“Who Controls the Past Controls the Future”

George Orwell from the novel “1984”

And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.                                                                                                                                                                        Acts 17:11

This provocative and somewhat frightening quote from George Orwell applies today as much as it ever has. In a day when people read from headlines produced in abundance all over broadcast news and the internet, there can be a significant lack of depth of understanding about our current culture.

History is not a simple, linear parade of facts and dates. There is a context to our periods of history, and we need to read it from several sources and from several viewpoints. Americans have a proud history, but there is also a current of racism and division that has helped to shape our current culture.

Past actions such as the expulsion of Native Americans from their home lands, the evil of slavery and the subsequent Jim Crow laws, the land grab we called the Mexican War, and the colonial ventures we undertook after the Spanish-American War, are just some examples of a history often not explored deeply enough.

Honesty in looking at that past does not diminish us. Indeed, the truth can set us free to make needed changes. Being able to see that there were actions that disenfranchised many of the people who lived before us should be a sobering fact. When the Ku Klux Klan had a revival in the 1920’s, they helped to reframe a history that even found its way into many of our history books- the myth of the “Lost Cause”.  The movie The Birth of a Nation was a wildly successful early movie which some people actually took as a documentary film of the Reconstruction South after the Civil War. President Woodrow Wilson viewed the film in the White House and acclaimed it.

In fact, the movie was a sordid collection of racist tropes.

Unfortunately, some people simply assume that whatever they read in the headlines is true. Failing to explore a topic in some depth can lead us into some dangerous places.

George Orwell painted a very dismal picture of a leader that was able to lie often enough to make what he said sound true.  Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels used the tactic of continual promotion of lies which, after prolonged public exposure, began to be taken as truth.

The apostle Paul praised the Bereans because they took the time to search out the truth. They did their research and made sure that Paul was speaking truth, based upon the context of the Scriptures that they based their faith upon.

We would do well to follow their example.

Prayer: Lord, help us to search for truth, and to be diligent in that search, 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.

Resumes and Epitaphs

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,                                                                                                                                                                                   Hebrews 12:1

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.                                                                         II Timothy 4:7

Just the other day I was thinking about my resume, and it dawned on me that, at my stage in life, a resume no longer serves me. It is the epitaph that now looms larger in importance. Now, I do not want to appear maudlin or melancholy here. I am perfectly fine discussing this idea, and it does not cause me any sadness. It merely is that stage of life where we are looking more backward than forward. My epitaph will actually contain my resume. However, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we must look forward!

All this to say, I need no resume for employment any more. Though we stop working for a living, we never stop our work. We have our calling and our abilities, and we must continue to use those abilities to serve out that calling. I believe that there is truth to the saying that “if you don’t use it, you lose it”. This is certainly true of our physical bodies, and I think it is true of other skills or conditions as well, whether emotional, mental or spiritual.

Paul talked about our need to “run our race”. I think that race lasts our whole lifetime.

I am thankful for that.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for giving us our calling, and the will to play it out for our whole life, Amen

Honor One Another

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.                                                           Romans 12:9-13 (NIV)

In reading the book of Romans, I see that the writer, Paul, encourages us to “honor one another.” One of the things that is so remarkable about the Bible is that it is a book which gives excellent instructions for how we should treat one another. While it is a guide to understanding God and his creation, and his relationship to that creation, it also is very practical advice for how to truly survive in a world that is not always easy to navigate.

In this passage, Paul is reminding believers that they are to honor one another. That is, we are to show respect for one another by listening carefully to what they say. We are to show that respect by giving eye contact, warmth, and affirmations where we can. We are to give others the benefit of the doubt and not be quick to judge them. We are to let them know that they are valued by us and by God. We are to recognize that they have gifts and strengths that are to be celebrated.

Those are ways that we can “Honor one another above ourselves.” Paul did not say to lower our own esteem, but rather, when we honor others, it lifts us up as well.

So, it appears that the Bible is a pretty good manual for counseling as well!

Prayer: Thank you Lord for the inspiration given in the Bible which helps our relationships, as well as giving honor to you, Amen.

Listening More Closely

He who answers a matter before he hears it,

It is folly and shame to him.

