A Theology as Big as the City

Like apples of gold in settings of silver Is a word spoken at the right time.                                         Proverbs 25:11

I read a book several years ago titled A Theology as Big as the City by Ray Bakke.  Lots of good stuff in the book, but one of the big takeaways for me was the idea that the church ought to serve as a chaplain to the city, or the area where it is located. Chaplains serve people with spiritual and emotional care at times of stress and crisis. We have hospital chaplains, military chaplains, hospice chaplains, police chaplains, even a chaplain for the U.S. Congress. That tells me that we value the spiritual care for people in critical situations.

The same goes for just us ordinary folks too. Heaven knows that there are daily stresses in our life that could be helped with the aid of a chaplain once in a while. The local church- that is the people who are part of that church (all of us, not the “pastor” necessarily), should be chaplains to the community we live in. We need to be ready to serve as the chaplain to the neighbor, friend, or even stranger who needs help, giving spiritual and emotional support.

If people saw the local church as a place where healthy, caring chaplains came from, they may be more inclined to check out what that church has to offer.

Just a thought…

Prayer: Lord, help us see the needs around us, and give us the will and courage to reach to help, Amen

A House Divided

But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.                                                                Matthew 12:25 (New KJV)

In June, 1858, Abraham Lincoln addressed the Illinois State Republican Convention and gave a speech which contained the above scripture reference. He was speaking of the impending crisis that he saw in a nation deeply divided by the slavery issue. He could see that the inevitable outcome of policies which so divided our nation would be, ultimately, civil war.  

We are once again in a nation deeply divided, and that truth still remains. Any nation divided against itself will be brought to desolation. When Jesus made his statement to the hostile crowd around him, he was letting them know that his power was not from Satan, it was from God. Indeed, he was not casting out evil spirits through the power of the Evil One himself. That would be foolish on the face of it.

We would do well to heed the words of Jesus, because his words are the words of healing. We are not going to be saved individually or collectively by the policies of the Democrat or Republican parties.

It is time we unite in the power of the only One with power to save us.

Prayer: Lord, help us remember the truth of that motto that we put on our currency- “In God we trust”, Amen

Graduation Season…

A word to parents of graduates…

Congratulations on achieving a milestone! Loving and involved parents are perhaps the best indicator of future success for students. Your encouragement and support from early on in your child’s life sets the tone for a healthy self-image which lasts a lifetime. There is no substitute for unconditional love and acceptance, and the best news of all is that is the legacy you will set for your grandchildren. You can and do influence generations to come.

Allow your kids to dream big, and encourage them to live out their life mission. Remember, it’s their vision, not yours, that will propel them to achieve great things. You have been the “greenhouse” for their nurture and growth, now they can set out to accomplish what they have been equipped to do.

The values that you have inculcated in them will continue to become more prominent as they take on increasing responsibilities of jobs, families, and community involvement. What you have demonstrated in your day-to-day living will be much more significant than what you have taught them. Gradually, they are internalizing values that you have lived. What used to be external motivation is now becoming internal motivation that they have owned.

Your job is not finished by a long shot, because if your relationship with them has been set on solid ground, they will continue to seek your counsel, your support, and your companionship. Be prepared to enjoy this next exciting phase of life for both them and for you.

A word to graduates…

Congratulations on your achievement! Graduation is a milestone achieved through hard work and discipline. Indeed, learning hard work and discipline is the REASON you went to school. The information you learned is less important than the process that you learned. The discipline of delayed gratification, pushing through to the goal when you don’t FEEL like it, and the courage to come back from failure, are the most important tools that you can carry into the future.

I mentioned to your parents that they had a role in your self-image, and I trust that they imparted that to you well. You have the full responsibility of gaining your own self-esteem. I define self-esteem as the feeling you get when you have kept promises to yourself. If you can trust yourself by keeping those small promises that you made to yourself, you will have something that no one can take from you. From this comes confidence, willingness to take risks, and the knowledge that no one else will define who you are.

Finally, if you have not already done so, I hope that you have begun the process of determining your life mission statement. This is comprised of things you already have- namely, a recognition of your God-given talents and strengths; a set of life experiences (small now, but growing) which have helped to shape you; and your passion- what is the thing that you would do in this world even if you never got paid for doing it? Put those elements together, and you come up with the reason that you were put on planet earth. May you live out that mission for the benefit of yourself, and, more importantly, those around you.

