Monthly Archives: April 2014

Living Wisely

I have kept a journal since my “first” retirement from  the public schools in California  in 1996 .   Since then, I begin my day by writing in my journal about events in my life and my thoughts and feelings about them—-and I highly recommend the practice.    Occasionally during the years I’ve kept the journal I have made an intentional effort to back away from everyday life and assess the goals that I have set for myself.   It is a difficult task, but it gives me a hint as to how wisely I have been spending the time given to me.   It helps me determine what legacy I might be leaving to my descendants when I am no longer on this earth.

Most of us question our lives in some similar  way as I do.   We pause in the “busyness” of our lives and ask ourselves:   What am I doing?   Why am I doing it?  Is this what life is all about?  What goals do I have for my life?   What can I  do to make my life  better?   What is the good life anyway?  Am I using the time  given me in life well?    What does it mean to say that we have “lived wisely and well”?

The Apostle Paul had some words about this in  the 5th chapter of Ephesians:

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.   (Ephesians 5:15-16)  

This is good advice, but not easy to put in practice.

How do we “make the most of our time“?    Many of us lead hectic lives.   We rush about vainly trying to do everything and in the process we may neglect what is the most important—-because we are too busy to stop and prioritize what is important.

We spend most of our lives worrying about past problems and future concerns to the extent that they dominate our present moments so much that we end up anxious, frustrated, depressed, and hopeless.    We postpone our gratification, our priorities and our happiness—convincing ourselves the “someday” it  will be better than today and we won’t be so busy and will get them done.  .  For example, “someday I’ll take that dream trip”  or “someday I will take the kids to the zoo” or “someday I will visit my Aunt Mary who is lonely” or “someday I will let my wife know just how much I love her.    Unfortunately we have no guarantee that “someday” will ever arrive.   John Lennon once said, “Life is what’s happening while we’re busy making other plans.

While we are busy making other plans, our children are busy growing up and now want to spend time with their peers instead of us;  our health deteriorates and we’re not able to make that dream trip;   Aunt Mary dies a lonely death; and our wife who feels unloved files for a divorce.

So many of us live life as if it were a dress rehearsal for some later date.  It isn’t!    In fact, no one has a guarantee of even being alive tomorrow.   The present is the only time we have and the only time we have any control over.      As the song goes:    Yesterday’s gone, sweet Jesus!   And tomorrow’s still out of sight.   Teach me today, show me the way; one day at a time!

Let us spend the time that is given us right now wisely.  Take time to discern what is important and do it today rather than putting it  off until “someday” which may never come!

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Choices

Life is a matter of choices.   There is no way to avoid choosing because not to choose is to make a choice.   Victor Frankl, a German Jew and psychologist, was placed in one of Hitler’s worst concentration camps during World War II.   He wrote after the War, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning,  that the one thing that the concentration camp could not take away from the inmates was their power to choose what attitude they would have.

All of us have been created by God and given the power and ability to make choices:  We can:

  • Choose to love—rather than hate.
  • Choose to smile—rather than frown
  • Choose to build—rather than destroy
  • Choose to keep going—-rather than quit.
  • Choose to heal—-rather than wound.
  • Choose to give—rather than grasp.
  • Choose to act—rather than delay.
  • Choose to forgive—rather than to blame.
  • Choose to hope—rather than despair.

Each of us bear the consequences of our choices.   In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves by our choices.   The process never ends until we die; and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.

In addition, our choices affect others in various ways.   We can see this as we examine the events of “Holy Week”—–the final week that Jesus was in Jerusalem before his crucifixion, and the choices that were made and their consequences:

  • Jesus made choice.  He chose to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey as a symbol of peace in direct contradiction to Pontius Pilate riding into Jerusalem the same week with horses and soldiers. He chose to teach in the temple and to challenge the religious authorities of the day—the priests and scribes who cooperated with Rome to rule the Jews and extend their power and their wealth.   Jesus  chose to drive the money changers and sellers of sacrificial animals out of the Temple.  This choice cost him his life. His actions in “cleansing the temple” were an economic threat to the power of the chief priests and scribes who profited greatly from the business in the Temple.  At this time they began to plot how they could kill Jesus.
  • Judas made a choice.    We have no way of knowing what the motives were for his choice, but he chose to betray Jesus to the authorities for 30 pieces of silver.   It was a choice he later bitterly regretted, but once made it could not be undone.  He ended his own life because of that choice.
  • Peter made a choice.  While waiting by the fire in the courtyard of the high priest, Peter was identified by a servant girl as “the man that was with Jesus”.   Peter chose to deny that he even knew Jesus three times.   Peter went out and wept bitterly after he made the choice..
  • Pontius Pilate made a choice.    Although his examination of Jesus found no reason for him to be executed,  Pilate  chose to give in to the demands of the religious authorities and the mob of people they had gathered to support them..     Matthew tells us that he took water and washed his hands saying “I am innocent of this man’s blood.   It is your responsibility”.    His choice led to the crucifixion and death of Jesus.
  • The religious authorities and their supporters made a choice.  Pilate offered to release one person.   Barabbas or Jesus was the choice they were asked to make.   They chose to crucify Jesus and to release Barabbas.

