Listen up…

August 31, 2020

Today’s post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog used this quote – “We win more friends with our ears than with our lips.”  (Pastor Bob’s Bulletin)

Pastor Freed and I have both posted many times about the importance of listening, but many were too busy talking to see those posts. Perhaps you know someone who is always too busy talking to let you “get a word in edgewise”. My wife and I once had dinner with a woman (and her husband) who absolutely could not stop talking, mainly about herself. Her long-suffering husband just sat there eating and listening, as did we. At the end of the meal for the rest of us, she had not stopped talking long enough to take a bite of her meal, so she got it boxed to go. That was certainly an extreme case, but similar thigs often happen with others who would rather talk than listen. I know several people who apparently cannot stand the sound of silence, so they fill it with blather.

Listening well, sometimes called “deep listening” is a skill and discipline that most do not develop. It takes concentration and a focus that is away from oneself and onto the other person. Rather than being focus on what you want to say next, you must focus upon what is currently being said by the other party and process that information. Your thoughts should be on how you can best respond to the information that the other person is sharing – how can you help them or how can you share their concerns or joys.

I’ll bet that you know someone who starts to talk after you have finished and then interrupts themselves to ask, “Wait, what did you just say?” They realize that they didn’t really listen to what you said, but somewhere is the back of their mind a flag went up that tells them that they should have been listening. They were focusing upon what they were going to say next. They heard you speaking but they didn’t really hear what you said.

You can start to be a better listener and a better friend, by forcing yourself to focus your attention upon the words of the other person. Don’t just hear them. Process them. Figure out what the person is saying or trying to say. Read (or hear) between the lines. Is this a call for help? Is this just a sharing of happiness? How should you react to this information? If you force yourself to concentrate and answer questions like that in your mind during the conversation, you may find that you are getting a lot more out of the conversation and are able to put a lot more back into it. There will be time to think about what you are going to say next when they have stopped talking.

Another tip to be a better listener is to focus visually on the speaker. Don’t let your eyes dart around to other things or people. See how they are speaking and well as hearing their words. Look for body language signs of distress or happiness. Look for openness and gestures or signs of trust that should give you a cue that your advice or your help is truly being sought. Sometimes the signs that a hug is needed are obvious or that a kind and supportive word will go a long way to help. Sometimes you will notice that they cannot seem to focus upon you, to look you in the eye. That is normally a sign that they don’t yet feel comfortable (or trusting) with what they are sharing with you and words of reassurance and encouragement may be needed.

So, maybe the best starting point to becoming a better listener is to keep reminding yourself that this is your role at the moment. Say to yourself, “They are talking and I am listening; how can I do the best job as a listener?” If you are more aware of your role as the listener, you will do a better job at it. Once you can do that, you’ll also do a better job and a friend.

So, listen up!

What sermon will you be preaching today?

August 29, 2020

In a post this past week, Pastor Freed used this quote in his Jack’s Winning Words blog – “The older I get the less I listen to what people say and the more I look at what they do.”  (Andrew Carnegie)

Later in that same post Jack quoted Edgar Guest, a poet from Detroit’s past , who wrote, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.”

In this “high season” of political ads, we are certainly hearing many sermons from both sides. Since many, if not most, of the ads are negative in nature, if one only listened to them it would appear that no matter who we elect all is lost. The sermons being aired by both sides would tell us that both have put up a bunch of incompetent, unscrupulous scallywags for the offices that are up for votes. It is perhaps most important this year to look back at what the candidates have done and not just listen to the sermons in their ads..

But, what of our own lives? Certainly, people hear what we say. Nevertheless, do our actions match our words? What sermons do we deliver with what they see us doing each day? They may hear us saying, “I am not a racist”, but do they see that in the diversity of our friends and acquaintances and our actions towards people of color? Do they see an accepting and empathetic supporter of correcting racial injustices or can they see a frightened person of privilege trying to hold on to the advantages that they enjoy. Do your actions speak of acceptance of people of differing sexual orientation or of unfounded fears and loathing? What sermon about your concern for the welfare of others does your choice to not wear a mask in pubic or to not social distance say about you? You are preaching a sermon each day you are alive. What sermon will you be preaching today?

