Archive for the ‘Self-discipline’ Category

Enduring Truths for Recent Graduates

Eight years ago I wrote an article  for my newspaper column with some advice for recent grads.  It has become one of the most popular pieces I ever wrote. I’ve received hundreds of emails thanking me for writing it.  Therefore, I decided to  republish it annually around graduation time.  I hope some of you might find it useful.  You can view the original article in the Tribune-Democrat news at this link: http://goo.gl/LtN72

For those who are graduating high school this year and beginning the long transition into adulthood, I’d like to offer you a gift. Here are five enduring truths I have learned. They will help you through life’s journey.

Choices

“If you decide to just go with the flow, you’ll end up where the flow goes, which is usually downhill, often leading to a big pile of sludge and a life of unhappiness. You’ll end up doing what everyone else is doing.” ― Sean Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens

 Life will deal you an endless string of choices along the way.  Some will be trivial, like deciding what to wear today.  Others will be weighty and their outcomes will affect you forever.  Weighty decisions should always be preceded by much thought and soul searching.  This includes decisions about who you date or marry, what you put into your body, bringing children into the world, what you do for a living, how much debt you incur and who you associate with.

All of these decisions will have a lasting effect on your life. Therefore, make them slowly and deliberately. Often you’ll discover that the right choice is not the easiest one.  A habit of making poor choices will, as the Sean Covey quote suggests, drag your life downhill.

I was recently contacted by a young man who had just received a bad conduct discharge from the Navy.  He asked me how the discharge would impact his future employability.  His mistake was choosing to drive a car while intoxicated and hitting a pedestrian. Fortunately, the victim wasn’t seriously injured. Had it been otherwise, the young sailor would probably be in prison.  It was my sad responsibility to inform him that with some employers the discharge would be a black mark for life. Choices matter!

Learning

“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards.”    ―Vernon Saunders Law, former professional baseball pitcher and Cy Young Award winner

Some of you will go on to college or technical school.  Others will enter the workforce.  Even if your formal education is over, don’t quit learning. Make learning a lifelong adventure.  I did my undergraduate work at the University of Kentucky.  The school offers a fellowship program for individuals aged 65 and older to attend classes tuition free. Every year numerous senior citizens walk the stage to receive degrees ranging from Associate of Arts to Doctor of Philosophy.  It’s never too late to learn.

Even if you don’t choose to continue formal learning, make it point to learn from life. Observe others; note their successes and failures; then learn from their experiences.  More importantly, learn from your own mistakes.

Some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned, particularly those while serving in uniform, were the result of having made a terrible mistake.  This sort of lesson sticks, like the first time you grab the handle of a hot iron skillet with your bare hand.  The key to learning from mistakes is owning them.  Admit your mistakes and then move on, having learned something from the experience.  Don’t let, “It wasn’t my fault,” be part of your vocabulary.

Work

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”  ―Colin Powell, retired U.S. Army four-star general and former U.S. Secretary of State

Work isn’t always fun. If it were, they’d call it play.  Work can be downright unpleasant, but it’s an essential element of life! Along the way you’re going to have jobs you won’t like. Note what you don’t like and make it a point to improve yourself, so you’ll never again have to work at such a job.

Accepting a job means submitting to the authority of those placed over you.  Learn to work within this system.   You’ll inevitably have bosses you don’t like.  Learn to respect the position, if not the individual.

Fairness

“Life is not fair; get used to it.” ―Bill Gates, founder and former CEO, Microsoft Corporation

You will hear much discussion about fairness in this life. It’s all hot air.  Life isn’t fair.  Some good people die young, while some bad people live a long life.   Disease sometimes strikes arbitrarily, for no apparent reason.  Some people prosper while others suffer failure. A death or accident can change your life forever.

There is randomness to life that can’t be avoided.  Don’t expect kindness to be returned with kindness.  Don’t expect generosity to be returned with generosity.  The best choice is to be fair and kind to others and learn to accept what they return to you.

A wise man named Harry Browne ran for president of the United States on the Libertarian Party ticket. On Christmas day in 1966, Browne wrote his young daughter a letter aptly titled, “A Gift for My Daughter.”  I encourage every graduating senior to read it and digest it. In the letter, he explains to his daughter that, “Nobody owes you anything.”  Understanding what Browne meant can truly bless you. You can find it at: https://tenthamendmentcenter.com/2009/12/22/a-gift-for-my-daughter/ 

Faith

“A faith is a necessity to a man. Woe to him who believes in nothing.”  ―Victor Hugo

I once had a senior Army officer tell me he preferred to work with men who possessed spiritual values, regardless of their religion.  He explained that having faith in a power higher than one’s self was an indicator of how one will perform under pressure; in this instance, the pressure meant combat.

Too many people place their faith in all the wrong places.  It might be in wealth, celebrity, good looks, talent, or even government.  Whatever the case, misplaced faith leads to disappointment after disappointment.

To avoid these disappointments, put your faith in God alone.  You, your loved ones and your friends will all inevitably let you down, but God will never fail you.

