Antique Wisdom for Today’s Problems

on the nightstand now

I like books of all sorts. When I’m interested in a topic I’ll often look for a book on it (after the internet, of course). Feeling middle-aged now and looking for enlightenment on aging, I recently turned to Amazon where I discovered a little gem of a book – The Faith of a Middle-Aged Man, A Little Book of Reassurance for Troubled Times.

There wasn’t much of an editorial description and there were no reviews. Although the release date was 2012, the description did make it clear that it was a reproduction of something much older. (All books published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain and various firms re-release them, often as photocopies.) I wasn’t really looking for a religious book, but the title was intriguing so I bought it. And I’m very glad I did.

The author is Henry Kingman, Senior Pastor of the Claremont Church in Claremont California. He’s writing in the midst of World War I – the book was released in 1917 – and grappling with all of the social changes going on at the turn of the century. I don’t think Reverend Kingman was “important” or famous; he doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry. As far as I know, he was an ordinary man trying to follow Jesus whatever the social upheaval. I like to think that’s me too.

Basically he’s written a little book on discipleship, and I’m loving it. His times were definitely “troubled” and very different than our own. Yet the inherent nature of the problems or issues of that time – war, suffering, poverty, libertinism, alcoholism, racism and the like – isn’t really all that different than what we face today. Man’s character hasn’t changed since the fall, and God does not change.  Jesus knows our nature, and we follow the same Jesus now as all who have followed.  So a lot of what Kingman writes resonates today, and how interesting it is to read it in the style of the early 1900s!

It’s humbling to be reminded that we who are alive now are not automatically made wiser that all who have come before us. Each of us begins knowing exactly nothing.  Hopefully we learn and grow steadily, becoming wise as we age.  Yet some do, some don’t. Modernity isn’t necessarily helpful here. So much of what “today, we all know…” just isn’t so. As with consumer products, we see a lot of “cheap junk” in the wisdom market.  Sometimes an antique is the better buy.

In any event, I like Kingman’s writing so much that I plan to share excerpts as they relate to topics I’ve written about. So, more to come! I hope that you find it as valuable as do I.

Pete

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I Did It ! (but I shoulda done it a while ago)

I finally did it! Last month I joined Planet Fitness and have begun to use an elliptical machine. Today I completed my ninth workout and I’m really enjoying it. Why didn’t I do this a year ago? Or even two years ago?

As you long-time readers know, a couple of years ago I suffered a medical meniscus tear in my right knee. I was fortunate in that it got considerably better rather quickly. Now I’m minimally symptomatic at rest and with walking, but every time I’ve tried to run, it lets me know that my running days are over.

Unfortunately, running was my main aerobic workout. Since walking wasn’t a problem, Sharon and I started walking together, and we’ve been going 3 miles twice a week. We enjoy the exercise and the time to talk but I’ve been missing the intensity of running. Healthwise, my weight is stable but my cardiorespiratory fitness must be way down as it hasn’t been seriously challenged in almost three years.

So, for at least two years now, I’ve been thinking, I should join a gym. I should work out on an elliptical machine. Or maybe hit the rowing hard again. Or try a NordicTrack. I should do something aerobic! But I didn’t. Until now. And now, I’m thinking, I should have done this before now. Long before. Why didn’t I do this last year? Why did I procrastinate? I’m a lazy person.

Oh well. Whatever. I’m not sure why it took me so long. As the saying goes, “it takes what it takes” and beating myself up about it isn’t necessary or helpful. I’m deciding to just be happy I’ve started. And of course I’m going to keep at it.

How about you? What are you putting off? Or what are you “woulda, coulda, shouda – ing yourself over? The past is past. Let the critical self-talk go and just do the right thing now. Then keep at it.

Good luck,

Pete

Cultures to Avoid – Jealousy and Selfish Ambition

I wasn’t planning a series on the world’s fallenness, but of course it’s still on my mind. How could it not be? New revelations of sexual sin (including assault, harassment, adultery), abuse of power, and deceit in high places continue almost daily. And we’re seeing that it’s not just one “bad apple,” but rather a culture of abuse and dishonesty in many organizations or even industries. It leaves one thinking, is everyone everywhere where a sociopath? Can anyone be trusted? How do we protect ourselves? What should we watch out for?

James, the brother of Jesus, has some good advice in this regard:

If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.  But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying.  For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.  For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.
James 3:13-16 NLT [emphasis mine]

That sure resonates with me. Aren’t the entertainment industry and D.C. Beltway politics filled with jealousy and selfish ambition? It’d be hard for any objective observer to suggest otherwise. Not to say that every actor is a prima donna or every politician is on the take, but these industries (and politics is an industry) do have that kind of “it’s-all-about-me” culture. The National Football League also comes to mind, but reasonable people could argue about that.

