Who are you becoming?

May 1, 2020

In his Jack’s Winning Words blog post today, Pastor Jack Freed used this quote –

 “With God it isn’t who you were that matters, it’s who you are becoming.”  (Liz Curtis Higgs)

Every day we have the opportunity to start the journey to becoming someone that we would like to be, rather than continue down the path that we’ve been on.  Most don’t stop to think about that each morning, nor do many actually pause to make a plan to start in that new direction. For most, It is just easier to let momentum continue to carry us in the direction that we’ve been going. We accept the status quo as, “I am”; instead of reaching for, “I could be”.  

The society that we live in doesn’t make that any easier for those whose past includes huge mistakes or even criminal behavior. Society tends to pin labels on those people and make it hard for them to become anything else. In some cases we use stereotypes, in most cases derogatory, to prejudge people or to “keep them in their place”.

But, what if you want to become something else and move to a different place.  What if you want to become known as the person that you are becoming and not as the person that you were? We see the occasional story on the news of the ex-con who turned his/her life around in prison and became a new person and headed in a new direction. In many cases they become advocates for change in other people’s lives.

The stories seldom go deep enough to detail the struggles that they went through to make that change, but it wasn’t easy. Our prison system is not designed to reform and help the inmates make life changes into positive directions as much as it is just designed to serve as a deterrent by the example it sets of the punishment for wrongdoing. The few that emerge from the prison experience having made dramatic life turnarounds did it on their own against huge odds.

The key for many, if not most, of those stories was the inmate’s acceptance of God in their lives. The reason that is so critical is that the first step in making the change was to realize that God forgives them for their past. They can then move on to forgiving themselves and from there to committing to becoming a new person – the person that they want to be.

One does not have to be an incarcerated criminal to undergo this process and make the changes in their life that allow them to become a better person – a person who is happier with who they are.  It is important, however, to seek God’s help as a first step. Accepting God into your life and accepting His forgiveness frees you to forgive yourself and move in a new direction – towards the person that you wish to become.

As you pause in prayer each morning, ask yourself what you will do today to become that person that you want to be and then ask for God’s help in accomplishing those things. It’s not an instant thing, but if you make it a consistent thing in your life you make some small amount of progress towards your goal each day.

Who are you becoming? What is your goal for today? Remember that God’s got your back.

Look for it…it’s still there…Hope

April 13, 2020

Pastor Jack Freed used this quote from the movie Shawshank Redemption in his blog today –

“Hope is a great thing, maybe the best of things.  No good thing ever dies”

Hope never dies, but sometimes it eludes us. Perhaps it is because we are so consumed with fear or anxiety that we fail to look for it. Hope is like an onion with many layers. You may start with I hope things get better soon or perhaps I hope things get back to normal soon. There may be a layer that says, I hope they find a cure for this soon. Right below that hope maybe the layer that says, I hope I don’t get this virus. If you dig down deep enough, at the core for almost everyone is the hope  – I hope I don’t die from this virus.

When one gets down to that level of the onion it is not unusual that one find that hope is joined by faith. Faith and hope together form the foundation for belief – belief in the message and promise of Easter that there is life after death.

As we wait out this pandemic, one can find  guidance and reassurance in the Bible. The book of Romans has quite a few good references to hope –

Romans 5 – “we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope”

As we persevere through the current stay at home lockdown, imagine the character that we are building. Think of it as a long workout at the gym, but we are not building muscle; but, rather, we are building  character. For most of us, this lockdown may be the longest amount of time that we’ve had by ourselves, maybe ever. For some it is building character that they did not know that they had in them and bringing out hope that may have been long forgotten.

Romans 8:24-25 “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

Perhaps hope is the best thing. Hope based upon faith and belief is the strongest hope of all. We all need that kind of hope during this prolonged crisis.

Romans 15:13 – “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

Keep hoping and have patience.

Keep the faith. God be with you.

Time to relight the star…

April 8, 2020
Taken right at dawn coming back from walking the dogs

Years ago I bought a large Star of Bethlehem to use at Christmas time. It is a commercial display piece that is about 4 feet tall and 2 ½ feet across and lights up, so it can be seen from quite a distance. I usually use it as part of the Christmas decorations on my home. Since it is large and positioned on the second floor of the house, I just leave it up year around, but usually only illuminate it during the Christmas season. Until now. I have set it to light up from dusk until dawn until this crisis is over.