A perpetual communion with God

Do you love God?  Do you know God’s son, Jesus Christ?  Do you spend time with him daily? Revelation 22:4-5 shows us a picture of the saints in heaven enjoying a “perpetual communion” with God, “They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever.”  While this passage in Revelation paints a picture of the future, the perpetual communion it describes is available to Christ followers today. But how do we get there?

In the hustle and bustle of today’s busy, fast-moving life it can be easy to pass an entire day without having even a single thought of God. At least this is true for me and I suspect many others will recognize it as true.  So how does one achieve perpetual communion with God today?  Here’s a clue.  One of the things I admire about Muslims is their commitment to the daily prayers. Practicing Muslims pause to pray five times a day. The pause for prayer is a chance to center one’s self and refocus on their god.  The prayers go like this:  

  • First: This prayer starts off the day with the recognition of God; it takes place before sunrise.
  • Second: After the day’s work has begun, one breaks shortly after noon to again remember God and seek His guidance.
  • Third: In the late afternoon, the faithful take a few minutes to remember God and the greater meaning of their lives.
  • Fourth: Just after the sun goes down, one remembers God again as the day begins to come to a close.
  • Fifth: Before retiring for the night, the Muslim faithful pause to remember God’s presence, guidance, mercy, and forgiveness.

Whether or not you’re a Muslim, such a daily prayer schedule that keeps one focused on God is a wonderful idea. Abraham was the father of both Islam and Judaism.  In Genesis 17, God appeared to Abraham and “spoke with him,” announcing the Covenant of Circumcision. Genesis chapter 5 list Adam’s descendants down to Noah. Speaking of one descendant who was named Enoch, verse 24 says, “Enoch walked with God, and he was not for God took him.”  

The meaning of this cryptic passage has been heavily debated by Bible scholars. Did Enoch physically walk with God?  Was he taken up to heaven without dying?  The New Testament holds a clue. Hebrews 11:5 says, “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken, he was commended as having pleased God.” 

It appears that both Abraham and Enoch literally met God—stood in His presence while they lived on this Earth—pretty special to say the least.  Even so, they could not have seen him face to face. Moses too had a literal meeting with God. God spoke to him in Exodus 33:20, saying, “…you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”  Exodus 33:23 goes on to recount how God physically passed by Moses, showing him his back.

Like Adam and Eve before them, Abraham, Enoch and Moses were blessed to have physically communed with God.  I can’t help but think how easy it would be for me to live in perpetual communion with God if I could physically meet him. God doesn’t make it that easy, however.  As Jesus tells the Apostle Thomas in John 20:29, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

What moves someone to believe without seeing. From Jesus’ own words spoken to “doubting Thomas,” we can extrapolate that developing a perpetual communion with God requires faith. The renowned Scottish theologian Oswald Chambers said, “The mystery of God is not in what is going to be, it is now…Realize that the Lord is here now, and the freedom you receive is immediate.”  Communion with God leads to liberation—being set free from the cares and worries of the day. How can one achieve this liberation? As Chambers suggests, we must first recognize that God is here now! 

How is such a close communion developed?  Unlike justification, which Luther explained is achieved “through faith alone” (sole fide), developing a perpetual communion with God requires more than faith.  It requires hard work. This work takes two forms: studying the Scriptures and praying without ceasing, as Paul describes in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. We cannot truly come to know and understand God without committing ourselves to studying the scriptures, for they are the revealed word of God. Prayer is also essential.  Psalm 143 suggests we should begin each day with prayer: “Let me hear of your loving-kindness in the morning, for I put my trust in you.”

With respect to praying, one often overlooked aspect of prayer is extremely important to developing a perpetual communion with God—praying requires listening!  We need to take time to be silent and listen for the voice of God. God is with us.  His name is Emmanuel. Start getting to know Him today and begin the hard work of developing a perpetual communion with Him.  

Amazingly, the Creator and Ruler of the universe wants to spend time with you so that you can know Him better. It’s as if He is saying, “I want you all to Myself for a little while.” Take Him up on the invitation to get away to a quiet place and learn about Him.  –Dr. Charles Stanley

Managing Change

Changes“There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” –C.S. Lewis

 

(Note: All Bible quotes are NIV.)

Most people naturally resist change. Some scientists have theorized this is caused by an innate survival response programmed into human beings at the genetic level. Businesses desiring to grow and remain competitive are often forced to change or face failure.   Change Management is a business discipline used to bring about organizational change while minimizing the impact on the affected individuals (employees, suppliers,  customers etc.).  Dr. Rosabeth Moss Kanter is a professor at the Harvard Business School.  She has written about the 10 common reasons people resist business change. They are:

  1. Loss of Control – Change interferes with autonomy and can make people feel that they’ve lost control over their territory.
  2. Excess Uncertainty – If change feels like walking off a cliff blindfolded, then people will reject it.
  3. Surprise, Surprise – Decisions imposed on people suddenly, with no time to get used to the idea or prepare for the consequences, are generally resisted.
  4. Everything Seems Different – Change is meant to bring something different, but how different? We are creatures of habit.
  5. Loss of Face (dignity) – By definition, change is a departure from the past.
  6. Concerns About Competence – Can I do it? Change is resisted when it makes people feel stupid.
  7. More Work – Here is a universal challenge. Change is indeed more work.
  8. Ripple Effects – Like tossing a pebble into a pond, change creates ripples, reaching distant spots in ever-widening circles.
  9. Past Resentment – The ghosts of the past are always lying in wait to haunt us. As long as everything is steady state, they remain out of sight.
  10. Real Threats – Now we get to true pain and politics. Change is resisted because it can hurt.

