Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

Here we go again! A polar vortex is swirling down from the north and arctic air blasts those in its path. Temperatures plummet to bone-chilling numbers that don’t even register on thermometers. Window panes chatter in the unrelenting blast. Cars refuse to start or helplessly slide off the road into snowbanks only to be buried by snowplows before they can be extricated. Thousands of airline flights are cancelled, adding chaos to the subzero days and nights.Shoveling-Snow-Cartoon

This is nothing new. I remember my Dad telling about being stranded on the freeway in a raging blizzard as he was driving to Michigan to join my Mom and sister and her husband for my niece’s birth. He ended up spending several nights in a service plaza on the turnpike with hundreds of others. I ended up driving at a snail’s pace for five hours from the Indianapolis airport to Anderson, Indiana, on snow-clogged, unplowed freeways in a blizzard, normally a drive of one and a half hours, at most.  We’ve witnessed wind chills of minus 60 degrees, snow drifts that didn’t melt until April, and huddling around fireplaces when the electricity was off for days.

I sympathize and empathize with you ice-bound refugees surviving like lost arctic explorers in an endless snow storm. I pity you when your fingers and toes go numb as you shovel the driveway again after the snowplow creates a worse mess than you just cleared.  the curse of the snowplowI’m sorry you have to wade through ankle deep slush or watch helplessly as garbage trucks slide inexorably toward you on ice-covered roads. I remember the sinking feeling I used to get when the meteorologists would gleefully announce an approaching subzero disaster.

I do understand. Yes, I do. I endured thirty-four years of terrible winters and gloomy springs and the endless dreariness between January 1 and May 1 that torpedoed my mood until Eeyore seemed positively cheerful in comparison.

But…no longer! When we retired, we moved to Arizona! Today, January 31, Karon and I played tennis under sunny skies. I actually look forward to getting up each day where the sun shines over 300 days a year. Yes, it gets chilly here with the occasional hard freeze, and it can get toasty in the summertime (it’s a dry heat), but blizzards are a distant memory and I haven’t driven on an icy road in almost a decade.

Contrary to what you may be thinking, I’m not gloating. It occurs to me that we hear of a somewhat similar scenario in the Bible. In Genesis, the problem is not the cold, it’s godlessness. We learn that Lot, Abraham’s nephew, in selecting the best grazing land for his flocks, opted for the lush fields near Sodom and Gomorrah, and that’s where he moved his family. Perhaps he was unaware of the moral climate there, or thought it was unimportant. Like a polar vortex, godlessness swept goodness out of Sodom and Gomorrah like an arctic blizzard. Year after brutal year the evil worsened until no vestige of common decency was left. It’s worth noting that only God’s direct intervention helped Lot understand what was at stake. He barely escaped with his life.

Many people and places today are morally bankrupt with never a thought about goodness or God. The majority of our entertainment is empty of moral value, or introduces even baser lifestyles. Even innocuous distraction can clog our hearts and numb our souls. Social media can be wonderful, but a lot of it is depersonalizing and sinks to the lowest common denominator. The winter of godlessness is upon us and shows no signs of abatement. Nudity, violence, tasteless humor, and crime have become not only our entertainment but our lifestyles. Those who suggest fidelity, purity, and right are bullied and ridiculed.

It’s time we recognize what this blight is doing to us and choose to live differently. We must escape the soul-suffocating atmosphere and find warmth and light.

Not everyone wants to move to sunny climates, nor should they. There are many reasons to live where winters are difficult, like work and family. Some people like winter, so they say. Spiritual winter, however, is far different. There are no redeeming qualities in godlessness. Nor is there any hope where God is abandoned.

What is your climate of choice?

 

In Praise of Letters

When did you last receive a personal letter? Not an email. Not a text. Not a voice mail. And especially not a plea for your money or your vote. But a letter—in which someone sat down, thoughtfully considered what they wanted to say, got out a pen and paper, and wrote to you in longhand? It’s a grand feeling, getting a letter like that. Just seeing it in your mailbox makes your heart glad, and you can’t wait to see what they said.

I grew up in the world of letter writing. The 1950s were simpler and less complicated. The only phone that rang was on the hallway table, and it had neither an extension nor an answering machine. Since we lived in the British West Indies, we had no television: just a radio for local stations and a short-wave radio if we wanted news from the States. We could hear the birds sing through the always-open windows and across the street was the park where we played and on whose sidewalks we roller skated. People sat on their wide verandas in the evenings, catching up on the day’s events and discussing the mail that day. On a normal day my parents would receive letters from the Missionary Board (our employers in the States) and maybe a magazine. On good days, we received personal mail. On extra special days, I got a letter from my sister in Minnesota, who had left Trinidad to attend high school when I was seven. Air Mail EnvelopeI examined each air mail envelope with its red and blue rectangles around the edge. The paper was usually light blue and in the upper right-hand corner were stamps: beautiful stamps, hand cancelled, and whispering of exotic places and distant lands. We now and then received letters from missionary friends in Africa, Egypt, or Europe. Letters took about two weeks to reach America, and interminably long to arrive from anywhere else.  But they came, like friends dropping in for a visit.

Mail was our lifeline. We could call long-distance, of course, but only in dire emergencies.  But in those days before cell phones and computers, mail was the only way to communicate with family and friends.

The Little Mailman of...When I was five or six, one of my favorite books was, The Little Mailman of Bayberry Lane, by Ian Munn. The little mailman was a chipmunk who delivered letters to his animal neighbors. Some neighbors received lots of letters and some only a few. One neighbor never got any letters. The little mailman organized a letter writing campaign which cheered up the lonely neighbor immeasurably and brought everyone together. Strange, the things you remember from one’s childhood. Come to think of it, this little book is probably one of the reasons I write lots of letters and cards today. I love to hear from someone months, maybe years, later, telling me how my letter came at just the right moment or that my card was just what they needed at the time.

Mail is very important to me now because it is so personal. A personal letter still is one of the best ways to get someone’s attention. Mass mailers know this. That’s why they cleverly disguise their mailings to look like personal letters. One charity onto whose mailing list I was somehow unfortunately added even hires minimum wagers to hand write the address. They use real stamps, colored envelopes that look like a Hallmark card, and home return addresses to cajole you into opening it. And then—wham! The disappointing realization smacks you in the face that you’ve been suckered again. Ours is an impersonal world where things are made to seem personal when they’re really just an algorithm in a computer created to use your first name, as though the national offices of a political party care about anything more than getting your money. They don’t know you. It’s just business. It’s a cold world where one of life’s dearest joys is shanghaied by commercialization.

personal decorated envelopes2A personal letter means that somebody is thinking about you and wants you to know. Personal letters are rare, for one thing. And they’re from a live person who has taken out some paper and an envelope, checked on your address, sat down and wrote your name to tell you things that nobody else will know except you. There is no accidental copying it to a third party. There are no emojis decorating every other thought, as though words were so difficult to create that our society has to communicate with pictures. There is no ugly swearing or obscenity. Just simple words created for you. Above all, it is personal. The handwriting may be untidy, but it is unique to the sender. Perhaps the message is the same time after time, but, even so, it is for you. How are you doing? How’s your garden coming? Aunt Hilda just had hip replacement surgery. Our dog had pups. Fifteen! When can you come and see me? I’m going to visit you next Christmas. How was your trip to Budapest? (or Omaha)

My mother had incredibly precise penmanship until it got shaky in her 90s. She always used a fine point pen and could get more words on a sheet of paper than anyone else. (After all, postage was expensive.) My Dad’s handwriting was always a challenge to interpret, somewhat like his typing, that was filled with strikeouts. When, as a teenager, I lived in Seattle and they in Jamaica, their letters were a lifeline to me. The main body of the letter was typed, but before it concluded, each of them wrote a paragraph or two in their distinctive handwriting which I knew so well. My mother, especially, was amazingly observant and always included descriptions of her travels, the neighborhood children, or some recent event she’d been to, and even what people were wearing. I still remember one letter she wrote while flying across the USA. She drew little diagrams of the irrigation circles below that she’d never seen before.

