Tears

Jesus wept.                                                                                                                                                                  John 11:35

Human tears are another of those incredible, intricate gifts of creation. I am continually amazed by what I learn about things we simply seem to take for granted. Tears, for example are more than a salty liquid which indicates our deep emotions. In fact, there are three kinds of tears. One type is for lubricating our precious eyes as a protection against foreign elements and dryness. A second type is a “response tear”. If you have peeled an onion or had smoke get into your eyes, you are familiar with “response tears”.  Finally, there is the type of tear which gets the most attention. It is the emotional tear.

I have read that there are hormones and enzymes in emotional tears which are actually healing when released by crying. Our tears are therapeutic. Indeed, many of my clients will become tearful in sessions, and note that they feel better after the release of crying. Crying is actually good for us, yet we men often go to great lengths to try to suppress the expression of those tears.

Sometimes at movies, I have been known to try to suppress crying. Once, at the end of Les Misérables my neck and chin actually hurt from trying to suppress my emotional response. Yes, that was kind of a dumb thing to do, but hey, I’m a guy.

Seriously though, I do not tend to cry easily, and maybe that is good or maybe not. I do think that the process of crying can be healthy. People often apologize for crying in public. I understand that this shows vulnerability, but it does not show weakness.

Tears are an amazing part of our bodily make-up. Maybe we should celebrate that a little more.

Prayer: Lord, help us to be in touch with the emotions you gave us, and more freely express them, Amen.

A House Divided

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.                                                                  Matthew 12:25

Abraham Lincoln gave the famous “House Divided” speech in 1858 in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois. This concept and actual language came from Matthew 12:25 where Jesus was refuting those who claimed that his miracles of casting out demons was through the power of Satan himself. Jesus gave a brilliant and logical refutation. Indeed, he argued, if he used the power of Satan to cast out demons, that would be self-defeating. A house divided against itself cannot stand for long.

Lincoln, in his vision and leadership, much of which was informed from a good knowledge of the Bible, used this wisdom over and over in his Presidency. In his second inaugural address in March, 1865, just weeks before his untimely death, he was eloquent in using Biblical references to try to rally a nation nearing the end of the cataclysmic Civil War. He said things like “but let us judge not, that we be not judged,” from Matthew 7:1. He quotes several other Bible passages, and concludes with the magnificent prose “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” This is a re-work of Psalm 147:3 where he is trying to use these words to literally and figuratively heal a broken and bleeding nation.

Lincoln had the wisdom to use the wisdom of the ages, the Bible, to try to heal a nation that could not be healed with simply political and military solutions. I believe that Abraham Lincoln was the greatest President ever to grace our nation.

I think that Lincoln knew where his strength came from, and that knowledge, that humility, was a gift to our country.

Prayer: As we reflect back on our history, we see that leaders following your truth can lead us in difficult times. Thank you for the words that can heal, Amen.

Listen Up!

Answering before listening is both stupid and rude                                                                                               Proverbs 18:13

The Book of Proverbs is really old- well over 2000 years old- yet it provides wisdom even today. All of us should heed the words in this book, and while some parts are certainly culturally dated, the principles by and large remain as helpful truths.

Take, for example, today’s passage about listening. As a counselor, I know that my client deserves to have a good and thorough hearing of the things that are important to them. Things that have been weighing on them. They may have confusion about direction. They may have shame and guilt over past actions. They may have deep sorrow, or they may have anxiety that prevents them from sleeping.

Whatever they bring to the session needs to be heard before a discussion can begin. Any preconceived ideas I may have about them or the issues they bring must be set aside until I get to know their mind and heart.

The writer of Proverbs knew this, and told his readers that failure to listen is “foolish and disrespectful”. In The Message version quoted above, the writer says that “Answering before listening is both stupid and rude”.

I suggest that this also applies to today’s political discourse where we hardly give any consideration to listening to one another in order to apply our strongly held beliefs with some vigor.

Proverbs has some great stuff. We should listen.

Prayer: Thank you Father for the wisdom we see in Proverbs. It is timeless and needed for today, Amen.

Lending to the Lord

Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.                                                                                                     Proverbs 19:17

Isn’t that an interesting idea- lending to the Lord. What does that even mean? How can we mere mortals lend something to the God of the universe? The idea that God has set up this system whereby if we give to the “least of our brethren”, we end up lending to Him, is absurd and beautiful at the same time. God has so affiliated with us, his creation, that he wants us to love him by loving others. Especially those who have less material resources than us. Some people, indeed, have not enough to even sustain basic needs. We are called upon by God to meet the needs of those who cannot meet their own needs.

God did not set up a system whereby we judge who is worthy of our help. He simply says, that we give to the poor, and He is in our debt. The fact that such a concept can come from a sovereign omnipotent God is at least baffling. And amazing.

So, here is the deal. God creates the universe, gives free will to the people to whom he has given life, and only expects in “payment”, that we care for those who are struggling.

Yes, this kind of love is beyond our understanding, so don’t get upset that it is beyond our puny ability to reason it out.

