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.
Why does Superman stop bullets with his chest, but ducks when you throw a revolver at him?
©2017 Care and Kindness Ministries.