Is emotion the guiding force of our lives?

Last week I was listening to the radio.  The talk show host told a story about a Dutch man who is 69 years old.  In spite of his senior status, the man feels much younger and his doctor told him that he has the body of a man 20 years younger than his actual age.  Rather than feeling content about this revelation, the man has decided to sue his government to make them allow him to change his birth certificate to reflect the age that he feels rather than reflecting the years that he has spent on this earth.  Absolute insanity.

Principle.  The world has thrown it overboard.  I don’t know when it actually happened, but in the last several decades, there has been an increasing progression towards emphasizing how you feel.  Do you feel like a winner?  Well, then you must be one even though you lost.  Do you feel love for your spouse?  Or have life’s troubles made you lose that initial spark?  Forget the commitment that you made.  Throw the bum out.

My daughter teaches in a school overseas.  As a lead teacher for two middle school grades, she is responsible to deal with problems that arise and with parents that may have questions or problem children.  She has had kids that fight with others, that cut themselves, that bully, and that want to commit suicide.  These children have been thrown under the bus by adults who focus everything on how a person feels.  Middle school children are notoriously emotional.  They feel really up or really down; they feel a little wild or don’t even know how they feel.  They have been given no anchor to their soul, nothing to hold onto in the midst of all this frenzy.  So, of course they turn to things like cutting or total despair.  Their feelings have nothing to hold them in.

In years gone by, many couples weathered severely trying times as a couple, times that threatened to tear them apart.  However, even though their emotions were desperately frayed, they had an anchor.  Their commitment was a vow between them.  They stood on that principle and eventually the storm passed and love returned stronger than ever.  My parents were one such couple.  They weathered many such storms, held on for dear life and grew from their experience.  Their marriage lasted 75 years, the last of which they spent holding hands at one another’s side.

Sometimes we feel as though our world has gone insane.  It has.  An emotion that is left to run wild becomes insane.  Principle holds us.  It keeps our emotions from getting the best of us.  When everything tells us to give up, principle is the anchor of our life.  We hold on for dear life and the eternal principle of faith gets us to the other side of the tumult.

Godly principle holds in emotions that have gone astray.  Godly emotions soften principles that are too hard and fast.  Together they bring a person through the choppy seas of this life.  When we arrive at the far shore, we are stronger, wiser, and kinder.  Our principles have guided our emotions and our emotions have become soft and caring, sweet and wise.  I remember the movie, Parenthood, with Steve Martin.  At the end, the couple is riding a wild roller coaster.  That roller coaster that we call life can bring us safely to the end of its journey, but what if there were nothing to hold it back from flinging us off of its highest peak or one of its most dangerous curves?  Principle holds us to the tracks.  Sometimes we need the sheer force of gravity or the security of seat belts to hold us while our familiar world is being shaken.

We must teach our children principles.  It will give them structure to their lives.  They will have the emotions.  The principles will show them the way and carry them through the trials that they will undoubtedly face.  My age is a fact of life.  No feeling that I allow myself to convince my mind that I am twenty years younger than my actual age will change my actual age.  No matter how much I want to be a bird and fly away, I am still in a human body for the rest of my natural life.  To believe that I am a bird and can fly because I feel like one is just insanity.  Believing that lie will not make me a stronger person.  It will just cause me to try to fly out of a tree and fall on my face.  Emotion without principle is just a wisp in the wind.  The slightest puff of wind will blow it away.

   Matthew 24:35 (NIV) Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Isaiah 40:8 (NIV) The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.

Isaiah 41:10 (NIV) “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

 

Building the temple of God

1 Co 3:16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

As Christians, we sometimes neglect to read the Old Testament because we sometimes think either that it is no longer relevant or that Jesus’ life’s work was so overwhelming that we’d rather concentrate on reading about him than delve into those old stories of kings and prophets.  However, the Old Testament stories have so many shadows and prophecies of wonderful things to come that it is sometimes just as overwhelming to read those old stories.