The current COVID-19 crisis has put the entire nation on edge and the stay at home order in this state has exacerbated those feelings of fear, uncertainty and doubt. I just felt like it was time to turn the star on again, to give people who see it something to cling to and have faith in.

It is ironic that it is lit during the Holy Week of Easter, yet somehow very appropriate. Christmas and Easter represent the birth and resurrection of hope as well as of our Lord. Now is a time that we all need hope and it is my intention that those seeing the star lit will find some measure of comfort and renewed hope for better days ahead.

If you drive by my house at night and see the star, please don’t honk, just smile and perhaps look over at the loved ones who may be with you in the car and have hope and faith that things will get better.

Be safe out there.

We’re not all in this together…

April 7, 2020

Lately, we constantly hear the phrase, “We’re all in this together”; however, there are many who don’t seem to buy into that. There are the hoarders, who are obviously looking out only for themselves and their families. Then there are the ignorant, who refuse to believe that this is important enough and serious enough to inconvenience the, so they ignore the advice, and even the orders, to practice social distancing and avoid crowds. They are the beach party goers, those still playing team games and those in street corner groups. There is a tendency to sit back and go – “Tsk, tsk”.

A more insidious group are those that we see reported in news casts who have found ways to take advantage of others during this crisis. The scammers are not doing harmless things. Some are just finding ways to get money through frauds like fake charity sites.  Some are, in fact, leading many people to their deaths by schemes that extract money for fake cures or even collecting money from people at fake testing sites. The penalties for those people should be much more than just a fine; perhaps they should be charged with attempted manslaughter.

Some of the worst cases of ignorance may be the religious zealots and cultists who seem steadfast in their beliefs that God will somehow protect them from the virus. So, they believe that it is all right for them to continue to gather in their churches. If they were only putting themselves at risk one might be able to overlook them as harmless kooks; however, they go out into their communities after the church services, potentially spreading the virus and well as their good news.

I have posted here before about the divergence of faith and religion and the harmful effects that the hand of man in religion has caused. The latest examples of ignorance and intransigence from church leaders in Texas and elsewhere provide more fodder for religious skeptics. One minister was quoted as saying that they believe in healing by the laying on of hands and will deal with this pandemic that way. One can only hope that they avoid touching their faces while laying on hands (that hopefully have been washed).

We must all lean more heavily than ever on our faith and find ways (virtually, of course) to practice our religious beliefs, too. We can do that without endangering others. My church, like most others, has found a way to provide a church service experience remotely. I do the video each week and edit it to put in the music and graphics to help the viewers follow along. We post our services to YouTube. Other churches are using streaming services or Facebook to reach out to the congregation members with services, prayer sessions, bible studies and other church activities. Those alternatives help the participants reinforce the sense of being “all in this together” even if we can’t physically be together.

As people of faith, no matter of what religion, it is important for us all to find a way to use and share that faith to get through situations like our current one. As hard as it may be to initially accept; that includes finding ways to include those who were mentioned above – the ignorant and obstinate, the malevolent fraudsters and the religious cultists. We cannot turn our backs on them, even if they have turned their backs on us. We cannot leave them behind. If in no other way, we can at least include them in our prayers, asking God to be with them and accept them into His kingdom along with us. Only then, will we truly all be in this together.

Stay safe. Keep the faith. Share the faith.

What soothes you during this crisis?

April 5, 2020

In his column today, Mitch Albom wrote under the headline “In a crisis, find the one thing that soothes you”. For Albom and his wife, that one thing is having a young man named Knox in their home during this crisis. Knox is from the orphanage in Hatti that Albom and his wife run. Knox was in America, staying at the Albom house, for a regularly scheduled therapy trip when the Covid-19 virus caused the shutdown of travel  back to Hatti.

For Mitch and his wife, being able to watch Knox explore and enjoy the things that they take for granted has provide them with a soothing distraction during the stay at home period. Perhaps the word “distracts” could be substituted for the word “soothes” in Albom’s headline; for it is something that takes you mind off the current crisis that his is describing.

