Thoughts on Helping 6 – The Need for Love (Antique Wisdom)

As we know, it can be exceedingly hard to help people, especially those with emotional and spiritual problems who seemingly obviously could use it. I think these ideas of “Antique Wisdom” from Henry Kingman stand the test of time.

It is only as life goes on and our experience of men widens, that we come to understand how difficult a thing it is, and how costly of effort and sacrifice, to recover a soul that has gone wrong. Multitudes of people never do discover how difficult a thing it is, for the simple reason that they have never tried. They satisfy themselves with all sorts of theories as to how base elements in human nature may be transformed into noble ones, without cost to any one of personal love or painful sacrifice. It is to be done my medical or surgical treatment, or by better education, or shorter work hours, or improved tenements, or suppression of the saloon, or a new economic system, or by one or another of multifarious humanitarian readjustments, which are to accomplish easily and naturally and on a wide scale the moral uplift of the people.

If we have ever seriously tried to reach even a single life, weakened in will and poisoned in spirit by vicious indulgence, embittered and defiant towards all that stands for law and moral restraint, we have had some insight into the almost insurmountable difficulty of brining spiritual renewal to one who refuses it, or recreating the heart of one whose pleasures are rooted in evil affection. Men are always rediscovering the fact…that nothing but love can do this work, and, even then, only at its own personal cost and sacrifice. Money cannot purchase it. Neither the most perfect organization not the most highly paid officials can be depended on to secure it. It goes without saying that there are many forms of social amelioration that are efficient aids, and that we are bound for every reason to support them to the best of our capacity. But in the last analysis the deep needs of the individual soul, the needs which blind and bewilder and ultimately destroy, are only to be relieved by love. And however we may carp at individualism, the last stage of social progress, like its first, will still be dealing with the problem of individual need and individual redemption.

Perhaps most men who have reached middle age have tried their hand once or twice at “reclaiming” some one who only half desired to be reclaimed. We were willing to give a certain amount of time and money and patience in the effort, so long as it did not interfere with our business or the orderly routine of life. But the chances are that we did not succeed, because our patience did not hold out. Possibly we felt that we were being deceived or that the man was not rightly keeping his promises, or that his will was too weak; but in any case our compassion was not strong enough to stand the strain, and we gave up the attempt as unfortunately hopeless. We had no much love to go upon, and we were pathetically unable to pay the price demanded, of an unbounded sympathy and forgiving patience.

– Henry Kingman, The Faith of a Middle-Aged Man

Trying to help someone else? Prepare by increasing your reserves of sympathy, compassion, patience and love. Easy to say, hard to do. But with God all things are possible.

Pete

Starting Small – Welcome to the New Year

The new tree

I planted a small podocarpus recently. The front yard needed another shade tree and winter is the best time to plant in Florida. There used to be a larger tree there, a southern magnolia planted two years ago this coming March. Unfortunately it was done in by the one-two combination of hurricane Matthew last year followed by Irma this year. So, time to try again.

This time I went small, real small. I found a 1-gallon, two-stemmed, 20” tall Podocarpus macrophyllus “shrub” for $5.00. After getting it in the ground and eliminating the smaller stem, I’ve rechristened it a “tree.” Or maybe I should say “a tree to be.” Although typically pruned as shrubs here, P. macrophyllus does grow into a large tree if given time. That’s my plan; give it time and attention.

I’ll have to wait for the shade of course, but it was a whole lot easier to plant this little tree than a 25- or even 15-gallon version. Also a smaller plant will establish more quickly (meaning less watering for me) and will be at less risk of root disruption when hurricane season stars again next summer. All of the small stuff I planted along with the magnolia made it through the storms just fine. Hopefully this little guy will too.

As we see from the magnolia, not all plants work out as intended, but if you walk around my yard there are many large and medium sized trees that used to be tiny. Time and persistence can work wonders for your landscape.

