Martin Luther King Day

“Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love.”

“Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

We celebrate today the birth and the impact of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. As I was looking over some of his famous quotes- and rest assured, he was phenomenally quotable- I saw many of those quotes extolling the need and the virtues of non-violence.

How ironic, of course, that this man of avowed non-violence, died at the hands of violence. Indeed, Jesus too preached love and non-violence, and died a violent death. The powerful words of Jesus, Mohandas Ghandi, and Martin Luther King- advocates of non-violence- led them to destruction.

What does this say about society? Those people who have less facility with words, or failure to have a cogent discussion with others, evidently must resort to violence, in their own minds, to be heard. There is an old saying that is humorous, but also contains some seeds of truth. It is said to be a strategy of some attorneys in court cases. It goes like this:

If you have the evidence, pound the evidence. If you have the facts, pound the facts. If you don’t have facts or evidence, pound the table!

Perhaps taken to its logical conclusion, people who feel powerless and who have very few acceptable social outlets, resort to violence in order to feel “heard”.

We see evidence of violent expression all around us. Dr. King and so many other brilliant prophets, have tried over the centuries to plead for true communication to make changes in an unjust world.

Our best tribute to these precious prophets would be to have reasonable discussion of differing points of view to truly hear others, not just to be heard.

As Dr. King said “I have a dream”. He had a dream of a society of people that listened to one another with respect and honorable intentions.

Maybe we all have that dream.

Prayer: Lord, give us ears to hear others, and the courage to act justly, Amen

Peter’s Journey

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?”

He said “Lord you know all things; you know that I love you.”

 Jesus said “Feed my sheep…”

From John chapter 21

The above passage captures part of Peter’s journey through fear, doubt, rebuke, and healing. Jesus had told Peter that he would be a betrayer when the times got hard, but Peter in his pride and arrogance protested. Alas, as Jesus had predicted, Peter denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed. Peter was devastated and was in need of personal healing from Jesus. He may have known that he was forgiven by Jesus’ death, or maybe not. Such a truth is so overwhelming and earth changing, the disciples perhaps had only a glimmer of this truth at that point. But Peter needed a personal touch from Jesus.

So, at the end of Jesus’ stay on earth, He had some unfinished business with Peter. Jesus took him aside and reminded him of his threefold denial of Jesus with a threefold question of Peter: “Do you truly love me?”

Peter must have known that Jesus was reliving that denial scene at the time of the arrest, and he was troubled that Jesus really would question his love. “Surely you know that I love you Jesus” he said, “You know all things!”

Jesus, in his profound wisdom, knew that Peter needed to own his past sins in a very clear way to know the impact of them. Peter needed to learn about remorse, not just forgiveness. Remorse is contrition driven by seeing the pain of the one offended, not mainly for the remediation of the pain of the offender.

Jesus, when the lesson was sufficiently understood by Peter, offered not just forgiveness, but meaningful restoration.  “Feed my sheep” Jesus said.

So often our guilt separates us from true fellowship with Jesus. Jesus will have none of it, and instead offers us a place of meaning and dignity. He is that kind of Redeemer!

Prayer: Father, thank you for giving us your Son, who not only teaches us forgiveness, but also restoration and dignity. What an amazing gift and plan!  Amen.

COVID Depression

I cry out to God; yes, I shout.
    Oh, that God would listen to me!
When I was in deep trouble,
    I searched for the Lord.
All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven,
    but my soul was not comforted.
I think of God, and I moan,
    overwhelmed with longing for his help.

Have his promises permanently failed?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
    Has he slammed the door on his compassion?

(Excerpts from Psalm 77)

These excerpts from Psalm 77 are just a window into David’s thinking. He wondered when his depressive thoughts would end. He finally concluded that God had a history of saving his people, so he took some comfort in God’s ultimate provision.

I don’t know if the DSM-5 has come up with a revision to include a diagnosis of “Covid Depression”. They might. Maybe they should. This virus has been in our lives since February 2020, and it has colored everything in our lives. Any issues that my clients may have had prior to this virus and its aftermath have been greatly exacerbated by the current climate. It literally makes everything worse.

Whether or not you were depressed prior to the COVID crisis, I can bet that you carry a low level of depression now. I do. Anytime our standards of stability are upset, we respond with some reaction. We try to regain normal. The presence of COVID has stymied many of those attempts at trying to regain normal. Our response is often a complex brew of sadness, anger, fear, and helplessness. Collectively, that jumble of feelings can be called depression.

Reactive depression is a thing. We all experience it in our lives, and we then must do something about it. Feeling like there is no escape is absolutely the worst place to be, but for a while, that is the case. Then we recognize that we can VISIT that place of depression, but we do not want to LIVE there.   

For me, I recognize the signs in myself. I am a little bit irritable, sad about the fact that our lives continue to be disrupted. I wonder when this oppression will end. How does our economy, or our social interactions, survive? When will COVID stop being a dominant news story? So many questions to which I have no answers.