We have all been admonished that how we live our lives tells the world who we are and we have been given clear guidance in the Bible.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. … (Colossians 3:12-17)

And again in Ephesians 4: 29-32 –

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

What kind of sermon would your life be if you lived by those words? Wouldn’t you rather that the sermon of your life be judged because of its adherence to those pieces of advice in your actions and the choices that you make? If the sermon of your life is not being based upon advice from the Bible, what book are you using for a script? Think about what people will see you doing today. What sermon will you be preaching?

Have a great weekend. We’ll be watching your sermon.

Don’t ask…just enjoy the beauty.

August 28, 2020

In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed used this quote –“I do not ask for the meaning of the song of a bird or the rising of the sun on a misty morning.  They are, and they are beautiful.”  (Joe Hamill) He later referenced another quote, that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”

Too many of us lose sight of the beauty all around us by focusing our attention on the how and why of things. There is no how or why to the perception of beauty; there is only an acceptance and appreciation of it. One could sit in an empty room and appreciate the beauty of life itself. Many search all of their lives for its meaning and fail to take the time to enjoy the beauty of life itself.

By his very nature, man is an inquisitive being, always seeking answers to the what, why and how of things. Eventually he/she turns that inquiring mind inward, to try to understand him/herself and to discern a meaning to life. Many eventually encounter a blank wall where their logic and the limitations of their mind stop them from proceeding towards understanding their existence and purpose. For those people, life can be frustrating and perplexing, an existence ruled by fear of the unknown.

For Christians that wall is just the separation point between them and God and they know what is on the other side. They also know that they have been granted a reservation through the death of Jesus to cross over and join God on the other side of that wall. It is that assurance of life after death that removes the fear and questions about this life and allows them to enjoy the beauty of the world around them.

Therefore, the next time you find yourself asking how or why something looks beautiful to you, stop and instead say a little prayer of thanks to God. They just are and He made them that way. Thank Him for that and for allowing you to experience that beauty. See beyond the wall and see the face of God in that beauty.

Have a great and beautiful day!

Beware the Fool’s Gold…

August 27, 2020

In his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, yesterday, Pastor Freed used this quote – “All that glitters is not gold.”  (Shakespeare) He went on to warn about the widespread and fraudulent scams that we are constantly exposed to these days.

I call those scam emails and offers, Fool’s Gold. The scammers put a lot of glitter on their messages, all designed to get you to click on a link or expose your personal data. If you click on their links it usually results in some form of malware being installed onto your computer and they get access to all sorts of data and passwords and other things that are useful to them.

There are usually obvious clues to the nefarious nature of these messages to be found in the email address of the sender or the grammar of the scammer. I get a lot of scam messages from an email address that contains com@cast in the email address for the sender. Apparently, they think that the recipients of their emails won’t take the time to look at who sent the message. Always look at the sender’s email address and if it looks strange or has nothing to do with the company that it is supposedly coming from just delete it. The scammers are quite good at creating fake email addresses that look legit at a glance, but none can stand up to scrutiny.

Another tip-off is the opening salutation. Not many companies really send out messages that open with Dear (your name here) or Dear Customer.  The subject line in these scam messages are designed to get you to open them, either out of fear or greed. The subject line may tell you that your account at some bank has been frozen or that suspicious activity has been detected. In many cases the messages that I receive reference banks that I don’t do business with at all, so that is an easy tip-off. Another favorite is the “You’ve won…” or maybe “ Click here to receive your free…” Subject lines or opening lines like that should immediately raise red flags.

Bad grammar is another tip-off. Most of these scam messages originate in countries where English is not the primary language. Some are actually composed in whatever the native language is and then translated on the fly. The sentence structures and grammar that result are laughable and obvious.  In other cases, you have to read it to see that this was not composed by someone for whom English is the primary language. So look at the structure and word usage in the message and it if doesn’t make sense to you or looks funny, it is probably a scam.

Other favorite scams involve sending emails that look like that are from government agencies, usually with some sort of scary threat of legal actions against you or maybe the appeal that you are owed some money from the government, if only you click on the included link. These have apparently replaced the emails that I used to get from the ex-Finance Minister of Botswana in Africa asking me to help with getting his fortune out of the country. Maybe he finally found that help and is now living the life of leisure in Palm Beach.  