Fortunately, the business world has amassed a substantial body of knowledge describing effective methods for managing organizational change. Change Management consulting is a lucrative field of business and can be very effective in ushering in change.   

The seasons of our lives are full of changes as well. People resist life changes for many of the same reasons they resist business change. Human lives are in a constant state of flux. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 describes this quite poetically:

There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

 a time for war and a time for peace.  

Life changes come in two overarching categories. The first encompasses personal lifestyle changes one might need to make, like losing weight, exercising more, eating healthier, quitting tobacco, eliminating or reducing alcohol consumption, getting more sleep, spending more time with family, reducing social media time and the like. These changes often never come about because they usually involve great individual effort, sacrifice and self-discipline. When one accomplishes such a change, it can be one of the most exhilarating experiences in their life.

The second category of life changes consists of unplanned/unexpected events that life seems to drop on one’s head. Each morning one awakes never knowing what the day might bring—a serious accident, grim medical diagnosis, stroke, heart attack or other life changing event might occur. This category also includes external influences such as political upheaval and societal changes. Unfortunately, the body of knowledge for managing this sort of change is very broad, continually evolving and is riddled with disagreements between the so-called “experts.”  Several fields of study offer solutions for managing the changes of life. These include psychology, psychiatry, sociology and their related disciplines.  

Fortunately, for believers there is a body of knowledge for managing life changes that is totally reliable, one-hundred percent accurate, and immutable. Of course, I’m referring to the Bible. Biblical truth never changes because God never changes. Jesus Christ is a solid rock, an unalterable holy alter upon which we may lay all our hopes and fears.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  James 1:17

God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind.  Does he speak and then not act?  Does he promise and not fulfill?  Numbers 23:19

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Hebrews 13:8

Believers have no reason to fear changes in their circumstances.  Scripture assures of this:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  Deuteronomy 31:8   

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalm 18:2

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

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. Philippians 4:6-7

As children of God, believers have no reason be afraid of life changes. Oswald Chambers said it like this, “If your faith is in experiences, anything that happens is likely to upset that faith. But nothing can ever change God or the reality of redemption. Base your faith on that, and you are as eternally secure as God Himself. Once you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you will never be moved again.” 

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.  Psalm 40:4

Distracted Living

Zombie ApocalypseHas the Zombie apocalypse begun!

We’ve all heard tragic stories about distracted driving, where someone texting on a cell phone lost control of their car and caused a great tragedy. When driving, it’s absolutely crucial to keep one’s eye on the road ahead.  The advent of the internet and subsequently cell phones has created millions of distracted people.  You’ve probably seen some of them sitting at a family dinner in a restaurant—all heads down, focused on their phones and no family interaction at all.  How very sad!

According to a January 2020 article in The Guardian, a study conducted in 2014 indicated that mobile phone users receive an average of 63.5 alerts every day, most viewed within minutes whether the phone is on silenced or not. A 2016 study by Deloitte corporation found that people checked their phones an average 47 times a day, often in response to alerts. Many people are bombarded by cell phone beeps, blips and buzzes nearly every waking moment.  These distractions can even continue through the night for those who sleep with cell phones by their beds.

Unfortunately, many Christians today suffer from another form of distraction—distracted living. Distracted living is a byproduct of other distractions and cares of this world, for example partying, obsessive fitness, substance abuse, emails, texting, internet browsing, social media, television, movies, sports, and many others that that steal our time daily.

The Bible story of Mary and Martha is a perfect example of distracted living (Luke 10:38-42).  Mary and Martha were the sisters of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead. They were all beloved friends of Jesus. On one particular occasion, Jesus visited their home in Bethany. There were others present as well. Mary chose to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to him teach, while her sister Martha busied herself serving their guests. Martha became irritated with Mary and asked Jesus to send Mary to help her. Jesus responded with a mild rebuke, saying, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” Mary was laser focused on Jesus, while Martha was living a distracted life.

People with distracted lives may become easily agitated, they often feel overwhelmed, and they frequently neglect the essential “four-F’s” of things that really matter in this life—faith, family, friends and freedom.  Christians shouldn’t allow any of these areas to suffer neglect, but they must be especially cautious about neglecting their faith. Renowned Scottish theologian Oswald Chambers said, “Starvation of the mind, caused by neglect, is one of the chief sources of exhaustion and weakness in a servant’s life.” Evidence of faith neglect often includes finding reasons to skip church, not finding the time to read and study scripture, not praying, feeling rushed while praying, and even sometimes falling asleep while praying.

