Category Archives: Pastoral Concerns

Those relating to pastoring and being a pastor of a church

Living on the Edge

While life on hospice has become more normal for me, I still have the feeling that I am “living on the edge.”  Today is all I really have for certain and I need to live each day with that in mind.   While my strength is waning a little each day, signs of the inability of my heart not being able to pump blood to my extremities point toward heart failure and I face a heart attack at any time.  I realize that tomorrow may not be mine to live and therefore  make sure to tell my loved ones every day of my love for them and thank them for their loving care for me.  And I try to live each day as fully as I can—not knowing whether I will have another one.     I am blessed that I have this foreknowledge of my condition so I can prepare, as many do not have that foreknowledge. Others are not so blessed.

But as I look at this dangerous world in which we live I think  all of us are in a similar position to mine.   Illnesses strike us down unexpectedly; terrorists set off car bombs or blow themselves up in large crowds;  automobile accidents snuff  out lives quickly and without warning;  we are gunned down by bullets meant for others but we are unluckily in their path or a deranged shooter chooses the  place we are in to open fire —it may be a shopping mall, a movie theater, a school or a church.  It seems that we are not safe anywhere!

The principle is the same or all of us—without warning we and our loved ones lives may be snuffed out.

So when we tell our loved ones goodbye in the morning we need to tell them that they are loved   That may be the last time we have a chance to do so   Death is so final—-it erases any attempt we might wish we had to express our love; to express our need for forgiveness;  to express our own forgiveness to those we love.

That is the life we all live as we are “living on the edge”.   We may not think the phrase applies to us, but it does.   Give your husband, your wife, your children, your mother and father, your grandchildren  and your siblings the love you feel for them every chance you are given  because, like it or not we are all “living on the edge”  every day.

May we build our lives as the French writer Stephen Grellet (1773-1855) wrote:

I shall pass thru this world but once.

Any good I can do or any kindness I can show another human being

Let me do it now.

Let me not deter or neglect it—

FOR I SHALL NOT PASS THIS WAY AGAIN.

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Questions for God

If you had one question that you would like God to answer what would that question be?    My hospice Social Worker posed this question to me this week and I must admit that I did not have an answer.   She did, and told me what her question would be .   I will respect her privacy and not reveal it,  but it was a good question.

I was reminded of a patient I had as a hospice chaplain.   This patient (who I will call “Chuck”) was experiencing the ravishes of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).   The disease had struck him at a young age in his late thirties’  and had moved rather quickly in his case.     He had lost all movement ability except his head and was confined to a nursing home.  He was bitter about his life.   On one of my visits I remember him saying “Chaplain,  when I die and see God, I have just one question I want to ask.   I asked him what his question would be and he replied with a single word:   WHY?

Like many people do, Chuck was blaming God for his disease.    How often people blame God for the bad things that happen to them but fail to thank God for the good things in their life!   I myself do not think that a God of love who wants relationship with his children would cause harm to them.  Instead I believe in a God who weeps with us when disease and harm befalls us and encourages us and is there giving us strength to deal with the pain that is our lot as humans beings.  And I think that scripture backs me up in both the Old and New Testaments that God is a God of love and forgiveness:

For example:Read Psalm 27 and 34.   Read Isaiah 35:3-10    Read Matthew 11:28-30    Read II Corinthians 4:16 -5:2.  Read Revelation 21:1-4

I haven’t decided what my question will be.   What is your question?   I would love for you to share it with me and with those who follow this blog.

 

What is important?

What is important?    In the busy lives that we live we are flooded with things we need to do.   Often we are overwhelmed by all these claims on our time and energy.   I am discovering  that there is nothing like facing end of life that  inspires us to sort out these claims and prioritize them as to which are important.     I have found by experience that many different criteria may be used to sort out what is important.    Let me share a few of the criteria that  I have found to be helpful as guidelines, not just at end of life, but throughout life. I  try  to place ”  Relationshipw with loved  ones” in top priority.     The following questions may stimulate your thinking about this priority.

