Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What, Me Worry?

"Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow,
for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day
                                                     has enough trouble of its own."
                                                                                              Matthew 6:34
I have always enjoyed reading the so-called comic strips in the newspapers. Today my first check of the paper was for "Pickles" (A surprisingly accurate view of people my age), "Beetle Bailey", and  "Mallard Fillmore" (which takes a look at current events and politics). Unfortunately, a lot of the ones I used to read are long gone. Orphan Annie. The Katzenjammer Kids. Rex Riley. And I suppose Al Capps look at life in the hill country of Dogpatch USA in "Li'l Abner".

Some people might say my only interest in the strip would be Daisy Mae who always had her heart set on catching Abner. She was a bit more attractive than
Sadie Hawkins whose father promoted  a new program (Sadie Hawkins Day) that would allow her to catch a man when not one man in Dogpatch seemed interested in her. A pity there was no interest in Sadie - she was a charmer. After all, it's not looks that count, it's what's in the heart that matters

However, my thought today centers on another Al Capp Dogpatch character who went by the name: Joe Btfsplk. Try that name out for yourself. Denis Kitchen described it as sounding like a 'raspberry' or a 'Bronx cheer'.  Joe was a real character and still seems to be among us today.

Seems as though I have met a lot of "Joes" as I've travelled through life. Maybe I've been a little like him at times myself. A  worrier. Someone whose life seemed jinxed. No matter what happened in life something bad was going to happen. That's why Joe is always shown with a gray cloud over his head.
I remember one town we lived in that was so frustrating I felt as though a gray cloud was always over our heads. I kept worrying about what bad thing would happen next.

Some people describe it as Murphy's law: "If anything can fail or go wrong, it will" Nothing will change the situation. I remember a time when I heard rumors that there were to be some major personnel changes where I worked. I worried about it - worried enough that I finally quit so I wouldn't be fired. I worried about potentially dangerous weather fronts. I worried about health - was I going to be laid low with some dread disease. I worried about strange noises from under the hood of the car. Have you ever gone through life feeling like everything is getting worse and you don't know what to do?

I find a lot of comfort in what Jesus said. A person finds strength through faith. Sure, like everyone else, I have my dark days. I think about people I know who are going through challenging times. But I try my best to convey that God knows what we face and wants to give us strength to contend with today's challenge. It's hard to smile when some things seem to go wrong. But faith fills us with courage. Faith gives us peace in the midst of a life storm. Faith gives us hope when the road ahead seems rough. What more could I ask of life?

Give me strength when I am weak;
Give me courage when I am afraid;
Give me hope when I am unsure;
And give me faith when I'm filled with doubt.
Through the love of Jesus

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day 2012

It was February, 1945
Allied troops had fought their way to the edge of Germany.
It was cold - bitter cold ---  and wet ---and miserable.
But the troops moved forward, gaining ground, inch by inch foot by foot.
Now it was necessary to cross a flooded river
intentionally flooded by the enemy.
Joyce's brother Will was in the combat engineers
and it was their responsibility to bridge that flooded river
under enemy fire
The river eventually was crossed and troops continued to move toward the Rhine
But Will wasn't with them
He was a casualty, mortally wounded doing his job the best he could.
His grave lies in a Netherlands American cemetery along with thousands of others
who died serving their country the best they could
striving to free the world of war.
We look across the expanse of the Margraten cemetery and realize that so many died
not in vain
but because they loved peace
They are not forgotten
Their sacrifice lives on
Rest in Peace

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Achieving Stress

"Even though I walk through the
valley of of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil
for you are with me...

                                                                                                  Psalm 23:4

Can we generate personal stress? Sure, and I have, over the years, managed to create some magnificent moments of stress. However, checking my Bible concordances to write a blog, I could not find the word "stress". I could find examples of stressful situations, but not that specific reference.

