitches.  Meanwhile the coffee pot is still on and the grounds are now all over the burner plate, filling the house with the ‘wonderful’ aroma of burnt coffee, and then someone hits me on the way back from the hospital and of course it starts to rain so we’re all wet…the list of possibilities is endless.  It’s just a lot safer for me to not make the coffee this morning.

So maybe that’s a little far-fetched; but I use it to make a point.  If fear of a possible negative outcome prevents you from doing the thing you KNOW you should be doing, then that fear is put there by someone other than God; someone who doesn’t want you to do it.  But listen to your hearts’ prompting.

My Dad has wonderful advice about situations where we need to act but are afraid to or our reaction is out of anger and may be made too quickly with dangerous consequences.  He says to write it down.  Put it away for a day or two.  Come back to it. Chew on it if you need to, edit it, add, delete etc.  Then you’ll know when you have found the right words to say.  That is great advice whether it is homework or a letter or mere thoughts to be spoken later.  Sometimes it takes a little searching to find what you need.  I think that’s why they made ‘save as draft’ an option in email programs!  Just don’t hit ‘send’ before you are actually ready!

I have iTunes on my computer.  Sometimes I want to listen to the radio portion and I want to hear classical chorale works.  There is a station for that but I can never find it on my initial scroll.  I always have to scroll down, then go back to the top and suddenly it appears half-way down the list.  I have to do a little searching before I can find what I want.  And so it is when it comes to finding the right words and way to do that which brings us a little fear.  We need to practice; we need to scroll through the options before we find the right one.
Those things that you KNOW you need to be doing and yet you are putting off…you know what I’m talking about, right?  God is bringing it to the forefront of your heart and mind just because you’re reading this and it bugs you just a little bit.  Do it.  

IF YOU ARE DISTRESED BY ANYTHING EXTERNAL, THE PAIN IS NOT DUE TO THE THING ITSELF, BUT TO YOUR ESTIMATE OF IT; AND THIS YOU HAVE THE POWER TO REVOKE AT ANY MOMENT...Marcus Aurelius
I Timothy 1:7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of sound mind!

Thank you, Jesus, that we can trust you with our today and with our tomorrow and with our right here and right now.  Lord, when we feel our spirits tremble at the idea of some unknown looming threat or event, we can trust in your faithfulness.  Help us to embrace that trust so that we have no need to be afraid of uncertainty.  Help us to denounce this fear which is not from you.  Help us to turn this fear in to action...by first falling to our knees in prayer, and then following through with that which we know we must do, with the knowledge that you are always there to protect us even through the darkness when we cannot see the actual outcome.  



Monday, September 10, 2012

Today Is Your Best Day So Far




My mother, as many of you know by now, is my hero and my role model of strength.  Two days after she had major brain surgery to remove a very large cancerous mass, she had one goal.  To walk that day.  She wasn’t focused on what just happened or what may or may not happen tomorrow.  She wanted to get out of that bed, walk to physical rehab and walk up the three steps.  Nothing else truly mattered to her that day (except, as always, that Dad had something to eat for lunch and didn’t get lost!). 

I was with her the day she climbed those stairs.  It was the same day they gave her a walker to help her along (which, after her death, we gave back for someone else to use).  It was difficult to walk those steps.  She was slightly confused and very overwhelmed but she was determined and focused.  What mattered was now…this moment that she was given…this blip on the timeline of her life…this is what mattered the most.

I am accused sometimes of being too positive. It has been difficult to remain positive since Mom’s passing but I give it my best.  What really drives me crazy are people who are negative based on what has happened in the past and what they perceive will happen in the future.  I don’t understand that way of thinking.  When I’m negative it’s about the moment right now – something is happening right now that is giving me reason to feel not so positive.  But I tend to quickly pick myself up because I realize there is nothing you can do about the past.

When I taught voice and piano lessons there is a lesson I learned from my voice professor that I carried to my own teaching (tone of lessons, actually, but here is a great one).  His name is Dr Craig Maddox and I am proud to say that I studied in his studio.  I learned so much about myself and there are so many tidbits of information from within his studio that I absorbed and use still today.  He taught me that once I made a mistake it was not my business to get upset about it.  Learn from it and move on.  There is nothing, absolutely NOTHING I could do about a wrong note sung or a technique I dropped on a note.  It’s out there for the world to hear – they heard it – it’s done.  You can’t grab it and say, “oh never mind”.  You can’t erase it – you can’t do anything about it so move on.  Don’t waste your energy worrying about what just happened – learn, grow, stand proud, and work on right now.  Don’t worry about that phrase that’s coming up in two measures – the note you are singing right this very moment is the most important and once it is sung you move on to the next.