If you should die tomorrow do those closest to you know how much you love them?   Have you told them daily and shown by your actions that you love them?  Those of us who have been married a long time may have began taking our spouses for granted and are not saying “I love you” or showing our love for them.    Our spouses may be feeling unloved and unappreciated.   Tell them every day something that you appreciate about  them  and  and be sure to tell them they are loved.  Make sure your actions match your words.   The same is true of  our children.   I have a son and daughter that are middle aged now.   I never hang up the phone from talking to them that I do not close the conversation “Love you much!!”  There are a large number of kids in this world who feel unloved and unappreciated.   I have spent my life trying to insure that my children always feel loved and appreciated.  I’m sure I haven’t always  been successful but I try!

A second area of priority involves communicating things that only we know about to our loved ones.  We wh0 have lost loved ones know that there are many times when we have questions that only those who have passed could answer and the answer went to the grave with them.  

Although we can’t anticipate all of their questions, we can take some steps that may be helpful.   Here are several ideas that might be helpful.   

1,   Write your autobiography.  I have worked on mine several years and had to speed it up as I’m not sure how much time I have left.  Since I have trouble typing, my son helped me finish it by recording it on his cellphone and then transcribing it on the computer.   Not only is this a present you can give your children and grandchildren, it is a gift you can give yourself as you look at the fulness of the life you have led. 

  2.  Journal.  Since I retired from teaching in 1994 I have kept a journal and have added an entry almost every day.   I have filled almost 47 spiral notebooks with my journal.    Not only will it tell much about my life for those who I leave behind, but it has been a way to get down my feelings and understanding of myself.    I typically write in it every morning right after I arise and am having my first cup of  coffee.

3.  Financial and Business records.    As much as possible, we need to make sure our loved ones understand our finances and are able to take them over after we are gone.    It’s best we do it wherever we are in our lives as we have no guarantees we will have time to do so.   

Family Stories.   Pass on family stories to your children and grandchildren whenever you get a chance.    All families have stories about their past.   My son is staying with us since I went on hospice, and I am passing family stories on to him and also to my wife as they pop into my head.   Make sure they are stories about your early life and about their grandparents and aunts and uncles.

A third area  in setting priorities is to ask yourself the question:   If I choose to do this how will my doing this affect others for good or evil?    In other words—How will my actions make a difference in the lives that will be impacted by them?  And will the impact be positive or negative?    Here the choice will be easy—if the action taken  will have a positive impact on others it  should have higher priority, if negative it shouldn’t be done, if it is neutral in its impact it is low priority.

Ask also what difference the action will have on your own life.   For example,   “Will I regret it later if I don’t do this?”  Will I feel guilty?  Will I feel good if I do it?    

Acting according to our priorities is very important.   If we have not set priorities then we tend to react to “grease the wheel that squeaks the loudest”  and that is not a good guide.   The demands on our time and energy that are the most vocal may not be the most important, but too often those are the demands we succumb to if we have not thought about what is important and have no priorities for choosing.  When this happens we often have guilt and regrets for the rest of our lives.     What our your priorities?

Forgiveness

When I was a Hospice Chaplain, I was trained to use this list of  5 phrases to help patients deal  with end of life issues,  They are:  (1) “I forgive you”…(2) “Please forgive me”….  (3) “Thank you”….  (4) “I love you”….   (5)  “Goodbye”  The first two are the most important in my experience.   Many times I have seen patients who “hang on to life” and suffer until issues involving them are worked out.

As I am approaching end of life I am paying attention to all of them and feel that I have accomplished most of them.

I’m passing them on to you for two reasons:   (1)  You don’t have to wait until a terminal illness to be aware of the importance of these things in your relationship with loved ones.   If you or a loved one dies suddenly  due to an accident you will not have a chance to express them and deal with them—-so do it now.   (2) Because I feel the first two that deal with forgiveness  are extremely important for everyone.

Forgiveness is the foundation of all relationships.   Without love and the forgiveness that grows out of it enduring  relationships with God or with our fellow human beings is impossible. If we do not feel that God forgives us we cannot forgive ourselves, and if we cannot forgive ourselves it it is impossible to forgive others.