Karon @ 15 - front shotAll my life I got personal letters. In college I met a captivating blonde with a knockout smile who stole my heart. For two years we wrote letters each summer while separated, she in California and I traveling. She still has those letters I wrote from Seattle, Barbados, and from across the USA. She, too, was a faithful letter writer. She joked about how their mailman commented every day, “Another letter from that young man in Seattle!” and told me a lot about her job and family. Any time I see her handwriting I see in my mind’s eye her lovely hands so soft to hold. The two are inseparable.

I don’t get many letters these days. I’m sad to say the writing letters is a dying art form. This lovely and altogether delightful way to communicate is vanishing in a culture that’s too fast and too electronic to be bothered with anything that takes time. Sending a text or email is fast and convenient, after all. I will admit that Facebook and the social media are fun and useful. But they’re still kind of impersonal, like Siri, that calls you by your first name. We respond with a thumbs up or maybe even a little comment like “Way to go!” or “Congratulations.” But likely others are reading it and adding their two cents worth; rather like having a conversation in the checkout line.

Me? I still love writing and receiving letters. Every week I drop notes and cards to people around the country. Even if they don’t respond, I know that receiving a personal note will brighten their day.

It just occurs to me that God has written letters, also: to us—to me. The Bible is filled with all kinds of literature. I believe that it’s no coincidence that the easiest to understand and also the most memorable are personally written: journal entries such as the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, and the letters in the New Testament. The true value of letters now stands revealed: one can ready them again and again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Come on. Beat yesterday. You got this!

(Guest blog by Jodi Shultz Klepper)

d0e721f7-be7e-44be-b24e-e336ab8b1e88-getty-916942690We are completely spoiled. No milking cows in the morning to have milk for breakfast. As a matter of fact, we have many options. Soy, Almond, lactose-free, full-fat, lower-fat, fat-free, chocolate, hazelnut, even pumpkin spice when the time is right. No more chasing a chicken around, killing it, plucking it, boning it, and butchering it when it is time for dinner. We just go to the store and pick out the parts we desire! If we want salad, there it is in a bag, washed and ready to eat. Veggies to munch on? Yep, all cut up and packaged to throw right in the picnic basket. And the grocery stores just keep making it easier and easier! Deli sections with ready to cook (or already cooked) meals, fresh breads and sandwiches already wrapped just waiting for a plate. An Olive bar, salad bar with steaming soup, chicken wing bar, sushi counter, and even a Starbucks—all in the Fry’s Marketplace one mile from my home. And Click List, where were you when I had babies??? Seriously, there is no room for argument, we are completely spoiled.

Oh, and don’t forget the companies that deliver boxes of fresh ingredients, with a recipe, and all you have to do is open and follow directions for a fresh, hot meal. Alexa, Smart phones/TV, Amazon prime even got one-upped by 2-hour delivery! Let’s talk online shopping for a minute…oh my goodness, my favorite. Am I complaining? NO! The blessings abound! So many wonderful tools, it all makes living a healthy lifestyle so easy…right?

Know better…Do better.

We know so much and have so much at our disposal. And yet we live in a time when obesity is an epidemic in the United States. Diabetes and heart disease kill moms, dads, brothers, aunts, sisters, grandmas, cousins, friends…not just numbers on a graph…people, loved ones, every day. Maybe you are still sitting on the fence trying to decide if it is worth the effort to lose the weight you want to. Maybe you are dragging your feet on your annual checkup even though you’ve been having shortness of breath. Maybe you just can’t cope like you used to be able to and would be embarrassed if your co-workers knew how much you drink. Please hear me, the time for change is now.

Here are some headlines from the local news today: (Thanks AZ family app)

“Woman struck by car, left with critical injuries”
“Teacher dies from flu…”
“Father of 4 kill at sports bar after fight over dog’s weight”
“Grand Canyon helicopter crash…4 rescued, 3 dead”
“Family IDs British tourists killed in Grand Canyon crash”
“Driver hospitalized after car hits pole in Gilbert”
“Woman killed by RV backing up at WestWorld in Scottsdale”
“Teen boy wounded in Glendale shooting”

This is some crazy stuff! Did any of these people expect to be injured or killed as they put their pants on yesterday morning? Doubtful. There are many variables that we have no control over. But what about the variables we can control?

  • We can enjoy the Fry’s’ amenities and eat more healthfully.
  • We can decrease our stress.
  • We can have open and honest relationships.
  • We can exercise on a regular basis.
  • We can forgive and let go of bitterness.
  • We can pray.
  • We can have meaningful hobbies and play.
  • We can learn and grow and heal destructive patterns.

It is easy to get overwhelmed if we try to change fifteen things at once! So, I usually pick one or two areas to focus on and then set some goals, short-term and long-term. I also like to hang a carrot out there…something I want or would enjoy that I can shoot for. A trip, a tattoo, dance lessons, plastic surgery…something you’ll work for! We are created to work and crave, we just need to get moving in the right direction and then we’re golden!

I’m so inspired by watching the Olympics. However, sometimes I look at my own life and think, “they are so disciplined and so driven, and I can’t even stay away from chocolate for a week”. Then comes a choice. I can sulk, feel sorry for myself, and beat myself up while I eat chocolate covered pretzels, OR I can be motivated by their accomplishments, put some gum in my mouth, and draft a plan! Creating a healthy lifestyle is a day to day journey. The choices keep coming and the struggle is real, especially when curve balls come and hit you in between the eyes. But please step towards health. No one is guaranteed tomorrow. That’s legit. So, come with me! Make some goals, find some friends for the journey, and create the life you want. It might take some time. But next week, you’ll be glad you started today! Come on…beat yesterday…you got this!

 

A Self-Entitled Generation

Wait! She married herself?

The concept of solo marriage hit the headlines in Italy September 2017 when Italian Laura Mesi married herself. The 40-year-old fitness trainer dressed in a white gown and was joined by 70 family and friends for the self-marriage ceremony, (which is not legally recognized). She paid $12,000 for the wedding, which included a three-tier cake topped with a figurine of just herself on the top followed by a whirlwind honeymoon for one to Egypt.

When 38-year-old Sophie Tanner of the UK celebrated her second wedding anniversary earlier this year, there were none of the usual trappings – no flowers or romantic meal for two; no hastily purchased card sealed with a kiss.

It’s not that her other half is remiss, but that on May 16, 2015, when the PR consultant took her vows on the steps of Brighton’s Unitarian Church, the person she swore to cherish for eternity was, well, herself.

Welcome to sologamy, or the practice of marrying oneself. This trend has been around for the last ten years. Is it catching on? We certainly hope not.

So far, this practice has been confined mostly to women as part of a woman’s empowerment statement. A 36-year old woman named Erika Anderson, from Brooklyn, famously married herself last spring. She said she got tired of people asking her why she wasn’t married, as if there was something wrong with her. “I think it’s hard not to adopt whatever society’s messages are … and I certainly think that one of the messages is, ‘You are not enough if you are not with someone else,’” Erika Anderson said of her decision to self-marry. The 37-year-old, who lives in New York, wed her university sweetheart in her twenties but the pair split when aged thirty after growing apart. Committing to herself, she said, was “an act of defiance.”

Some years earlier, another young woman named Dominique, at age 22, also married herself.  While Anderson had a public self-marriage ceremony modeled on the traditional kind with friends, a wedding dress, and a ring, Dominique got married in her bedroom by herself.  She had a ring also, but it didn’t go on her finger. She put it in her nose saying, “I breathe my vows every day.”

Dominique went to the Burning Man festival in Nevada in 2011, where she helped about one hundred other women get married to themselves. Now, of course, she is a self-marriage counselor and minister of something called the Temple of Divine Feminine Flow. Through her website, you can purchase a ten-week, self-marriage, self-study program to prepare yourself for the huge step of getting hitched to yourself. If you want one-on-one private lessons with Dominique, it costs $50 per session. Not that she’s trying to cash in on the self-marriage concept or anything.