In today's world it is virtually impossible to avoid stress. It is part of our lifestyle and we seek relief in a multitude of ways. In the Old Testament book of Job, we find Job crying out, "The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me." Every day life seems to be worse now than when I was young. That doesn't mean it didn't exist back then - in the Great Depression people were losing everything they had - money, homes, job,  health, family tensions and fear of the unknown. For some the solution might have been so extreme that they would jump off high buildings to escape the stress they endured in life. That kind of stress still exists, but people now try to find a solution to their tensions from self-help books, therapy, time-management workshops, massage parlors, guru's, and recovery programs. Then there are those who try to handle stress with drinking and drugs. For many, nothing seems to work. I have a hunch part of it is wrapped up in 21st Century lifestyles, loud and wildly upbeat music, stress-filled reality television and movies, and trying to keep up with the neighbor.

I know what it is like. I've been down that road. One time I was taking a solid schedule of college courses, refurbishing an old house, and working a full time job, all at the same time. Suddenly I was hit with laryngitis from stress and had to back off from non-essentials. There was a time when I was on a Navy aircraft carrier on crisis readiness not knowing whether the next day would bring war. Trying to support a family when there never seemed enough resources brought considerable stress.

But then I found an amazing strength filling my soul. I prayed to God for relief - for His Spirit to give strength and comfort in day-to-day life. Most of us have to come to grips with the reality that, by ourselves, we do not handle stress well. We need more than human resources. We need to have faith, and trust in God. Jesus said, "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls..." (Matthew 11:28-30)

I don't say I am immune from stress, for I still contend with inner turmoil and deep concerns most every day...illness...aging. . financial questions....welfare of the world....situations in my family.
But faith and a very deep trust in God's power and love goes a long way toward  a sense of
peace and assurance.  Stress is still there - always there - but the Spirit of God makes life a whole lot better. I speak from experience.

Lord God:
Forgive me when I cry out, "Why me, Lord?"
Instead fill my heart with assurance
that I have a guide and counselor
in every need of life.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Down in the Pits

"Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord;
O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy"

                                                                                              Psalm 130:1

When I graduated from high school I had no real aim for the direction of my life. To be sure, my yearbook reflected the dream of my one day becoming the projectionist at New York's Radio City Music Hall, which amazingly enough is still a great theatrical center in the Big Apple.

But with World War Two nearing its end, and millions of veterans returning home, jobs were becoming harder and harder for a young high school graduate to find. I tried working for RKO Radio Studios in their film exchange. I lasted a week there - the work was exhausting and the pay hardly enough to cover my train tickets to and from Albany. I pitched hay - worked the fields - searched for work - to no avail.

Then I happened to find an opening in a gas station in a nearby town. The manager was someone I knew and liked, and occasionally he would send me 'uptown' to get some automotive part - and I had the great privilege of driving his wonderful old Packard. Who cared if the front shock absorbers were bad - the car rocked like a Navy destroyer in heavy seas. It was the thrill of driving a PACKARD.

It was the days when service stations lived up to their name: full service. Check the oil, water, tires and clean the windshield while 15 or 20 cent a gallon gas swished into the tank. Once in a while you might even met someone famous, like Claude Rains, the movie star. Or beautiful. Or even a grumpy old codger that I hoped I would never become.

It was great working at the gas station in the fall, but things changed as the year approached its end. I discovered that it was hard and dangerous work work repairing or replacing truck split-rim tires. I discovered it was dirty work and challenging for a smaller person like me.

But the worst work of all was working in the grease pit. It was unpleasant at best and hard to endure in the winter when ice and slush built up on the bottom of cars and trucks fell off on me. It was bad enough to be cold - it was much worse with the droppings from cars. If there was anything I hated in the job, and sought release from, was working in the grease pit. would think, if not pray, "Lord, lift me out of this miserable pit."

But that's life. No matter who we are, no matter where we are, we all face moments when we wonder about the injustice of life. Maybe it might be losing a job. Maybe it might be frustration with a boss or neighbor. Maybe it is when nothing seems to work out - money isn't there when we need it - things just seem to always go wrong. And maybe it is health situations. And we think to ourselves, "Why, me, Lord?"

