You have to work at it…

September 19, 2020

A recent post in the Jack’s Winning Words blog featured this quote – “Seek wisdom, not knowledge. Knowledge is of the past, Wisdom is of the future.” – Lumbee

Certainly, that is good advice, but it immediately brought up the question of how does one seek wisdom. One dictionary definition of wisdom  is –

the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.

Also found on the internet – “The primary difference between the two words is that wisdom involves a healthy dose of perspective and the ability to make sound judgments about a subject while knowledge is simply knowing. Anyone can become knowledgeable about a subject by reading, researching, and memorizing facts. … Wisdom is knowing when to say it or how to apply that knowledge.”

We often refer to older people as being wise or having wisdom, mainly because they have the perspective of age to look back over things that they experienced in life and draw conclusions about how to act in the future. Some people “never learn” and repeat the same mistakes in life over and over. They are seldom known as wise people.

The Bible is full of advice about wisdom, how to gain it, how to apply it and how to differentiate between the wise man and the fool. A couple of Bible passages that I found seemed to resonate –

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5)

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17)

Many of the quotes about wisdom in the Bible are about seeking and making use of advice. I think the first quote above offers the best advice for where to seek wisdom- ask God for His help. Asking God for help understanding things that happen in life puts them into a perspective from which one can better accept and understand them – thus, become wise from them.

The second quote speaks to the type of wisdom that God grants us by using words like “peaceable”, “gentle”, and “impartial”.  God’s wisdom allows us to be “open to reason”, “full of mercy” and “sincere”. As you think about becoming wise, what more could you hope to achieve than what is found in those words?

I think a key to tuning knowledge into understanding and wisdom is that you have to work at it. Asking God for help in prayer is working at it. Taking time to cool down and think about what just happened before you react is working at it. Pausing to think before you speak is working at it. Turning the other cheek, rather than striking back, is working at it. Refusing to allow kneejerk reactions to people or events dictate the course of your life is working at it.

One can accumulate knowledge without effort, but one achieves wisdom by working at it. Take some time each morning to reflect on the events of the immediate past and ask God to help you turn that knowledge into wisdom.

You have to work at it…

Be the Somebody…

September 15, 2020

Few people ever get into a position of power or influence that allows them to effect changes at a state, regional or national level; however, all of us can heed the call to action that Pastor Freed posted today in his blog, Jack’s Winning Words – from the rapper Nellie – “If we don’t heal our ‘hood, who will?” 

I have a tendency, as I suspect many do, while watching the nightly news casts, reading the paper or seeing things posted on-line to say things like “Somebody ought to do something about that”, or maybe “Somebody ought to fix that.” Those a cop-outs. The somebody who needs to do something is I. How can I look at a story in the news about systemic racism and not examine my own contribution to that problem- my fears or preconceived notions that lead me to jump to racist conclusions upon encountering a black person or to pull back for no good reason when encountering a member of the LBGTQ community. I am the somebody who needs to do something and that something starts with me.

I’m not sure that I would buy the argument from someone that they didn’t realize that they were reacting or acting in a prejudiced manner. The truth more likely is that they did know, but were not ready to change. Their kneejerk reactions to people different from them has nothing to do with the knee part of that label. They really have not come to the realization that their actions/reactions were sometimes hurtful and always wrong. Unfortunately, unlike plea deals in the law, there is no way to plead no contest to this realization. There is only right and wrong. Own up to whatever it is that you know you have been doing wrong and then (and only then) you can move on to be the Somebody who changes things and heals your hood.

Maybe a good way to start each day is to take the time when looking into your mirror (whether shaving or putting on makeup) is to ask yourself, “What can I do today to make a positive difference in my life or the life of someone else?” In the pause that will follow, I’m almost sure that something will come to mind about yourself that you could work on changing or improving. It will also help set your mind into a proactive mode to work for changes in your hood – to make things better for all.

 So, who will heal our hood? The healing has to start with somebody. Be the Somebody!

