Citizens and Government

Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So, live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear.

 Do you want to be on good terms with the government? Be a responsible citizen and you’ll get on just fine, the government working to your advantage. But if you’re breaking the rules right and left, watch out. The police aren’t there just to be admired in their uniforms. God also has an interest in keeping order, and he uses them to do it. That’s why you must live responsibly—not just to avoid punishment but also because it’s the right way to live.                                                                                              Romans 13:1-5 (The Message)

For those of us of a certain age, October 25, 1962 was a very harrowing day. That day, and a few of the days on either side of it, were the high point of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I remember it quite well, as will others in my generation. The Cold War was really a thing folks. We were, as many historians will note, as close as we had ever been to war with the Soviet Union. Might it have been the holocaust that people predicted it could be? Thank God we will never know.

I recall the relief that we experienced when the crisis was averted, and the nation gave a collective sigh of relief.  Mind you, this was the recollection of a then 12- year-old boy. Crises tend to mark memories in an indelible way. We mark them and stand by them, even though researchers tell us that those memories are often formed by many factors, and that such recall is not always perfect. I will grant that. I will also stick by what I felt at that time. I was convinced that my leaders were completely dedicated and trustworthy. I felt safe believing that we were the safest and strongest country in the world. We trusted our leaders.

It wasn’t very many years later that the same President who guided us through the crisis had been assassinated, and our hearts were broken, and evil seemed very palpable. Then Watergate and a host of other events so eroded our faith in elected government, that such faith was hardly in evidence.

We are called upon to pray for our leaders, no matter our political affiliation, or even our trust in those leaders. Romans chapter 13 was written at a time when the “leaders” were pagan demagogues who were starting to hunt down Christians. Yet, they were called to submit to their government officials.

Can we do any less than at least pray for our current government leaders?  

Prayer: Lord we do lift up all of our elected officials in these difficult times. Help them to lead in wisdom, Amen.

Building a Team

Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived                                                                                           Galatians 6:3 (The Message)

Yesterday we talked about building a team to help during those difficult times when anxiety or depression gets to feel overwhelming.  I tell my clients to reach out to some trusted others whom they can confide in and rely upon for help when needed. The beauty of having these resources is that the knowledge of having them is almost as effective as using them. You know that if things get really hard, your team will back you up. That request may be a phone call, a text, an email, a visit- whatever seems to fit for the situation.

I suggest that clients contact their small team and actually convene them together to discuss the goal of the support team. That way, everyone knows that they are not alone, and that none will feel “overburdened” by a request for help.   

This is also a team to whom I tell my clients to be honest with about the fact that they do not want to burden their friends. Here, they can get the reassurance that this is not a burden, but that they love their friend and are there to help. I know that my clients will likely be reluctant to ask for help, and I let them know that everyone knows this to be true, and that the reason they are there is to help.

One does not need to convene a group all together in order to ask for help from the team. This can be done individually also. I just think that there may be value in all the team knowing one another.

The point is this. No one should have to suffer alone, especially when there are people in your life who truly want to help. Asking for help is the first step- the humility step. Honestly, when one has gotten to this point, they are already on the road to healing and help.

Prayer: Father, thank you for the plan that we survive and thrive as a team. Help us to have the humility and strength to make the ask, Amen.

Who’s on Your Team?

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends.                                                            Philippians 2:1-2 (The Message)

Recently, I have spoken with some clients about putting a team around them to help deal with depression or anxiety issues. Sometimes, anxiety and depression can feel like “the devil on your shoulder”. You’ve seen this in cartoons and movies forever. There is a devil on one shoulder, and an angel on the other, each whispering things to the hearer, trying to win their position. The devil is saying damaging or evil things, tempting the hearer, tormenting him/her. The angel is holding out for the good decision, and saying positive things. Often in anxiety, the angel is not winning.

In extreme anxiety especially, that “devil” is seeking your destruction. I think everyone has built into us, a self-destructive part that seeks to tear us down. Don’t ask me why, I don’t know. What I do know is that we all carry within us the seeds for our own destruction. That is why we need to guard our hearts and minds and take our thoughts captive and speak truth to them. The part of us that is self-destructive is not from the truth or rational part of us. Indeed, self-destructive thought is irrational, but it does exist, and we need to counter its effects.

How do we do this? By surrounding ourselves with truth- that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, that we are the objects of God’s love, that others love us, etc. But when we are beset by the overwhelming power of self-doubt, and those recurring negative thoughts, it feels like the “devil” is winning.

I suggest to clients at times that, when their own “exit strategies” of anxiety relief are exhausted, they should not try to fight this battle alone. They need to find a team- a trusted small team of safe people who love them- to engage in this fight. If the client is Bill, I tell him that he needs to identify “Team Bill”. He will convene those people, enlist their help, and elicit from them their pledge to help when he calls or contacts them. I would tell Bill, “This is too big an enemy to fight alone. You deserve some help. Let’s build Team Bill to help”

Tomorrow, I will go into the specifics of how we build this team.

