Sometimes Life Requires A Shift From Us

February 16, 2018

Contemplate the tea kettle.

Traditionally the place provided for your hand is directly center. When you tilt the kettle filled with boiling water thinking of the delicious coffee or tea you are about to brew, your hand goes directly over the spout. You experience anything from discomfort to mild burning pain from the steam directly below your hand.

Shift your hand to the back, and now it is out of harm’s way.A simple shift of geometry, solves a problem. Maybe a little weird looking–or maybe that’s modern?–but interesting function.

Sometimes life presents us with a challenge, or opportunity, or dilemma.

Sometimes a shift in attitude gives us a different perspective. We discover where to go for help. Or we see from another’s perspective. Maybe we see that what we thought was a challenge is really an opportunity just by a gentle shift in attitude. Maybe that person we scorn and say derisive things to or about we can see in a different way through a gentle shift in attitude.

Try it. Perhaps you’ll like it. Discernment, and then wisdom.

Your Biggest Challenge

February 14, 2018

Today is the confluence (or coincidence) of Ash Wednesday and Valentines Day. Probably a better happenstance than the coincidence of Easter and April Fools Day coming up in six weeks. (No Easter eggs for you…April Fool.)

Henri Nouwen wrote a little book on prayer called “With Open Hands.” I see it on my bookshelf occasionally when I’m looking for some book in my library. He talks about approaching God in prayer.

What is our biggest challenge in living with-God?

One of the disciplines, such as study, worship, prayer, service?

Perhaps it is the same challenge as in relationships–like your Valentine (if you are fortunate enough to have one)?

Perhaps it is listening.

We pray–but we consider talking to God as praying. But, it does not end there. Just like talking to (or at?) your spouse won’t cut it with them.

Nouwen shares a story about an elderly woman transported from home to the hospital by the emergency squad. One hand was tightly clenched into a fist. When the medical staff was finally able to open her hand, they found she was clutching a quarter. It was as if she were clutching on to her last tangible belonging.

Opening our hands in prayer is a physical act that relaxes us, opening us up to the Spirit, a posture of listening.

We cannot listen while tightly clinging to our own cares and opinions and thoughts.

We must open ourselves to the Other. Focusing all our senses. Mentally alert in anticipation of hearing something important.

We are entering the season of Lent. Perhaps this can be a time of learning to listen to God with open hands.

It Is All In The Doing

February 13, 2018

Do or do not. There is no try. –Yoda

It is an easy trap to fall into.

Talking, that is.

Back in the day when I often sang Christian folk songs, there was this one that went, “They will know we are Christians by our love.”

That is a direct reference to the words of Jesus.

He didn’t say, you will know we are Christians by our political shouting. Or by our going around telling people how to behave like Christians (which then we don’t do). He didn’t say you’ll know my followers by the congregation they attend where everyone agrees on the same propositions.

It’s when you look at a person who has spent years doing small tasks to make other people’s lives better and think, “Wow, that person is really full of face.”

It’s the person who finds ways to search out and heal someone else.

It’s the person who slips a little extra money into an envelop to help an orphanage.

It is the guide or mentor.

A follower of Jesus looks like Jesus. That’s how you know. They choose to do.

Don’t Rest On Your Laurels

February 12, 2018

Søren Kierkegaard–The path of an honest fighter is a difficult one. And when the fighter grows cool in the evening of his life this is still no excuse to retire into games and amusement. Whoever remains faithful to his decision will realize that his whole life is a struggle. Such a person does not fall into the temptation of proudly telling others of what he has done with his life. Nor will he talk about the “great decisions” he has made. He knows full well that at decisive moments you have to renew your resolve again and again and that this alone makes good the decision and the decision good.

Who have been people older than you that you respect?

Probably not people full of pride. Nor people who boast of supposed accomplishments.

Nor is there retirement from a life spent living with-God.

