“I Believe, I Believe…”

 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”                 Mark 9:24

If you have seen the old movie, Miracle on 34th Street, you will know exactly where my analogy comes from today. Late in the movie, little Susan Walker (played by a very young Natalie Wood), is struggling with believing in Santa Claus. The charming character, Kris Kringle, had been trying to get Susan to have belief beyond only the things that she could verify by her intellect. Her mother had drilled this idea into her for her entire young life- trust in only what you can see and verify.

As the movie progresses, Susan begins to wonder if there are things that might be true that she cannot verify with her intellect. Maybe she could believe in Santa Claus! Late in the movie, Susan’s nascent belief that maybe there could be a Santa Claus starts to wane again. She gets disappointed when she seems to not get the gift Santa had promised her.

In the car with her mom, she dejectedly, and half-heartedly says again and again “I believe, I believe” trying to convince herself to believe against all odds in Santa. Soon the car pulls up on the house that she had asked Santa to give her and her mom. It was true! Santa had delivered on his gift!

I am not asking my dear readers to believe in Santa Claus, but I think the principle holds with our belief in God. Sometimes, we are so disappointed and hurt by what we see around us, that we  can lose hold on our belief. Is God real? Can he allow the pain and suffering we see around us? Can that God be trusted?

It is at those times that I sometimes feel like little Susan. I keep reminding myself, “I believe, I believe…” My faith is not simply a feeling that sustains me. It is a trust that God loves me and others in this world despite how discouraging it gets at times. I simply then rely on that old commitment that I made many years ago-

“I believe, I believe…”

Prayer: Lord, I believe, help my unbelief, Amen

Where is the Church?

“He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’                                                    Matthew 25:45 (The Message)

“Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this. When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.”                                                                                               Matthew 18:18-20 (The Message)

I heard a story from a client recently whom I had challenged to attend an AA meeting. He knows that he is an alcoholic- at least now he does. It took a trip to the hospital Intensive Care Unit to convince him, but he knows that he is an alcoholic.

However, it was not solely my recommendation to attend AA that convinced him to attend a meeting. It was the behavior of another man in recovery who won him to the AA community. This man offered to talk with my client day or night, whenever he needed to call. He offered to drive from his home (not geographically close), if necessary, to help my client whenever he might need it.

Such behaviors are those of people who care about and understand the needs of others. They become interested in the needs of fellow travelers on this journey which often includes some rough detours.

The Church is where we find it. It is not one denomination, nor a building, nor a system of religious practices and worship. Church happens where need meets loving compassion in the name of our Creator.

Church is at an AA meeting; a support group; a funeral home; a Hospice Center- it is wherever loving compassion is shown by sacrificial service.

That’s where church is.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the plan to love you by loving others, Amen

A Simple Request…

How can I stand up before God
    and show proper respect to the high God?
Should I bring an armload of offerings
    topped off with yearling calves?
Would God be impressed with thousands of rams,
    with buckets and barrels of olive oil?
Would he be moved if I sacrificed my firstborn child,
    my precious baby, to cancel my sin? But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
    what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
    be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
    take God seriously

Micah 6:6-8 (The Message)

The prophet Micah delivered this message to the people of Israel after reminding them how God had delivered them time and again from their enemies. He had even made an analogy earlier in this passage about pleading a court case. Here was his simple plea – Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously — take God seriously.

He told people that God is not moved or impressed by multiple sacrifices of animals, and ample gifts of oil, etc. God’s simple desire is that we treat his creation with love and respect. He wants us to honor one another and care for each other. Oh, and by the way, we are not to take ourselves too seriously!

What a great simple message. Religion over the millennia has gone to great lengths to find formulas to please God. For the most part, I think intentions were good, but religion takes itself too seriously. If rules and formulas are too complicated, they can’t be followed.

I like the way Micah thinks.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for loving us, and asking only love for others in return, Amen

A Larger World

The world of the generous gets larger and larger;
    the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller.

 The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed;
    those who help others are helped.