Both Old and New Testaments from Genesis to Revelation are narratives of God’s forgiveness.  Adam and Eve are guilty of eating the fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil that God told them they would die for doing.   Yet God, while driving them out of the Garden did not kill them but fashioned clothes to cover their nakedness.   Even Cain, who killed his brother Abel was protected from being slain wherever he went by the “mark of Cain.”  In Revelation the last and final words are that God will create a new heaven and earth and that sorrow and suffering and death shall be no more and in this new Jerusalem where God rules “they will be my people and I will be their God.”  Both Jeremiah and Isaiah contain similar prophetic  words.  (read Jeremiah 31.)

God is a God of love who seeks relationship with God’s creation.   God’s actions prove that to do so there must be forgiveness.    Without  God’s forgiveness for all of us who are broken and lost, there would be no relationship.

If you truly believe God forgives us for the many times when we have done the wrong thing instead of the right thing; that we have hurt rather than healed; that we have lied rather than told the truth; that we have been selfish rather than caring; that we have disregarded our neighbor rather than loved our neighbor; that we have held a grudge instead of forgiving those who hurt us.    If God can forgive you with all the thing only you know about and still love you—-then you can forgive yourself and then be able to forgive others who have hurt you and restore relationships that have turned sour because of grudges held.

Read the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32.  The son hurt his father deeply when he collected what would be his inheritance before his father died and spent it foolishly.   When the son came back in rags planning to beg to be his father’s hired hand he was welcomed by his father with a new robe and with a feast and dancing after his father ran out onto the road and greeted him with open arms as he was returning home,  This is a picture of what God’s forgiveness is like, Jesus told his disciples.

Part of the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples was:   “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.    Forgiveness is important.    Ask yourself if there is someone you need to ask for forgiveness or that you hold a grudge against and needs to hear your forgiveness.  Don’t wait—tomorrow may be too late!!

 

 

 

Practicing What We Preach

Yesterday I spent an hour with my hospice Chaplain.    I shared my concern about “leaving things hanging”,  and gave her an example of where my files are and my loved ones not being able to find them.   Before she could reply,  my son spoke up and said;   ‘Don’t worry about those things,  Dad,  we don’t want you  to spend your time shuffling files and papers—we’d rather spend the time with you  and we’ll  find what we need when we need it.

That led to a discussion about “letting go” of our anxieties.   My chaplain asked me to tell her a time that I felt God working in my life.   I gave her an example from the time of my first wife’s death.      She fell and in a week died of severe brain bleed.  It was so sudden that I had a hard time dealing with it because I was dealing with a situation that I couldn’t fix.   At one point I remember crying and telling God “help me, I can’t do this alone”!!    And a sense of peace came over me that let me know that God was present and would help me cope with my grief.   That moment changed my relationship with God forever…I truly knew God was in that room!! I felt  his presence.

As the chaplain left she gave me this advice:    “You need to take all of your anxieties and give them to God.     Let go of your anxieties and put your trust in God !”

How many times I have given this advice to people who are approaching end of life, both in the role of a hospice chaplain and a pastor?—yet I had not done it myself.   I realized I need to practice what I preach!

I think there is a lesson for all of us,  particularly ministers,perhaps,  but really it should be a lesson for all Christians.    The lesson is that if we really believe God is a God of love and is present in our lives we should put our trust in God in all things.   Our anxiety means we are not doing this.  We are not trusting God.

We need to read again what Jesus teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew, chapter six, when he told his disciples to consider the birds of the air who do not toil or spin, and yet God takes care of them.    He tells his disciples that if God does this for birds, why will he not also take care of you for you are worth many birds to God.

We Need Each Other

All human beings live under the illusion they  are the ones who are in control of their lives.  Especially Americans see themselves as “rugged individualists” who have a “I can do it by myself and don’t need anyone else to help me”attitude.    This even shows up in our attitude toward church in the  feeling that “I  don’t need the church.  I can have my own personal relationship with God without s bunch of sinners around me who are more messed up than me. ”  These people say “I am not religious, I’m spiritual’.

This illusion is exposed when we face end of life.     I am seeing how illusory the attitude is as I grow more and more dependent on hospice and on  those I love     There are many things I can’t do and my wife and son Greg are always there to help me.   Without them I would be in a nursing home already—-but with them with me and with hospice  I am able to be home in surroundings I love.  I am loved and cared for by others  and am very blessed with a church family  who visits, sends cards a .  I am  seeing how false the illusion of “individualism”is as I get telephone calls and cards from friends and loved ones both in the church and outside the church.

