Leaving Our Comfort Zones - May 18, 2018
It is so normal for us to cling to, to remain in, situations and environments that are comfortable to us. We resist those things that threaten to move us out of those places. And one of those places of comfort, for those of us who are more the introvert, is to remain a bit quiet and not make waves. To keep a low profile.
However, I beg you, when you enter a room, notice who is there — intentionally approach whoever might possibly be alone. Try something different . . . take leadership. In a sense, take total ownership of every room you sit in or enter. By that, I mean that you can reach out to those who may be isolated, no matter how full or busy the room may be. Endeavor to do this, even if it seems somewhat faulty, trembling, or inarticulate. Just reach out to bring them in. Just be there!!
Whenever I walk across the room, introvert that I may be, and welcome a stranger, as ineptly as I may do it, I am 'dying' for her. Let me explain what I mean by that:
Many of you have seen the powerful movie, The Passion of Christ. What a comfort-busting experience that was!! Jesus died, literally died, for us. In a different way, and yet with similarity, we are called to leave our comfort zones and be willing to be hurt, if necessary, while trying to bring healing to others. We, too, must 'die' for others.
Another way that I have expressed this same thought — dying for others — is when I speak of 'going into the hard places.' When a situation is uncomfortable for us, or feels awkward, we typically hang back. But, nevertheless, being brave enough, bold enough, to do the right thing is being willing to go into a hard place.
So, it is in this sense that, when I notice an isolated perso, and reach out to her, I refer to that as dying for her, I am resuscitating her, and, in a sense, raising her from the dead!
In reaching out to her, or simply being there with her in support — that is what I call 'going into a hard place'. What a revolutionary thought!
I want to push this as hard as I dare. You must take ownership to make the world a better place, to care about strangers, to reach into uncomfortable places — even places where you’d rather not be.
People Often Gloss Over Our Wounds - May 11, 2018
The statement in this title is true, but it is also very sad. Why do friends gloss over our pain?
The truth is that your friends are troubled by your sadness, your grief, your woundedness, and they want to help. So their instinctive response is to try to lift you out of that state of mind.
Unfortunately, we all do that! We want the wounds of our loved ones to go away. We want our own pain to go away, too — the pain we have because of theirs. So we suggest ideas we hope will make our friends feel better. The prophet Jeremiah speaks of this when he says, “You can't heal a wound by saying it is not there.”
Let me explain why I say this is unfortunate. In Scripture, Paul says: “Weep with those who weep.”
He advises us to join with those who weep. I say that it is unfortunate that we so 'automatically' try to cheer a person up. Instead, we should weep with them.
Consider this pleasant mental picture:
Two friends, tears running down the cheeks of both, standing together, feeling the pain of one. There are no easy answers; there is no denying of the pain; there is no attempt to offer advice. But there is an embrace, a listening ear, a place to rest, and an infusion of hope, peace and love. And in that way, Jesus stands there, too. Jesus never fails. When it happens to one of us, it happens to him. This is an awesome reality!
And, like Jesus, a true friend cries out on our behalf instead of standing apart from our pain. In her prayers, she puts into the words the other person’s plight. She speaks to God of the conflicts that she knows are squeezing her friend. Rare, good friends weep with us. Like the example above of the two friends, the one is present with the other. A true friend shares her heart, her love, concern, care, and especially, her time.
Friends who don’t understand this gloss over our wounds. When a brother dies, his neighbor typically says, “Isn’t it wonderful? He is with the Lord.” That is true, but it is an unhelpful way to comfort. Conventional consolation cannot fix true sorrow. Seldom do our words help much.
What help and heals most is being there and weeping with those who weep.
God Needs Your Help - May 4, 2018
Think about your friends, relatives, acquaintances, colleagues and neighbors . . .
For two or three of them, life is difficult right now:
As I write, the newly born granddaughter of close friends of ours lies critically ill. They are terribly frightened and deeply pained by her weakness and agony. They pray for the healing of the little girl.
But not all who pray and weep receive a reprieve. It seems that their prayers are not being answered. Nevertheless, my prayer for THEM is to discover that God is always there . . . embracing, caring, hurting, sustaining, and enabling. God’s presence helps the unacceptable become bearable.
So does your presence! This is where God needs your help.
A man, whose wife died after a long difficult illness, told me about an aggravating letter he had received. A Christian woman friend wrote, apologizing for her failing to show up to visit her dying friend. “It was,” she explained, “too upsetting.” She allowed her friend to die without the gift of her presence because she was unwilling to experience some discomfort. How sad! Her presence would have meant much to her friend; it would have meant much to the husband. Both would have felt the presence of God by her showing up, and that is so much more important than her own discomfort.
Remember that showing up is 90% of helping! Seldom do our words help much, so we don’t need to worry about what to say. Just show up!
Now, back to the list of people you know. Who can you call, write or drop in on? God’s already there, but God depends on your support as well. Now conjure up courage and conviction, let yourself be uncomfortable, give some loving kindness. That’s God-like.
Your Smile Can Heal - April 27, 2018
I was walking in the shopping mall, pondering a couple of discouraging encounters I had had earlier in the day. Suddenly, a young boy was blocking my path and I slowed to step around him. He greeted me with a warm smile and a wave of his hand. I couldn’t help but smile back, and then I realized that my mood had been lifted.
I also reflected on the fact that the youth was a youngster with Down syndrome. He had healed me of my blue feelings—with a smile. My thoughts continued to explore the situation. Everyone would be in agreement that the little guy had limited abilities. And yet, he had the ability to help — to heal — a big guy like me. If he could do that for me, I certainly had the ability to do it for others. So I resolved, right there, on the spot, to be more conscious of giving my smile away.
Every one carries a smile. Too many are unused, or too rarely used. Smiles are instant inoculations of loving-kindness. And every one needs them constantly. Each of us walks through life carrying this powerful medicine, and we have the opportunity to lift spirits and heal discouraged souls everywhere we go.
1. Believe your smile can heal another person. 2. Decide to give it to people you meet—clerks, mechanics, people you work with, the mail person, your doctor, your waiter. 3. Trust that they will feel brightened by your kind act. 4. Enjoy this new agenda for everyday living.
More on Kok's Law - April 20, 2018
Last week, I introduced you to 'Kok's Law': If I am thinking something, or feeling something, at least half the others in a group or meeting are likely to be having the same thoughts or feelings! Assuming this is true, it can give us the courage to speak up when we might have been silent. Kok’s Law, used discreetly, can give us the nudge many of us need.
Of course some people don’t need help to take a risk and speak up. But, others of us do! Kok's Law reminds us of the high probability that many other people are thinking the same way that we are and support for our viewpoint will be present. That may be all some of us need to gain the courage to trust our hunches, ideas, opinions, feelings and step up to the podium, or take action.
Here is an example. Have you ever been in a room with other people when you felt very warm? What do you usually do? You look around and wonder if you're the only one feeling that way. In humility and the desire to not be disruptive, you suffer the discomfort.
But . . . you could ask, “Is it warm in here?” Kok's Law says: If you’re warm, at least half the others are warm, too (unless you’re getting the flu or catching a cold.) By speaking up, you are acknowledging the discomfort of many others, who were also too timid to speak up. By daring to raise the question, you lead the way to more comfort for everyone.
Kok’s Law has become my faithful companion. It has helped me in scores of situations where my natural self-consciousness used to limit me and hold me back.
The thesis underlying Kok’s Law is that I’m a somewhat normative human being with sensitivities and responses similar to those found in at least half of the population. And, as I said last week, I give you Kok’s Law to use carefully. I guarantee it will work at least half the time.
Kok's Law - April 13, 2018
I've shared this idea with you previously, but perhaps this is a good time to bring it back to mind. I find it to be a good reminder in many types of situations.
‘Kok’s Law’ came into being as a means of survival in intimidating circumstances. No doubt, other people have stumbled on the genius of this concept, but I am going to claim to be the first to state it as a law!
Remember all the times you sat in class as a college student, tongue-tied with fear of volunteering the answer you had in mind? Then, sitting there, afraid to speak up, you melted in discouragement and frustration as you heard someone else speak up and say exactly what you had thought! And she received all the high praise!!
Recall the many hunches, intuitions, and ideas you’ve had, but they were left unspoken or ignored because you lacked the confidence to speak about them or do something with them. Then you read or heard them stated by someone else who received admiration for their brilliance? ‘Kok’s Law’ can help you in each of these situations, and ones like them.
‘Kok’s Law’ was born one Saturday morning as I sat in a committee meeting, where we were planning a conference program. The chairman was a forceful, confident-appearing person, who had a load of ideas. He was on his way toward setting up the program all by himself, as the rest of us passively agreed. Then it hit me! I was aware in my heart and in my head that I was experiencing considerable distress and unease with the way the plans were being laid out. As I listened to my ‘guts’, I felt a flood of anger and objections. I realized that I didn’t like much of what the chairman was authoritatively hammering into place. But . . .there I was, nodding assent, just like everyone else in the meeting.
Then came the second revelation: If I’m feeling this way, I’ll bet at least a couple of these other ‘yes-men’ are, too.
Assuming this was true, I thought I should speak up. If I did, I’d be sure to get support. So I spoke. Immediately, the others joined in! Amazingly, the chairman, who until then had been so dominating, listened. Then the program planning progressed in a fresh new way. Everything was changed for the better.
‘Kok’s Law’ was born:
If I am thinking something, or feeling something, at least half the others in a group or meeting are likely to be having the same thoughts or feelings!
I give you Kok’s Law to use carefully. I guarantee it will work at least half the time.
Beware the Infection of Me-ism - April 6, 2018
As we grow older, there is a tendency to drift into preoccupation with ourselves: our health, our physical problems, our sleep, money, trips, grandchildren and more. Also — and surely you agree — there is little as pleasant as another person taking interest in our lives! When someone shows interest in what WE are doing and what we are thinking, it is a delight!
So it is essential, as we grow older, and the self-centered drift progresses, that we resist being so narrowly focussed. That process unfortunately includes showing less interest in others—their trips, interests, accomplishments, new items. I call this older-person-malady 'me-ism', and it is an attitude that turns others off.
It often requires a deliberate decision to move away from being caught up in our own issues and concerns.
So, you know what I'm going to say next:
if someone's attention to you is so meaningful, then you must realize how it affects someone else when YOU turn your focus towards THEM. Not only does such a choice thrill the ones we show interest in, it is also an antidote against our own 'me-ism'.
It doesn’t matter who you are, or how healthy, educated, wealthy or attractive you are — you have within you the words, interests, stories and expressions that can make a wonderful positive difference in the lives of others. We are all potential healers.
Check that self-centered drift, and spill loving interest on other people. It can be life-giving to them, but it will always be spirit-lifting to you as well.
AS WE GROW OLDER, WE MUST DELIBERATELY TAKE THE SPOTLIGHT OFF OURSELVES AND TURN IT ON OTHERS.
Thank Someone Today - March 30, 2018
"Thanksgiving" cards are great. What an appropriate time to sit down and think of a number of people who have given us something, or contributed to our lives in some major or minor way, and then make a point of a straightforward, unashamed statement of appreciation.
But . . . do we really need to wait until November to do this? Consider the suggestion that you do this every week during the year? Or once a month? Or now and then? But you don't have to wait until November!
And how many different ways can you come up with to express these 'thank you's'?
Or new technology ways:
Or an old-fashioned way:
Stop a few minutes. Trace your steps through an average day, week, year, or your life. Isn't it surprising how many people stand out as ones who have made life good, just by being part of our lives?
Thank some of them.
And also express gratitude to God for these people in your life.
How Can I Show Up? - March 23, 2018
You've heard me frequently repeat one of my fundamental beliefs: that 90% of Helping Is Just Showing Up. Let's explore that concept more today. What does 'showing up' mean?
People express to me that it is helpful to them when I give suggestions on how to apply my ideas in a very practical way. So here are some thoughts for you to consider.
What young people do you know that are not part of your family, or even not connected to your close friends? What activities are they involved in where you could just show up? Tee-ball, Little League, soccer games, band concerts, pick-up basketball games in the park, volley ball games, etc. . . . cheer for them. Encourage them.
