Dance to a different tune…

April 9, 2021

In his post today to the Jack’s Winning Words blog Pastor Freed used this quote – “Starting over again is like dancing with the devil.”  (Demi Lovato) 

Freed wrote that Lovato was referencing her own fight with drug addiction. Most of us I doubt have had to deal with addictions, but all of us have experienced life’s setbacks, disappointments and lapses in judgement from which we’ve had to recover. Although we tend to associate the word addiction with drugs, alcoholism is a much more common addiction that is much more prevalent in our society.

Freed also wrote that a tune that pops into his mind whenever a dance with the devil is at hand are the lyrics to the song  “One Day at a Time Sweet Jesus” by written by Marijohn Wilkin and Kris Kristofferson and first recorded by American Country singer Marilyn Sellars in 1974.

Two critical keys to recovery from many of life’s setbacks are faith and taking things one day at a time. Faith helps us forgive ourselves for the past and trust God that there will be a tomorrow; and, taking that future in small incremental steps (one day at a time) keeps us from being overwhelmed by the seeming enormity of it all.

The devil holds out many bright and shiny things and plays many catchy tunes, to which he invites us to dance. That is especially true for those working to recover from an earlier dance with the devil, such as addiction or alcoholism.

When you are tempted by the devil to dance to one of his tunes, keep the tune that Freed uses in mind. Both the song and the dance partner are different and the result at the end of the dance is certainly not the same. Here is a version of the song by Merle Haggard.

Maybe you can mentally play that song in your mind as you pause for morning prayers and let it remind you that today is another day in that one day at a time journey back from whatever you have experienced in the past. Ask for God’s help to put one more day behind you and look ahead to one more day in your recovery.

Just tell the Devil “No thank you” when he asks you to dance again. Tell him that your dance card is filled, with Jesus as your partner.

Today is going to be another good day on your journey back, one day at a time.

Break out of convenient…

April 8, 2021

I’ve had this quote from a past post to the Jack’s Wining Words blog rattling around in my saved quotes bin for some time – “Be always restless, unsatisfied, unconforming. Whenever a habit becomes convenient, SMASH IT!”  (Nikos Kazantzakis)

I suspect that was because I couldn’t get comfortable with Kazantzakis’ advice to “SMASH IT.” I’m OK with it if we tone it down just a bit. I think it is good advice to always be a bit restless, to always questions things and to try not to get stuck in ruts of comfort or convenience. In fact, one of the definitions that pop up when you Google “convenient” is this – involving little trouble or effort. Getting comfortable with convenience in life leads inevitably to complacency.Complacency is defined as “a feeling of smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievements”.

It is all too easy in life to become complacent. We often hear it referred to as having routines – things that we just tend to do day-after-day until we wear a rut in life that can sometimes be hard to get out of. There is a danger in becoming stuck in those ruts. I have written here in the past about never stopping the learning process (See my post Don’t Go Through Life Grow Through Life). Acting on your natural curiosity to try to learn the Why’s and How’s of things around us as well as exploring the Who’s that we encounter is what keeps life interesting.

The same can become true of our faith. We can get into complacent habits about prayer or about church attendance. This past year, it has been especially easy to drop into convenient and complacent ruts about church and about our faith. Yet church has gone on through it all and faith was even more important than ever during the inconveniences of the pandemic. Break out of those ruts. Find new ways to put your faith into action. There are countless volunteer organizations in every community who need your help. They don’t care if you are doing it as an act of your faith in action, but you should. The more out of your old comfort zone the better because that takes more faith. Put that T-shirt slogan “God’s Work Our Hands” into action.

So, if your daily habits have turned into convenient and complacent ruts, take Kazantzakis’ advice and smash your way out of them. Don’t end up like a mime in is imaginary glass box. Get out of your comfort zone (it is a rut). Go out of your way to meet new people, go to new places, and have new experiences. Be restless, unsatisfied and unconforming (at least to your own habits) and keep learning. And don’t let complacency rule your faith either. Never be satisfied that you have prayed enough, gone to church enough and done enough. Enough is never enough, even though it may feel convenient.

SMASH your complacent habits and do more!

Break out of convenient!

Don’t be that sucker…

April 7, 2021

“There’s a sucker born every minute.”  (P.T.Barnum – died: 4/7/1891) – from the Jack’s Winning Words blog.

If Barnum were alive today, he would be in the Robo-call/email scam business. He would be the one having calls made to you about your car warranty expiring or maybe to inform you how lucky you are to have been chosen to receive a free medical device.