Most of my students figured it out quickly.  Move on and focus your energy on what’s happening in the moment.  Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “with the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future.  I live now.”

Bill Waterson, author and cartoonist of the famous series Calvin and Hobbes, said it well when he wrote, “We're so busy watching out for what's just ahead of us that we don't take time to enjoy where we are.” 

Look, the point I’m trying to make here is that perhaps you spend too much time worrying about what you did and how it will affect your future.  You are missing the point of living.  The point of living is right NOW.  This moment…what are you doing today?  Get up out of the darkness you wrapped yourself in, move away from the sharp objects that you placed around you to cause you pain, and wake up from the sadness that you invited to take over your being…there’s a whole world out there and it’s your responsibility to yourself to live today.  Prepare for the future by living today and the future may very well surprise you.  But live in your current present and behold your future is already here. 

“I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn't arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I'm going to be happy in it.”
― 
Groucho Marx, The Essential Groucho: Writings For By And About Groucho Marx


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Wait For It...There It Is...That Divine Moment!



What does one moment of the divine look and feel like?  While Joseph was waiting for the dream to manifest, what was he feeling?  While David waited for the throne and Peter waited for Gods hand to move in the prison, what was going on in their hearts at the time?  While Hannah was waiting for Samuel?  Were they hoping and believing and trusting or were they complaining?


I have to admit that as of late my heart has done a lot of complaining.  I try to be patient and I KNOW that the desires and the destiny that God has planted in my heart will come about in one divine moment.  I know that I will continue to take small steps closer and closer to the dream.  Yet I am tired and weary!  I see no light at the end of the tunnel and, as I've heard it said, I'm just afraid that the light is actually an oncoming train!


The problem is, we are not a patient creature.  Let’s be real, we can’t sit around and hope forever, right?  Romans 4:18 tells us straight out that when our hope is deferred, our heart gets sick.  But when the desire is fulfilled, it is like a tree of life!  

I like the way The Message Version of the Bible states it:  “unrelenting disappointment leaves your heart sick, but a sudden good break can turn life around.”  

When that one moment of the divine happens, that very moment you have been praying and hoping for, its as if your heart suddenly leaps forth in joy and motivation and excitement.  But what about the wait time?

There will be times when you feel you simply do not have the strength to hold on to faith.  But know this in your hearts and believe it is true:  when we cannot hold on to faith any longer, it is that time when faith holds on to us.  

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God's Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, and keeps us present before God. That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

So stay focused on the prize.  Stay committed to the desires in your heart and believe that God has put them there and that He will continue working to make them come to fruition.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel and no, it’s not that of an oncoming train!  

It is the same God,
just a different day.



It is the same process,
yet each day with increased intensity.



It is the same journey,
just a different stretch.
 


There is a moment, my friends, one divine moment, when you will realize that God has been working on your dreams and one day he will present them to you.

Do not abandon the desires that God has planted in your heart.  Ask the Holy Spirit to ignite a passion in you that brings old dreams and longings back to a thundering blaze once again!  And be ready for what that feels like WHILE you are waiting!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Authentic Ministry


I am now in day six of a “blog off” between myself and Pastor Vicki Gladding (www.vgladding.blogspot.com).  She is one of the clients in my company, ORCVirtual (www.orcvirtual.com) but is also someone whom I have come to consider a friend.  We agreed to challenge ourselves to coming up with a blog entry a day for one week.  The journey has been an interesting one so far.

I have never met Pastor Vicki in person.  We have spoken on the phone, we have Skype’d together, I know what she looks like through photos and we are friends on Facebook.  I have never had the opportunity (yet) to sit at a table and share a cup of tea and share conversation.  But there is one thing I can tell you of Pastor Vicki that I know without a doubt.  I have said this often to her and about her but today I want to focus on this one particular aspect of Christianity that I feel is truly key to walking-the-walk.  Authenticity.