The Effects of Stress

A sound mind makes for a robust body,
    but runaway emotions corrode the bones. Proverbs 14:30

I saw this picture on a site when I did a search about the effects of stress on aging. This stunning photo shows President Abraham Lincoln in the short 5-year span of his Presidency during the Civil War. I am not sure that we can attribute all of this dramatic change to stress alone. Many believe that Lincoln suffered from a hormonal imbalance caused by a pituitary problem. I do not know that for sure of course, however, this picture shows a man under tremendous stress.

We have all seen “before and after” pictures of recent American Presidents who appear to have aged disproportionately during their tenures in office. Almost all of our Presidents show rather clear aging changes which might well be attributed to the incredible stress they carried.

Indeed, this is not only for American Presidents. Any world leader, or someone with terribly burdensome stress shows it in their face. The body reacts to the pressure in the mind and soul. The interconnection of mind and body seems to be clearly demonstrated in pictures like this.

The term “stress”, as it is currently used was coined by Hans Selye in 1936, who defined it as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change”. Stress theory came into the popular parlance in the 1960’s and 1970’s as we came to better understand the relationship between stress and general health.

All of us encounter stress in our life, and the critical question is, “What do we do with it?”

More tomorrow…

Prayer: Lord, you know our frame and our frailty, but also the strength that you can give. Help us to understand that better, Amen

Along the Way

When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed Luke 17:14

Twice the other day in counseling sessions I had occasion to recall the story of Jesus healing the ten lepers as told in Luke chapter 17. The context of the counseling was around the idea that healing is not instantaneous. The lepers were healed after Jesus told them to “go show yourselves to the priest”. This was a standard practice- to have verification that healing had taken place, and that the now “clean” sufferers were allowed to return to society.

Jesus did not just immediately heal them, as he had done on some other occasions. He instructed them to turn away and go to show themselves to the priest. They were healed “along the way”, as they obeyed the instructions that Jesus gave to them.

I think we are healed in the same way from whatever malady we might have. As we do the things we are instructed to do, we are open to be healed. Typically, there are things that we must do to take care of ourselves, or medications we must take, disciplines we must undertake, etc., in order to attain healing.

I wanted to assure my clients that healing is out there, but there are things that must be done to help make that happen. Secondly, I wanted to let them know that healing is not always, or even often, instantaneous. Patience in the process is needed, but it will be rewarded.

So, if you are on a healing journey, trust the process, keep your disciplines, and trust that God will meet you at your place of obedience.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for the lesson of the lepers, and help us be patient and obedient, Amen

Ask, Seek, and Knock…

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” Matthew 7:7                                      

When thinking about this verse, and how to interpret it, I imagine being lost and asking for directions. Yes, it is true, I am a guy, and I do not readily ask for directions when lost. I would rather somehow intuit how to find my way, but that is a reflection for another day!

So, when lost and asking for directions, we need to be trusting of the direction giver, and then we need to follow the directions. I think that Jesus is inviting us to trust him in giving the directions for living a whole and healthy life. He also expects that we would follow those directions if we really want to get where we ultimately want to go. This act of trust is rewarded with his promise that the “ask will be granted, the journey will be successful, and the final destination will be accommodating”.

So, first we get the courage to ask- an act of humility. Meaning, my best efforts to date have gotten me totally lost! I better get some help!

 Having gotten the directions, we set out, seeking the destination- an act of faith. If we are good at following the directions, it is often a pretty direct route- one we had not realized before that moment.

Finally, when we get to the destination, we have not quite completed the task. We need to go up to the door and knock to gain entry- an act of courage. After all, it could be the wrong house, or perhaps even the right address, but we could be turned away.

So, to complete the journey, we need to have humility, faith and courage. Jesus calls on us to have all of those traits to live the completed life.

Prayer: Thank you for the simple plan of asking for help, and following your directions for success, Amen

Memory Banks

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.                                                                                                                Philippians 4:8-9 (The Message)

Think back to a time in the summer when you were young and carefree. You had no particular responsibilities, and you were free to do pretty much what you wanted to do- within parental limits of course. Okay, we won’t tell about some of those other times…

My point here is that our memory bank can be just that- a bank to store refreshing memories to be drawn out when needed. We have within us the tools and resources to restore our soul when things get difficult in life. Those memories can serve as little oases to refresh a weary mind. We cannot go back and actually relive those times, but they can remain with us as precious parts of our life.  Those memories can actually change our brain chemistry and improve mood, lower blood pressure, and give us a more positive outlook, even if the respite is only a temporary one.

I am aware that for some people, their childhood may not have contained a lot of those great memories of carefree times. They may have lived in an abusive environment, or perhaps had illnesses that limited those carefree times. But we all can look back to some times in our life that literally can bring a smile to our face as we think of them.  We can use that tool to bring some light into a day that may feel heavy.

