Posts Tagged ‘gratitude

24
Dec
19

Special Delivery

amazon-package-on-sorting-belt“In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:6, NRSV

The doorbell rang. I hopped up from my place on the couch, headed over to the front door to open it.

No one was there, of course. I say “of course” because this is the Christmas season after all.

Our unknown visitor approached the house, dropped off a cardboard box emblazoned with the familiar Amazon smile logo, and departed to continue on with his (or her) endless list of package deliveries.

Suddenly reassured that we were not about to be visited by Jehovah’s Witnesses, a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman, or a nefarious prankster, my attention turned completely to the box o’ Christmas goodies.

I immediately forgot all of the invisible people – ending with that delivery driver – who made this moment of Christmas magic happen. I no longer saw the person who studied all of the options and carefully chose THIS ONE from the website. I overlooked the person in the warehouse who printed the order, the one who retrieved it from the shelf, the one who packed it, labeled it, put it in the shipping queue, and that certain someone who loaded it on the truck.

As I sat there, gleefully tearing open my box, I became voluntarily blind to the long list of people who made that moment possible.

And I am not at all proud to admit it, but that is the way it is most of the time for me. I hungrily receive the gifts God pours at my feet without a moment’s thought about the litany of collaborators involved in bringing them to me.

Today Joan and I prepare to enjoy a quiet, low-key version of Christmas at our new home in Colorado. There will be some food, there will be carols, there will be cookies, presents under the tree, and a time of worship where we remember what this season is really all about.

And for every element of that celebration – even in its most unassuming form – there is a long supporting cast of characters who helped make it all happen.

So today I want to pause a moment and say, “Thank you. I see you…” to:

  • Delivery drivers
  • Police officers
  • City utility workers
  • Hospital staff
  • Maintenance workers
  • Pastors
  • Church secretaries
  • Church musicians
  • Pilots
  • Air traffic controllers
  • Radio and TV announcers
  • Highway crews
  • Retail clerks
  • Website designers

… and countless other people working unnoticed and largely unacknowledged to make sure the rest of us have a chance to experience the joy of this holiday season.

I also want to pray a prayer of hope for those who agonize over the absence of departed loved ones during the Christmas season. May you experience a spark of healing today… even if it is tiny.

21
May
19

How is your HT/WT?

ContentmentWhen was the last time you checked the HT/WT ratio of your life?

Just in case my question is a little obtuse, let me explain. I am referring – of course – to your “Have to/Want to” ratio… the relationship between the things you do during your day because you HAVE TO do them and the things you do because you WANT TO.

I think each of us probably strives for something like a 0/100 ratio. That is, we hope everything we do is something we do because we want to… even if we have to do it.

I have to eat… but I also want to eat. I have to brush my teeth… but I also want to. I have to write a sermon every week (because – you know – I’m a pastor), but I also want to.

I certainly have a whole host of things on my “Have to… don’t really want to” list, including:

  • Exercise
  • Lawn mowing
  • Shaving
  • Bill paying
  • Weed pulling
  • Poop Scooping
  • TV news-watching

… and trust me when I tell you the list goes on.

Most of us, I would guess, fluctuate somewhere within 10-15 points of the 50/50 line on any given day. But I have also talked to some folks who tell me they feel like they are living 100/0 lives where EVERYTHING is a “have to” and nothing is a “want to.”

Another word for the “have to/want to” ratio might be CONTENTMENT.

JOY works also.

Sometimes we can fall into the trap of believing that a change in the outward circumstances of our lives will be the key to improving our HT/WT ratio. We say things like, “If I could only find a different job/place to live/set of friends I would be a lot happier and more content.”

As a person on the brink of retirement, I often catch myself saying, “Once I retire, I’ll be able to do WHATEVER I WANT TO… all day long.”

And while it is true that I will be able to have MORE of the “want to’s” every day, there will still be quite a few “have to’s.” I will still have to exercise… still have to mow my grass… still have to scoop poop. (Unless, of course, I can somehow train the dogs to use the toilet! Hmmmm…)

While we scour the shelves of the “How To…” books, attend seminars, and engage expensive therapists to help us figure out ways to boost our WT numbers in relation to our HTs, the answer has been right there all along: staring us in the face.

Some wise guy once said, “The key to happiness lies not in getting what you want, but in wanting what you get.”

Socrates put it this way: “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” 

What it really boils down to is the ancient virtue of GRATITUDE… Being grateful for every day, every relationship, every task, and every breath that enters our lungs. In fact, I am willing to bet there is someone in the world right now who would be tickled to death to have the task of cleaning up his/her back yard after their dog(s).

