The secret to a good life…

March 6, 2021

I always get a kick out of seeing a headline like that; as if there is really some great unknown secret that will immediately make life better, if only it were revealed to us. While there is no secret to a good life, there are bits of advice that we can pick up from others and implement in our own lives to make them better. One such piece of advice I got from a post to my usual source – the Jack’s Winning Words blog – “Laugh when you can; apologize when you should; and let go of what you can’t change.”  (Posted by Carrie Goldring)

The other piece of advice comes from French philosopher Albert Camus – “To be happy, we must not be too concerned with others.”

Our ability to laugh, especially at ourselves, is a great release from the stresses of everyday life and a necessary pause in the intensity that we sometimes put on ourselves in life. The ability to admit mistakes, own them, and apologize for them or make them right is also a necessity. Only through that process can we forgive ourselves get them off our backs. Finally, the ability to recognize those things in life that one cannot change and let go of them is critical. Our faith helps with that by allowing us to give those things to God in the simple prayer, “Not my will, but thy will be done.”

And then there is the advice of Camus. I don’t think he was saying not to be empathetic to the needs of others so much as not to be hung up on what others think about you or what you do. Many people spend an inordinate amount of time being concerned about the answer to the question, “What will others think?” before and after they do something. Even getting dressed in the morning usually involves that question for those people. Camus is saying that happiness does not come from others, but rather from within ourselves.

There are phrases that ae used within or vocabularies that point to the answer of living a good life – phrases like, “I laughed so hard that I cried” or “Those are tears of happiness”. Those phrases are describing examples of those moments in life that we let go of all else and live in the moment. We enjoy life. I have also heard the phrase, “I never felt more alive than at that moment” to describe some wonderful event in someone’s life.

Perhaps that is the secret to the good life. Again, I point to another quote from Albert Camus that sums this up very nicely – “Live to the point of tears.”

So the secret to the good life is to stop worrying about it and start living it – living it to the point of tears. A good start at living that way it to recall the words of the Psalmist – “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” – Psalm 118:24

If we wake up each morning and acknowledge and give thanks to God for giving us another day it is bound to be a better day – a day in which we can live life to the point of tears.

Now you know the secret. Say your prayer to thank God for this day and then go out and live your life to the point of tears. It’s going to be a great day!

Judge not, lest ye be judged…

March 4, 2021

Lately, I have found quotes by Albert Camus to provide inspiration for my posts. Today, two Camus quotes just seem right to consider together –

“People hasten to judge in order not to be judged themselves.” ― Albert Camus

and “Do not wait for the last judgment. It comes every day.” ― Albert Camus

It seems to me that the basis of prejudice is judgement – the thought that something different isn’t right and thus must be feared. Fear is the underlying cause of prejudice. Just the fact that it is considered to be “not right” is a prejudice. There is often no intrinsic right or wrong in something, just one’s perception of it as being right or wrong. That perception is your personal judgement.

Today’s post title if from Matthew 7, 1:3  which goes on to say “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

I think that is what Camus is alluding to in the second quote. We should live as if our behavior is judged by God every day.

So, if one is not to judge others, what is one to do? There is guidance for that later in Matthew 12 –

 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Do we ever really stop and ask ourselves, “What would I have others do to me in this situation?” Probably not until after the fact, when guilt sets for some action that we have taken or words that we have said.

 Perhaps we need to reinforce each morning the caution against being judgmental by adding to our prayers just that single line from Matthew 7 and asking God to help you judge not, lest you be judged.

Try to imagine a day without judgements, without prejudices and pre-conceived notions. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful day? Now, see if you can go out and live that day.

It’s a personal thing…

March 3, 2021

Today’s post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog contained this quote –  “I can explain it to you, but I can’t comprehend it for you.”  (Edward Koch) 

There is a tendency to immediately substitute the word “understand” for the word “comprehend” in that sentence, but that isn’t really what the sentence is saying. It is different to comprehend something that just to understand it.

