A Fish Story

For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
 As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
 As a father pities his children,
So the Lord pities those who fear Him.                                                                                                Psalm 103: 11-13

Stop me if you’ve heard this one… on second thought, don’t. I have shared this story in various places and in various ways, but I think it bears repeating. If you haven’t heard it before, so much the better.

Many years ago, my son and I built a pond in our back yard. It was a good one. In fact, it was so good that it was two ponds, with a bog area in between the ponds. As winter approached, we decided that the fish in the smaller, shallower pond would need the depth of the larger pond to survive the winter freeze.

Sometime in November, I took a small net and tried to remove the small fish to transfer them into the larger pond for their own protection. Of course, the little fish did not see the value in that, and they resisted my attempts to catch them with great vigor (and success I might add).

During this escapade, it struck me that people are sort of like those little fish who resisted the change of environment. They were used to the little pond- the only world they knew. To change that would be devastating for them. Of course, my intent was only for their good, their safekeeping.

 I put myself into the mind of God for a moment. “I’m only looking out for their good, and they resist me at every turn”. How must God look at us as we resist change that is only for our benefit? I pitied the plight of the poor fish in their resistance. However, I persisted, and I caught them, transferred them to the larger pond, and they survived the winter ice.

I have used this story at funerals, to point out that final translation to heaven is for good- eternal life. Of course, desiring life, we resist that change with ferocity, and understandably so. But change is often what we need, even when we are resisting it because the present reality is all we know. God knows our need, and he wants the best for us.

Even when we do not fully understand it.

Prayer: Lord, you understand our thinking, and love us, even in our resistance, Amen

Doubt & Faith

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

Mark 9:24

Sometimes we make definitive statements which are too black and white. Sometimes, in order to try to understand the world, we break things into “either/or” categories. That often is too simplistic. Life is nuanced, and there are simply areas of life that cannot be broken into such clear categories.

An example I see is in the area of “certainty”. Living in a certain amount of ambiguity is uncomfortable. We want an answer. In our faith journey, we often want simple yes or no, black or white answers. Yet, I think there are plenty of things which do not lend themselves to easy answers.

Having faith does not mean that we have no doubts. I would argue, that without doubt, there is no need for faith. If everything is simply a matter of blind faith, we leave no room for the discomfort of doubt. I believe that our faith can stand the scrutiny of sincere questioning.

In an earlier post, I made this statement relative to prayer: “We all have doubt, I take that as a given. However, it confirms our faith each time we pray. It affirms our faith, however shaky it may be. Faith, even as small as the mustard seed, is shown when we open our mouth to utter His name.”

The principle here is that we act on faith, even if we are not fully on board. No faith is perfect, but whatever faith we do have must be exercised to become real. It is a counseling principle that we “Do, then feel”- meaning, if we do good and right behaviors, we will begin to feel better. We cannot wait to feel better to start acting better.

So, you have doubt, I have doubt. Let’s not let that get in the way of exercising that small faith that we do have. “I believe, help my unbelief”

Prayer: Thank you Father for giving us the mind to have doubt. Thank you for the grace to give us such space. Thank you for the gift of faith and the room for doubt. Amen

Fear of Fear

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself…”                                                                                                     Franklin Delano Roosevelt

God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love                                                                                             I John 4:17-18

I recently had a client who was auditioning for a part in a movie. He explained to me that his anxiety was very high, and it adversely affected his performance. I talked with him about the experience as we processed ways to handle that in the future. It is a facet of anxiety that I have discussed in this blog before. Anxiety is typically irrational, self-defeating, and at times overwhelming. The irony of course is this- my client’s fear of losing his lines CAUSED him to lose his lines!

In this way, anxiety can be the self-fulfilling prophecy that seems to have a life of its own, and a goal of defeating our desires. Once my client and I went over some of the specifics of what happened, we came up with a game plan for future auditions. The game plan included making sure that he went for the next audition, and that he did not let the anxiety win. His behavior- his determination and discipline- would carry the day. We both knew he could do it if he had the strategy to deal with the anxiety when it showed up. Yes, we were pretty sure it would show up, so I wanted him to be prepared WHEN it showed up.