It is unfortunate that there have always been and will always be unscrupulous people out there trying to prey on the naïve or unsuspecting, especially the elderly. No matter how many times these scams are reported on the news or how many ads from legitimate organizations run to tell you that they will not call your or threaten you over the phone, people still fall for them.

I get these scam calls and emails all the time, even for cars that I haven’t owned for years or about supposedly suspended accounts in banks with which I have never done business. Some are much more sophisticated than others and made more believable with the use of company/organization logos and information to make them look like they actually came from Microsoft or maybe the IRS.  I always look at the email address of the supposed sender as a quick check.

Most of these scams depend on two things – scaring you and insisting that you need to take immediate action to avoid arrest or some other bad consequence. The scammers say that you need to rush to the bank and take out money or rush out and buy pre-paid gift cards to send to them or maybe even buy Bitcoins. The key is that you need to do it right now to avoid whatever horrible consequences that they have threatened you with. Don’t do it!

The fact is that all legitimate organizations work at a much slower pace and use completely different approaches to resolving issues. You might get an email or a letter if you missed or are behind in payments, but they are not usually threatening as much as reminding you to catch up and alerting you to penalties. Of course, it you go too long without paying they do tend to get more serious. For the most part, just ignoring the calls and emails is enough.

The scammers “business model” is based upon catching a few suckers out of the millions of emails and calls that they make each day, so they don’t have time to follow up on the rest. They’ll just send you another email or make another robo-call about the same thing tomorrow.

All of these calls and emails have resulted in creating a very skeptical and cynical population, which unfortunately works to the detriment of legitimate charity callers. We have become conditioned to just hang up on calls asking for money and ignore unsolicited emails. I wonder if anyone has ever just slammed the door on the Publishers Clearing House people who came to the door trying to give them a big check, because they thought it was a scam? Probably not since they came with a check and not asking for money.

An unfortunate unintended consequence of all of this scamming activity has been the inability of ex-Treasury Secretaries in small African nations to find someone in America to help them get their fortune out of the country by sending a few thousand dollars as a security deposit. I think I still have that email somewhere. Maybe I can help.

Don’t prove Barnum correct. Be cautious, be suspicious, be careful and don’t let yourself be frightened into hasty actions. Show Barnum and the scammers that you were not that sucker in the minute of your birth.

What it was is not what it yet may be…

April 6, 2021

I was at a loss for what to write about this morning, so I Googled “Inspirational quotes” – and this came up – ‘It’s never too late to be what you might’ve been.” – George Eliot.

That quote bright to mind another quote that I saw, or think I saw, somewhere – “What it was, what it is and what it yet may be.” Perhaps I made that up myself, since nothing comes up when I Googled that.

Many people never get past thinking about what might have been. They get stuck in the present by thinking too much about the past. They don’t imagine a future that is much different than the present. Almost all of the great people of history and the heroes of today report that they all chased their dreams, unsatisfied with what was or is and constantly striving for what could be. Most developed an ability to accept and learn from failures, but never to lose sight to their goals.

Mariners have always reset (or checked) their compasses before setting out to sea, to make sure that they were able to go in the right direction. In life it is a good thing to touch base with and reinforce one’s goals and dreams for the future, to do a quick check of your goals to make sure that what you do today takes you in that direction. We may be pursuing long term goals that could take years to achieve (getting a college degree, for instance, while working full time) and it is easy to lose track of where we are and what we can do today to move towards that goal. Losing track like that causes us to wander off course.

It is also easy to get discouraged about the apparently lack of progress towards achieving those long-term goals. Maybe you just finished the first course or two at a community college and the road ahead towards that degree still looks daunting. Maybe you just finished a shift at your entry level job and can yet see no way to progress up the ladder at work. Perhaps you even got laid off at work and can see no way out of that setback. These are the times when your faith should kick in and you may hear God whisper George Eliot’s quote back in response to your prayers. Your faith will serve to bolster your resolve and perseverance.

So, as you take that moment to check your compass each morning, also check in with God. With the direction to your hopes and dreams refocused and with God at your side, you will be ready to face each day and to make some progress, no matter how small, towards those dreams. “What it was” is in the past, “what it is” provides today’s challenges that you will overcome and “what it yet may be” is still within reach.

Start each day with Philippians 4:13 in mind – “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Go for it today. You have God at your side and your goals firmly in mind.

It is all on where you focus…

April 5, 2021

“Focus upon an ocean of positives, not a puddle of negative” – as seen on a social media graphic post.

I get a daily graphic for social media posts to my Facebook real estate business page through my company. It’s helpful, because one cannot always think of something to post and certainly can’t always find a nice graphic to go with the thought. Today’s “quote” was on the graphic that I got this morning.

