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Posts Tagged ‘respect’

Seriously, think about that for a moment. Actually, I would encourage you to write it down, so that you can really face what it would take to make you happy.

How do you think I would answer that question? Would it be for my cancer to go away? There are at least two problems with that. First of all, it’s not likely to happen. Also, the absence of something (even cancer) does not ensure happiness. So, does this doom me to live whatever time I have remaining without being happy? I don’t believe so. Let me tell you why.

I read a lot during the day, especially when I am weak from chemo and other medications. But it’s at night that I especially enjoy reading. We have an adjustable bed which is very helpful at minimizing both cough and shortness of breath, because it keeps pressure off my lungs.

A couple of weeks ago, I made two relatively small purchases that have already made a significant impact on my life. I spent $69 for a Kindle, and I purchased a floor lamp at Walmart for $35. It uses a fluorescent bulb, and can be directed so that I can read while in bed. So, you’re probably shaking your head in disbelief at the idea that a Kindle and a lamp have made me happy. But you have to understand me. I have always loved to read, and now both the limitations as well as the freedom that have come with my treatment have made that much easier to do. Every night, I go back at 8:30. I raise the head of the bed and read until 10:00 when I normally go to sleep. That time gives me immense pleasure, and I look forward to it. It also helps to relax me, so that when I do go to bed, I tend to be content and in a good mood.

So, what’s the point of my rambling? Just two things. You’re not likely to eliminate all of the stress, hurt, or disappointment from your life any more than I am likely to eliminate cancer from mine. And so you should not waste your time (waste your life actually) waiting for that to happen before you decide to be happy.

It may not be reading for you, but you need to recognize that happiness is not something someone gives you. It doesn’t come from a better marriage, a larger paycheck, a job promotion, or anything external. Happiness is a quality you decide to have. Now you may need a little help. For me it was a Kindle and a lamp. It will probably be something entirely different for you, but I suspect that it will not be whatever you wrote down at the beginning of this exercise.

The reality is that even with all of the trials that go with my treatment, as well as the doubtful outcome, for at least 2-3 hours a day, I can say that I am truly happy. Actually, it’s more than that, because I only mentioned one small thing that gives me pleasure. We didn’t even talk about friends, family, or being able to get out in this beautiful world, even if it’s only for a couple of hours each day. Believe me, I have no illusions that this is permanent. I am all too aware that difficult, probably painful times lie ahead. But for now, cancer and all, I am a happy person, primarily because I choose to be.

Go back to whatever you wrote down that you said would make you happy. I suggest you cross it out and replace it with your equivalent of my Kindle and lamp. Decide what can give you enough pleasure that you will have periods of real happiness in your life. It really is your decision.

 

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On April 15, 2014, I was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Some final tests are being done to determine treatment options, but the oncologist was clear that the goal is not to cure the cancer, but to prolong my life. Obviously, this news will impact the future of this blog in ways that cannot be predicted at this time. However, in whatever time I have remaining, perhaps I can use this experience to encourage my readers.

Most people know the story of actress Valerie Harper, perhaps best known for playing Rhoda on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in January 2013, Valerie encouraged her supporters with the haunting admonition, “Don’t go to the funeral until the day of the funeral — live this day.”

While that may sound very courageous, it is so obviously true. Why should I want to prolong my life, if I don’t intend to live that life fully? There is no way of knowing how long I will live. It may be months; it may be years. But, you know what, that’s true for you also.

If you are a person who prays, as I do, how often do you begin each day by praying something like, “Thank you, God, for another day”? I have done that for years, but it gets to the point that it becomes a ritual. It’s not for me anymore. At least once a day, I stop and look around me at this beautiful world and marvel that I have taken it for granted so often. The next time you pray something like that, stop right in the middle of the prayer. God won’t mind. Take a moment to look at the world. Go outside and marvel at blue sky or even rain and wind. Take a moment to appreciate your family and friends, the miracle of relationships that add beauty and meaning to our lives.

Mainly, I encourage you to live each day. The best way to express your gratitude for this life is to live it in a positive manner. That’s what I intend to do. I have no illusions. Undoubtedly, there will be days of pain, depression, perhaps even doubt and self-pity; I’m human after all. But I am making a conscious resolve to live the rest of my life as a happy person. I have so much to be thankful for, not the least of which are all the friends and family who continue to support me. And if any of you can learn from my experience, so much the better.

“Don’t go to the funeral until the day of the funeral — live this day.”

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Perhaps my imagination is exaggerating a phenomenon, but it seems that I can’t turn on the TV or go to social media without hearing about (and seeing) “selfies.” Okay, it can be a fairly harmless pastime. But like anything we do, it also tells us something about ourselves. Is our culture becoming more narcissistic, or does it just seem that way? I don’t pretend to know the answer to that question, but there are some indicators that seem to send a message.