I hope your memories can bring that smile…

Prayer: Lord, help us to remember those times in life that restore our soul, Amen.

A Note to Readers

I am taking some time away from the blog (about 2 weeks), and I am planning to post some “Top Ten” blogs during that time. So, you can stay tuned and read some of the most popular blogs (by response and “hits”), or you can go to the home page, and check the archives. I have about 600 postings at this point, so feel free to browse. I so appreciate the great encouragement I have gotten over the past 18 months! You have given me great encouragement!

Blessings…

So, I start this first day of “Reruns” with one that has been a request from several readers. Here it is…

Lessons from a Sailing Trip

I really don’t know how many years ago it was now- probably about 18 years ago- when my friend and mentor Dennis Mikel invited my son and I to go sailing with him on his sailboat on Lake Erie. Denny was an amazing guy. My late friend and mentor passed away several years ago, and I still miss him. I hope this story honors him, and maybe teaches some lessons too.

 My son at the time was about 21 years old. The plan was to go up late on a Friday evening, spend the night on the boat, and then have a little cruise on Lake Erie the next day. The weather was supposed to be nice, with some nice breezes on Saturday so that we could get around on the lake. When we arrived Friday night, Denny asked if we would like a little moonlight cruise. We could camp at an island a couple of miles away and spend the night, ready for a nice early start in the morning. We readily agreed.

We started out with a nice breeze, fair skies, and the sun starting to fade in the western sky. It seemed like such a nice evening that we did not notice the growing cloud formations, and the wind kicking up a little. Pretty soon, we realized that there were some flashes of lightning in the sky behind the clouds. “Heat lightning” we suggested. It really didn’t seem that hot, but I comforted myself with that thought. It was not long however before we realized that the lightning was indeed the first warnings of an approaching storm. We were pretty far out into the lake by that time, and we needed to decide whether to return to home port, or go on to our destination. We decided to push on, figuring that the places of safety were probably equidistant.

Interesting fact- I don’t know how to swim.

My first lesson perhaps was this- I was not panic stricken. I had some fear to be sure, but I had a confidence about the situation. Why the confidence? I do not know how to sail, and in fact, I don’t think I had ever been on a sailboat before this. I don’t know how to swim (although later Denny said that if we went overboard in this kind of storm, it might not have made any difference). My confidence was not at all in my abilities or knowledge. My confidence was in the captain, Denny. I trusted him, and respected his knowledge and leadership. I figured that Denny would get us through. He was successful in everything he did, I felt, and he was certainly bright and resourceful. I also knew that he trusted God. All those things added up to give confidence to me despite that fact that I was pretty helpless on a boat in the middle of a lake in a storm.

Denny indeed took charge. As the winds whipped up and the rain started to fall, he assigned us our jobs. My son, a fearless athlete, was ready for the challenge. Denny assigned J.P. to rigging duty. Denny, very lithe and agile himself, even at about age 65, would help J.P. on the rigging, climbing forward to trim the sails as needed. They could easily be washed overboard, but Denny knew what he was doing, and J.P. was strong and quick-witted enough to be a great help. Also, they both could swim.

Did I mention that I don’t swim?

Denny assigned me to the rudder. I was to hold us on course as best I could. Understand that it was pitch black and raining, so I did not have any idea as to where to steer this boat. Then Denny gave me the second lesson- steer toward the light. There was a lighthouse on the shore, and all I needed to do was to fix on that light and steer toward it. I said that I could do that, although there was a real learning curve. You see, steering a sailboat in a windstorm is not easy. The rudder has a mind of its own, and one needs to fight the rudder for control. Sometimes the rudder wins.

Just another interesting development was the fact that the boat was now on a permanent 45 degree angle. Denny suggested that we really didn’t want to be at an angle over 45 degrees, and I certainly know that I did not want that either, so we had to keep shifting our weight on the boat, and bailing water to try to keep it as level as possible. Through it all, Denny seemed unflappable. I am sure he knew that J.P. and I would pick up on his level of anxiety- and he was right- so he seemed pretty assured of himself. He would give the orders, and J.P. and I would comply as best we could.

Another lesson in leadership- the captain sets the tone for the crew. Leaders are calm and stable or they lose their crew, maybe literally.

Needless to say, we got through the storm. The wind died down, we got the tiny motor started back up (it had gone out for much of the trip) and we started to head for the shore. We just had one more little blip heading into a port when another boat seemed to contest us for the right-of-way in the narrow channel. No real issue there, but I saw another aspect of the captain’s character. Denny admitted that he was not aware of the protocol in that situation, and he was gracious in his deference to the other boat, and to his uncertainty about the procedure. Humility is another important aspect of leadership.