I was going to use the headline “Which you would rather dive into?” I think we’d all feel a bit safer and more comfortable taking a dive into the ocean rather than diving headfirst into a puddle. Yet, in life we may seem to be surrounded by puddles. The news media tends towards telling us all of the negative news of the day, because they think that we want to see and hear it, plus they think it “sells” and makes them more money. I wonder how a show called “The Nightly Good News” would fare?

Being surrounded by negative puddles means that we will occasionally step into one. We may not have dived in headfirst, but we still get wetted by negativity none the less. A key to not sitting in that puddle and wallowing in negativity and self pity, is to be more like a bungy jumper and bounce back before you hit bottom. The bungy cord that makes that happen and keeps you from becoming mired in negativity is your faith.

Faith takes our eyes off the negatives in life and refocuses them on the positives. We have just gone through the biggest refocus of all – Easter. Easter reassures us each year that we can take our minds off the puddle of death and focus instead on the ocean of everlasting life with Jesus. Easter shouts “He is risen!” and assures us that we will, too. Easter forces us to look away from His death on the cross and towards His resurrection and the promise of our own.

So, use the bungie cord of your faith to bounce back out of life’s puddles. Refocus your life around the positives. Easter is our ocean of positivity. Dive in! The water’s fine.

“Leave it!” – Life lessons learned from walking my dog.

April 3, 2021

I walk my dog, Sadie, 4-5 times a day. I can do that because I work from home at jobs which afford me a lot of flexibility. I know that my dog is spoiled by all of this, but she’s a good dog and really doesn’t demand very much to be happy – a little food, some water, a few treats and the chance to get out for walks.

Sadie is what is called a blue-tick coon hound, which means she is a German Shorthair crossed with a hound of some sort. She basically looks like a German Shorthair (only with the tail not bobbed off) with a black and white coat instead of the red or brown coats that purebred German Shorthair dogs usually have.

Being a hound, she is a natural hunter; although, the fact that she is gun-shy is probably why she was in the rescue shelter where we found her. Nothing makes a hunting dog more useless to the hunter than being gun-shy.

Be that as it may, she still is instinctively on the hunt as we take our walks. When she spots another animal (almost any animal) she goes into stalking mode and locks onto her prey. Squirrels and Chipmunks, in particular, get her undivided attention.

When she’s in stalking mode it is very hard to get her attention back to the walk. I find myself yelling “Leave it” or “Let it go” at her, as if she understood what that means. She probably understands the tugging on her lead better than anything that I yell.

“Leave it” is probably great advice for life. Many times, in life we can become fixated on some event or some person and loose sight of all else. It may be a setback or failure that consumes us or perhaps some real or perceived slight or rejection by another. We just can’t let go of it and there is usually no one there to yell “Leave it” or to tug on our imaginary lead.

I’ve also noticed that Sadie remembers exactly where the squirrel or chipmunk sighting took place and thinks that they are still there the next time that we walk by that spot. Life can be like that too, with us constantly re-living events in our minds, hoping that somehow the results will turn out differently. I have to remind Sadie to “Leave it” when we walk by that spot and we all have to remind ourselves to let it go when recalling some disappointing event.

In life, as with Sadie, there is always the next walk, the next opportunity and we must be ready for it by letting go of the last walk or disappointment. That means not constantly re-living a failure or disappointment. It means not beating yourself up for something left undone. It means learning from your mistakes and not just second guessing the decisions that you made at the time. Leave it. Let go. Move on.

It is Spring as I write this and Easter weekend. Both of those point to a new beginning; however, new beginnings require that you let go of the past. So, “Leave it”. What’s done is done, and what lies ahead requires your full attention. Use Easter not only to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, but to mark the starting point of the rest of your life by leaving behind the baggage that has been burdening your life – let it go, leave it. Now start fresh.

Christ is risen, indeed, let go of the past and fixate on that. You will be rewarded with a new life.

Let God be “the one”…

April 2, 2021

In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed used a quote that is attributed to Marilyn Monroe – “I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure.  I make mistakes.  I am out of control and at times hard to handle.  You be the one who nurtures and builds.  You be the one who has an understanding and a forgiving heart, the one who looks for the best in people.” 

In his post, Freed speculated about whether it might have been Joe DiMaggio or maybe even John F. Kennedy, about whom Marilyn was speaking. I thought, when I read it, perhaps it was more like a prayer and God is the “You be the one” being addressed. Pastor Freed opines that Marilyn was a complex person, often misunderstood. Perhaps she had come to the realization that she needed to let God be in control of her otherwise out of control life.

