But, what ought we to do?

January 8, 2020

Jack Freed used this quote today in his blog, Jack’s Winning Words“There are two freedoms…the false where one is free to do what he likes; the true where one is free to do what he ought.”  (Charles Kingsley)

I suspect that, upon reading that quote, most immediately thought of the first example of freedom that the quote references. Indeed, it is that self-centered, self-righteous and uncaring definition of freedom to do whatever we like that is at the root of much of today’s political and social turmoil. The “freedom” that some proclaim they are seeking is really a form of anarchy, with little to no concern for the welfare of others. They say, “I’ve got my health care covered and I don’t care about you having none” or maybe, “I’ve got a home and food on the table. Go find your own place to live and food to eat, but don’t bother me.” That is not really freedom; it is a formula for the failure of a society.

So, how is doing what one ought to do – caring for others, helping others, sacrificing for others – the real freedom?  It begins by first accepting Jesus into your life, as written in John 8:32 – “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

But, free to do what?We can see what we ought to be doing in the Bible in Galatians 5:14 –  For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And, again in Galatians 6:2 – Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Maybe figuring out what we ought to be doing isn’t that hard after all. The hard part is letting go of the self-interest and self-centeredness that is so prevalent in our society today.

Freedom is not all about you doing whatever you want. It’s about you seeing what needs to be done to help others around you and taking what actions you can to provide that help. Maybe you are barely providing for your own family with what you make at work. You probably still have some spare time that you could use to help others. Volunteer at a homeless shelter, drive for Meals on Wheels, work in the local food bank sorting food or maybe stuffing food in backpacks for the local Blessings-in-a-Backpack program. There are tons of ways to help others available in any community.

Do what you ought to be doing and what you know is right. Start by embracing Jesus in your life and the rest will come naturally. Set yourself free.

Stepping off in the right direction…

January 7, 2020

In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed shared these quotes – “Tip-toe if you must, but take the step.”  (Unknown)  Laurie sent this quote along with the advice…“Sometime the smallest step in the right direction turns out to be the biggest step of your life.” 

Back in May of 2014 (doesn’t that seem like a long time ago, now), I wrote about taking the journey to success – see  https://normsmilfordblog.com/2014/05/03/start-your-journey-to-success/. I was focused then upon the planning and  preparatory steps, as much as the journey itself. The movie What about Bob, was about Bob learning to take “baby steps” in his journey through an angst filled life.

But what about me or you? Maybe the key word in Laurie’s quote from above is the word “right”. How do we know what is the right direction in which to step off on our journey through life?

When it comes to directions, most of us have abandoned the use of maps and embraced the modern convenience of GPS systems, either in our phones or in our cars (or both).  We just poke in an address and the GPS system shows and tells us how to get there, with turn-by-turn instructions . If only navigating through life were as simple.

Perhaps it is. We all have a life directions GPS available to us, if we only know how to use it – it is called faith. If we call upon God to guide us through life we will never be lost and we will always get to the destination that he has in mind for us. We may not always understand the route that he is taking us on; however, if we trust in Him we will get to where we are supposed to be. The interesting thing is that we start out the journey with an unknown end- point, but we have faith that we will end up at the right place. If we really trust God we can then relax and enjoy the journey.

Perhaps we should start each day by checking in with God to set our direction for the day. It’s OK to let him know where you think you’d like to end up – what your goals are for the day – but you need to end your daily GPS reset by resetting your belief and faith that where ever you end up is where God wanted you to be. The easiest and quickest way to reset you r GPS for life is by saying the little prayer – “Not my will, but thy will be done.”  Then step off in the direction in which God has pointed you and enjoy the journey. Perhaps that will be the biggest step in your life.

Step off in the right direction today.

Is God your Obi Wan?

January 6, 2020

Jack used this quote from Star Wars in today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words“Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”  (Princess Leia)

For many the entire Start Wars saga was always a thinly disguised tale of faith and religion. The battle of good vs. evil and the mysterious “Force” seeming to take their cues from various religious beliefs. It does not take a giant leap to imagine substituting the word God for Obe Wan Kenobi in the quote above or using “God” instead of “Force” in the phrase “May the Force be with you.”

Jack asked the question in his post, “Who is your Obe Wan?” Within the context of characters in the Star Wars movies, he chose Yoda as his Obe Wan. Many men might identify with Obe Wan, or perhaps Luke Skywalker or maybe Hans Solo. Jack did write that Princess Leia was the most popular character of all.  

In creating the Star Wars universe and saga, George Lucas took advantage of our need to find a way to equate God to things that we can see and experience. He turned our faith into the Force and gave faces to characters who might otherwise have been angels or spirits. He created the epic struggle of good vs. evil by creating a host of fallen angels that he called “the Dark Side.” Whether the Emperor or Darth Vader represented the Devil is open to question, since both were portrayed as evil personified.

The whole Star Wars phenomena is just one example of man’s need to try to put God and faith into some smaller, more familiar context that he can understand.  The whole of religion is really man’s attempt to explain God and faith by creating structure, rules, and pageantry that the common person can relate to and practice. Most religions have developed elaborate explanations of what life after death will be like. There are many names for where we supposedly go – Heaven, Valhalla,  Swarga Loka, Nirvana, Jannah, and Tiān are just a few of the places where people believe that souls go after death.