Whatever it is called, it is not legally recognized.  That is, you can’t marry yourself and then file a joint tax return or claim benefits. At least not yet. Outside of the Temple of Divine Feminine Flow, I’m not sure any so-called religion would recognize self-marriage either. However, that is small potatoes to someone who loves themselves enough to self-marry. Erika Anderson says that when people ask her if she’s married now, she says yes and then introduces them to her other half.[1]

This self-marriage phenomenon is just one more evidence of the seriously misguided people our society is churning out in record numbers. More troublesome are a significant percentage of today’s young adults who have been raised to think the world revolves around them. They have no clue of the long-term consequences of their immaturity. All of their lives their parents have told them they are special, apparently just for being born. A child coming down a slide is praised by his mother for being a hero (for allowing gravity to work?) Teachers in some public schools are forbidden to give failing grades even if students turn in no work or flunk their tests. (This is not hearsay: a current teacher told me this.) After all, we don’t want anyone to feel he/she is less valuable than another student.

Welcome to the self-entitled generation.

1024px-NOMG07HellHandbasketKidsWagon
Photo by Infrogmation – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1701065

It’s no wonder that twenty-somethings have no budgets, still live at home, and complain about how difficult “adulting” is. You cannot build a strong nation on people whose major accomplishment is beating their friends in video games or drinking the most alcohol. They have never been taught right from wrong and therefore they bristle when you suggest that their choices are inappropriate. They defy authority while imagining that the benefits that authority provides them are owed to them. You can rewrite history and delete from your textbooks the things and people you don’t like, but it’s still true that those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it.

Although flooding America today, self-entitled persons are nothing new. The world has had its share of those who flagrantly live as though rules don’t apply to them. I think we could say Absalom, son of King David, the first King of Israel, was self-entitled. He grew up in the palace where there were few rules and no consequences for those who broke them. He fostered rebellion against his father, slept with his concubines, and eventually had himself crowned king while David was still on the throne. The Old West spawned gangs of criminals. Italy famously produced its mafia called “Cosa Nostra” (Our Thing). Today’s cyber terrorists delight in wreaking catastrophe. All of this vividly demonstrates how society implodes when people are only concerned about themselves and their comfort.

Whether its professional football players dishonoring our flag or people who think that their Johnny-come-lately whims have more value than the eternal truths of scripture, I’m afraid that we may only be seeing the beginning of family disintegration and the unraveling of justice.

So, what are you going to do about it?

Most of us gripe about it. We commiserate together and roll our eyes about how society is going to hell in a handbasket. We spend our time lamenting what people wear (“I Saw it at Walmart” web site), we ridicule their so-called careers, and cluck our collective tongues at their never-ending stupidity, all the while praising ourselves that we at least have some sense. By the way, the “Going to hell in a handbasket” phrase has been in print since at least the 1800s.

We worry about it. It’s easy to allow these disturbing trends to dislodge our security and steal our sleep at night. We fret who’s going to run the government when these disorganized and dangerously imbalanced people land in public office. We fear that our nation’s moral fabric—already shredded beyond comprehension—will totally disintegrate. We are afraid of those who are different, imagining that they are no longer motivated by human emotions like ours.

We despair of the future, forgetting that God is still God and that there may be other viable futures for us that we haven’t even imagined. We cut off communication with the world and isolate ourselves as though the rest of the world has been bombed and we alone are left in our nuclear fallout shelters.

Could we try this?

Stop seeing others as “them,” and see them as individuals. When we group people together we tend to forget they are humans like us who want to succeed, to be loved, and find meaningful lives. Resist the tendency to jump on the bandwagon when others lump people together and blame them. Instead, look for and find one person you are writing off and start praying for them. Start a conversation. Send a card. Discover what would make them happy and try to make it happen. If you don’t know anyone who you would classify as self-entitled or a lost cause, maybe it’s time to find one.

Ask yourself about the history of the person of whom you are most critical. There are reasons people turn out the way they do. It doesn’t excuse bad choices, but it can explain them. Can we reasonably expect our fractured society to produce emotionally balanced offspring? Concentrate not on what they’re doing, or what you assume they’re doing, but on what you can do to build a bridge to them. Should they be cold to you or sluff off your attempt, don’t be discouraged. It takes time to build trust, and most of us could use some practice at building new relationships. Ask about the meaning of a tattoo or what they love about coloring their hair purple. You will surely learn something you didn’t know as well as starting up a conversation.

Cultivate a positive spirit. It’s so easy to see the dark side, or the glass that’s half empty. It takes work to see what is right. You may light a lot of candles before one stays lit, but that’s still a good thing. Ask God to alert you the moment you begin to criticize. It probably won’t take more than a minute or two. 😊 God still believes the world is worth saving. People determined to do right have rescued the world more times than history can record it. But they usually do it one person at a time.

 

[1] Thanks to my neighbor, Christopher Zimmerman, Whetstone, AZ, 2017 for the info. about self-marriage. Used by permission.

 

 

Just call me Flo

Florence Rose Neal was born into a large and loving Norwegian family on Camano Island, Washington, in the Pacific Northwest, an idyllic spot encircled by Puget Sound and stately Douglas firs, and watched over by the distant snow crowned Olympic Mountains. Her hardworking parents spoke Norwegian and they all learned the hard language of living off the land.

flo's family copy
The Karo family. Florence is upper right.

While still a child, the family moved to Colorado where life was demanding and money was tight. At fourteen Florence went to work so her youngest sister, Peggy, could graduate from high school.

One day a handsome, young evangelist named John Neal drove up to the boarding house in Uravan, where Florence worked. He was ten years her senior, but his deep faith and snazzy new car won her heart. When John left town, the spunky and fair nineteen-year-old left with him as Mrs. John Neal, her name from then on.

John and Florence Neal 1939
Rev. and Mrs. John Neal

John was a warm hearted, charismatic man with black curly hair and dark Cherokee skin. He abandoned a lucrative career as a tool and die maker to follow his call to ministry, and for the next fifty years, Brother and Sister Neal became the spiritual force that would bring hundreds into the Kingdom in southern California, Oregon, and Washington. They had five children: John was first (after this dad was “John A” and son was “John R”) and the twins, Karon and Karl, arrived three years later. Peter and Rodney showed up twelve and fifteen years later, rather like a second family. Their ministry blossomed as the children grew. They built churches and potlucked their way into the lives of many who still cherish their commitment and uncommon hospitality.

john, flo, and kids copy
John R. standing up, the twins are on laps.

Those were the days when men were the breadwinners and made the decisions. Wives kept house, cooked, and raised their families. Pastor’s wives also ran the Women’s Missionary Society, the local PTA, sang in the choir, and made home make chicken and noodles for church dinners. If she could have played the piano, she probably would have done that, too.

Florence Neal (center) South L.A. Sunday school celebration 1951
Florence, center

Florence was the consummate pastor’s wife with her bubbly personality, outgoing hospitality, and overflowing love of people. Above all, she was a prayer warrior. She and John A., who also had a contagious, enthusiastic faith, saw many divine healings and marvelous salvation experiences. Many men and women credit the Neals with their call to ministry.

Change

As often happens, life became more complicated as the children grew up. John A. briefly changed careers and then moved into and out of a grueling pastorate unlike those of his early years. Karon and Karl had four different high schools. John R moved on. John A. and Florence maintained their pattern. An opportunity would come up and, although Florence prayed with him about it, John A. made the decisions and she followed. It wasn’t her place to question but to follow.