Christian churches around the globe will soon begin commemorating the holy season of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday (2/26/2020) and runs through sunset on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter.  I blogged about this very special church season in February last year  (https://divinesimplicity.wordpress.com/2019/02/26/lent-a-season-of-penitence-and-prayer/).   

For Christians, Lent is traditionally a season of fasting, penitence and prayer. It’s a wonderful time for Christians to practice disciplines to help them reconnect with their faith.  One of my Lenten disciplines is to prayerfully read the Seven Penitential Psalms the first thing each morning during Lent. I also find a good Lenten devotional and read a morning devotion daily. A wonderful version of the Seven Penitential Psalms can be found at this link: http://www.edgeofenclosure.org/intro7penitentialpsalms.html.  Lutheran Hour Ministries provides a new series of daily Lenten devotions each year.  Beginning on February 26, they can be found at this link: https://www.lhm.org/dailydevotions/default.asp.  I encourage you to take part in a Lenten discipline this year and, if you’re leading a distracted life, begin turning your attention back to God.

A Heart of Stone

Heart of Stone

Political discourse in America today has become vitriolic — constant lying, name-calling, bickering, accusations and spewing pent up anger. Indeed it has gotten so bad that even the president has joined the fray.  Social media outlets like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook only serve to exacerbate the situation, as they have become bully pulpits for angry politicians and journalists.  It’s gotten to the point where I dread looking at social media or reading/listening to the news, as there is a paucity of objective discussion and reporting everywhere. Personal civility and decorum in America is rapidly declining, particularly in the political realm.  

           Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.                                           –Proverbs 16:24*

 Words are like bullets—once they’re let fly there’s no taking them back. The Epistle of James calls the tongue “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).  By using this  strong comparison, James emphasizes that Christians must be mindful of the colossal power of what proceeds from their mouths.  The epistle goes on to note the inconsistency of praising God with one breath and cursing people made in God’s image with the next (vv. 9–10). Words can demean and destroy.

When you have learned to walk in the light of the Lord, bitterness and contention are impossible.”  —Oswald Chambers

This leads me to ask the question, “How radically would America change if suddenly all the politicians who profess to be Christians started behaving like Christ followers, becoming beacons of light in the dark political landscape?”

In January 2017, the New York Times reported that 91 percent of the new Congress identified as Christian.1 The Times went on to say that this figure was only slightly less than the 95 percent reported in 1961. Allmost all US presidents, including President Trump, have been Christians according to Pew Research.2

Christianity isn’t a label or tag; it’s a life, guided by the Holy Spirit, where an individual endeavors to be Christ-like in thoughts, words and deeds.  Inevitably, all Christians transgress and fall short of the glory of God along the way, but striving towards the ultimate goal of Christ-likeness remains a constant.

Restoration and transformation are two recurring themes in the Book of Ezekiel. Restoration is displayed in God saving the people of Israel from bad shepherds, giving them societal safety, reuniting tribes, and God’s children being restored to a right relationship with Him.  God’s ultimate restoration of his people is exemplified by Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. 

On the other hand, Ezekiel describes transformation as a personal, spiritual experience. To the ancient Hebrews, the heart was the locus of a person’s being, their mental processes, emotions and personal will. The Miriam Webster Dictionary defines hard-hearted as, “having or showing no kindness or sympathy for other people.”  In the passage from Ezekiel 36 below, evidence of spiritual transformation in God’s children is the softening of their hearts. 

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  —Ezekiel 36:26-27

One of those laws referred to in the Ezekiel passage is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5). Jesus quotes this verse in Mark 30:5, after being asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” In the next verse, Mark 30:6, Jesus adds to this, “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”   

This brings me back to politics.  Christians who also happen to be politicians don’t get a free pass when it comes to loving their neighbors.  Christian politicians contributing to the Capitol Hill vitriol need to take a long look in the mirror and ask themselves whether their actions glorify God. Are they being patient, humble, pure and obedient to God?

In Colossians 3:8, Paul tells us to put away anger, wrath, and malice; instead, he says in verse 12, we must, “…put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering.”  This is the model Christ gave his followers through many examples in his own life; it’s the model all Christians should strive to adhere to in their actions towards believers and nonbelievers alike.

Christian politicians should display a Christ-like heart—Ezekiel’s “heart of flesh.”  Christians behaving like Christ can bring real healing transformation. Around 312 A.D, during the reign of Emperor Constantine, Rome recognized Christianity as a legal religion.   This remarkable feat, going from persecuted underground church to a legal religion, recognized by the Empire, was accomplished not by violent revolution, but through years of adhering to the tenets of the faith while suffering terrible persecution.

It was not political or military power that ultimately convinced Rome to accept Christianity, but the perseverance and faithfulness to Christ’s teachings by the early Christians. The tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, and longsuffering displayed by Christians prevailed over Roman cruelty and oppression. American politicians could achieve a lot by following their example.

 Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.  —from an Anglican Prayer of Confession

 1 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/03/us/politics/congress-religion-christians.html

2 https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/20/almost-all-presidents-have-been-christians/

* All Bible quotes are taken from the NIV Bible.

 

Lent: a Season of Penitence and Prayer

Lenten Journey 3

As an Anglican, I follow a Church liturgical calendar, celebrating each of its many seasons.  Very soon the season of Lent will be upon us.  Lent this year is the period of 40 days from Ash Wednesday (March 6th) to Easter Sunday, commemorating Christ’s 40 days of fasting and temptation in the wilderness, His final journey to Jerusalem, where He was crucified, and His last hours with His disciples before His crucifixion. For believers, it is a period of penitence and alms giving. On Ash Wednesday, many Christians have their foreheads marked with ashes in the sign of the cross.  The ashes are often collected from burning the palm fronds used in the celebration of Psalm Sunday.

The Catholic and Anglican traditions regarding Lent are very similar.  In the Anglican tradition, which I practice, Lent is sometimes called the Paschal season (relating to Passover or Easter). It is a preparation time intimately connected to the most important Festival of the Church year, Easter, which marks Christ’s resurrection from the dead and His victor over sin and death. In celebration of the so-called Easter Triduum, Christians commemorates the passion (suffering), death, and resurrection of Jesus and thus the origin of the all Christian belief and the source of our faith and salvation. So, as Jesus spent 40 days fasting and praying in the desert, Anglicans prepare for 40 days for the encounter with Him in the Easter celebration. Traditionally, the Easter season begins with Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy (or Maundy) Thursday, a day we recall Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and having his last meal with them before his crucifixion.  Maundy Thursday reminds believers of their hunger for God by refraining from food and intensifying one’s prayer life and charitable giving. 

In the Orthodox tradition, Lent is an invitation to learn the salvation story  by studying the death and the resurrection of Christ. It is an exercise in which believers partake of suffering and resurrection of the Lord. The cross and resurrection are daily realities: we die every day in all trials of life with Christ, but we experience our resurrection every day when we unite with him in faith and prayer. It is important in the Orthodox tradition to recognize that the cross is symbolic of the resurrection, not death. Fasting during Lent is an exercise of self-restraint, by which believers overcome their physical passions and win true freedom. It helps us to the internalization, especially when we pray. The believers should fast and avoid meat. They should intensify their prayer life and dig deeper into the scriptures than usual.  On Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent, many Orthodox churches celebrate an evening service called “liturgy of the pre-sanctified gifts”. During these services, no elements are sanctified for the Holy Eucharist.  Instead, the bread and wine sanctified on the precious Sunday are used.  On these days, many Orthodox believers fast until evening.

Protestant denominations observe Lent in a wide variety of ways. Sadly, many traditional Protestant denominations barely observe Lent or the Church Calendar at all.  However, for some, fasting during Lent is a time for reflecting on the essentials of Christianity. The original purpose is to prepare one’s self internally for the coming of Easter. Many Protestants avoid certain things during Lent in a quest to learn the true necessities in life. They may deprive themselves of dependency-related risks such as alcohol, chocolate and other sweets, and even the consumption of social media. The Lenten season is a good time to reorder one’s life—restacking priorities.  

For those readers who have no set way of observing Lent, I urge you to consider adopting a Lenten tradition.  One simple way to begin is to read a daily Lenten devotion.  There are many available on the web, but my favorite is published by Lutheran Hour Ministries.  Beginning March 6 you will be able to find the devotions at this link:  https://www.lhm.org/lent/.

“…special (church) holidays give rise to various liturgical calendars that suggest we should mark our days not only with the cycles of the moon and seasons, but also with occasions to tell our children the stories of our faith community’s past so that this past will have a future, and so that our ancient way and its practices will be rediscovered and renewed every year.” 
         ― Brian D. McLaren,  Finding our Way Again: The Return of Ancient Practices

 

 

A Balanced Life

Wheel of Life

The wheel of life graphic above is a tool I used a lot in my past life as a Management Consultant. The purpose of the wheel is to illustrate that people need to balance their activities/involvement in the six life areas depicted in the outer ring of the wheel. If any of these areas is neglected or over-indulged, the wheel (and ergo one’s life) becomes out of balance, which can result in a multitude of personal problems.

Looking at the wheel, some might be inclined to argue that it’s impossible to put too much emphasis on one’s spiritual life. However, renowned Scottish Theologian Oswald Chambers would disagree.  Chambers said:

 Days set apart for quiet can be a trap, detracting from the need to have daily quiet time with God. That is why we must “pitch our tents” where we will always have quiet times with Him, however noisy our times with the world may be. There are not three levels of spiritual life— worship, waiting, and work. Yet some of us seem to jump like spiritual frogs from worship to waiting, and from waiting to work. God’s idea is that the three should go together as one. They were always together in the life of our Lord and in perfect harmony. It is a discipline that must be developed; it will not happen overnight. Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Chambers would agree that days set apart for quiet time, such as for church retreats, spiritual renewal weekends, and even weekly worship services are all good. However, he would caution against letting these become one’s focus for spiritual rejuvenation. These days that are set apart are special times on the “mountain top” when we can see the transfigured Christ in all of his glory. They’re highly spiritual experiences that one hates to see end. 