But I do suggest that we take this seriously. The rewards of having God indebted to us somehow is too amazing to pass up. Yet, we do not give to others in order to have God in debt to us, because that is a bad motive. Helping others because we have the mind and heart of God- that is the point.

Prayer: How amazing is it that you have the plan of giving to us as we give to others, Amen    

Blessed Are the Pure in Heart…

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.                                                                               Matthew 5:8

So, what does it mean to be “pure in heart”? It does not mean a “perfect heart”- that is not possible. It does mean that we have looked into our heart and we have seen it for what it is. It is selfish and pleasure seeking, if left to its own devices. Our job is to cut down on how often it is “left to its own devices”. In other words, we are to be stewards of an inherently selfish nature.

In the book of Jeremiah, the prophet asserts “The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out. But I, God, search the heart and examine the mind. I get to the heart of the human. I get to the root of things. I treat them as they really are, not as they pretend to be. Jeremiah 17: 9-10

We are clear that we are not perfect in heart, but we can be pure of heart. We can do that by agreeing with God on it. He knows our frailties, and he detests the practice of trying to cover it up, pretending we are something that we are not.

The counseling principle of ownership of our innermost being frees us to become who we are truly meant to be. Truth in agreeing that we are sinners in need of a Savior is the step of freedom and change. It is the “moment of clarity” for those in addiction who now see the need for help in overcoming the addiction. It is the moment of salvation for those who see that they cannot solve the sin problem alone.

I have been writing about the relationship of faith and science. Science can explain and solve many world problems. It cannot solve the sin problem. That is the work for faith.

Prayer: Thank you Father for the solution to our heart problems, your son, Jesus, Amen

A Search…

Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being.                                                                                                                        Romans1:20 (The Message)

I remember my college years as a time of questioning who I was, who I was to become, and my faith orientation. Indeed, that is the purpose of college- to question the world, to decide your future goals and mission, and be open about learning new things. I had wonderful hard-working, loving parents, incredible siblings, and a foundation of strong faith. Of course, that was a solid foundation to begin the search for what my career and my faith might be.

I also was in college in the 60’s. For most of you, that quickly explains the need to question everything- that’s what we did. I remember vividly, while taking Zoology my freshman year, the questions of creation vs. evolution, the origins of life, and the presence of a loving God were themes that reoccurred.

As I studied more about the intricacies of life, and human life in particular, I had this clear reassurance that the design of our bodies, and that of the universe, were orchestrated by a masterful and omniscient Creator. The science of Zoology had confirmed my faith far better than any other course of study I might have pursued- including Theology.

Does that happen to everyone? No. In fact, I am still amazed that some people do not see the hand of God in designing and creating the universe. But that’s just me. The fact that it happened for me also gives me a spiritual reassurance. I believe that the Holy Spirit gave me that clarity of thinking regarding science and faith. It certainly was not my brilliance that carried the day. It was my willingness to see science with spiritual eyes.

So for me, science and faith go hand-in-hand. They are not at odds, they reinforce one another. I do have concerns over people who would deny science in the name of faith, or deny faith in the name of science. Again, that’s just me. We all need to run our race of faith and courageously question the world around us.

My faith says that I love people in the process, even if they do not land on the same conclusions as me. And yes, I am not perfect on that, but that’s just me.

Prayer: Father, thank you for the marvels of your creation, and the science to explore them, Amen.

Just Because You Believe It Doesn’t Make It True

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. Romans 1:20

One of the problems that arose from the Church (by this I mean the established church bureaucracy of Western Europe) using the Bible as a scientific text was that the Bible was never meant to be a scientific text. The Bible was written as a communication about how we can relate to the Creator, not the explanation of creation. Unfortunately, the Church, up until the Renaissance, took a very strict view of explaining the universe only through the lens of scripture. That very stance, ironically, caused the Church to lose the faith of adherents who saw that scientific truths were better explained by- science.

The evolution of scientific thought and method evolved through the 16th and 17th centuries, spurred by discovery voyages that opened up the secrets of unknown parts of the world. Instruments like the telescope and the microscope allowed curious philosophers (they weren’t called scientists quite yet) to discover secrets of this marvelous creation.

Galileo was banished by the Church for daring to maintain the theory of Copernicus – the theory of a heliocentric universe. The Church could not tolerate a theory that did not maintain the earth as the center of God’s creation. Just because people believed that the earth-centered theory was true did not make it true.

I sometimes tell this to my clients- that just because they believe something strongly does not make it true. I use this in the sense of emotions, which can lead us to strongly believe certain things that may not be true. The willingness to look at the possibility that my beliefs about certain things does not make them true is the beginning of healthy thought.

So, how does that work with faith? Isn’t faith a strongly held belief that may not be able to be proved scientifically? Yes, faith is that, and much more than that. Actually, my faith is enhanced by science.

Tomorrow, a story about how that worked for me.

Prayer: Your creation is so profound, your plans so amazing. Help us not to get lost- missing you by focusing on the wrong things, Amen

How Do You Look for Truth?

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”                                                                                John 8:32

Many years ago, in college, I read an essay by Matthew Arnold, a British writer, educator and philosopher. His piece was entitled Hellenism vs. Hebraism, and it struck me to the point that I actually read it again, even after it was no longer required reading! Yes, it fascinated me.