Proverbs 18:13

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”                    Stephen R. Covey

When we talk with our friends, or even our clients, there is a natural tendency to want to alleviate the pain that they are experiencing. A person discussing their problems is suffering to some degree, and they have decided to speak to us to unburden some of those concerns and worries that they may be carrying.

That tendency to try to help solve the “problem” is natural. Someone came asking for our help, and we want to give it. Indeed, we think we have the right answers for them.

The problem is, people don’t always want answers- they want to be heard. They want validation that they are suffering, and they need attention and acceptance. They may not be looking for solutions.

I have found that people who do not want solutions to their problems, simply an understanding friend, will resist our attempts at giving solutions. Some people who are in the “caregiver” role, then can become frustrated. They may say something like, “Well, if they didn’t want my help, why did they ask?”

Actually, the seeker may not have been asking for answers. They may just want a soft landing to discuss how they feel. So, remember, listening closely is helpful in and of itself. It may be just the “answer” some people are looking for.

Prayer: Lord, help us to be quick to listen!

The Lies Depression Tells Us

Hurry with your answer, God! I’m nearly at the end of my rope. Don’t turn away; don’t ignore me! That would be certain death. If you wake me each morning with the sound of your loving voice, I’ll go to sleep each night trusting in you. Point out the road I must travel…                     Psalm 143:7-8 (The Message)

I was talking with a client recently about her growing depression. She had recently undergone surgery, and she had some complications which eroded the small physical and emotional reserves she had. She was depressed.

I assured the client that after surgery, the trauma is not only physical, but also emotional, and even spiritual. Our mind may tell us (lies to us), as we grow in depression, that the healing will never happen, or that it will be incomplete, or that it will take forever.

I recall after my knee replacement in 2017 having a small measure of that feeling. As I saw my calf muscles atrophy, after just a week or so of inaction, I began to feel that the healing might not happen, or that it might not be complete. That led to decreased appetite and interests that I usually had. It was a minor bout of reactive depression.

That depression, I knew, had fueled irrational thinking, but I still had a little trouble shaking it. Once I got into physical therapy, and my therapist challenged me to work through the pain, I improved quickly. My goal became recovery and overcoming the physical trauma that the surgery had produced. What I also realized was that I was recovering from emotional trauma too. Not devastating trauma, or even major trauma, but trauma nonetheless.

It affected too, my spiritual vitality. I just lost my usual energy. It was when I realized that I had  control over my own recovery, and that it actually could and would happen, that I began full recovery.

Please understand, I did not suffer a lot during the process. I would not want to diminish the depression that others endure by mentioning my brief brush with it. But I did get a little taste of it, and it gave me a little more insight into what my clients deal with.

People who are depressed aren’t looking for sympathy, they look for understanding and care.

Please try to provide it for them.   

Prayer: Lord, help us to heal in all dimensions, Amen

The Physics of Relationships

Is there any such thing as Christians cheering each other up? Do you love me enough to want to help me? Does it mean anything to you that we are brothers in the Lord, sharing the same Spirit? Are your hearts tender and sympathetic at all? Then make me truly happy by loving each other and agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, working together with one heart and mind and purpose                          Philippians 2:1-2 (Living Bible)

Funny how I love Physics, but that I struggled so much with it in school. Maybe it’s because now I can read about Physics for enjoyment. Back in school, they were going to test me on that stuff! I still do not really understand Physics that well, but I’m fascinated by it. I find that the principles of Physics are universal, even in relationships.

For example, one of the laws of Physics is that bodies that are at rest tend to stay at rest, and bodies in motion tend to stay in motion. In terms of a relationship, there needs to be energy expended by at least one party in order to maintain the system or to enhance it. There needs to be an input of energy for the system (the relationship) to be maintained.

As we know, at times, we all may be at different energy states. One of the couple may be over-stressed, depressed, etc. If both partners are at a state of low energy, the relationship may suffer. One of the partners needs to infuse some energy to keep the system going and healthy. In order for that infusion of energy to take place, at least one of the partners needs to reach deep for extra energy. Maybe that comes from a spiritual source, or maybe it comes from an extra effort to reach out to the partner to help them through a hard time. At any rate, it takes a decision, usually a selfless decision, to find that energy, then infuse it into the relationship.

