Be grateful on New Year’s Eve.

December 31, 2019

In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Jack Freed used this quote – “Thank you God for this good life, and forgive us if we do not love it enough.”  (Garrison Keillor) 

Jack went on to write about being thankful for our lives on New Year’s Eve. I went looking for more quotes about being thankful and found these thought provoking gems –

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” -Oprah Winfrey

Many people use New Year’s Eve to look ahead and hope for things that they don’t have. Better if pause to they look back a bit, not in nostalgia, in thankfulness for the life that God gave them in the past year.

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” -Meister Eckhart

For some it is hard to see what they should be thankful for at the end of the year. Perhaps they don’t stop to consider that they made it to the end of the year. That is especially true of people living in war zones or under duress.

Habeeb Akande expressed his gratitude for making it thorugh another year this way – “I may not be where I want to be but I’m thankful for not being where I used to be.”

So this New Year’s Eve, express your gratitude to God and anyone else who is there to listen. Not to do so is like –

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” -William Arthur Ward

Be thankful and be happy. Express your gratitude. Give the present of your gratitude.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” -Melody Beattie

Gratitude is a thing to be given and to get from others, sometimes when you need it the most.

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” -Albert Schweitze

The pass on that spark by sharing your gratitude with others.

“Make it a habit to tell people thank you. To express your appreciation, sincerely and without the expectation of anything in return. Truly appreciate those around you, and you’ll soon find many others around you. Truly appreciate life, and you’ll find that you have more of it.” -Ralph Marston

So, use this New Year’s Eve, not only to look ahead, but also to look back in gratitude on the blessings of the past year. At midnight say, “Thank you” to God for the life that He has given you.

“‘Thank you’ is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, and understanding.” -Alice Walker

I for one am grateful to be here on another New Year’s Eve and to be able to share with you my gratitude that you read my humble blog.

Have a great New Year!


You can’t get by without the BY…

December 30, 2019

It’s that time of year when confetti and resolutions fill the air and both often have the same consistency. Making New Year’s resolutions is an amusing pass-time for most, especially for those who enter into the process with little intent to carry out those resolutions. They make no effort to differentiate between dreams, wishes and resolutions. However, for some this is a time of serious reflection and the setting of new personal goals for the coming year. For them, the dictionary definition of resolve is the base upon which they make their resolutions –

Resolvenoun

  1. firm determination to do something.

Do you have resolve in your resolutions? Most resolutions that people make are about changing themselves or the way that they interact with others. One might resolve (again) to lose weight or perhaps to finally pursue a job change. Maybe the resolution is to be a better parent or partner. Perhaps the goal is to be more tolerant and open to new ideas and different people. The key there is that these are all goals. Without a commitment to plans and actions they will remain unfulfilled goals until next year’s resolution setting time.  

What turns a wish or dream or goal into a real resolution is the addition of a statement on how you will achieve that goal – the BY part of the resolution.

“I resolve to lose XX Pounds in 2020 , BY…”

The … part can be a list of actions that you commit to take in order to achieve that goal. It may be things like joining a weight loss support group, signing up for a weight loss food program, increasing your daily exercise by joining and using a gym or work-out program. Whatever it is, it should be achievable, measureable and have some time constraint imposed upon getting it done. It cannot use the word “try”. It must use the words “will” and “by”. It is that will, or firm determination, that you are keeping track of with the time constraint.

So, take a look at your resolutions for 2020. To separate the dreams and wishes from the things that you are really committed to get done, see which ones have a BY list. Do those things have a time constraint? Those are the things that you need to focus your resolve on getting done in 2020. Those are your real resolutions.

The next step may be to break your “BY” list down into smaller, more achievable increments, so that you can tackle and achieve the goal little by little. It is important to reinforce your resolve throughout the year by winning the small victories that achieving another step can bring. It is not unusual that larger goals or steps may have to be preceded by smaller, preparatory steps that you didn’t initially think of when  creating your BY list. Those aren’t setbacks; they are opportunities for more small victories on your way to success.

Having a good BY list for your resolutions also helps you stay on track by giving you something to look back upon as well as things to look ahead to doing next. You can find encouragement to continue towards your goals when you can look back and say to yourself, “Look at all that I’ve already achieved.”  

So, take a look at your 2020 Resolutions list before New Year’s eve and separate out those that you really resolve to achieve. For those, if you don’t already have one, create a BY list of steps and the times to achieve those steps to which you are willing to commit.