John, Mom, Karon, Dad, Karl, Pete, and Rod August 1965
Dave and Karon’s wedding day: back, l. to r: John R., Florence, Karon, John A., Karl; front, l. to r: Peter, Rodney

Lodi, California (where I met them all), Salem, Oregon, and then Seattle Washington ensued. There were rewarding milestones along the way as the older kids married and started having families, but pastoring was becoming more difficult and it was taking its toll. Peter and Rodney were growing up and in high school. In Seattle, Mom began working full time to revitalize a day care at the Seattle church. Frankly, she was magnificent! The day care flourished remarkably. With her eighth-grade education, state licensing could have been a problem. However, she so impressed the examiner with her know-how, administrative skills, and curriculum development that they approved her—and the Day Care—with flying colors. Meanwhile, Pastor Neal struggled with depression, frustration, and conflict within the church. Seemingly endless rain and the dismal gloom of sunless days weighed heavily on him and they returned to California. Brief pastorates followed there and in Nevada—with another declining day care for Flo to revitalize—but Dad’s age and fifty-three years of pastoring caught up with him, and they finally retired.

A second start

With minimal social security and an insignificant pension, they had to find an economical place to live with some way to earn additional income. Karl lived in Sierra Vista, Arizona, which was the perfect spot. They bought a few acres of land and set up a mobile home park that would support them. The freedom from pastoring, abundant sunshine, and the wide open spaces of the high desert brought healing. Florence (few people called her Sister Neal any more) worked as a nurse’s aide and did the bookkeeping for their business. Dad found derelict mobile homes in the classifieds and together they cleaned them up, and built porches. Dad clambered onto rooftops and repaired swamp coolers and Mom fumigated desperate appliances and restored them to a pristine and sparkling state. On Sundays Dad filled in as interim preacher. Life was good for the next few years.

John and Flo 1986 Dad's 75th birthday
John A. and Florence 1986, Dad’s 75th birthday

Failing health and bad knees eventually forced Dad off the roofs and they sold the mobile home park and moved to Tucson. This would be their last move together. Decreasing mobility from Parkinson’s disease and increasing dementia (Alzheimer’s was never formally diagnosed) crippled Dad. Mom barely escaped an emotional and physical breakdown caring for Dad, who no longer recognized her, referring to her as “that woman who works so hard.” She dressed him and made sure he always looked good. Weeks of little sleep and Dad’s unpredictable behavior pushed her to the breaking point, yet she soldiered on. It never occurred to her to find a facility where he could be cared for by professionals. She was the wife. It was her obligation. At the breaking point, she finally arranged for a hospice facility, but just one week after taking up residence there, he passed away. It was February 11, 1994. For the first time in her life, she was alone.

 Transition

For the next three years, Mom—like most widows—struggled to find herself. Profound loneliness descended upon her. She had always been Mrs. John A. Neal, and John A. was gone. Who was she? How would she survive? After a couple of years, she was floundering. Then, three years after Dad’s death, her granddaughter, Jodi, and her husband, Tom, invited her to live with them and help care for their two little boys.

TJ and Curtis 1997
T.J., left, and Curtis: 1997

It was a godsend; an important step in establishing her new identity. She had a family again and the little boys were a breath of fresh air each day.

Karon and Mom April 27, 2002
Karon and Florence at a welcome party in Anderson

In 2002 she moved across the country to Anderson, IN where we lived, and took an apartment at Harter House, a retirement community where two meals were provided and yet she had her independence. She established herself at South Meridian Church of God where we were pastors, and developed some strong friendships. During the next couple of years she became a vital and positive force in the Harter House community, but she began to realize that she was not ready for group housing and, when we moved to Columbus, Ohio as pastors at Meadow Park Church of God, she followed, renting an apartment overlooking a small lake and not far from the church.

 Just call me Flo

Columbus was a new place and Flo emerged from the ten years of becoming. It isn’t that being Mrs. John A. Neal was bad. It’s that she discovered a whole new person inside that was not tied to a profession or another person. As we introduced her to everyone at church, she responded with, “Just call me Flo!” She had been learning many things along that path. We watched in amazement as she taught us what she was learning.

It’s okay to be yourself. It’s all right to have an opinion and to voice your preferences. It’s okay to set boundaries. In fact, it’s critical to mental health. She learned to say “no” to those who would abuse her generous spirit, leaving her broke on more than one occasion. After so many years of squeezing into the role of pastor’s wife and putting the expectations of others ahead of her own needs, she chose to minister where she wanted, and not in the places others said she should. She was more than Mrs. John A. Neal now; she was Flo, pure and simple.

Not setting boundaries had almost destroyed her. Caregiving is exhausting and can be perilous. Mom’s generation grew up with a profound sense of duty, sometimes to the point of self destruction. There’s much to celebrate in this attitude, and many of us have benefited from those who have served us so faithfully. However, setting boundaries is crucial to mental and physical health, especially with loved ones. If we don’t take care of ourselves, no one will.

Mom discovered that certain things she had always done could now be done without the encumbrances of being the pastor’s wife. Her gift of teaching evolved into being an active participant in an adult Sunday school class. (She said she was too nervous to teach any more.) There she shared the spiritual lessons she had learned in a lifetime rich with experiences and wisdom. Many in the congregation benefited and grew to love her.

Always a prayer warrior, she enlarged her focus, keeping a three-ring binder jammed with handwritten requests that she jotted on bulletins and that people slipped into her purse. She especially focused on three areas: her apartment building, the youth in our congregation, and those who were discouraged or ill that could use a visit. She and a friend from church regularly visited those on the church prayer list. People began to come by her apartment for prayer, or bring others for encouragement. Over Scrabble, she counseled young mothers and new Christians. (That didn’t mean she would cut you any slack if you misspelled a word!)

Flo heard that the youth group needed counselors. She was the oldest person to volunteer! Of course, all-night lock-ins and paintball excursions were beyond her. She couldn’t sit on the floor anymore. But she could attend meetings and activities where she ate pizza and kept notes in her prayer journal. She invited some of the youth to her apartment on Sunday after church, where she had prepared special treats and introduced them to Scrabble (no doubt beating them soundly).

Her deep passion to win others to Christ was evidenced in her supreme joy of living, whether riding a roller coaster

Flo on ferris wheel Columbus, OH 2007
Flo at the Ohio State Fair

or greeting all of the employees by name at the local Kroger store. And at the bank.  And at the filling station. She felt that God was inviting her out of her comfort zone and she began to reach out to the many Asians moving into her apartment. Her unique introduction to a new resident was to take them a dish of Jell-o along with a big smile. Her bubbly personality and that Christ-filled smile overcame many a language barrier. Two young Korean men in Columbus enrolled at the Ohio State University became her adopted sons. She brought them to church and, when they graduated, was invited to the celebration dinner with their parents, who flew over from Korea (the only non-family present)! She took books to an elderly Indian neighbor who she was delighted to discover was not only a Christian but also an avid reader. All day long he had sat alone while his adult children were away at work—until Flo showed up, God’s sunshine to a stranger in a foreign land. She hosted a Bible study in her apartment and became friends with a young Japanese woman hungry for friendship. That young woman accepted Christ and later drove all the way from Cincinnati for her memorial service.

Flo, John, Karl, Karon, Pete, & Rodney 2004 60th b-day K&K 001
Flo and her five kids at Karon and Karl’s 60th birthday party; l. to r: Karl, John R., Flo, Karon, Peter, Rodney in 2004

In short, Flo, an eighth-grade graduate, a pastor’s wife with five children, a day care and preschool director who brought in educational curriculum that was the best in Seattle, a nurses’ aide in Veteran’s Hospitals, the local Florence Nightingale in her Arizona community, a beloved prayer partner to scores of people, a beloved grandma and great grandma (known simply as “Great”)—that Flo—became more passionate, effective, and loved in her eighties than most of us become in our entire lives.

December 20, 2007, was going to be a full day. She had attended two Christmas parties that week and was going to meet Karon to attend a third. But she never arrived. On the way she had a heart attack that allowed her to slow down, steer off the road, miss fire hydrants, cars, and telephone poles, and come to a stop on the grass across from the church where she stepped into heaven at the age of 86. At her memorial service, just three years after arriving in Columbus, over 250 stayed after the service for a potluck dinner (several brought Jell-o in her honor) where they took two hours at the open mike telling what she had meant to them. One gentleman concluded by saying, “Life is best when you ‘go with the Flo!”