Kierkegaard was a precursor to the people we knew as existentialists. At university perhaps my favorite was Albert Camus, the French writer who gave us The Rebel. Playing off fellow French writer Descartes (“I think, therefore I am.”), Camus said, “I rebel, therefore I am.”

They saw humans as defining their lives through their major decisions–or maybe even decisions that we may have thought were minor but turned out to be major. “I’ll just have one little drink…”

There is no one decision and then coasting–an idea easily picked up from certain theologies. Life is a never-ending series of challenges and opportunities forcing us to make yet another decision.

But that is not Sisyphus continually pushing a stone. It’s life with-God.

Sunshine Blogger Award

February 10, 2018

I have no idea what that award is, but I appreciate being noticed by Ashwarya Angadi. She is an engineer and a blogger “Beauty and Smiles”. Who would have thought of that combination? Oh, maybe I know. Anyway, thanks. Go check her blog out. I don’t get into these memes here or on other social media. Maybe too reserved 😉

Ethics Count

February 9, 2018

Much of my career was devoted to selling products and making a profit. I worked in product development trying to figure out better ways to provide a product that would enrich the lives of our customers. I became an expert in cost analysis–figuring out how and where to improve the cost structure without impacting the quality of the product.

I also learned marketing and later earned a nice income thanks to advertising.

What, you may be asking, does this have to do with venturing into the world in faith?

This article in The New York Times (I forget if I link to an article if you can see it without a subscription, but check it out however you can) about a South American country which has had enough with its (ahem) growing problem with obesity. “In Sweeping War on Obesity, Chile Slays Tony the Tiger; New regulations, which corporate interests delayed for almost a decade,require explicit labeling and limit the marketing of sugary foods to children.”

The industry fought the regulations for a decade. It still contends that regulations are confusing and unnecessary. We should just have consumer education.

Education? What? We provide a few poorly written booklets about the evils of eating too much sugar while the industry spends billions on researching the best advertising techniques to sway people to pick up the box and how to add enough sugar to the product to addict people? We went down that road with tobacco.

Obesity is a huge drain on finances and a country’s economy. It also ruins lives.

Then we find out it’s not just physical health with its addictive properties. New information is exploding about the mental and emotional addiction from the social media giants. Their goal is to get people to spend more time on their apps so that they can 1) serve up more ads and 2) collect more information about you so that 1) they can serve up more ads (and sell your information).

It’s hard to have the strength to say no to Tony the Tiger, Chester Cheetah, Facebook, and Instagram.

But somewhere in the corporate world there needs to be a voice of conscience. Someone who says, morals count. Surely we can find a way to earn an honest living and live a moral and ethical life. My studies currently are in Romans 12. Paul lists 29 ways for us to live a moral, Christian life. (To my many friends who are not Christian–your religion has similar morality. It works for us all.)

Praying for the Right Thing

February 8, 2018

The interviewer asked his guest who was promoting his book on mindfulness what his teacher thought was the most important thing for people. “Discernment,” he answered.

Reading in Romans (chapter 12), Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Solomon prayed to God upon becoming King of Israel at a rather young age. God looked with favor on him and granted him one wish. “Wisdom,” said Solomon, “I wish for wisdom.” You have chosen well, said God, and so be it.

Solomon was reputed to be the wisest man who ever lived. Read Proverbs.

However, at the end of his life, Solomon looked back and said that everything was meaningless. Read the end of Ecclesiastes. I think perhaps Solomon regretted not having discernment. He may have been wise, and he talked often of bringing up young men. But his son destroyed the kingdom shortly after assuming power.

Discernment requires the renewing of our minds–constant learning. Being open to changing if we’re wrong. Rejecting old teaching when we learn something new from God.

It requires observing and listening and casting off our preconceived prejudices to allow room for God to speak into our openness. It requires a certain space–time and distance.

And sometimes I think that God does not give us the final answer immediately. Perhaps there are steps along the way where we experience one thing for a season of growth and then God tells us to move on to the next season of growth. We need to be open to discern what God is telling us.