There is one last step to take, if you are serious about those resolutions. Put the resolution and the BY list on paper and find someone to be your accountability partner. Give that person the paper and ask them meet with you regularly to check on your progress and  to make sure that you are achieving the steps on your BY list. Sometimes we just need that last little push of having to report to someone else on the progress that we are making or not making. It reinforces our resolve.

Have a Happy New Year. May you achieve all of your resolutions BY…


It takes discipline…

December 28, 2019

“The hardest thing is to take less when you can get more.”  (Kin Hubbard) – quote used in the Jack’s Winning Words blog some time back.

People taking more when they eat, instead of taking less, is the root cause of a much of the current obesity problem in America. The proof of that is the success of the various weight loss programs and products, all of which impose some discipline on the practitioners. I recall my mother saying to me, on occasions when I took too much and couldn’t finish a meal, “Your eyes were bigger than your stomach.”  If one does that often enough, the stomach grows to accommodate the eyes.

The same quote might be used  for many things in life. Many have the tendency to take as much as they can get, rather than leave some for someone else or to share with someone else. In basketball, a player might be called a “ball hog”, if he/she consistently tries to score themselves, rather than make a pass to another player who might be open for a shot. In business, one might be thought of as a “grandstander”, if he/she takes all of the credit for what was a team effort. In life in general, it is the willingness to share, to give to good causes or to make sacrifices so that others might benefit that defines taking less. It is somewhat rare for small children to share what they think is theirs and some never grow out of those feelings of possessive greed.

As Christians, we are called (indeed instructed) to take less and give more. When the rich man asked Jesus what he need to do to get into heaven and Jesus told him to sell everything that had and give the money to the poor, he wandered away in dismay, because he could not give up what he had. We are not called upon to give up everything that we have; yet, in a way, we are. We are called upon to let go of the need to have everything and to refocus instead upon doing good wherever and whenever we can. We are called upon to have discipline and compassion and to let them guide our actions, instead of greed.

So, maybe we should recast Hubbard’s quote to read – “The hardest thing is to keep less, when we should be giving more.”

Jesus never said it would be easy to follow Him; but he did promise the greatest reward of all, if you do. Do you have the discipline to take less?


How’s that working out for you?

December 27, 2019

As we approach the New Year, many people become reflective about their lives and their circumstances. The quote that Jack used recently in his blog – Jack’s Winning Words – deals with contemplating one such reflection.

“Remember when we were young and couldn’t wait to grow up and do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted?  So, how’s that working out for you?”  (Sent by Oaks)

The young tend to see only the things that they wish that they had the freedom to do and not any of the obligations that come along with that freedom. Finally getting to the age where makings one’s own decisions is possible usually also means doing what is necessary to support and maintain that independence. Many young adults return home after college or service in the military because they aren’t ready for the obligations that accompany that level of independence. That often leads to some level of conflict with parents who wish to maintain a level of control in exchange for the free ride.

Most people have some idea or dream about what they would like to be or do when they “grow up”. Many, however, just fall into a job or trade without much planning or any real passion for the work. Sometimes that works out and sometimes it just leaves the young person feeling trapped and despondent, because they see no way out of their circumstances. Like so many other of life’s problems, the first step is admitting that you can use help and then seeking that help. There are lots of programs that feature advice and training to help people find jobs and careers. If they are ex-military service members there are even more programs aimed at helping those who served transition into productive civilian lives.

In a prior post to Jack’s blog, Albert Schweitzer was quoted as saying – “Success is not the key to happiness.  Happiness is the key to success.  If you love what you are doing you will be successful.”  Albert Schweitzer

Some  people either stumble into a career that they love or knowingly work towards that goal. For them success and happiness go hand-in-hand.

So, it’s really not just being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want; it’s loving what you are doing. That should be the goal that the young strive to achieve. Loving what you are doing for a living also helps to de-couple happiness from money. While one needs to make enough money to live, focusing upon doing something that makes you happy rather than how much money you can make, can lead to a more satisfying life. It also tends to make people and relationships more important than amassing possessions.

Which path have you been on?   Are you still focused upon getting more – more power, more money, more possessions? How’s that working out for you? Always wanting more would seem to have no end point – no happy place. Doing something that you love seems to mean that you are always in your happy place.