I know of a married couple who had a heart for people who were the victims of serious accidents. They would go to the hospital to offer encouragement to these people whom they had never met before. That is showing up.
Are you ready for a hard one? You encounter people asking for a handout in front of a store where you shop.
What if, instead of just walking past them, you stopped and engaged them in a bit of conversation?
What if you took a few minutes to let them know that you recognize they are real people, just like you, even though their circumstances are different?
Could you do that? That is showing up.
Being Kind to Yourself - March 16, 2018
We’ve been considering the role of kindness in our lives. Our Care and Kindness Campaign seeks to raise people’s awareness of how important kindness is. We have discussed kindness that we show at home. We urge that you show kindness in public. Then there’s kindness at church and kindness with your enemies.
That pretty well covers the gamut, don’t you think?
Almost! . . . Someone else needs your kindness. Who could that be?
Don’t we tend to be tough on ourselves? And rightly so. Like the young couple at the wedding in Cana, we don’t always adequately plan ahead. We’ve been self-serving. And like the woman with the illness (see the earlier blog about that), our world sometimes seems out of control. But did Jesus chide the wedding couple? No. Was he hard on the woman who touched his hem? No. He is kind to the forgetful. He is kind to the greedy. He is kind to the sick.
And he is kind to us. And since he is so kind to us, can’t we be a little kinder to ourselves?
Oh, but you don’t know me! You don’t know my faults and my thoughts. You don’t know the gripes that come so easily into my mind. You don’t know the complaints I so frequently mutter.
No, I don’t, but Jesus does. He made you. He knows everything about you, yet he doesn’t hold back his kindness toward you.
Has he, knowing all your secrets, retracted one promise or reclaimed one gift? No, he is kind to you.
Why don’t you be kind to yourself?
He forgives your faults.
Why don’t you do the same?
He thinks tomorrow is worth living.
Why don’t you agree?
He believes in you enough to call you his ambassador, his follower, even his child.
Why not take his cue and believe in yourself?
In other words, with all of our focus on kindness, be sure to include yourself. Say some good, encouraging words to YOU. Let your mind enjoy some thoughts about the good things that make you to be YOU.
What is Your Kindness Quotient? - March 9, 2018
How kind are you? What is your kindness quotient? There are various tests you may have taken — an I.Q. test (intelligence quotient), perhaps a Risk Quotient test (from your financial adviser), or maybe you took an Emotional Quotient test you found in a magazine. But have you given thought to what your kindness quotient might be?
You can do that right now by asking yourself questions such as these:
In the book of Galatians, Paul writes: “When we have the opportunity to help anyone, we should do it.” (Gal. 6:10a).
Listening Has Healing Power - March 2, 2018
I have good news for you!
YOU can do something to heal people,
just as Jesus did!
Can you imagine the scene? In the book of Mark, the story is well-known of the woman who had been bleeding for many years — she reached through the crowd to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. He felt power go out from him and asked, “Who touched me?”
When she touched his hem, she immediately felt a change in her body. His question probably frightened her somewhat, so she hung back. But when he asked again, she came forward and told her story.
People were pressed all around Jesus in the crowd that was following him, but he was aware of the special need of one person. Many people were undoubtedly bumping against him and thus the consternation of his disciples at his question, “Who touched me?”
Why would he ask such a question, when he was constantly being touched? He was already on his way to the house of Jairus, whose daughter had died. He was busy. He was on a mission. He was surrounded by the pressings of the crowd. And yet — he listened to her story.
This is an amazing part! She was already healed—Jesus’ power had touched her and ended her suffering. He had already performed the miracle. That could have been the end of it. But — he listened to her story. He gave his time to listen to her. There was something special about the touch of that one person. He was aware of it; everyone else was clueless.
His listening to her was another healing! Giving his time to her restored her dignity.
This is the lesson for us! This is the part that WE CAN DO! Giving people our time and our attention is healing medicine for them. We cannot do physical healings like Jesus, but we can give people our time. We can listen to them.
Listening is kindness. Interrupting our own busy schedule to give time to another person is a kindness. Some may think that all this talk of kindness sounds, well . . . it sounds a bit wimpy.
But . . . it is powerful! It is healing! It is needed!
Take some time for someone today. Be present for them. You will both be blessed.
Your Presence Is So Important - February 23, 2018
I beg you to take total ownership of every room you sit in, or enter. I beg you to take leadership in noticing who is there and intentionally approaching whoever might possibly be alone. I implore you to endeavor (in some faulty, trembling, inarticulate way, if necessary) to include them and bring them IN.
Whenever I walk across the room, (introvert that I may be) and welcome a stranger, (as ineptly as I may do it), and even though it is uncomfortable for me, there is something profound that happens between us. I am giving of myself (by being willing to do something that is a bit hard for me) to that stranger. And he or she is blessed by being noticed, acknowledged, offered my gift. So many times, you can see visibile signs that the person has been affected in a very positive way by my doing that.
Many of you have seen the powerful movie, The Passion of Christ. What a comfort-shattering experience that is!! Jesus suffered unbelievably on that dreadful day. His physical suffering was far beyond anything the he wants from us, but he calls us to suffer a bit, too . . . for his sake. He insists that we, too, give of ourselves for the sake of others. We are called to leave our comfort zones and dare to get hurt, if necessary, while trying to bring healing to others.
That is the key that I desperately want to impress upon you . . . leaving our comfort zones to do an act of kindness for other people blesses both you and them. And sometimes, just 'being with' someone is that act of kindness that they need. Standing, sitting, walking with a person may be much of what they want . . . no words may be required.
A caution: Though we must think of every human being as ‘the walking wounded’, our task is not to fix them. Fixing is underway when we greet a stranger, or lift the spirits of anyone. We must seek to be supportive without needing to solve their problem. We leave the deliberate fixing to God.
So! . . . JUST BE THERE!! I like this play on words: ‘Don’t just do something. Stand there.’
More Things I Forgot! - February 16, 2018
When she was crying over her sudden loss, I hesitated to ask her questions about how it happened. I forgot she still needed to talk about all that. I forgot that hearing her feelings was important but that she also had to tell the whole story.
When their child died, I tried to encourage them by reminding them that they had other children, and by suggesting that they could have another child. I forgot that this one can never be replaced.
When he lost his job, I tried to cheer him up by pointing out all the possibilities that lay ahead of him. I forgot that he wasn’t ready to think of them yet. I forgot to give him time to deal with the blow he had been dealt. I forgot to stand beside him in love and supporting care as he grieved and coped with a painful loss.
When he got that big promotion at work, I forgot to honestly enter into his joy. Instead, I teased him and downplayed it, as if it were not that big a deal. I forgot that by doing that I was throwing water on his enthusiasm.
When she told me about her sadness when her cat died, I tried to empathize with her by telling her about a cat that I lost once. I forgot that right now she didn’t care about my cat. I forgot that she needed my sympathy about HER loss— not trying to listen to someone else’s story.
When he told me about what a hard day he had been through, I thought I was sympathizing with him by telling how hard mine had been, too. I forgot that my woes did not help him deal with his own. I forgot to ‘leave my story at the door.’
I forgot to remember the things I’ve learned to do better. I forgot to remember that the right things to say and the right things to do don’t happen automatically. I have to remember to think consciously of my words and actions. I need to remember that there are hurting people all around me, whom I can help and comfort by my caring acts and my attention. I have to remember to be thoughtfully consistent in my desire to offer care and kindness.
I Forgot! - February 9, 2018
I forgot that when her crisis occurred, she needed someone right away, not hours or days later.
I forgot that my presence with her was important. I thought a quick phone call would take care of it.
I forgot that when she stopped crying, it didn’t mean that she had stopped hurting. I forgot and tried to resume our normal conversational style of the past and moved on to other things.
When the funeral services were over, I mentally and emotionally moved on to other things. I forgot that her grief was not over.
When she came home from the hospital, I forgot that she still needed support and help.
When I saw her again several months later, I tried to avoid mentioning her husband who had died. I forgot that she still wanted to talk about him.
Accept and Support People - February 2, 2018
Here are the final two suggestions from my 'thirteen secrets'. Remember, however, that these ‘Secret Behaviors’ are not truly secret — but they are far too often overlooked. The humble effectiveness of being friendly cannot be over-emphasized. People all around us are hungry for a touch of care, concern, love, even simple acknowledgement.
Excerpt from 'Thirteen Secret Behaviors' section of Jim Kok's book, Transform Belief Into Behavior. Available here from Amazon.
Focus On People - January 26, 2018
You're getting the idea. Acts of kindness are those things you do INTENTIONALLY.
The kind and friendly things you easily do in response to others aren't what we are talking about. Everybody does those.
It is your willingness to shine a light into dark places that makes the difference: the darkness of a person's mood; the darkness of an awkward situation; the darkness of perhaps being shy around strangers.
An intentional act of kindness can totally change the person and the situation.
These ‘Secret Behaviors’ are not truly secret—but they are far too often overlooked. The humble effectiveness of being friendly cannot be over-emphasized. People all around us are hungry for a touch of care, concern, love, even simple acknowledgement.
We're on a roll here — we're talking about those little things that you can do daily. Things that you, of course, do, as do most people. But . . . and this is the difference . . . you mostly do them when you feel like it You do them when they are an automatic response to someone.
Instead, what I am asking you to do, is to look for opportunities to do them intentionally, at times and in places, where it is not expected — times when these simple acts of kindness can make a huge difference for another person.
More Simple, Kind Ideas - January 12, 2018
I'm still intent on convincing you that the beauty of acts of kindness are their simplicity. The power of acts of kindness is that such simple (so often over-looked) actions have tremendous, soul-lifting impact on people. And the misleading aspect of this simplicity is that people do these things automatically.
Sure, they smile. Sure, they pay compliments. Sure, they act friendly. But mostly they ARE automatic actions.
It is when you do these things INTENTIONALLY, in situations where it is not your natural reaction to a person or a situation, that makes the difference.
Can You Believe It's So Simple? - January 5, 2018
Yes! It is so simple — so simple that we don't realize the impact of doing these things. People all around us are hungry for a touch of care, concern, love, even simple acknowledgement.
So, consider these simple actions and make them part of your everyday behavior, as you go about your day. Don't dismiss them with the attitude that 'people all do these things naturally'. They DO NOT. I beseech you to make the intentional effort to keep blessing people as you do these things.
Excerpts from the 'Thirteen Secret Behaviors' section of Jim Kok's book, Transform Belief Into Behavior. Available here from Amazon.
These ‘Secret Behaviors’ are not truly secret — but they are far too often overlooked. The humble effectiveness of being friendly cannot be over-emphasized.
A New Years Resolution: You Can Change The World - December 29, 2017
It doesn’t require wealth, talent, or a huge investment of time. Right now, you, with your current limitations and abilities, have tremendous power to impact others and change the world.
Have you ever had a day in which everything you touched went wrong? When you were at the end of your rope, but then someone spoke a kind word, or helped you? Do you remember how it warmed your heart and perked up your spirit? Small, loving acts make a profound difference. Everyone longs to feel noticed, appreciated, supported. That’s why it means so much when someone surprises us with a simple act of caring. It reassures us that we matter.
Discouraged people are everywhere. They need us. Don’t overlook opportunities to make a difference in someone’s life. A smile, a note, or a phone call won’t take much effort, but they can make someone’s day. Not only will your kindness be appreciated by the recipient and rewarded by God, but it will enrich your own life as well. Many say, “I’m just one person. I can’t make a difference.” If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a hug just when it’s needed, you know one person’s concern is powerful. Do you compare your contribution to a tiny drop of water in the huge ocean? Mother Theresa’s view was that the ocean would be less without that one drop.
There could be no mountains, if not for the tiny grains of sand from which the mountains are made. Little things pack a big punch. Encouragement takes only a moment to give but it delivers an important message of love and concern to the recipient, and it could last a lifetime. Your empathy, interest, and encouragement can lessen someone’s load and make their life journey easier. You can change their world— and that makes the whole world better.