Proverbs 11:24-25 (The Message)

As we grow and mature from infancy to adulthood and finally into our senior years, our world should get larger, not smaller. When a baby is born, the world essentially centers around that baby, and rightly so. All attention is given to the care, nurture and safety of that precious child. As the child gets older, her world gets larger. More people come into her life- maybe a new sibling; daycare playmates; pre-school peers, etc. She needs to learn to share her space with others.

As we get older still, we must share more things with others, and we must learn to be socially aware. We begin to understand that there are many others in the world, and that the world is not here to cater to my needs.

As we get older still, we continue to learn about this marvelous world. We understand that there is always something new to learn, and that others are on that journey with us who may need our help.

Even as we get older still, we need to be ready to learn new things to expand our world. The book of Proverbs talks about one way to expand our world through generosity. The paradox it explains is that the more we help, the more we are helped.

Pretty amazing, right?

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your marvelous plans of how we learn and grow until we die, Amen

Labeling Our Emotions

A sound mind makes for a robust body, but runaway emotions corrode the bones

Proverbs 14:30 (The Message)

“I’m not angry, I’m just frustrated”. I hear that a lot, and I understand where that thinking comes from. Many of my clients do not want to say that they are feeling angry. There is nothing wrong with owning that we have anger, but somehow, we want to minimize that. Calling our anger “frustration” is a way to call anger another name.

I think the formula looks like this: Frustration = Anger + Sadness + Disappointment. The disappointment somewhat dampens the sense of anger in that our expectations have not been met. We don’t feel that we have the right to be angry just because our expectations have been dashed. We have a mixture of feelings which we label frustration.

I am not saying that this is inaccurate. The label of frustration seems to be a reasonable definition of the feeling. I delve into this discussion so that we can clearly, honestly, and accurately label our emotions. Self-awareness of our emotions, and willingness to own them, is a very healthy practice. Sometimes, I ask my clients to keep a “feeling log” of those emotions so that we can really look into exactly what emotions they are experiencing at the moment.

It is a good practice. On all levels, the truth sets us free. So, as we start the year, maybe consider keeping track of your emotions, and the triggers for them. It is helpful to be aware of what is really happening with us so that we can own our emotions, and make sure that we are not blaming others for the things that we are responsible for.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for the freedom and the experience of our emotions. Help us to own them and manage them for our good and your glory, Amen.

Time

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

Ecclesiastes 3:1

While there are great disparities in gifts that we have all been given, one gift that is equally distributed is the gift of time. We all have 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, and 365 days in a year.

Now, I realize that some people need to devote more of that precious time to earning a living than some others. The question then becomes, how much time MUST one devote to earning a living, and how much does one CHOOSE to devote to that. That is a very subjective determination, and one that cannot be tackled here in this brief space.

I would suggest that we, as we begin this new year, we take a serious look at exactly how we spend our time. Priorities will determine how we allocate the time we have. How much time will I spend in the activities not associated with earning a living?

We have all said, “I don’t have time for that” or, “I’m too busy” for that. Certainly true very often. As long as we are completely honest with ourselves, we are in good position to make that determination.

My question to ponder is this- “What do I want to make time for this year? What should I make time for this year?”

I will visit this again in future blogs. In the meantime, how do you want to allocate your precious time this year? 

Prayer: Lord, help us to be good stewards of the precious gift of time, Amen.

Happy New Year

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:] The old has gone, the new is here!                                                                                                                                                          II Corinthians 5:17

We enter a new year, 2022. Let us use this opportunity for new starts, new hopes, new outlook on a world that seems to be hurt and ailing. Let us see the year of 2022 as another opportunity to love and serve those around us. We live out the gospel by loving others in order to love their Creator.

Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Prayer: Lord, all new chances to make this year one of getting closer to you, Amen.