There are many words that come to mind to describe the feelings, emotions or reactions that people are experiencing during this crisis. The words fear, frustration, anger, boredom and confusion all leap into the mind. But what is the one thing that is there not to distract us; but, to sooth us during this difficult period? I would argue that one thing is faith.

At the end of the day, every day, we all must put aside our feelings of fear or anger or frustration or whatever and seek comfort in the core beliefs that we hold. For Christians, those core beliefs always points to the same thing – that Jesus came to die for us, so that we might have eternal life. Nothing calms all of the concerns that our current situation has put us in more than a strong faith.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:6-7)

This is not to say that we should do foolhardy things to expose ourselves to more risk. Practicing the recommended social distancing and staying at home to slow the spread of the virus arte both prudent and necessary. They are also not selfish acts; but rather acts of concern and kindness to others. One could and should view them as acts of faith. Viewing them that way allows us to see them as proactive acts, rather than reactive acts and we can feel good about doing our part, instead of feeling like a helpless victim of our circumstances.  

Bringing your faith to the surface during this crisis not only comforts you, but it empowers you to comfort others. We see and hear all of the messages that say, “we’re all in this together” (albeit standing 6 feet apart from one another) and “we’ll get through this together”. When you see or hear those messages, don’t you have a reflex reaction to look around at others to see if those around you are as afraid or concerned as you? What most are really looking for is are those people whose faith has made them strong enough to be offering aid and comfort to others.

YOU can be that person, once you have empowered yourself through your faith. Empowerment through faith always starts with the same thing – prayer to God. It is certainly OK to ask God for protection for yourself, but it is much more empowering if you ask for His protection so that you can do his work to protect and comfort others.

Another story in the paper this morning was about the role that many healthcare workers find themselves in as they provide the last bit of earthly touch and comfort to the dying in hospitals or nursing care homes who would otherwise be alone, due to visitation restrictions. Whether they acknowledge it or not, they are sharing their faith with those patients. Playing that role takes a huge emotional toll on those healthcare workers; but one cannot but see the hand of God in their efforts to provide comfort in those final moments. As you pray, pray for God to continue to give our healthcare workers the strength to play that role.

We cannot all be on the front lines of this crisis with the first responders and the healthcare workers; but we can all join in the effort through prayer and faith and by doing what we can. Perhaps that means making masks, collecting or distributing food, calling neighbors, friends and family to make sure everyone is safe or to see what they might need. Whatever you can do to put your faith in action will bring you comfort. At days end, when you have done all that you can do, pause and consider this…

“Perhaps this is the moment for which you have been created.”  (Esther 4:14) 

Keep the faith. Share the faith.

Don’t mess with your selfie…

April 3, 2020

In a recent post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words,  pastor Jack freed used this quote – “The easiest thing in the world to be is you.  The most difficult thing to be is what other people want you to be.  Don’t let them put you into that position.”  (Leo Buscaglia)

So, why is so hard for some  to just be yourself? I suspect that it is because we don’t necessarily like what we see when we look at ourselves. We take a mental “selfie” and immediately break out our copy of a virtual Photoshop to try to alter the picture.

For some it is their physical appearance with which they are uncomfortable. That may lead to all sorts of different and sometimes unusual steps to change that appearance. It may involve dying one’s hair bright orange or perhaps just wearing unusual clothes. Maybe it means getting a noose ring or a tattoo. It may even lead to plastic surgery to correct a perceived imperfection.

For others the desire to “fit in” may force dramatic changes in their behavior or lifestyle. If putting on the “uniform” of the group to which one wishes to belong isn’t enough, they change things like their vocabulary and speech patterns or maybe adopt a different lifestyle.

The rationale for making any of these changes is based upon trying to make yourself into something that you are not, to be something that you think other people want you to be. That rationale starts with your own dissatisfaction with what you see when you take that mental selfie. If you cannot love yourself and what you see in that selfie, it is natural to try to find others to emulate, in the mistaken belief that you will be happier being them than you are being you.

Life seldom works out that way. It is not until much later in life that most discover and appreciate the words of Meryl Streep – “What makes you different or weird, that’s your strength.” 