One way that the Webster’s Dictionary defines “comprehend” is –

1: to grasp the nature, significance, or meaning of

In fact, even most dictionaries use the word understand within the definition of comprehend. Koch’s quote actually is right on as to the personal nature of comprehension. One can understand something at an intellectual level without really comprehending it, just as one can comprehend something without having to understanding it.  

Understanding is a rather emotionless term that points at how things fit into our minds and memories – what category will this be filed under in my mind and how might this knowledge be used and applied in the future?

Comprehending, on the other hand, I think, leads to changes in how one perceives and reacts to the world around them. It is a very personal thing, involving how you grasp or perceive the things that you encounter.  One does not so much understand love as to comprehend it for themselves.  The same is true of prejudice or hate. You would be hard pressed to understand what causes them in you, but you can comprehend them as being there.

Ones faith is another thing that cannot really be understood, but which is comprehensible. How do you understand or explain your belief in a God who cannot be seen or heard, but whom you comprehend is always there with you? It’s a personal thing.

So, take a moment during the day to comprehend God. Don’t try to understand God, you really can’t; however, you can grasp the nature, significance and meaning of God in your life – you can comprehend. For me, that’s enough. I will not worry about understanding God, so long as I comprehend Him in my life.

How about you? Do you comprehend?

Sorry, I can’t help you with that. It’s a personal thing.

What’s playing in your mind?

March 1, 2021

A few days ago, Pastor Freed wrote this in his blog, Jack’s Winning Words“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”  (Aldous Huxley)  I know the thought that Huxley is expressing, but the passing thought that comes to my mind is how Charlie Chaplin was able to use music in his silent movies…a talent for putting silence and music together. 

The use of music to set a mood or pace in a movie is still used today. We seldom notice it because we have grown to expect it, rather than silence. In fact, total silence can be disturbing, just as total darkness is frightening and disturbing. We are used to being immersed in sounds. Many people have music constantly playing around them, either for real or imagined. I have little songs playing out in my head as I walk my dog. The imagined music fills a void in the mind and keeps it amused and active.

I will admit to not being a music person, someone who has to have songs playing around them in the background as they drive or just sit there. I went through a phase in life where music was more important to me and I have an extensive collection of music in various, now-outdated recording formats, most of which is now to old to even make it onto the Classic Rock stations.

Now instead of donning ear pods to listen, I can just turn my mind loose on the music that is stored there. Often the little songs that we use for our gospel acclimation in our church service will pop to mind. They are catchy little tunes and easy to repeat over and over in one’s mind.

While we listen to the words (if there are words) in the songs that we hear (real or imagined), I suspect that it is really the melody that catches the attention of the mind. Music and math are inextricably linked in the mind. Our brains are wired for the mathematical order that the melody in music brings with it. Whether aware of it or not, the melody writers are creating mathematical sequences of notes or melodies that appeal to our brains. Great classical music of operas and symphonies are mathematical tours-de-force. The Norwegian composer Marcus Paus has argued: Melody is to music what a scent is to the senses: it jogs our memory. It gives face to form, and identity and character to the process and proceedings.”

There has also been a small, but dedicated, movement for some time focused upon non-melodic music, which is now called experimental music. It is hard to imagine music from that genre getting stuck in the mind and playing away in the background as I walk the dog.

Perhaps what Huxley was trying to say is that music brings with it an orderliness which helps the mind express the inexpressible. Music can certainly calm the mind by drowning out the noise of the world and bringing order out of chaos. One can go from neurons randomly firing off in all directions, within the confused or frightened mind, to the order and smoothness found in a good melody by just conjuring up a good tune. Try thinking of your favorite song the next time that you are anxious or confused about life. Let the melody play out in your mind and seek comfort in orderliness of it.

What music is playing in your mind?

Make the best of what life gives you…

February 28, 2021

I was searching for inspiration this morning when I ran across this John Wooden quote – “Things Work Out Best For Those Who Make The Best Of How Things Work Out.”

I love how the words flow in that quote and the underlying psychological advice. None of us can really control the things that happen to us in life, but we can control how we react to those things. Accepting that reality is the first step to making the best of what happens to us in life.