“The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to him” is attributed to the great evangelist Dwight L. Moody, who lived his life with the goal of seeing what God could do if he were totally committed to him. Some of us were blessed to witness God’s light shining through another committed person: a woman named Flo, who wanted nothing more than to be a witness for Christ. And to win at Scrabble.

Flo Christmas 2006
Flo  at Christmas 2006

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Becoming Ageless, or the Purpose of Aging

Are you fascinated with how people age? I am. A popular Internet feature called, “Where Are They Now?” features photos of show business legends when we knew them and as they look now. Usually the changes are dramatic. After fifty years, some people are unrecognizable. Others look almost the same. Why is that?

Henry Winkler before and after
Henry Winkler as “the Fonze” on “Happy Days” and in 2015

Well, there’s genetics, skin tone, and, with the complexity of the human body, multitudes of reasons for this. Ultimately, does it matter? Some say yes. They feel that their looks are too important to allow nature to take its course, which explains the surging worldwide phenomenon of cosmetic surgery and why Hollywood stars seem almost ageless.

But only for a while. Clearly, growing old is inevitable. Our bodies were never intended to live forever. Have you noticed that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead once, but not twice? Lazarus died like the rest of us will. It’s inescapable.

The question is not “How can you look good as long as you live?” but “What can you learn about being truly ageless?” Being ageless is a matter of the spirit, not the body.

Becoming ageless

Becoming ageless is the exact opposite of looking as young as you can for as long as you can. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take care of yourself or that you should dress sloppily. Rather, we must change our focus from the physical to spiritual. Dr. Paul Brand, trail-blazing hand surgeon who did groundbreaking work with lepers in India, was son of missionaries. Long after most people would have retired, his parents stayed on in India. And, after his father died, his mother flatly refused to move back to England and take up residence in “one of those graveyards for old people,” remaining until her death in a remote village in India where she continued her loving work among those to whom she had given her life. In later years, she disliked how she looked as she grew older and so she removed all the mirrors from her house so she could concentrate on her beloved villagers. They never saw an “old person,” but only a woman alight with Christ’s love and the Holy Spirit who lived with them until she was finally carried out on a stretcher. She clearly was ageless.

How vastly different from those around the world today who are obsessed with appearance: looks, and above all, a carefully crafted public image. Was there ever a time when more people spent more time creating a facade that they think will impress people but which is, in fact, far from reality? Besides the political and entertainment personalities who do this, don’t many of us put pictures and information on Facebook and Twitter that we think will impress people? Not to mention dating sites, where 10% of dating profiles have been determined as fake, particularly from men.[1]

I am trying to pay less attention to the way I am aging, but I confess that I am way too aware of my wrinkles and loss of muscle tone. It’s vanity, plain and simple, and I’m working to shift my focus. This is what God is telling me: He chisels away our mortality so we can reveal his image. This has to do with aging, healing, sickness—everything. The purpose of aging is to abandon the physical. When we expend Herculean effort to look young and vibrant, we miss the purpose of aging, which is spiritual vitality. Have you considered that feebleness is really a gift?  We are given youth only long enough to learn that our bodies are not the place to invest.  The death rate is 100%.

As a pastor I was sometimes given a window into the true nature of the physical. I watched a beautiful young woman in her late twenties decline shockingly from aggressive cancer. As her abdomen swelled with the virulent malignancy, her muscle tone and body fat elsewhere was cannibalized by the awful disease until she became skeletal and almost unrecognizable. Just as extraordinary, however, was the spiritual growth that blossomed within her ravaged body. When I saw her just before her death, I could not hide my immediate dismay at her awful appearance. She smiled and said, “It’s okay, Pastor. I’m abandoning this house very soon for one that is both perfect and eternal.” She glowed with an inner light that moves me even now as I recall that sacred moment. I could almost see the exchange taking place as her spirit outgrew and displaced her body.  I have never forgotten this moment when the true nature of physical life was laid bare before me.

God makes everything new.

In the film The Passion of the Christ Jesus says to his mother on his way to Golgotha, “I am making everything new.” These words of Christ actually come from Revelation 21:5, although I found them deeply moving and fitting during this scene. It is the risen, glorified, and resplendent Christ who explains heaven in John’s vision.   This is not just an overhaul, or a sprucing up of things that need repair. No, this is absolutely new, never before witnessed creation, just like at the beginning of time. In this way Time Works Backwards.[2] All the way back to Genesis before the fall. Unspoiled. Unpolluted. Untouched by sin. Forever beyond the ravages of time, because time will be gone. Forgiveness, grace, acceptance, and healing will have finally and completely accomplished their purpose. And we will have a new body, not a clumsy remake!

“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20).

“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven….Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.  For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3).

[1] https://blog.siftscience.com/2016/what-percentage-of-dating-profiles-are-fake/

[2]  Phrase from The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis

Three Ways the Internet Destroys Faith

I wouldn’t want to live without access to the Internet. Instantly we have free entrance to libraries of information in hundreds of languages and instant translators. I ask my iPhone for directions to the nearest restaurant or even to do math problems. It instantly complies and never gets tired or impatient. Scores of Bible translations are freely available and I take them everywhere. Gone are the days of tiring research with note cards and library card catalogs. Gone are cumbersome and indecipherable road maps, thank goodness.

Internet Addiction

BUT… the Internet is forever changing our lives, our social interaction, and our faith. Manners are disappearing. Decent grammar and the ability to form coherent sentences are evaporating.   Contemplation and silence are unknown to millions of people. The world of fantasy is replacing reality for our children and teenagers who are hypnotized by its flickering screen, portal to fabulous and addicting entertainment—but also pornography, violence, and vulgarity.  Movies, sports, and games rob employers of millions of hours of work time every day as workers send emails and play solitaire and fantasy football from their desks.

Here are three dangerous ways that the Internet is eroding our faith.

1.     The Internet is fast.

Americans are impatient for any number of reasons, and, because the Internet is fast, we are even less patient! “The implications of this impatience are…shocking. Amazon has calculated that a page load slowdown of just one second could cost it $1.6 billion in sales each year.”[1] In other words, when online shopping, customers will wait an average of only three seconds before going on to a different site. Think about it. How long do you wait for a web site to load? How long are you willing to wait to be seated at a restaurant? Or how quickly do you grow impatient when you are put on hold when making a telephone call?

  • The demand for instant communication and gratification sabotages conversation and relationships. Recently I observed a couple at a restaurant, each glued to their phone and barely saying three words during the entire evening. Kids ignore everyone and everything but their gaming devices. Parents fail to teach their children about social graces, like ignoring an incoming call on their cell phone when talking with someone, because they are just as bad as their children.
  • Impatience for return communication makes trust and faith far more difficult. The Internet provides instant results, and so when we pray we expect an instant response from God, as though he were a bellboy. While waiting for Him to respond, we often go online to social media like Facebook and Wikipedia for our answers instead trusting that God is answering our prayer and working things out. We often accept what we read on the Internet as truth without examining who the writers are or what they motives may be.

Faith, however, does not come instantly. God requires waiting and patient endurance. Unlike today’s merchants, God is not moved by our impatience or frustration at His perceived slowness.

The following verses from James highlight the dynamic and growing faith relationship between us and God.

When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realize that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men [and women] of mature character with the right sort of independence. And if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God—who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty—and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him. But he must ask in sincere faith without secret doubts as to whether he really wants God’s help or not (James 1:2-6, J. B. Phillips[2])

Note the connection between faith and problems, waiting and trusting God, and development of character. We must learn to walk within the rhythms of God’s patterns. We must wait and pray. We must watch, i. e., observe how God acts and interacts, and pray. We must read His Word and trace His character there. All of this takes time—a lifetime—and patience. Learning to wait on God brings serenity and peace. My observation is that today’s wonderful speed in communication is only making us more frantic and dissatisfied.