Maybe what you see in your mental selfie looks weird to you, or at least different. Start by embracing that and saying it is OK – it is your strength. In fact, maybe you should find ways to enhance and bring out those differences that make you unique. After all, they are your strength. Instead of being just another clone dressed in the cookie-cutter “uniform” of the crowd, you will stand out as someone with the confidence and strength of character to go their own way in fashion as in life. You might be surprised how attractive that can be.

How do you start to go your own way? Well, it starts with loving yourself and who you are. I’ve posted here about accepting and loving yourself first several times. Rather than spending your time seeking the approval of others, seek first approval of yourself. You must come to the conclusion that I am who I am, I like who I am and I’m not going to change who I am to suit others. The more comfortable you are with yourself, the more comfortable you will be around others. In that comfort within your own skin you will find courage and confidence that will radiate from you and make you the type of person that others enjoy being around.

For some, loving yourself may start with accepting the fact that God loves you just the way yo are. God does not ask or expect you to change. He just loves you and accepts for who you are. After all, He made you what you are and how can you not love that. So, if you can accept the love of God, you should be able to love yourself and then you can go on to love others and be loved by others.

So, it is alright to look in the mirror in the morning and take that mental selfie. The goal should not be to makes changes to be like someone else; but, rather, to be the best you that you can be that day. Embrace the things that make you different. They are your strength. They empower you. Loving yourself will allow others to love you, too.

Today, start by taking that mental selfie and saying – “Hello world. Get a load of this. It’s me. Don’t you just love it? I do.”  The world will be a happier place because you let the real you shine through.

Life goes on in self-isolation

March 26, 2020

I remember a common phrase from my childhood that one could be “all dressed up with nowhere to go”. That phrase certainly is apropos for today’s mandated “stay home” environment. Unlike some that I see posting on Facebook, I just can’t sit around in my pajamas all day. To be fair some posted that they had “day pajamas” and “night pajamas”; so, I guess they did change for the day.

Personally, I just can’t seem to sit around in my PJ’s past noon. I have to have a shower and get dressed. Lately, I have admitted to myself that I’ve been putting on a normal business casual outfit each morning, but that I have no appointment or calls to make. I’m all dressed up with nowhere to go. Both of the jobs that I work at have been designated under the Executive Order as non-essential, so I am directed to stay home.

Zoom meetings on line have taken the place of real meetings. I had two yesterday and one scheduled for today. Meeting on-line like that take more discipline that most have, so these meetings can devolve into a calliope of people vying to be the one speaking at any time. The Zoom app allows for about 40 minutes of meeting time free; however, it can take almost that long to get everybody signed into the meeting and quieted down when it is first used.

My wife and I have ventured out to get gas and a few groceries that we needed – she stays in the car and I run in and get what we need. Then, there is always the search for toilet paper or other items that have struck the fantasy of hoarders, such as eggs. I wonder if the hoarders wrapping their eggs in toilet paper to keep them safer.  We also take rides through the local Metropark almost daily, just to get out of the house and to see if there are any deer out. I walk my dogs 4-5 times a day, which provide great opportunities for fresh air and a little exercise. It is amazing how many birds one can hear when there is so little road traffic to mask their songs.

We are in the mid to late fear and anxiety phase that I wrote about a few days ago (see March 20 post) . You may recall that I postulated that  there are four phases that we all will go through in this crisis – Phase 1 was shock and awe; Phase 2 is fear and anxiety, which most are in right now; Phase 3 is frustration and anger, which coming rapidly for many that have been forced to stay home (especially those with children).  The cute aspect in this situation probably wore off by day 2 of the stay at home experience. Next, we will all enter phase 4 and figure out how to live in this new reality. That will include businesses figuring out how to continue doing at least some business during this shutdown.

I can do some parts of both of my jobs from home, but both ultimately involve personal contact with clients – listing houses and showing houses or selling advertising for the paper.

The housing market has been impacted by the fears of sellers and buyers about visiting homes that are for sale. Would-be sellers are holding off because they fear showing visitors bringing the virus into their homes. Buyers are staying away because they are justifiably concerned about the sanitary conditions in homes that they might visit. The real estate industry is responding with virtual showing visit apps and other technology-based solutions.