Anxiety is our unwanted traveling partner. My suggestion to the client was to recognize that this traveling partner would not go away, but that he could take control of it, manage it, and find a way to make it a motivator, not an enemy.

Prayer: Lord, you have given us all the tools to overcome fear, Amen

Yoked Together

Marriage is not a place to “stand up for your rights.” Marriage is a decision to serve the other, whether in bed or out.                                                                                                                                                                        I Corinthians 7:5 (The Message)

I had the opportunity recently to share an analogy with some clients who are in a difficult marriage situation. I used the analogy of a yoke of oxen. The oxen are yoked together so that they can share the load and pull in the same direction. If one is pulling sideways, or not pulling at all, the whole operation comes to a grinding halt. They are yoked together to share the burden, but also to lighten the load of the other. The yoke, while confining, also helps to leverage the maximum amount of power from the straining oxen.

This couple needed to be reminded periodically that they are on the same team. They are not trying to out-pull the other, or to try to make the burden harder. They are yoked for a reason. If they can remember to see that as they pull together, the burden gets lighter for both, they will be fine.

They are on the same team.

I find that clients who somehow have the belief that their partner does not have their best interest at stake are often not able to stay together. Even when couples are in disagreements, arguments, or just a strained place in the relationship, if they can deep down know that their partner has their back and wants the best for them, they will probably be OK.

So, even when things get tough, remember that your partner wants the best for you, even if it does not feel that way at the moment. I trust that is the case in the majority of stable relationships. Just remind yourself that you are together in it.

Prayer: Lord, help remind us that we are loved, even in the midst of trials, Amen

Cheers!

Making your way in the world today Takes everything you’ve got
Taking a break from all your worries Sure would help a lot
Wouldn’t you like to get away? All those nights when you’ve got no lights
The check is in the mail And your little angel
Hung the cat up by it’s tail And your third fiance didn’t show

Sometimes you wanna go Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came You wanna be where you can see (ah-ah)
Our troubles are all the same (ah-ah)
You wanna be where everybody knows your name

(Cheers theme song lyrics)

Do you remember the old TV show Cheers?  OK, now I’ve got you singing that song in your head. You’re welcome.

It was a funny, well-written show that was about the activities that went on in the local bar. A place where regular customers came in and bantered about life. The theme song (first stanza above) has some very interesting and true-to-life words. The words of the last two lines always struck me:

Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came you wanna be where you can see
Our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows your name

I had a client recently who was suffering a very painful estrangement from her family. There had been much rejection, even abuse, and this client was trying to find places where she would be validated and accepted. Her family of origin, unfortunately, was not one of those places. While she was hurt by family rejection, she still longed for their validation.

I suggested to this client that such validation is necessary for all of us. We seek out places where we are accepted, “where everybody knows our name. A place where, “they’re always glad you came”

My suggestion to her was involvement in small groups at her church, or perhaps volunteer work with others with whom she could connect in a mission larger than herself. Perhaps in places like that, she could find meaningful connections and acceptance just for who she is.

It is interesting that many people do seek such validation at bars. The show’s characters like Sam, and Norm, and Cliff, and Diane found acceptance in the bar. I would hope that perhaps churches could be places where people find the comfort of caring relationships. Where everybody (or many) know your name; where they are glad you came, and missed you if you did not come.

Maybe then more people would seek out churches rather than bars for those relationships.

Prayer: Lord, you have made us relational beings. Help us to validate and encourage one another, Amen

Presence

Three of Job’s friends heard of all the trouble that had fallen on him. Each traveled from his own country—Eliphaz from Teman, Bildad from Shuhah, Zophar from Naamath—and went together to Job to keep him company and comfort him. When they first caught sight of him, they couldn’t believe what they saw—they hardly recognized him! They cried out in lament, ripped their robes, and dumped dirt on their heads as a sign of their grief. Then they sat with him on the ground. Seven days and nights they sat there without saying a word. They could see how rotten he felt, how deeply he was suffering.                                                                                                                                       Job 2:11-13 (The Message)

This passage from the book of Job in the Bible always struck me as a great lesson in the importance of “presence”. Job had just experienced devastating losses of family and possessions, and he was in great misery. His friends from all around the area conferred with one another and went to comfort their friend. Upon arrival, they simply sat with him. They were so moved by his pain that they experienced suffering themselves. They said nothing, perhaps too stunned to know what to say, and wise enough to say nothing. They just wanted to be with their friend in his time of need.