We also have choices.   On what basis do we make them?

  • Do we, like Jesus, choose according to what we discern is God’s will?
  • Do we like Judas, choose what is most monetarily rewarding to us immediately?
  • Do we, like Peter, let the fear of the crowd influence our choice?
  • Do we, like the chief priests, choose to maintain our power and our economic well-being even if someone dies?
  • Do we, like Pontius Pilate, choose to “wash our hands” of the choice and let others make our choice for us?

 Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethesemane the night before his death that the “cup” of his looming crucifixion might be removed from him.    He ended the prayer with, “nevertheless, not my will but yours Father.”    

Choices made on the  basis of prayer and the discernment of God’s will  will be  good choices!

Acting Christian

It was a cold winter day when Mary  decided to go into a McDonalds for breakfast.    The restaurant was crowded and as she waited in one of the lines, she noticed that the other lines were long and hers was short.   In fact, people were moving away from her line to get in other lines.   Soon she recognized what was going on.   Toward the front of her line were two homeless men.   They hadn’t shaved in days, their hair was matted and dirty, and they “reeked” of body odor.    They were being ignored by the waitress and were trying to come up with enough money to buy a cup of coffee.   They were obviously hungry and cold.  Mary stepped forward to the two men in spite of the smell and asked them if she could help them.    They were very grateful and asked if she could help them get a cup of coffee to warm themselves.    Mary said, I am here to have breakfast, so why don’t I just buy breakfast for all of us and we will share it together.   She did so, paid for it and went to a table with the two men to eat with them.

The men, who were used to being ignored, threatened, or completely shunned by other people, were amazed.    They couldn’t believe this was happening to them!  One of them asked Mary for a hug and she gave each of them one as tears ran down their faces.   One said:   It’s been a very long time since I’ve had a hug.  Why are you doing this for us?        Mary told them  “I am a follower of Jesus, and I know that God loves each of you—-and so do I.  I’m just doing what I think Jesus would do”.

Jesus began his ministry, according to the Gospel of Luke, at his home synagogue in Nazareth.   He defined the purpose of his ministry  in the words of the prophet Isaiah:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.   He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.      And after rolling up the Scroll he told the synagogue crowd:   “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom of God and showed us that God was a God of love and mercy.  He didn’t just tell us that, he showed it by what he did.   Jesus healed the sick;  he opened the eyes of the blind; he raised the dead; he advocated for the poor and the helpless , the outcasts and the discarded in his culture.   Mary (above) was right.   What she did was what Jesus would have done because that is what he did when he walked this earth.

In our world today we see and hear much about Christianity.    Jesus is talked about a lot.In polls, 85% of us in the U.S. say we are Christians.  Of that number two thirds say they’ve made a personal commitment to Jesus.   Posters on FaceBook say “Like if you love Jesus”.    Tee shirts, bumper stickers, posters, all tell of love for Jesus.    Talk is cheap.    Words do not transform people. Actions do!     The Epistle of James gives this good counsel:   “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”

Richard Rohr describes our “Christian” nation  well in his book Jesus’ Plan for a New World:    “We keep worshiping the messenger.   Keeping Jesus up on statues and images, so we can avoid what Jesus said.   It’s the best smokescreen in the world!   We just keep saying, “We love Jesus”    The more we talk about Jesus the less we’ll do what he said.”

Jesus told his disciples as he journeyed to Jerusalem where he would be put to death, and he says the same to any of us who want to follow him today:   “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”   (Mark 8:34)

Be doers of the word and not hearers only!  This world would be a better place if all of those who say they are Christians acted like Christians.

What’s in Your Tear Bottle?

