Incarnation

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!                                                                                                             Philippians 2:5-8

Incarnation. That is what Christmas is about. The word is from the Latin word carne, meaning flesh. Literally, it means “in the flesh”. Christmas, of course, is the celebration of when Jesus came in the flesh. He became an “in flesh” visitor to the earth.

He came to earth in order to save humankind from sin, and he did that by his own sacrifice. He also came in order to show humans how to live a life pleasing to God. His example was his mission. He visited earth to show how we can make the earth a better place too.

He was intentional in his visit. It was well planned over many centuries of human existence. So too we should plan our visits with other people. Our visits with others should be with the intention of kindness and an uplift of the human spirit.

Yet, we fail at that with some regularity.

However, you notice that even in the most mundane, trivial, and casual occurrences of kindness to others, the spirit of the other person is lifted for just a little while. I noted that today when at a local store I held the door for a delivery man who was pushing a dolly loaded with products. He was very thankful for just a little gesture of kindness and thought. That gesture cost me nothing, yet it made his work today just a little easier. He had been acknowledged and cared for in the smallest way, but it lifted him up.

So, we can be the incarnation of the virtue of kindness to others. Kindness is an abstract value, but it comes to life when we exercise it. We can become the incarnation of it.   

Prayer: Lord, remind us of the power of little gestures that can have large impact, Amen.

Just Relax…

“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.” Maya Angelou

Whoever wants to embrace life and see the day fill up with good, here’s what you do: Say nothing evil or hurtful; Snub evil and cultivate good; run after peace for all you’re worth. God looks on all this with approval, listening and responding well to what he’s asked…                                                                                              I Peter 3:9-10 (The Message)

So today, let’s just have fun! I’m thinking about going back to favorite things that soothed us when we were kids. It is essential that we find ways to soothe ourselves when we experience stress. We learn this very early in life, and it is important that we learn to “self-soothe” as opposed to relying upon others give us that sense of peace and stress relief. Stress is ubiquitous, so it is important to learn the skill of finding a place, or an action, which gives us a sense of calm and security.

I was the youngest of four children, and I was the youngest by six years. Yes, I was the surprise at the end of the train for my parents- my dad was over forty, and my mom thirty-nine years old when I was born. So, I had a lot of time alone as my older siblings had friends, and school and other activities to occupy them while I was very young.  

I found that TV became a place of entertainment and companionship. Shows like “Uncle Al”, and cartoon shows like The Bugs Bunny Hour, The Flintstones, and family shows like Andy Griffith and the Beverly Hillbillies became sources of soothing for me. Later, thankfully, I found reading to be a great friend to me, and it still sustains me as a warm, soothing companion.

I find it interesting that some of the shows I loved as a kid have found an enduring place in the culture. Shows like Andy Griffith, Gilligan’s Island, The Flintstones, The Twilight Zone (and I could go on forever) are cultural icons which even young members of today’s society typically recognize readily.

My question to you is, what is it from the past that gives you that familiar soothing feeling? Think about that, and maybe share it with your kids (or grandkids). Maybe they will have a great laugh at your expense!

Prayer: Father, thank you for those little things that give us respite from stress, Amen.

Shepherds

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

 So, they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.  

Luke 2:15-20

And the sign said “The words of the prophets are written on subway walls, and tenement halls, and whispered in the sounds of silence…”

Paul Simon

Isn’t it interesting that shepherds were the first bearers of the good news of the birth of Jesus into the world. It is my understanding that shepherds were people who lived on the margins of society. They were living in the fields, rough and rugged men who had courage and tenacity. They had to guard sheep from predators, and they had to risk their lives for their flock at times.

The angels sought these men out and gave them the gift of being the first witnesses of a world transformation. It seems fitting that the shepherds, those on the margins, were the first to bear witness of God’s grace.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus came to give the good news to the poor. Here the poor were the first to bring his good news to the world. They were the ones to announce that One who came to give his life for his flock had come. The Good Shepherd had been born.

Prayer: Lord, you would have the poor and marginalized speak the truth to the world! Amen

Physics and Faith

So it is with faith: if it is alone and includes no actions, then it is dead. But someone will say, “One person has faith, another has actions.” My answer is, “Show me how anyone can have faith without actions. I will show you my faith by my actions.”                                                                                                     James 2:17-18 (Good News)

I have a love of science, and I am fascinated by physics and chemistry. However, I am a complete amateur at these subjects, and my fascination with them does not mean that I understand those topics well. In high school, I was just glad to pass Physics, the final exam in my senior year. I tossed the Physics book into the trash can as I was leaving the building, glad to be finished with that course! As I got older, I was drawn to the subject, and now I love to read about it- now that there is no grade attached!