It was only after they started to try to give him advice that they caused him some additional emotional pain. That however, is another story. The point is that they cared enough to plan together to travel to see him, and they just sat with him to show their love and support. That, it turned out, was the real healing they brought to their friend Job.

This COVID-19 crisis caused us to be much less present with one another physically. Yes, we are blessed with many modes of electronic communication, and that is of incredible value. But we missed physical presence. There is something about just being with others, connecting, hugging, touching, that had been taken from us. I missed it, and thankfully, it is now being restored.

 Just today, I had the opportunity to reconnect with people I have not seen for many years. What a blessing it was to see them, hug them, and tell them in person how much I value them.

I trust that one of the lessons we take away from the COVID crisis is to never again undervalue the importance of being simply present with one another. What a gift that is.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for building us to be in need of one another’s presence. We often feel your presence when we are with others, Amen

Patience

And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady.                                                                                               Romans 5:4 (Living Bible)

On this date 52 years ago the first manned moon landing took place, with Neil Armstrong steeping from his lunar lander and voicing his famous words “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”

That technological marvel was accomplished through the efforts of some 400,000 people, working in various capacities over many years to make this historic even happen. They also did this, for the most part, with old analog technology. The phone that you carry in your pocket has vastly more computing power than was available for that launch to the moon.

We take so much for granted now as we have progressed in technological knowledge. If the show we are streaming has a blip, we become upset. We have become used to instant access to everything. Yet this instant access to information sometimes shortcuts the processing time that we used to have to employ in getting that information. We now expect instant results, quick solutions, and immediate gratification.

Is it any wonder that there has arisen a sense of impatience among us? We want it (whatever it is) NOW. If we do not get it, we feel cheated. This growing sense of impatience and entitlement is leading to increased violence. We see this daily, and it is worrisome to say the least.

Once the instant gratification phenomenon is available, it is expected. It is hard to slow things down when we expect instant results. Anything less makes us angry.

So, I have no answers for our human nature. That’s us! But I do hope that we can look at our own sense of instant gratification, and try to slow down the process of our expectations.

As the old saying goes, “Lord, give me patience, and give it to me now!”

Prayer: Lord, you have given us great gifts to improve the world. Help us to be wise stewards, Amen

Normal

A man without God is trusting in a spider’s web. Everything he counts on will collapse.  If he counts on his home for security, it won’t last.                                                                                                                     Job 8:14-15 (Living Bible)

Immediately following World War I, Warren Harding ran on a platform of “Return to Normalcy”. No one is exactly sure what that means, but it sure sounded good to a war-weary American populace in the 1920 election. Much like our return to post-Covid-19 life (yes, I’m saying “post Covid” even though the Delta variant is still a problem), we want a return to “normal”.

I began to think about my own sense of normal. I am more a creature of habit than I care to admit (yes, I just admitted it, stay with me). If there is any break in my routine, even good things like vacations, I get thrown off a bit, and I crave a return to what I see as my normal.

Even in little things.

 Recently, we just had new carpet installed. Yes, a good thing to replace old carpet- fresh look and feel and all that. Yet, the house was disrupted for several days, things out of place etc., and my normal routine was altered just a bit. I noticed that I was anxious to get “back to normal”. I wanted things put back into their place, and my routine restored.

Funny how we rely upon the simple little things to give us a sense of normal. That “normal” is our sense of feeling secure, because life is then a bit more predictable. If a little thing like a break from our routine can give us a slight sense of imbalance, how much more does trauma affect our lives?

We seek security and predictability. That true security in life comes from our faith, but we sure want those little tokens of our “normal” to keep us on an even keel.

I know I do.