On the other hand,   Chambers strongly advocates for daily quiet time when one enters God’s “throne room” and learns to commune with God not on the mountain top, but while walking through the demon infested valley below.  Daily quiet time with God is obedience to John 15:4-5 (NIV), which says:

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

The website Vibrant Christian Living recommends three secrets to a daily quite time habit:

#1: Do your quiet time first thing in the morning.  With all the distractions in our lives, this can be difficult, but it will pay big dividends.

#2: Start small and let your quiet times with God Grow.  Quite time is a spiritual discipline that can grow in depth as we become more mature in Christ.

#3: Make your quiet time with God about a life rhythm, not a religious schedule. Focus on how to make quiet time a regular part of your ever changing life. Sometimes you’ll fail, but God is quick to forgive when we ask him.

Worship the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God. It is He who made us, and we are His;
we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise;
give thanks to Him and praise His name.

Psalm 100:2-4 (NIV)

Discipline and Discipleship

Discipline - Boot Camp summer 1975Army Boot Camp, July 1975

It was sunny and warm in Louisville, Ky. on June 28, 1975. That’s the day I boarded a bright yellow school bus at an Army recruiting station for a short journey to Fort Knox, where I was scheduled to undergo Army basic training or boot camp as it’s commonly called. Only a few weeks earlier I’d been a bright eyed college student receiving his associate degree in Munich, Germany.  My mother Phyllis and stepfather Ray were still in Germany—Ray was an Army officer and second in command of a tank brigade in Friedberg, about an hour north of Frankfurt.

I had departed Germany in early June to visit family in my home state Kentucky before attending boot camp.  The last stop was Louisville, at the home of my favorite aunt and uncle, Sarah and Carl.  At the end of that wonderful visit, it was Aunt Sarah who drove me to the induction station and hugged me goodbye as I began a nervous, one hour journey to Fort Knox.

After what seemed like hours, the bus turned into the main gate of Fort Knox. Entering the post felt very familiar, as I’d lived there during my freshman and sophomore years of high school while Ray was assigned to the Armor School. The familiarity helped quell my sense of dread that had been increasing steadily since we departed Louisville. The post was sprawling, hilly and hot. The eclectic mix of architecture ranged from a beautiful state-of-the-art hospital to drab three-story concrete barracks to the low slung, pale yellow wooden buildings dating back to World War II.

About ten minutes after entering the post, the bus turned down a side street and then swung into the parking lot of Delta Company, 13th Training Battalion, 4th Training Brigade, home of the ‘Delta Demons’. Peering out the window I could see two tough looking fellows wearing olive drab fatigues and the iconic Smoke Bear hats that identified them as drill sergeants. Their fatigues were starched stiff with creases that looked sharp enough to slice an apple. They fit like gloves. Their boots were polished to a mirror finish. Not a hair was out of place. All you needed was one look at these impressive gentlemen to know that they were pure badass!

The driver opened the bus door and we were greeted by a booming voice.  ‘Off the bus and line up.  Move it ladies’.  After a clumsy exit fumbling with our bags and bumping into each other, we managed to get into something resembling a line. The empty bus quickly pulled away, leaving us feeling isolated and helpless.  It was then that we were introduced to the two gentlemen who would fill the roles of father, mother, confessor and mentor for all of us in the coming weeks.

Staff Sergeant Hunter, the platoon sergeant, stood about five feet ten inches tall.  He was built like an NFL linebacker. Drill Sergeant Hunter was just tall enough that he could press the stiff brim of his Smoky Bear into the bridge of my nose as I stood at attention while receiving his instructions.  The assistant platoon sergeant, Sergeant Anderson, stood about five feet seven inches.  He was lean, wiry and just mean looking. They immediately commanded our attention.

These fine men, as I would learn they both were, taught us so much: military customs and courtesies; how to wear the uniform and properly groom ourselves; how to spit shine a boot; how to polish brass; how to make a bunk; how to roll our socks and underwear and store them in our lockers; how to make a barracks GI clean; how to get physically fit; how to do close order drill; how to march and sing ‘jodies’, those sometimes naughty songs marching troops sing to help them stay in step; how to fire and clean an M-16 rifle; how to fire M-60 and 50 caliber machineguns; how to fire a recoilless rifle; how to throw hand grenades; how to do fire and maneuver without shooting your buddy; how to take out a pillbox; how to use a field telephone and radio; how to give first aid; and how to doctor blisters on our feet.

