Excuse Me, No Offense But You’re A Man

July 28, 2017

That’s what she told me. No offense, but you’re a man. 

She was visibly emotional and she knew not why.

I wouldn’t understand, she implied, because of my gender–or maybe the culture of my gender. I don’t know. I don’t understand.

But actually, I understand. I’m not unemotional. 

There is either a gender or a cultural difference. Some people get emotional and cry. Others get emotional and show anger.

I try to avoid or deal with both.

Some you can’t avoid. Births, deaths, tragedies.

When my meditation was taking me deeper, I discovered the writings of the Desert Fathers. I knew the Fathers existed, I just didn’t realize I could actually get my hands on their books.

Did they talk about the mystical union with God? Ecstatically taken into the Seventh Heaven as some called it?

Actually what they talked about, aside from God and Jesus, was the psychology of emotions. How one emotion leads to another and then to another. And how to deal with them such that they don’t control your life.

But sometimes a good cry is the release you need at the moment. Beware the times when anger is the release of the moment. That hurts others, as well as yourself.

Thinking About Grace

July 27, 2017

Prevenient , Justifying, Sanctifying. It’s all about Grace. God’s grace. 

Ever think about grace?

It’s sometimes called “underserved merit”.

Many people I see and read about seem to not be full of grace even though they say they are Christian. It makes people wonder.

In the Wesleyan tradition of the United Methodist Church, we follow John and Charles Wesley’s attempt to describe God’s grace in three ways it manifests itself in our lives. A guy I know once asked me why Methodists have three types of grace when grace is just grace.

Well, there is just God’s grace. It’s where he offers freedom and salvation through no effort of ours. There is nothing we can do to earn it.

That drives rule followers crazy. Surely there are rules so that we can divide people into us and them? How else can we measure ourselves and find ourselves better than everyone else?

Wesley was simply saying that God’s grace precedes us. It’s there before we’re born and there when we are rebellious adolescents. Then one day we wake up to grace and understand the justifying power of God’s grace–making us right with God. Then we discover that with God’s grace and help we can mature spiritually as we mature physically–sanctifying grace.

I really like what John Fischer is doing and teaching–Grace Turned Outward.

It’s another was grace manifests itself in our life. We acknowledge the grace we have received, and instead of keeping it to ourselves, we turn outward to help other people discover grace.

John wrote yesterday about grace and gave a little test about whether you know grace. I’m going to give you a taste. Check out his post (linked above). I like these. Made me stop and consider.

Here’s a little test:

If you feel guilty all the time, you do not know grace.

If you are competing in your own mind for spirituality, you do not know grace.

If you are counting up points, good or bad – for you or for someone else – you do not know grace.

If you are comparing yourself to anyone, you do not know grace.

If you are thinking that God is lucky to have you on His team, you do not know grace.

If you are trying all the time and not quite making it, you do not know grace.

If you are always thinking about yourself, you do not know grace.

If you are thinking so-and-so will not be in heaven, you do not know grace.

Prayer Is Potent, And a Responsibility

July 26, 2017

Prayer is not an old woman’s idle amusement. Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent
instrument of action.”
 Mahatma Gandhi

“I’ll pray for you.”

My wife and I were in charge of a gate at the county fair Sunday evening. A woman came through. My wife knows her. I know the family. There is a health situation in the family. My wife said, “I’ll pray for you.”

A friend I know through the journalism community has faced severe health problems for several years. Actually, it must feel like a lifetime to him. I said I’d pray.

Then I thought, “What a great responsibility we’ve given ourselves. We had best pray.”

People of all faiths pray to their gods. Sometimes I think even atheists pray, they just don’t know to whom and probably don’t call it that. Even New Age people have their prayers.

My quote is from a Hindu who was well versed in Christianity. And a great leader.

We call the types of prayer I discussed intercessory prayers. We are praying for God to intercede into the normal events of the world and bring about what appears to us to be a miracle.

Some believe deeply in the power of connection to God and the power of God to intercede. I have experienced situations of health restored that has no medical explanation. I have a friend who teaches praying with intention. That is a good thought. Jesus would like that more modern word than he used.

Some of course probably see that phrase “I’ll pray for you” as just a comforting remark.

But do we take the promise to pray lightly? Do we really pray with intention for whatever situation we said we would?  Do we accept the responsibility that we’ve given ourselves?

Assumed Authority

July 25, 2017

I had a conversation recently where it was implied that a person who had good qualities in one area would therefore have good qualities in another.

This happens all the time. 

There are people who are famous for being famous–Kardashians, Jenkners, Paris Hilton, and so on. They endorse some product, and we assume since they are famous that the product must be good. Except the (very) fine print may state that they are being paid to endorse the product.

We do that with athletes and Hollywood stars. Because they are good at one thing, we accept their expertise in something else–maybe politics for instance.

When you are choosing a guru to follow, do you go for famous? Or, do you look for someone who reinforces your existing prejudices? Or, someone who stretches your spirituality?