What I absolutely adore about the stories of Christ in the New Testament is that Christ brought about not only realism but an authentic, tangible, and visual connection to the Holy.  He put flesh and bone to God and walked the earth.  When he left this physical realm, he left us with the responsibility of putting face, hands, feet, heart and voice to his Spirit.  When we become these things we enter in to authentic ministry.  When we try to embrace the aspects of the physical Christ in todays’ world, we enter in to authentic ministry. It is when we place the experiences of the Holy too high for many to reach that we begin to loose authenticity.

I had a roommate in college who used to say, frequently I might add, that although God created all of creation, at times he felt as if he was just a mere dirt worm in this world.  Not able to achieve even one rung on the ladder of higher order.  He felt that he was often not the master of his domain or anything for that matter.  He accepted the fact that he struggled and his life was slow and agonizing at times as he wiggled his way through this life, looking and searching for ways to bring the gospel to the people around him while he, himself, struggled to learn more about the God he preached about.   What I truly think he did not realize is how many people who truly touched.  Through his humility he touched hundreds if not thousands of hearts.  What we saw in this man, who was a great teacher of the gospel and one of the most faithful prayer partners I have ever encountered, was a man who knew that he was merely a man and that he felt he fell short every single day of totally, utterly and genuinely pleasing God with his every word, thought and deed.   He always knew that he wasn’t “done yet” and that God still had a lot of work to do in him.

Conversely I had a pastor of a church I served who always referred to himself as the Reverend Doctor.  Yes, he had his PhD and even in staff meetings we were not allowed to call him by his first name or even Pastor so-and-so.  It was always Reverent Doctor.  His sermons were always lofty and he chose words that many people would need to look up had the pews had a dictionary handy.  I know he made up several words as well and created them so that his mouth would seem that more intelligent.  When he was in the chancel area (the area that contains the pulpit, alter, choir, etc) he did not humble himself but took it upon himself to be the master of it.  When all people would kneel in the area, he would stand.  We never once saw him kneel.  This man lacked authenticity because he made the holy something that was unattainable and out of reach for everyone but him and maybe a select few he elected.  It was painfully obvious and after a few years he was asked to step down and the church was able to heal and grow after that. 

There is a very fine line that pastors have to walk. We must embrace humility and remain humble in our calling but we must also be prepared to be seen as an authority figure.  People expect us to have the answers.  Some people even fail to confide fully in their pastor because they do not believe for a moment that they would understand their earthly struggles.  After all, they are pastors and they only work on Sundays and then must spend the rest of the time studying the Bible and getting, well, holier than they are this week!  Pastors must be able to do what Christ did – meet every single person exactly where they are on this life journey and be able to relate to them.  THAT is authentic ministry.

To be truly authentic in the calling of ministry, to fully embrace what it means to be called Pastor, a person must be able to show the face of Christ to the blind.  They must be able to become the feet of Christ on earth, and they must become the hands of Christ with which to hold the hands of the dying and hurting.  One must become the ears of Christ to hear all things and the mouth of Christ to speak His truth.  One must become the body of Christ, walking and living and breathing and BEing in this space and time because Christ is no longer physically among us. 

We tend to forget that Paul was a man – he was no superhero, no Reverend Doctor.  His ministry was soaked in the Word of God, the Truth of God, the Teaching of God and the Good News of the gospel.  A pastor of authenticity will have a life whose outward appearance is but a reflection of an inward grace provided only by the Holy Spirit.

Authentic doesn’t mean perfection.  It means being genuine. It means having a life that is reliable and trustworthy.  It means being Christ to those that have not met Him and to those who continue to seek Him further.  The goal of humanity should be that all strive to be authentic believers of Christ and do-ers of God’s Word.  Faith in action – feet for the gospel – reality in a world that is full of the unreal.  That is authentic ministry.  Authentic leadership. Authentic worship.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Breath Deep and Smell the Manure


A family had twin boys whose only resemblance to each other was their looks. If one felt it was too hot, the other thought it was too cold. If one said the TV was too loud, the other claimed the volume needed to be turned up. Opposite in every way, one was an eternal optimist, the other a doom and gloom pessimist.


Just to see what would happen, on Christmas day their father loaded the pessimist's room with every imaginable toy and game. The optimist's room he loaded with horse manure.
That night the father passed by the pessimist's room and found him sitting amid his new gifts crying bitterly.


