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

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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Appreciate the Work… and the Person!

“Thanks for _______. I appreciate it!” We’ve all heard it. We’ve all said it. Perhaps we even say it a lot; after all, it’s good to let people know that their work matters. But it’s easy to forget that behind the work is a person. And people matter.

Our American culture is one of competition and achievement. Winners are celebrated and results are prized. In business, the public company focus on quarterly results drives a “what have you done for me lately” attitude towards employees from the CEO on down. In the “market” people become just the means to an end, and if the end isn’t perfect, look out. This is the market-driven culture in which we all work (to a greater or lesser extent depending on our individual situations). Do you feel continuous pressure to produce, and to keep producing? I’d be surprised if you don’t.

Well, we’d better get used to it. The culture’s not going anywhere, and results will continue to matter. So sure, appreciate the work.  But let’s also recognize the individuals behind the effort. Let’s be sensitive to their thoughts and feelings. Let’s understand that they have complex and problematic lives just as we do. It’s not easy being a person. Let’s appreciate them.

Thanks for reading. I appreciate you!

Sincerely,

Pete

PS – Two shout outs: one to executive coach Linda Cobb who helped me to learn to think like this earlier in my career; and another to Pat Morley of Man in the Mirror ministry whom I am appreciating, thereby being inspired to write this post.

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Feeling Small (but peaceful)

Events have got me feeling small lately. Perhaps you too. From hurricanes and floods to shifts in the economy and culture, we are all caught up in natural and social forces beyond our control. Way beyond our control. Beyond our influence even. America has over 300 million residents of which I am just one. The world has 7½ billion. I will not be changing the world or the country.

Our American culture and media don’t encourage thinking of oneself as small and relatively powerless. On the contrary, people are encouraged to worry about numerous issues over which they have no (or exceedingly little) influence. We’re told to “stand up,” “be heard” and “make a difference” on every new “crisis.” I think all that does is get us agitated and shouting at (or worse – fighting with) one another. And the media feeds off the fighting. Regardless, the vast majority of us are just along for the ride as large-scale history is written.

Yet here I am. I’m alive! I can enjoy my life, and I’ve got plenty of personal and local issues on which I can, and should, make a difference. Issues such as my health, wellbeing, marriage, family, friends, church, finances, home, and neighborhood. The more I focus on these and the less on geopolitics and major cultural shifts, the better I get. Thinking small is working for me.

However, even at the personal level, many events are still outside of my control. For example, I’ve recently developed an irritating case of ocular rosacea (fortunately minor, but illustrative). Illness comes. Aging continues. Accidents happen. Jobs end. The kids are going to do what they’re going to do. That’s life.

Truly, I am small. I can’t control much, but I trust in the one who can. Therefore, I can be at peace. I wish you the same.

Pete

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Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

– Jesus (Mathew 6:25-34 NIV)

More Compassion, Less Piling On

compassionnoun
sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others

Sharon was out of town last weekend, and I thought I’d relax and watch a late night movie. Perusing our small DVD collection I ran across MASH, a film I’ve preciously enjoyed, and thought “that’ll do.” Sometimes it’s nice to just go mindless for a while with a movie that I know already. So I hit the play button and settled in for the evening.

Twenty minutes later I was unsettled. The film wasn’t sitting well with me. The lead characters are arrogant and mean, and their meanness bothered me. I’ve seen MASH before, many times, but this time was different. I was uncomfortable trying to enjoy it. It didn’t seem like something that I should enjoy. Eventually I hit eject and went to bed.

Although this seems to mark some sort of internal shift for me, I have been thinking about meanness versus compassion for the last few months. My social media feeds have way too many mean spirited posts and comments about people suffering the consequences of drug addiction, criminal behavior, or just plain bad judgment. Some comments are shocking in their nastiness. Do the posters truly think that the foolish young man deserved to die (probably after torture) at the hands of North Korean officials? God help them.

In healthcare, and in life, we all see a lot of undeserved suffering. Disease and misfortune befall people for no reason other than “bad luck.” Knowing that we too are vulnerable, we can be moved to compassion. But just as often, or maybe more, people create their own mess. Smokers get lung cancer. The texting driver crashes and dies. Shall we be indifferent to their suffering, or even cruel, piling on with hurtful commentary? Apparently a lot of people believe we should.

I don’t think Jesus would agree with that. We are to be compassionate, and we should be able to see that “there, but for the grace of God go I.” That doesn’t mean endorsing bad or foolish behavior. Some things are simply wrong. Nor are we compelled to fix everything (even if we could) for those suffering harsh consequences of their behavior.  But we can be compassionate.

I don’t know if  anyone can summon compassion in every circumstance; some behavior is truly heinous, but ending the piling on in social media seems like a good place to start. God help all of us.