How many of our commercials are based on improving the outside? Beauty products, weight loss, exercise equipment, plastic surgeries dominate the airways. Did you notice the list includes weight loss and exercise equipment? Aren’t those good things? Yes, if we use them to improve our health. At the same time, these good things (like all things) can be taken to extremes. Dieting can turn to anorexia or bulimia.

I want to avoid the temptation to simply label things as “wrong” or “evil.” Our lives are too complex for those judgments. I do, however, have a concern about the degree to which our culture pushes us to become self-absorbed.

There is a danger that too much indulgence in things such as “selfies” or products that concentrate on developing the physical part of me can lead to the perhaps subconscious idea that “life is all about me.” Perhaps it might be good to take that cell phone camera, and turn it out instead of in. Point it toward those around us who may be dealing with a pain that just won’t go away. They may be hiding it by taking their own “selfies” as a desperate cry for someone to look at them, to value them, to help them deal with struggles they desperately seek to hide, because they’re afraid to reveal their doubts and fears.

I’m not saying we should stop saying “selfies” or that they are an evil practice. But the next time you take a “selfie,” why not then take a few minutes to talk with those around you and genuinely get to know them? Let’s spend less time looking in the mirror and more time really seeing those around us. We just might find that it makes us feel more satisfied and fulfilled too. Maybe there is a selfish motive here after all. I’m willing to risk that. How about you?

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In my weaker moments, I like to think that I am an insightful critic, with a keen intellect and powerful discernment skills. Fortunately, something usually happens to wake me up and reason soon prevails. The truth is that virtually everything I believe, even the principles by which I decide what I believe, are second-hand, received from someone else. This post is a good example of that. The idea came from another blog I read. If you want to read the article that inspired me, you can find it here. I highly recommend it.

http://www.alanknox.net/2013/07/so-what-am-i-against/

How often do we read or hear an idea presented and find ourselves reacting against it? It could be a political idea, a religious doctrine, or just a proposal for widening the street. When I was a young adult I remember a Christian leader who published a magazine whose sole purpose was to expose religious error. Admittedly, I usually disagreed with his arguments, but that’s not the point I wish to make. What struck me even then was the intense negativity of virtually every article he wrote. If you read his magazine, you had no doubt as to the myriad of ideas and doctrines he opposed. I could tell you virtually everything he was against. What was not as apparent, were the doctrines and beliefs he was for.

The next time you hear or read something with which you disagree, try resisting the temptation to frame that disagreement in negative terms, even in your own mind. Instead, turn it around. If you disagree with a certain position, is it just because you disagree, or is it perhaps because you are “for” something else, a different vision which you believe is healthier or more beneficial. Why do you react negatively to the point of theology or doctrine that was presented? Is it just a matter of tradition (“that wasn’t what I was raised to believe”)? If so, perhaps we would do well to consider if the alternative might have merit.

Maybe you are genuinely convinced that there is error in a particular belief. It has been my experience that if this is so, we should normally be able to find a good reason for our opposition, more specifically a positive belief, even a vision for a better, more fulfilling alternative. If we cannot frame the issue in a more positive direction, perhaps we should consider if the intensity of our opposition is justified.

It is perhaps human nature that as we get older, we begin thinking about what kind of legacy we will leave when we are gone. I have determined that I do not want to be remembered for what I was against. I would rather stand for positive beliefs and constructive principles. No, I will never convince everyone, but I would rather spend my remaining time on this earth telling people what I am “for” rather than fighting what I am “against.”

“What are you against?” I would much rather ask, “What are you for?”

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Sacrifice was pervasive in the ancient world. In Israel sacrifices were always animals (with the possible exception of Jephthah’s daughter in Judges 11). In other cultures human sacrifice became a common practice. Often those sacrificed were prisoners of war or slaves. Sometimes, however, parents would even sacrifice one of their own children.

The common thread in all this has to do with the purpose of sacrifice. In every instance someone sacrificed an animal or another person in order to either appease the gods or to receive a blessing from the gods. Sacrifice was at its heart a selfish act. I will sacrifice someone or something else for my own benefit.

One essential message of the New Testament is that God has turned sacrifice on its head. It begins with Jesus, because the heart of the gospel message tells us that Jesus sacrificed Himself for our benefit. I understand that there are a variety of interpretations of the meaning of atonement, but I do not believe any of them change this principle. In some form or another, Jesus sacrificed Himself for us.

But it doesn’t stop there. Paul tells us that we are called to imitate Christ’s sacrificial nature.  In Romans 12:1 he says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God— this is your true and proper worship.” Ephesians 5 and 6 apply this principle to the various social rankings that existed in the ancient world. Yes, wives, children, and slaves are told to submit. [I most certainly do not condone slavery, but that’s a subject for another post.] But go back and read the passage more closely. The thesis sentence begins in Ephesians 5:21 where we read, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” And that principled is applied to all of the various roles. So, wives, children, and slaves are to submit. But wait, Paul gives the same instructions to husbands, parents, and masters. The message is that whatever role in which we find ourselves, we should live our lives in a manner that places the other person’s needs ahead of our own.