2.     Too much world. Too little wonder.

The Internet spews everything the world has to offer onto our doorsteps twenty-four hours each day. World news floods our screens. Advertisements for movies and the latest miracle potato peeler (have you noticed they’re always $19.95?) pour onto our laptops and cell phones. Social media beep and chirp incessantly with tweets from this celebrity and Facebook photos from a grandchild of Aunt Lucy’s second cousin. Sports trivia, fantasy football, and Candy Crush absorb all of our time, and we even pay good money to get more information. We cannot seem to get enough online shopping and we keep signing up for exclusive sites that swamp us with hourly information from our investment advisors. More sports, more games, and more movies are streaming to us in an engulfing flood that grows exponentially and becomes more suffocating every day.

William Wordsworth, one-time poet laureate of Great Britain, observed almost three centuries ago that industrialization destroys our connection with the beauty of the natural world. Can you imagine his horror were he to observe today’s society?

The World Is Too Much With us (an excerpt)

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.—Great God!

We are drowning in information, noise, and sound bites. We are constantly being sidetracked with rabbit trails, clicking this and that. It can be a huge time waster. Our minds are cluttered with trivia. Buying and getting consume our days. How is this achieving your life goals?

When did you last watch the moon rise on a cool autumn evening? When do you recharge your weary spirit and give yourself a break from that relentless To Do list and those unending emails? When have you examined your motives for living such a pell-mell life?

And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? (Mark 8:36)

3.     Hazardous Exposure

The huge benefits of the Internet come with a shockingly high price tag. You cannot escape the blatant disdain for morality and Christianity that the media pour forth endlessly. If you are not careful your own opinions will be colored by those who not only disbelieve in God but feel that those who follow him are limited simpletons with an I.Q. of a rock. This is called worldliness.

With all of that wonderful information there also comes an insidious flood of time-wasting, desensitizing, and deeply demoralizing information. Most Christians I know hardly blink an eye at choosing to watch programs and films that glorify vulgarity, obscenity, violence, cruelty, and even pornography. This is called worldliness! Even with Safe Search running on your computer or mobile device, an offensive ad or photo may surprise you. Temptations abound at every corner. In fact, the Internet provides more temptations per square inch than anything else in the world. Like most temptations, sin begins innocently enough, gradually escalating from the innocent to the objectionable, and downhill from there to deadly. “Just one more click,” we say…

Perhaps the most pernicious characteristic of the Internet is that anyone can access it alone, most of us with no safeguards and no accountability. We want no restrictions for ourselves and we often don’t restrict our teenagers and children. Many wonderful filters[3] are available to install on your computer and mobile devices. Why not be smart and use them? Should you find yourself objecting to the idea of restricting your Internet use, I ask, “What are you defending?”

Epilogue

In case you’re interested, these are some of the ways I use the Internet safely.

  • I don’t want news headlines splashed across my screen when my computer boots up, so I have disabled those feeds.
  • I use Safe Search, a free feature of Google Search that acts as an automated filter of pornography and potentially offensive content.
  • I use Facebook selectively because I find that the noise of hundreds opinions and posts becomes burdensome. I without hesitation unfriend people who use language or write posts that are offensive.
  • Most search engines display ads. However, many allow you to restrict the types of ads that pop up. (The ads you see are chosen for you by the clicks you make when browsing the Internet.)

On a related note, I begin every day with scripture and writing in my journal, no exceptions. God usually speaks to me about what I’ve read and often directs me to adjust my thinking or behavior. His Word cautions me about Satan’s current strategies to derail me. This way, I center myself in God before I allow the world to influence my thinking.

I would love to know what things you find helpful.

[1] http://www.fastcompany.com/1825005/how-one-second-could-cost-amazon-16-billion-sales

[2] The New Testament in Modern English by J.B Phillips copyright © 1960, 1972 J. B. Phillips.

 

[3] To see available filters, type “Christian Internet Filters free” into the search line of your search engine; e.g., Google, Bing, etc.

Manage Your Self-Talk

What is self-talk? Everybody does it, consciously or unconsciously. Unconscious self-talk is often destructive; but conscious self-talk can lift your faith, keep you on an exercise program, and help you overcome bad habits and even lighten depression.

Positive or negative?

I was a first-grader. It was the Big Day, Field Day: Races, pennants outlining the race venues, prizes, and, of course, parents. Two images stand out in my mind about my race:

Image #1: my Dad on the sidelines, yelling “Come on! Come on!”

Image #2: myself as I ran, hearing an inner voice urging caution, telling me to be careful not to fall, and that I couldn’t win anyway. That inner voice was self-talk. Unfortunately, it easily beat out my Dad’s encouragement.

He and I were both disappointed in me that day. Maybe that was the beginning of my lifelong dread of sports and competition. Did someone threaten me? Had I fallen or failed at previous races? I don’t know where that voice came from, but that same self-talk dragged me down for years.

Positive self-talk, however, can win the day. Remember the Little Engine that Could? As he faced a huge hill, he kept telling himself “I think I can, I think I can.” Then, when he succeeded and he was racing down the other side, he said, “I thought I could! I thought I could!”

I told myself I couldn’t, and I didn’t. The Little Engine told himself he could, and he did. Yes, it’s just a kid’s story, but time after time real life people have told themselves they were winners in spite of others telling them they couldn’t. But they did! Wilma Rudolph had little hope of becoming a runner after developing polio, among other things. But she went on to break Olympic records. [1]

Self-talk in the Bible

From the very beginning people have engaged in self-talk. Satan influenced Eve to sin by telling her that she would become as wise as God. That temptation became her self-talk. “The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it” (Genesis 3:6, italics mine).

 

The words “self-talk” do not appear in Scripture, but the phrase “say in his heart” does. Observe Abraham’s self-talk surfacing after God promises him and Sarah a child in their old age.  “Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?” (Genesis 17:17, kjv, italics mine). Abraham’s past experience almost overrode his faith in what God could do. A common problem for all of us!

 

And the psalmist wrote, “Only fools say in their hearts,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their actions are evil” (Psalm 14:1, nlt, italics mine).

We don’t know what in these fools’ experience prompted this self-talk, but it does sound familiar, doesn’t it?

 

These examples describe people who are unconsciously “counseling themselves.” Likely they were unaware of how self-talk was controlling them, but the biblical writer interpreted it as the motive for sin and the reason behind difficulty in maintaining faith. The Bible, especially the Old Testament prophets, did their utmost to motivate their people to consciously change their self-talk, advising God’s people to consider their motives and actions and live their lives according to faith in God. The New Testament writers clearly understood this issue—that self-talk must become conscious and positive–and we, in our mind’s eye, can see them grabbing the lapels of new Christians and practically shouting in their faces, Wake up! What are you doing? Listen to what you’re saying! Remember what God is saying!

Your self-talk: its origin

Cartoon man - who is that talking in my head copy

Your self-talk probably originates from your past life experience. Key creators of self-talk ./are our parents and other influential people, including teachers, peers, and those you want to be like. Positive, uplifting parent figures repeat their words unconsciously in our minds the rest of our lives: “You’re a winner!” “You’re a good girl!” “I love you!” “You can do it.” Negative, bullying, and abusive parent figures also repeat their putdowns over and over again: “Loser!” “Crybaby!” and “You’ll never amount to anything!”

Few of us will be victims of the heartless abuse of bullies, but don’t we unconsciously play the insults and slights of others over and over again in our minds, amplifying the damage until it’s all we hear? I’m convinced that negative and destructive self-talk fuels much of the depression we experience; perhaps even leading to suicide. Suicide has many and complex causes, but rates among all age groups continue to rise.[2] Surely negative self-talk gets some of the blame.

Our perception of what others think can be just as destructive as actual words—even if we’re wrong. The world has for years idolized slender women with Barbie doll proportions. As a result, the self-talk of countless females undermines their self-image and makes them feel ugly and worthless because they don’t measure up.