Resolutions…

A person without self-control is like a house with its doors and windows knocked out.      Proverbs 25:28 (The Message)

It is the time of year that we start making resolutions. There are some simple rules that help the process. Resolutions should be practical, measurable and achievable, as well as easy to remember. I also think that we should plan for resolutions on three basic levels of health that must always be considered- physical, spiritual, and mental/emotional.

For example, one might consider walking at least 15 minutes/day. A brisk walk, done regularly, enhances both physical and mental health. Exercise has been shown to be effective in reducing stress, anxiety and depression. Further, the physical benefits of exercise are too numerous to mention in a brief blog. Trust me when I say that exercise pays off far beyond the effort that it takes to do it.

Spiritually, there are so many practices that we can consider- meditation, prayer, reading, uplifting music, etc. The point here is the regularity of it. We need daily realignment of our spirit to be emotionally healthy. If you are like me, we look for ways to multi-task on this. Praying while walking is a great practice, and it aligns all of our being in one dedicated practice.

Finally, and certainly you have noticed this, our mental and emotional health is enhanced as we practice the other disciplines. They are all interconnected and affected by one another- for good or ill.

Just some ideas for resolutions.  Remember too that good self-esteem is produced by keeping promises to ourselves. To the extent that we keep those promises we make to ourselves, and thereby enhance trust in ourselves, the better our confidence and esteem becomes.

Prayer: Lord, you have given us all the tools for health. Help is to use them regularly and wisely, Amen

How Do We Respond?

The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.                     Matthew 26:11


“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free                                                                                                                                                               Luke 4:18


But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.     Luke 11:41

Yesterday, I wrote about some definitions of poor, and I talked about “poor in Spirit”. Today, I am talking about poverty- being financially or resource poor. I pulled out just a very few quotes which discuss how Jesus felt about responding to the needs of the poor around us. He made it clear that if the gospel is not being lived out by ministering to the needs of those around us, it is not the gospel.

Over the centuries, there have been responses to this from some church folks. There was, early in the 20th century, a reaction to the “Social Gospel”, meaning that there was concern that the church should not get overly involved in social issues, but should concentrate on personal salvation. “Make sure that people make a decision for Jesus, that is the intent of the gospel” they said.

Some would even use Matthew 26:11 as justification for de-emphasizing the church’s role in helping the poor in their community. “The poor will always be with us, so trying to end poverty is pointless” they seemed to say.

It is indeed true that there will always be poverty, and that cannot be ended by money and social programs. Yet, we are called to help meet the physical and spiritual needs in our community. It is the point of the gospel- that saving grace must be actual grace displayed to others, regardless of their state.

So, our job is to live out the grace given to us so freely by God through his son, Jesus.

Prayer: Lord, help us to be channels of grace to our community, Amen.

The Poor

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven Matthew 5:3-4

I love how Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, shocked people with his opening statement. He hit them with the paradoxical statement that the poor will inherit the kingdom of heaven. He knew how to get the crowd’s attention, I think.

Depending on which translation you use, you will find something over 200 times that the Bible mentions the word “poor”. Clearly, dealing properly with poor people is a major theme and concern of the writers. People can argue, who are “the poor”, and it would be a good discussion.

There are many types of poverty. There is financial poverty, with which we are most acquainted. It is somewhat easy to quantify. Indeed, governments have poverty indices which measure degrees of wealth or lack of it.

There is also spiritual poverty, which is much more difficult to define. This is a highly subjective measure. It is also hard to measure because some people are not even aware that they are spiritually poor. Those are the folks with a real problem. If we think we have things figured out, and that we do not need God in our life, such ones are the poorest of people.

Jesus said “Blessed are the poor in spirit,  for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. He meant that people who recognize their spiritual poverty recognize their need for a savior- that know they cannot save themselves. They are in a position to access the riches of God through their search for God’s grace.

In the next few blogs, I am going to discuss what “poor” is and what I think proper responses are. Clearly, in the case of spiritual poverty, acceptance of one’s state is critical. What about physical/financial poverty?

I’ll talk about that tomorrow…

Prayer: Lord, give us wisdom as to how to look at poverty, Amen