I’m not talking about major events here. I’m simply talking about a reach out to show care and concern for the partner- affirming statements, showing concern for the well-being of your partner. The effort of taking initiative to reach outside of one’s self is the magic energy that can restore the system to health and balance.

Prayer: Lord, give us the energy and the insight to care for those whom we love, even when our own energy is low, Amen

Severed or Propagated?

And don’t get to feeling superior to those pruned branches down on the ground. If they don’t persist in remaining deadwood, they could very well get grafted back in. God can do that. He can perform miracle grafts. Why, if he could graft you—branches cut from a tree out in the wild—into an orchard tree, he certainly isn’t going to have any trouble grafting branches back into the tree they grew from in the first place. Just be glad you’re in the tree, and hope for the best for the others                                        Romans 11:23-24

I had breakfast with my good friend Reed yesterday, and we were discussing several issues about the Church in America. In our discussion we talked about some issues which divide the Church. Tension arises in those discussions often, not between Reed and I, but within the denominations. While Reed and I do not completely agree on some issues, we are freely able to discuss our differences, respect one another’s views, and love each other as we have for many years.

In discussing an upcoming split on the Methodist denomination- and I will not go into detail on that in this limited space- we agreed that a split done properly, respectfully, lovingly, could actually create new growth. Reed suggested an analogy. Consider cutting off the limb of a tree with a jagged axe cut. The severed part can only die, and the tree itself could be injured, and become susceptible to disease and possible death.

Consider, then, a careful cut, and possible splicing of that cut into a new growing medium. Now that type of cut can properly be called propagation, not detachment. Both the new shoot and the old tree can still both prosper.

The point is, division does not necessarily mean death, unless the division is done with malice and harsh criticism. Good people can, and do, disagree on how the Gospel is to be spread through the world.

One person’s division can be another’s propagation. It is all in how we go about the solution.

Prayer: Lord, you have entrusted your Church into the hands of fallible people. Help us to be the message you intend, Amen

Tribal Thinking Debunked

So, in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.                       Galatians 3:26-29

This statement from the book of Galatians was made by Paul. Not very long earlier, being known as Saul of Tarsus, this same man had been seeking out and imprisoning or killing Christians. What a change of heart!

This same change of heart, which is the hallmark of the Christian faith, should be in full bloom in all of us. Think how the world might look at Christians today if we took the position that, despite our political and cultural differences, we are one in Christ and we honor one another, even if we have different backgrounds and experiences.

The political tribalism that seems to rule our landscape is divisive and corrosive. Our first allegiance is not to politics or cultural or racial background. Our first allegiance is to the Kingdom work that Jesus gave to us – to love one another, serve the least and the lost in the world, and usher, as much as we can, the Kingdom of God to earth, “as it is in heaven”.

Prayer: Lord, give us the fruits of the Holy Spirit to love one another despite our differences, Amen

Rocks in the Road

“The goal in marriage is not to think alike, but to think together.”                                                        Robert C. Dodds

I spoke with a couple the other day who presented with marriage problems. There were some typical problems that they identified, including blended family, finances, and difficulty with emotional communication. They were a very open couple and they were able to hear some of the hard things I might need to say to them.

I noted that they were both very successful, driven individuals, and both quite strong-willed. I suggested to them that they could certainly have an improved marriage if they were willing to work. I also pointed out to them that they should not expect a smooth road in their marriage. They were going to have some rocky times due to their strong wills and difficulty compromising or sacrificing. The couple acknowledged this, and even seemed to welcome that clear honesty. They both smiled and essentially said, “yes, that is true of us!”

Some couples have smoother roads on their journey together than others. This couple was going to have a marriage that would be intense and conflictual at times, but that would give the energy to the relationship that both seemed to seek. The very things that drew them together were going to be the potential points of conflict in their marriage. Their candor, and willingness to acknowledge their temperaments will bode well in helping this relationship to survive and even thrive.

The point here is that the road in marriage does not need to be, and will not be, always smooth.  We need to acknowledge the rocks in the road and deal with them. The commitment to look for those rocks together and to face them together is the answer to making the relationship great.

Prayer: Lord, give us the wisdom to be able to identify the rocks in the road of relationship, Amen.