Beloved Community

Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.                                                                                    Philippians 2:1-4

Monday was Martin Luther King Day, and my wife and I spent the day honoring his memory in various ways. The obvious one was our participation in a service at a community event held at a primarily African-American church. The event was properly honoring and uplifting. The theme was about trying to bring about the dream of Dr. King – the creation of a “Beloved Community”. We acknowledged that we as a society have not often been very successful in doing that, but it remains an aspirational goal nonetheless.   

The other way that we inadvertently honored Dr. King was one that caught me by surprise- one that we had not expected. In the afternoon, we decided to go to a movie. We seldom attend movies at the Cinema, but I had wanted to see A Man Called Otto starring Tom Hanks. I really like his work and I have seen most of his movies.

If you have not seen the movie and do not want it spoiled, stop reading here- I won’t be offended.

However, if you have seen the movie, you know that the theme of the movie is all about a beloved community rallying around a difficult man whose life was torn by grief and anger. It was a wonderful movie. Yes, it was hard to see much of it through the tears, but it was worth the effort!

Making a “Beloved Community” is within our reach in our own little spaces. We do not expect that our entire nation or world will be transformed into a loving community- we are too broken for that. However, within our own spaces, we can create little “Beloved Communities”. Neighborhoods, small groups, churches, support groups, book clubs, indeed any contained group in which we participate can become such a community.

If we are intentional about transforming small spaces, maybe such spaces can get larger. Being on the path to a “Beloved Community” is the point. The goal may not be reached this side of heaven, but it is our job to try.

Prayer: Lord, give us a vision for communities who can love one another, Amen

Agreeing With God

“Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the Lord,
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be as wool                                                                                                                               Isaiah 1:18

I have several clients who struggle with various things regarding their own self-esteem, being able to accept love, feeling forgiven, feeling worthy, etc. Many of us struggle with those very issues. Sometimes, we begin to believe that God has those same issues with us- that HE doesn’t love us, that HE does not forgive us, etc. It is easy for us to project our own attitudes onto others because it seems to satisfy and condone our own personal world-view.

I talk with clients about the need to be consistent with our views and to check out what the truth is about God’s view toward us. There are plenty of places in the Bible where God is explained as loving us right where we are; that he forgives our sins; that he will never leave us or forsake us, but sometimes, we are just not feeling that.

I ask people to just take the stance of agreeing with God. We can agree that we are sinners, and flawed human beings. We can also agree that we cannot save ourselves by our own best efforts. We can agree that he is sovereign and can, and will, do as he pleases, because we do not make up the rules.

 But if we agree to those things, we must also agree that he loves us like his children, that he will never leave us, even if it feels that he has. We must agree that God’s nature and character is not one of punishment, but of redemption and restoration.

Agreeing with God is a lot more peaceful than trying to maintain that our situation is irredeemable. The above passage explains that God wants us to reason together. Let’s just agree that God has our best interest at stake, and he will do anything to take care of his children.

Prayer: Lord, give us the means to be able to agree with you more, Amen

Martin Luther King Day

“Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love.”

“Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

We celebrate today the birth and the impact of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. As I was looking over some of his famous quotes- and rest assured, he was phenomenally quotable- I saw many of those quotes extolling the need and the virtues of non-violence.

How ironic, of course, that this man of avowed non-violence, died at the hands of violence. Indeed, Jesus too preached love and non-violence, and died a violent death. The powerful words of Jesus, Mohandas Ghandi, and Martin Luther King- advocates of non-violence- led them to destruction.

What does this say about society? Those people who have less facility with words, or failure to have a cogent discussion with others, evidently must resort to violence, in their own minds, to be heard. There is an old saying that is humorous, but also contains some seeds of truth. It is said to be a strategy of some attorneys in court cases. It goes like this:

If you have the evidence, pound the evidence. If you have the facts, pound the facts. If you don’t have facts or evidence, pound the table!

Perhaps taken to its logical conclusion, people who feel powerless and who have very few acceptable social outlets, resort to violence in order to feel “heard”.

We see evidence of violent expression all around us. Dr. King and so many other brilliant prophets, have tried over the centuries to plead for true communication to make changes in an unjust world.