Not all of the Fool’s Gold is delivered by email. I still get calls every day from Google and some company trying to sell me an extended warranty on a car I no longer own. Google uses the scare tactic that my business will not be seen by people searching for it because I haven’t signed up to pay Google for a business listing . In both cases I wait until the end of the robocall and make the choice to be removed from their call list, but the next day I get the calls again. I wish that there were an app that would let me forward those calls to the Michigan Attorney General’s office each time I get them. I suspect that our Attorney General  would get tired of them and take some action to stop them.

So, beware most of what glitters or sounds glittery (or scary); most of the messages are Fool’s Gold. Don’t be the fool who reaches for that gold. It will bite you.

Stop and think before you click on any link or respond to any email. You may think you just hit the jackpot, but perhaps what you are looking at is Fool’s Gold. Don’t play the fool!

How will you pay your rent?

August 25, 2020

Pastor Freed used this quote from Albert Einstein this morning in his Jack’s Winning Ways blog –

“Those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act.”  (Albert Einstein) 

Reading that quote brought to mind this oft used line from Luke 12:48 – “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.”

But it was in further researching the idea of privilege and responsibility that I found this quote –

“I was taught that the world had a lot of problems; that I could struggle and change them; that intellectual and material gifts brought the privilege and responsibility of sharing with others less fortunate; and that service is the rent each of us pays for living – the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time or after you have reached your personal goals.” Marian Wright Edelman

I like Edelman’s vision that serving others is the “rent” that we pay for being alive, for we are all “renters” of life here on earth. Acts of empathy and concern, as well as taking action to serve the needs of others is the rent that we pay for that time here. There will always be rent scofflaws, those who are so self-centered that they dismiss the needs of others – they skip out on their rent. Theirs is not a happy life here in earth, even though many appear to be successful. In their constant pursuit of more – money, power, possessions -they seldom feel the fulfilling joy of accomplishment that those who serve others feel in their successes.

Marian Edelman says she “was taught” her values. She does not say by whom. One can assume that she got those values from her parents, her teachers and her church. Perhaps she read Luke growing up or listened to sermons about caring and sharing. No matter how she learned, she came to the correct conclusion that those responsibilities that went along with the privileges that she enjoyed were also her purpose in life.

Many people go through life without consciously thinking about what their purpose in life is. They focus on things like meeting their immediate needs or perhaps on racking up accomplishments and garnering honors. However, to what purpose? Collecting more and more money or possessions is not a purpose. It is interesting that many people who achieved incredible wealth finally found their purpose in giving that wealth away to help others – think Bill Gates, for instance. Others, like Mother Theresa, never accumulated wealth and possessions but lived most of their lives with great purpose by helping others.

One does not have to be a Bill Gates or a Mother Theresa to be aware of their privileges and God’s gifts in their life and be dedicated to a purpose of sharing with and helping others. Nor is that sharing and helping limited to giving money. One’s time is really the most valuable possession of all and dedicating some of that time towards helping others, by volunteering at organizations like Meal on Wheels or Community Sharing Centers, is a greater gift than just throwing some money in a collection bucket.

Most of us have enjoyed the rewards of privilege, and now our rent is due. What are you doing to pay your rent?

Don’t worry about it…

August 24, 2020

The world of comics again crossed paths with the advice from the Jack’s Winning Words blog. Today, Pastor Freed used this quote – “There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.”  (Epictetus)

On today’s installment of Pearls Before Swine  the character Rat tells Goat that the key to life is not to worry about things that are outside his power to control. As Goat is about to congratulate Rat on his new philosophy, Rat blurts out that he is instead going to focus on amassing more power so that he will be able to control everything. It is unfortunate that the philosophy that Rat was espousing is what drives so many today.

I’ve opined here a few time about offloading the worries that one cannot really change by giving them to God and saying “not my will, but thy will be done.”  To some, who are more closely aligned with the philosophy of Rat that may sound like a cop-out or surrender – an admission of failure. However, to those who “get it” it is actually an acceptance of God’s role in our lives and His dominion over the events that we will live through. It is also the first, and critical step that one must take before asking for God’s help with those events.

Some may be tempted to ask God to make the situation go away, but that’s not it works. Ask instead that God give you the bravery, patience, intelligence, and perseverance to resolve the problem and the faith and wisdom to accept the outcome.

