Those with no boat at all…

October 12, 2020

“Although we are in different boats, you in your boat and we in our canoe, we share the same river of life.”  (Chief Oren Lyons)

That was the quote from a Native American in today’s post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog. It is easy to conjure up mental images of boats of all type, sizes and color floating or motoring along the vast river of life. One can even imagine clusters of people floating along on inner tubes (perhaps those are the retirees). But it’s harder to imagine being swept along by the river with nothing, no canoe or boat, not even an inner tube; but, that is the fate of the homeless. They are still there, in the river that the rest of us are on, but with no support at all. Perhaps they are just floating on the surface or maybe frantically dog paddling to keep afloat.

There is a tendency to try to ignore those people, lumping them in with the debris that we may also see floating in the river; however, we really can’t ignore the fact that, “there but for the grace of God go I.” They are other human beings; members of our tribe of humans who need and deserve our help. We cannot sweep them under the rug or pretend that they are not there, in the river with us. There may not be room in your boat for another rider; but perhaps there is a spare life vest in your boat that you could toss to them to help. If you look, you may find that there are programs already in place in your area to provide some assistance and help to the homeless. If so, maybe you can volunteer in those programs or at least contribute to them.

There are others floating along the river of life in vessels that are sinking. They may be depressed or suffering other mental issues or perhaps trapped in abusive relationships. Perhaps they have sent up flares of distress for other to see. Again, it is easy to try to look the other way, ignore their calls for help and by-pass their sinking boat, but it is not the right things to do. Hold out your hand and pull them back up as they sink. Sometimes just encouraging them to abandon that abusive, sinking ship is enough

The river of life that we are all on is not always a calm, peaceful stream. It has rough patches, like the rapids in real rivers. There are dangerous rocks and even waterfalls that we must navigate from time to time. Those times test our boats and us. If we have a boat with a strong keel, we have a better chance at survival. The best keel of all for life’s boats is a strong faith in God. That faith will not only keep our boat afloat, but it will also provide us with a rudder of compassion that will guide us to help those that we see along the way who don’t even have a boat.

In the Bible we read – But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 John 3:17). Therefore, the message is to thank God for the strong boat that he has provided for you in order to enjoy life’s ride down life’s river and to be ready to offer help to others whose boat may be sinking or who don’t even have a boat.

We maybe be all ON the river of life, but there are those who are IN the river and need our help. Be ready to throw a lifeline.

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…

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 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!

Have you made up your mind about today?

August 18, 2020

Pastor Freed had an interesting quote today in his blog , Jack’s Winning Words“I’ve made up my mind to never have another bad day in my life.  I dove into an endless sea of gratitude from which I’ve never emerged.”  (Patch Adams) 

Freed wrote that Patch is both a physician and a clown who provides care and relief to children and adults in hospitals around the world. His story was made into a movie in 1998 staring Robin William as Adams. I have this vision in my head of a clown coming into the hospital room wearing his stethoscope. Of the two services that he provides, the relief from the anxiety that his clown persona provides may be the more important to many.

The quote from Dr. Patch not only capsulizes his philosophy for life, but also poses a challenge for all of us. We must each day make up our minds what kind of day we are going to have. Perhaps the key is to be found in the “endless sea of gratitude” that Adams references.

Rather than just jumping into each day, perhaps in anticipation or dread of some event that might happen that day or with a sense of the mindless drudgery ahead, what if we took the time to express our gratitude to God that He has given us another day. What if we asked God for His help to make this a great day? What if we started out each day on that positive note? Would we ever have another bad day? If we make up our minds and start with a prayer for God’s help, I suspect that we can be like Patch and never have another bad day.

The key is having that attitude of gratitude as you face the day. That attitude leads you to other thoughts – How can I do more? How can I do better? Who can I help with their day? You will stop thinking of yourself as the “victim” when problems arise during the day and start, instead, seeing yourself as part of the solution. You can think to yourself, “Well, God knew that this was going to happen, so he must have also equipped me to deal with it.” You know that because we have been told in the Bible – God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Have you made up your mind about today? Are you starting out today with a sense of gratitude and confidence that God will be with you throughout the day? All it takes is a moment of prayer before you head out.  Let us pray.