Have Fun At Christmas - December 22, 2017
At this time each year we give much attention Christmas shopping. I think this something we should enjoy doing. Some folks, however, have been brought up on warnings and admonitions every time there is a time of fun. Some Christians don’t know how to have fun, unless it is sprinkled and spiced with guilt. It is as if they must be more serious, thrifty, and concerned about others.
Again we will hear about over-commercializing Christmas, putting Christ back into Christmas, the paganism of the Christmas tree, tinsel as the symbol of superficiality, cash registers as the symbol of what Christmas has become. These may be necessary correctives, perhaps, but we need more of the opposite! We need encouragement to have fun. Let our joy bloom, even be foolishly full of fun, or extravagant. Isn’t that what the heart of Christmas is, namely, “joy to the world”?
I will never forget an incident from our first year of marriage. Linda and I were living in Ann Arbor and our lives became intertwined with a family of desperately poor people — a mother, and four children, all of school age. They lived in abject poverty. They had broken windows, very little money, a sickly mother, and a house that was hardly livable. But when Christmas came, the children had, through odd jobs, accumulated a little money and they invited us to come over on Christmas Day to see the gift they had bought for their mother. They were very excited about it.
So we went to their house, carrying in our minds some vague expectations of what kind of a gift they had bought for her. Perhaps a warm coat, a new purse, or maybe an electric frying pan, or a toaster. Instead we were knocked over with surprise and chagrin. They asked us to close our eyes as they went into the next room to get the gift. Then they brought from behind the curtain the gift. It was a huge stuffed donkey about five feet tall! It must have cost them $25 or $35 (1962). They were thrilled. We were stunned, but acted like we were pleased. (In fact we thought it was a very “stupid” gift. Of all the things she needed, that was the least.)
Still, as we thought about it, there may have been something right in that kind of gift! Here they were in their poverty; hardly anything they could have bought of a practical nature would have changed their status significantly. So why not buy something totally enjoyable, just for the fun and excitement of giving it?
A little of that has to go into the Christmas season. Instead of hand-wringing and furrowed brows about the fun we’re having when there are poor people dying on the other side of town, maybe a little reckless happiness is called for. Christians must be thoughtful and concerned, but there is something bottomless about that pit. There is a time for unrestrained Christmas foolishness, impractical fun! Forget, the shaking fingers and historical surveys about the paganism of the Christmas tree. Enjoy Christmas and have fun! Christ lives!
Relax and enjoy Christmas freely and fully, uncluttered by guilt.
More Acts of Care and Kindness - December 15, 2017
#1. I had just led the funeral of a dear woman. We were invited by her husband, Dave Cook, to come to their house after the general refreshment hour to unwind and talk. Linda and I arrived early, so I took some shrimp and a glass of wine and sat down at a large round table off to the side.
After sitting there alone a few minutes, maybe five minutes, a young girl suddenly plopped down in an empty chair on the other side of the table. She sat facing me, so after a couple of seconds I said, “What are you doing here, all by yourself?” Her reply really surprised me. She said, “I saw you sitting here all by yourself and I thought you might like some company”
I was stunned. She was a very young girl in her early teens. A few minutes later, she told me she was 14. For the next little while I did little more than praise her and express admiration for what she had done. Then we got acquainted and spent some pleasant time chatting. But before we parted, I made sure she, and others now gathered nearby, knew what an outstanding and unusual act of loving-kindness that young lady had given.
#2. At a recent 50-Plus dinner/entertainment event, something happened that I want to tell you about. During the dinner I had strolled around the tables, greeting and chatting with the diners, joking and kidding most of the time.
A few weeks after that dinner I met a handsome older man (it turned out that he is 82 years old) who told me he had been present that day. He then told me something that thrilled me to the depths of my soul, and stunned me with its importance. He said that I had walked past him when he was sitting at a table and that I had laid my hand ever so briefly on his shoulder, as I went by.
Then he added, “That touch absolutely blessed me!” And he said a little more about what a strong moment that had been.
A touch as I walked by! So small! So appreciated!
And he was moved, his spirits were lifted, his mood was changed.
Again I am jolted into awareness of the importance of our Care and Kindness Campaign. This is life-changing business. This is spreading spiritual medicine everywhere we go. And anyone and everyone is able to take part. It takes so little to heal a soul.
Special Acts of Care and Kindness - December 8, 2017
Our Care and Kindness Campaign is to urge people to make INTENTIONAL acts of kindness part of their life-style. Everyone is familiar with the words 'random act of kindness', but we believe that it needs to be more than 'random'. It should be 'intentional'. That makes it even more valuable and precious.
Kindness can be towards others . . . it can be towards yourself. Here are a couple of people who are making the effort to be 'intentional'.
#1. Dean Wilson says he tries to plant kindness in his mind each day on his long arduous drive to his work from Huntington Beach to West Hollywood. He endeavors to think and act caring all the way. When he succeeds, he finds the trip flows more smoothly.
When he forgets, and slips into anger and aggressive driving, trying to out-maneuver others, he arrives upset, irritated and agitated.
Intending to act kindly and caring soothes his soul and is considerate of others as well.
. . .
# 2. Donna Slade received an unexpected blessing on a frantically busy toll road. When she stopped at the toll booth, the man smiled and said, "Have a blessed day."
She said it absolutely lifted her spirits—so much that she was delivering care and kindness the rest of the day! She had to visit a doctor's office that day which was especially mixed up while she was there and it totally frustrated her.
But she said she managed to say, “I know there is irritation in my voice right now, but I really appreciate your efforts to work this out.” The clerk was flabbergasted, who then smiled and clearly felt renewed in energy as she went back to work on solving the confusion. "Plus," said Donna, “I felt so good the rest of the day.”
Understanding Our Influence Through Prayer - December 1, 2017
I visualize the shape of prayer like an enormous triangle. Looking at the triangle, I imagine the top—the peak—is God. The left bottom angle is me, the one speaking the prayer. The third angle, the extreme right corner, is the man or woman for whom a prayer is being said.
Next, I visualize two lines going out from myself, the one offering prayer, from that left-handed angle corner. One line goes up from me to God. The other extends, on the horizontal level from my heart, to the one in need. I look up to God, and also over to the one for whom the prayer is being spoken.
Then I see two lines flowing down from God. One goes to the person being prayed for, the other comes back down to me, the pray-er. The line that goes to the one in need is God's energy and love streaming with strength, love, healing and courage, as needed. The line from God to me is God's love and energy flowing back to me, the one in prayer. It does not stay with me, however. It flows from there, through me, out toward the needy one, for whom supplication and intercession is being offered.
The often overlooked part of this picture is God's healing love flowing through the one doing the praying. The help doesn't exclusively come down directly from God to the hurting person. That incomparable source is complemented by the love and energy of God sent from me, the one personally praying.
Suggestion for a mental image:
When praying for someone, if I am not in their presence, I find it helpful to conjure up a mental picture of him, or her. I see them in my mind. I think of them in such a way that I can visualize them rather clearly. This, then, multiplies the loving energy of God flowing toward them. It streams directly from God, and also through me.
When you are listening to someone . . . - November 24, 2017
I have been thinking about the unity of several messages that each supports the others. Recently, Bobby Schuller (Hour or Power, Crystal Cathedral Ministries) spoke of the unfortunate tendency of some people to always respond to someone's joyous sharing of something by 'one upping' the speaker. You tell that you read a book this month; she reacts by telling that she read three books. Someone shares that they recently ran a 5k race, and he reports that he just did a 10k.
One of my oft-repeated phrases is to 'leave your story at the door'. This means that when you are listening to someone, just listen! Don't be in such a rush to interrupt by telling your own story. So you ran a 10k race? The person who ran the 5k isn't ready to think about YOUR race . . . he wants you to share in his being proud of his own accomplishment. So share it with him!
Romans 12: 14 says, "Laugh with your happy friends when they are happy." (The Message) As Christians, we take this advice from Paul to mean that we support the joy and the happiness of others without having to draw attention away from them to ourselves. We are delighted that a friend got a promotion at work. We are happy to hear that a friend's daughter got the new job she wanted.
Another verse from Paul says, "Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it." (Romans 12:9, The Message) Wow! Love from the center of who I am! If I truly show love to others, I am truly happy for them. I don't try to top their story with one of my own.
Many years ago, I wrote a list of five things that I consider to be Key Essentials in our Care and Kindness movement. The first one says, "I have the capacities, qualities and abilities that can brighten others’ lives, or help them face challenges." I believe that there is no one so young or so old; no one is so poor, so homely, or uneducated that he can’t encourage another.
Every living human being can lift another’s spirits. Everyone is qualified to brighten someone's eyes and to freshen someone's outlook.
So . . . these are my musings. I encourage you to ponder them as well. How loving can you be? How much kindness can you show?
Love Is Not A Feeling - November 17, 2017
The directions we have from the Bible is that we are to "love one another". Though there is no definition of what that means or who that includes, it literally means everybody.
Flawed human beings cannot be that good. But we must try. We must go as far as we can.
Step number one may be that we recognize that feeling love toward another person is not a required attitude. Love is required but not necessarily a feeling of love.
Yesterday, for example, an envelope for one of our neighbors was included in our own mail delivery, so I took it to them. That was kindness — kindness is 'love-action'. I do not have any particular fondness nor affection for those neighbors, so my delivery was of the species of love.
It is almost accurate to call love "doing good". Such behavior is not necessarily connected to feelings of affection, or benevolence. It is behavior, action, participation, that is beneficial to someone..
Tiredness, weariness, fear, sorrow and other unwanted conditions may burden us. But even when so overwhelmed with unwanted conditions we can and must render acts of helpfulness and loving kindness. We must not wait until we feel like it. Loving-kindness is always needed and always possible.
So . . . if love is not a feeling, what is it?
It is ACTION.
Prayer Sold the House - November 10, 2017
When we moved from Iowa City to Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1969, we bought our first house. It was a pleasant three bedroom home with a large back yard. We soon learned, however, of the disadvantage of locating on a wide busy street—there was to be no crossing the street to play with other children. Since we were flanked on each side by two elderly people, the availability of children was limited.
There was another problem: for Linda, but not for me. The busy avenue was noisy, even at night. As time passed, her sensitivity heightened until I was pressured into considering an alternative. I reluctantly said, "OK", but shopping for a different house was going to be in her lap. She accepted the deal.
It wasn't too long before we learned that a nice house in the same Christian School district was for sale, by people we knew. Linda checked it out and fell for what she saw. I went, and agreed it was a fine house, so we made an offer. Our offer was accepted and soon we were the 'de facto' owners of two houses. It was January. Closure would be in May.
We listed ours with a real estate agent and confidently went on with our lives, aiming for the move five months later. We were comfortable with the knowledge that we had nearly a half year for selling ours and preparing to move into the new one. But to our dismay, as the date for taking over the new house, and taking over a new mortgage, came closer, our house remained unsold.
Linda shared our predicament and terror with a friend who lived around the corner. Judy immediately offered to come over and pray with Linda about the problem. Linda accepted. Judy came over the morning of the day we were to go to the Home Loan Bank to sign the papers for the new house. Together, Linda and Judy prayed for a solution—for a buyer. Then I arrived and the two of us went to the bank to do the paperwork. The prospect of having two loans to pay was a horrendous thought. It would be impossible!
After we arrived home, I headed back to my work at Pine Rest Christian Hospital. By the time I was back in my office, a call was waiting for me. The message was that a lady buyer had come over to look at our house, and had made an offer! She did in fact buy it! She was the first serious looker in five months, and she showed up the day intense prayer had been offered.
Was this a coincidence? Was this good luck? Draw your own conclusions.
I believe prayer was the facilitator.
This is Thanks-giving Month - November 3, 2017
Much is now known about the benefits of practicing intentional thankfulness. It isn't just a high-level Christian virtue anymore; it is a way of turning your personal life toward greater health and happiness.
Appreciative people feel better about their lives. They are physically more healthy than those who focus on that which has gone wrong, what didn't work, or what they dislike.
Thankfulness can become an intentional activity, like exercise—with beneficial results predictably generated by the process.