This morning I found myself in just such a situation.  I was listening to a Bible podcast, and the reader was reading from 1 Chr 28.  In this passage, David is at the end of his life, and God has told him that it is not for him to build a house for the Lord, but rather for his son to build it.  David loved the Lord so intensely and had such a passionate desire to build a house for the Lord.  Imagine his disappointment when he could not accomplish it!  Instead, he gathered building materials: gold, silver, brass, iron, wood, and precious stones 1 Chr 29: 2).  He gave his son, Solomon, the pattern for the house.  He did everything that he could possibly do to make it easier for his son to build the temple of the Lord.  He encouraged his son and told him to be strong and of good courage (1 Chr 28:20, 21).  Then he prayed to the Lord and asked him to give Solomon a perfect heart to keep all of God’s commandments, testimonies and statutes.  He blessed the congregation as well.

As I was listening to the story, a beautiful picture began to form in my mind.  Just as David provided everything that his son would need to build the temple and to worship the Lord in the temple, so did our Lord and Savior do for us.  Jesus was not able to finish setting up a glorious kingdom of God on earth.  By that, I mean that it didn’t happen naturally in his lifetime.  During his life, he prepared all of the materials that anyone living after him would need in order to build that temple of God in their hearts.  He left words, advice and even commandments for those who love him to follow so that they might also become his disciples in their sojourn on earth.  He left a pattern to follow.  At the end of his life, just as David prayed for his son, Jesus prayed for his disciples and future sons and daughters and left us beautiful verses in the gospel of John so that we too could know that his kingdom is within and that we can live in this world and yet be kept from the evil of it, so that we too could be one with the Father and have His kingdom living in and through us.

Jesus was not exactly like David.  David was a man of war and had killed many men.  Jesus only warred with spirits, but otherwise was a man of great love and wisdom.  At the same time, David had a passionate love for God.  Likewise, God was the all in all for Jesus.  God was his only love and desire.  Everything he did was to bring out God in the lives of those he met.  What a beautiful treasure he left us!  We can grab onto the raw building materials, which are his words and we can live them and build our own temple for the Lord so that he will live in us as well.  We truly are the temple of the living God and the Spirit of God lives in us (1Co 3:16).  May the Lord’s words and deeds live strongly in your life.  Thank you, Jesus!

A Willow or an Oak?

In the past few years, the supervisory positions at both of the higher ed institutions where I teach as an adjunct have changed hands.  Learning to adjust to new styles of supervision has been both difficult on the one hand and interesting on the other.  At one university, the change was devastating and, within a few months, led to drastic and unwelcome changes that in turn led to the removal of every single one of the longtime teachers (including me).  Thankfully, the changes at the other institution were not so dramatic.  Instead, what has happened there has been both fascinating to watch and amazing to learn from.

The former director of our program at a local community college was an incredible, kind, cheerful, organized and dedicated Christian woman.  Now, there’s a hard act to follow.  We all loved her so and were deeply sorrowful to see her retire to a distant location.  When the new director came on board, we were all skeptical.  I heard that she also was a Christian, but she apparently did not wear her Christianity on her sleeve.  The most visible difference in their styles was instantaneously obvious.  The previous director’s office was constantly and thoroughly organized and tidy.  There was never a stray paper or textbook.  The first time I walked into the same office under the new director, it looked like a bulldozer had come through and left heaps of file folders and books in disorganized and messy stacks on every surface of the room.  It was stunning to me that it could even be the same room.

Personally, my first semester with her did not go very well.  She observed me teaching one day and the class was not exceptionally successful.  It seemed that by the end of the first year, I did not know her much more than I had in the beginning.  Even so, whenever I had a problem with students or entire classes, as I was accustomed to speaking with my directors, I continued to do so with her.  By the end of that year, I felt that I was confiding in her too much and that she might think that I was being overly emotional and perhaps not quite capable of dealing with things myself.

The next school year started and because of another teacher’s sudden illness, she asked me at the last minute to change the class that I was going to teach.  I did and in the end, it worked out quite nicely.  We began to chat more often and she seemed to begin to trust me more.  Now, just this last week, something happened that has become a lesson in my life that I will need to meditate on and work on to implement for years to come.

I stopped by the office the other day to check on the status of a struggling student who had gone to the tutor.  It turned out that the tutor was out, but that my boss had tutored him herself.  We chatted and then the chatting turned to the books we would use for next fall.  She explained that she was studying the books currently being used by different teachers and told me of her frustration with how the books were not fulfilling the needs of the students.  Some were too difficult.  Some were not difficult enough.  Students were not talking enough.  They were not being required to improve their grammar.  Eventually, she shared her frustrations, without naming names, of some of the teaching styles and how some of the levels had no continuity among the teachers at that level and how some of the students were being passed on to the next levels without being ready.  Specifically, she was frustrated by some teachers who were more interested in being liked than in making the tough choices to hold the students to a standard.  I just listened as she continued on.  It seemed as though she really needed to talk it out with someone and it was very clear that she had a vision and she wasn’t going to let it go.  It was almost like a dress rehearsal for the topics to be brought up at our next meeting.