So, I do what I can do, and I try not to get bogged down by what I cannot do. I can look at my attitude and remind myself of the many blessings I have. I can wear a mask and social distance, as necessary, because I think that is what science recommends. I am vaccinated and boosted. I can do the things that at least approach normal, like eating out at restaurants on their patios, (when possible), testing before any social gatherings, etc. I can continue to exercise and work. I can reach out to others to support them.

So, that is my therapy plan. I assume that you have some COVID Depression like me. What is your therapy plan?

Prayer: Father, you know the big picture that we cannot see. I trust that your plans are good and healing for us, Amen.

A Good Word

The right word at the right time is like a custom-made piece of jewelry,
And a wise friend’s timely reprimand is like a gold ring slipped on your finger.                                  Proverbs 25:11-12 (The Message)

In this time when we find the national discourse to be so negative and discouraging, I look to Proverbs to find some wisdom.

When I see clients, I look for ways to encourage them. I affirm progress that they have made, I make observations about their strengths, and I try to give them hope for solutions about their problems.

I must add that I do not simply “make things up” to make people feel good. That would be wrong and counterproductive- demeaning, actually. I look for genuine ways that I can find positive things in their life, their work toward counseling goals, their care for others that I observe, etc. and then I give them that feedback.

It is not hard to find positive attributes in people with whom we have a relationship. The challenge is to tell people what you see in them. So often, I see clients brighten just a little when encouraged with such positive feedback. Research has shown that people tend to live up to (or down to) the words spoken into them, especially from those who are trusted.

Yes, Proverbs also talks about the flip side of this too- reprimands for poor actions or faulty thinking. That truth must also be spoken. That must also be done with kindness and respect, and it can only be heard if one has gained the right to do so in the relationship.

However, today’s thought is this. Simply look for the things you can affirm- then do it.  

Prayer: Lord, you have given us the power of emotional life and death in our words. Help us to use them wisely, Amen

When to Get Angry

 He looked them in the eye, one after another, angry now, furious at their hard-nosed religion. He said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” He held it out—it was as good as new!                                                                   Mark 3:5-6 (The Message)

We see in this passage from the gospel of Mark that Jesus got angry. I mean really angry! Why did Jesus get so angry? He was speaking up for someone who was being oppressed by religion. I cannot imagine anything that might get Jesus angrier than people who say that they are acting in his name, and then oppressing a person who needs help.  

So many people have been hurt by organized religion. Some religious leaders, acting in what they believe is truth, end up hurting the very people to whom they could or should be ministering. 

I see clients who have felt judged by the people that they trusted to help them. In the above scenario, the religious leaders of the day were offended that a man sought healing on the Sabbath. They were shocked that Jesus would break the Sabbath law to heal the crippled man. Jesus knew that the Sabbath had been made for man, not man for the Sabbath. The Spirit of the law overruled the letter of the law. Compassion overruled the sterile words which bound those leaders. The religious leaders could not see the deeper truth.

Yes, it takes discernment to determine what is the right thing to do. Helping people who are hurting, regardless of the surrounding will likely be the right thing to do. The fact that people were ready to deny healing to a hurting man on a technicality really riled Jesus.

So, getting angry on behalf of those who are hurting and being treated unjustly might be a good reason to get angry.

Prayer: Father, help us to see the deeper truth of your compassion to those who are hurting, Amen.

Take Your Thoughts Captive…

We break down every thought and proud thing that puts itself up against the wisdom of God. We take hold of every thought and make it obey Christ.                                                                                           II Corinthians 10:5

We are surrounded every day with situations which are challenging. Even our own thoughts often tend to work against us at times. We have messages, often triggered by events around us- comments from other people, the seemingly constant parade of negative news stories, etc.- which can really put our minds into a place of tension and despair.

The verse from II Corinthians reminds us that we need to take hold of our thoughts, and conform them to the worldview which we hold to be life changing and life-saving.

Sometimes we get caught up in an anxiety response, an emotional and physiological reaction that is immediate. That physical/emotional response comes quickly, and the cognitive (executive part of our brain) weighs in later. That is really how we are wired in our fight/flight response system, and it often serves us very well. It can protect us from danger, but it can run away with us if we don’t use the executive part of our brain to regulate when the initial trigger is gone.

The writer Paul suggests that we become aware of our thoughts, own them, then take charge of them, and not let them take charge of us. Speak truth to the thoughts that tell us something else. Our anxieties and insecurities can give us wrong messages which must be tested in the light of truth. To do that, we must take charge of the input in our minds.

The truth does set us free, we just need to slow down the emotions of the moment and put our cognitive, our “executive brain”, in charge.  This takes discipline and patience, things which are in shorter supply when we have few margins in our life.

So when we feel stressed, angry, fearful- whatever negative emotion comes up, we need to take the thoughts captive. We need to ask, “Is this truthful?” “Is this loving?’ Is this helpful?” That way we can slow things down and respond in ways that are honoring to ourselves and others.