It's all the same - as if we have been put in the sewers of life - or been forced to work down there in the grease pits in the the worst weather possible. I guess I've learned a few lessons about that, though.
We go down here in the depths and do the best job we can knowing that eventually we'll be lifted out.
We may not know how that will occur, but for every  downer we face there is the potential of rising to new heights. If not physically we can be lifted emotionally and spiritually. I like to think that that comes of living faith.

I don't like bad moments.
I don't like bad things that happen.
Give me the will and faith
to be lifted from the pit to new faith and hope.


Friday, April 27, 2012

Preach or Witness?

"I speak the truth in Christ -
I am not lying, conscience confirms
it in the Holy Spirit..."

Romans 9:1

Have you ever faced a moment when someone said something to you and you ended up feeling really put down? Where one minute you felt like you were riding high and someone did something that tended to burst your personal balloon?

I've had that happen more than I like to think about, but that's life. Particularly when I've tended to feed my ego. And I've subjected a few people with downers as well.

Many years ago, during a church witnessing function that I was leading, a man came up to me at the end and said I should check out the Bible passage I've referred to above. I though I had done an adequate leadership role during the weekend and yet the passage was troubling to me - had I fallen short in leadership? Did he sense something about my leadership or witness that did ring true? However, I have kept that passage in mind over the years asking God if what I have said or done has rung true?

I wrote a book on Christian witnessing many years ago and it ended up being used for many years. When I submitted the manuscript to the publisher it was accepted in its entirety - not a word was changed. I had spent a week trying to write the book and couldn't even get the first page done until, in desperation I prayed for the words and the words just flowed. Feeling an emotional high, I proceeded to write another book and felt assured that it would be better than the first. But the editor of the publishing house said it had potential but that it had a big difference from the first: "It was preaching, not a witness to God's power and influence". I can say without question two things: I had not prayed over the project, and I had allowed the book to become a "me" book.

I have since asked myself, again and again, am I preaching or am I witnessing? I've asked that about sermons I shared. In the process I tried to understand what the motive of he sermon was. Was I trying to entertain my audience? Or was I trying my best to convey a message of real inspiration - something that offered as heartfelt as possible something of how I experienced and experience God. Did what I shared truly encourage listeners to come closer to God? Did people leave church with a sense of Christian hope, encouragement, and inner peace in a time of turmoil?

I'd like to think that I've tried to be true to God. I would like to think that my years were not filled with self but with  desire to share Christlike love and optimism and the reality that we are loved by God in spite of moments when we don't measure up to God's hopes for our lives. And I have taken to heart the Scripture passage above and times when people have reminded me of the truth that it's a whole lot better to put self on the back-burner and think more of God's hopes for how we might influence the world with Godlike actions and words.

I think of an interview many years ago where one of the committee asked a question: "When you die, what would you like on your gravestone?" My reply: "He served Jesus." With that in mind, what would you like to see on your gravestone?

Forgive me Lord,
When I spent to much time focusing on self
and not enough depending on you

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Oops - Goofed Again

"Aim for perfection,  listen to my appeal,
be of one mind, live in peace.
And the God of love and peace
will be with you"

2 Corinthians 13:11

We often hear the words, 'Hey, that's great; perfect; right on the money' Or maybe we get a grade on a test where we feel we aced it and got a perfect score. But what is perfect?

My dad was an extremely talented person. He created wonderful artwork. He wrote interesting stories. In many things he was way ahead of his time. But he always bemoaned, maybe even emphasizing, his failures over the years. Instead of rejoicing in his creativity he tended to emphasize how much of an ego trip he was on and that his ego was his worst enemy. So if you were ever to have asked him about perfection in his life he would have said, 'Not me, far from it.'