Our best tribute to these precious prophets would be to have reasonable discussion of differing points of view to truly hear others, not just to be heard.

As Dr. King said “I have a dream”. He had a dream of a society of people that listened to one another with respect and honorable intentions.

Maybe we all have that dream.

Prayer: Lord, give us ears to hear others, and the courage to act justly, Amen

Self-Truth

This above all: to thine own self be
true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to
any man

William Shakespeare (from Hamlet)

I recently talked with a client about being aware of
how he felt and being able to express those feelings safely with others. Some
people struggle to do this because it is a somewhat difficult exercise. This
particular client told me that he believes that he is on the Autism Spectrum,
and that such things come hard to him because he has never really been able to
have a safe place to even bring his feelings to the front of his awareness.

He is having some relationship issues, so he decided that he needed counseling. We discussed the idea that his expression of those inner feelings can be almost invisible to him. When he feels fear or sadness
for example- or a mixture of both- it often comes out looking like anger.
Others, like his wife and adult child, then are hurt by what they see as anger.
My client then gets confused as to how to reconnect with them because he could
not really see how the process played out.  

He is growing and trying new things. I have so much
respect for him because this is new territory for him, and it feels strange and
perhaps scary. What a brave person he is! Trying new things, whatever they
might be, can be daunting and scary.

Yet, when we stretch, we grow.

Prayer: Lord, give us the strength to try new things for growth, Amen

Jesus

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’                                                           John 14:9 (NIV)

I have always found that people tend to have strong reactions to the name of Jesus. Some take his name in vain. Others revere and worship him. It seems that almost everyone who takes the time to study Jesus comes away with a definite opinion of him. He is, perhaps, the leading character of history, the most influential person who ever lived, and certainly the one who can and does change lives.  

In the novels that I have written- Joseph Shepherd (A Story of Travelers) and Joseph Shepherd (The Adventure Continues), my main character is a man who resembles Jesus. As such, he becomes a “lightning rod” for dissent. His treatment of other people, especially those people on the margins, is often misinterpreted. People tend to have strong reactions to him, both positive and negative.

The entire Bible was written with the arrival and mission of Jesus on earth as the ultimate topic. So, we have the opportunity to make our decisions about Jesus. I trust that my readers are getting to know him and his mission a little better. There is no better example of how to love other people, and how to pattern a life pleasing to God.

When one has seen Jesus, he/she has seen the Father. That is the point.

Prayer: Lord you have graciously given your son as a guide and Savior for us! 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

Please enjoy this visit from the past from a previous blog…

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.

What Are They Thinking?

My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.                            I John 3:18-20 (The Message)

I spoke with a client recently about her anxiety regarding how others may perceive her. She is a very bright, insightful person, but she is beset by self-doubts at times, and she worries about what people may think of her.

Of course, everyone wrestles with acceptance to some degree. All of us want others to affirm and appreciate us- it is part of human nature, and indeed is important for social functioning. We need to fit, in some ways, into our surroundings and to find an accepting social circle. This is even a survival mechanism built into us. We need some acceptance into a “tribe”.

The problem comes when we overthink that, and we begin to take on what other people “must think of me”. We may begin to build up our own narrative of what others think of us and then we act accordingly.

There are, of course, problems with this. One is, that particular way of thinking seems to put us into the “mind reading business”. I suggested to my client that it is actually disrespectful to assume what others will likely think of us. We may really sell them short of what they are capable of. Also, our thoughts are often just projections of our own thinking. Other people do not necessarily think the way that we do.

Finally, because we are anxious, we “fill in the blank” of what others may think of us with the worst-case scenario.

So, while we are tempted to project our thoughts onto others, the discipline is to remember that we cannot control what others think. We just have the illusion that we can have that control of others by acting in certain ways.

We just need to be real and be who we are. That is good enough.

Prayer: Lord, help us to accept ourselves like you accept us, Amen

Salt

 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.                                                       Matthew 5:13

I am fascinated by chemistry. Had my math strengths been better, it is possible that I might have majored in chemistry in college. However, I realize that while I have an interest in chemistry, at best I could only be considered a chemistry “spectator”, or maybe admirer. I do not think I have the academic rigor to pursue the hard sciences professionally. Call me a science “groupie”.