 Meanwhile, think about who might be on your team if you need one.

Prayer: Lord, you have made us to thrive in community. Help us to identify our team of helpers, Amen.

Never Give Up

Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up”

Jim Valvano

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

Jim Valvano was a college basketball coach whose most notable success came at North Carolina State University. He had previously coached at Bucknell and Iona College. Once, when introducing himself to another person at a fundraiser, he allegedly said “Hi, I’m Jim Valvano, Iona College”. The man reportedly looked at him and said, “Frank Jones, I own a bank”.

Likely not a true story, but Valvano was a master storyteller, and he had a marvelous sense of humor. He led North Carolina State to a national title in 1983 over heavily favored University of Houston and he secured lasting fame for that championship. Later, he left North Carolina State and became a broadcaster for ESPN.

He died at the age of 47 from a somewhat rare cancer. Before he died, however, he became an inspiration to many, and founded the V Foundation, which has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for cancer research. He left a legacy of fighting against cancer.

His quote, “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up” has been the rallying call for ESPN’s annual fundraiser for the V Foundation. It is a great motto. So simple, yet profound. How often have we wanted to give up on something? People fighting deadly diseases, people who are facing serious family or financial problems- you name it. All, at some time, are tempted to just give up. Most do not.

I love Jimmy V’s motto. We will discuss more in future blogs.

 In the meantime- Don’t give up, don’t ever give up!

Prayer: Thank you Father for the hope you give us, and the strength to persevere, Amen

Building Margins

And that’s about it, friends. Be cheerful. Keep things in good repair. Keep your spirits up. Think in harmony. Be agreeable. Do all that, and the God of love and peace will be with you for sure.

II Corinthians13:11-13 (The Message)

I wrote yesterday about the level of anger and distress caused by volatile election year rhetoric. This noise is around us at seemingly every turn, so what can we do for respite? How can we build some margins around us so that we can restore some peace amidst the chaos?

Here are some ideas for building those margins:

  • Erect some boundaries on social media. Take a respite of a few days from Facebook, Twitter, etc. and the myriad of social media which engulfs us. It will be OK to do that, trust me.
  • Make sure you make time for exercise, just for you. Walk outside, do the treadmill, do your aerobics in your own home- whatever you do. Just do it (to co-opt a phrase).
  • Get into nature. Visit a lake, a woods, the mountains, a beach. Enjoy God’s marvelous creation.
  • Exercise silence. Nothing wrong with being silent. In fact, silence can be very healing.
  • Journal your thoughts and feelings. It is just your time to go inward.
  • Listen to music, it can soothe your soul

These are just a few ideas which can be restorative. Let me know what works for you!

Prayer: Father, you want peace for us in all ways. Give us the desire to seek your peace, Amen

What If…

 “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”                                                                                                                                                         John 13:34-35

The election is just two weeks away, and many of us are very ready for it to be completed and done. That is an odd statement coming from an American citizen who is so blessed to live in a form of government, a republic, which gives us the opportunity to have free elections. Many people around the world envy the opportunity afforded us by founding fathers who established this great system.

Yes, it is flawed, as are all human institutions. However, we are fortunate to have the opportunity of choice, and it appears that Americans are voting in record numbers. That is a good thing- when people take seriously the precious right to vote.

Yet, we see some devastating behavior on social media and in other media venues where people are vicious in their behavior toward one another. The truth is, as Christians, we need to recognize that there are sincere brothers and sisters on both sides of the political aisle. We need to respect opinions that we do not agree with. Even opinions we deeply disagree with.

One of the things I tell my client couples is that they need to try to assume best motives of their partners. That does not mean they need to agree. It means that they agree that the other party is not just out to hurt them- they simply disagree on a matter.

What if we assumed that people of our opposite political viewpoint actually had the best interest of the country at heart? That does not mean that we agree with them. We may not and may never agree, but we could agree that we both love our country and want what is best for it. Would that change the heat in the debate? Would that give us the opportunity to discuss ideas reasonably without proclaiming that if the other party won, the country would collapse? I don’t know.

I do know that I must respect differences in opinion without condemning another’s character simply because they disagree with me. This is hard to do when we are so committed to our beliefs. It is especially hard when, as I see in this election, that often, people are not FOR a side, they are AGAINST the other. That gives rise to an awful lot of heat.

Believe me, I am far from perfect in this behavior. I do have my opinions. I will not let that opinion get in the way of my love for a brother or sister who disagrees.  

What if we tried that?

Prayer: Father, help us to love one another, even, maybe especially, when we do not agree, Amen

Children

People brought babies to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. When the disciples saw it, they shooed them off. Jesus called them back. “Let these children alone. Don’t get between them and me. These children are the kingdom’s pride and joy. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.”