Gratitude Journaling is the practice of reflecting on a handful, or more, of things that happened during the day that you can recognize as being good for you, directly or indirectly. You then write them down in a notebook and repeat this every day. Each day you will think of that day's goodness or your realization of something you appreciate — small, medium or large.
Research by a University of California (Davis) professor lists these changes in those who daily counted their blessings and recorded them: They...
Another part of the thankfulness focus involves communicating your appreciation to others. Inside each of us is a drawer full of pleasant feelings generated by the helpfulness, efficiency, artistry, kindness and reliability of others.
We brighten people's lives when we sprinkle them with the good feelings and appreciative attitudes we are carrying around inside ourselves. In the process, we feel happier as well. Giving gratitude flows in both directions lifting the sender as well as the receiver.
People Need People - October 27, 2017
Is it possible to be a whole person without relationships with others?
Probably not, if we take seriously the Bible's creation story. There we hear God saying, "It is not good for a person to be alone." More specifically, that is a reference to the creation of a woman to complement the man who is incomplete by himself. But it seems like it is bigger than just the man/woman complementary situation.
It appears like a principle that applies to everyone—namely, that with the presence of others in our lives, we are enabled to become more whole, healthy, and fulfilled. Conversely, isolating ourselves deprives us of spiritual sustenance that helps us to think better, breath better, live properly and ethically, and grow appropriately into what God intended.
Is this what Jesus was getting at when he said, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am present with them"? That suggests that the Spirit of God works when people gather together prayerfully. Does it mean we need each other for the Spirit of God to come through most effectively? I think it does. Alone, we are deprived of the maximum power, wisdom, or love that flows from the heart of God.
It is spiritually dangerous to be a person of such power or independence that we become isolated and deprived of people who disagree, argue with, or refuse or affirm our plans and wishes. Terrible things have happened when dictators, kings, presidents, and other leaders are able to go their own way. Power that intimidates shuts off the necessary flow of God's loving and moderating Spirit coming from others. It is necessary for living rightly, and making sound and appropriate decisions to be meaningfully connected to others and trusting of others.
How To Be Really Alive - October 20, 2017
Here is the formula for effective, satisfying, and meaningful living. It is to behave in a way that is not naturally comfortable. It is in large part to contradict your inner selfishness and self-centeredness. It is forgetting ourselves, denying ourselves and taking up an agenda that is people-centered.
It can mean merely doing something helpful that you aren't 100% comfortable with, but you choose to do it. You intentionally do it because you see or imagine a need and you want to inoculate someone with a dose of loving-kindness — IT CAN BE GOING INTO A HARD PLACE, LIKE A HOSPITAL ROOM, OR EVEN JUST GIVING AN ENCOURAGING WORD.
Matthew 5:14,16 says "You are the Light of the World...."
This is what we are here for. We have an agenda given us by Jesus. It is to brighten this world. Everyone of us is given that incredibly important assignment. It means we are gifted resources having that potential. And that responsibility!!!
To become truly alive is to have meaning and purpose. It is to know you are valued and loved and needed and connected, not only to people, but to Jesus Christ. It is to live on exactly his agenda, expressing his values — the values of one who died for others. There is the key to vitality and zest and true life. Guaranteed !!!!
Becoming really alive is moving out of self-centeredness, taking some risks, and, in small, but real ways, brightening the lives of others.
It is mostly easy and possible and it can start very small. It doesn't have to be a major life-shaking shift. It should start simply and naturally. But the key is . . . start!
Do something for someone. Brighten another person's life. Give something of yourself.
Small and Simple May Be Plenty - October 13, 2017
Did you know that a kind word spoken in someone's ear changes their body chemistry in a measurable and positive way? A kind word is a spiritual gift that touches another's spirit—and helps them physically.This is not new information. Biblical Proverbs proclaimed this many centuries ago.
An illustration in my book, The Miracle of Kindness, relates how Jan opened a small cracker package for a little old lady in the nursing home dining room. When she did so, Jan realized she had given a caring spiritual gift to the lady; the Senior Citizen glowed for an hour afterward. For that afternoon, the woman was a healthier human being, thanks to a tiny act of love.
Marilyn Monroe was once asked if she had experienced love as she was moved from one foster home to another in her youth. She thought, and then answered. "Yes, once when my foster Mother was putting on her makeup, and I was sitting on the counter watching her, she took her powder puff and puffed me on the nose. I felt that as love." Decades later, that simple, tiny act of affection was still blessing her.
KEEP IT SMALL. KEEP IT SIMPLE. Loving others is big, but let it begin as small as a mustard seed. We have so much to offer people around us.
Small acts, intentionally given, can mean so much to people. You can be a 'Jan'. You can be Marilyn Monroe's mother. You can give health to those whose bodies are weakened.
Happiness Is Possible - October 6, 2017
Happiness is a manageable goal. That is, we are not born with and or without it. Certainly, expanding happiness is not the same for everybody. But we all can be happier if we work at it.
The reason happiness deepening is valuable is that there is an enormous payoff. For example, in some extensive research, happy people were half as likely to die and half as likely to become disabled in the 20 years they were observed. Positive emotions — happiness, they concluded — protects against the ravages of aging.
50% of who we are is genetic; we are born with certain characteristics. But 50% is also changeable, flexible, learned, and open to growth. That half is able to behave, act, relate, and grow into greater happiness.
Our Care and Kindness Campaign is not first of all about happiness. It is about blessing people, giving gifts of affirmation, encouraging, appreciating people. But the wonderful truth is that a life steadily concentrating on that kind of giving is going to be a happier life. Not only will the recipients be happier, but the ones thoughtfully dedicated to giving such loving kindness will also be happier.
There are endless ways of brightening an hour or even a day (good food, great movies, satisfying gardening, pleasant conversations, beautiful flowers, and other endless additional activities.) But . . . happiness is different. It is the product of thoughtful actions — actions that lift another’s spirits. Actions such as loving kindness, consistently expressed and demonstrated, create happiness in the giver as well as the receiver.
Let's Start A New Wave - September 29, 2017
Empty your mind of all the positive thoughts stored there that are doing no one any good.
Is that a surprising suggestion?
Yes. Empty them from your mind. Release them! Holding them silently in your mind is a way of withholding countless blessings and gifts from people. Instead, release them from the 'unspoken' regions of your mind and express them aloud!
A daily inventory of anybody's thought bank turns up stacks and stacks of kind words unspoken, warm feelings held back, and grateful impulses reserved.
People need these goods. Soul food must be passed around, not warehoused in our hearts as so many warm feelings.
A new wave could sweep our world if millions of encouragement doors swung open! A tide of blessing like this would wash away a lot of hurt and it would begin to spread like wildflowers.
Tidbits About Care & Kindness - September 22, 2017
My activity in the care and kindness ministry has pushed me into staying active and even creative in actions and attitudes that fit the loving kindness theme.
I'd like to share a couple of ways I am endeavoring to give a tiny spirit-lifting gift to people I meet and connect with in a typical day.
Adding to our satisfaction is the fact that most whom we meet now seem friendlier in general to others, in addition to us, since we have reached out to them with warm greetings. I truly believe our one-mile walking course (which goes up the street we live on and then along the San Gabriel River and through Caruthers Park, a virtual circle) is now a friendlier place.
One of the pleasant surprises in the Care and Kindness adventure is that not only are the spirits lifted in the recipients of kindness but also giving is a happiness generator. The one who helps another is also a happier person.
Kindness Is Not Kid Stuff - September 15, 2017
The most outstanding phenomenon I took home from our first vacation cruise was about people. It was not the Alaskans, nor the Tlingit Indians; it was not our family, nor our fellow travelers. It was the paid help on the "Radiance of the Sea" cruise ship! This included waiters, room service folks, janitorial staff, greeters, clerks — everybody. There were no exceptions.
They were uniformly and consistently friendly, warm, and personable. If you passed any of them under any circumstance, you received eye contact, a smile, and kind words. Such greetings were never offered mechanically, nor without apparent genuineness. It was amazing! It was wonderful!
There was no obvious way to ascribe the exceptional behavior as being generated. Therefore, it had to be prescribed conduct, directed by management of the cruise line. It had to be mandatory, high priority, prescribed behavior, because it was always there and it was seldom half-hearted. Nevertheless — even though the friendliness was required—it still felt wonderful to us.
So what is my point? The head, not the heart, generates these warm connections, but the effect is the same. Spirits are lifted, discouragement healed, sick-hearts feel cheered. The recipients are left feeling positive about their entire experience, in no small part because of the warmth and friendliness exhibited.
Warmth and friendliness make people feel good. Cheerfulness and kind words are a blessing to people. My point is that we don’t have to be ‘directed’ to behave this way by our boss; we don’t have to behave this way because it is ‘expected’ of us — we can do it of our own volition, in gratitude for the loving kindness given to us by Christ! We can bless the people we meet, the people we work with, and the people we are with socially by being kind to them in these ways.
My point is that kindness is not kid stuff! Don’t discount it. It is very much for adults. As Christians, it is very much for us. Let’s do it more !!
Don't Just Do Something. Stand There! - September 8, 2017
JUST BE THERE!! We must think of every human being as 'the walking wounded', but we are not to think of how we must fix them. Our fixing is underway when we greet a stranger, or show up in a hospital room. But we leave the fixing to God. It is enough to stand there in love. We do not have to do much more than that.
God surrounds us with His Presence. God is healing us every moment. And that is where we must be. Present! With people! We greet them. We touch them. We smile at them, listen to them, walk with them. We weep with those who weep. But there is STILL a little more we can do . . . while we leave the fixing to God.
I'll explain this by way of a Peanuts cartoon: Charlie Brown asks Lucy: "Do pretty girls know they are pretty?" Says Lucy: "Only if somebody tells them,"
It's a metaphor about life in general.
A compliment to a pretty girl makes HER even prettier. Kind words are like vitamins. They nourish the spirit. A nourished spirit makes the body healthier and inspires persons to their own good deeds. Care and kindness is a brilliant way to create an ever-expanding chain of goodwill spreading like a prairie fire across the world, creating a wonderful form of global warming.
What does the Lord require of you? "To act justly. To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God," says Micah 6:8.
Here is another biblical teaching (with my own slight embellishment): "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is to look after orphans and widows [and strangers, geeks, teenagers, sick people, the walking wounded, the grieving, and everybody else struggling, hurting and handicapped].”
We can encourage them, appreciate them, inspire them with loving words, smiles, and compliments and general friendliness. But leave the fixing to God.
Tips for Being a Good Listener - September 1, 2017
A person who practices care and kindness strives to be a good listener. Most of us are so conscious of ourselves — our ideas, our answers, our experiences — that when someone starts talking, we connect their words with similarities in our own life. Then, immediately, we are intent on telling our own thoughts as quickly as they come to mind, and in so doing, we step on the other person's story. We have stopped listening!
Good listening includes talking a little — but not too much!
You encourage the speaker by your simple words, sounds, and gestures that indicate you are paying attention to what is being said. Pure silence can be confusing, so react enough to indicate your awareness of what is being said or shared, but don't try to tell your story, or solve the person's problems for them.
Relaxation and modifying our need to give answers and solve problems is vital to listening. Later . . . later . . . when we have listened long enough, and deeply taken note of what the speaker is experiencing emotionally, we may be able to offer some words. And, by then, we may see how shallow and superficial our earlier solutions or answers would have been.
We may now move on, having done much by doing little. We might suggest, challenge, confront or offer some idea that is appropriate; but taming the tongue is not a small accomplishment.
A reader responded to my comments posted last week by saying, "So true. I find myself thinking of my response, and not paying attention to what is being said." To restate my emphasis of last week, listening is NOT easy. It's a lot easier to say something than to be quiet. It is much easier to say much, than to say only a little.
James 1:19 — "Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak."
Listening Is Not Easy - August 25, 2017
"Listening is easy. I want to know what to say."
Those words from a frustrated student. He was exasperated with such a big emphasis on listening in care ministry. He viewed his role in ministry as talking, guiding, suggesting, counseling.
But I had to help him understand that listening is not easy.