You have grown up. You can choose what you want to do and when. What did you choose to do? How’s that working out for you?


Talking for our animals…

December 26, 2019

It is time for a post that is less weighty and serious. Pastor Jack Freed used this quote in a recent post to his blog – Jack’s Winning Words.

“I wanted to talk to the animals like Dr, Dolittle.”  (Jane Goodall) 

Jane spent her life living amongst animals, but never was able to talk to them. There have been notable experiments in teaching animals to recognize certain words and to associate those words with some activity or choice, but no one has yet to achieve the ability to have two-way communications or to understand what animals are “saying” using whatever combination of sounds and gestures that they use to communicate with each other.

Sometimes people seem to adopt whatever “voice” we may have heard in a cartoon or movie for a specific animal. Thus, a large animal that was voices by a deep voiced actor forever is lodged in our minds with that voice; whereas small (and cuter) animals will have a high-pitched voice or that of a female actor.

We also put intonations into the voice that seem to characterize the animal as smart and witty or dull and slow. Think of how you hear Eeyore in the Winnie the Pooh movies and now think of how you would voice a donkey if you saw one. Those things stick with us. We recently had a children’s Christmas play at church in which the children played the animals in the manger the night of Jesus’ birth. The cows not only sounded different; they also used different words and language structure than the pigs or the goats. The dialogue given to each animal reflected how the writers imagined the “character” of each animal.

It is never more painful for us not to be able to talk to, or understand, our pets than when they are sick or suffering somehow. That is even frustrating for the vets involved. The fact that they cannot help by telling us where it hurts or how they feel makes treating them all the more difficult. We tend to nurse them with cuddles and soft talk; much as we might do for a human baby or hugs that we save for a good friends.

Many people (and I’m certainly among this group) try to talk for the animals by “voicing” what we think (or would like to think) they are trying to say or would say, if they could. I’ve noticed (and admit again to being guilty of this) that much of what we “voice” for our pets is couched in the language of baby talk, as if our adult dogs are not capable of conversing with us above a 2- or 3-year old level. Perhaps that’s what we also call them our fur babies. I’ve noticed lately that my dogs both have silver muzzles.  Maybe it’s time that they started talking like little old ladies and men.  I’ll have to go re-watch the movie Grumpy Old Men to get some pointers.

Some dogs are now classified as “therapy dogs”, because having them around is good therapy for someone who may be experiencing depression, PTSD or other mental health issues. Some of those dogs use their heightened senses of smell to sense the onset of a medical emergency and alert their owners in time to take corrective actions. Some may act as the hands and feet of their owners, retrieving items for them or doing simple tasks such as opening a door. I suspect that the simple act of voicing for our pets is a form of therapy. We can actually avoid a feeling of loneliness by carrying on a “conversation” with our pet. The best thing is that they never argue with us.

There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with giving a “voice” to your pet. It’s sort of like a form of ventriloquism. It’s not scary until the doll (or dog) starts talking for itself. That would be the time to seek help for yourself. So, go ahead and act as the voice for your pet. It’s good therapy for you and he/she may get a kick out of it too. After all they’ve never heard what you think that they may be thinking. It would get boring for them, too; if all they thought was, “throw the ball” or “give me a treat”. You can do better than that. Give them a voice.

Now, excuse me, I have to go talk to Skippy and Sadie. They want to tell me in which direction we should go on our next walk. They can be quite vocal about that.


A world in search of its Golden Calf.

December 25, 2019

Today is Christmas Day, 2019, but already some of the local stores have put away Christmas and New Year’s Day stuff and have their Valentine’s Day merchandise out. By the time that we get to February, the Valentine’s Day stuff will be gone and the St. Patrick’s Day merchandise will be everywhere. That won’t last long, because they have to get the Easter stuff up before mid-February.

We have become a society obsessed with staying ahead of things and maintaining a fast pace. We have no time to relax, because we might miss something. We may not know what that is, but we constantly check Facebook or Instagram to see what that might be.

What are we looking for? What is driving this need for activity and speed in our lives? Why do we rush to find “the next big thing?” What are we in search of?