Luke 18:15-17 (The Message)

Reading to young children is proven to improve cognitive skills and help along the process of cognitive development. … When you begin reading aloud to your child, it essentially provides them with background knowledge on their young world, which helps them make sense of what they see, hear, and read                                                                                                                                                               (all4kids.org)

We had the opportunity to care for our two youngest grandchildren this past weekend. The stage of having grandchildren is a great time of life, and having the opportunity to get to know them and love on them is extra special. We took them out to a farm, went to a park, walked with them, read to and with them, baked cookies with them, and generally enjoyed our time with them.

Perhaps this is a chance to relive our parenting skills again. Maybe it gives us the chance to feel the love of little innocent children. It is just a gift to be able to connect with those children and be a part of their learning about how to approach life.

We read to them at night, and this is a special time. We understand that reading to children is one of the single best ways to help children learn, and to develop perhaps our most important cognitive skill.

If you are a parent, never neglect the chance to read to your kids. There will come a time- sooner than later- that they will not ask or allow you to do this with them. If you are a grandparent, seize the chances to do this. It is one of the joys of life.

Our job is to leave the world a little better place than we found it. Investing in our children and grandchildren might be the most significant way that we can do that.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for the gift of children and grandchildren. They remind us of the simple, important things, Amen

The Remedy

Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
 I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
 I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”

 Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God?
 You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.
 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

Psalm 77:10-15

When we left off yesterday, David was awake in the middle of the night, worried, depressed, hopeless. He thought that even God had deserted him, and he was suffering, unable to sleep. David wondered whether God was willing, or even able, to help him in his time of crisis.

Then he thought- “Wait a minute here. God had promised to deliver the Israelites in their time of trouble, and he had delivered on that promise in miraculous ways. I know that God is powerful, so I will think on those things. I also recognize that I have nothing to offer at this time. I cannot do anything to make this better, but I know that God can. I will appeal to his power and promises.”

David gave up trying to solve the problems of his racing mind all by himself. Rather, he turned those thoughts to God- the One who could help. David appealed to God as the only solution to his problems at that time.

Some of David’s problems were guilt and shame for past actions. He was beset by those thoughts and he could not escape. He asked God to intervene in his anguished thoughts, and he knew that God cared and would deliver on that request. God was not the reason that David was suffering. It was David’s own thinking that caused him such pain.

We often need to be brought to the place of our own helplessness and utter inability to save ourselves before we can remind ourselves of God’s power to give peace to our mind. Yes, there are, for example, some techniques that I teach my clients about “exit strategy lists” and “designated worry time”. Different things work for different people.

 I have found though, that recognizing that “God has it when we do not” is a very reassuring thing to consider.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your provision, a very present help in our time of need, Amen

Nights Can be Hard

I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me!
 When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord.
All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven,
    but my soul was not comforted.I think of God, and I moan,
    overwhelmed with longing for his help. You don’t let me sleep.
    I am too distressed even to pray!

Psalm 77:1-4

Nights can be hard. Fall has once again descended, and with it comes less daylight. The night is longer and it changes our rhythms. We get accustomed to these changes in light, generally, but many people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, and they dread the onset of winter. The amount of light we receive affects our brain chemistry, and it causes us to have changes in mood. This, I believe, is both psychological and physical. The amount of serotonin is affected by these changes, and that results in less availability of that natural chemical which signals us to feel good. Often, these changes are subtle and minor, but sometimes, they can wreak havoc with our moods.

Night time is also hard for people who are struggling with depression and anxiety. Every thought seems to be compounded by the absence of comforting light. Light seems to give us hope and reassurance. Night time can be isolating and lonely, exacerbating fears and giving a sense of gloom that may not be present in the daytime.

David struggled with depression it seems, and he wrote about this in Psalm 77. He too was beset by problems sleeping. He had thoughts that would not quit, and they kept him from restful sleep. He wondered where God was in his time of need. He cried for help and seemed to come up empty. He felt helpless and hopeless.

Have you been there? You are not alone. Even David felt this sense of profound hopelessness, and it took him a while to finally get comfort.

Tomorrow we will look at some of his remedies.

Prayer: Father, we turn to you in time of trouble. We seek you for comfort. Be with us in time of need, Amen

Remembering Our Mentors

“For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and I am sure that it is in you as well.” II Timothy 1:5

In a recent talk I gave about leadership I discussed the value of acknowledging those leaders who have influenced us. As we grow, we are all influenced by people who have invested in us in some way, and we often fail to let those people know how important they were in our life.   

When Paul wrote his letters to Timothy, he acknowledged the legacy of faith that Timothy had by virtue of godly women in his life- Lois and Eunice.

Such legacies were discussed in the workshop I gave as participants shared about who in their life was a model, a mentor, or an example of how to lead well.

So, I give this simple word to you today. If that person in your life is still alive, contact them, and let them know how much you appreciated how they spoke into your life and invested in you. When we share such stories, it lifts up both the speaker and the one being thanked.

This practice is good for the soul.

Prayer: Thank you Father for sending leaders into our life, Amen