Instead of sinking into despair at life’s setbacks, no matter how bad, one must continue to search for the best path forward from where one find’s oneself. It is the ability to accept setbacks in life as a learning experiences and to adjust your approach to resolving the problem at hand that, so that you can make progress, that separates the winners in life from those admit defeat and never achieve their goals.

Making the best of how things work out doesn’t mean accepting where you have temporarily ended up as your ”station in life”.  That is a defeatist attitude.

A setback may have involved taking the wrong path entirely towards that goal or it could have just been a poor execution of the correct approach to a solution. It is important to stop and consider that and make your adjustments based on what you can now see when wrong.  The worst thing that you can do is to continue to do the same wrong thing over and over and expect a different outcome.

Too often we focus too much attention on what happened yesterday. It is like trying to drive your car in a race by looking only in the rear view mirror. You will see the disasters that have already happened but no the one looming just ahead.

It makes little sense to pray that nothing bad ever happens to you; rather it makes good sense to pray for the patience, wisdom and perseverance to deal with whatever happens and to make good decisions.

So, perhaps you can include in your prayers the request that God help you accept what has already happened and better prepare you for what is ahead. There is a term for that in the bible  – be at peace. May you be at peace with what has already happened, so that you may be better prepared for what lies ahead.

Make the best of it. Things will work out.

Know it or believe it…just do something with it.

February 27, 2021

A quote from an unknown source was used by Pastor Freed in one of his recent posts to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words“It’s not what you know, but what you do with what you know.”  (Unknown)

There’s certainly a whole riff that could be written about putting your knowledge to use, but when I saw that quote I mentally substituted the word “believe” for the word “know” and thought about what it is that I can do to turn my beliefs, my faith, into action. What “something” can I do with it.

One does not have to stand on soap box on a street corner preaching to no one in particular to demonstrate and live their faith. In fact, I think many of those who do that are still trying to convince themselves of their beliefs as much as anything. How many times have we seen stories of the famous TV evangelists being carted off to jail or disgraced in public for their actions and not their words?

The easiest way to put your faith into action and perhaps influence others to the same path is to live your life as an example of that faith. Not judging others (lest you be judged), being kind and caring and doing the right things when faced with decisions. On the surface, that may seem to be a rather off-handed way of looking at things, but it requires a conscious effort to think about your decisions in the light of your faith.

Many people used to wear those little rubber or metal bands with WWJD embossed or printed on them – What Would Jesus Do. That was a great memory device that caused one to stop and think before acting. I don’t see many of those wrist bands around anymore, but that thought and that pause to think is needed more now than ever.

Faith is just one of the touchstones available to us for grounding our thoughts and actions. Unfortunately, there are also things like prejudice, hate and indifference available as alternative approaches to decision making. The appeal of these alternatives is most often that they are easier to implement than the love, caring and acceptance of others that faith requires. It is easier to turn one’s back on the poor, homeless beggar than to take the time to help. It is easier to dismiss the person of different color or appearance out of prejudice than to take the time to get to know them. Look at your wrist. WWJD?

So, it is not enough to just profess your faith, one must put that faith into action, to let it influence and lead your actions – to do something with it. The “something” that your faith drives you to do does not always have to involve dramatic actions, but it should always be actions that demonstrate the answer to the question that you stopped and ask yourself.  WWJD? You don’t need to wear a bracelet with that question on it; just keep that question rattling around in the back of your mind as you go through your day and let it stop you so that you can think about the answer to that question.

Perhaps one can add to their morning prayers a simple thought – “Lord let me live my life today to reflect your glory in the decisions that I make.” Then ask yourself WWJD and get on with your day.

Have a great day of demonstrating your faith through the living of your life. Keep looking at your wrist and asking the question. WWJD?

Believe…you don’t want to be wrong.

February 26, 2021

I recently stumbled across a number of quotes from noted French philosopher and novelist Albert Camus . This is one that caught my attention – “I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn’t, than live as if there isn’t and to die to find out that there is.”