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“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” – Jesus, (Matthew 7:12 NLT)

Finding the Essence of Things

My wife and I are recently returned from a wonderful vacation in Arizona. It started as a business trip to which we tacked on a week’s rest in Phoenix and Sedona, and it turned out great. We’d never been to Sedona, a strange and spectacular place to Florida folk; it was enjoyable seeing a very different landscape and learning more about the desert. Our schedule was pretty unstructured, and I appreciated being “off the clock.”

Moving from place to place, we experienced a variety of accommodations from a high-end resort to a much more basic hotel. Our meals spanned the spectrum as well. The most elegant was a 4-course Valentine’s Day dinner at an exclusive resort. The simplest was fruit and cheese in front of the television. In between was a home-cooked dinner with family and restaurant meals of course.

Now I’m back to work and we’re both back to our usual routines, but I feel rejuvenated and I’ve been thinking about what made the trip so great. It wasn’t the fancy hotel of the fancy meals, it was much more basic than that. I think the key elements were:
– getting away from my usual responsibilities,
– maintaining a relaxed, no-pressure attitude,
– experiencing a new place, and learning about it, and
– sharing time with my wife and family.
These are the things I should think about when planning our next getaway.

Too often I think we Americans miss the essence of things. We get focused on the sizzle more than the steak. Our culture relentlessly pushes us to covet the most exclusive experiences and the finest things. Selling and upselling drives the national economy, but it comes at a cost. Too many people live beyond their means, under constant pressure to keep up with the Joneses and keep up appearances. Consuming is not the essence of life.

I’m resolved to focus more on identifying the essence in all of my activities. What are the essential elements of my work, my hobbies, my home, and my relationships? They deserve more of my attention. The superficialities deserve less. I’m looking forward to seeing where that leads.

How about you?

Take care,

Pete

The One Human Right

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
– Declaration of Independence 7/4/1776

People have rights! Especially Americans. Our founders got us started with the three mentioned above. Apparently they felt these were universal “human rights” given to us directly from God. Shortly after that sentence, they add in the right to change the government. In subsequent documents and decisions Americans collectively have added many more “civil rights,” that is rights granted by our government and codified in laws and regulations. Unfortunately, and as everyone in America has figured out lately, one man’s civil rights are another man’s civil obligations. Enforcing our ever-increasing canon of civil rights has required a corresponding increase in government scrutiny of and coercive power over our lives as individuals.

It’s pretty obvious that all countries don’t have the same civil rights. In a sense civil rights are elective – we choose them, or not. Not every society chooses the similarly. Crossing a border changes your “rights” as an individual. One doesn’t have the same rights in North Korea as one has in the United States, as too many unfortunate and naive travelers have discovered.

Also “right” seems to be a much over-used word these days. We often use it in casual conversation to justify self-centeredness or a sense of entitlement. Think, “I’ve got a right to ______.” (be angry, treat myself, spend my money on _____ )

It’s got me wondering, perhaps like you, what are our basic, bottom-line rights? Where do we draw the line? What’s our minimum? Do we really need or want all of these civil rights? Are our civil rights also human rights?   Really? Which rights truly come from our Creator and which have we just made up as we go along? Naturally as a follower of Jesus, I’ve searched the Bible and pondered these questions from a Christian perspective.

Honestly I can’t find too much on this. No disrespect intended to our founding fathers, but nowhere in the Bible do I read of God giving human beings the right to life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness. Nor do I see the right to be married, the right to a job, the right to healthcare, the right to privacy, or the right not to be discriminated against. There’s hardly anything on God granting us rights.

On the other hand I do see a great deal of obligation. God is pretty clear on how we should treat him, ourselves, and one another. For example, people shouldn’t steal from or murder others. Those are “human obligations,” but obligations do not create a reciprocal rights. We all have a God-given obligation not to steal, not a God-given right never to experience theft. Beyond the traditional moral code, it’s also very clear that we are to love God, love one another, and even to love our neighbors as ourselves – a tall order indeed.

That’s kind of bad news – not much in the way of rights from God, and lots of obligations that no one keeps, not even us followers of Jesus. We had better get used to tough breaks, oppression, and harm. Be it the United States, North Korea, or somewhere in between, governments are going to do what they do. People will hurt us. Bad things, even evil things, will happen to us. It’s nice if they don’t, but we’ve no right to anything else in this life.

The good news is that I did find one human right, “the right to become children of God” (John 1:12) through the work of Jesus. On the surface, it would seem more a privilege rather than a right, but God doesn’t change his mind or go back on his word. Once you belong to Jesus, there is no condemnation, no rejection, and an acceptance that cannot be lost – period. God himself grants you a life, a freedom and a joy that cannot be taken away by any government or any man.

The only human right you have is the only one you need.

Exercise your right today.

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He 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