Satan plants negative and defeating self-talk in your minds constantly. Satan’s constant goal is to destroy you. He diverts your attention away from Bible study and tells you the Bible is full of contradictions. He reminds you of your weaknesses over and over again, tempting you to sin and then hammering you with guilt when you give in. Nighttime is his playground when you are drifting to sleep or sitting at the computer ready to shut it off. His temptations seem overwhelming. He resurrects the past and dangles before you all of your failures and mistakes. He megaphones the insults and putdowns of others into your soul and tells you that you’ll never be better, only worse. If you only sit or lie there and let the waves of damaging disapproval wash over you, you are a sitting duck.

What are you telling yourself about yourself each day? What are its sources?

Managing your self-talk

You turn a major corner when you take the reins of self talk and consciously counter the negative memories and pessimism. It isn’t enough to enjoy a sunny day now and then. You must deliberately program yourself to turn off the old tapes and create new ones, instead. Jesus was a master at this (of course).[3]

 

Try these things:

  • Ask God to help you. Only God, our Creator, understands us spiritually, emotionally, and physically. He wants to help you. He is willing to help you. He is waiting to help you! What’s more, He promises to help you.
  • Figure out what your self-talk is. What is its source? Whose voices are you listening to? Your peers? Your parents? The Holy Spirit’s? Satan’s? Ask someone close to you who you trust to help you if you’re not getting anywhere. I have benefited greatly from the insight of a couple of professional counselors who helped me unravel my guilt, fear, and anger. It’s important to have a Christian counselor.
  • Ask yourself if the discouraging things you are telling yourself about yourself agree with what Scripture says about you. Many Christians live defeated lives because they totally overlook what God says about us. (1) God loves the world. He did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world (John 3:16-17). (2) God forgives you no matter what. Stop dredging up the past that God has already forgiven. (3) God will never leave you because you are valuable to him (John 14:16). (4) God is the source of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3). Perhaps it will help if you rephrase these and place them where you will see them every day. For example, “God loves me as I am.” “God forgives everything I have done and will forgive more if necessary.”
  • Substitute negative self-talk with positive. Paul outlines this strategy: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9).

One last thing

Try not to criticize others. Everyone is fighting a battle. Instead, make it a point to constantly encourage others. Help them believe in themselves. And start with that person in the mirror.

[1] (http://www.tnhistoryforkids.org/people/wilma_rudolph)

[2] http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/22/health/suicide-rates-rise/ ).

[3] When the Pharisees belittled Jesus’ work and accused him of working miracles by Satan’s power, he immediately countered with the truth. “If I am empowered by Satan, what about your own exorcists? They cast out demons, too, so they will condemn you for what you have said. But if I am casting out demons by the power of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you” (Luke 11:19-21 NLT). Remember, also, Jesus’ use of scripture in countering Satan’s temptations (Matthew 4:1-11). Note that Satan was also using scripture, but twisting it. This is why we must know scripture.

 

Ten Huge Mistakes Christians Make (Part 2)

Magnifying glass title-part 2 copy

(See Mistakes Numbers 1-5 in earlier blog, “Ten Huge Mistakes Christians Make—Part 1”)

Mistake Number 6: No Devotional Life

By “Devotional Life” I mean a daily time of prayer and Bible study. (Blurting a few “Help me’s” on the way to work really isn’t going to deepen your faith.) Because we lead such frantic lives and overschedule ourselves and our families relentlessly, we somehow feel justified that these things supersede a time of daily prayer. The intrusion of electronics into absolutely everything erodes this important discipline. If we never turn off our phone and would answer it even if we’re praying or reading Scripture, what does this say about who is important to us? For whom and what are you praying? Do you have a prayer list? Are you asking God to inform your day? Do you bring your To Do list to him each morning to see what He would prioritize as most important? Are you working to overcome your temptations? No prayer? It’s killing us.

Mistake Number 7: An Undisciplined Lifestyle

There’s a reason the early church practiced disciplines. Those who had been with Jesus knew the only way to live as He did was to practice what He did and taught. The only way to get good at it is to keep practicing. Besides reading Scripture and praying, here are some disciplines we must practice: purity, gentleness, perseverance, forgiveness, and frugality  (not an exhaustive list). A good place to start is by reading an old classic, Discipline and Discovery, by Albert E. Day,[1] or other devotional volumes that have stood the test of time.

“Undisciplined,” you say? “You should see my daily schedule. I get up before dawn to go to the gym. I commute long hours to work…” Let me interrupt this recitation to point out that many of us are disciplined about these things, but we are not disciplined in training ourselves to be like Jesus.

The cost of this enormous vacuum in our lives is staggering. One study shows that the lifestyles of evangelical Christians are hardly different than those of non Christians.[2] How can this be? Many have no governor on their entertainment and viewing habits. They live the same, act the same, and drink the same, watch the same movies, television programs and pornography, and divorce just as much. Perhaps this is so because we have adopted the culture’s values and abandoned those of Christ. And this happens because the culture has absorbed us to the point that our souls are withering and dying and we don’t even know it. We must be savvy about the lessons of R-rated films are teaching us. It broke my heart to read a recent post on Facebook from a missionary asking if the film “Fifty Shades of Gray” was as good as the book! I immediately thought of Samson from the book of Judges who wandered so far from God that God left him and he didn’t even know it.[3]

Mistake Number 8: Rely on ourselves rather than God.

Perhaps it’s to be expected that we Americans are self-reliant. We place huge importance on making your own way and sticking it out. Such independence helped settle the American West and win World War II. When it comes to faith, however, independence is deadly.

God-reliance is the central pillar that supports our faith. He is first, ever and always. Paul understood and practiced this. In Colossians he writes, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.[4]

We love and believe this Scripture, but do we fail to grasp how it should affect our lives? This means that the first order of business is prayer. Trouble? Pray. Sickness? Pray. Misunderstanding? Pray. National election? Pray. Work issues? Pray. I have at times felt guilty about praying too much!  Yep. “I shouldn’t bring this trivial little thing to God. He has more important things to do.” Have you ever thought that? Or how about this, “I have been a Christian so long I should know how to handle this by now.” This line of thinking may appear righteous but it is seriously misinformed about where our strength comes from.

You and I will never be wise enough, strong enough, or clever enough to make it on our own. NEVER!

Mistake Number 9: Defend sin rather than confess it.

Probably every Christian has at some time done this. I have. When we are convicted that something is wrong or displeasing to God, we quickly make excuses why in our case it isn’t so bad. We are masters of rationalization and artists at fooling ourselves into believing that our sin isn’t really a “sin.” “While for someone else gossiping is bad, I am really just sharing a prayer request.” “You know, no one should get hooked on pornography, but my sexual appetite is especially strong and has to have an outlet.” “I’m going to see this movie to understand the culture.” “I would help the homeless if I just weren’t so repulsed by their cardboard pleas for assistance. And who knows? They are probably making a lot of money standing there by the freeway exit.” “I know that the Bible teaches against living together unless you’re married, but it makes financial sense for us to do it.”

As a former pastor, I am sadly aware that many longtime Christians hide secret sins—as though God suspends judgment of our sins because we’re so special! Don’t fool yourself. All sin is abhorrent to God. It always will be. C. S. Lewis said it eloquently, “If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.”[5]

God, help us rush to obedience rather than to sin. Help us readily and immediately repent of any sin the Holy Spirit brings to our attention. May we, unlike Esau,[6] not give away God’s priceless salvation as he gave away his birthright because of an appetite we refuse to control.

Mistake Number 10: Living a Life Devoid of God-Worship

America is becoming a nation of image-fixated narcissists living with an entitlement mentality who put themselves above everything else. It’s more than a trend. It’s a frame of mind that infects us from the time as one-year olds we starting putting selfies on our Facebook page (helped by a doting parent) to the time we become senior citizens complaining about the quality of a free meal delivered to our doorstep. Materialism has so mesmerized us that we think it’s just a personality quirk to have 150 pairs of shoes or normal to post hundreds of photos of oneself on line every week.