Do you let the baseball player tell you how to interpret New Testament Greek?

I’ve thought about this before. 

I like to make conscious and mindful choices about what news to read as well as whom to trust with influencing my theology. I might read widely, but I’ll come back to ancient thinkers and writers and especially the Bible itself for the test of what to believe.

You are probably going to be a disciple of someone. Choose wisely.

You Never Know What You’ll Find When You Serve

July 24, 2017

Service is one of the spiritual disciplines.

Maybe it’s one that you struggle with. It seems to be in my nature to help. But sometimes it’s more formal–like agreeing to do something or be somewhere.

I live in a small county in the middle of western Ohio. While there is a lot of manufacturing (which is my expertise), agriculture dominates the local landscape. Since the middle of the 19th century, the county fair is the time when all the farmers and other agricultural-oriented people come together to have fun and show off some of the fruits of their labor. Cattle judging, hog judging, rabbit judging. 

Our church has been the “face” of the fair for thousands of people every year as the gatekeepers/ticket sellers/greeters for as many years as I can remember. I think that I’ve been doing that for maybe 30 years.

You never know what you’ll see when you work the gate. Kids coming in with anticipation of the judging of their projects. Older kids trying to sneak in without paying. Watching tired children crying out of exhaustion at the end of a long day.

A storm blew through about an hour before my wife and I worked last night–the first night of the fair and we drew the 7-11 pm shift.

The storm lifted the canopy erected to protect the gate workers from sun and rain at this drive-in gate where mainly exhibitor come in with their large pickups and trailers filled with animals. When we arrived, the canopy was laying in a crumpled mass against the nearest building. We had nothing over us. Just standing in the middle of the drive with a table and two chairs.

No fewer than four people stopped and asked about the canopy offering to go back and bring us theirs. That Midwestern spirit of generosity and helpfulness was alive and well. As my wife said, “There are nice people in the world.”

On the other hand, there is sorrow at times. (And I’m confessing to a sin. If someone from the Fair Board is reading this, I’ll stop in and pay the $9 tomorrow morning when I work again.) I let a man in without paying.

It seems his 16-year-old daughter had run away from home, and he heard that she was at the fair with someone. He said he had alerted the police. He was obviously a distraught parent. I told him go ahead and good luck.

But, alas, later a deputy sheriff gave him a ride back to the gate. He told us that he didn’t find the child. The worst fear of a father. The next call might be from the sheriff’s office that they found a body in a rural ditch. Or the fear of her getting caught in the web of human trafficking. 

So, we serve. We see kindness, generosity, anticipation, pride (when the judging goes well), some of the great work of our young people, and then stories of young people who have dropped off the track.
You never know what you’ll find. But you are there.

For What Do We Search

July 21, 2017

Wisdom says, “Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favor;

But evil comes to the one who searches for it.
 Proverbs 11:27

I’m addicted to Masterpiece Mystery shows on PBS (originally on BBC). Just watched the series Grantchester.  Supposedly a murder mystery series of stories, but the real story line delves into the screwed up relationships of the four main characters. You sit there, you watch it. You can see them coming to no good end.

At the end, one woman asks her man, “Just what are you searching for?”

That was the theme of the story. (Find it on Amazon Prime or Netflix or something and watch it. Worth the hour.)

We need to ask ourselves daily, what are we searching for?

Reminds me of a story from the poet Carl Sandburg. Seems a farmer was standing by a field contemplating the harvest when a stranger drove by. The stranger asked, “What sort of people live around here?”

“What sort were they where you are from?”

“They are a mean, lying, thieving sort.”

“Well, I guess you’ll find the people around here just like that.”

The farmer turned back to his field and a second stranger stopped to chat.

“What sort of people live around here?”

“What sort were they where you are from”

“Why, they are honest, hard working, helpful people.”

“Well, I guess you’ll find the people around here are just like that.”

Why do you think I carefully choose what news sources to read and then only check them a few times a day? I’m not seeking ways to get my negative emotions all fired up.

The people who puzzle me and for whom I pray are those who are seeking, but they don’t know for what they are seeking. They are just lost. Its seems worse to me to just drift through life always searching, never finding.

Every day I seek God. On the good days, I find him.

Who Was Your Teacher

July 20, 2017

I remembered reading somewhere that there was a question put to Jesus that was designed to bring out which of the two great Rabbis of the time he followed.

So I researched, of course. It’s what I do. Like the commercial on TV–like taking 15 minutes to save 15% on car insurance.

I found a Jewish rabbi who had become Christian. Interesting perspective. And I love getting my worldview expanded through these new people. Sort of like chatting with a stranger in the sauna this week only to discover he was from Uzbekistan. I don’t think I had ever met an Uzbek. He talked of taking the train as a child from Tashkent through Novosibirsk (in Siberia) up to northern Siberia. And sort of like going to Canada’s woods, “I got off the train and was attacked by hordes of mosquitoes.”