Now get out there and be part of the solution!

Let it go. Spit it out. Taste the joy.

August 12, 2020

I save many of the little quotes that Pastor Jack Freed uses in his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, because they provide inspiration for posts that I write. Every now and then, I notice that a couple of those saved quotes just seem to be right when one puts them together. Today is one of those days and these are the quotes that I saved over time.

“Suffering is not holding you, you are holding suffering.” – Buddha

“Life is like eating a watermelon.  Spit out the seeds of woe and taste the pulp of joy.”  (Unknown) 

Buddha was a pretty cool dude when it came to sayings that make a lot of sense and explain a lot of things. Likewise, “Unknown” (or Anon as he/she is often called) is always a good source of wisdom.

I’m sure that most of us know someone who just can’t let go of the suffering over some  tragedy or setback in their life – the loss of a loved one or perhaps the disappointment of being passed over for a promotion at work. We often label these people as “long suffering.” They just can’t let it go. They go through life with a mouthful of seeds instead of spitting them out. They never taste the sweet pulp of the melon because they are content to suffer with the seeds of woe. The suffering is not holding them. They are holding onto the suffering, because that has become their life.

If you know someone like that, or perhaps realize that you have become someone like that, it’s time for an interdiction. Help is as close as your bible. In it you will find –

 “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” – John 16:24

Most of the time you will find that long suffers have not stopped and asked God for help. They have not asked God to take away the pain and suffering, and let them get on with living their life. In some cases, they cannot forgive themselves for “things left undone” – missing the chance to say I love you one last time, or letting some sign of distress go unnoticed. If you can just get them to ask by earnestly praying for God’s help, you and they may be amazed at what God can do to take the seeds of woe out of their life and allow them to once again taste the pulp of joy.

Sometimes you may find that these long suffering people have just wandered away from their faith and become confused about why God would allow the tragedy to happen in their lives. There have been tons of articles and books written on the conundrum of why bad things happening to good people and God’s role in both the good and the bad in our lives. They always come back to the same conclusion – that God is not controlling everything that happens in our lives, but that faith in Him can control how we react to those things. It is faith that allows one to let go of the seeds of woe and taste the joy in life. Faith allows us to endure whatever this life throws at us, because we are confident that our next life is going to be wonderful.

These days it is easy on Social Media or maybe with a card to express condolences or offer a word of encouragement to someone who is suffering woes, but that is less helpful that taking some positive action. Perhaps your role is to help that long-suffering person fine their way back to their faith. One small way to help is to offer to pray with them. Prayer is usually a very personal thing, so opening yourself up to them n that way is a very powerful act of kindness and sharing that may allow them to break out of their shell of self-pity and seek God’s help. It also helps them to see that they are not alone, which many suffering woes feel.

If he person that needs help is the person that you see in the mirror every morning, there is nothing more powerful that coming to that conclusion and asking for God’s help. One does not have to say long, ponderous prayers in order to call for God’s help. I have posted here a few times about the short, but extremely powerful, little prayer that I use, “Not my will, but Thy will be done.”  Just saying that little prayer is earnest can help you let go and spit out the seeds of woe. You will then be free to taste the pulp of joy in your life.

Let it go. Spit it out. Taste the Joy.

Turn your “m” upside down to turn your life around…

August 11, 2020

There is a simple way to make a rather dramatic change in the trajectory of your life. It involves letting go of a self-centered approach to life and embracing a life dedicated to the common good of all. I call it turning your “m” upside down – taking the letter “m” from the self-centered word “me” and turning it upside down until it becomes the letter “w” and the word become “we”. It is a conscious effort to consider the impact on others when making decisions in your life and not just yourself. It is also a commitment to be more inclusive, less prejudiced and more open to others – to expand the “we” members in your life.