There is a phrase about “backing into something” that seems to cover this thought. Faith based upon the thought that you really don’t want to be wrong about God’s existence is probably better than no faith at all, but it is sort of backing into belief.

We are in the Lenten season, which could be a real downer, since we know that it is leading to the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus. There are many somber ceremonies associated with the Lenten season – the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday – yet we also know that ultimately they lead to the most joyous occasion of all Jesus’ resurrection on Easter. Even the Earth itself celebrates the resurrection with Spring and the re-birth of plants and reemergence of animals that may have been hibernating. Easter and Spring is an annual refresh of our belief in God.

Believing in God brings a certain orderliness to life that otherwise might appear to be very random and thus very confusing and unsatisfying. Faith helps us explain things – things that happen around us and things that happen to us. Faith also helps us get through things as they happen, because faith leads to hope and hope fuels perseverance.

Faith also fills what otherwise would be a huge void in our lives – the meaning of life itself – and gives us purpose.  It is through faith that we accept what we cannot understand, trusting in the God of our faith to handle those things. Faith overcomes our fear of the unknown by placing those things in the hands of God.

So, have faith and go through life confident that you are right and that, in the end, you will receive the reward of everlasting life that you have been promised. There is no alternative that makes any sense and you certainly don’t want to be wrong. Back into faith if you have to, but get into it any way that you can.

Have a wonderful and faithful day.

Find meaning by living your life…

February 24, 2021

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” – Albert Camus

Do you know someone who is never happy with what they have and always searching for ways to get more? Maybe you know someone who claims to be searching to “find myself”, to find some purpose and meaning to their life. It is not unusual for the young to go through phases like that, to have many questions for which there are no apparent answers. This is usually a period of a lapse in faith that occurs between being a child and accepting and understanding your faith as an adult.

As a child you were told about Jesus and the love of God and you just embraced it, not questioning it, just accepting that love as you accepted the love of your parents. So called “child-like innocence” protected you from the doubts that would later creep into your mind.

But, you began to question things by your teen years and well into young adulthood. That is part of the natural rebellion against being told things or being told to do things. That is your “I’ll make up my own mind on that” phase. It normally occurs during a time when you have the ability to reason, but not enough experience in how to use that ability to reach the right conclusions. It’s not so much that you reject God as it is that you just wander away from Him in confusion and in your search for the meaning of life and especially meaning for your life. You are too busy trying to “find yourself”.

Some wander about in that state of confusion and dissatisfaction for their entire lives, never really happy and always confused as to why. Others find their way back to God and allow their faith to provide the answers that they were seeking. They do not spend their time seeking happiness; but, rather, allow happiness to occur in their lives. They find relief from the anxieties of trying to understand the meaning of life and find joy in giving purpose and meaning to their lives.

People of faith start each day with a prayer to God to help them be the best that they can be that day and end the day with a prayer to God to help them be even better tomorrow. They do not live each day seeking the meaning of life, they live each day to give life meaning. They embrace another saying by Albert Camus – “Don’t wait for the last judgment – it takes place every day.”

So, seek not the meaning of life; rather seek to reconnect with that faith that you had as a child. Accept God back into your life and allow Him to show you how you can add meaning to your life. The true meaning of life is what you put into it; how you live it and the things that you do to make life better for all. God’s got work for you to do. It’s time to stop asking what it all means and start asking, “What does God want me to do today?” You won’t find he answer in any philosophy book, but the Bible has some pretty good suggestions for you.

Have a great and meaningful day!

What do you see?

February 23, 2021

In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed looks at the challenge of optimism vs pessimism with this quote – “Optimism shouldn’t be seen as opposed to pessimism, but in conversation with it.  Your optimism will never be as powerful as it is in that exact moment when you want to give it up.”    (Amanda Gorman)

Whether you are generally an optimistic person or a pessimist directly impacts your daily life. Someone probably already said this, but I’ll attribute t to myself here – “What you see depends upon how you look at things.”

