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

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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When you KNOW

I worked out this morning, as I’ve done pretty regularly for 15 years. I say I enjoy it, and I do, but I also don’t. It’s hard, it’s strenuous. Pretty often, in the midst of it, I find myself thinking, Why am I doing this? Why don’t I just relax, sleep in, linger at breakfast? Is exercise really so important? No one will judge me if I let go a bit, relax, gain some weight, live how most people live. But then I think, No, I know what I have to do.

It’s the same with eating. Controlling your waistline is quite difficult, as we see from this morning’s CNN report – Obesity among all US adults reaches all-time high. I’m not heavy, but I’m newly refocused on my eating and drinking habits because of a troublesome case of ocular rosacea. I’ve begun supplementing with Omega-3 fatty acids, which adds considerable calories to my daily intake, and cutting back on snacks and other less healthy fats. It’s not that easy but, once again, I know what I have to do.

Yet we all recognize that knowing isn’t doing. Most people are aware of all sorts of potentially beneficial behavior changes that they find themselves unable to implement. It’s just too hard. Hence the obesity epidemic. Don’t feel bad if this is you. Hey, I’ve been there myself. And of course I’m still there now for some things in my life.

Behavior change is more of a process than an event. Somewhere in this process a transition from simple knowing, or awareness, to a deep KNOWING, a conviction of what we must do, occurs, and that compels us to action. That kind of KNOWING seems to be what I have. I hope you get it too. But where does it come from? How does it happen? Is it just a matter of time?

Honestly, I’m not sure. We’re all different, but it’s not simply a matter of time otherwise everyone would be getting well. I’m giving credit to the Holy Spirit. God removes my shame. He convicts me of what is good and right, and he provides me with the power to act on that conviction. May he do the same for you.

Pete

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At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?”

Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we KNOW [emphasis mine] you are the Holy One of God.

– John 6:66-69 NLT

Social Media – More Harm Than Good?

I’ve been pretty quiet on social media lately, reading more than posting, and I’m not feeling too good about it. Decorum and civility continue to decline on Facebook. Sexy and controversial posts are now firmly established on LinkedIn, where boasting and shameless self-promotion have gone off the charts. In Social Media Land memes and provocation are the currency of the realm. Well-developed thinking is in short supply and wisdom is hard to find. Perhaps that’s my problem – wisdom is what I’m after.

Of course social media can be beneficial in many ways. I do like keeping up with friends and family on Facebook, and it, along with Twitter, is very useful for communication in “breaking news” type situations (like the recent hurricanes for example). Linked in has helped me professionally. It’s an address book that maintains itself and a good source of potential opportunities and new colleagues. I don’t want to give these things up, but I’m not interested arguing or jumping in the scrum for eyeballs, likes and shares. I’m after wisdom. How should I live? What’s important? What’s not? How can I be truly well?

I haven’t been posting much lately, at least partially because I feel like what I have to say doesn’t fit in on Facebook or LinkedIn where conversations seem to be happening. Apparently “nobody actually goes to blogs anymore.” Yet writing helps me to sort things out. And hopefully, my thoughts are also helpful to any readers seeking their own physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. So I’m going to try writing more often, posting here on Grace Based Wellness without sharing my posts elsewhere. I just don’t think they fit with the current spirit of the media. I’m also going to close the Grace Based Wellness Facebook page soon. If you’ve been following the blog that way, you may wish to change to an email subscription.

Thank you for your readership and encouragement,

Pete

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If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.
– James 1:5-8 NLT