To emphasize the importance of gratitude, the Bible repeats the command to “give thanks” a total of 61 times in both Old and New Testaments. 1 Thessalonians gets a little more extreme when it tells us to: “… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”(1 Thess. 5:18, NRSV).

That’s right: ALL circumstances.

Even when you are working out.

Even when you are mowing the lawn.

Even – I suppose – when you are scooping poop.

16
Apr
19

Where is the Justice?

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

– Isaiah 55:8-9

Panera bread picYesterday was a truly gorgeous day here in the Kansas City area.

Yes, the weather was a perfect 78 degrees, sunny, with a gentle easterly breeze, rustling the newly leafing branches of the trees.

THAT was a genuine delight.

But what made the day especially lovely was the news my wife and I heard from her oncologist.

Yesterday we found out that after five months of chemotherapy, major, invasive surgery, and untold hundreds of prayers, Joan’s scans showed NOTHING.

As in, NADA, zero, zip, bupkis tumors or cancerous presence in her body.

It was the result we had been hoping and praying for but had not dared speak aloud.

THANK YOU, JESUS! And thank you SCIENCE! And thank you wonderful, caring medical professionals!

And so, since we were only two blocks away from a Panera Bread store – and since it was nearly lunchtime – we decided to celebrate with a fresh, tasty lunch.

And then as we finished our lunch and stepped outside, back into the beautiful day God had provided, I thought about my great-grandparents.

Honestly, I am not sure why they entered my mind at that moment. As far as I know, I never met any of my great-grandparents.

No matter why I thought of them, here is HOW they entered my framework at that moment. As Joan and I stepped out the door of Panera I thought, “Wow! We have just received a clean bill of health from a disease that only three generations ago would have probably been a death sentence for someone. And we followed that up by rather effortlessly enjoying a delicious, well-prepared meal… a meal that would have required monumental efforts by my great-grandparents to prepare.”

I then realized that the only difference between MY outcomes and my great-grandparents’ outcomes was the entirely accidental timing of my birth.

1951 vs. 1851.

And I thought, “Oh, what a MASSIVE difference 100 years makes.”

Faced with such a disparity in outcomes – based on something as arbitrary and capricious as a birthday – the natural question I was prompted to pose is: where is the justice?

How is it that such a minuscule span on history’s timeline can mean such a huge discrepancy in overall quality of life? How does that square with any notion of fairness?

Or we could widen our lens a bit and ask the question of geographical justice. We could ask, “How is it that a child born today in one part of the world can have such an enormously higher chance of survival and good health than a child born in another part?”

Or in an example that hit very close to home for us this week: “How can it be even remotely just that a family member who has successfully battled back from breast cancer can suddenly die in her sleep from cardiac arrest?”

Or – apropos of yesterday’s news – how cruel and unjust was it to watch the great cathedral of Notre Dame burning on the Monday of Holy Week?

What did ANY of these people do to earn these outcomes… either the good ones or the bad ones? How do any of us hope to understand the notion of JUSTICE in such a twisted setting as this?

And alas… I find that the longer I sit and stew over this question, the further and further I drift from any sort of answer. The paltry power of these three pounds of grey matter inside my skull is clearly no match for this cosmic conundrum.

As reason escapes, I find I am left only with a decision; the decision of how to live in a world like this. Will I choose to live as if I am forever the butt of some cruel joke… always looking around, expecting either the chair or the rug to be pulled out from under me, for the amusement of some Celestial Prankster?

Or will I choose to live in faith… accepting the reality of the utter unsearchableness of the universe, yet confident that behind all of it there is a loving, compassionate Hand that holds me, protects me, provides for me, and comforts me… even in those times when nothing seems to make a lick of sense.

The message of Easter is ALWAYS relevant, but maybe it becomes even more relevant during times of confusion, heartache, and a temptation toward cynicism.

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”
– Luke 24:5, NRSV

The message of the empty tomb is meant to remind ALL of us that the worst thing is never the last thing… that even when we can’t see it or understand it, we are surrounded and sustained by love.

… and that there will never be anything in the world more powerful than LOVE.

 

Holy Week blessings to each of you.

10
Aug
18

A Supernatural Stillness

PhonelessnessOh, the horror of it!

Honestly, I’m not sure how I made it through. It was without a doubt the longest 35 minutes of my life.

Thankfully though, I am still here to tell the tale. Shaken, but not overcome. Tested, but still standing.

What was this baptism by fire I was forced to endure, you might ask… this supreme challenge… this Waterloo of the soul?