It can be a dark and gloomy world for those trapped in an pessimistic outlook on life, just as it can be perpetually sunny and bright for the optimists of the world. I suspect that most walk right on that thin line between the two, sometimes seeing the dark side of things and sometimes the bright side. One can hope that the bright side wins out most of the time, such that you are seen by others as having a “sunny disposition”.

Optimism draws it’s strength from hope. Hope for the best outcome. Hope for friendship and love. Hope for better things ahead. In many, that hope is fueled by faith. Faith opens the door to hope by overcoming and eliminating the ultimate worst outcome in life – death. Faith allows us to accept what has happened, whatever it is, and continue to look ahead. Faith removes from us the burden of responsibility for solving all of life’s problems and puts that responsibility in the hands of God. Faith  allows us to look at things and see the good in them, by seeing the God in them.

I recently used a quote by Albert Camus and another comes to mind for this post – “In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” –  Albert Camus

Albert Camus (1913-1960) was a French philosopher and novelist whose works examine the alienation inherent in modern life and who is best known for his philosophical concept of the absurd. He explored these ideas in his famous novels, The Stranger (1942), The Plague (1947), and The Fall (1956), as well as his philosophical essays, The Myth of Sisyphus (1942) and The Rebel (1951). He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957.

The winter that Camus mentioned might be allegorical for despair and pessimism and the invincible summer for faith and optimism. A person of faith is by definition a person of hope – an optimist. How about you? What do you see? Is there within you an invincible summer?

I believe that there is within all of us that glimmer of hope that is fueled by an ember of faith, however tiny. If one but puts the tinder of prayer on that ember and nurtures it a little bit, it will flame up in your life to provide warmth and light – your invincible summer.

Try it, you’ll like it. You will see things differently.

So, get started already!

February 22, 2021

The graphic that inspired today’s post came from a feed that I get every day of graphics to use in real estate social media posts. It illustrates the point that you won’t achieve your dream, hopes and ambitions unless you ACT today. Dreaming, hoping and even planning don’t accomplish anything unless you actually do something to make progress towards those dreams and hopes.

Many people allow themselves to be overwhelmed by the size or sheer audacity of their dream. I mean, how ridiculous it might have felt for a poor little black girl in Los Angeles to dream that she might one day be the Vice-President of the United States or for the son of dirt-poor immigrants to hope to be a billionaire some day. Yet dreams and hopes like that come true. In every case, when those people are interviewed and talk about their successes you will find a long path of hard work and perseverance. Many had to overcome the roadblocks that prejudice threw up at them. They never quit and they did not give up their dreams; they just worked harder and longer at them.

Big dreams that seemingly will require Herculean efforts to achieve need to be broken down into smaller, achievable steps. Sometimes those steps won’t seem to be leading directly towards the goal, but they are required detours to enable progress later. Getting as good education is one of those steps and a key one.

An education not only opens many doors to success, but it also teaches valuable life lessons on problems solving, patience and persistence. There are many courses that one is required (forced) to take in college that may not seem to be on the path to your goal, but which you will discover later in life provide a solid knowledge base for your success. While our current emphasis on the STEM subjects is focused upon key job enabling knowledge, the humanities subjects that we are also taught help ensure that we do not become boring and one-dimensional adults. Learning to appreciate the arts and literature is as important as learning how to solve quadratic equations.

Just as important as developing your mind through education is the need to develop your faith through worship. Your intelligence grows as you feed your mind more and more information. Your faith can grow too as you give it more and more exposure to God through prayer. It is at the confluence of intelligence and faith that wisdom is created. You empower yourself for success in life through your education and your efforts. You empower yourself for life after death through your faith. The success you achieve in life is fleeting and may be measured in terms of money or power. The success you achieve in your faith is forever and is often described as being “beyond all understanding”.

So, go for your dreams. Start today to make progress towards realizing the success that you have imagined. But, don’t ignore your faith. Be as persistent in realizing the ultimate goal there, too. Work at achieving your goals and work at increasing your faith. Do something to achieve both goals every day. It is in the doing that success in both is found.

Get started today.