There is no app-based solution for advertisers whose businesses have been shut down pulling their ads. They, too, will figure out how to do business during this time. Most have some Internet presence, which they ae beefing up or they are adding E-commerce apps and capabilities.

The promised government intervention in the form of checks to everyone will help some and give the economy a little boost and the other programs of loans or loan payment hiatuses and other measures will help some. Just as the health system is prepared to enter triage mode, if the wave of Covid-19 cases overwhelms its capacity; the financial world and government emergency aid programs will have to triage the applications by small businesses for help. Some just will not make it.

This crisis is really an unprecedented test of the will of the people and the nation. We are used to weathering other types of crisis – hurricanes, tornadoes, other natural disasters and even wars. This is vastly different. We usually crank up the American business machine in response to those things, but this crisis threatens to shut that machine down completely. If, or when, that happens, it will be just the people vs. the disease. I have faith that the American people will prevail and then they will go restart and rebuild the American business machine. We are not hunkering down in fear; we are hunkering down in resolve to defeat this enemy.

God bless America and keep us all safe.

It’s there if you look for it…

March 23, 2020

It is easy in these unsettling times to allow yourself to be dragged down into the doom and gloom that seem to be all around. Many find comfort and guidance in music and song. I found this classic performance by Judy Garland with a message of perseverance and hope. The words are simple and straightforward , set in the context of a housewife engaged in the daily drudge of washing dishes.

As I wash my dishes, I’ll be following a plan

Till I see the brightness in every pot and pan

I am sure this point of view will ease the daily grind

So I’ll keep repeating in my mind

Look for the silver lining

Whenever a cloud appears in the blue

Remember somewhere the sun is shining

And so the right thing to do is make it shine for you

A heart full of joy and gladness

Will always banish sadness and strife

So always look for the silver lining

And try to find the sunny side of life

In this time of unprecedented disruption in our daily lives, it is perhaps hard for some to see a silver lining or find he sunny side of life. Perhaps the key to finding the silver lining amidst the gloom that surrounds us is knowing where to look.  A good starting point is the Bible. The silver lining that is revealed in the Bible is not a sunny day, nor does the Bible promise that all of the troubles that you face will magically go away. What is does promise is relief from fear and anxiety for those who believe.

Belief in Jesus, and why He was sent to earth by God, takes away the fear of death. That doesn’t mean that you have license to do foolhardy things. It just means that you don’t have to waste your energy worrying about death, because you know what happens next. A strong belief frees you to do positive things with your life and not spend it hunkered down in fear.

You could choose to spend your time while you are sequestered at home  watching movies or reruns of TV shows or you could revisit your Bible and find the silver lining in the words that you will find there. Just Google “Bible verses dealing with adversity”, if you need help getting started.

The silver lining in this and all things is there if you know where to look.

Without church, but not without faith…

March 22, 2020

This is the second weekend without a church service, due to the Corona Virus pandemic. Like most other churches, Holy Spirit Lutheran Church of West Bloomfield is offering an alternative, on-line services for members to watch from home. It is a shortened version of a regular service, with some music, a few of the prayers that would normally be used in a service, the Bible readings for the week and the sermon that the pastor would have delivered in church. I create a video of it during the week and post it on YouTube. (click here to see our first post) It is better than nothing, but it is still less satisfying than actually attending church. It is what we have for now.

What is lost in the process of sheltering in place during this crisis is both the social aspect of church and the sense of being a part of a community of faith. There is something reassuring and reinforcing about seeing others who are experiencing and professing the same beliefs that you have. There is also a sort of mindless crowd mentality about church services. Most church services have become so predictable in their format and execution that one just sort of shuffles along with the crowd through the service. Even the homilies or sermons have in many churches become uninspiring and, in their care not to be politically incorrect, blandly predictable. Eyes glaze over like they do when listening to an insurance salesman.

The current crisis has forced us into isolation in our religious lives as it has in the rest of our lives. What that really lays bare is the faith that underpins all religion, no matter what name or denomination the religion goes by. Rather than just sit there, passively allowing a church service to take place around us, we are now forced to ponder our faith and make whatever effort we can to express or practice that faith. For most, that may take the form of quiet prayer or perhaps reading the Bible. For others, the realization of their faith may spur them into some action that expresses their faith, like volunteering to help others during this crisis.