Meditation Can Change Your Life

February 7, 2018

Psychologists and therapists have discovered en masse “mindfulness” during the last few years.

There is a reason. It is good for your mental, spiritual, and physical health.

It literally rewires your brain. It helps grow new neurons, divert others, and add to the fatty layers between the neurons.

People will notice the change in you. Warning–not after one day. Or one week. Maybe a little after a month. It does take time. It is a spiritual discipline.

The change–you will calm down and gain perspective.

Meditation practiced daily for at least 15 minutes (best is twice per day) reduces stress. This helps reduce inflammation in the body which is a cause or contributor of many diseases.

I’m thinking about this after listening to a podcast interview with a guy who has written a book. I scanned the book–don’t recommend it. Just not helpful. But in his conversation, he talked about being meditation teacher to all manner of celebrities. I thought, heck, I know at least as much as what he’s talking about as a 40+ year practitioner. I could teach celebrities.

Then I realized where I live. The last time a celebrity came through town was probably when Rob Lowe visited his grandfather. Well, unless it was someone on tour and their custom motor home traveled on I-75. <sigh>

Americans associate meditation and mindfulness with either New Age or Buddhism. And those people do meditate. But there is a Christian tradition of meditation for enlightenment and experience of God that stretches back to the very beginnings of the faith. I have a shelf in my bookcase devoted to the writings of the Desert Fathers and many other “mystics”. I can testify that you can experience God if you devote yourself to that sort of meditation.

But the practice is not esoteric. You can sit, stand, walk, lie. You can close your eyes or leave them open (especially if you’re walking). You can repeat a word (mantra), or not. (I use “God”, the Hindu tradition is “Om” plus a bunch of other sounds, you can try “Love”.) You can imagine a scene in your mind. Perhaps walking through a meadow in a woods and finding a secret garden where you sit and bask in the warm sun. Or just sit quietly and breathe.

Try it. It’ll change your life.

Are You An Acts 2 Church

February 6, 2018

I know that many readers here are not church-going folks. But most are. So bear with me for a little thought experiment especially for the people who are members of a church or congregation.

Thought experiments were extensively used by smart people like Leonardo DaVinci and Albert Einstein. Basically, you think through the what-ifs of a situation and try to visualize the outcomes.

Oh, it’s not me doing the experiment–it’s you.

Let me describe a situation. It’s from the book of Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 2 verses 44-47.

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home (Lord’s Supper) and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their numbers those who were being saved.

Now, imagine being there. Describe the people. What did they look like? How did they act? How did they relate to other people, both inside the fellowship and outside?

Now, let your mind picture the church/fellowship where you are. How does everyone act? How do they relate?

Describe the difference? Is there a reason that the Lord is not adding to your numbers day by day?

Do This In Order To Understand

February 5, 2018

Søren Kierkegaard — Christ says: Do according to what I say – then you shall know. Consequently, decisive action first of all. By acting, your life will come into collision with existence, and then you will know the reality of grace. Nowadays we have turned the whole thing around. Christianity has become a worldview. Thus, before I get involved I must first justify it. Good night to Christianity!

Peter delivers a major evangelistic sermon reported in Acts 2. On the day of Pentacost when the followers of Jesus were given the power of the Holy Spirit, they attracted the attention of crowds of people who had traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.

Peter preached about the resurrection of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins. It was a moving and powerful sermon. It lacked one thing a great speech of this type needs–a call to action. There must be a “to do” or a “so what” to conclude. But the people listening supplied the question, “So what should we do?” they asked.

“Repent and be baptized,” Peter said.

There is something to do.

Paul wrote to the Romans (chapter 12) after talking about grace and the unity of Jew and Gentile, goes into a list 29 items long telling us how to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God. A “to do” list.

I’m reading a psychologist currently. Just started the book. Chapter One–stand up straight. Change your posture and change your life.

We know that we can often act our way into believing, or act our way into changing our attitude. When we perform an action repeatedly, it becomes a habit. And a habit defines us. It pays rich dividends to choose our actions wisely.