Someone without God on the throne will put something or someone else, usually himself or herself, on the throne. We have added God to our long list of other possessions and give him a share of our time and attention. Incredibly, we feel good about having God as part of our lives as we apportion him a pathetically miniscule amount of thought. How arrogant we are to think God can be possessed or that we do him an honor to make him a tiny part of our lives! Read Job 38 to be reminded of who God is. The Bible is exceptionally clear on the disastrous outcome of idolatry. “Everyone [who makes idols] is senseless and without knowledge; every goldsmith is shamed by his idols. The images he makes are a fraud; they have no breath in them. They are worthless, the objects of mockery; when their judgment comes, they will perish.”[7] Paul wrote, “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry [italics mine] and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition [italics mine], dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.[8]

Every day we must remind ourselves that God is everything and we are nothing (but God elevates us to the position of his heirs alongside Jesus Christ because He loves us).We must consciously carve out time to worship, to meditate on God, to read His Word, and to pray. We must ask Him to reveal to us our selfishness, pride, egotism, and arrogance; then repent and humbly acknowledge and worship him.

We have lived in an age of ease in which Christian faith has been the norm. That time is over. A tiny faith built on little prayers that only seek personal benefit will not survive the times ahead. The Bible and history teach us that Christians will be persecuted and that our faith is made strong through suffering. Let’s stop whining about how the pagan world should faun over us (aka Starbucks red cup nonsense). Instead resolve today to love God wholeheartedly and abandon small dreams whose only focus is your happiness. Launch yourself into the bracing oceans of life where God’s wonders will be discovered[9] and stop paddling around in the stale tide pools of self-indulgence.

[1] Available for one cent on Amazon.com!

[2] http://www.christiantoday.com/article/american.study.reveals.indulgent.lifestyle.christians.no.different/9439.htm

[3] Judges 16:20

[4] Colossians 1:15-18 (NLT)

[5] The Great Divorce, HarperOne; New edition (April 21, 2015).

[6] Genesis 25:29-34

[7] Jeremiah 10:14-15

[8] Galatians 5:19-21

[9] Psalm 107:23-24

Ten Huge Mistakes Christians Make (Part 1)

Magnifying glass title copyToday is my seventy-first birthday. Funny, I never imagined myself as seventy-one. Old people are achy and wrinkled but I couldn’t imagine it would happen to me. Old people are forgetful and love thinking about the “good old days.” But me? Yep. The Dave Shultz of 1962, the year I graduated from high school, could not have imagined my life today. But here I am, and here you are, changed, different, learning to adjust. And don’t get too comfortable, because more changes are on the way. “Change is the only constant in life” was first penned by Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher who lived about 500 years before Christ was born. Apparently the ubiquity of change hasn’t changed!

In this everything-is-changing environment, many say that the church also needs to change, perhaps even that Christian beliefs should change. What, exactly, does that mean? What should change? And what should not?

Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God. One of its fundamental characteristics is that it does not change. Imagine! In an environment of chaos, there is something eternal, everlasting, and altogether predictable. When we get up every morning we have no ideas what changes will come that day. The dog may throw up on the carpet. We may meet the person we’ll marry. You just never know. Wouldn’t it be good news to have something that is ageless and utterly dependable? We do: God’s Word.

Yet many question whether there is absolute truth anywhere. I choose to believe what God’s Word says about itself and what Jesus says about it. The Psalms declare, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”[1]  John’s gospel tells us that Jesus is the living Word of God[2] and Hebrews proclaims that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”[3] If you choose to believe this, you are also choosing to believe that Christ and His Word are unchangeable and eternal.

I’m taking the time to lay this quick foundation because it is absolutely essential that we Christians comprehend and embrace it. If we don’t, we’re toast. Here are ten huge mistakes Christians are making.

Mistake Number 1: Ignore the Bible

Christians are in trouble if we don’t know what the Bible says. It is astonishing how few Christians have committed any verses to memory. Many could not tell you how many books are in the New Testament or what they are. We confuse the Bible with colloquial proverbs like, “God helps those who helps themselves.” Many would be hard put to turn to any verses that explain their own salvation. We know it’s in there, but we’re not sure where. Do you read the Bible regularly? Have you read through the Bible? What did Jesus teach about Himself? The Bible is eternal and provides the only sure hope for our future. We ignore it at our peril.

Mistake Number 2: Substitute Reason for Faith.

Repeatedly Scripture tells us that truth is not perceived by wisdom, but by faith.[4] Even so, the Christian belief system is staggering under the onslaught of our culture that demands that we accept its norms as our own. Shockingly, many Christians are buying into this mindset. We believe that the world’s brightest minds understand more than the Bible. If science says it’s true, then it must be so. If God cannot be proved, then maybe…and we wonder. If there are so many religions, then…and we wonder. If so many people say it…and we wonder.  Hear again Paul’s proclamation to a church that was infatuated with sin: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’”[5]

Mistake Number 3: Fail to form a personal relationship with God.

I could never begin to describe what my friendship with God means to me. We are in constant communication. I love him with every fiber of my being. He is my number one encourager and friend. For me Jesus is highly personal and the Holy Spirit is an ever-present helper. Because of this, I want to please him and show him that I love him. I know that He is taking care of me now and always. I can’t wait to meet Him in Heaven. My first priority in the morning is to be with him. It’s not something I have to do. It’s something I get to do! The apostle John writes about this intensely personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “We are writing to you about something which has always existed yet which we ourselves actually saw and heard: something which we had an opportunity to observe closely and even to hold in our hands, and yet, as we know now, was something of the very Word of life himself! For it was life which appeared before us: we saw it, we are eye-witnesses of it, and are now writing to you about it. It was the very life of all ages, the life that has always existed with the Father, which actually became visible in person to us mortal men. We repeat, we really saw and heard what we are now writing to you about.”[6]

In every church I’ve pastored there were people who had no idea this was even possible. For them Christianity was keeping the rules and trying to be good. How tragic!

Mistake Number 4: Pick and choose what you like about Christianity.

Large congregations of Christians meet every Sunday firmly believing that if they serve God that he will bless them with money and cars. Or that every Christian will be healed. Or that Jesus loves people so much that He will abandon the whole redemption thing and just take us all to heaven.[7]

Thomas Jefferson, one of our founding fathers, believed that God had created the world but no longer intervened directly in daily life. “In fact, Jefferson was devoted to the teachings of Jesus Christ. But he didn’t always agree with how they were interpreted by biblical sources, including the writers of the four Gospels, whom he considered to be untrustworthy correspondents. So Jefferson created his own gospel by taking a sharp instrument, perhaps a penknife, to existing copies of the New Testament and pasting up his own account of Christ’s philosophy.”[8]  Sad that such a brilliant man thought he knew more about the Bible than those who were eyewitnesses to Jesus Christ and his teaching!

Are we doing the same thing? Fornication is practiced by unbelievable numbers of Christians. And what is fornication? Sleeping with anyone to whom you are not married. The Bible says it is a sin, period. Society says it isn’t. So we cut out the part of Scripture that condemns our lifestyle.

Mistake Number 5: No Church Attendance

A few years ago we met a couple who, like us, were new in town and looking for a home congregation. They stayed a few months and left. We run into them now and then, but they have stopped looking. The husband who, according to his wife, “studies Greek and Hebrew,” can’t find a church worthy of them. Really?  One gets the idea that he would advise Jesus on his theology.

Finding a group of Bible-believers and meeting with them regularly is essential to your faith. We need the messages (even if they don’t meet our lofty standards), the singing, the scripture, and the fellowship. We need people to pray for us and we need to pray for them. Christians are the body of Christ. If my hand were chopped off it would die without the body to sustain it. We need the discipline of getting up and by so doing tell ourselves that our faith is as important as going to work or watching the Pittsburgh Steelers.

(Look for Part II coming soon)

[1] Isaiah 40:8 (NIV)

[2] John 1:1-14

[3] Hebrews 13:8

[4] 1 Corinthians 1:20-21

[5] 1 Corinthians 1:18-19

[6] 1 John 1:1 J. B. Phillips New Testament

[7] See Luke 13:23-25

[8] Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/how-thomas-jefferson-created-his-own-bible-5659505/#usdk1IlI0PMkwTB6.99