It is how you make the journey, not how far you get…

September 14, 2020

In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed used this Native American blessing –  “May every sunrise bring you hope.  May every sunset bring you peace.”

Freed went on to comment upon how the Native American view of the Great Spirit in nature that was all around them in nature influenced their lives. He lamented the lack of such recognition of God in our lives in modern times.

Perhaps the bridge between the hopes that we have at the beginning of a day and the peace one seeks at the end of each day rests on how one conducts oneself during the day. Maybe a little prayer at the beginning would help – “Dear God, please be with me today as I pursue my hopes and help me conduct myself in such a way that I will be without regrets and find peace at the end of this day”.

Things that you’ve done or those things that you left undone drive regrets. Both of those are conscious choices and not just happenstance. So, at each decision point during the day, stop and ask yourself, “Will I regret doing (or not doing) this at the end of the day?” Often just taking that little pause to think will help you make better decisions and be at peace with yourself at the end of the day.

Each day is a journey. Each has its own hopes and goals. Some days you may find that you quickly achieve your hopes and goals. On other days frustrating obstacles may pop up that prevent achieving anything towards your goals and hopes. Sometimes achieving peace at the end of one of those frustrating days is very hard. That is when you must be able to let the frustrations go, put them behind yourself and renew your hopes for a better day tomorrow. Just remind yourself that it is not how far you get each day, but rather how you conducted yourself that day.

Here is another bit of Native American wisdom that I recently saw –

“When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.” – Cherokee

Be at peace at the end of every day.

Something wonderful will happen today…

September 10, 2020

In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed used this quote from Elvis Presley – “Every time I think that I’m getting old and gradually going to the grave, something else happens.”  Jack went on to writer that Presley died at the relatively young age of 42. Jack also repeated the oft-heard phrase that “you’re as old as you feel”.

It is an interesting phenomenon that the mind does not sense age. In my mind, I don’t feel any difference between how I felt as a younger man; however, my body provides many cues to my physical age  that my mind cannot completely ignore. There are limitations that weren’t there a few years ago, as well as aches and pains that seem to linger. The good news is that Presley was right, something new is always happening to keep life interesting.

American Country singer and songwriter Lee Ann Womack has a great quote about this – “I hope you never lose your sense of wonder. You get your fill to eat, but always keep that hunger. May you never take one single breath for granted. God forbid love ever leave you empty handed.”

It seems to me that the ability to maintain a sense of wonder and gratitude about each day of your life is a key to a long life. Being thankful to God for each day and approaching each new day with a sense of anticipation that something wonderful is going to happen puts one in the right frame of mind to enjoy each day.

Sometimes the “something wonderful” is obvious when it happens – an unexpected encounter or the happenstance of good fortune – but most of the time you have to look for it. If you start each day with the goal of finding that “something wonderful”, you will find it. It may be something that you “see” every day, but which you never noticed before. It may be in the rekindling of an old friendship or perhaps reinvigorating the love of a partner that you had started taking for granted. It can be an extremely small thing or something big. The key is that you recognize it, appreciate it and maybe even savor it. You can go to bed tonight with memories that something happened today and anticipation that something else will happen tomorrow. Make sure that you take the time to thank God for both.

In addition to anticipating that something wonderful to happen to or for you today, you should also start out each day with the goal in mind to make something wonderful happen for someone else today. It is easy to be the unexpected and pleasant surprise in someone’s day by just saying hello with a smile to people that you meet. Any of the gestures of kindness, concern or empathy that you extend to others today may be the “Something wonderful” in their day (and in yours if you really think about it). A side benefit of your acts of kindness is that feeling good about things means that you don’t have time to feel old.

So, start today by thanking God for another day and for another opportunity for something wonderful to happen in your life and for your to be the “something wonderful” in the life of someone else. Then go out and find that something wonderful. Look for it. You’ll never grow tired or old, if you keep looking for God’s wonder in your life and keep being the something wonderful in the lives of others.