Man’s imagination is so limited that he must couch things like heaven in familiar terms and descriptions that he can understand. It is that mental barrier between what we can understand and what we can just accept and believe that holds man back from a better relationship with God. If, instead of Obe Wan Kenobe, we said and truly believed, “Help me God, you are my only hope”; we might experience the relationship with God that He has in mind for us. Trying to understand God and putting Him in our own small context is a manifestation of our own egos.  It is that leap of faith that we take when we finally admit that “I don’t understand, but I believe” that clears the way for a direct relationship with God. One cannot understand “the peace that passes all understanding” by continuing to struggle to understand it. Just accept it.

So, make God your Obe Wan and the Force will be with you. Have a great week ahead. May God be with you.

Epiphany, what’s Epiphany?

January 4, 2020

Monday, January 6, is Epiphany, a day to remember the three wise men who journeyed bearing gifts  to see the baby Jesus. If you Google Epiphany you will get lots of information about how it is celebrated in other countries, some with parades of people dressed up as the Wise Men. Not so much in the United States. In fact, I’m surprised that some merchants aren’t advertising Epiphany sales, since they seem to take every opportunity to have a sale.  

If you Google Epiphany, one of the suggested definitions is for the term “epiphany moment”, which is more how we use the word today, From the Google definition –  

Epiphany is an “Aha!” moment. As a literary device, epiphany (pronounced ih-pif–uh-nee) is the moment when a character is suddenly struck with a life-changing realization which changes the rest of the story. Often, an epiphany begins with a small, everyday occurrence or experience.

 For Christians, that small, everyday occurrence was the birth of Jesus. That event certainly changed things in our lives.  Churches will celebrate Epiphany this weekend, but few of us in the pews probably give it a lot of thought. After all, there are no Epiphany decorations that we can put up and Monday isn’t even a national holiday. It is however, the end of the 12 days of Christmas and does provide us with yet another opportunity to pause and thank God for sending us His Son – that was our “epiphany moment”

I have found a way to at least acknowledge Epiphany at my house. Every year, as part of our  Christmas decorations, I light up a large star of Bethlehem decoration that is placed on the second floor of the house. It can be seen from quite a distance. So, even though I took down the rest of the Christmas decorations yesterday, the star remains lit up at night, through Epiphany. It is a symbol of the star that guided the Wise Men to the manger in Bethlehem. I  hope that it give pause for reflection to those who see it as they come over the hill towards my house.

How do you celebrate Epiphany? Did you even know or remember that Monday is Epiphany? Does one say Happy Epiphany as a greeting? On Easter Morning we greet other Christians by saying, “He is risen”; maybe for Epiphany we should greet others with the phrase, ”He is born”. Was the birth of Jesus so long ago an epiphany moment in your life? Maybe Monday will be different from all other Monday’s this year, if you pause to reflect on that epiphany moment so long ago that lives on today.

Let Epiphany change your life.

A new year…A new you?

January 1, 2020

I saw a quote on the music channel recently that seems apropos for today-

“Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves – regret for the past and fear of the future.” – Fulton Oursler

If that description fit for you, perhaps it’s time for a change. Today is the perfect day to start changing your life. Yesterday was a day to look back on the events of the past year. Today is the day to look ahead to the New Year and resolve to make the changes that are necessary in your life to make it better. Why? Because what happens next is really up to you. It’s your destiny.

William Jennings Bryan said it best – “Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved.”

I also like this quote attributed to Unknown – “One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.”

So, use today as your starting point. Take note of your current situation, not with regret; but, so that you can measure your progress as you move in that new direction. Don’t let yourself think that it’s too late for you to change. Bikram Choudhury said -“Never too old, never too bad, never too late, never too sick to start from scratch once again.”

A big roadblock to change for some is just recognizing the things that need work – that need to change. What to change in order to make a difference in your life is often as simple as adjusting your attitude, your outlook on life. There is a fine line between being realistic and being pessimistic. The pessimist sees the challenges ahead and admits defeat before he even starts. A realistic person sees those same challenges and begins formulating a plan to overcome them. The line that separates the two is called optimism. It is better to be an optimistic realist than a pessimist any day.

Maybe you can decide today that you are going to start each day looking forward to what is to happen, rather than dreading it. A big part of looking forward is having goals that you are working towards. Those goals may be short or long term and most will usually have multiple steps along the way, so chose a step that must be taken and make that your goal for today. Another part is confidence that, no matter what comes your way, you are prepared to deal with it. That confidence comes when you develop a good problem solving method and stick to it. See my post on Problem Solving 101 for a start on that.

You will quickly find that the world is a much better place when you approach it with a positive, upbeat attitude. People will enjoy being around you and in many cases that leads to more success in business, as well as in life. Not only that; you will actually enjoy life more when you spend less time in the dark dungeon of despair and more time in the sunshine of happiness. That will happen when you decide to heed the advice of Anthony J. D’Angelo –  “Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine.”  Once you decide to do that, you will not spend time in the darkness of despair because, as Helen Kellor once said – “Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.”

So, use today to reset your outlook on life. The choice of what to do in the coming year is really a no-brainer. Find an optimistic happy place and vow to stay there this year. Don’t dread what life throws at you; rather, relish the opportunities to overcome adversity and learn from your mistakes on your journey to your goals.

Have a great New Year by becoming a new you!

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!

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?