Tag Archives: Life assessment

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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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.

Climbing Ladders

There is a drive in all of us to achieve success in our lives.   That is what our ego’s, or as Rohr puts it “our false self” feeds upon.   Seldom do we take time to really define what “success” is.    What is “success” for you?   You will have to answer that question, I can’t.   I have a hard enough time answering  the question for myself!

On my wall above my desk are some physical signs of what might be called success.   Three college degrees (including two Master’s degrees);  Awards of various kinds from both the Education field (Who’s Who in American Education, e.g.)  and the field of Christian Ministry (Minister Emeritus of Christian Church in Kansas, e.g.).   Does that mean I’m a success?   No—it means some people think that I am a success, I feel.

I have pictures in my office of my two children, a boy and a girl.   They are now adults and are doing well—but most important they are loving and caring individuals who are contributing to society.   Does that make me a success?   I’d like to think so,  but who knows but what they would be the same despite me being there to help raise them—-and I have to share any success in that area with my wife who did more to raise them than I was able to do while working two jobs to support my family.

I have a nice, comfortable home in Wichita and a loving wife to share it with after the death of my first wife.   We have two cars and a half-garage full of woodworking tools that I love to use.    My life is comfortable and I’ve had reasonably good health for my age in the late seventies.   Does that make me a success?   It may mean that I am blessed by God far beyond what I deserve, but I do not believe material things make me a success.

Wherein should my feeling of success lay then?    As I write this I am reminded of the words of Thomas Merton:  “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.”

I am trying, at this point in my life, to lean my ladder of success on the right wall—God’s wall.   The only true success I can strive to attain is in an ever closer relationship to God.    I found at the sudden death of my first wife that all the knowledge and skills that I had were of no value in dealing with an event over which I had absolutely no control.   I turned to God and said:   “Help me God, I can’t do this without you.”   And I felt a peace come over me and knew that God heard and began the healing process of my heart at that point.

Since that time, as God helped heal my grief and led me to a loving caring and Godly  woman that would share my life and become my wife,  I have realized more and more that the ladder to success for each of us mortals is the ladder to God.   The happiness my wife and I feel today is the result of a “God-thing”, we both agree.   So I have endeavored to place my ladder of success on the wall of God.

And the greatest thing about the ladder  to God is that we don’t have to laboriously climb it from day to day with great fear of falling and failing—-instead our God of love and grace comes down the ladder to dwell  with us now; right here,  and will do so forever.    Amen

Possessions and Treasures—Where is Your Heart?

Most of us have visited a junkyard, or its modern equivalent of an antique and collectibles store?   Or perhaps you’ve gone to an estate auction.   All the above have the same impact on me when I visit them.   Everywhere I look there is “stuff” that people have worked and saved to buy.   All around me are what were once a person’s possessions—-“stuff” that they lived for and were proud of and had meaning for them.    Now they are fit only for a dump or the shelf of a store or to be auctioned to the highest bidder who is looking for a bargain!   They are an apt illustration that placing our hopes and dreams on material possessions will eventually lead us nowhere but to the junkyard.   Materialism has only junk value!!

Jesus taught that God defines “riches” differently than we do.   Our riches, in God’s eye, are NOT our possessions.   Our riches, in God’s eyes are our treasures—-and there is a big difference!

Think about these differences:

  • We possess a job—-We treasure the family that job supports.
  • We possess a house—-We treasure our home.
  • We possess a bank account—We treasure friendship and love that money cannot buy.
  • We possess a car—-We treasure the freedom that car gives us to go and come as we wish.
  • We possess a wardrobe—-We treasure the life and health that allows us to wear that wardrobe.
  • We possess an appointment book—-We treasure our time.

Jesus told a story about this.  It’s often referred to as the Parable of the Rich Fool.  

The Rich Fool doesn’t seem foolish at first.   He is presented as a good farmer and shrewd businessman whose land produced abundantly.   With wealth pouring in much faster than he could use it, he faced a problem.   “What should I do?” he thought  to himself, “for I have no place to store my crops.”   His solution was  this:   He decided to pull down his barns and build bigger ones, so that he could store all of his grain and his goods.   Then he said to his soul:  “Hey, soul!  You are doing all right!    Go ahead, relax, eat, drink, be merry.”    Then comes the surprise:   Death!!   That was something the rich man didn’t factor into his business plan.  And God said  to him, “You fool!   This very night your life is being demanded of you.   And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?

The rich man’s efforts on earth have been terribly misdirected.   He has been storing up treasures for himself, instead of becoming rich toward God by giving some of those riches to the poor and the hungry.   He was a victim ofgreed need“, which is a virus that gives us an “obsession for possession” and can infect any one of us whether we have a lot of money or not.