Have a great and wonderful day!

Step off in a new direction…

September 9, 2020

In today’s post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog, Pastor Freed used a quote that was sent to him by one of his fans – “Sometime the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life.  Tip-toe, if you must, but take the step.” (Sent by Kitty)

I don’t know about you, but that quote immediately brought to mind the movie What About Bob and the baby steps that Jack was encouraged to take. I suspect that Kitty’s tip-toe steps and Bob’s baby steps are the same- a small move in a new direction.

Many of us come to those points in life where decisions must be made about our future direction. Some of those decision points are forced upon us by radical and sudden changes – a death, a divorce, loss of a job, a pandemic. Whatever the source of the need for a newdecision, there are usually right and wrong directions from which to choose. It is often difficult to realize that one of the choices is wrong for you and many times the right decision looks pretty scary when you are standing there facing it. Don’t let yourself be paralyzed into inaction by the need to make those choices. Step off in that new direction, even if your first few steps are baby steps (tip-toing).

walking man

In the movie What about Bob, Richard Dreyfuss played the role of a psychiatrist to whom Bob became dependently attached. Dreyfuss’s character represented the touchstone of help and security for Bob and helped him take baby steps in the right new direction. In our lives God is the touchstone that we need to help us with decisions to move in the right (new) direction. We can find the comfort and security we need to take those steps through prayer and seeking God’s help and direction. Whether it is dealing with the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, the loss of a job, or some other crisis and decision point in our lives; we can take our fears and uncertainly to God in prayer and find help with those decisions.

I think God gives us all an innate sense of right and wrong, but some development the ability to ignore what they know is right in pursuit of wealth or power even if the things that they must do0 to achieve it are wrong. Stopping to let God remind us what is right can prevent making so many wrong decision for all of the wrong reasons. Prayer may also let one lift the burdens of guilt or remorse from their shoulders, by allowing us to forgive ourselves, as we know that God forgives us. Many timers it is that guilt or feeling of responsibility for past actions (or inaction) that freezes us in place. We can move in any new direction when we are consumed by that remorse.

So, today, before you start your day; stop and take your fears, remorse, or concerns to God and ask Him to help you make baby steps in the right new direction. How will you know that it is the right direction? Do you have any doubts in God’s ability to choose right from wrong? It’s really just a matter of trust in Him. Whatever direction He takes you in is the right direction, because it is what He has in mind for you.  

Have a prayer and then take that first step in your new direction!

Durable Goods?

September 8, 2020

I grew up with a definition of “Durable Goods” in mind that apparently no longer includes many of the items that used to fall in to that category, especially home appliances. A durable home appliance, at least in my mind, lasts for many years, as in 10 or more. Not so for many of today’s appliances. My KitchenAid side-by-side refrigerator stopped working over the weekend. It is about 5-6 years old, which in my mind is not a long time for a major appliance. When I Googled best long lasting refrigerator, one of the sites that came up had a telling graphic that showed an old 50’s style refrigerator with “lasts an average of 20 years” written across the picture and a picture of modern stainless steel, side by side with the words “lasts an average of 7 years” emblazoned across it . That really tells it all.

Yet when I started reading things about repairing appliances on the internet not only is that apparently a typical lifespan for a refrigerator, but trying to repair them is a futile effort. We have become a throwaway society, even for our “durable goods”. I think it was the wholesale use of plastic in appliances that used to be made of metal that lead to this sorry state of affairs, The more that I read reviews from irate customers the more it became apparently theta the relentless drive to save money by the manufactures has led to great looking, but very fragile appliances in almost every category. So, now I have a great looking stainless steel hulk sitting in my kitchen, instead of that trusty and long lasting harvest gold antique that was still working fine the day that I upgraded to my fancy new fridge.