Can you remember the last time someone really listened to you? I mean, REALLY listened to you? It doesn't happen often. When it does, it's a deep and memorable experience.
Christians tend toward being people with answers. The unkindest cuts of all are often rendered by well-meaning Christians who are intent on giving answers, providing solutions, and suggesting remedies to other Christians. They too ofter begin to give answers before knowing what the questions are!
I want to continue this topic next week, and to provide you with some helpful tips on listening. But for now, I want to emphasize the point that being caring and kind means being able to listen.
Effective listening includes watching and paying close attention to the one speaking. Seeing the quivering chin, the reddening rims of the eyes, the glint of a tear, noting the hesitations in telling their story — these are what a good listener notices.
Listening has to be intentional! It takes effort! It requires your focus! Listening is work, but it is wonderful work that blesses another person.
Proverbs 18:13 — "If one gives answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame."
God Isn't 'Practical' - August 18, 2017
God isn't 'practical' about our world, skimping on things that don't pay. He's got mountains and deserts that seem to be a poor idea when he could have made the whole earth flat and fertile like Iowa. He's put sparrows and peacocks into the picture when he might have limited fowl to plump fryer chickens. They're very practical.
However, God knows what we really need. He gives us beauty because 'man' does not live by bread alone. Our deepest selves suffer and dry up some when we are purely practical and balk at investing time or money in things of beauty. For this reason I believe it's a mistake to quit building beautiful churches.
There's enough money to construct lovely edifices and have dynamic social action programs too. It's not an 'either / or' situation. I believe also in 'wasting' money occasionally on something beautiful, of lasting value, for one's children or wife, and oneself too.
God loves beautiful, colorful, intricate, strange, complex, apparently 'useless' things. It seems very right that we do, too. Apparently, God intends to feed our souls to make us fuller, richer, happier through things of beauty. We're very short-sighted when we think we know what's practical. "A thing of beauty is a joy forever."
A Parting Gift to An Old Friend - August 11, 2017
Near the end of a pastoral visit to a wonderful Christian lady, she interrupted the flow of our conversation with a concern she was carrying. It was about her brother, also a senior citizen, living nearby. She described her heartache and her stress over his life-long failure to attend church and to profess Christian faith.
She told me the story of his life, somewhat briefly. He and others in the family had had a troubled beginning, and there was some distress and maybe even maltreatment in his early years. Then at some point early in his life, he got into gambling. Gambling had become a lifelong sideline and was still part of his everyday activity. The sister shared this, along with her heartache, over his church-less and evidently Christ-less life.
I felt caught in a dilemma. I was scheduled to be elsewhere in a very short time, while being handed a deep and important spiritual and personal heartache. So I hastened to the bottom line which I deeply believe, and I gave it to this woman almost as I was walking out the door. I said, "You must remember, and you should tell him this in a kind and loving way, that he is safe in the arms of Jesus."
A smile came onto her face and she began to glow. "Oh that is wonderful, that is so wonderful." She went on and on with her joyful reception and excitement over what I had told her. I had given her something worth more than $1 million.
This is not profound theology. We have been singing this all our lives: "Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black-and-white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world." And this is her brother! As old as he is, he is still a child of Jesus, and precious in Jesus’ sight.
Unfortunately the man has not been enjoying that, nor has be been motivated by it; and therefore, he has been missing the love Jesus has for him. That is sad, but big sister can still plant and sprinkle some of that wonderful reality into his heart by telling him from time to time, “You know Jesus loves you.” And hopefully one of these years it will mean a lot to him. And it will never end.
'Boldness' vs. 'Meekness' - August 4, 2017
Was Jesus meek? Was Jesus bold? . . . Yes!
By meekness we mean an inner spirit motivated to do God's will, to serve Jesus, and others. In meekness there is present an attitude that enables a person to see himself clearly. As Paul the Apostle says, "Having nothing, yet having everything". In other words, he is not afraid of losing, because he has a sense of well-being that cannot be taken away. He, or she, has an understanding of themselves that they, in fact, cannot be knocked down. There is an emptying of oneself which actually generates fullness.
A couple of readers sent an email after last week's article, saying they agreed that 'meek' was generally viewed as a terrible word. They wondered whether a better word could be found that incorporates all the positive traits of being meek. They listed a number of those traits they had in mind, but they did not include the word 'bold'. Perhaps this is the one trait of meekness that is most often not recognized. Jesus was specifically referred to as 'meek'. At the same time, his actions and behaviors were very bold.
Jesus gave up the privileges of being God in order to become a human, physical, person. As a human being he boldly confronted religious and civil leaders. He was straight-forward to those who had lived illegal lives. Jesus was able to live a kind of life that said "no" to some people's expectations and demands, instead of pleasing them. So we see Jesus, whom the Bible describes as being meek, was also bold.
Boldness is another term that has its problems being understood. It typically implies being aggressive, demanding, unyielding or displaying a self-centered toughness with others. But . . . those who would be truly bold must take on Jesus’ spirit of meekness.
As Christians we are expected to embody this meekness of which Jesus speaks in Matthew 5: "Blessed are the meek". Meekness and boldness are inseparable.
Meekness is not Weakness - July 28, 2017
Meekness is not weakness. This quality has too long, and too generally, been identified with a kind of weak passivity or niceness that is neither very respectable nor very likable. The common view is that the meek do not step up to the challenge—they stand on the sidelines.
Instead, the proper interpretation of meekness is being selfless while living strongly to help others. Meek persons are self-denying as they take on hard challenges. Meekness is compatible with strength. It is also consistent with being authoritative, powerful and bold. A person may be truly meek and at the same time daring, forthright and assertive.
Meekness is not something we inherit or pass along to our children genetically. It cannot be equated with certain personality types, and not with others. Meekness is not to be identified with niceness, softness, or passiveness. It is not like being timid or shy.
When we look at the Biblical examples of meekness, we see that meekness and boldness are like two sides of the same coin. True boldness, the kind that will stand up for the truth, and even die for it if necessary, is more possible when there is an inner quality of meekness present. In Numbers 12:3, we read. "The man Moses was very meek". Moses, for example, gave up the privileges of being the son of Pharaoh's daughter, and all the glory that that could have held for him, in order to lead his people to the promised land. In the process of doing al that, we see the meek Moses boldly confronting Pharaoh, speaking forthrightly with God, demanding of his people many hard things.
Meekness must be seen as a quality of our spirits produced by the spirit of Jesus. It helps to have the courage to be bold as we live the Christian life.
Ponder these thoughts. Would you like to be considered meek?
An Extremely Kind Gift - July 21, 2017
There is one incredibly kind sentence we can say to everyone. It is a gift that can be given to everyone. There are no exceptions. The sentence is this: "Jesus loves you!"
There may be other sentences, but none are as important as this one. It should be given when there is an atmosphere of openness and receptivity and it must be spoken with a serious but pleasant tone. Too much noise, a lot of hustle and bustle, dizziness—any of these types of situations suggest that waiting to say this later, however, would be better.
Like giving any precious gift, the 'Jesus loves you' treasure must be given with thoughtful, loving kindness; it can be done either casually or more formally, but presenting loving kindness of such great value calls for thoughtful carefulness. The prayer surrounding the gift-giving is that the person to whom it is presented will quietly, deeply, and earnestly realize how precious and beloved they are. The recipients, hopefully, will be touched when this gift is given to them.
When we live with the realization and celebration of being loved by Jesus, in this life and the life to come, we are experiencing the joy and satisfaction often called 'eternal life' or 'salvation'.
Some of you may think that to say these words aloud to another person would feel awkward. You may indeed feel self-conscious about speaking them. But, nevertheless, I urge you to make a conscious note to yourself to say them to someone. Remember that loving-kindness asks us to go into the hard places. So this may indeed be a hard place for you, but, I ask you again, try it. You will be blessed, as will the person to whom you speak.
A Different View of 'Humility' - July 14, 2017
I once asked a group for a volunteer to play the piano. No one moved.
Finally, someone coaxed a young woman forward. And then, she played superbly! She was very talented. However, she apparently thought a show of reluctance was the proper way to show humility.
But that's not humility. When seeing a need, the humble person offers what is needed—whether it's a question, an answer, or a talent. They do so even at the risk of having some people think they are being bold. But worrying about that is pride, not humility; humility doesn't worry about appearance.
Yes, it is true that humility includes "not thinking oneself greater than others." However, the true evidence of having an attitude of humility is a willingness to step forward, instead of hanging back. It means offering a helping hand, rather than waiting for others to ask, or for them to lead the way. Humility means to simply do what needs to be done.
Humility is not overly-concerned with self and with having to be flawless. It is characterized by seeing what is needed and stepping out to try to meet the need.
Jesus was humble. But he didn't withhold himself with his head down. His humility is seen in meeting the needs of people. Doing what had to be done. Giving of what he had. Not protecting his reputation or his skin. He gave up his comfortableness to help people. (Phil. 2:1-11)
Humility may be paired with obedience. Humility is like being a servant who sees needs and reaches out to give.
Your Smile Can Heal - July 7, 2017
I was walking in the mall, pondering a couple of discouraging encounters I had had earlier in the day. Suddenly, a young boy was blocking my path and I slowed to step around him. He greeted me with a warm smile and a wave of his hand. I couldn't help but smile back, and then — I realized my mood had lifted! I also noticed that the youth was a youngster with Down Syndrome.
He had healed me of my blue feelings with his infectious smile!
We all carry a smile! Too many of our smiles, however, are unused, or too rarely used. We need to share them more often. Smiles are instant inoculations of loving-kindness. Everyone needs them constantly.
Each of us walks through life carrying this powerful medicine, and we have the opportunity to lift spirits and heal discouraged souls everywhere we go. Not only does it elevate the sagging spirits of others and makes their body healthier, the smilers themselves also receive an infusion of spiritual medicine that makes them healthier.
So, I suggest that you endorse the following attitudes and behavior:
I discovered the truth of these statements that day in the mall. My somber mood was lifted by the warmth expressed by a young boy.
This Is SO Important - June 30, 2017
I’m still thinking about how every one of us can do better at sharing and highlighting the joys of other people.
Twenty-five years ago when our family lived in Michigan, my wife and I managed to squirrel away enough money to take a trip to Hawaii. We were so excited to be escaping our frigid state for the anticipated luxury of a week in ‘paradise’. At the hospital where I worked, I discreetly mentioned the dream vacation that was a dozen days off.
The reactions of friends were mostly cognitive. That is, they would ask what island we were going to, or what airline we were booked on, how long we were going to be gone, etc. Decent questions. But all joyless!
Then Dr. Robert Baker responded with a hearty, “Oh, hey, that’s fantastic! What a great thing to do!” That outburst tickled my soul deeply! Dr. Baker, that day, showed me how to celebrate another person’s good news. The others asked questions (perhaps to disguise their jealousy) to show their interest; but the doctor danced with me.
The doctor read between the lines.
Because I was not showing a lot of excitement about this expensive trip, I was a little self-conscious about it, and maybe even somewhat apologetic—I did not seem to be dancing.
But he jumped behind the scenes and burst out with joy on my behalf. Often, that is what it takes. Creating an atmosphere where the highlights of life can be talked about is a big step in creating a caring community.
On the individual level, you and I must work hard at thoughtful responding. We must put effort into asking people about the nice things we've heard that have happened to them and then we must listen and be energetic in responding.
In a family, a wife is not irritated if her husband comes home exalting over an increase in pay! Nor will a brother be threatened if his sister becomes Miss America! They rejoice together because the success of one is the success of the other. They go up and down together.
We must endeavor to draw attention to the joys, thrills, excitements, and successes of those we are caring about, so all will be encouraged to celebrate with them.
I'm Still Reminding You - June 23, 2017
I reminded you in our last commentary that inviting people to share their joys was a task you should give attention to. Most people are better listeners when someone is telling of their difficulties— but most of those same people don’t listen very attentively when someone wants to share their happiness about something.