My uncle Ralph was another one. In many ways a practical joker, he was a very quiet person who hid his talent under a bushel basket. He collected jokes and humorous thoughts and kept wishing he could collect them together to produce an anthology of humor. He never got around to doing it and he would admit his shortcomings. But he was talented in photography, was skilled at his work in color management in producing decals, and was skillful in financial matters. Were you to ask him about perfection he would look you straight in the eye and ask, 'Who, me? Never happen!'.

And there's those who have a talent for writing but never finish even a letter because they have to keep going back to edit what they wrote. Their writing never measures up to what they want and so they strive to make a perfect writing effort out of what they perceive as substandard and quit when it never measures up.

I love to write but I never seem to fall in the trap of perfection. I sit down, start writing and what comes out comes out. I look for obvious mistakes, I use my computer spellcheck mode  and let it go. What happens happens - it's just an expression of how I felt about the subject and that's the way it is. I just like to express feelings - I know it's not perfect - but it is just fun to do.

Years ago we attended a church where membership, to some degree, depended on profession of perfection. However, if one looked around at others in the church we would see ordinary people like ourselves who had moments when they missed the mark. Moments of frustration - perhaps anger - doubt - ordinary every day frailties we all share. I would never have made the grade in that church because I have not achieved perfection.

But in the ordination ceremony for being a pastor in my denomination, there is a question we must answer as honestly as possible. It is not "Have you achieved perfection?" Instead, the question I have had to answer was, "Are you striving for perfection?" I was, without hesitation able to say, "I've got a long way to go - and I will probably never achieve it in my lifetime - But I'm trying to live a Christlike life the best I can. The scripture passage above is a really great guide and summation of life as Christ would have it. And I have peace in my soul.

 Lord Jesus....
Remind me each day that I have a long way
to go and to recognize that
perfection is extremely elusive.
Fill me with joy when I try.

Monday, March 26, 2012

I want....................

"You ask and do not receive
because you ask amiss,
that you may spend it on your pleasures."

James 4:3

I was sitting in a doctors office the other day and chanced to pick up a small devotional book that caught my attention.leafing through it I saw a devotional entitled : "Me First". It .set me to thinking of how much I may have fit the mold.

A lot of us, who grew up in the Great Depression, did not enjoy the little frills of life. Perhaps some were able to get anything they wanted, but in my case nothing really came without effort. I was fortunate that my father was able to work, and we had food and necessities. Christmas was always good but in many cases gifts were home-made. I remember that I could say "I want that..." when we were in a store but more often than not, my father or mother would say, "I know you WOULD LIKE that, but we can't afford it right now." Fact of the matter is, there wasn't that much extra that we could afford bargain -price Saturday afternoon movies

Fortunately, I wasn't afraid to work doing things like pitching hay, shoveling manure, stacking a woodpile, or mowing lawns throughout our community. I didn't earn much but it was enough for a candy bar or two, a nickel soda, nails for my "cabin" upstream from our house, and cheap doo-dads from the local dime store.

When I reached adulthood I was convinced that our children would not suffer the privation I had experienced in childhood. But in honesty, I wanted to make up for lost time getting 'stuff" I wanted. .Christmas would roll around and we'd spend money we really couldn't afford. .I remember pawning a bowling ball one time so we would have hot dogs and beans for Thanksgiving. I wanted the latest hi-fi, stereo, color television, or car, even if it was at the expense of important things.

All those memories came back to haunt me when I saw that little devotional. I realized that there was a big difference between "I want" and "I need." I don't think I heard God very clearly when God was warning me about the hazards of the "I wants..".More likely I wasn't paying attention when His message was to live life according to his guidance - I was simply trying to do things MY way.

I hear Him more clearly today. There are still a thing or two I'd like but now there is a voice in my soul reminding me that other priorities are more important. I've come to the conclusion that needs are far more important than wants. I only wish I had heeded my conscience - God's voice - a whole lot sooner.

Father in heaven:
Even with our transgressions,
our selfish desires  and  preoccupations,
you still watch over us
and love us
in spite of ourselves.