Trying to get a repair person out to look at it is another story. I called around and sometime (indeterminate) in the next week or two was the best reply that I got. While reading reviews of the various appliance repair companies that I found on Google it became clear that dealing with most of them is a crap-shoot. I suspect that the customers had higher expectations of the appliances being repaired than is warranted by the quality of modern appliances. We have been conditioned over time to just throw them away and buy another. It’s good for the economy, don’t you know.

So, I started looking on-line for a replacement. We decided to try to buy a refrigerator only this time, since we have a couple of freezers that can provide sufficient freezer space for us. Try looking for refrigerators without freezers some time. There aren’t many and virtually none are kept on the showroom floor of the local appliance retailers. Apparently, one has to order on-line, based solely on the pictures that are there. At one appliance store asked if I could return a refrigerator that I ordered that way and was told, “sure, as long as you refuse it at delivery.” I guess if I said, “no, take it back” before it was unboxed and installed I could return it; however, once the delivery and set-up has been done it is mine, with no return. I think not.

The other disturbing thing that one discovers when doing some on-line due diligence research is that many of the new refrigerators have a very high rate of failure within first two to three years and that most refrigerators come only with a one year manufacturer’s warranty. There were post after post of unhappy customers complaining also about multiple failures, even after the units were repaired under warranty. Several quoted the repair technicians as stating that the appliance companies saved money on “Energy Star” rated appliances by putting in compressors that are too small, but which used less energy when running. The trouble is that they have to run more and work harder to keep the unit cold; and thus they fail quicker. It came as no surprise that the answer to a customer question about where most of the various brands are manufactured came back with China as he answer. We tend to have some left over and unwarranted brand loyalty for certain brands; however the truth is that are only a very few companies that own all of those brands and they are all made in China, even if the brand is  Whirlpool or RCA or GE or Frigidaire or Kitchenaid.

So I guess I have to go find a new durable goods refrigerator with the expectation that it will really only last a few years. That is hardly durable in my mind, especially for something that cost as much or more than my phone. But then again, who would have thought that I would be paying north of $1,000 for a phone. And don’t even get me started about the cable/internet bill.

Rant over!  You may return to your regularly scheduled blog reading. The normal Norm’s Milford Blog posts will return tomorrow.

Don’t dwell…Do something…

September 5, 2020

One of the quotes that I saved from the Jack’s Winning Words blog some time back seemed appropriate to comment on this morning –

“Don’t dwell on went wrong.  Instead, focus on what to do next.”  (Denis Waitley)

The word dwell caught my attention. As I often do when wondering about a word, I Googles it and one of the results that came back was this…

5 Ways to Stop Dwelling on Negative Thoughts

  • Go Shopping in Your Mind. One distraction trick is to visualize yourself in the grocery store.
  • Keep Positive Company. If you can’t get troublesome feelings out of your mind, it may have something to do with your social circle.
  • Physically Throw Them Away. (I guess one could write them down on a piece of paper and then throw that paper in the trash)
  • Have a Cup of Tea.
  • Reframe Your Situation. (One example of reframing is redefining a problem as a challenge. Such a redefinition activates a different way of being. Problem has a heavy quality to it, while the notion of a challenge is enlivening.)

I think I get most of the advice, except maybe the cup of tea. Perhaps that advice was posted by someone in England. In America that might have read “Have a glass of wine”.

Most of the advice is really how to force (or trick) yourself to stop thinking about whatever it is, which would then allow you to refocus on the “what’s next” part. In that part of the quote, where the word “do” is the important word. The thinking involved in dwelling on a failure or a disappointment actually does nothing to resolve the situation in which you find yourself. It is in the doing that you are able to move ahead with life.

Sometimes you may start doing something to resolve the situation and realize that you are going in the wrong direction; but, at least you started doing instead of just dwelling on it and you can change direction and keep going. Your mind will be focused on the proposed solution or the new direction and not on the past.