Jesus taught something very different in the Sermon on the Mount:   “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break through and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.   FOR WHERE YOUR TREASURE IS, THERE YOUR HEART WILL BE ALSO.”   (Matthew 6:19-21)

How important are your possessions to you?   What do you treasure?   We can each answer that question for ourselves by looking at two things:  (1)   Our Calendar; and (2) our checkbook.    They will answer the following three questions about what you treasure:

  1. How do I spend my time?
  2. For what do I spend my money?
  3. What is my basis for making decisions on time and money!

Are you happy with your answers?

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!

Living the American Dream or Nightmare?

Living the “American Dream” is defined these days as to “be rich in material things.”  And our society is blessed with comforts and material things that are  the envy of the world.    However, the “American Dream” may also become the “American Nightmare”!!  These may be the “best of times” but they are also“the worst of times” for our American Culture.

  • Never has a culture experienced such comfort and riches or such massive poverty and lack of opportunity.
  • Never has technology given us so many household conveniences, or such terrible instruments of destruction.
  • Never have we been so able to communicate in so many different ways, and never felt so disconnected from others and so lonely.
  • Never have we been so free and never have our prisons been so full.
  • Never have we been so sophisticated about relationships, or so likely to suffer broken or miserable relationships.
  • Never have we had so much self-knowledge and the desperation to search  for “who we are.”

It  unfortunately has always been true that the church has mirrored the culture and it is true today,.  As a part of the church in this culture, we who are trying to be disciples of Jesus are struggling  to establish our identity as his disciples and as his church.   We are doing so  and searching for “who we are” as Christians and for what is of ultimate importance for us to build our lives upon and meet our needs.   As we search, all around us we are hearing the cultural  message “look out for  Number 1”,  the message to “buy, buy, buy” to fulfill the needs  of “number 1”.      Yet, if we heed those messages we find less satisfaction, less joy, and less happiness than we were told we would have.     People who have based their lives on “bottom-line living”—where the only thing that counts is the bottom-line tally—are finding themselves “bottoming out”.   Gradually their devotion to a “god of more” just doesn’t seem like enough!

The “Me Generation” that leads our culture  needs to discover that it is “not about me”!    As Max Lucado writes:  “We’ve been demanding our way and stamping our feet since infancy.   Aren’t we all born with a default drive set on selfishness?   I want a spouse who makes  me happy and coworkers who always ask my opinion.  I want weather that suits me and traffic that helps me and a government that serves me (but doesn’t cost me any taxes).  It is all about me.”  (Lucado, It’s Not About Me”)   Italics mine.

There are some basic questions we should be asking ourselves:

  • To what should we be committing our life?
  • What is worthwhile and lasting?
  • For what should we strive?
  • What is worth giving our life for?
  • How can the church change the culture rather than reflect it?
  • What is my role in this change as a Christian?

Culture can be compared to a symphony orchestra.    When all of the players play  their parts to perfection, beautiful music is produced under the watchful eye of the Great Conductor—God.  Each of us contributes our part to making that beautiful music and if you’ve ever been a part of a musical group you know what a pleasure that is.   But if the symphony orchestra decides that “it is all about me” then the result is not beautiful music but a monstrous noise!   Can you imagine an orchestra with an “It’s all about me” outlook held by each separate musician?   Tubas blasting nonstop.  Percussionists pounding on their drums to get attention.    The cellist shoving the flutist off of the center stage chair.   The trumpeter standing on top of the conductor’s platform tooting his horn.   Sheet music disregarded.  Conductor ignored.    Would anyone want to be a part of this group?   Who would enjoy contributing to a monstrous noise that makes people wish to hold their ears?

And yet, we as Christians are tempted to buy into the American Dream that is turning nightmarish.   This dream of material success is based on the “Me Principle”.

Do we want to make beautiful music with our lives or just monstrous noise? Much of the American Nightmare is based on the “Me Principle.”    When we buy into materialism  as individuals and churches we help continue the nightmare.   When we elect politicians that refuse to compromise and work for the common good, we help continue the nightmare.   When we turn away from the problems of our society and turn inward for self-protection we help continue the nightmare.   Is that what you want to do?   Is that what I want to do?   

We as individuals and as churches need to ask ourselves this question:  “What kind of orchestra are we playing in—the one making beautiful music or the one making monstrous noise?

Chasing After the Wind…

Honestly!   What is life’s work  all about anyway?    Why do we work so hard to create, build, achieve, write?   I feel sad when I think of this question as I see an estate sale.   I remember the estate sale  that our family had for my Aunt Ruth.   She had never married, and I and her sister (my mother) were her only close family.   She worked all her life as an auditor for Sears, living in an apartment in Lincoln, Nebraska.   She traveled a lot and had many souvenirs of her travel that she carefully placed in scrapbooks and looked at often.  She had a collection of ceramic birds she acquired over the years and loved to tell where each came from.  At her death, all that she had worked for and all that she loved and cherished as far as material goods was concerned went on the auction block, to be purchased by the curious and the bargain seeker for the lowest price possible, with the exception of a few things my mother and I kept.