"Why are you crying?" the father asked.


"Because my friends will be jealous, I'll have to read all these instructions before I can do anything with this stuff, I'll constantly need batteries, and my toys will eventually get broken." answered the pessimist twin.


Passing the optimist twin's room, the father found him dancing for joy in the pile of manure. "What are you so happy about?" he asked.


To which his optimist twin replied, "There's got to be a pony in here somewhere!"


Can you find the good even in the midst of the worse? Can you see the light when you are so deep in the valley that it’s hard to even look up?  Can you find a reason to smile when despair and agony seem to be ruling your every thought and move?  What about when you simply wake up on the wrong side of the bed and find yourself in a foul mood?  Are you able to find the pony in the midst of the manure?

Sometimes when we are down it helps just to tell our face that we’re not as down as we are feeling.  Proverbs 15:13 says that a happy heart makes the face cheerful. Proverbs 17:22 tells us that a cheerful heart is good medicine but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

Is your spirit crushed?  How did you manage to allow that to happen?  YOU are the keeper of your heart and in the deepest part of your heart is where the spirit of God dwells.  Why did you give permission to someone to smother your hearts’ spirit?  Does your heart not know joy and cheer right now?  Find a reason to bring a smile to your heart.  You may have to start with your face but soon enough your heart will catch on.

For the most part I am a happy person.  I manage to smile a lot and try to engage all persons in conversation and I try to make everyone smile right along with me.  There are days that task is very difficult to do but I do it.  People close to me have asked me how I manage to remain so up and so positive.  My answer is simple.  I have two choices:  I chose the easiest one.  I choose to try and make the best out of it because the other option is to continue wallowing in the muck and the mire and after a while, that starts to smell like that young man’s room must have! 

You see, the point is that the young man was happy and optimistic that he would find a pony when in fact there would be no pony found.  But he had the choice and he chose one.  He chose to be happy and optimistic and to put a smile on his face and in his heart.  He refused to focus on the fact that the pony probably wasn’t in there – he made the decision to turn a pretty horrible and no doubt, stinky situation, in to a reason to smile and rejoice.

What choice are you making today?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Precious Stone

What are your special gifts and skills?  I’m not referring to your outward talents like singing, or drawing, and things that you can place on a resume.  I’m referring to intrinsic skills that make you someone special.  What is there about you that people who watch you moving through life say to themselves, “I want what he has”?  Do you wish you were more like someone else?  Whether a relative or a mentor or someone you never met – I’m willing to bet there are certain characteristics of some people that you would love to take on as your own.

A wise woman who was travelling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream.
The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation.


The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime.

But, a few days later, he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.

“I’ve been thinking,” he said. “I know how valuable this stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious.  Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me this stone."

This man recognized the gift this woman had within her and he wanted it for himself.  Look around you.  There are always opportunities to grow and perhaps the person right next to you has something they can teach you today to help you do it.  Even more important what do you have within you that you can teach others just through the simple act of being yourself? 

Friday, August 3, 2012

God Bless You


What do you think of when someone says, “God bless you?” or when you hear someone say that God has blessed them with a new job, or a great partner, or other gift?  The meaning of the word “barakah”, the Hebrew word translated as ‘blessing’ means ‘gift’.  The root word is ‘baruch’ which actually means to kneel.  This can create a powerful image if you think about it.  God kneels and gives you a gift.  The God of all creation humbles Himself and offers us gifts.

Numbers 6:24-26 is a wonderful benediction.  God gave Moses this specific blessing to give to Aaron to say over the children of Israel and it was spoken each day at the end of each tabernacle and temple service. 

When the priest would raise his arms over the people to bless them, he spreads his fingers and thumbs in the shape of the Hebrew letter ‘shin’.   The image below is an example.  Fans of the original Star Trek series and movies will recognize this as a two-handed version of the Vulcan greeting.  Not a coincidence that the man who portrays Spock is Jewish. He adapted the sign of the priestly blessing to use as this Vulcan greeting.  The shin is chosen because it is the first letter in the name of Shaddai, meaning Almighty One.