If you’re ready, I’ll tell you. Brace yourself: Yesterday, at about 4:30 p.m., I left the house to take Rosie on her afternoon walk… AND DID NOT TAKE MY PHONE with me!

There I was, with absolutely NO ability to pull up the weather radar and check on the progress of the approaching thunderstorm.

  • … Completely cut off from access to the Royals’ starting line-up for that night’s game.
  • … with NO WAY to look at vital emails that might have arrived in the last 10 minutes that – no doubt – might have had the power to change my life…
  • … NO HEADPHONES piping music into my skull as I walked.
  • … ISOLATED from the power to send or receive texts from friends or family. Or complete strangers, for that matter.
    • I mean, honestly… what if during that time my wife had paused her shopping cart and texted, “Hey, just finishing up here at Target. Do you need anything?” What then smart guy??

It was an eerie reminder of what life in the dark ages of the mid-90s was like.

How did I handle this frightening situation, you no doubt are wondering. What kind of coping skills did I draw on?

At the risk of making this episode sound a whole lot less heroic than I want you to believe, I am forced to admit that it was actually kind of nice.

  • I found myself taking a much closer look at the rich variety of weeds, plants, and trees growing by the side of our path.
  • I made actual eye contact and offered a greeting to other people out enjoying their own afternoon strolls.
  • I was able to listen to the mid-August song of the cicadas trilling their monotone notes.
  • And – wonder of wonders – I was prompted by the silence to pause in prayer and thank God for the rich palette of life spread out there before me.

I am not really sure I would call yesterday’s phoneless moment an epiphany by any stretch. But it was definitely a moment I wanted to repeat again… SOON.

It was one of those (sadly) rare, unfiltered, uncurated times when I found myself freed from my customary layers and layers of digital buffering.

It was a moment when I inhaled pure life and exhaled gratitude.

It was also a moment that brought me into close contact with a necessary humility, reminding me of my status as CREATURE, not CREATOR.

In spite of all of that, it is highly likely that when I wake up tomorrow I will still be the guy who loves to listen to music, look at weather radar, sports results, emails, and texts from friends on my phone.

But hopefully I will also be a little more of the Psalm 46:10* guy I was there for a brief moment.

 

Abundant blessings;

 

 

* “Be still, and know that I am God…”

28
May
18

Remembering. And Giving Thanks

GravestonesWhen you grow up – as I did – in the state of Ohio, a mere one state east of the state of Indiana, Memorial Day only meant ONE THING: listening to the Indianapolis 500 auto race on the radio. OK, make that TWO THINGS: add cranking up a batch of homemade ice cream on the back porch to the list. And most of the time there was also a big family picnic down by the river to cap off the day.

As a kid, I always thought of the Memorial Day weekend just a fun-filled beginning to the time of summer vacation. But all of that changed when some of my high school buddies were drafted and went off to the war in Vietnam. If you are old enough to remember that war, you also remember that it was not a war that the whole country rallied around and supported very well.

But despite the Vietnam War’s unpopularity, I remember that each of those young men from my hometown of Hilliard, Ohio who left to go fight were proud to go and convinced it was the right thing to do.

Most of those guys came back. But sadly, several did not. And because this was a small town, I knew the families of every one of the young men who were killed in that war, half a world away, fighting for something they believed in. And from that moment on, Memorial Day took on a whole new meaning for me.

Yes, I have continued to listen to the Indy 500; won this year, incidentally, by an Australian. Yes, I have continued to enjoy homemade ice cream, family picnics, and Opening Day of the community swimming pool. But underneath all of the fun and festivity of the holiday, I found that my eyes had been opened to a new understanding of the true meaning of this beloved national holiday.

And looking back, I realize I also received a new understanding of what this country is all about, too.

You see, before I saw those bright, promising young men of my hometown come home in coffins, the word “sacrifice” was really not part of my vocabulary. I honestly thought a “sacrifice” meant having to wait patiently for an hour and a half for your ice cream instead of being able to eat it from the carton right away.

The young men of Hilliard taught me that the principle of “voluntary self-sacrifice” is the TRUE foundation on which this country is – and has always been – built. Through them, I learned that the real secret and magic of this country is the people who put the needs of OTHERS on a higher level than their own. It is about people who ask, “What can I give?” instead of “What can I get?”Our country is built on the backs of the people who say, “YES!” without hesitation when asked to give 100% of their body, mind, and soul to a cause. Just like these men you see before you here today.