So spend your time and energy on planning and executing things that are within you power to do and stop worrying about things over which you never will have control. Leave those things to God.

Don’t worry, He’ got your back.

Certainly no worse and probably better…

August 22, 2020

In a recent post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed used this quote –“Whether women are better than men I cannot say … but i can say they are certainly no worse.”  (Golda Meir)

Younger people may not even know who Golda Meir was and many likely are unaware that there have been several female heads of government in the past. Click here to read about 7 women who were elected to the highest offices in their countries – going back to the 1930’s. there were also some who were appointed  when their elected husbands died in office.

We celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Constitutional Amendment that gave women the right to vote in America this year. It is fitting that they will have the opportunity to vote for a woman to be Vice-President.

There has been much written about the differences between men and women when it comes to their style of leadership in government positions of leadership; but , in my mind, most of it boils down to the influence of empathy. Women seem to have a greater ability to recognize and empathize with the needs of the people. It may boil down to a difference between the influences of hubris and humility and the role of me vs. we in decision making. I wrote about becoming more “we-oriented” in a post a week or so ago – See Turn your m upside down to turn your life around. Maybe I was writing about being able to get in touch with one’s feminine side.

We had the opportunity in the last Presidential election to choose a woman as President, but that didn’t work out (even though she won the majority of the votes across America). We will have the opportunity again in the future. In the meantime, we can elevate a women to the second highest office in the land. It will be interesting to see what she does in that position. I suspect that we will see a much more visible Vice-President with a much more important role in the daily governing of the country.  

So, in addition to finally seeing the introduction of a vaccine against the Corona Virus by early next year, we can look forward to seeing a new era in our Federal government, with a woman in a position of leadership. Will she be better than men have been in that role? As Golda said, she certainly will be no worse and I suspect we will be happy and proud to have her in that role. Get out and vote!

One needn’t be blissfully ignorant

August 21, 2020

In today’s installment of the comic strip Pearls Before Swine the character Pig, when asked why he is so happy, replies, “I have chosen to become woefully uninformed.”

It is tempting to be like Pig and ignore the news that swirls all around us like a California wildfire. Yet one does not have to become uninformed or blissfully ignorant in order to be happy. In fact, I suspect that becoming woefully uninformed might leave one in an anxious state of concern about the unknown, sort of like a camper sitting around the fire listening to the sounds all around in the darkness and wondering about what (or who) is making them. Ignorance is not a state of comfort or bliss.

It is also not possible for one to know what is going on around them and yet not react to those things in any way. One must not be oblivious, but rather be mindful of those things and chose to react in a calm and reasoned way. The calm part of that response is important, because it allows and facilitates the reasoned response part. People who react to events in panic seldom make wise decisions and usually end up making things worse for themselves ands others.

But, how does one make calm, rational decisions?

I have opined here before about the need to make wise decisions and the usefulness of asking God for help in that process. I think I recommended adding a line to your prayers asking God to “help me make good decisions today”. Perhaps I should have added the phrase “help me to remain calm and” to the front end of that little prayer. Being calm equates to being at peace with yourself and your relationship to God. I know that I have related here the little phrase that local pastor Doug McMunn from the Milford United Methodist Church uses all the time – “be at peace”.  Jesus used the phrase “Peace be with you” (John 20:19) when he met with his disciples after his resurrection. Earlier in John 14:27 He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

Perhaps then, we should pray to first experience the peace that our belief in Jesus gives us and then tackle the issues that we face, untroubled and unafraid. One need not be blissfully ignorant about what is going on in the world, but one can be blissfully confident about their ability to get through the troubles and tests with God’s help. So, when you see and hear the news or face a problem in your life, stop to reconnect with God and be at peace, then you will be prepared to deal with those things.

Being at peace before taking action also negates the kneejerk reaction of taking revenge or getting even for something that make have just happen to you – perhaps a social slight or hurtful remark by someone. Being at peace with God and yourself allows you to instead focus your concern on the reason for that action or remark- the pain or misunderstanding that motivated it from the other person. It allows you to reply in concerned love not in hate.  

So, start your day by being at peace with God and yourself through prayer. You do not have to become blissfully uninformed to be happy, but you do need to “be at peace”.

What you can take with you…

August 20, 2020

Today’s post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog used this quote from Denzel Washington – “You never see a U-Haul behind a hearse.” 