We became a very me-oriented society sometime in the 1990’s and things have only gotten worse in the new century. It is that focus on “me” that has also increasingly lead to the polarization of society, as people began to seek out and gravitate towards others who thought like “me”. It became the norm to also identify the “them” in our lives who were not like “me” and thus to be vilified. Prejudices whether racial or based upon other factors like sexual preferences are basically a definition of people who are not like “me”. We seek the comfort of others who think like they do because it is less lonely than just “me” and it provides some sense of justification of our beliefs within the anonymity of a group. At the end of the day it is still a “me” reaction to life.

The truth is that we do not and cannot live in a “me” world. The world is not about me and our lives cannot be about that either. Christ did not say “Love yourself”; instead he said love your neighbor as you love yourself. Christ was telling us to take that “m” in me and turn it upside down so that it made the word “we”. Jesus did not tell the rich man to go get more money, more possessions and more power for himself. He told him to sell everything that he had and give the money to the poor. He was trying to help that man see that “we” is more powerful that “me”. Unfortunately, that man wandered off unable to bring himself to turn his “m” upside down.

There are those who have a knee-jerk reaction to any discussion of the “we” aspect of life – the common good for all. They immediately label it as Socialism and, out of their limited understanding of that term and their misguided prejudices, they dismiss it. That reaction is driven by the fear that becoming concerned about “we” means giving up something for “me”. Our lives are about much more than just money and possessions – they are about how we live them. It is time to stop and think about how focused you are upon the “me” and what you can do to turn your “m” upside down and become more about the “we” in your life – your family, your friends and all of the people that you’ve been leaving out because they were not part of “us”.

If you can do that, I think you’ll find that you are living a much more rewarding and fulfilling life. There is happiness, joy and reward to be found in “we” that are missing when you r focus in just upon “me”. Even if the “me” ends up with a little less, the reward to be found in focusing upon “we” more than lakes up for any sacrifice, made by me. The country that consistently ranks as having the happiest society in the world is Finland, followed by Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and The Netherlands. One might ask how societies in such remote and somewhat rugged locations be so happy? In all those countries there are societies more attuned to “we” than just to “me”.  Even our neighbor to the north – Canada – provides an example of how much more friendly a society can be when it is more focused on “we” than “me”.

It all starts with each ”me”. Each me  must each make the individual decision to focus more on the common good and not just on our own good. If enough “me’s” start doing that it will tum into an “us” that we can be proud to be a part of and “we” will all be better off.

What will you do today to turn your “m” upside down and become a “we” person?

Be goofy today…

August 10, 2020

In his blog this morning Pastor Freed used this quote – “You’re never too old to do goofy stuff.”  (Ward Cleaver)

Those who don’t recognize the name Ward Cleaver are probably young enough to do almost anything goofy; however, for those of us who remember watching Leave it to Beaver, Pastor Freed’s post contained the advice that as one gets older it is good to also become wiser about which goofy things one tries. He used the example of getting on a pogo stick, which is probably a bad idea for most people over 70 (maybe even for those over 50).

There are many goofy things that one can do at any stage in life without endangering themselves. I’ve suggested here a few times that you lighten up your life by making a funny (or goofy) face in the mirror in the morning. Many people, especially in their middle age years, become too focused on success in their business lives, too serious and intense to even pay attention to their families, much less to their own mental health needs. We often hear it said that they are driven to success and pursuit of their goals. All too often those “driven” people are not happy people. Do you know someone like that?

Some business coaching articles and books would have us believe that we should learn to imitate those driven individuals, to use their techniques of focus and drive as role models for our own lives. There is an underlying thought in that advice which assumes that accomplishment of some or all of those business goals will equate to happiness. That is seldom the case. The accomplishment of success-oriented business goals must often just leads to the setting of bigger and higher goals – getting to the next level – which leads to even more intensity and drive. It never seems to be enough.