The point is that we all still have whatever underlying faith was there to begin with and now must find ways to express and practice that faith outside the structure of a church service. Perhaps that is a good thing. How many of us would take the time to contemplate our faith were we now in self-imposed isolation? How many normally take time to open their Bibles and search for the reassurance that can be found there? How many might watch the sermon sitting in church with the same attentiveness that one devotes to watching a video?  This crisis and the isolation that has come with it has forced a change in our lives that allows us to refocus upon our faith and to create a new and more meaningful expression of that faith than we had become used to in a “normal” church service.

Maybe you can create your own “church service” to practice your faith. Watch the videos or streaming broadcasts that may be available. Go find your Bible and spend a little of the time that you have suddenly been given by your isolation to reacquaint yourself with it. Take time for prayer each day. I think you will find that some of the fear and anxiety that you may have been experiencing will melt away. Strengthening your faith allows you to also strengthen your hope and will give you the strength to get through this crisis.

Let God know that your faith is still strong, even if you cannot attend church services. Pray and ask God for the right thing – not that He make this go away; rather, that he strengthen your faith so that you can get through it. Where you can and where it is safe to do so, put your faith into action through volunteering to help others get through this crisis. We are only without church services during this epidemic, not without faith. Keep the faith!

What is your plan?

March 20, 2020
The choice is really up to you.

There is no way to change, control or sugar coat the crisis that we are all facing, only different ways to react to it. Your reaction is the only thing that you can fully control.

It is my belief that most people go through four phases when faced with situations like the current one we are facing with the Covid 19 pandemic.

The first phase I liken to the shock and awe that the U.S. caused when they initially attacked Iraq. The sudden impact is so unexpected and overwhelming that causes shock and inspires awe. The very rapid set of events that occurred during the first two weeks of this crisis was full of shock and awe – the cancellations of most sporting events, including the NCAA Tournament, was unprecedented and shocking. Weren’t you totally shocked by that?

The second phase, which most are in right now is the fear and anxiety phase. Much of this is caused by an overload of frightening and frightful news coming out on a daily basis and yet there is little information about what one can really do about the situation. The fear factor is exacerbated by the directions to isolate and hunker down. Not being able to share that fear or reassure each other increases it’s impact.

The third phase is just starting for some and yet to come for others – frustration and anger. Both frustration and anger are being expressed now on social media. Currently both are being aimed at the government and what is perceived to have been a slow start to dealing with the crisis. However, at he heart of that frustration and anger is a sense of helplessness and a need to strike out at something or someone without knowing what or who. Being cooped up inside for a while will increase that frustration and heighten the anger in many.

The fourth phase, which only a few have really gotten to yet is when one accepts the current situation (it is what it is) and begins formulating and acting upon plans to make the best of it – finding ways to get on with life. Life is not going to return to our old definition of normal, but one does not have to accept fear and despair as “the new normal”. Most of us will eventually get to this phase and will heed the advice of Winston Churchill to never give up. You will be surprised how creative and resourceful you can become in this phase. And, you will discover that Churchill was right. Business people are particularly going to have to crate new ways fo doing business in order to get through this crisis.

Some, however, will have sunken into despair and will need help to recover. Others might have never gotten past the fear phase and will need to be coaxed out of their shells. A part of the plans for moving forward for all of us must be a commitment to look around and find those who need help overcoming their fears or depression. It turns out that an important part of your own recovery process can be found in this willingness to help others – it is a rebuilding of our sense of community.

No matter which phase you are currently in with this crisis, it is important to get back on he path ahead and not get sidelined by fear or depression. It is OK to be a little mad about things. Use that energy to start fighting back. Take some time to ask for God’s help and than create a plan for yourself and those that you love who are in this boat with you. Start figuring out how to move forward. Look around and figure out how you can serve or help others.

We will all get through this and it is important that you be to look back upon what you did to get through it and be proud of yourself. Be safe during this crisis, but don’t become its captive. Be proactive – chart your own course.What’s your plan for getting through it? Have you asked God for help yet? Maybe that should be your step one.