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.

It Sure is Different These Days

And now this word to all of you: You should be like one big happy family, full of sympathy toward each other, loving one another with tender hearts and humble minds.

I Peter 3:8 (Living Bible)

For the past few months, we have been doing human contact differently. We are, of necessity, being more cautious in our interactions. We are wearing masks (many, if not most of us), and we are keeping a bit more distance in conversations, even if not consciously. We are seeing fewer people, as our “safe circle” is not as large as before COVID-19. In short, we naturally curious and socially interdependent beings have become- less so.

Perhaps I am just speaking for myself. If so, please indulge me this space as a therapeutic response to feeling less connected to my brothers and sisters in the world. There were times that I would simply enjoy going up to a complete stranger and engaging them in conversation. Seeing someone I barely knew might result in an enjoyable conversation just for the fun of it. And these are the actions of someone who is just this side of an introvert. Imagine how the extroverts are getting through this difficult time.

I really am not wanting to complain. We all are suffering just a bit, and some are suffering mightily- physically, emotionally and/or financially. I am just suggesting that we take time to look at the social changes being wrought by this maddening Novel Coronavirus.

I recognize that this is a necessary response in order to contain this pandemic. I agree with the plans, however painful they might be. I wear my mask, and I do what I can do to stay healthy and try to ensure that others stay healthy too.

Maybe this crisis time will remind us, in a way that we never otherwise could have understood, how interconnected we are, should be and can be. As I have said before, let’s make sure that we come away with a greater appreciation of one another.

 We cannot let this crisis go to waste.

Prayer: Father, we are grateful for the fellowship of humankind. Give us more appreciation for one another in this difficult time, Amen.

Oases

Oasis (def.)

1: a fertile or green area in an arid region (such as a desert)

2: something that provides refuge, relief, or pleasant contrast

Merriam-Webster

God, when you took the lead with your people, when you marched out into the wild, Earth shook, sky broke out in a sweat; God was on the march. Even Sinai trembled at the sight of God on the move, at the sight of Israel’s God. You pour out rain in buckets, O God; thorn and cactus become an oasis for your people to camp in and enjoy. You set them up in business; they went from rags to riches.                      Psalm 68:7-10

What can be more refreshing than a cool drink of water on a sweltering hot day? I remember as a kid playing baseball in the back yard with my brother, and we would be too preoccupied with playing ball to get a drink from inside the house. So, finally, we would turn on the garden hose, let it run for a while until the water was cool, then we would drink right from the hose. The cool water splashing onto our face made the experience even better. I can still remember the refreshment of that water!

It reminds me that when we face the heat of a busy day, whether or not it is literally hot outside, we need a break, an oasis. I tell my clients that there can be larger oases and smaller oases, but we must build them into our day.

For example, for me, a small oasis might be a fresh cup of tea in the afternoon to refresh me between seeing clients. A larger oasis might be looking forward to a nice long walk at the end of the day, or a show that I can watch with my wife in the evening. An even larger oasis might be that trip that we plan for a few months in advance when we can take a week or two off.

The point is, we need to make room for regular oases to refresh us daily, weekly, monthly. For me, it is the reward for having accomplished what I said I was going to do. Sometimes we lose sight of the need for the oasis because we think of it as a “big thing”. I believe that small and regular rewards keep us going better than looking for the “big thing”. But that’s just me. Whatever your preference, be aware of what your oasis might be. Build them in regularly.

It is that cold water out of the hose on a hot summer day.

Prayer: Father, you give us oases all around us, help us to see then, then use them to refresh us for our mission, Amen.

Speaking Into the Life of Others

Words satisfy the mind as much as fruit does the stomach;
    good talk is as gratifying as a good harvest.

 Words kill, words give life;
    they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.                                                                                                        Proverbs 18:20-21 (the Message)

Yesterday I talked about how people can speak into our lives things that we do not see- potentials that we would not have imagined without the input of others. There are instances that I spoke of yesterday with disciples like John and Simon Peter who lived up to, or into, the lives that Jesus saw for them.

Unfortunately, some people live below their God-given potentials because parents or others in positions of influence did not sow into them the belief that they could do things beyond which they could envision for themselves.

There was a study many years ago with teachers and first graders where students were tested to see the academic abilities they had in preparation for first grade. In one case, the gifted students were placed in a room with a teacher who was told that the students were average to below average students. In another room, less gifted children were placed with teachers who were told that these were gifted children.

In both cases, the children tended to live up to (or down to) the expectations placed upon them. Children who were not gifted, but treated as if they were, tended to outperform their expected outcomes.

I think that people often, for various reasons, perform better than they think they can because someone believes in them. We often hear of students who say that a particular teacher motivated them to do better than they ever had- academically and socially- because of the confidence placed in them, perhaps for the first time, by a caring adult.

I think it is our opportunity, indeed our responsibility, to build up others, not artificially, but genuinely. If may be as simple as an encouraging word, or following through with helping someone be accountable for what they say they are going to do. We have the power to unlock potential in others by simply being an encouragement to them and believing in them, even when people may not be confident in themselves.    

Prayer: Thank you Lord for the gift of encouragement. It is health to the soul, Amen