The essay discusses two different worldviews, that of the Greeks, and that of the Hebrews. He explained that these worldviews guide our viewpoints on many things in life. The Hellenists looked at things empirically- they tried to see things as they are, and they were open to only rational or logical explanations of their world. They were willing to test and try things with a more open mind, seeking truth through knowledge.

Hebrews, on the other hand, saw things as they should be, under the guidance and order of God. They saw that not everything can be explained by rational thinking and logic, and that there was a mystical part of life that they simply accepted as true, even without proof. They were seeking truth by acknowledging that there was a God who gave that truth, and their job was to follow God’s direction for them.

These are very broad and brief descriptions, but you see where this was going. Two divergent worldviews, both of value, could lead to some serious disagreements on the nature of truth.

Today, we have variants of these worldviews. In some people’s eyes, this has become a “science vs. faith” issue. I believe that science and faith are not mutually exclusive and that both have been given to us by our Creator.

In future blogs, I will explore this idea further, and as an added treat, in one of those blogs, I will be joined by a fellow blogger, and my favorite scientist, my daughter, Jennifer Hartwell! By the way, her blog www.traumamom4.com is superb. I recommend it. 

Prayer: Lord, as we explore truth, help us to seek with your guidance, as well as the mind you have given us to reason, Amen.

Nothing New Under the Sun

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun                                                                                                                                                                Ecclesiastes 1:9

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land                                                                                                                                                                  II Chronicles 7:14

There was an old comic strip called Calvin and Hobbes that ran in syndication for a number of years. It was really a classic comic- warm, cerebral, deep, and very funny. It featured a young boy named Calvin and his stuffed tiger, Hobbes. Hobbes was quite real to Calvin, and they had engaging and philosophical conversations. Calvin was a precocious 6- year-old who was wise beyond his years, yet charmingly naïve. Hobbes was a philosopher in his own right, after all, he drew his name from 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes. When adults saw Hobbes, he was a stuffed tiger, Calvin saw him as his best friend.

One of the endearing yet maddening traits of Calvin was his belief that nothing in the world mattered prior to his birth. He felt that all of history had existed in order to bring him into existence. In my field, that is sometimes called “referential thinking.”

I got to thinking sometimes how we as a society sort of do the same thing. There is really nothing new under the sun, yet we tend to think that our experience is unique in history.

Our current COVID-19 experience was dwarfed by the 1918-19 “Spanish Flu” pandemic. Our nasty political climate, while disturbing and distasteful, had precedents in the 19th century mud slinging that was just as fierce, yet not quite as widely disseminated. In those days, there was no social media to trumpet the political trash we are currently exposed to daily.

The racial bigotry and discrimination of early America – even early 20th century America – was appalling. Any racial strife is horrible, but what we see today does not compare to our discouraging past record of treatment of Native Americans and African-Americans.

I bring this up so that we have some perspective on our current problems. Our problems are real, but they are not unique. If we have learned anything, it should be that our problems are what is common to our fallen nature. Our land needs healing, and it starts with our perspective and our attitude being healed.

Prayer: Lord, heal our hearts and heal our land, Amen

A Change of Pace and the Pace of Change

 Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people                  Colossians 3:23

I have been thinking about the idea of what a change of pace looks like as we deal with the effects of the COVID-19 virus. Yesterday, I talked about some of the social interaction changes we see because of the virus. I began thinking about how this has affected the pace of our daily lives, and that it has, in some significant ways, slowed us down in that hectic pace. Yet, I also thought about the cultural and historical perspective that I bring to this, and I see that while I think the change of pace has been real, I also realize that there is also a “pace of change”. That is, life these days is much more hectic than the days of my youth, where it seems that we took more time to enjoy the moment. It seems that there was more social acceptance of “free time”. These days, there is hardly any affirmation given to those who would, “stop and smell the roses” so to speak.

Indeed, I myself am much more comfortable “doing something” than just sitting and watching the world around me. I am not sure what it looks like to just sit and think, for example. I might feel just a bit guilty doing that. Maybe that is OK. I don’t even know. I think we are affirmed for being “busy”. Everybody is busy these days, whatever that means. We celebrate “busyness”.

I have considered the hectic pace of the lives of my children, who are in the midst of careers, raising children, and trying to make things right for their families. Kids’ activities are now almost overwhelming, or at least they were pre-COVID. I am not sure that we even know what the right sort of integration is between work time, family time, couples time, social time, and personal time.

I am also aware that we now have the luxury of even trying to make the distinction between work and family time. In the early 20th century, many people had to work 12 hours/day, or longer to simply provide the most basic sustenance to their families. Sustenance has given way to providing a vast array of perceived needs, including sports activities, college funds, retirement funds, and vacation savings, among others.

I have no answers for this phenomenon, I simply bring it up so that my readers can consider- “how do you want to spend the precious allotment of time that has been given to you?”

Prayer: Father, time is such a gift. Help us to use it wisely, and to have the refreshment that you would want for us, Amen.