Yet many people who have not achieved notable success in the business world are happier by far. Why is that? Perhaps it is because they have focused more upon the important things in life – their faith in God and the personal relationships in their lives. A grandpa who spends time on the floor doing goofy things with his grandchildren is often more happy that the Grandpa who convenes a board meeting of his company.  The person that has a strong relationship with God is more likely to be happy with what he/she has than to be driven to accumulate more things, more money, more power. That person is also more free to do goofy things that they enjoy than the person driven by schedules and concerns about how things might look to others if they did something goofy.

Maybe you should add a line to your prayers and ask God to “Let me find something goofy to do today.”  It will lighten up your day and free you to focus upon what’s really important in life. Just remember to be goofy safely.

Have a goofy day and stay off of pogo sticks!

Keep a little Peter Pan in your life…

August 7, 2020

“The Peter Pans of the human race never grow up, and they keep their curiosity.”  (Isidor Isaac Rabi)

That was the quote in today’s installment of the Jack’s Winning Words blog. One doesn’t have to be a Peter Pan to keep al little of that magic, curiosity and wonder in their lives. I’ve posted here a few times about not taking life so seriously that we forget how to play or have the wonder and fun of a child. Some take the phrase “grow up” to mean give up that wonder, curiosity and fun and become a somber, and sometimes unhappy, adult.

Certainly the responsibilities that you assume for yourself and others as you grow up become more serious and, at times, more weighty; however, they really don’t require that you completely give up that childlike curiosity and wonder at things or that you stop allowing yourself to have unbridled fun. Many suppress the child that is still within them so thoroughly that they become “grumpy old men (or women)”. Some become depressed because they will not ever allow that child out to play and their world become gloomy and threatening.

An interesting side effect of having a strong faith is that it empowers you to allow your inter child out – to keep a little Peter Pan in your life. It does that when you realized that God has forgiven you for all of your sins and loves you no matter what. That frees you also to love yourself and to rediscover that innocent joy that you had as a child. Faith says, lighten up, you are saved; appreciate and enjoy your days on earth and look forward to what is to come.

A strong faith also allows you to stop worrying about things that you cannot change anyway and refocus your curiosity on the things and people around you. You can replace worry with learning and fear with understanding. Aren’t you curious about how different your life would be if you didn’t spend so much time worrying about how it is? Discover the wonders in life that are available through faith. Keep a little Peter Pan in your life.

With God’s help, be the storm…

July 27, 2020

Today’s post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog proved to be the perfect set up to use a quote that I saved from an earlier post. In today’s post Pastor Freed used this quote –

“God sometimes does His work with a gentle drizzle, not storms.”  (John Newton)

We sometimes only think of God, or call on Him, when life gets stormy. Hopefully, for most of us life isn’t all that rough and God comes into our lives in the more gentle settings of loving and faithful homes or in our Sunday School classes and church services.

But, for some, life may seem to be a constant battle with storms all around buffeting and tossing them. Perhaps it is the demands of their jobs or the obligations that they have at home. Maybe it something like the Corona Virus Pandemic upending everything else that they had to hold onto in life. Whatever it is they can begin to feel like warriors engaged in constant battle. Many of our front line health care workers probably feel that way each day as they head into work.

For those who feel embattled, seeking God’s help allows them to take up the mantle of the warrior and face the storm anew each day. For those people another quote from Jack’s blog has stuck for some time in the back of my mind –

“Fate whispers to the warrior ‘you cannot withstand the storm’ … the warrior whispers back ‘I am the storm.’” (Author Unknown)

Saying a little prayer before heading into battle with whatever you are facing each day can provide you with the armor, shield and sword of God to help you be the warrior you need to be. We read in Ephesians 6:10-18 about the armor of God.

So, before heading out today check the mirror; not to see if your hair is OK or your tie is straight, but to take the time to say a little prayer and  make sure that you have God’s armor on.

Who or what can stand against you and God?

Be a warrior. Whisper to yourself – “I am the storm”.