I think that Physics principles are true in every area of life, including mental and emotional health. There is a certain beauty and truth about the idea in the law that states

 … the total energy of an isolated system is constant; energy can be transformed from one form to another, but can be neither created nor destroyed.

Isn’t that cool? The Bible says that there is nothing new under the sun, and indeed, that is true. Energy and matter can be transformed one into another, but we are not going to create energy. That has already been done. We are living off the sun’s energy, created long ago, in this “closed system” of our universe.

One of Newton’s Laws of Motion states-

…an object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by a force

This law is true of human behavior as well. The principle of inertia says that unless I do something, add a force, supply some energy, I will stay at rest. Unless I make some decision to act, and then do it, I will stay at rest. In order to feel better, to lift my mood, I must add energy- act on my decisions. I must act to improve my mood and situation. It seems obvious, but how often do we wait for “some one” or “some thing” else to change so that we can feel better? Yeah, we all do that sometimes.

So, the principle is true in physics and human behavior. Do, then feel. It works, it’s a Law of Physics! J

Prayer: Thank you for the beauty and genius of creation. Your ways are indeed higher than ours, and I am amazed every day the exquisite plans of yours, Amen

Light in the Darkness

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.                                                          John 1:5

Maybe it is no coincidence that we traditionally celebrate Christmas in the darkest (literally) time of the year. The Winter solstice occurs on December 21st, and, of course, Christmas is celebrated on December 25th. The Northern Hemisphere is having the shortest days of the year around that time. Perhaps symbolically we see that when we are at our darkest points, the light from above is sent to guide and encourage us. Many people in the world need that right now.

The people in Ukraine are suffering at the hands of evil. People in Indonesia and Haiti suffer from natural disasters. People in Virginia, Colorado, and let’s face it, people from every U.S. state, are reeling from mass shootings. Violent, senseless, political rhetoric separates people.  

We need the light.

God in his mercy and wisdom did send Jesus, the Redeemer, to give us hope and a way to live. He sent his son into a dark world to show us that love can conquer the worst we have to offer- and we have a lot of “worst” to offer.

But take heart my friends. God does not leave us in that darkness without a remedy. This Christmas season, let’s remember that hope.

Prayer: Lord, we anticipate the renewal of Christmas as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, Amen

When a Discipline Becomes a Habit

I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified                                                                                                            I Corinthians 9:27

I hear those statistics about how long it takes for some practices to become habits. You know, “continue to do this thing for three weeks and it becomes a habit”. I have no idea about that because we are all different. I do know that habits are not automatic. We have decisions everyday about how we are going to behave that day.

I do know that the discipline of exercise has now become a habit for me. That is, the thing I used to force myself to do became the thing that I miss if I do not do it. It started several years ago when I really realized that I was not in top physical condition. Yes, my health was good, thank God, but I was not in shape. I was overweight, and my stamina was not what it should have been.

So, I decided to practice the discipline of walking at least 30 minutes per day. That discipline grew as I heard that really, 10,000 steps per day was a goal that we ought to have. I do not know the science of that, if any, but the idea seems right. We Americans simply do not move enough. We are sedentary, and that, by any measure, is not healthy.

I bought a Fitbit, (then an Apple Watch), and I became addicted to those 10,000 steps/day. That was about 5 years ago. Now, if I don’t get at least 13,000 steps per day, I am not happy with myself. The point here is that the discipline that I started several years ago grew into a habit. Good disciplines make good habits.

All of the literature on depression indicates that physical exercise is equally effective as medication in mitigating mild to moderate depression. I always advise my clients to add exercise into their lives because it is good in every way for us, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Just to be clear, I am not advocating that people simply stop taking antidepressant medication- it is effective, and sometimes necessary in treatment of depression and anxiety. However, if my clients are physically able to exercise, I always make that part of the homework.

Keeping the promises that we make to ourselves is the basis of healthy self-esteem. I know that regular exercise for me is important, and I plan to continue. That discipline has become a healthy habit.

Prayer: Thank you father for the gift of our bodies- precious gifts that we must nurture and protect, Amen.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.                                                                                                                        James 1:17

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. We set aside this particular day to collectively show gratitude for the many blessings that have been bestowed upon our country. Of course, every day should be Thanksgiving Day given that we have so very much to be thankful for. Every good gift, our very life itself, is a gift from God the Creator.   