After listening to her express herself, I came to a realization about the two directors and about life as a Christian.  My previous director was a very nice Christian.  She lived her Christianity, listened to students who came to her with their devastating problems.  When they were very low, she was able to sympathize with them and help them get up off the ground.  She cried with them, went out of her way to help them, and prayed with them when it was clear that they wanted her to do so.  She prayed for new students to come and they came.  Just before she retired, I spoke with her and she told me her story, how she came to be director and some of the things that had happened while she was director.  I felt humbled, deeply moved and emotional about her story.  She was a willow tree bending with the wind.  In her own way, bending was her strength and many students responded well to her “willowy-ness.”

However, I can see now that she wanted so much to be a Christian that she allowed some things to continue on unchecked.  She allowed some teachers to have too much freedom in what they taught.  She allowed teachers at the same levels to have apparently different standards.  She was wonderful, but she could only take our program so far.  I’m sure that she prayed that we would get the best new director for our needs.  Our new director was the answer to her prayer.  Our new director is also a Christian, but she has principle.  She can discern what needs to be done and she has the strength to carry it through.  Although she needed to test out her ideas with me to get a little reassurance, or maybe just make it more sure in her sight, she has the strength to stand up to teachers who are used to getting their own way.  She has the strength to say that “this is what we need to do to improve the integrity of our program.”  She is an oak tree.  She sees what is needed and she will do it as kindly, but as firmly as she knows how.

So, there are different kinds of Christians.  Some have so much empathy that they can feel the difficulties that others are facing.  They can get people’s attention and help them to go in the right way just by feeling and understanding and demonstrating their love.  This is a start.  However, to make the nitty gritty changes that will produce real results, you need a Christian with back bone, someone who will stand on principle and not tremble or flee when the earth begins to shake.

I think that sometimes we need a willow.  We especially need a willow when we are at our most fragile.  The willow will give us encouragement and help us to recover from the sometimes seeming cruelty of life.  However, in order to truly progress, we need an oak.  We need someone who is willing to tell us that we’re wrong or that we’re behaving badly.  How can we know these things by ourselves?  Sometimes, when we don’t understand ourselves, we need someone willing to tell us exactly what we are doing wrong.  We need standards that we must abide by.  Only then can we attain to those standards and pull ourselves up higher, one step at a time.  Thank God for both the willow and the oak.  Taking it further, am I willing to be the willow when the situation necessitates it, but in other circumstances, will I be able to be the oak?  Either way, souls are at stake.

A simple solution for a worn out world

There will be regular rains, the land will give you bumper crops, trees will be loaded with fruit long after the normal time and you will have as much to eat as you want and live out your days in peace.

Wow!  Regular rain, year after year of success in gardens and farms, plenty to eat and a peaceful world without fear.  Who doesn’t want that?  Who among us would say he or she wouldn’t want that?  Is it too boring to have peace and safety?  Is it too mundane to have bumper crops year in and year out?  So, what’s the catch?  Isn’t there always a catch?

Yes, there is a catch, but it’s not expensive, nor is it egregious.  All you have to do is to love God your Father who provides these things freely to his obedient children.  You have to obey his commandments.  You have to love your fellow man who is your brother and your sister, who also a child of God.

The first paragraph above comes from the book of Leviticus, chapter 26.  The Old Testament is filled with rules and regulations.  Jesus boiled all of them down to two.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind.”  “Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.”  If you obey these laws, all those other ones fall into place.  You won’t steal from someone that you love as much as yourself because you don’t like to have things stolen from you.  You won’t punch him, kill him, hate him, lie to him, lie about him, take his wife or do other mean things to him because you don’t like those things either.

Our world is falling apart fast.  The daily headlines are enough to fill our hearts with terror.  We need to take hope and make that hope the anchor of our lives.  There are solutions but the ultimate solution always comes back to those two commandments spoken by Jesus.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind.”  Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.”  Jesus said it best.  You can’t improve on that.