Take a few moments today and listen to this magnificent three lines of poetry in a musical setting below.  My prayer is simple for you today:



The Lord bless you and keep you

The Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;

The Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you and give you peace.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Stand Up and Embrace our Differences


Marcus Aurelius once said, “You always own the option of having no opinion. There is never any need to get worked up or to trouble your soul about things you can’t control.  These things are not asking to be judged by you.  Leave them alone.”

What a powerful insight this man had.  My favorite book, probably my top three favorites ever, is Marcus Aurelius - The Emperor’s Handbook by C. Scot Hicks and David V. Hicks.  It is a new translation of the Meditations which is a combination of the notes of the emperor intended for personal and private use.  I find many wonderful thoughts in these pages and often use it as a platform for writing some of my own meditations.

Recent cultural news events have led thousands of people to take a stand for what they believe in. For the things that they feel are important and just and holy.  Which side is wrong?  We all have our opinion and not everyone can be right.  At times I wonder if ANY of us are right.  Perhaps we have all missed the mark.  Perhaps we could heed some of the emperor’s advice and leave things alone. 

Humanity lacks the ability to do that.  You know the type of people who actually look for confrontation, right?  They seem to look and listen for an opportunity to voice their opinions and typically will do so in total disregard for the people on the other side.  And when pushed, most of us will take a side because our hearts tell us to.  That is part of the human experience – we all approach ideas and topics from a different place.  The challenge is that when our lines cross, do we clash and fight or do we embrace one another, celebrate the mere fact that we have differences, and strive to learn from one another. 

The real question our culture needs to answer is this:  how do we stand up for what we believe in without standing on top of those we oppose?  Is it possible for humanity to agree to disagree and do so in peacefulness, showing love towards one another in all things?  Colossians 3:14 tells us that love is the perfect binding agent for unity.

You recall I Corinthians 12:2-3 which, interestingly enough is a popular wedding scripture.  It tells us that even if we speak many languages and we seem to be able to transcend humanity and share the language of the angels with one another, if we do not have love, than we might as well be clanging a noisy cymbal.  In fact, we could have so much faith that we can, indeed, move mountains but if we have not love, we are absolutely nothing.

Here’s the point I’m trying make.  Enter all things that you do and say with an attitude of love for ALL people, regardless of their viewpoint.  Just because they don’t sound like you does not mean that they are asking to be judged by you.  By speaking in love and sharing with one another our convictions, as long as we continue to show and have love in our hearts, we will all find the truth.

We are different and we all have our strong opinions.  Some of us can be swayed from one side of the issue to another.  Some will never be swayed.  And that is what we need to accept and embrace about humanity.  We are not going to agree with one another but is it possible for all of us to recognize that ALL have fallen short of the grace of God?  Is it possible that we leave well enough alone those things that are out of our control and instead to simply reach across the table, the picket line, the street, the pew – and tell the person that looks different than we are that we love them?  Is it possible that love actually can be the bonding agent that brings unity to the human race?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Come to the Water and Drink


Water.  We bathe in it, we drink it, cook with it, clean with it, play in it, boat on, swim in it, dive in to it…water is so simple yet so versatile and powerful. 

Water is a polar molecule.  It is one of the strongest solvents on earth because it dissolves more than almost any other compound does.  It can stick to things and it can transport itself up small tubes such as plant and tree roots.  The surface tension is high so things float.   Water is so common that we often take it for granted like the air we breathe.

In John 4:1-14 we see an example of how God takes the common and turns them in to something special.  Jacob built a well for water that was used to help sustain life.  1800 years later Christ was seated at that well and used it to transform lives.  He broke barriers with this simple well.  As you may recall Jesus sat at the well where a Samaritan woman was drawing water and he asked her for a drink of it.  She recognized Christ as a Jew and she being a Samaritan woman knew it was not right for Jews to associate with Samaritans or even use the same dishes therefore it was not possible for her to be asked this. 

It wasn’t important to Christ from what community, what body of believers, or what class of people this woman came.  Jesus was merely trying to illustrate to the woman that God is the Living Water from where all our sustenance comes.   I’m pretty sure that Christ was thirsty.  As we all are – we thirst for water and we thirst for the taste of the Holy.  But Christ used it for a Holy opportunity.

She didn’t get it at first.  She wanted this water that Christ was talking about that gave life eternal.  She thought she was just talking to a man next to a well but it was just a hole in the ground and she was talking with the well that offers the water of life.