This basic truth is what led President John F. Kennedy to famously state, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

As stirring and as profound as Kennedy’s statement is, followers of Jesus Christ immediately recognize that it is simply a restatement of a message he spoke over 2,000 years ago. As Jesus was preparing his disciples for his coming death, he gathered them around and said to them, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who sacrifice their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”(John 12:24-26, NRSV).

So yes… today let’s celebrate that the United States of America is the land of the free. Let’s remember that this country is the greatest demonstration the world has ever seen of the strength that comes from diversity. It is the “shining city on a hill” rich with natural resources, hard-working people, and an unbreakable spirit.

But without the willingness of men and women to serve and pay the ultimate price for unseen future generations, we are just one nation among many.

With their sacrifices, the men and women buried here gave us the lives we are able to live today. We owe them more than we can ever possibly repay.

Let us each pledge today that we will NEVER, EVER take that gift for granted.

14
Feb
18

“This is not a test…”

hawaii-missile-alertSometimes it takes a nuclear missile attack warning – in this case, fortunately, issued in error.

Sometimes it takes the firm hand and raised voice of a **loving** spouse that keeps you from stepping absentmindedly into traffic.

Sometimes it takes the grave look and furrowed brow of the family physician.

Sometimes it takes nothing more than a kind of “dumb luck” that makes us pause before entering the intersection where a knucklehead just ran a red light.

Sometimes though, on a day like today, it requires a smudge of black ash on the forehead and the solemnly intoned phrase, “Dust to dust,” to remind us of the utter fragility of life.

Every day life is fragile.

Every day life is precious.

Every day you and I are unstoppably mortal… only a breath or two away from eternity.

ash wednesdayBut today – Ash Wednesday – we are invited to celebrate and give thanks – not just for these fragile lives of ours but for the fragility itself.

Praise God from whom all mortality flows!

Praise God all creatures here below.

04
Jul
17

Be Free!

freedom picToday is the Fourth of July. It is the day to celebrate freedom.

For the most part when we talk about freedom, we mean political freedom:

  • We mean the ability to freely and democratically elect our leaders without pressure or fear of reprisal.
  • We mean the ability to freely speak our minds about the state of our country and her leaders… even if that speech is critical.
  • We mean the ability to travel from one place to another without restriction.
  • We mean the ability to worship – or not worship – in the style we choose.

These freedoms are precious and fragile and TOTAL. Citizens of the United States are blessed to enjoy 100% of each of these freedoms. They have been obtained by the willing sacrifice of women and men throughout our country’s history. We should never come to take them as entitlements or guarantees, but rather be grateful for them on each of the other 364 days of the year.

And yet, as I use this time off to reflect on the topic of freedom, I realize there are freedoms in my life besides political freedoms. True, these are not the freedoms we typically celebrate on the Fourth of July, but they are certainly worth pondering.

There is our mental/emotional freedom. Or another way to describe it is freedom from fear, anxiety, resentment, and anger.

There is freedom from compulsion. Can any of us truly say we are completely liberated from those nagging little (or sometimes not so little) habits that show up over and over again?

There is economic freedom… or more accurately the freedom from worry about how we will eat, clothe, shelter, or support ourselves.

Finally there is spiritual freedom… also known as “… the peace that surpasses all understanding.” (Phil. 4:7, NRSV). The freedom from the forces of darkness and despair.

I count this freedom as the greatest – and also the most accessible – freedom of all. This is the freedom that prompted Christian mystic Julian of Norwich to say, “All shall be well. All manner of things shall be well,” and Horatio Spafford to pen the words to the hymn, It Is Well with My Soul in 1873.

A long time ago we decided that it was fitting and proper to set aside a day of national celebration in honor of our political freedoms. It is good that we routinely remind ourselves of their preciousness and importance… and of the sacrifices made by countless men and women to obtain them.

Somehow I have not figured out the connection between overeating, amateur incendiary devices and political freedom, but who am I to argue?

But today I wonder… how and when will I celebrate those other freedoms? How will I – or any of us – choose to express an appropriate level of gratitude for the spiritual freedom Christ died to give us? How will we choose to make a point of setting aside time and space to say, “Thank you, Jesus!” for breaking the chains of sin and death?

Paul reminded us in Galatians 5:1 that FREEDOM was at the very heart of Jesus’ mission when he said, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal. 5:1, NRSV).

So yes… get out and gather with friends and family today. Shoot off some firecrackers… grill some hot dogs, crank some homemade ice cream and splash around in the pool (weather permitting).

But don’t forget to spend part of the day on your knees giving thanks for ALL of the freedoms you enjoy.

Abundant blessings…




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