Have you ever considered that perhaps God does in fact call for human sacrifice? But how different from the way the peoples of the ancient world understood sacrifice. In fact, how different from how our culture understands it now. Isn’t it routine in the corporate world to advance oneself at the expense of someone else? We have all known husbands or wives who were more than willing to force their spouse to give up their own desires and dreams, so that the other party could get what they wanted.

You see, God’s view of sacrifice is just the opposite of how human beings have typically seen it. Sacrifice is first of all a sacrifice of ourselves. It means giving up what we want for someone else’s good. It also includes a recognition that our very lives are meant to be one continuing sacrifice that we offer in order to advance God’s kingdom on this earth.

Perhaps we think of extreme examples such as Mother Teresa. It would be easy to say that we don’t feel called to that kind of life. But do we have the courage to look at our lives right now? What about that wife I profess to love? Do I see her as being there to serve me, or do I truly try to understand her desires and her needs? Am I willing to give up what I want to make her life more fulfilling?

What about our children? Are they the objects of my ego, or do I really see myself as God’s instrument to raise them to be godly children, who reflect His love because they have seen it demonstrated in me?

God still calls us to human sacrifice. Have you answered that call? Are you willing to start today?

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Last weekend I went to a workshop in Atlanta called “ElderLink.” It’s designed for elders and other leaders in churches. One of the speakers was a man named Randy Harris. He’s a professor of theology, but you would never know it; he didn’t sound at all like a theology professor. One of the freebies participants received was a copy of his book, Living Jesus: Doing What Jesus Says in the Sermon on the Mount. A number of things he said, as well as what he writes in his book, spoke to me. I wish to mention only two.

The first startling revelation is that what we have come to call the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) are not commands; rather they are blessings that were pronounced to a crowd of mostly poverty-stricken peasants, who must have felt anything but blessed. It reminds me of a message I heard from another speaker named Lynn Anderson in the 1970s in which he describes a worn down single mother who came to him after he had preached what he thought at the time was the gospel. Her response spoke volumes. “I’m glad I ain’t a Christian. It’s tough enough just bein’ a sinner.” You see, the beatitudes are not commands (“You had better live like this or else.”). Rather they are the pronouncement of blessings that are available to us from a loving Father.

We could focus on any of the Beatitudes, but one in particular has haunted me this week. It’s verse 9—“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Although Randy Harris is not the first to make the point, what he says is certainly true. “Have you ever noticed that nobody really appreciates a peacemaker? You know, those people who refuse to get drawn into the violence and confusion and hostility of their age, but simply by their presence create peace.” It’s true. Peacemakers are often seen as weak, compromising people with no principles they are willing to stand up for. We really don’t like them.

The advent of social media (including blogs) has made it so easy to put our ideas out to the world. Too often it has taken the form of venom that I am convinced we would never say to a person face-to-face. People forward links to others who spout the venom for them on Facebook or Twitter, without bothering to check the facts at snopes.com or in some other way. In most instances these postings are not true, and so it makes us look gullible and mean-spirited.

I received a second reminder just last night. During a Wednesday night service we read from Psalm 37. I was struck forcefully by verses 7 and 8. “Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for Him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes. Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not lose your temper—it only leads to harm.” (NLT).

I must admit (before someone who knows me reminds me) that being a peacemaker doesn’t always come natural to me. There are so many things going on in this world that I believe are wrong and, left unchecked may bring us to ruin. And it is so easy to respond in anger. But I have decided that I would rather be remembered as a peacemaker than a crusader. And I do want to see it as a blessing, rather than a command. There is so much hatred in this world. Do we really need to add more to it? And if we cannot advance our “causes” without anger, perhaps we should consider whether we are the ones to advance them.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

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Earlier I tried to write a post about the tragedy at Newtown, but even as I wrote it, I recognized how flat it was. I read a number of posts various people have put forth. None of them resonated with me. I determined that I needed to be quiet for a few days. To think; to listen; to pray. We shall never know what complex influences, inner demons, or mental issues combined to drive Adam Lanza to commit these horrible acts. If he had lived, he might have been able to provide an explanation that made sense to him, but I doubt anything he could have said would have satisfied the rest of us.

Out of all the complex emotions I have experienced, one thought keeps coming back to me. In various forms I have said it before, and it is what I would leave you with. We have become a nation in which hate is not only acceptable; often it is considered a virtue. We feel that if our cause is right, we are allowed to hate those who oppose it. Republicans, democrats, gay rights advocates, evangelical Christians, on and on goes the list of people we feel it is okay to hate.

I am a Christian, which means I am commanded by God to love even my enemies. That is not a command to have warm fuzzy feelings about people whose beliefs or practices are repugnant to me. It is a command to love them in the Greek “agape” sense. This means that I wish and will work for the best for every human being I encounter. THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS!

While unconditional love is simple to understand, it can be terribly difficult to practice. Yet we dare not become satisfied with anything less.

We must stop hating other people. It is that simple, and it is that hard.

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