Christ was not only thirsty for water but he also took this opportunity to use water as a symbol of the life that He offers us.  You see – it is very possible for us to witness some very holy moments in the most common of places.  As we transcend boundaries of status, life, background, history, orientation, and even religious varieties – we then can truly taste the water that Christ offers us.  When we build up fences around the well and demand that only those who look and act like we do can take from it, we have missed the point.

The point of this story is that all people matter to Christ.  Why did he choose to go through Samaria on his journey?  As a result, the town of Sychar got to hear about Christ.  Christ went out of his way to meet just one person.  And he still makes those journeys today.

He came to give us living water and for it to be like a stream within us reaching out to others.  The world is full of people who need it but Christ could do nothing for people who did not know this.  Some people think they are good enough and will not confess their wrongdoings but the woman at the well did so – she admitted she was not worthy and in that simple act Christ said she would be made worthy through the living, healing waters that is Christ Jesus.

Come to the water – drink and be filled. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

It's All Your Fault, Mr Fleming


I have always loved writing.  When I was younger I kept journals and was constantly trying to come up with something to write about.  I wrote poetry and stories and sometimes I would even write pretend news columns for the local paper – complete with left justified margins (handwriting it!).  My father had an old smith-corona manual type writer and I would ask to use it every chance I got.  I learned home row and was able to type without seeing the keys in no time.  I’ve never professed to be an scholarly writer by any stretch of the imagination.  My writing tends to be more random-streams-of-consciousness writing.  But it’s been a passion of mine for some time.

I had a high school teacher encourage me to write – in fact, he demanded it.  He gave me an assignment that no one else knew about.  He asked me to write about anything I wanted but I had to do it once a week and hand it in to him.  I did.  And every comment he wrote on that paper was encouraging.  Even his manner of correcting me was always so encouraging.  I’m blessed to remember his name – Mr Fleming.  I’m blessed as well to be in touch with his daughter and one of my high school classmates to this day.  Mr Fleming went to be with our Lord several years ago but his powerful teaching extends farther than he could have imagined.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 says “Encourage one another, and build each other up.”  That’s exactly what Mr Fleming did to all of his students – he encouraged us and built us up.   The building up and encouragement of this man went far beyond my writing but has permeated many aspects of my life and fuels my decision making.  I never had the opportunity to let him know how much I appreciated it but I would like to think he had an idea.  For when we build up one another, we build up ourselves as well. The body of Christ must encourage one another; cheer one another on to be the best we can be in the areas in which we excel. 

You see, through the kindness of this one man, a seed was planted.  And over time that seed continued to grow and is now an integral part of who I am. 

We have the privilege to encourage one another and to sow seeds in one another’s heart that God will nurture and allow to grow.  And all it takes is an encouraging word.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Our Caregivers Role Model


All four Gospel writers mention the account of Jesus and his disciples entering the Garden of Gethsemane.  While he is there he asks Peter, James and John to go with him while he prays.  Jesus steps further away from the three disciples to spend time in prayer.

This account shows us God’s Constant Providence.  In this moment Christ experiences agony and a trouble state of mind.  What could have possibly been surging through the mind of this man at this moment?  I want to use this account as a powerful image for us.  What if – for the sake of argument – as Christ has knowledge of his betrayal this is literally right around the corner; what if Christ went off by himself because he grew tired of caregiving?  If He came to be truly human and to have a true experience of what it is to fully embrace the human experience than surely Christ must have grown weary of all the caregiving that he dished out, all the teaching, all the love and now he is in full realization of the truth he’s known all along:  he will die for it?  He gets murdered.  He gets sacrificed.  He even pleads to His Father in heaven that if it were a possibility, please intervene and change your divine plan so that this incident can pass right over me and I can continue moving forward and living. 

It is not possible for us to try and get in to the mind of Christ without having feelings of resentment or anger towards humanity.  All his work must have felt to him, at times, to be all in vain.  The internal conflict Christ experienced was surely agonizing because he knew what he had to do and he knew what the outcome would be. 

I have had my share of care giving.  It started almost 15 years ago while I began care giving for an elderly family member.  I watched as all the love and care was dished out for this person yet hardly a word of thanks or act of appreciation was ever received.  The reward of care giving is typically not one that comes from the patient.  It is, indeed, a divine and intrinsic reward.  But we are human.  We want affection and affirmation.  We need people to tell us we’re OK, we’re doing well, we’re doing right.  But even those words can sound and feel so empty when they aren’t supported by actions.