Perhaps a story from the Bible will shed some light on this question. Recall when Moses led his people out of bandage in Egypt and went up the mountain to talk to God. The people grew restless and impatient for Moses’ return. They wanted something to worship and look to for comfort in the midst of their trying times, so they created an idol – a statue of a calf made out of gold. Unlike their mysterious God, whom none but Moses could talk to or see, this idol was something concrete to them. They could see it and touch it; so, it gave them some level of comfort. Of course, Moses had a fit when he came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments in hand.

man looking through telescope

In today’s world, the next big thing, or at the least, the things that we don’t yet have, have become our Golden Calf, the things that we idolize. We are impatient to get them, because we think they will bring us comfort and peace; however, when we get each one we find ourselves longing for the next big thing the next thing that we don’t have. We are obsessed with things, with success, with experiences; with whatever we believe is missing in our lives that would make us happy.

The reality for most is that what is missing in their lives is God. If they allowed God into their life and embraced Him, they would experience the “peace that passes all understanding” and know the joy and contentment that this brings. Worldly possessions and pursuits become meaningless when compared to the joy of knowing Him.

On this Christmas Day, take a moment to reflect upon your life. What is important to you? What are you pursuing or searching for? What things do you think you need to make you happy? If you got those things, would you stop and be happy or would you still be running after the next big thing? What is your Golden Calf?

Then ask yourself, where is God in your life? Is He a priority in your life? If He was a priority in your life, do you believe that you would need/want that next big  thing? Stop your searching. The next big thing is right there with you. Embrace God and be happy with your life.

Merry Christmas! May you know God’s peace.


Doubts and second thoughts…

December 23, 2019

A recent post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog had this headliner quote – “If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt.”  (Rene Descartes)

It is almost a rite of passage that the young doubt almost everything as they mature. For many this occurs while they are in High School or maybe in College. They doubt or question everything that they were told by their parents as children. A major catalyst that kicks of this period of soul searching is the independence that most children become aware of as they hit their teenage years. As they are trusted by themselves more and maybe become more independent for things like transportation and money they also recognize that they no longer seek the opinion and approval of their parents for every decision that they face. That independence includes making decision about what is right and wrong in day-to-day life. That quickly escalates into doubting, or at least calling into question, decisions that have been made for them by their parents.

Often that period of doubting includes questioning their religious beliefs. Some are able to separate the religion part from the faith part of their beliefs, but many are confused by the interplay of the two. In that period of rebellion against prior parental decisions, regular attendance at church often goes by the wayside. Sometimes the faith of the young adult becomes muddled in the doubts about the practice of religion. The rush to feel free of the requirements of particular religious practices or dogma can leave the questioning young mind adrift, with nothing to anchor their faith and no way to put it into practice. Fortunately, most have second thoughts about completely abandoning their faith along with the practices of their specific religion.  Sometimes that leads to experimenting with various alternative religious practices. Some seek an alternative in Buddhism or other non-Christian religions, but most eventually find a way to rationalize the practices of some practicing religious group with their faith.

Young children tend to accept without questioning what their parents tell them. For a while, both Santa and God are real to them. The belief in Santa may be the first childhood beliefs to be discarded, along with fairies, goblins, ghosts and witches. Eventually the religious beliefs that were given to us by our parents are also discarded. At that point, either we develop our own, new beliefs, based upon our faith; or, we continue searching for meaning in life. How many times have you heard a younger person say that they are still trying to “find myself”? What they are searching for is something to have faith in; something to replace that childhood faith that they discarded. The good news is that most are found again by the Good Shepard and their faith is restored. One side benefit of having those doubts or second thoughts about your faith as an adult is that the conviction of your beliefs becomes much stronger when made as an adult.

Maybe you went through that process of questioning your faith as a youth, or maybe some traumatic event later in life caused you to have doubts about God and your faith in Him. Maybe you asked the question, “How could a loving God let this happen to me?” Instead, you should be thanking that loving God for helping you get through that event. Whether you realized it at the time or not, you turned to Him in that troubled time; because, in the back of your mind, you realized that He was the only one there with you and the only one who could help you.

Friedrich Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”

I believe that the same can be said about our faith. Doubting or questioning your religious practices doesn’t necessarily call your faith into question, but does usually cause you to examine it Examining your faith does not kill it and can make it stronger by stripping away the man-made parts of religion that may be troubling you. In the final analysis, your faith starts with the relationship that you have with God. What trappings of religion you want to embrace from that base is up to you. As long as that remains the foundation of your beliefs, you have nothing to doubt.

Have a great Christmas by putting the Christ part first. No doubt.