But most of all, they taught us about how to be soldiers—about responsibility, self-discipline, and respect for country, Army, unit, comrades, family and ourselves.  At first we listened to them out of fear of punishment. One small misstep could lead to running laps around the compound holding your rifle above your head with two arms while yelling ‘I’m a s#!thead’ or the dreaded ‘Drop and give me fifty’, meaning pushups. Even worse, you could end up pulling ‘KP’ in the mess hall, peeling potatoes, dicing onions and mopping floors.   But there came a point in time when we listened out of a sense of respect for our drill sergeants and our fellow soldiers in the platoon.  In the end, a soldier’s sense of responsibility, respect and self-discipline becomes a normal way of life.

It’s easy to learn military discipline in Boot Camp, where you’re isolated, restrained, focused and under the watchful eye of a drill sergeant.  Sadly, developing discipline in one’s spiritual life isn’t so easy.  I often wonder why this is so.  I was the picture of discipline during my military career, yet my Christian discipline suffers. ‘Disciple’ is the root word of discipline.  A disciple is a student or follower who is trained by a teacher and subsequently spreads the teacher’s beliefs.  I had a lot of training and learning as a Christian, but have I ever really been a disciple?  I think not and I believe I’ve finally figured out why. 

In his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, the late Christian scholar Dr. Dallas Willard explains that self-transformation stems, in large part, from the practice of spiritual disciplines.  He cites many disciplines, which he divides into two broad categories of ‘abstinence’ and ‘engagement’.

Under abstinence Willard includes chastity, fasting, frugality, sacrifice, secrecy, silence and solitude. These deal with our physical bodies.  Engagement includes celebration, confession, fellowship, prayer, service, study, submission and worship. These deal with our spiritual lives.  The disciplines are the means to an end; just as we practice to learn a sport, we practice the disciplines to become more Christ-like.  Willard provides many scriptural references to the disciplines in the life of Jesus and the Apostles. The abstinence disciplines focus inward and help build self-discipline and restraint; they are about habits.  The engagement disciplines look outward, helping us become servants of Christ and others; they are about building Christian character.  

Using Willard’s criteria, a quick self-analysis reveals that while I’m strong in the engagement disciplines, I have a long way to go in the abstinence disciplines before I can become a true disciple of Christ.  I have a lot of work to do, but I’m going for it.  How do you measure up? Consider leaving a reply.

 

 

 

Hurry up and slow down!

Slow Down

Be still, and know that I am God.  —Psalm 46:10a (ESV)

We live in a world of high-speed escape artists.  Everywhere one looks, people are rushing to and fro to get the next thing on their long list done. When they grow weary, many turn to adrenalin-pumping extremes to “relax.” There is extreme biking, extreme running (Parkour), building- and rock-climbing without safety equipment (free-climbing), half-pipe skiing and snowboarding, and base jumping, which is free fall parachuting from cliffs or high structures.

We watch extreme television entertainment, like American Ninja Warrior and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighting.  If sports is not your thing, there are extreme game shows with names like Wipeout, where contestants crash and burn on crazy obstacle courses, and Fear Factor where contestants, among other feats, eat large volumes of worms and bugs.

Many escape reality through physical addictions, turning to drugs, alcohol or sex to remove them from reality. Others simply unplug from their daily grind, spending long periods of the day disconnected from the world. Video games are one way of escaping reality. The most extreme “unplugging” involves new virtual reality technology.  With this technology, one can don a pair of goggles and be instantly transported to a new 3-D “world.”  Anything goes on these virtual playgrounds, including extreme sports, extreme violence and extreme sexual fantasies.

For some, cell phone addiction provides a different kind of virtual reality.  Have you spoken with someone who constantly looks down at their phone? It’s like they don’t have time for you. It’s annoying, not to mention downright rude.  Or perhaps you’ve observed a family seated in a restaurant waiting for their orders to arrive—everyone is heads down playing with their phone instead of interacting with other family members.  In 2014, Charit Taneja wrote in “The Psychology of Excessive Cellular Phone Use” that:

Cell phones enable behavioral problems and disorders, particularly in adolescents. This fact has become more and more evident in communications media, inspiring new pathologies, such as “Nomophobia” (No-Mobile-Phobia), “FOMO” (Fear Of Missing Out) – the fear of being without a cell phone, disconnected or off the Internet, “Textaphrenia” and “Ringxiety” – the false sensation of having received a text message or call that leads to constantly checking the device, and “Textiety” – the anxiety of receiving and responding immediately to text messages. 

Some people escape auditory reality. In the fitness center where I exercise, about half of the people wear headphones or ear buds while using an exercise bike, treadmill, elliptical machine, stair-stepper or other exercise device. I assume most listen to music, hoping it will carry away them to another, less painful place as they push their bodies to the physical limit.  While such auditory isolation might reduce the agony of a heavy workout, it hinders socializing with others and can even be dangerous. At certain times of the year here in South Dakota it’s a good idea to keep one’s ears peeled for the sound of a tornado warning siren.   

