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Sunday, November 27, 2016

No Blanket Approaches, Please!


(Note to readers:  This is NOT our house and not our Christmas decorations! Those that know us well know that the energy for this much decorating does not exist in this home!)

I have learned in life that there are people who absolutely love Christmas, those who absolutely hate it, and those who are somewhere in between.  

You can always tell those who really love the holidays.  Their houses have lots of lights, the decorations are up at the first opportunity, they wear Christmas ties or socks or sweaters, their radios are always set to the stations playing Christmas music 24/7, and they will have the most wonderful family meals you have ever eaten with lots of happy people and lots of presents under the tree.  Many of those who are Christian, and some who are not, will celebrate Advent and candlelight services and maybe a cantata or performance of Handle’s “Messiah” as well.  Among these folks that will be many who also have lots of wonderful memories to share from past celebrations of Christmas, often extending back to their childhoods.  These people are great people to be around when you feel like celebrating the birth of Christ.

Those who hate them tend to have lots of reasons for their hatred.  Some of them remember empty stockings and soup kitchens from Christmas.  Others have memories of those who abandoned their family at this time of year.  For some the Christmas holiday feels like nothing more than a pointed reminder that they don’t have the money to buy people presents.  Some of these people walk with fresh wounds of a spouse having just divorced them, or a loved one dying leaving them to face the holidays alone. Some despise the commercialism of a religious holiday, and then there are, of course, those who simply hate what the feel is a religious holiday being shoved down their throat.  Whatever the reason, generally speaking these individuals have lots of valid reasons they struggle, and in some cases, simply need some time to heal, or a way to find the path back to the meaning and real celebration of the Christmas holidays.

Those who are in between, are there for a variety of reasons.  While they may rejoice and celebrate the season, they may also have some mixed feelings for some of the same reasons others hate the holidays.  People who have been divorced often fit into this category, because even though life goes on, through the process of divorce there are some things that are changed forever.

Memories of baby’s first Christmas that once were shared and a source of bonding between mother and father often become harder to recall, and become reminders of the loss of what could have been.  What once had been simple celebrations in which one made holiday plans with the children often becomes a major negotiation process, with neither parent really experiencing the fullness of family celebrations that can more easily exist with intact marriages. 

What is the point?  

Well, simply to encourage you, my readers, to recognize that people are different, and their experiences are different, and so maybe a blanket “Merry Christmas to all” may not be the best way to approach this season with everyone you meet.  

Instead, I recommend some degree of sensitivity and working on listening skills, so that your expressions of love can be heard as that, rather than be experienced as calloused and uncaring empty words.  In fact, I might even encourage you to go one step further this year; why not seek out someone for whom this is likely to be a difficult time?  Let them know that your friendship is real, that your caring is more than surface, and find a way to brighten their lives just a bit.  It just might be the beginning of pleasant Christmas memories for someone you know.  And it might begin a special Christmas tradition of love for you, too!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Blessings from Above


A friend gave me a book a while back called, The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn, which includes a lot of very interesting “coincidences” about American history and the shifting values of our country through that history, especially in recent years as religion has become sort of a laughingstock to many in our country.  I was most struck by the contrast of what I see today in government leaders compared to some things George Washington said in his First Inaugural Address at the founding of our country:

“Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station, it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow-citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency;” 
(as recorded on Bartleby.com)

In terms of national and business leadership, (or for that matter, most of the nationally known outspoken people in our country) it is a rare thing today to hear an individual speak in the spirit of George Washington.  What happened to the humility and the recognition that our success stems not from our own efforts alone, but from the grace and guidance of God who has chosen to bless?  Even Thanksgiving has become little more than a celebration of the kickoff of Christmas sales and the appearance of a mythical man in a furry red suit who promises to bring presents to all. 

Every day many of us are surrounded by material blessings beyond the imagination of millions of people around the globe who have no cars, no closet filled with clothes, no clean water in their non-existent kitchen faucets and no pantry filled with food.  And the meals we consume at Thanksgiving truly would be considered great feasts by those who live without.   But today, more than any other day, begs the question of whether we are even thankful at all, or have any recognition of our high obligation to God described by Washington.

Every Thanksgiving I turn the television (for which I am grateful today) to a station that covers the Thanksgiving Parade in New York City.  As I watch it each year, including this year, I am reminded of how blessed I have been in my life with opportunities and a good home.  It makes me remember the childhood years of Thanksgiving dinners meticulously prepared by my mother and various aunts who were often part of our celebrations.  It makes me remember the special opportunities I have had in life to see and do wonderful things, such as once watching the Thanksgiving Day parade in person (including the blowing up of the balloons the night before) because of a special cousin who provided me the opportunity.  Which also reminds me that I also got to attend once the New Year’s Rose Parade in Pasadena with my parents, with the aid of other special relatives, an aunt and uncle from Phoenix.  And those are only two of the many special memories God has granted me through the course of my life.