To say it differently: Christians do well in dealing with the hurts and heartaches of those around them. Tell about your tragedy, and there will be people who will stand still and listen respectfully. But tell of your joys or triumphs, and people change the subject quickly — their eyes glaze over with disinterest. You soon get their message: "I'm really not interested in the good things you've had happen to you."
The next great frontier is learning to be genuinely interested in each other's good news.
Years ago, after Linda and I returned from a fortuitous, wonderful trip to London, Nigeria and the Holy Land, our friends asked us to tell them about it! Then they listened! And asked great questions! All we could hope for! It was very gratifying. I think back on how rare that experience was.
I expect I’ll have more to say on this topic — it is SO important. And for now, I’ll repeat myself by urging you to work on this!
And again tomorrow.
A Needed Reminder - June 16, 2017
I call this a needed reminder because I see it as a behavior we constantly need to keep working on. At first glance it seems obvious, but upon further reflection, I'm sure you will agree with me that most of us are not conscientious enough to enter into the joys of others.
I have taught repeatedly that we should rejoice with those who rejoice. The Bible instructs to do so, and yet our daily living — our daily pace — our adapting to the culture around us, causes us to overlook the Bible teaching. Consider this example:
A good friend's son recently achieved a measure of greatness in music by winning an international competition. I asked this friend, a college professor, if he planned to share this great news with his departmental colleagues. “No, probably not," he replied.
"Why not?" I asked in surprise. His exact answer I do not remember, but the gist of it was that he knew, by past experience, that they would not listen, and he would feel hurt by their indifference. With their care-less-ness, they would tarnish this great moment he was carrying like a treasure. So it was better to keep it to himself than to share it.
It is a rare and delicious experience when our great news is really listened to by another. What a treat when that unique person enters our excitement and, in even a small way, seems to capture what it means to us — listening, smiling, asking leading questions, making eye contact, maintaining a high level of energetic involvement, pats on the back ...
So, dear friends, I beseech you — work on this. Today. And again tomorrow.
It's Easier To Live By Faith If You've Had A Good Night's Sleep - June 9, 2017
Sometimes cutting short your sleep to commune with God may undermine your ability to live close to God. A tired person is more vulnerable than the wide-awake. The weakened body is more apt to be plagued with spiritual self-doubt than when one is fed and rested.
Quiet times for prayer, meditation, and reflection aid the Christian life, but the notion that 'more of the same' will continue to produce positive results is questionable.
Thoughtful ideas about the interconnection of spirit and body are surprisingly commonsensical when we see it this way:
Spiritual inspiration and enthusiasm can be mediated by physical intervention and activities. This being true, faith builders will not only recommend worship in the traditional forms—including Bible study, prayer, meditation and song.
They will also encourage the health-care (Excedrin? caffeine?) of the body, spirit and emotions through exercise, vacations, travel, hospitality, friendship, good-deeds, interesting and helpful projects, enjoyment of the arts, folk-dance, the appreciation of beauty in nature and craftsmanship.
And a lot more, like hobbies, gardening, walks, vacations.
Confident that "everything affects everything else", the growing Christian will be one who designs a well-rounded life-style -- free of guilt that perhaps some of their pastimes, while well-enjoyed, might be unspiritual.
Spirit-raising pastimes bring us closer to God.
The Gift of Tears - June 2, 2017
Jerry Bronsma told how he once shared a painful emotional wound with a friend.
"She began to cry as I shared", he said with amazement. "Nobody ever cried for my pain before," explained Jerry. Then he added: “Her tears healed me a lot more than if she had read many Bible verses with me, or even if she had just prayed. It made me feel she understood what I was feeling, and that my distress was reasonable.”
Too often we try to stop people from crying. We grab a box of tissues to dry the water as quickly as possible. But tears are a gift of God. When tears flow, toxins are emptying out of our system and well-being is enhanced. Tears express our feelings powerfully in ways mere words cannot. Words often conceal—tears are honest.
In Biblical times, families would bring in gifted weepers to prime the pump of tears in the others. They would stand and wail, causing others to weep. Tears were recognized as needed and appropriate—not a weakness or an unwanted or embarrassing bother.
So Jerry Bronsma recognized this rare gift when his friend wept with him. Her tears gave him permission to cry more. Plus her tears spoke deeply of her empathy and compassion for him. Her tears were a profound message of care and kindness, too rare today.
My challenge to you is this: dare to be brave enough, strong enough to show your own empathy and your weakness.
It doesn't show strength to deny tears to yourself, or to deny them from others. Rather, allowing yourself to show weakness (tears) is a strength. Embrace it. Allowing others to shed tears publicly is to give them a gift. Bless them by helping them to feel free to weep in front of you.
Kindness at the Front Door - May 26, 2017
We can grow!
Here is an example: the doorbell rang, and before I could move an inch, a knock at the door was added. That irritated me, but it happens from time to time. I thought I would say something sarcastic about it to whomever was there when I opened the door.
Upon opening the door I met two middle-aged women standing, well-dressed, with relatively expressionless faces. They were rather tall women, who immediately addressed me pleasantly. Instantaneously, I knew they were Watch Tower representatives—Jehovah Witness people.
Ordinarily, I would debate, debunk, or dismiss them. Usually, like you may have done, I would quickly inform them that I had a church of my own and had no interest, or time, for their presentation. If not hostile, I would nevertheless be very cold.
This time I was different. “Two beautiful women,” was my greeting and they both smiled nicely.
Then they handed me an invitation to an event at the Kingdom Hall not far away. We chit-chatted about the date and place. Then I said with warmth and a smile, “Thank you for stopping here.”
They replied, “We hope you will come.”
“Thank you,” I answered, “you’re beautiful.”
Smiling, they turned and departed. And I felt fantastic. I felt better for having shown kindness rather than the coldness I had expected to demonstrate.
That's the secret: Showing kindness makes THEM feel better and it makes YOU feel better.
Try it with someone . . . today!
Positive Proof About Prayer - May 19, 2017
Finally, someone did some 'care'-ful scientific research on prayer.
Milton A. Drake, Jr., M.D., wrote a summary of the study, Positive Therapeutic Effects on Intercessory Prayer in a Coronary Care Unit Population. It was presented at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association in November of 1964.
There were two groups of about 200 in this research program. One was prayed for by a prayer team outside the hospital. The prayers had the names and diagnosis of selected cardiac care patients. The other group was not prayed for by this team. None knew whether or not they were being interceded for in prayer in this special way.
The investigators who later studied the patient's case histories were not aware which ones had been prayed for. They merely scrutinized the medical records of all, looking for those with the best response to treatment, the fewest complications. Statistical comparison showed there was no significant difference between the two groups to begin with, at the time of admission to the cardiac care unit. That is, one set of patients was not more ill than the other.
At the end, however, those receiving intercessory prayer had a better recovery rate, with fewer problems:
The final sentence of the research summary is a typically cautious scientific assessment: "In conclusion, intercessory prayer appears to have a beneficial effect in patients in a cardiac care unit."
A careful study like this one is a terrific boost for all of us! When we think there is nothing we can do to help, we are always wrong. There is enormous value in intercessory prayer.
Just Walk With Me - May 12, 2017
I have a problem. I want to tell you about it. No, I really don't. I'd rather keep it to myself; handle it alone. I do think it would be good for me to share it with you, but I probably won't because I'm afraid of what you'll say or how you'll act.
I'm afraid you might feel sorry for me in a way that makes me feel pathetic. Like I'm some 'poor thing'.
I'm afraid you will try to cheer me up. That you will give me words or text or prayers that tell me in a subtle way to stop feeling bad. If you do that I'll feel worse (but hide it behind my obedient, cheerful smile). I'll feel you don't understand. I'll feel you are making light of my problem (as if it can be brushed away with some brief words of cheer).
I'm afraid you'll give me an answer. That this problem I've been wrestling with for some time now and about which I have thought endless thoughts will be belittled. You can answer in a half-minute what I've struggled with for weeks?
I'm afraid you might ignore my problem; talk quickly about other things, and tell me of your own.
I'm afraid, too, you might see me stronger than I am. See me as not needing you to listen and care. (It's true. Maybe I can get along, but I shouldn't).
What I'd really like is if you would 'just walk with me'. Listen, as I begin in some blundering, clumsy way to break through my fearfulness of being exposed as weak. Hold my hand and pull me gently as I falter and begin to draw back. Say a word, make a motion, or a sound that says, "I'm with you."
If you've been where I am, tell me how you felt in a way that I can know you're trying to walk with me - Not Change Me.
But I'm afraid . . .
- you'll think I'm too weak to deserve respect and responsibility.
- you'll explain what's happening to me with labels and interpretations...
- or you'll ask me, "What'ya going to do about it?"
PLEASE! Just walk with me! All your ideas may seem brighter and sharper, smarter, and expert. But what really takes love is to Just Walk With Me."
A Soft Answer Does Turn Away Wrath - May 5, 2017
It's reassuring to doubters, such as I, to find science reinforcing Biblical ideas. Here's a new development I read about in a magazine:
A SOFT ANSWER DOES TURN AWAY WRATH, according to the results of a four-month study of unruly children who were discipline problems in school. Normal and loud teacher reprimands, that could be heard by the whole class, had no effect on the disruptive behavior of such children. When the teachers switched to soft reprimands that could be heard only by the child being corrected, most of the unruly children misbehaved less often.A return to loud reproaches resulted in an increase in poor behavior, and a later return to soft corrections again resulted in better behavior.K. Daniel O'Leary, associate professor of psychology, and a team of graduate students at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, conducted the study.
A SOFT ANSWER DOES TURN AWAY WRATH, according to the results of a four-month study of unruly children who were discipline problems in school. Normal and loud teacher reprimands, that could be heard by the whole class, had no effect on the disruptive behavior of such children. When the teachers switched to soft reprimands that could be heard only by the child being corrected, most of the unruly children misbehaved less often.
A return to loud reproaches resulted in an increase in poor behavior, and a later return to soft corrections again resulted in better behavior.
K. Daniel O'Leary, associate professor of psychology, and a team of graduate students at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, conducted the study.
We who take the Bible so literally might try putting some of its very concrete suggestions into practice — starting with this one.
Ask yourself: How do I react when I'm criticized harshly? What words come to mind when I am ready to explode? Am I in control of my feelings, or are they controlling me?
Speaking softly. Speaking kindly. Easier said than done, don't you think? But I encourage you to see where you can apply this lesson and observe for yourself the result.
A Compliment is Manna from Heaven - April 28, 2017
The man had done something very helpful for me, so I gave him a small gift in appreciation. He took it, wadded it up, dropped it on the ground, stomped on it and threw it back at me. I backed away, deflated and embarrassed. Burned by that incident, gifts of gratitude have been harder to hand out since then.
The above incident is a metaphor for the common experience of paying compliments. Very often they bounce off their target as if unwanted and even flung back indifferently.
It sounds like the saintliest of attitudes when the appreciated preacher retorts, "Don't thank me, just praise the Lord." But the grateful parishioner feels rebuffed and straight-armed away with a 'pious' platitude.
Accepting compliments, for some strange reason, is difficult for a lot of people: The exquisite meal prepared by a hardworking homemaker is shrugged off as "something I threw together in a minute." The attractive dress, praised, is discounted as "something from a bargain basement."
Teenagers, too, seem to suffer from compliment aversion. Handling one comfortably is a rarity. They tend to shove them frantically away as if afraid of contamination by the positive regard of an adult.
My own conversion from tending to be a gift-rejecter to learning to be a grateful accepter happened at the door of Trinity Church. I had just preached the morning sermon and had taken my customary position at the back door to greet the departing worshippers. A young woman stopped, shook my hand, and commented, "That was a very good message." While inwardly glowing from this endorsement, I gave my usual disclaimer along these lines: "It seemed a little long to me." To which she countered firmly, "Why can't you accept a compliment?"
Stung, I started thinking and repenting. She had given me a gift of herself and I batted it back as if unneeded. My response was dishonest and unkind. Truthfully, I deeply needed her supportive response, and any others I could get. Her words helped enormously. An honest acceptance of her kindness would have been to say, "Thank you. I really appreciate hearing that." Even a simple "thank you" would be enough.