A frantic pace combined with isolation can lead to perilous situations. Anyone who lives in a big city has seen drivers who dangerously weave in and out of traffic, desperately trying to get ahead a couple of car lengths while putting their own and other people’s safety at risk. Many of these drivers have so much on their “to do” lists that feel a need to constantly rush. Others live in their own private worlds where it’s all about satisfying their own needs, with no regard for the needs and safety of those around them.

 Far too often, erratic driving results in road rage.  According to analysis by performed by Trace, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to expanding coverage of guns in the United States, instances of road rage where someone in a car brandished a gun or fired a gun at another driver or passenger more than doubled over the a three-year period, increasing from 247 in 2014 to a high of 620 in 2016.

The high-speed, escape mentality is tearing away the very fabric of our society. We’re becoming a bunch of one-armed jugglers with our eyes and ears covered. It’s easy to get caught up in the race and lose sight of what really matters in life.  Christians aren’t immune to this.  It’s easy to become distracted and let the day slip by without a thought of God.  I think Islam gets it right on one point—stopping to pray five times per day.  Christians would do well to adopt a similar practice. 1 Thessalonians: 5 encourages us to “pray without ceasing.” (ESV)

Psalm 46:10a (ESV) says, “Be still and know that I am God.” God wants us to slow down and focus on him in the midst of our daily hustle.  It’s during times of stillness that we can, if just for a moment, look God in the face and begin to gain a deeper understanding of Him. In Mark 4:39, Jesus is with his disciples in a small boat when a great storm occurs.  The terrified disciples appeal to Jesus to do something to save them.  He utters the simple command, “Peace! Be still.” Immediately the weather becomes calm.

This beautiful story is about much more than Jesus calming the weather.  It is about Jesus giving up a sense of Peace in Him that helps us through the storms that occur in our daily lives. In 1 Kings: 19 (ESV), God speaks to Elijah in “a low whisper.” My advice to you—slow down, be still, unplug, hear God’s whisper, and discover His peace. 

 “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” —Philippians 4:4-7 (ESV)

 

 

 

Caring for the Temple of the Holy Spirit

OverweightAaaaggh!

I spent over 24 years of my adult life as an officer in the US Army.  To say that I was in good physical condition would be a gross understatement. I served a tour of duty in the 75th Ranger Regiment, one of the Army’s elite organizations. I was a paratrooper, jumping out of perfectly good airplanes and floating to Earth under a silk canopy.  I also served in the 10th Mountain Division, one of the Army’s toughest and most respected divisions.  Since 2001, the 10th Mountain has been the most deployed division in the US Army.  The Army encourages, even demands, good physical fitness of its soldiers. 

Fitness is in my DNA. I feel out of sorts if I can’t exercise three to four days per week.  Nevertheless, I find myself in a fitness conundrum today.  When I retired from the Army in 2001, I was a fit 205 pounds, well within the limits for my muscular, six-foot frame. Today I find myself about 30 pounds heavier; the extra weight can be attributed to a combination of age, indiscipline, and total knee replacement surgery, which I underwent about 11 months ago; the latter totally wrecked my physical fitness routine.  I’m still in recovery!

I’m not happy with my current weight.  Until a couple of weeks ago, I viewed my condition as purely a physical fitness challenge—a need to get back into shape to reverse the changes that have taken place since my surgery.  However, I recently experienced a healthy change of attitude. 

I credit the change to my dear friend Cliff, who also struggles with his weight.  He recently introduced me to a book called Every Body Matters, by Gary Thomas. As the book cover explains, it is about “Strengthening Your Body to Strengthen Your Soul.”

Having personally struggled with his weight, Thomas uses scripture to demonstrate that, for Christians, physical health is as important as spiritual health. Thomas demonstrates that physical fitness, rather than being something that make us more attractive to others, makes us more useful to God. I recommend his book to anyone who has struggled with physical fitness or being overweight. Thomas offers a Holy Spirit-led approach to developing a physical being that is of maximum use to God.

Thomas cites these words of St. Paul:  (All Bible citations were taken from the ESV.)

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

…I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:27

…let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. 2 Corinthians 7:1

Many Bible commentators interpret bodily sins to mean sexual sins.  While Thomas would agree with this, he goes on to discuss the need for developing discipline in what we put into our bodies (i.e. food).  As I previously noted, he frames the discussion in terms of disciplining our bodies, not to make us attractive to others, but to glorify God (…you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:20)

I highly recommend Every Body Matters to all Christians who struggle with their weight. I promise it will change your perspective on being overweight and motivate you to do something about it.  It has led my wife and me to challenge each other.  During the upcoming season of Lent (Feb 14 – Mar 29), we will embark upon a 40-day regimen of time-restricted eating. 

In a nutshell, this means we’ll eat normally for 6 hours each day, while fasting the remaining 18 hours. By most accounts, this eating pattern is easy to adjust to and usually results in remarkable weight loss for those having the discipline to stick with it.  We’re not looking for a new diet or fad, but a lifestyle change. Wish us luck!  At some point in the future, I’ll share our experience.

Protecting your health is the same as protecting the vehicle with which God wants to change the world.  —Gary Thomas