There is a verse in Psalm 56:8 that says:   “God, you have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle.   Are they not in your record?”    This refers to the ancient practice, according to author James Fleming of “collecting one’s tears and preserving them in a tear bottle made of glass, many of which had a bulbous bottom and a long neck flared at the top to facilitate collecting of tears. Some scholars think that the woman who bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears at the house of Simon the Pharisee may have actually been pouring out her bottle of tears on his feet.

The Lenten Season is the time when we are asked as Christians to examine ourselves and I would like to examine the question:   What’s in your tear bottle?   

I see Jesus as a man who felt deeply!   A man who cried tears of compassion, of grief, of love, and of anger.   Jesus loved deeply and those who love deeply express deep emotions.   We see in the Gospels that Jesus wept over many things:

  • After his final entry into Jerusalem he wept tears of compassion over Jerusalem as he saw they would reject him and the way of peace that he brought and choose instead the way of a military messiah that would result in their utter destruction by Rome.
  • He wept tears of grief as he saw the sorrow in  the lives of Lazarus’s family—Mary and Martha— at the death of their brother Lazarus.
  • He wept tears of anger at the sight of those who took advantage of the “little ones”—-the poor, the weak, the young, the old, the sick, the outcast.
  • He wept in the Garden of Gethesemane as he prayed that the “cup might pass”—but that God’s will be done.

When I was growing up I was still taught that “Men don’t cry!”   Somehow I never learned that lesson very well.  I am glad to see today that men are no longer embarrassed by crying.   But I’m talking to all followers of Jesus, both men and women when I ask you the question:   “WHAT MAKES YOU CRY?   What makes your eyes tear up?  

Are we, like Jesus, crying tears over injustice, tears of compassion, genuine heart-and-soul tears over the plight of our world and humanity?    Is our crying based on the kinds of attitudes and activities that brought the sting of salty tears to Jesus eyes?    What tears are in your tear bottles?  What tears are in mine?

I’ll go first and tell you some of my answers to this question.   Then I invite you to answer it for yourself.    

  • I cried tears of grief yesterday as I conducted funeral services for a man and watched his wife grieving the loss of a husband of 53 years.
  • I have cried tears of frustration as a pastor when I left the room of an elderly person in a nursing home whose family never visited her and whose life was being “warehoused” by the system .
  • Many years ago as I stood in front of the Vietnam Wall in Washington D.C.—-I cried tears of grief for the loss of all of those young men and women whose names are recorded there and as I think what their lives might have meant to their families and to our society.   And I cry tears of grief for all who have died in Iraq and in Palestine and Afghanistan since then.
  • I cried tears of compassion many times as a hospice chaplain as I talked and prayed  with a patient that had been told their cancer was terminal.
  • I cry tears of anger when I read about the elderly being forced to choose between paying for medicine or food.   Something is terribly wrong with a system that allows that to happen.   And something is terribly wrong with professed Christians who keep quiet about it.
  • I cry tears of compassion and anger when I see pictures of children who have bloated bellies and sticks for limbs due to hunger while the adults of their society are spending the money that might have fed them to kill each other
  • I cry tears of compassion and anger as I see a homeless man or woman going through the trash, or trudging down the sidewalk with all they own on their backs in the cold and snow and rain.   Tears of compassion for the homeless—-tears of anger at a society that would allow that to happen.
  • I cry tears of grief as I see a mind wasted by Alzheimers disease.
  • I have cried tears of joy when as a pastor I united a loving couple in marriage and declared them husband and wife.

Those are a few of the things that bring tears to my eyes.    So—-WHAT DO YOU CRY ABOUT.   FELLOW CHRISTIANS–WHAT MAKES YOU CRY?

I have come to believe that there is a linkage between suffering and love.  They inhabit the same place deep in our souls.    If we did not love, there would be no crying.   We suffer and hurt and weep for our kids late into the night only because we love them.   Kids get home sick when they go away to school or camp—because they love their homes and families.   We shed tears over someone’s death because we love them.   TO NOT CRY IS TO NOT LOVE FULLY!   JESUS WEPT BECAUSE JESUS LOVED.    WHAT IS IT THAT MAKES YOU HIS FOLLOWERS WEEP?

Frederick Beuchner, in “Whistling in the Dark” says:   “Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention.   They are not only telling you  something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not, God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where you should go next.”

WHAT’S IN YOUR TEAR BOTTLE?   WHAT MAKES YOU CRY?