At an individual business level, culture varies across companies, departments, and even work units. Some are emotionally healthy, others less so. Even voluntary associations – clubs, churches, and other groups – may experience harmful or toxic cultures. No organization is too small to be affected by sin. Perhaps you have seen jealousy and selfish ambition in action at your homeowners association for example.

Honestly, we’re all subject to jealousy and selfish ambition; this isn’t about pointing the finger at someone else. But as we work to let go of our own jealousy and selfish ambition, let’s be mindful of James’ warning. There are some industries, organizations and places that we should avoid for our own protection, and he gives us one way of spotting them.

Be safe,

Pete

On Bad Behavior – There but for the Grace of God Go I

As we covered in the last post, bad behavior is epidemic in the world. Always has been, always will be (that is until Jesus comes back). But something does seem different now; for whatever reason, we are seeing the corruption more clearly than ever. Individually and collectively, we now know that we have a large problem of moral decay in America today.

In a healthy response, people are demanding accountability, demanding that the powerful should experience consequences for abuses of power. I’m all for that, but I’m also detecting a spirit of judgementalism or self-righteousness in many of the criticisms and calls for “zero tolerance” or “heads to roll” (as it were). Perhaps because the abusive behavior seems so extreme, we’re able to see ourselves (and I’m including myself here) as “better than that,” not like the abusers.  It’s easy to do, and it feels good. As the Pharisee prayed, God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”

On the other hand, we are supposed to be good! It’s good to be good, and many of us are working (and it does take effort) to live honestly and morally. When I hear of some new accusation, I really want to be “better than that.” Moreover, I think God wants me to be better than that. But God also wants, and deserves, the credit. That last part was the Pharisee’s problem.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”         Luke 18:9-14 ESV [emphasis mine]

I’m happy that I sin less than I used to, but giving credit where credit is due, it’s God who has changed and is changing me, giving me an increasing desire for righteousness and greater self-control. Even then, my self-control is not enough to avoid or resist all temptation and I ask God for his intervention to help me live as I want to and ought to. This prayer comes to mind a lot:

Two things I ask of you;
deny them not to me before I die:

Remove far from me falsehood and lying;

give me neither poverty nor riches;

feed me with the food that is needful for me,

lest I be full and deny you

and say, “Who is the LORD?”

or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.

Proverbs 30:7-9 ESV

Truly, I (or you) could be as wicked as any of the people profiled in the investigative journalism story of the week. Let’s let go of the self-righteousness and contempt. The saying “There but for the grace of god go I” is valid for all offenses. I’m trying to keep that in mind as new stories break. How about you?

Pete

 

Seeing the World as It Really Is – Thank God for God!

Kevin Spacey, Trump, Hilary Clinton, the Democratic National Committee, Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood, Russians, Facebook, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, Politics, Google, Steve Mnuchin and wife, Wall Street, Violent Protesters, Crooked Cops, Lois Lerner, Baltimore, Greedy Admirals, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Charlie Rose… where does it end? It’s been a remarkable couple of years. At this point everyone’s eyes should be opened to reality.

The powerful exploit the weak. Greed and corruption are endemic at all levels of government. What’s not overtly criminal is incompetent. Hypocrisy is so common that our first instinct is to assume “he’s lying” or has something to hide, and the next blockbuster story revealing a politician’s secret life confirms our jaundiced view. Even worse, what is evil attacks what is good. Honest people of high character are drawn down by those in the mud.

Here’s the deal – the world runs on power, sex and money. Really. See it. Believe it. It feels bad to admit it, but it’s true. I for one don’t really want to believe it. Like many others do, it would be nice to pretend that “people are inherently good.” “Oh sure, they’re a few bad apples out there, but you can trust people.” But that would be wrong. We all need to accept reality. The world is fallen and we can’t fix it.

Jesus reminds us of this, saying to his disciples; I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matt 10:16) His point was that they should understand the world’s corrupt and greedy operating system (for their own self protection) but not be corrupted themselves. Easy to say, hard to do. Christians are still trying to do that 2,000 years later.

And of course, pretty often the world wins, or seems to win in the short run. The disciples were almost all killed in nasty ways. Although we may not die for Jesus, being innocent, fair and honest doesn’t usually “pay off” in the ordinary sense of the term. As the saying goes, “nice guys finish last.” But again Jesus has words for us; “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

And the disciples themselves give us a lot of advice on how to go about living rightly and cheerfully in wicked and troubled times. Here’s a bit:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Phil 4:4-9)

And there’s more where that came from.