Today, as I think of these things, I realize that wonderful as all those things are, they do not begin to compare with the incredible parade we shall experience in heaven when Christ leads us in triumph to the throne of God as his followers.  I think that is the best thing of all, and suspect President Washington would agree.  Recognizing the hand and blessing of God in this world, can be a foreshadowing to remind us of the wonderful things awaiting us in eternity, if we have first humbled ourselves before “The Great Author” to whom we belong and from whom we have received so much.  Whether you are in a country that celebrates Thanksgiving Day or not, I encourage you to join me and take time today to express fresh gratitude to God for whatever blessings God has given to you.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Challenged to Peace!

It’s the end of the world, everything is going to be awful, what will we do?”   That’s the way a lot of people feel about the election results that resulted in Donald Trump becoming our president elect.  

Of course, that is also the way a lot of people felt when President Obama was elected and re-elected, and when George W. Bush was elected and re-elected, and when Bill Clinton was elected and re-elected…and I suspect it was experienced by people like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison as well.  

A number of us struggle even more with the way dissension and division seems to be growing in our country, which as our pastor pointed out last night, was the kind of sentiment that once led to a Civil War in our country and the deaths of thousands of people.  And the truth is, one can follow that thread back century after century, nation after nation to find that humans are experts in arguing and fighting.  It is getting along with people who think differently and focusing on common ground that is hard for us.

Perhaps this is part of the cause of divorce…that we are better at arguing, fighting and creating dissension than we are at compromising, finding middle ground and working together with others who think differently than ourselves.  What we see on an international and national scale is replayed in home and home around the globe.  If we can’t find a way to work with a person to whom we have committed our love and our lives, then how will we ever learn to work with individuals with whom we have no personal involvement and few shared values? 

It is hard to admit that maybe somebody else’s point of view is just as valid as your own.  It is hard to let go of something important to you so that others can have something important to them.  It is hard to put as high a priority on another person’s values as you place on your own.  But, it seems to me, that is exactly what is required to make a marriage work, and to make a country of diverse people work as well.  It is also what is required of us sometimes when we stand for what is right, even at personal cost, especially when we speak up for others who can never pay us back and for whom nobody else is willing to speak.

It also seems to me that these kinds of things are embedded in the fabric of Christianity as described in the Bible (all quoted from NASB):

John 15:13, the words of Jesus-- Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.

Matthew 5:44-45, again from Jesus-- But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Philippians 2:3-4, penned by Paul-- Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

Colossians 3:12-14, again from Paul--  So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.   Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

1 John 4:16-17, penned by John--  We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.

James 3:18, penned by James--  And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

In whatever arenas of your life where there is division, dissension, or the urge to participate in them, let me challenge you to be the one who is big enough to create peace and forbearance instead.  We have plenty of people demanding their own rights and interests in the world.  We need more willing to lay down their lives for a greater cause, for someone and something beyond themselves.  I’m not one who engages in magical thinking and believes everyone will come together and join hands around a cozy campfire.  

But I do believe each of us can make a difference in our part of the world and in our relationships when we are willing to truly care about the needs of others instead of obsessing about our own.  

Who knows, maybe somebody reading this is contemplating divorce, and that slight change of attitude could be the very thing to turn their marriage around!

tell them thanks, too!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Wealth of Friendships

If you have noticed that I have missed posting lately, it is the wonder of technology…and computer repair shops…but we are back in commission now, so welcome to tonight’s blog. 

I had a nice time this weekend.  For a significant portion of the weekend, I was in the company of long term friends whom I don’t get to see very often.  Some of them I saw for a few brief moments at the worship service I attended, others I was privilege to spend several hours with while playing cards or just visiting over a meal or while doing little or nothing.  We laughed over favorite stories, caught up on one another’s lives and families, worshiped God together, and encouraged one another in the challenges of our lives. 

As I drove away with all the memories of the weekend as well as memories of lifelong friendships, I also thought of all the ways so many of those friends offered support and encouragement for me during the dark days of divorce.  I was reminded of a time, years ago as I was struggling with the reordering of life that comes with divorce and the financial strain it entails, when in the midst of those dark days I thought to myself, “Lots of things in my life are changing, with a lot of loss and uncertainty.  I may not have a lot of money, but I am rich.  I have a treasure chest FILLED with wonderful friends.”  THAT is a good thing to remember.
Are you experiencing upheaval and uncertainty in your life?  Are you struggling, discouraged and fearful?  Is the path ahead clouded so that you cannot see what the future holds even an hour ahead?  God is always available to help and provide us the strength, hope and encouragement we need…and more often than not God makes that provision in the form of gifts he calls “friends”. 

I like the old saying that we need God to love us, but sometimes we need God to love us in a tangible way, and in those situations, our fellow Christians, our dear friends and loving family can become “God with skin on.”   Their kind words, their helpful deeds, their encouraging support, their warm and caring hugs are often the very love of God reaching out to meet the needs of your life.  There is not a more valuable treasure on earth than caring people who offer their love and support in the midst of a time of desperation and despair.

Who are the treasures in your life?  Today might be a good time to tell God thanks for sending them your way.  It might not hurt to tell them thanks, too!