But I digress. 

There were two famous rabbis in Jesus’ time. Hillel and Shammai. Galileans typically followed Hillel and Judeans Shammai. Every time save one Jesus answered questions as Hillel would have–although at times going further. Hillel, by the way, had a famous grandson also a famous rabbi. You may have heard Paul talk about him–Gamaliel.

I was corresponding with a journalist with a national news organization this week. Noticing his background, I told him that I had studied international politics under the first director of training and recruitment for the CIA as well as a colonel in Army Intelligence. Who you studied under is a validation of sorts.

I’ve had few live teachers of spiritual things and the Bible. The guy at university I spent as much time sparring with as learning from. 

But I studied the early Church Fathers, the Desert Fathers, and particularly Augustine. 

Some pastors have been good guides. But in my life, pastors come and pastors go.

Who was your influencer? Do you still follow their teachings? Or have you grown past your teacher? That happens, you know.

Don’t have one? Better find one. Soon.

Strive to be a Person of Value

July 19, 2017

Strive not to be a successful person; Rather strive to be a person of value.

Do you realize we are now 19 days into the second half of the year?

Six months ago we were awash in Resolutions.

Where did those all go?

Unless you listened to me. For years I have advocated changing our focus from the famous specific goals to what sort of person I wish to become.

Rather than saying “I will lose 15 pounds this year”–which sounds specific but it isn’t, really–let’s just picture in our mind a person who is fit and toned. And then we change one habit that will move us toward our picture.

Or perhaps “I will become a person who is calm and at peace” and we develop habits–one at a time–that will move us in that direction. Perhaps meditating 5-10 minutes every morning. Or searching out a mentor.

Or perhaps “I will be a person of value”.

This is actually a by-product. We know that companies that value customers and employees become a company of value.

The same for us. The more we value others and serve others, the more we are valuable. 

So how has our 2017 worked out so far? Stuff happens, right? But we have the last half of the year to change a habit or two and move toward the sort of person Jesus would love to call a disciple.

[This meditation was interrupted at 6:04 am by the ringing of my mobile phone. I don’t know who gave that guy in India the table of time zone differences, but it was off by a few hours. He wanted to confirm who I was so that I could receive a “free” magazine. That isn’t moving that company toward a company of value in my eyes!)

Christianity Is Not Found Useful

July 18, 2017

Young people do not find Christianity useful. 

Scanning my Twitter feed and saw that tweet.

First thought–this sounds like a recycled news item that pops up every few years. Young people have been abandoning the church for generations.

But the writer didn’t say church, he said Christianity.

Is that the same thing?

The term useful is intriguing.

Maybe in terms of a church… It’s perhaps a place to meet people and be with people.

But maybe at 20 you’re thinking that those are not the type of people I’d like to meet. Perhaps not cute, or fun, or smart? Maybe not useful for meeting friends and a future spouse?

Maybe at 30, I’m thinking about contacts for getting ahead in business or my profession? Maybe not useful for that?

Maybe they are so young that they have not experienced a spiritual crisis, yet. Or they haven’t recognized that they are searching for something undefined.

Or maybe, they have. And they can’t find a church more interested in people than they are in politics.

Not being there on that personal level when a person is seeking spiritually or in spiritual need (which in reality we all are) is a failure of the church far too often. 

Church as a social place or political place, well, that’s bound to turn people off.

Church as the embodiment of Christianity–now that’s useful. Useful because it helps people. 

A half-hour ago, I had only the idea with no idea where it would lead. Then, much like how Jesus would take a physical concept and move it into a spiritual concept, I let the idea take me from the absurd to the spiritual.

When You Run Out of Time

July 17, 2017

Did the clock say 3 or 5? I thought 3. Maybe it really was 3:30. But I overslept this morning for one of the very few times of my adult life. Only by 40 minutes, but it did feel good.

Maybe I woke up on time, misread the clock, and returned to sleep.

And I have no ideas. 

Usually I start the morning with many ideas. None today.

I could say a busy weekend, but not so. I painted Saturday, but I read two murder mysteries in the afternoon instead of tackling the writing on my list. 

Then I sat down Sunday morning and noticed a spot that I missed painting the trim around the patio door. Rushed home Sunday evening after a party to finish the paint job. Then we had a thunderstorm. 

So today I have a long to do list. The first of July, I had so much time. Now we’re half-way through July. Still have all that stuff to do. Oops.

Sometimes we live that way. Just drifting until we’re out of time. Where did it go?

Sometimes it is decisions. I couldn’t decide on a business trip to California. Then it got decided for me. I couldn’t decide on replies to several important emails. What to say that would get the information I needed without pushing too hard or being obnoxious?

When you live in the land of indecision, you let energy dissipate. And accomplishments decline.

But like most humans, when the deadline draws near, focus sharpens.

That is Job One for me today–focus.