The year 2020 will go down as one that gave us plenty of opportunities to dwell on failures or disappointments. With all of the things that have been canceled or delayed, it is easy to dwell in a stupor of disappointment and disgust. Blaming government leaders for what they did or didn’t do is a wasteful pastime of little real help – it is just dwelling upon the past. We must focus upon what to do next. A part of that is doing the things that are advised by our health-care professionals to contain the spread of the virus while we await a vaccine. Every time you put on your mask, think of it as “doing “ your part to help contain the virus.

A big and more positive thing to do about 2020 is to plan the rescheduling of the things that have been delayed. One must continue to believe that there will be a future and that events that have been delayed will take place in that future. Perhaps the song Tomorrow from the movie Annie would help. There will be a tomorrow.

Rather than dwell in the dumps about things that didn’t go as you had hoped they would in 2020, spend your time planning and doing things about making 2021 a great year. It will be remembered as the year that we all unmasked and got on with life.

Don’t dwell, do something.

Don’t play the mime…

September 4, 2020

I’ve had a quote of my own bouncing around in the back of my mind for some time – “Don’t try to confine God to the tiny box of your own imagination” (Norm Werner)

That thought always conjures up the image of a mime pretending to be trapped in a glass box. We’ve probably all seen that mime retune played out somewhere. Yet we all play the mime when we pretend that God can somehow be confined to the tiny box that is our own imagination. Most of us have grown up seeing pictures of paintings of Jesus and God that were created by artists. Somehow, the son of a Jewish carpenter in the middle east turned out to be an blonde Anglo-Saxon man, at least as imagined by those artists who created those great Renaissance paintings.

National Geographic did a story with pictures of what a typical Jewish man of that era and location might have looked like and it is nothing like the images that we have in mind. How many have ever seen the image that they paint of what Jesus might have looked like hanging on a wall?

That is just one example of the mistakes that we make when we try to imagine God and even Jesus, because are trapped in the mime box of our own imaginations. It is the ultimate act of human hubris that we imagine God in our own image. We take that limited imagination further when we try to imagine life after death and what heaven will be like. Almost all religions have some sort of definition of the afterlife or the next life, some description of what awaits us after death. Most of those descriptions are constrained by the glass box imaginations of those trying to define what they will be like. They all start off, “It will be like…” and then start describing things here on earth that they can relate to in this life.

The bible give us hints that God and his power is well beyond our limited ability to understand or even to image.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phillipians 4: 6-7)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  (Proverbs 3:5)

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.  (Isaiah 55:9)

What we must lean upon is faith, not understanding. Our view of the afterlife must be based upon the belief that, “I don’t know what it will be like, but I believe that it will be great.” We are not called to understand but to believe. We are called to have faith.

Also, don’t be a mime in your faith; don’t become trapped in the small glass box of your own imagination. God and heaven is so much more than we can ever imagine. There is much joy to be found in exploring the realms beyond your own imagination. Get out of your glass boxes and let your mind soar through the realm of faith.

Have faith and the rest will take care of itself.

What’s next for you?

September 2, 2020

In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, pastor Freed used this quote from Denis Waitley –

“Don’t dwell on went wrong.  Instead, focus on what to do next.” 

He recounted how Waitley’s advice is often paraphrased as “Get over it” and explained that in that context the word over is actually a contraction of the word “recover”.

So, when things go wrong, we are to recover and move on. Many people have a tough time with the recovery part, much less moving on. They allow themselves to become trapped in the panic, anger  or grief of the moment of a setback or loss and end up lashing out blindly in response or wallowing in self-pity instead of moving on.

It takes a conscious effort to recover from a traumatic event in one’s life and make no mistake, many events are traumatic. The dictionary defines traumatic as an adjective meaning “emotionally disturbing or distressing.” Things like a rejection of affections or being passed over for a promotion or the death of a loved one can have as large of a traumatic impact upon us and a physical injury event. Such traumas often cause physical responses as well as physiological ones. The traumatized person may look flushed, their blood pressure may rise and they may even faint.