Caregivers live daily with a myriad of emotions.

ANXIETY AND WORRY  Never having complete confidence that you are handling everything exactly right.  Worrying what will happen to the one you are caring for if something happens to you and then there’s the future and what it will bring as the illness progresses.  Are you really doing everything you possibly can do to help this person.

ANGER OR RESENTMENT

Anger at the world and resentful of others who do not have the responsibilities that you have; at times being angry at the very person you are caring for because you have dropped everything for this person.  This leads to grief.

GRIEF  Long before the patient may pass away the feelings of grief are there.  We mourn the daily loss of this person as they fall deeper and deeper in to an unknown abyss.  We mourn the loss of ourselves, our identity and our very purpose.  Our hopes and dreams have been put on hold and many may be lost forever.  We mourn the loss of time, vacations, relaxation, lovers and dreams.  And then you feel guilty.

GUILT.  The guilt is strong.  Again, are we really doing all that we can?  Will my loved ones around me forgive me for being absent so much, or tired, or cranky or short of patience?  We find ourselves lacking patience with the one we’re caring for and then we struggle over the acceptance of our role.

I am confident that Christ has felt these emotions as we all have.  How Christ handled them and lived through these emotions is an important lesson to us especially as caregivers. 

Christ prayed.  He rebuked those who were wrong and lovingly corrected injustices.  He stood strong for his convictions and stood up for those who could not do it for themselves. 

If you are a caregiver I want to encourage you first by reminding you that you are not alone although this journey feels very dark and lonely.  And although you have no doubt heard it before, you truly do need to make sure you are caring for yourself.  I encourage you to check out this website that has some helpful tips.  http://www.beliefnet.com/Health/2008/09/Tips-for-Caregivers.aspx  The Mayo Clinic also has some great tips and tools for stress management at http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/caregiver-stress/MY01231/

Look – as Christ entered the garden he knew what he was facing and yet even he cried out to God  to please reconsider who he has chosen for this job.  We are not alone and we have the most influential caregiver ever as our role model, our mentor, and our guide.  Take time to pray not only for the ones in your charge but for your needs to be fulfilled.  Let God know how you feel so he knows you are in agreement.  God knows how you feel but many times He just wants you to let him know. 

God bless your care giving efforts no matter what capacity it is either part-time, occasional or full-time and all-consuming. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Praise the Lord, Oh My Soul

We read and hear the stories about God's hand in the lives of the saints that came before us.  We see his goodness in delivering them, his mercy in pardoning them, and his faithfulness in keeping his promise with them.  how much more interesting would it be for us to comment and share how the hand of God is in our own lives today?  what if we were to look back upon our own, personal history and see that ours is at least as full of God, as full of goodness and truth and faithfulness and mercy as the lives of any of the saints who have gone before us?


What injustice do we bring to the Kingdom when we assume that God has only imparted his mighty acts and showed himself strong to only those who went before us?  Does God not role up his sleeves and bare his arms on our behalf even today? 


Review the history of your life.  Look closely and discover those blessed events that were refreshing to us and that glorified the Kingdom of God.

Can you truly say you have never been delivered from a wilderness that your life journey led you to?  Have you passed through any raging waters unsupported by the divine?  Have you walked through no fires unharmed?  Have you had no manifestations at all of God's divine nature?  Have you had no encouter with the Holy during your life journey thus far?  The same God that gave Solomon the desire of his heart - has he not listened to you and answered that which you asked?  David sang, "who satisifies the mouth with good things".  Has God not satisfied you and supplied you with your basic needs from His bounty?  Have you never walked by the still waters? 
Surely the goodness of the Lord who blessed the saints before us is continuing to bless those among us and our own lives? 


May we take time today to weave his mercies given to us in great abundance in to a glorious song for God.  May we take the gold of thanksgiving and the jewels of praise and fasten yet another amazing crown to adore the head of Christ.


Let us praise the Lord for all his mercies and forget not all his benefits! May we be able to rejoice with true authentic hearts and count his blessings and mercies seen in and through our lives.  God is alive today and working in, through and around us just as He did in the lives and hearts of all the saints that have gone before us.  Praise the Lord, Oh my Soul.