'It is better to give than to receive,' we are taught. But insensitive receivers sorely discourage generous givers.
Jesus knew how to treat a gift. When a young woman anointed him with expensive ointment, the disciples registered disapproval of the waste. But Jesus gracefully embraced both the gift and the giver, protecting her feelings, and, by his actions, saying, "Thanks, I needed that."
A compliment is a gift. Most of us, if honest about it, are needy enough to take all we can get. Kindness to those who give, and to ourselves, calls for a simple, honest "thank you." Accepting the manna of kindness is, in truth, giving thanks to God.
Thank Someone This Week - April 21, 2017
I think it would be a good idea if someone promoted "Thanksgiving" cards. No doubt Hallmark is trying but people don't buy the idea because they suspect commercial motivation. But what an appropriate time to sit down and think of a number of people who have given you something and then make a point of a straightforward, unashamed statement of appreciation.
The most meaningful "thank yous" would be those sent to friends and relatives who are so close they'd never expect such a card from us. I'd like to see parents say "thank you" to their children for "all you have done for us." I'd like to see us draw up some lists of old experiences from home that have stayed treasured in our memories - and thank dad or mom for them. Things they'd never suspect meant a lot to us.
Then there's your wife or husband and all those things you appreciate but are so accustomed to, you expect them. Write them down and say "thank you."
Not only relatives, however. Perhaps your neighbor whom you have always appreciated. No fantastic person in the spectacular sense. Just a neighbor who has been what a neighbor "ought to be". He won't listen when you tell him straight out how much you're thankful for him (but it's worth a try). So send him a "thank you" card. Or maybe there's a colleague or a co-worker who you should say "thank you" to.
Stop a few minutes. Trace your steps through an average day, week, year or your life 'til now . . . surprising, isn't it? how many stand out as people who have made life good just by being part of your life. Thank some of them this month and thank God for the people in your life.
Easter Means Life; Easter Shows Love - April 14, 2017
One short sentence, spoken by Jesus, is occupying my heart and mind. Jesus said this on the cross in the middle of his unspeakable pain. The words are, "It is finished." It was a profoundly important theological announcement. Certainly his suffering and his life were finished. But the three words were primarily a powerfully important spiritual announcement. His death ended the whole business of sacrifices and offerings, rituals, rules and observances, focused on covering and paying for sin. That was now finished. The debt is paid for. Every sin past, present and future has been forgiven.
Shortly thereafter, in three days, came the Resurrection—the beginning of a whole new life, a totally new future, LIFE-centered and LOVE-centered—not sin-centered. That is what Salvation is about. It is not just about going to heaven. It is about a whole new life, and a whole new purpose and goal for our lives. We are to help create a world that radiates, suggests, points toward, and anticipates Heaven: “heaven on earth”. Satisfactions, peace, joy, and more, even though incomplete, and the Presence of Jesus with us.
Easter is the beginning of life in a whole new and wonderful way. Every act of love, kindness, compassion and friendliness is a whisper of God's love. Every creative innovation, artistic act, invention or positive modification is God's beauty, God's presence and Jesus promises.
That is our mission—to bring goodness and love and beauty and healing on earth as it is in heaven. By being intentional in our everyday life to be kind to all we meet, we are sharing Jesus, even if we don't say it.
That's Phony! - April 7, 2017
"I couldn't put my arm around her and hug her if I wasn't feeling like it. That would be phony."
'If it's phony you shouldn't do it', is the logic behind this. 'Anything that is done when you don't feel like it is phony', is another part of the reasoning. Doing something that I don't feel like doing makes me uncomfortable. Therefore, it isn't genuine. Therefore, it should be avoided.
Now imagine you're a golfer, but not a good one. You finally decide to take some lessons, even though you've been playing for fifteen years. The pro says, "You're holding the club wrong. You must change your grip radically if you hope to improve."
So you put your hands as he instructs, and you swing at a ball. It feels awkward and unnatural. You think, "I can't hit that way, it's phony! It makes me very uncomfortable. I don't feel right this way."
Obviously, however, if you're going to improve, you have to endure a period of discomfort until it begins to feel good.
That's how it is with the hug in the opening quotation above. If the hug is appropriate; if it is needed and possible, it should be given! regardless of the discomfort the hugger may feel. With practice it may not feel so bad—it might even feel good.
Paying compliments, speaking up, thanking people—these action are not to await our feelings. They are part of giving. Part of being a responsible person toward others. They are often more a matter of will than of emotions. More duty than feelings. This conscientious approach to others is essential in creating a healing community. "Love One Another!" is not amended by the words "when you feel like it."
I remember a man at a State Hospital. His I.Q. was incredibly low. So low that I felt I wasn't bright enough to communicate clearly with him. After each worship service, however, he came up to me and said, "Very good. Very good." Even though I knew he didn't understand a word of the sermon, I found myself cheered by his words.
I doubt that doing good, helping someone else, cheering another person, even when you don't feel like it, can ever be called phony. Immeasurable kindness and healing is possible through supportive actions which arise willingly from people who are determined to care about others.
In spite of uncomfortable feelings!
Check Your Story At The Door - March 31, 2017
I was sitting outside the car wash waiting for my Buick to emerge. The guy next to me on the waiting bench reeked with sociability. "How ya' doing," he quipped.
"Okay, except our dog just died," I said, since I was full of that sad reality. It was more than I needed to say, since this was destined to be a one-time, fifteen-minute relationship. But I said it, in part, to keep the encounter from total superficiality.
"Oh, I've been through that," responded my new best friend. And he didn't stop with this bit of non-empathy. For the next quarter-hour, I listened to him about the demise of his two dogs, all the details, from top to bottom. Then his van was announced "ready" and he walked away. "See ya'," he said.
I was the hurting party, with fresh bereavement. He was a veteran of long-past losses. I had cracked the door of lament open, but he walked in, paying no attention to my concerns. I was the patient — but instead of being treated as such, I was being asked to become the doctor — to attend to HIS hurts.
Sensitive people must bite their tongues even when they are dying to spill their own thoughts. It is the most natural thing in the world to jump over to your own memories when another's triggers a recall of something similar. Stories evoke stories. But caring people diligently refrain from stealing another's spotlight. They know that if "Bob" brings up either a sorrow or a joy, Bob is asking to be heard — not to have the tables turned so that he has to listen while you share.
This is Cardinal Rule #1 in being a caring friend: Resist mightily the strong temptation to discontinue tuning in to another's story in order to tell your own.
Keep an Open Mind That You Can Close - March 17, 2017
In the small town of Cordova in northern California, a Roman Catholic Church one day became the center of some excitement. A glowing outline appeared on the front wall of the sanctuary. Some were certain it depicted Mary holding the Baby Jesus. Soon folks were coming from miles away to view the apparition. I think the image was caused by the sun reflecting on something in the sanctuary.
It seems wonderful to me, though, that there are plenty of people who are open to the possibility that the image could have been a spiritual phenomenon—a godly UFO. Such folks are living in an open-ended creation. For them, life is not confined to the logical, the explainable, the predictable. Reality is richer when we make ample room for the miraculous, the surprising.
Unfortunately this childlike readiness to see the divine breaking into everyday events goes hand in hand with superstition and vulnerability to those who promise, threaten, and manipulate in the name of God. I'm sure you have heard plenty of stories as evidence of such gullibility. Similarly, I am politely incredulous of those who claim God spoke to them: 'God told me to move to California' or 'God's voice told me to start a ministry to the Tujungas.'
If God does have a private conversation with you, the appropriate thing is to ponder it secretly and personally. If it involves others, you must allow its veracity and meaning to be discerned by allowing trusted Christians to sort it out and assess it.
Surprises do happen. It seems important for Christians to be cautiously open to unusual possibilities breaking through here and there, now and then. Over the years I have heard stirring stories from people of impeccable sanity. Often these stories recount edge-of-the-cliff rescues. Some have felt strong hands lifting them from a fire or auto wreck. Others have sensed a presence, whom they felt to be Christ himself, appearing in a hospital room, bringing a fresh infusion of life and an unexpected recovery.
The alternative is a closed worldview which asserts that all events depend on the canniness of humanity, ordinary processes, or the logic and luck of fate or nature. Such an outlook holds that life is totally knowable and predictable.
So my thought for today is that it is good to keep an open mind. Allow for surprises from God. (I like the term coined by SQuire Rushnell — God Winks.) But also, be ready to close it when appropriate.
Being a Blessing to Little People - March 10, 2017
I tried to speak to some of my childhood heroes and heroines, now, after forty-five to fifty years. I tried to tell them how much they still mean to me. It didn't seem to register. Maybe they were being modest in brushing my compliments aside. But it's more likely that each of them has had so much life that their brief, fleeting, contacts with this little kid (me) were insignificant.
None of these laid hands on my head and blessed me. I recall no prophetic words or predictions of success or happiness. Such pronouncements would have been indelibly tattooed on my soul because of their importance to me. But, as it is, they nourished my spirit and positively modeled adulthood by just being kind, interested, attentive, genuine people. They told me the world is safe, caring, and enjoyable and that God is good.
Children are always formed by those a step or two ahead of them. Young ones watch their brothers and sisters and the friends these older ones bring home. They listen, notice, and observe uncles, aunts, and neighbors. They copy, learn, react. They take everything in. Their values, attitudes, and theology are being molded. Their spirits are lifted or deflated.
This is what the Body of Christ is about—the word of encouragement, of interest shown, advice offered to others, whether small children, teenagers, or young adults, is a wonderful responsibility—not just a chance bonus.
I thank God today for Gemt and Harry. Marty and John. "Aunty Anne" and Dr. Jack. Elsie, Clarence, the Spoelstras. the Huizengas, and the Struikmans— and many more whose faces are clear but whose names have faded. Their care is in my soul forever.
Big People Mean a Lot to Little People - March 3, 2017
A few days ago, I met several people who had important influences on my life. None had any idea that they had played a valued role in my development. Most of them were men (some were women) who had been nice to me when I was young. Each is now well past retirement age. I knew them before I was a teenager; so they must have been in their early twenties.
As might be expected, I had made only enough of an impression on them to give them a vague memory of me. But, to me, they are still unforgettable characters — my heroes.
One was surprised to learn that I had spent the day with him when the Japanese surrendered, ending World War II. He did remember, though, exactly where he had been. On August 14,1945, his cattle truck had burned out a wheel bearing a long way from home. He had spent much of that day working on the truck at the livestock-sale barn where it had happened. News of VJ Day came through on the radio in the truck cab.
While he had no recall of my being there, the day is clear in my own memory. It was one of many wonderful days on which he had invited me to enjoy the high adventure of riding with him in his big sixteen-wheeler!
Another of my heroes was a career Navy man who would show up at our house from time to time with gifts from distant places for the adults. He thrilled us small boys by giving us rides on his motorcycle.
There are many people I remember fondly: families and homes where sleeping overnight was fun, warm, and comforting; individuals who kidded us in the Dutch language; some who were unique and fascinating because of mannerisms, handicaps, or eccentricities.
It dawned on me what a character-shaping effect we can have on other people's children. My childhood environment was thoroughly seasoned with kind, attentive folks from outside my family. Their natures were inclusive. They drew people in. They made sure young ones were noticed, nurtured—and nourished too.
And so, I ask you. Have you paused to think of the influence you may be having on other people? Perhaps not simply children, but all whom you encounter. In your busy-ness, in your attention to the details of your own life, other folks are nevertheless being influenced by you. That is not to make you feel self-conscious, but rather that you celebrate the fact that you mean something to people — even when you may not realize it.
Acts of (un)Kindness Stick - February 24, 2017
We speak of how an act of kindness sticks in our memory. But . . . acts of unkindness also stick.
A writer tells of going down a lane with a nursemaid in England when two village children ran out and shyly offered him some wild flowers they had plucked. He remembers bitterly how he haughtily rejected the flowers from the children and ran to take the hand of his nursemaid. When he looked back, he saw the two children still standing and looking at him, with tears running down their faces. He remembers that. Undoubtedly, they remember it, too.