I think the spiritual aspects of this story are self-evident. My confidence comes not from my abilities, but from faith in the captain. I do not need to fear if my faith in the captain is complete. If we have trust in God, what weapon formed against us can prosper?

In the darkest of night, steer toward the light. If there are no other landmarks, the light is still there. In fact, when everything else is the darkest, a little shine shines the brightest by its contrast with the dark.

So, those are my recollections from that weekend. I am still amazed that I had a calm feeling that night that I to this day cannot really explain, but it certainly seems to fit that Biblical injunction that there is a peace that passes understanding.

Consider the Lilies

Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.                                                                                                         Luke 12:27

As many of my readers know, I am fascinated by Physics. I almost flunked Physics. I am also terrible at math, and such high-level concepts make my brain ache, but I am fascinated by the many things I do not understand. Maybe it’s like a moth to the flame. Who knows why the moth is attracted to the flame that might just kill him – but the moth is just drawn to it. Actually, there probably IS a reason that a moth is drawn to the light, but I have never been inquisitive enough to look into that. Someday, dear reader, I will check that out and share it with you.

But today, I just want to talk about Physics, and the way that the world works. I am dumbfounded by those who deny the existence of a majestic and awesome Creator. Did that Creator use evolutionary principles and techniques? Sure, why not? Did the Creator plan the minutest details of life and the preservation of it? Uh, yes.

Physicists and astronomers tell us that there was a Big Bang some 14 billion years ago that brought life into existence. Further, they say, the universe created from that Big Bang continues to expand at an increasing rate. That “First Cause” (as Thomas Aquinas would call the Creator) was God. The same God, who set in motion this incredible, beyond words universe, which includes this insignificant planet Earth, revolving in one of a myriad of solar systems, is the creator of you and me.

While the planet we occupy is less than a speck in the entire universe, the inhabitants of that earth are of immeasurable valuable. God intricately planned it all, and the best minds of the world have no idea of the depth of wonder that God is still revealing.

Jesus said “Consider the lilies of the field” in his sermon on the mount. In effect he was saying, even the humblest little flower was put together with such intricacy and care, that man’s best efforts to outshine that humble flower are useless.

We don’t have to be scientists to see that we, and the earth we live on, are the incredible masterpieces of a God who loves us.

Just WOW, right?

Prayer: We are just in awe of your creation, and the attention to details we cannot imagine! Amen

“End Times”

But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father knows.

 “The Arrival of the Son of Man will take place in times like Noah’s. Before the great flood everyone was carrying on as usual, having a good time right up to the day Noah boarded the ark. They knew nothing—until the flood hit and swept everything away.

 “The Son of Man’s Arrival will be like that: Two men will be working in the field—one will be taken, one left behind; two women will be grinding at the mill—one will be taken, one left behind. So stay awake, alert. You have no idea what day your Master will show up. But you do know this: You know that if the homeowner had known what time of night the burglar would arrive, he would have been there with his dogs to prevent the break-in. Be vigilant just like that. You have no idea when the Son of Man is going to show up.                                                                                                                                          Matthew 24:36-44 (The Message)

There has always been speculation in the Christian community about the “second coming”, when Jesus will return to earth, and prophecies will be fulfilled. There are many people who speculate on when those “end times” will be, and they point to events that certainly indicate (they believe) that the end times are near. Of course, through the centuries, there have been many events that people could point to as “inevitable signs” of the imminent fulfillment of those “end time” prophecies.

Interestingly, Jesus did not seem to put much focus on that event. He said that no one knew, except the Father, when those end times would come. He typically told people, and gave stories about, “occupying well” until that end time does come.

I find it a bit disturbing that people are so intent on looking for that great “end time” event when Jesus will come again. Didn’t Jesus essentially say, “Don’t worry about an event that you cannot know, keep serving and loving people right now where you are”. In the prayer he taught his disciples, Jesus instructed us by saying “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.

I understand that to mean that we are to not simply wait until the earth is fulfilled (or destroyed, based upon your interpretation), but we are to work to bring “heaven to earth”. That is, we are to endeavor, through our transformed lives and relationships, to demonstrate what that future Kingdom can look like here on earth.

We will never be able to make the earth “heaven”. We are all quite clear on that! But didn’t Jesus challenge us to try, in our own little way, to make the earth a little better place for those we share the planet with?

So, rather than spending time waiting and speculating on an event whose time we will never know, isn’t it better to ask, “How can I make this present time better for those around me?”

Prayer: Lord, you have given us opportunities to bring Kingdom principles to earth. Help us to focus on what is right before us, Amen