At any rate, I am fascinated by the chemical elements and compounds. One of them is salt. Common ordinary table salt. There are many types of salts, but the one we are most familiar with is sodium chloride. Salt has been valued for centuries, mostly, in the past, for one thing- its preservative qualities. Before refrigeration, people needed to find ways to preserve precious food supplies, such as fish. In the time of Jesus, salting fish was a common way to preserve them. Another was drying the fish, and still another was smoking the fish. All produced the result of allowing the fish to be kept much longer than in its fresh state.

Through the centuries, salt was sought after and wars were even fought to ensure steady supplies of it. Cities grew up around salt mines, and the word “salary” even derives its meaning from salt, since workers often were paid in allocations of salt. It was that important a product.

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus used the analogy of salt. He told his followers that they were to be the salt of the earth. This meant that they were to be the ones to deliver the message of grace and redemption in order to “preserve” the earth. If they failed to be “salty” they would fail in the mission.

In order to live out the full mission of being “salty” not only are we to preserve the earth with the good news of the gospel, but we also need to display other qualities of salt- making things taste better, and making people thirsty. People will not hear our message of hope if we are not making the world “taste better”- that is, be more of a palatable place to live. If we do not make people thirsty to hear about the hope of the gospel, we will not be effective.

So, consider how you can make the world around you taste a little better. It is only then that we can get a hearing for people to know how grace can be freely given to them.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the creation that you have spoken into existence. Even salt is part of your plan for our benefit, Amen.

Motivation and Focus

And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.                                                                  Luke 11:2 (KJV)

I have shared before in this space my general philosophy about good motivation. Essentially, I sum it up as “It is better to reach toward the good than avoid the bad”. I see so often people motivated by fear (avoiding the bad) in their life, and it is often not even a conscious thing. We become used to a life of trying to avoid bad consequences, and in so doing, we become tired. It is like running away from a dog who is chasing you. Eventually, you become tired, and may even give up. There is no goal other than to avoid that chasing dog.

However, if our motivation is a positive one, reaching for a goal, doing meaningful work, caring for others, etc. we focus on that, even though there are daily pitfalls that may come up.  We are not focused on the negative things that could happen; we are focused on the positive things that we can help make happen.

In our spiritual life, our job on earth is not to try to avoid going to hell. Rather, our job is to help make, as much as possible, the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We are motivated by love of others to make this world a distant mirror of heaven so that others may see God in his creation.

So, we act out our faith from a positive perspective. Others may better be drawn to a gospel that looks inviting, not “fear avoiding”.

Prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, Amen”

Limits

Your attitude should be the kind that was shown us by Jesus Christ, who, though he was God, did not demand and cling to his rights as God, but laid aside his mighty power and glory, taking the disguise of a slave and becoming like men. And he humbled himself even further, going so far as actually to die a criminal’s death on a cross                                                                                                                                Philippians 2:5-8 (Living Bible)

A discussion with a friend the other day brought up the idea of limits regarding God. When God created us with the ability and freedom to make choices, he put some limits on himself. As an omnipotent God, he can do whatever he pleases to do. He could have created us in whatever way he chose. He could have made it that we could not ever choose evil or to never disobey him. He could have made us into compliant beings who could never reject him or his love.

But he didn’t.

God allows us to make choices, both good and bad- choices which affect us and others in his creation. He gives us the opportunity to love him as he has loved us, or to love ourselves more than him or anyone else. He has given us the gift of free will.

We love our freedom! At the same time, we rail against God and others when things do not fall in line with what we want. That “free will thing” cuts both ways.

God loves us enough to give us our freedom to choose, even if it is not his best plan for us. He wants what is best for us, but we often choose the path of quick relief and pleasure- a path that leads to short cuts and to addictions. Yes, anything that makes us feel good immediately has the potential to be addictive. God gives us the choice, and he wants us to choose the path of the long- haul disciplines, not short cuts to feel good.

So, God gives choices to us, and in doing so, he deliberately limits himself. Indeed, sending Jesus to earth was the ultimate example of limiting his omnipotence for affiliation with his creation.

What a loving concept.

Prayer: It is hard for us to understand the plan of limiting yourself for us. Thank you for showing us that kind of love, Amen