On the other hand, another man long ago will not forget this: A bus was crowded in a Southern city, and the Black section of the bus was overcrowded, so a white Texan invited the man who was standing to share his seat in the white section. The bus driver objected and the Black man got up to leave. But the white man, in protest, stood up with him, refusing to be seated while the Black man stood.
In Japan, it does something to you, while traveling by train, to hear music over the loud-speaker as the trains pulls out. Then when you arrive at your destination, over the loud-speaker a voice graciously says, "You must be tired. We are sorry the train is two minutes late. Please see that you have left no parcels. Good-bye." It makes you feel that there is something more to traveling than the mechanics and logistics of it. As you wash your hands in the train lavatory, there is a bunch of fresh cut flowers, probably carnations. These touches affect you. A lot of it is superficial, but superficial or not, it nevertheless puts a good taste in your mouth.
I smiled once at a little girl and boy as they came through the train in Japan, and then they came through the car again and again to get another smile — and give a bigger smile.
Paul, looking back upon the shipwreck experience on Malta, remembered one thing especially: "The natives showed us uncommon kindness" (Acts 28:2).
Dear Father, help me today to search out someone who needs my kindness and give it — and give it graciously.
Terrible Circumstances - February 17, 2017
Annie Dillard, a Christian writer, says this:
God is no more blinding people with glaucoma or testing them with diabetes or purifying them with spinal pain or choreographing the seeding of tumor cells through lymph or fiddling with chromosomes than is he jimmying flood waters or pitching tornadoes at towns.
God is no more cogitating which among us He plans to place here as bird-headed dwarfs or elephant men or to kill by AIDS or kidney failure or heart disease, childhood leukemia, or sudden infant death syndrome, than He is pitching lightning bolts at pedestrians, triggering rock slides or setting fires.
The very least likely things for which God might be responsible are what insurers call "acts of God".
So Annie Dillard takes a very strong stand against the notion that we can blame God for the bad things of life. And I agree with her. It troubles me when people so frequently say, "It is God's will," in tragic circumstances. They usually mean well when they say it; they are trying to acknowledge God's omnipotence.
But I believe that God is not only all-powerful, but is he also a loving God. I don't believe it is His will to bring tragedy, heartache, and grief to the people he loves.
Here is a quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that speaks to this:
We know, of course, that God and the devil are engaged in battle in the world and that the devil also has a say in death. In the face of death, we cannot simply speak in a simplistic way, 'God wills it', but we must juxtapose it with the other reality: 'God does not will it.'
Death reveals that the world is not as it should be, but that it stands in need of redemption. Christ alone is the conquering of death. Here, the sharp antithesis between 'God wills it' and 'God does not will it' come to a head and also find its resolution. God accedes to that which God does not will, and from now on, death itself must therefore serve God.
Though Bonhoeffer's statement is focused on death, I believe he would agree with me that so many things that the secular world places in the convenient box of 'God's will' are more likely to be things that God does NOT will.
God loves us.
You Can Affect the Health of Others - February 10, 2017
Last week, I waxed eloquently (click here)
(I hope you thought so!) on the benefit to your own health from smiling. But the other half of this reality is that a smile sends well-being to others. The gift of a smile is equivalent to, or greater than, handing someone a pep-pill or a vitamin. Sometimes it is the best medicine a sick soul can swallow.
Jesus calls us to “love one another”. A smile to the person in the car next to yours, waiting for the same light to turn green, is love. Love is not a feeling — it is an action. Love is giving to someone else an ingredient that lifts their spirits, enhances their health, improves their heartbeat. A smile is that kind of medicine.
A smile does not have to flow out of a happy heart. A smile can be generated or turned on by a personal decision, regardless of how opposite we may be feeling. Smiles can be generated even when we are feeling hurt, afraid, anxious or pre-occupied with a heavy assignment.
There are a lot of ways to give or show love — all efforts to encourage, motivate, heal, and inspire people who have been knocked down or stymied, are love. Love can be ‘showing up’, listening to another’s heartache, baking a cake or lending a dollar. But the one easy — and guaranteed — slice of love, possible for everybody, is sharing a smile.
Whether you feel like it or not, SMILE A LOT.
A Simple Action to Improve Your Health - February 4, 2017
Smiling is important, I say. Does the Bible back me up on that?
Actually, there are no words that give us a clue whether the Apostles or Jesus himself ever smiled. I believe that they certainly did, but there is no positive anecdote telling us that smiling happened. Most translations of the New Testament do not include the word ‘smile’. But my conclusion is that we should ‘smile anyway.’
Smiling is not the same for everybody. The muscles of our faces are not all alike. For some, a smile is natural and automatic. For others, it takes a little effort, and even a decision, to pull the muscles of their face in an upward direction that puts a grin or a smile on their face.
Today we know that smiling is a health-invoking action. A smile is a positive activity that nourishes our physical and intellectual system. Putting a smile on our face is like taking into our body a positive food or drink.
Consider this analogy: It is customary for a mom or dad to hand a youngster a glass of milk and ask them to drink it. Parents know that milk is good for the body, making us healthier and stronger. Expecting one’s child to drink milk is a non-debatable parental action. No one disagrees with that.
So I suggest that teaching a child to smile — or training ourselves to smile— is a similar good parental action.
We don’t have to have the phenomenon explained or analyzed, so that we can know exactly what is happening in order to get the benefits. But extensive research has observed and recorded the fact that smiling has measurable positive results! This nearly automatic activity, when evident on our face, nourishes our spirit, enhances our mental well-being, and generates healing ingredients in our physical system. Smiling improves our lives!
Thoughts Generate Chemicals - January 27, 2017
An Olympic Athlete Trainer says this:
There are four negative feelings or thoughts that produce toxic chemicals in the brain. They are Hate, Greed, Fear, and Jealousy. To get his athletes to do better, he says they must change these to Love, Generosity, Courage, and Praise.
He claims that service to others is one of the best ways to move into the healthy context. Doing this has proven to be effective in producing the winning edge.
Interesting discovery. Thoughts produce chemicals, and positive thoughts produce positive chemicals. Of course, there is a time for sorrow and vexation, but they must not dominate, or they will infect.
So we would do well to ponder this and to reflect on what our own thoughts are. Granted, we cannot control our feelings. We may have a feeling of sadness come upon us. We didn't seek to feel sad, but it is nevertheless how we are feeling. Likewise, we cannot control a feeling of urgency, or franticness, or frustration, or anger. These feeling come unbidden.
But . . . and this is the key! . . . we CAN control our thoughts. Our thoughts can change our feelings. Thoughts produce chemicals. Consciously entertaining a thought of Love can absolutely affect your feelings toward another person. Deciding to think thoughts of praise about another person, of God, or of particular circumstances will — they WILL — begin changing in your feelings.
The Truth about Kindness - January 20, 2017
Kindness is a very homely virtue. This is using the word 'homely' in the British sense of belonging to the home—a very commonplace, ordinary virtue. And yet it is as ordinary as salt, and as essential as salt. Without kindliness, there is no virtue in the other virtues. It puts a flavor into all the other virtues; without it they are insipid and tasteless; or worse, they degenerate into vices.
Love, joy, peace, good temper—without kindliness, they are very doubtful virtues.
To grow in kindliness is to grow in virtues that are flavored with a certain spirit. The spirit of kindliness pervades everything. A little boy explained the difference between kindness and loving-kindness this way: "Kindness is when your mother gives you a piece of bread and butter, but it is loving-kindness when she puts jam on it as well."
Jesus expressed it this way: "Treat one another with the same spirit as you experience in Christ Jesus" Not merely the same actions, but the same spirit in the actions as was in Jesus' actions. This is the high water of morality in this universe. Beyond this, the human race will not, and cannot, progress. This is character and conduct ultimate. This gives kindness a plus—an infinite plus.
Thus, kindness is not mere maudlin sentimentality. Kindness is a vital, must-have ingredient of all we do. To be kind to a person is to care for the person. That's what we emphasize in our mission: Care AND Kindness! The two are so much the same and they do go together.
God's kindness to us can sometimes seem severe—severe because He loves so deeply; He cares so much. But with His severity, there is security. He loves us too much to let us go.
"Go Thou and do likewise." Someone said that once! Be kind to everyone. Demonstrate in your daily living that you care what happens to people around you. Grow in your kindliness.
Hopeful vs Hopeless - January 13, 2017
Popular opinion holds that a disabling life event is likely to destroy a person's faith. A research project studying 26 men and women who had acquired permanent disabilities relegating them to wheelchair living revealed the opposite: 53% found their faith was increased by their disability. 31% "kept their faith" despite the challenges of disability. 8% found faith through their disability. 8% described their faith as "uncertain". 0% lost their faith.
Reactions of the individuals:
1. God-believers experienced God as a 'presence' - someone to talk to, to question, someone who listens.
2. God's help was described as providing, protecting, giving strength, endurance and patience, and understanding their struggles and caring about them.
3. Several believed that God somehow gave them their disability but they did not feel bitter or betrayed.
4. All indicated that 'talking to people gave meaning to their lives.' They agreed that feeling 'lonely' and 'different' is common.
The Wheelchair: 46% (12) hate the wheelchair and want to get out of it. 31% (8) said they accepted wheelchair living. 23% (6) were ambivalent. They both hate it and accept it. 100% agreed that "to walk again" is a dream that never leaves. 69% (18) express a hopeful attitude. 8% held hopeless feelings 23% were mixed with both hopeful and helpless feelings
I find this information to be very interesting. We sympathize with, and feel sorry for, people we see who are dealing with a disability of some sort. This is a natural first reaction. But we should not let those thoughts create a barrier for communication and relationship between us. That would be the sad part. Too often, we feel awkward, and we feel sorry for a person and leave it at that. We don't pursue a connection.
What can you do?
Well, note #4 above: they all felt that meaning was added to their lives by being able to talk to people. So . . . you can talk to them, listen to them, draw them out. And always keep in mind that most of these folks have a sense of hope (not hopelessness.) 'Hope' means not giving up. Hope is fueled by a faith in God. Hope blossoms when friends and family are close, supportive and encouraging.
Your Role in God’s Healing Touch - January 7, 2017
There is more to prayer than talking and crying out to Jesus. Often there is a hurting friend we are thinking of and concerned about when we bow our heads or lift up our faces God-ward. What happens is that our Christ–directed concerns, pleas, and anxieties not only touch the Lord, but, while impacting the heart of Jesus, they also flow through us to the one for whom we are praying.
In other words, it is the Spirit of Jesus flowing through each of us as we thoughtfully ask the good Lord for help and healing. Such helping is not only coming directly from the good Lord — it is flowing from Jesus back to and through each of us as we care for a hurting person.
The reality of the Spirit of Jesus living with us and in us calls us to prayer, but also loving kindness to those around us. We are His instruments, his care-givers. We are not just people who cry for help—we are carriers of Jesus’ healing love. A personal prayer for a troubled friend is sending the healing love of Jesus into them.
This is a profound concept: Jesus is the one doing the healing, but we also play a role by praying for our friend. Our prayers call down God’s healing love. You are a vital link in the process.
May I say it again?! You are vital link in the process. Of course, God knows the situation already. Of course, God cares for the hurting person already. But your prayers connect you, the person, and God in a wonderful three-fold relationship. He can work wonders that you cannot imagine as you share with God your concerns for the person. God wants you to be a part of the process.
We were speeding along in the car pool lane when I noticed a motorcycle coming up behind us. I moved a little over to the left to allow him to pass more comfortably. As he passed he raised the three fingers on his left hand, as he held on to the handle bars. It was a signal of appreciation. It was love! That small gesture lifted my spirits for the next half hour or more. He might have been an ex-convict, or a bum of some kind. He might have been a godless atheist. Nevertheless, he has the love of God inside him and he sprinkled a little of that love on us as he passed.
That is how easy it is to be an instrument of the Lord Jesus. And a person can be that even if he doesn't know it. We do want him to know, but he may not be open to that truth for a while.
But he is far more than he thinks he is.
I wrote a song about a tortilla. Well, actually, it's more of a wrap.
©2018 Care and Kindness Ministries.