Prayer: Lord give us the patience and discipline to take our thoughts captive and conform them to your truth, Amen.

Share the Burden

Share each other’s troubles and problems, and so obey our Lord’s command.               Galatians 6:2 (Living Bible)                                                                     

Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.                                               Galatians 6:2 (KJV)

Sometimes, we undervalue the gift of listening. We as counselors have the opportunity regularly to listen to our clients, and thereby, with that simple act alone, we can help bear the burden of the client. Listening alone is often not sufficient for counselors, since we have the obligation to offer other resources, help to plan for solutions, and refer to other helpful resources such as medication support, or other community supports.

However, listening alone is a sacrificial gift which we all can offer to others. We humans are built to be social beings. We are made to interact with others because it is beneficial for us physically, spiritually and emotionally.

I have often marveled at the relief that is experienced when one can simply talk with another person who can hear their heart. The problem does not change, but the acceptance and support of that other person(s) makes the burden just a bit lighter. It feels freeing to simply expose the issue to another person who cares and wants to help.

When Paul said in his letter to the Galatians that they were to “bear one another’s burdens”, I think this is what he had in mind.

Prayer: Lord, you have given us all the high calling of bearing one another’s burdens. In doing so, we are obedient to your purposes, Amen

Agreeing with God

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.                                                                                                                                              Matthew 5:25-26

The best way to get rid of your enemies is to make them your friends.

Abraham Lincoln

The precepts of the Sermon on the Mount are profound. In the passage above, Jesus gives an example that common people can relate to. Someone is taking you to court because you have wronged them. Jesus gives a very simple and practical piece of advice- settle up before you get into more trouble than you have bargained for. This means that one must recognize their problem, then do something, sooner than later, to rectify it.

The allegorical Judge here is God the Father, who has the power and authority demand a penalty for our wrongs. We can be reconciled long before such judgment takes place by recognizing the forgiveness that Jesus offers. I call that agreeing with God.

This is good practice all the time. I always liked Lincoln’s quote above –The best way to get rid of your enemies is to make them your friends. What a practical and logical thought. Endeavor to make friends and you run out of enemies. I think about the practical and freeing idea of reconciling with adversaries long before there are serious problems that may arise.

 More importantly, we need to reconcile with God. We need to agree with Him in order to lead a peaceful life.

I like that idea of agreeing with God. I mean, who would really want to intentionally disagree with God? But we actually do that a lot. So, I make a list of the things I agree with God about.

I agree that I am a sinner in need of his grace.

I agree that he has extended that grace freely.

I agree that he loves me, even when I am not loveable.

I agree that I am forgiven.

I agree that I am commanded to love others, even when they are unlovable.

That wasn’t so hard, was it? 

Prayer: Thank you Father for the simple truths that set us free, Amen.

Foggy Glasses

 Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many lives. So now, do not fear. I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.                                                                                                                                                                            Genesis 50:20-21 (MEV)

Coming home this morning from my walk, I found that my glasses had become quite foggy. No surprise there since I wore a mask to cover my freezing nose, and the result was a blinding fog on my glasses. When I got home, I removed my glasses, and ironically, of course, I could see much better. The remedy for my impaired eyesight (glasses), had become the problem. The problem was solved by removing what had originally been the solution to the problem.

Then, when I removed the glasses, I used the steam on the glasses to clean them. The problem itself (the steam) became the solution to the problem. I realized that there must be a story in there. I think the lesson is this- sometimes things that appear to be problems can be solutions, and what appear to be solutions can become problems. 

We are experiencing problems on many levels in our country right now. Maybe those problems can become the start of solutions. The travesty of the storming of our nation’s Capitol, which we commemorated this past week, can become the catalyst for healing a nation so deeply divided by political rhetoric. This painful episode of our history can be used for good or evil.

Let’s make sure we use it for good.

Prayer: Lord, you can redeem any pain and trouble into our good. Help us see that and work toward that end, Amen.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth; Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back. I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.   I Corinthians 13:12                                                                                              

I had a discussion with a client the other day about the roads we did not take in life. We all have decisions that we make every day, and some are more impactful than others. Truthfully, all are important. We talked about decisions he had made- roads traveled- that have brought him into this place in his life.

We both began to wonder, “what about those roads we did not take?” Indeed, there were paths that we chose somewhat unwittingly. Some, where clearly God had laid out for us directions of which we could not possibly have known the ultimate impact.

Sometimes we call it luck, and the truth is, chance does play a part sometimes. Often, we have been led on paths where we simply took the next step, and God went ahead and paved the road for us. Sometimes, one little step in the wrong direction may have derailed our whole life. Simple decisions- that is they seemed simple at the time- may have changed the course of our entire life.

It is good to reflect back on how God intervened in places where we could not have known the ultimate outcome. My belief is that if we look back closely, we can see an invisible hand that guides us even when we don’t know it is there.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for directing my path, even when I did not see your hand in it, Amen