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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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