It certainly reinforces the truth that one can’t take possessions with them when they die. Even the world’s richest man will be penniless when he stands before St Peter at the pearly gates or before God on his judgement day.

But, there is something that you do take with you to the grave and it doesn’t require a trailer to carry. That something is your reputation – the memories and thoughts that you leave behind with those still on earth – the impressions that you made. That reputation – the record of how you lived your life – is what St. Peter really looks at when deciding if you get through the gates and into heaven. What will your reputation say about you?

Strip away all of the business accomplishments and successes, all of the sports or academic accomplishments, all of the accumulated and prized possessions and what you have left is what was important all along – the impact that your life had on the lives of others.

Was yours a life of striving for accomplishments and reward or one of impacting other people in a positive and supportive  way. Did you receive positional respect or deference out of fear or earn the respect and love of those that you served or helped? Will the obituary in people’s minds when they hear you have passed be “so what” or maybe “good riddance” or will it be one  of fond memories and statements that “he/she will be missed”? Are you consciously striving towards goals of material success or perhaps unconsciously building a reputation as a caring and loving spouse, parent and friend?

There is no reason that one cannot be conscious of the impact that they are having on those with whom they interact. In fact, it is a good idea to put some  thought into that impact before acting.

Maybe as you start your day with as little prayer you can ask for God’s help to be more compassionate, inclusive and unbiased during the day. Ask God to help you be more aware of the needs of others and more willing to act on those needs in your actions and reactions during the day. The simple act of listening can be a powerful starting point. Taking the time to listen to others helps you be aware of he needs all around you. Taking the next step and acting to help with those needs makes a positive impression of being concerned, caring and compassionate. In addition to the Great Commandment to love one another, we were admonished in the Bible – “And be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other, just as God also in Christ forgave you.”  (Ephesians 4:32)

The impressions that you leave behind with the people who lives you touch is the only thing that follows you to the grave. Amassing a consistent collection of those good impressions builds a reputation.  What will be the reputation that you take with you? Will you need a U-Haul to carry all of the good impressions that people had of you? After all that is all that you can take with you.

Don’t talk about it, live it…

August 19, 2020

I save quotes from the Jack’s Winning Words blog and quite often find that 2 or more seem to go together. Today is one of those time when a quote used by Pastor Freed today seems to go well with an earlier quote.

Today he used this quote –

“If you live your religion you will become different.”  (Dom Helder Camara)

And, I had this one saved from an earlier post –

“Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.”  (Steve Martin)

We often see people in the news self-righteously proclaiming their religious beliefs while committing what amounts to crimes or we find out later that the supposedly pious church leader was in fact a pedophile. They were talking about religion, but not living it.

Jesus teaches the Pharisees

I’m not sure that I even like using the word religion in today’s quote, better to use faith or beliefs. The word religion carries with it too much of the baggage of dogma and fabricated doctrine with it. One of the groups that Jesus often took to task in his teaching were the Pharisees and scribes of his day (see Luke 11:37–11:54, Matthew 23:1–23:39 and Mark 12:35–12:40). Those religious posers had allowed their own egos to get in the way of their faith and preferred to talk about their religion, rather than live it.

Living one’s faith does not involve standing on street corners spouting Bible verses or yelling that the world is condemned by its sins. That is not the difference that Helder-Camara was referencing.  The differences are in what you do and how you do those thing, rather than what you say or how you call attention to yourself. The difference is found in acts of kindness and concern for the well-being of others.  The difference is in the feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment that one gets from volunteering to help others, not in any news coverage of that event. The difference is not in calling attention to one’s self and accomplishments but rather in seeing the joy that you bring to others through your actions. You become different when you make a difference in the lives of others.

So, rather than telling someone that you will pray for them, so that they can see how religious yo are, actually do something to help them. Don’t just talk about your faith, put it into action. Volunteer  to help at your local food bank. Work in the background packing food for Meal on Wheels. Make phone calls to shut-ins to see if they are OK. Offer to mow the lawn of that elderly neighbor who can no longer do it himself or herself. It is the sweat from your actions that truly demonstrates your faith, not you words. You will become a different person, a happier person and a person whom others hold up as an example of how to live your faith.

To paraphrase the Nike slogan. Just live it!