The Kingdom of Heaven is within!

I have a relative that lives on an island in the Caribbean.  He has often said that he lives in paradise.  During the night on Tuesday, his paradise was demolished.  He lost everything but his dog and his life.  We are extremely grateful that his life was spared.

Many stories emerged this week that make it abundantly clear that the earthly places that we equate with paradise can be destroyed.  However, the true paradise, the Kingdom of Heaven, will never be destroyed.  If it dwells within you, it is your life and can never be taken from you no matter the circumstances.

It will be like the house built upon the rock.  When wind and storm and rain beat against it, nothing, no storm and no attack from hell, can tear it down.

United we stand?

On September 9, 1776, the congress representing the group of colonies that made up this country at that time decided to call it the United States.  However, ever since its inception, this country has been tested as to the meaning of its name.  Although the founders held deep convictions and high ideals for this country, there were already deep divisions in our unity, specifically over what to do about slavery.  That crack widened until we fought a bitter civil war over the issue.  Even since the end of that war, the divisions have persisted.

Over time, those divisions have branched out from the issue of slavery and new divisions have been created.  Nowadays, our congress cannot even agree on the simplest of issues.  I read in this morning’s paper a comment by a young man of 27.  He said, “My generation can’t talk to each other.  They don’t want to hear another perspective.  If you label yourself a conservative or a libertarian, they don’t want to talk to you.”  (“What of Civil War Re-Enactments,?” Hartford Courant, 9-5-2-17)  What is wrong with us and why can’t we even have a civil conversation to discuss the issues?! The crack is widening and there seems to be no way to bridge the gap.

However, God is giving us a chance.  Unfortunately, the times that we come together end up being the worst of times and yet the best of times.  Disasters somehow make us forget politics and opposing opinions and bring us together in a common goal of survival.  The experience of Houston, Rockport, Wharton and Port Arthur has both horrified and softened the hearts of Americans across the nation.

I believe that everyday Americans would welcome a change from the divisive rhetoric streaming off the airwaves.  Another huge storm is heading our way.  Hurricane Irma.  Hopefully, we will rise to the occasion once again and pitch in to pick up the pieces that are left in its wake if indeed it ends up taking direct aim at us, but why do we need a monster storm to force us to do that?

A house divided against itself cannot stand.  We know this to be a truth.  We have to come together.  We have to be willing to listen to one another.  We have to work together if we want to ensure the survival of our country for the future.  We can do it without another storm.  Teach young people to discuss.  Be an example of civil discussion. Listen first.  Listening doesn’t cost a thing.

Doers of the Word

 

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This morning I was walking along and came across this scene.  There is one guy down in the hole working hard at digging the hole deeper.  Five guys, some with clipboards, are watching him work.  There must be a reason why they need five to watch and one to work and yet it seems a little absurd.  To me, this picture illustrates one of the many problems in our society.  We are becoming top heavy.  My mother had a saying stenciled on the wall in front of our kitchen sink.  It is no longer politically correct to use this saying, but when we were children it plainly let us know that there were: “Too many chiefs, not enough Indians.”  Therefore, we’d better get to work!

It seems that everyone wants to be the boss these days and very few want to do the hard physical work.  The bosses give themselves large raises while maintaining the poverty of those few who are doing the labor for which the bosses are being paid.  It’s true that we need administrative help, but do we need so much of it?  One of my relatives works at a small private high school.  He told me this summer that due to recent hiring practices, his school now has thirteen administrators but only eight teachers.  How is that possible?  No wonder tuition is going up nationwide.

It’s not just a problem in our schools and in our nation.  It’s a spiritual problem as well.  James 1:22 warns us not to be that way.  “Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”  This Scripture tells us that if we stand around and do nothing while other people are fulfilling God’s will, we are deceiving our own selves.  God wants people of action.  He doesn’t want people who stand around watching and commenting on what others do.  He wants people who will live their faith and who are not afraid to get their hands dirty.  There probably will be plenty of commentary from the watchers.  “You should have done it this way.  Why did you do that?”  But if our motives are to follow after God’s will for our lives, we will be in the right way.

Just as the man digging in the picture is possibly getting a lower salary than those watching him work, we might never receive any kind of natural benefit in this world for doing God’s will. Even so, God is faithful.  Verse 25 tells us, “a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.”  Verily, there is a reward for the righteous.