What is one to do to stop the trauma and begin recovery? The word “stop” is the key. One must be able to come to a complete stop mentally and step back from the thoughts and emotions that are driving the trauma. That is not easy, but making it an overt and conscious effort helps. Imagine mentally screaming STOP in your mind (maybe even say it out oud if you are alone). If you can stop the stream of thoughts that were consuming you, then you can take the next step and admit to yourself that it happened, it’s over and there is nothing that you can do to change the past. That will allow you to refocus upon the future – the what’s next step.

For Christians there is an important middle step that comes after the STOP and before the next step. It is the step where they ask for God’s help. They have just stopped thinking about the past and may be unsure of the future, but they reach out through their faith to the one sure thing in their lives – the undying love of God for them – and seek His help. Whether you use the little prayer “not my will but thy will be done” or maybe use a sports phrase “little help here, God” the important things is that you made the call to God and He will answer. He will give you the strength to carry on and recover. He will show you what’s next.

We see interesting stories quite often in the news about people who have suffered traumatic losses of loved ones – a parent, a spouse or a child – going on to found movements or charitable organizations to help others going through the same thing or perhaps to avoid a repeat of that trauma. The Mothers Against Drunk Driving organization started that way, as did organizations like AA and NA. For the founders of those organizations the “What’s next” was a call to action to work against that type of trauma.

Most of us will probably not go on to found and lead a non-profit organization, but we can join organizations that already exist in our community and find some solace in working to help others facing the same issues. We can learn how to share the experience that traumatized us in such a way that it helps others avoid the mistakes that we may have made. Being able to verbalize both the trauma and our own recovery helps them and us.

If one is on fire the advice is “stop, drop and roll”. For the “fire “of a trauma in our lives, perhaps the advice should be “stop, pray, recover.” Let’s put that on a T-shirt and wear it for others to see.

What’s next for you? Ask God. He’s got something in mind for you.

What do you worship?

September 1, 2020

Today Pastor Freed commented upon making money your focus with this quote in his Jack’s Winning Words blog  – “Make money your god, and it will plague you like the devil.”  (Henry Fielding) 

The same could be said about power as a focus, or anything else that is of this world. The devil uses the appeal of gaining things of this world to temp humankind away from God. Remember how the devil tried to use that same approach to tempt Jesus in the dessert –

Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory;  and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’”  – Matthew 4: 8-10

The devil has refined his approach and made it much more subtle, but it is still the same pitch to turn away from God and towards the devil by becoming focused (worshiping) things of this world – money, power, success, etc.

It is easy to convince yourself that you are only doing what is necessary to provide for the needs of your family and to rationalize that nothing could be wrong with that. But, those who worship the acquisition of material things and power don’t stop at fulfilling the needs of their family because they become addicted to the allure of more – More Money, More Power, more Glory. For them more is the goal and they believe that only by achieving more will they be happy; but more never seems to be enough. There always seems to be something missing.

That something that is missing in their lives is God. A side-effect of worshiping the things that the devil offers is a sense of loneliness and of being incomplete.  The devil never said “I am with you always”, only God said that through Jesus. So, one can sit there like the old cartoon of Scrooge McDuck, in a vault full of money, or surrounded by all of the things that one has bought, and realize that they are alone. One can sit atop a business or government empire and feel the sense of loneliness that power brings.

At the other end of those same spectrums of human achievement are the poor and powerless who are nonetheless happy because they have a profound relationship with God. You see them in newscasts as the people who have just lost everything to some disaster but who are nonetheless thankful to God just to be alive. You see them as the powerless protesters who continue to march for justice. You see them in stories about members of families who have suffered a death at the hands of a violent person forgiving that person and saying that they will pray for them.

How can those people possibly be happy or forgiving? They have focused upon something other than things of this world. They have God in their lives and for them that is enough. They worship God and not things that the devil offers. They never feel alone.

What do you worship?