Whether Marilyn was, in fact, asking for God’s help or not; the rest of us certainly could benefit from turning control of our lives over to God. Let God be the one who understands and forgives us, who nurtures and builds us and brings out the best in us. It is as simple as believing and uttering the little one line prayer that I have used here before – “Not my will; but, thy will be done.”

If you can bring yourself to that point, where you surrender completely to God’s will in your life, amazing things can happen in your life. God will forgive you and bring out the best in you. Life may continue to be chaotic all round you, but a sense of peace will descend upon you that will allow you not only to cope, but to thrive.

A great deal of the stress and anxiety that we have about the events of our daily lives is formented out of our fear of the unknown, our inability to answer the question what comes next (after death). Jesus provided the answer to that question in his death and resurrection. For those who believe, there is a place reserved for them in the “next”.

Get your reservation for what is next by letting God be “the one” in your life. You will find that your concerns about what happens in the here and now will melt away. God will bring out the best in you.

Let God be “the one” in your life.

Finish strong…

April 1, 2021

In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed used this quote – “Beginning well is a momentary thing; finishing well is a lifelong thing.”  (Ravi Zacharias) 

He also mentioned that he recalled spectators yelling “finish strong” at his grandchildren’s cross-country meets – encouraging them to give their last best measure at the finish. Those pieces of advice are good advice for life. We need to finish well and finish strong.

A story from the Bible that comes to mind that fits today’s saying – that of the prodigal son. Many lives seem to echo that parable. Most may have started out well, basically because they were innocent as children and accepted God into their lives without question or hesitation. As they grew in the world and began to experience the many distractions and temptations that were all around, some wandered away from God like the prodigal son. It’s not so much that they rejected God in their lives, just that they forgot about Him in their pursuit of other things – things that looked bright and shiny.

Most eventually find their way back to God, like the prodigal son. Many may return with a sense of humility and regret for having been remiss for so long, just as the prodigal son did. They also discover that God has been patiently waiting for them and happily welcomes them back, just as the father did in the parable. If they ask for and receive God’s forgiveness they are positioned to finish well, finish strong.

All of us know that there is an inevitable finish to life here on earth. How will you finish? Will you give God your last full measure and finish strong? God is waiting at the finish line with the reward of eternal life for those who return to Him. The finish is up to you.

Finish strong!

You can be civil…

March 31, 2021

Pastor Freed lamented the use of ad hominem attacks as the stock in trade in politics recently in his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, today and used this quote – “When you cannot answer your opponent’s logic, you can still call him vile names.”  (Elbert Hubbard) 

I have commented in prior posts about the lack of civility that has crept into our way of life in America. Politics and politicians have certainly contributed greatly to that transition and in the process have denigrated their position in our view and embarrassed themselves (if there is any shred of decency or embarrassment left for them to use).

A major contributor to the loss of civility in our society, at least in my mind, are the robo-callers who inundate us with annoying calls pitching things we don’t need and didn’t ask for. Since they are robots, they can’t hear our polite answer that we are not interested, so we just get angry and either shout at the robot or just angrily hang up. Unfortunately, that same reaction pops into our head when we receive what could have been a polite call from some worthy organization asking for our help. I wouldn’t want to be a phone solicitor these days, even for a worthy cause.

But, back to the original thought. We certainly have seen the use of ad hominem attacks in our state as the Republican legislators have resorted to name calling (and witch is probably the least offensive one that they use) in their battle with the governor over her COVID restrictions. Since they have no logical way to refute the science driving her decisions, they use personal attacks instead. They claim to be fighting for the freedom of people to make their own decisions on things like masks and vaccinations. While they don’t officially have a name for this movement, I’d suggest that they use “The right to die” as their tagline, because that is what the result will be if they are successful. It might be easier to grant them that right if it weren’t for the fact that those same people could infect hundreds of innocent people in their careless disregard for themselves and others.

We have also seen the rise of extremist groups that have been engaged in plotting actions that go well beyond name calling as remedies to what they see as government intervention in their lives.  Some of them took buses to the nation’s capital for the inauguration of our new president and participated in the insurrection that ensued. They could not answer or accept the will of the voters and resorted to much more than ad hominem name calling.

Those are a lot of questions, especially in the midst of what might be a heated exchange, but those also form the bedrock of civility. The key it stopping to think, before responding. I have noticed over time that the few politicians for whom I had respect were those who always stopped to consider things before they responded to questions or challenges. Usually they paused long enough that you noticed it and then they responded with well thought out answers and careful use of the language. Former President Barrack Obama is masterful at that and there have been politicians from both parties who displayed that kind of carefully thought out civility (although far fewer of late).