Same with health and wellbeing. Many times our 25-gallon resolutions don’t lead to deep-rooted habits fast enough to avoid toppling when the storms of life hit; while smaller initiatives, implemented slowly and progressively, have a better chance of long-term survival come what may.

Welcome to the New Year! I hope you grow many good roots in 2018!

Let me know if I can help.

Sincerely,

Pete

Holiday Stress – Do You Have a Program?

The holidays are here! Consequently, many of us are spending more time among our extended family, which is often a mixed blessing. It’s always nice to see the relations but, depending on how well everyone gets along, any prolonged visit can be quite stressful. Add to that the general holiday stress many experience, the feeling like we should be a family that all get along, and of course the era of Trump, and it’s a recipe for nerves to fray. None of us are immune to that.

A friend of mine (who is in recovery from addiction) was talking with me about her recent holiday family experiences, including some trying times. When I asked her how she kept her composure she replied, “I try to remember that they don’t have a program” and “I keep focused on working mine.” Hmm… Good answer!

Her comments got me thinking about the importance of having a program (or method) for becoming emotionally well. One doesn’t usually become healthy and well by random or disconnected actions, even potentially beneficial ones. On the other hand, a well-designed system of action almost always works if one sticks with it. “It works if you work it” is a true an often-heard recovery program slogan.

My program is that of Christian discipleship or “following Jesus,” which is so much more than just going to church. It’s a program for living all of life, designed and led by God in his three persons, and it too “works if you work it.” If you follow Jesus, he will make you well.

Take care,

Pete

Being a Good Son – The Purpose of Discipleship

What’s the purpose of discipleship? What is following Jesus all about? Is it about rules for living – do this, don’t do that? How about tasks and accomplishments – achieving good works for God? Or could it be about self-improvement or getting better – becoming a person of high character? No, discipleship involves these things but it’s not about them. So what is it about?

Consider this passage from the Gospel of John:

He [Jesus] came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him.  He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.  But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.  They are reborn – not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.   John 1:10-13 NLT [emphasis mine]

When we believe in Jesus we become children of God. Although God creates all people, we are by nature estranged from him. We’re not born as part of his family, but through trusting Jesus we can be reconciled to God; he becomes our loving heavenly father as we become his newly adopted children.

That sounds pretty good on its face. It should – God is all powerful – God is love – God provides and protects – God is merciful – God is the very definition of good! And if God is for us who can be against us?! This is going to be great! Well yes, that’s true. It is going to be great, but how exactly are we to be good children of God? How should we behave in this new parental relationship?

From our earthly relationships we have some idea of what it is to be a “good son” or “good daughter” to our parents. Most of us would like to have our children be “good children” and to be good children ourselves, but it does take effort.

In this life I haven’t always been the best son, but I’m learning. Unfortunately both of my parents have now passed away. Dad developed a rapidly progressive brain tumor and passed away almost five years ago. His last serious words to me were, “Take care of your mother” (he said it three times) and I promised I would. Mom, widowed and after a year of upheaval and grief, developed incurable gallbladder cancer herself just as she was becoming emotionally well again. She died about a year after the diagnosis.

That was a pretty intense few years for the entire Weiss family, and as the eldest sibling I had a large role in helping my parents through it. A very large investment of time and emotional energy was required.* (And some investment of money too.) I regarded it as my duty to help Mom and Dad, but it was also my pleasure and an honor to do so. I did my best to be a good son to them and did it happily. Honoring and serving them was costly in many ways but very worthwhile.

That’s how I’m thinking about discipleship; it’s not a task list, it’s about being a good son to God. How can I learn from him and become wise? Which of my actions honor him and which do not? How can I spend more time with him? How do I trust him more? Following Jesus is costly but there is nothing more worthwhile.

God loves all of us, and he’s looking for children not slaves. Why not trust Jesus, get a new heavenly Dad, and work on being a good kid?

Let me know if I can help.

Pete

*Let me here acknowledge my wonderful wife, Sharon, who also bore a large burden supporting my parents and me during this time of trial.

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“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

– Jesus, Matthew 13:44-46

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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