Prayer: Lord, be with those whose life is disrupted by trauma of any kind. Bless them and give them your sense of security, Amen

Everyday Mission

Enjoy this reprint of my blog that ran on July 25, 2020

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
    and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God.                                                                                                        Micah 6:8

This is a story that is an addition and expansion of the account of the three wise men recounted in the book of Matthew. It tells about a “fourth” wise man, a priest of the Magi named Artaban, one of the Medes from Persia.

 Like the other Magi, he sees signs in the heavens proclaiming that a King had been born among the Jews. Like them, he sets out to see the newborn ruler, carrying treasures to give as gifts to the child – a sapphire, a ruby, and a “pearl of great price”. However, he stops along the way to help a dying man, which makes him late to meet with the caravan of the other three wise men. Because he missed the caravan, and he can’t cross the desert with only a horse, he is forced to sell one of his treasures in order to buy the camels and supplies necessary for the trip. He then commences his journey but arrives in Bethlehem too late to see the child, whose parents have fled to Egypt to escape the plot of Herod to kill the possible rival King.  He saves the life of a child at the price of another of his treasures.

Artaban then travels to Egypt and to many other countries, searching for Jesus for many years and performing acts of charity along the way. After 33 years, Artaban is still a pilgrim, and a seeker after light. Artaban arrives in Jerusalem just in time for the crucifixion of Jesus. He spends his last treasure, the pearl, to ransom a young woman from being sold into slavery. He is then struck in the head by a falling roof tile and is about to die, having failed in his quest to find Jesus, but having done much good through charitable works. A voice tells him “Verily I say unto thee, inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40). He dies in a calm radiance of wonder and joy. His treasures were accepted, and the Other Wise Man found his King.

From a short novel by Henry van Dyke

I always loved this story, because of its beauty, and also because of the truth it explains. The fourth wise man went about his life seeking to fulfill his mission- to find and to honor Jesus. All through his life, he believed that he had failed in the mission because he could never deliver his precious gifts to Jesus. Of course, he had been serving out his mission the whole time. He had been serving Jesus by serving other people. That IS the mission.

So, I think often we miss the fact that our lives have great meaning and purpose to the extent that we humbly serve others. Nurturing mothers and fathers are serving out their calling by caring for their children as best they can. Teachers are serving out their calling by dedicating themselves to the betterment of their students. Medical personnel are doing healing work. First responders are saving lives, often at the expense of their own.

On and on. You fill in the blank of how you are serving and playing out your mission. Is there more for you? Do you feel that there are things that you still must do?

Good. We never stop living out that mission. We never “retire” from our calling. If you have somehow decided that you have nothing more to give, think again. We need to LIVE until we die, not exist until we die. If there is that one more thing that is in front of you, pursue it. Because that might be the voice of God prompting you to seize that moment with your set of skills and passion to impact another.

Prayer: Thank you for the plan of mission, of significance, of honoring you with our life, Amen.

Have You Heard the Good News?

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)

Have you ever heard of Norman Borlaug? Neither had I. Funny how we often do not hear of the news that is the most uplifting and world changing. It turns out that Mr. Borlaug had a lot to do with the “Green Revolution” of the 1950’s and 60’s which helped to turn much of the world’s arable land into productive, food producing land due to his meticulous research. His work with making hybrid wheats likely has saved tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of people from starvation. He won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his work.

Every day we are inundated with bad news. You need not look far for pain, misery and doom. That is because news essentially singles out such stories because they are both sudden and newsworthy. Bad news arises quickly, generally, and it grabs headlines.

Good news, on the other hand, is with us all the time, and it is not, therefore, newsworthy. It is not “breaking news”, it is normal life. For example, the fact that there is less starvation now worldwide than ever in history, is not newsworthy. Partly, that is also due to the fact that it is hard to celebrate less starvation when starvation still exists in the world.

We cannot blame news media for this phenomenon. News is made up of events that are new, interesting, and important. The fact that there are wildfires and hurricanes happening is absolutely true. Those events are devastating in real time to thousands of people, and it is important to note.

At the same time, there are many, many things and events in the world that are good news, but they are swallowed by other pressing events. That is simply a matter of life. We need to remember however, the important fact that there are many incredible achievements that go unnoticed.

People like Norman Borlaug.

Prayer: Help us remember your grace and provision for us, even in the midst of bad news, Amen