An “attitude of gratitude” as many people in the recovery community say, is the way to stay clean and sober. I would say that such an attitude is proper and even necessary for our well-being and success in life. No matter what we have, or what we have done, none of it is possible without the gracious hand of God who provides what we need.

So let us rededicate ourselves to that attitude of gratitude every day. In that way we can keep proper perspective, humility, and grace which are qualities that all of us need every single day.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for who you are and for what you provide, Amen.

Hearing, Believing, and Doing

Whoever has ears, let them hear…                                                                                                          Matthew 11:15

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.                                                                                James 2:14-19

I recently read a book titled Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus. In this book, the author is trying to get the reader in mind of how Jesus taught and thought, and how those who heard him may have received his teachings. 

One of the explanations the author used was that of the Hebrew language. It had a vocabulary of about 80,000 words. Compare that to the English language which has perhaps 400,000 words. Hebrews were used to having a rich and elaborate meaning to their words since they did not parse them out as freely as English-speaking people might. There may be several different associated concepts with one word in the Hebrew language.

When Jesus, for example, used the word “hear”, that meant that the hearer would not only hear the word, but believe it as well. Further, if one believed a concept, they were expected to act upon it as truth. In other words, hearing, believing, and doing were all tied together. If you hear your master tell you something, and believe it, the expectation is that one would act upon that belief.

I find it interesting in Western Christianity, we have somehow been able to separate belief from actions. Somehow, just holding onto a belief can be divorced from actions, causing some to fail to truly live out their faith. For them, holding a belief in the mind becomes paramount over acting out that faith for others to see.

James talked about the kind of faith that works- that is, the kind that other people can see and experience.

Prayer: Lord, help us to be doers of the word, not just hearers, Amen

November 22, 1963

Today is November 22. For those of us of a certain age, that date will forever be connected with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. That day marked the end of an age of innocence, both for those in my generation as well as the United States in general. If you were old enough to have experienced that tragic event, you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when you heard the news. There are just a few certain events in life that burn such indelible memories into our brain.

Who knows what course the nation may have taken had Kennedy lived, and possibly won a second presidential term. Our course as a country would certainly be different. Perhaps the course of events of the world would be different as well. Would the Vietnam War have taken the same course? Would Richard Nixon have won in 1968? Would the distrust of government which has grown since the Warren Report, and then accelerated after the Nixon debacle, have gotten such traction?

All questions that will never be answered.

I do know that I had such a sense of sadness after November 22, 1963, that it helped to shape my adolescence. My generation got a shocking awakening at a vulnerable period in our life. I think it also gave rise to the turbulent 1960’s which changed the course and attitude of the nation.

I do not know how my readers around the world were affected by this event. They probably have their own signal events that were “game-changers” for them. I also believe that the assassination helped shape world events also, so in a sense, everyone felt the disruption of that tragic day.

So, as we remember that 59th anniversary of the assassination, pause to consider how one event can literally change your world, and the world around you.

Temples or Tents?

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;                                                                                                            I Corinthians 6:19

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.                                                                                                                  II Corinthians 5:1

What is the best way to honor God as a Christian community? Is it better to build a temple or a tent?

Interesting that when God was trying to manifest himself to the ancient world, he told the Israelites to build a temple. That temple would be a manifestation of the presence of God on earth. The Israelites of old were the carriers of the “God message” to a heathen world. That is, there is one God, and he is to be worshipped above the many false gods that were around. The Israelites were to be witnesses of the True God to world lost in idolatry.  However, when Jesus came to earth, he was the fulfillment of that promise- God was now literally present on earth.

It seems that we are drawn to building temples. When Jesus was manifested in glory at the Transfiguration, Peter wanted to immediately build three memorials on the mountain- one to Jesus, one to Moses, and one to Elijah. Peter was overcome with awe and his first reaction was to build a memorial.

Nice thought, but Jesus wanted a more flexible witness. He planned to send his Holy Spirit into the world to invade the hearts of people. The memorial would not be bricks and mortar, but our bodies to serve as the temples of the Holy Spirit.

Paul called our bodies mere tents which house our Spirit. I am thinking that the best response to proclaiming God to a fallen world is pitching our tents where people are- not building temples that people must try to find.

Prayer: Lord, help us to be flexible witnesses, tents where you can dwell and be seen by others, Amen