So if, like me, you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, disillusioned and depressed, take heart! Be of good cheer despite the world. Encourage a brother or sister. Turn off Fox and CNN. Trust God. Follow Jesus and do the best you can. It will all work out just fine.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pete

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Remember brothers and sisters, they can kill us but they can’t hurt us.
– Justin Martyr (beheaded 165 AD)

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Autobiographies of Ordinary People

I’m still thinking about “being GREAT” and the intense focus on the “great” men and women of history or of today. Like me, you may read their biographies and autobiographies looking for insight – What can I learn from his life? How did they get to be great? What are their habits? How can I be like them? That’s okay I guess, but it’s not that simple. Great people seem to develop from some combination of circumstances, character and abilities that doesn’t seem easily replicable by most of us.

I’ve figured out that I’m not going to be great by society’s measures. And it’s also the case that many great men have terrible flaws – obsessiveness, arrogance, cruelty, greed, and the like – which may even have helped propel them to fame and fortune. I don’t want to be like that. Greatness at any price is not worth the cost. No, my challenge is to be great at living an ordinary life. How can I be a great husband and dad, a great employee, a great friend? Whose biographies do I read? Whose lives do I study?

Even reading the Bible, I’m tempted to identify myself with Paul, Peter, David, Joseph or some other prominent person. But these guys are amazingly great men of God. All of us simply can’t be like them. Perhaps it would be more realistic for me to identify with someone in the “multitude,” or “crowd,” or among “…the three thousand that were added…” Unfortunately it seems that most anyone in the Bible that gets much ink isn’t very ordinary.

It got me thinking that maybe I should start reading biographies of ordinary people with extraordinary character. Do they exist? I don’t know, but I do know that I’m learning a lot about life from trusted friends. We meet weekly to encourage and guide each other through life’s up and downs as we follow Jesus. We share our stories along with our hopes, dreams and fears. Last week it struck me that I’m hearing their autobiographies – as told by the authors – and they’re hearing mine. And we’re helping one another plan the next installment. Sort of an “autobiography writer’s group” as it were. Cool!

Autobiographies of ordinary people – they do exist. And they’re powerful. Hear a few from people you trust and find some friends to help you write yours. You’ll be glad you did.

Pete

 

Escaping the Pressure Cooker

Generations ago, and in some places still, people’s main source of pressure was survival. Find food. Secure shelter. Avoid predators. Make it to tomorrow. Not so much of that in America today. But even here, modern life has its pressures. Pressure to be “successful,” to be liked, admired, to be beautiful, to fit in, to be accepted, to live a lifestyle. Life is full of such pressure. For many people, perhaps even most, life can be a virtual pressure cooker.

The media, and especially social media, are part of the problem. For professional reasons, I’ve been on LinkedIn more than usual lately and it’s bringing me down. Half the posts in my feed promise to reveal the secrets to being a “GREAT™ _________” (leader, CEO, operator, etc.) and the other half seem to be people revealing to everyone else just how GREAT of a ________ they are. Apparently they’re not too many ordinary people allowed out there anymore. We’ve all got to be Richard Branson or some other version of “GREAT!”

Of course not everyone can be great in the eyes of the world. Very few of us really. I don’t know about you, but I’ve figured out that I’m not going to be one of them. I’m not going to be awarded the Nobel Prize or the Congressional Medal of Freedom. Not going to be on “the 50 most influential people of ______” list. My books are not going to be bestsellers. No one will ever write my biography. Heck, I’ll probably never even have a Wikipedia entry (an essential step on the way to GREAT).

Fortunately the pressure is off. Not because I’ve given up the pursuit of excellence, I’m all for excellence. Life is serious. Results do matter.

The good news is that God does not call me to be GREAT but rather to be faithful. Having been fully accepted by God through faith and by the work of Jesus, I am relieved of the world’s performance pressures, while at the same time God’s Holy Spirit works through me to achieve his results. And he is not about mediocrity. All I’ve got to do is cooperate! (Yes, cooperating with God has to be worked at too but it’s way more pleasant than trying to be GREAT.)

I think that’s a very short version of the gospel of God, which is God’s good news to all of humanity. If you’re feeling the pressure, there is a way out. Jesus is the way. I can’t say why but he chose me; maybe he will choose you too. I hope he does!

Blessings,

Pete