We are born to live in relationship with others.    We started as babies completely dependent on our parents for a long period of time., and  many of us end our lives in the same way—dependent on those who love us.  All of our lives we need relationships.   We are created in the image of God who wants relationship with us—-  Love is a relationship word and cannot be limited anymore than God can be limited .   Love is shown only through action in relationship to others;

We need others in our lives if we love God.   God is not completely loved by us until we love our neighbors., because they are all God’s children.    It is the role of the church to provide those relationships and to encourage us to develop relationships with God and our fellow human beings.  To those who who say  “I have a personal relationship with God and that’s all I need” I would say “stop fooling yourself.”    You cannot fully love God if you don’t fully love  your neighbors., God’s children, made in God’s image.

God  works with these neighbors to provide his love and care to you.     They actually are the deliverers of God’s grace.   You cannot receive God’s love and care on a bank with a fishing pole in your hand.   You receive God’s love through others who love God and are recipients of God’s love and grace.

What is Life All About?

Maybe we don’t think about this question and all the questions it generates until we face the end of  our life.    Then the questions come quickly!  What have I accomplished by my life?   Have I been successful?   Has my life made a difference?   For whom?    How do I want to be remembered?    What legacy have I left behind?    When people think of me after I’m gone, if they do, what will they think about? In general, what meaning does my life have?

As one who just went on hospice this week, I think I can speak to this topic with a far deeper insight than I could  have done two weeks ago……

I’ve had a great life!   My office walls contain many awards, commendations,  mementos; three higher education degrees (a Bachelor of Arts and 2 Master’s degrees),   Recently on my 80th birthday reception more than 100 people from all over Kansas showed up to celebrate with me.  They included extended family, friends, colleagues in ministry, etc.–.     I have enjoyed a wonderful loving and caring relationship with my wife Kay the past 4+ years.   She has a deep love for God and a deep love for me that doesn’t stop when the going gets rough, as it is now.  I am so blessed by her love.       In my lifetime  I’ve been able to travel to Russia and have memories and souvenirs from there, as well as traveling to Alaska and other parts of the U.S.       I’ve had reasonably good health up to the last year which enabled me to remain active..    I’ve served many churches  as pastor and earned from them the title I appreciate the most—pastor.    I have awards in both education, including membership in the educational fraternity, Phi Delta Kappa and am listed in Who’s Who in Education. after 30+ years of teaching in high school and college.  In Christian ministry I have the “Honored Minister’s pin: and am a “Minister Emeritus in the region of Kansas—-all highly significant awards.

But what I want to express here is my most important possession, although it is not  really a possession.     I am loved!       I am loved by God;  I am loved by my wife;   I am loved by my children and grandchildren; I am loved by my step-children and step-grandchildren and by many of my  former students and parishioners and by people I have worked with in both the regional church and the  individual parishes I have served.

As I contemplate it, my life has been surrounded by love and all of the accomplishments that I could have made—-are all built around that LOVE.    By the love and support I have received.  Everything I have accomplished has been because someone loved and supported me.   To give every instance as an example would be to write my biography.    However, two of the accomplishments that I am most proud of that  are built around love are my son and daughter.   They came out of  love for my first wife Dee, they were raised knowing that we loved them.    I remember a conversation with them a few years back when I said—“you know we didn’t always do things right when we were raising you—-we made a lot of mistakes.”   Their reply was that the mistakes were not that  important to them now.  What was important they said was that they always knew they were loved and we were there for them when they needed it.  Both of these children are now independent, loving and caring individuals.   They are an accomplishment of love.

The apostle Paul wrote in the 13th chapter of II Corinthians these well-known words.   They apply so well to what I am truing to say:

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.   And if have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love;  I am nothing.   If I give away all my possessions and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love;  I gain nothing…..

Put love at the center of your life.   Give it and receive it freely.   It is the most important possession that  life can give you.   Love is the source of all the meaningful accomplishments you make in life.  THEY COME FROM LOVE FOR GOD AND LOVE FOR OTHERS.  AND WHEN YOU PUT LOVE AT THE CENTER OF YOUR LIFE YOU PUT GOD THERE   BECAUSE  GOD IS LOVE.