All of these things point to a society that has been conditioned over time to be much less civil to each other and towards the institutions of government. Even though the current administration has called for a cooling off and a reduction in the level of the rhetoric, just saying that we are all in this together is not enough. We may be in the same boat, but we are on opposite sides of that boat. Rather than trying to get those on the opposite end to rush to our side of the boat  (which isn’t likely to happen, but which would probably capsize the boat if it did), it is important to understand the opposite views well enough to be able to create a position in the middle of the boat for all to seek. That middle ground of compromise has been lost in Washington and in too many other places in America.

Where can we start in an effort to restore civility to American culture? Like all things, the changes that are required start within each individual. It is incumbent upon each of us to stop giving in to the knee-jerk reactions that we have been conditioned to respond with in situations and instead stop and think for ourselves.

Ask yourself, before you blurt out a response, why something that someone just said to you is causing such a reaction. You must first control yourself long enough to think about the situation. Is there some basis in fact for that reaction or have you just reached for some canned response that has been planted in your mind, perhaps an ad hominem attack against the speaker? What is the logic of this disagreement and not the emotions of it? How can you explain your position on the mater without attacking the person with whom you are disagreeing? Is there a compromise position somewhere between your current position and that of the other person? Why can you not agree with that person to go to the more neutral place? What can you do to keep this a civil exchange of competing ideas or views?

So, resolve as you start each day to stop and think before you react to anyone. The Biblical admonishment to do unto others as we would have them do unto us is a good starting point. If you wouldn’t want to be called a name, why label others with a name of your choice. Let’s get civil, again. It starts with each of us.

Your life does not depend upon it…

March 29, 2021

In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed used this quote – “I don’t  know how to be on Facebook if my life depended on it.”  (Sarah Jessica Parker) 

Freed went on to admit to not being very knowledgeable about Facebook and how to post there  and lamented that he feels somewhat like he and Sarah Jessica Parker are on a sinking ship because of that.

I do post to Facebook. In fact this blog forwards to Facebook as a post. I also have a business page there for my real estate business; however, I don’t consider myself to be a Facebook expert user. I belong to several groups, follow a few people on Facebook and I’m followed by some. I have learned just what I need to know to get things posted there and nothing else. I do check on Facebook a couple of times a day to see what might have been posted by the groups or people that I follow.

Certainly, my life doesn’t depend on Facebook and being active there, but I know some people who seem to live through their Facebook posts and readings. I am more wont to say that my life depends upon what’s on my phone than anything, since my calendar. emails and contacts list lives there. Others that I know are very active on Instagram, Twitter or maybe TicTok and other social media platforms.

 There are even people who make their living on these platforms. They are called influencers, and lest you scoff at that, many of these people make six-figure incomes by posting opinions about things on various social media platforms. In a way, their lives do depend upon Facebook or whatever platform that are a star on.

For most of us though, being on Facebook is just a diversion. It may become an obsession for some and for some it can become ruinous, if they descend into Facebook stalking or malicious posting. Pastor Freed commented on the uncivil posts that are often on these sites and he is correct. The anonymity that they afford the posters encourages poor judgement and behavior in many. One should think Biblically when posting to these sites – “Post about others as you would have them post about you.”

There is a popular saying, “I saw it on the Internet, so it must be true.” Unfortunately many of these social media platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter, have become the primary way that some groups spread false information and conspiracy theories. It is wise to read posts on social media sites with a large grain of salt and skepticism.

While the posts to these site will be there forever (unless they are taken down by the site owners) the good news is that all otf them use some form of push-down scrolling, so any post has a relatively short life-span on the initial page that you encounter. Your casual and maybe hurtful remark will only enjoy a short time in the limelight before it is pushed down and off the screen.

So, how about you? Are you a big Facebook user? Does your life revolve around it or some other social media platform? Are you what is called a “lurker”, just hanging around those sites to see what others are doing or do you actively post about yourself and your day? Why? Do you really think others want or need to know about your breakfast or your trip to the gym this morning?  Do you maybe get paid as an “influencer”?

Life does not depend upon what we read or post to social media platforms. In fact, taking the time to post all of the things that you may have done just takes that much time away from actually living your life. Use that time to do good things that people take note of because you did them and not because you posted about them. Treat your life like it is on Facebook Live, because it actually is live and the “followers” who  are watching you are those all around you. See if you can get a “Like” from those you encounter today. Your life is more dependent on those likes than on Facebook likes.

Have a great “live” day, today.