Perhaps the writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes had been to an estate sale recently when he wrote these words about life—“all is vanity, a chasing after the wind.”

The book of Ecclesiastes is one of the Wisdom Books of the Old Testament.   We know the writer’s name only as “Qoheleth”, often translated “preacher” or “teacher”.    Ecclesiastes is about his experiement he conducted in honesty.   It is probable that Qoheleth was an old man looking back on his life and trying to determine the meaning of it.   He looked over every aspect of life—all human endeavor—and attempted to discern what endures, what lasts, and what it all means.   He summed   up  his conclusions in these words:   “I considered all that my hands had done, and toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after the wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun”  (Eccl 2:11)  and he asks “What gain have the workers from their toil?”   (Eccl. 3:9)    

Qoheleth recounts all his efforts in the first few chapters, saying:  “I built”, “I made great”, “I planted”,  “I made”, “I acquired,  “I gathered”, and yet all of this doing he found to be a mirage, an illusion.  It all goes down unto death and “there is nothing new under the sun.”   Is Qoheleth being too pessismistic, or just being a realist?   I think he raises an important question, which is:   What is the purpose, then, of work?”   Why bother?    And I think Qoheleth gives an answer that is often overlooked.

For an achievement-oriented society such as ours, I think that the question of the purpose of work is a one we need to attend to and to seek  for an answer.   Qoheleth speaks persuasively to those with great and ambitious plans for success, who are ripe for disillusionment, whether in the business world, a profession, politics, raising children, ministry, or academia.   He reminds us that in every vocation there is the personal struggle to make progress that can bring one to the brink of burnout and despair.    Qoheleth reminds us that:   It is all too easy to fall into the trap of pinning one’s hopes on our human capacity to fulfill our dreams and goals, no matter how lofty and worthy, only to have those hopes sacrificed upon the altar of meaninglessness and failure and loss.   When we do this we are “chasing the wind!”

Qoheleth is NOT saying that one should not have goals and objectives, but that THE DANGER LIES IN ATTACHING PERSONAL FULFILLMENT TO THE END RESULT OF THESE GOALS AND OBJECTIVES.

He is saying that not much endures, but endurance is not the true test of our work.   If that is the case, what is the test of our work?   Qoheleth says it is for the joy of just using our skills and abilities and living day by day.      He is NOT saying that work is pointless and therefore to be avoided.  He IS saying that work should be enthusiastically and vigorously engaged in.   Listen to him:   “Whatever your hand finds to do, do with all your might.”  (Eccl 9:10)

Qoheleth IS SAYING:  Our achievements through our work ought to be enjoyed for their own sake, for how they fill our days, and how they celebrate our God-given gifts for creativity and productivity.  IF YOUR WORK IS SOMETHING YOU DO IN ORDER TO GET SOMETHING ELSE, THIS WILL LEAD TO FRUSTRATION AND DESPAIR, Quoheleth says, ENJOY IT AS AN END INITSELF, AND THERE IS YOUR REWARD. THE REWARD IS NOT IN THE ENDURANCE OF YOUR ACTIVITY FOREVER, BUT IN THE ACTIVITY ITSELF.

Let’s face it, most of the trouble we have with our work is when we fail to keep our work in its place.   We become obsessive, presuming to secure ourselves and define ourselves through our work.   How much do we define ourselves by what we do?  What happens when we can no longer do it?   If we have defined ourselves personally by our work, then when we cease to be able to work  we become nothing.  We’ve been chasing the wind!!   PEOPLE ARE NOT WHAT THEY DO, THEY ARE WHO THEY ARE—living beings created in the image of God and blessed with his love and grace.

Qoheleth reminds us that since what we produce by our work is mere “chasing the wind” that comes to nothing, then we should just enjoy the simple pleasures of life, the day-to-day routine, the rhythm of it all, the good feeling of creating our little piece to add to  the whole picture of God’s plan for the world.    The Romans had a word for it—-carpe diem—-“seize the day”!!  Our achievements ought to be enjoyed for their own sake, for how they help fill our days, and for how they celebrate our God-given gifts and skills each day!

For example:   I like to do woodworking.   One of the things I have built is a grandfather clock.   I always wanted to do that when I retired!   I love my clock and I take great pleasure in looking at what I have created and listening to it chime.   I doubt that it will last forever.   It is not the greatest clock ever built, but I enjoyed building it!    Hopefully it will be kept in my family, but I have no guarantee of that.   It may wind up in an estate sale someday in the future.  It won’t last forever.   But I have taken a great deal of joy in its creation and in the using of my skills in woodworking to create it—and that is all that I can hope for, and that is enough!!  To do otherwise would only be “vanity” and “chasing after the wind!”.