Monday, January 11 2021
“Absurd times call for absurd amounts of love.”
Good afternoon, friends. It’s me, Pastor Thomas. I hope you haven’t forgotten me. After years of this (mostly) weekly ministry the past month has been a mess. First, my COVID positive test, then a week later my wife’s positive test, then my grandmother’s death (at 109), then a New Year’s out of town. I’m not making excuses, merely trying to express my exasperation. Hopefully, things will return to a respectable rhythm. Anyway, let’s try to get to it.
Speaking of respectable rhythms, would anyone say that 2021 has begun in a way you would like to continue? I dare say I would get no takers. The uptick in the COVID spread and the chaos in the Capital caused this start of the year to be as crazy and absurd as one could imagine. Every day seems to bring some kind of new absurdity. But here we are.
Many among us are like deer; we freeze when shocked or surprised. I have no judgement for “freezers”; sometimes I do, too. But what I find to be consistent is that shocks and surprises that freeze is are typically of the negative sort: 9/11, Oklahoma City, Pearl Harbor, COVID, heart attacks, death of loved ones, etc., etc., etc. You know what I mean. Big, bad things happen and we are shocked. The absurdity of the moment imbalances our inner ears of action. “What to do?”
Montague reminds us that the best action in absurd times (which surely describe our current times) is an absurd amount of love. It would take more space and time than I have to give today, but simply asked, does anyone think more negativity, anger and hate like we’ve seen recently will help? I sure don’t. None of us can love effectively outside of our spheres of influence, but in our spheres we can love abundantly and absurdly. And make huge differences.
These are absurd times, for sure. But don’t freeze, and don’t resort to negative thoughts and/or behaviors. Trust the eternal truth: love is the answer. And go big! Have a wonderful week!
Monday, December 21 2020
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.
Good afternoon, friends! Greetings! It’s the week of Christmas and I hope you are ready. It is a Christmas like nonother, but shouldn’t it always be? Still, let’s get to it.
My quote for today is obviously a bible quote, but my point today is not a sermon. My point is to honor the positive message of the angels at a time when we all could use a bit of positivity.
For context, the Hebrew world of the time was pretty abysmal. The average Hebrew struggled to live, bearing the weight of the occupying Roman world. The average life was barely above that of a slave. Fear was rampant, hope was a dream, and light was hard to see anytime in the future. And in the middle of all this struggle came this angel.
We all struggle sometimes, but not like these Hebrews. Our struggles seem to be of a smaller scale than multi-generational. But in our minds we tend to escalate our struggles to magnificent proportions. And in the doing of such we tend also close the doors to hope and good news. Whether it is a loved one’s declining health, or a dead-end job, or a personal challenge, darkness seems to have an easy time winning.
But the message of the angel here appears to remind us that darkness is never permanent, and that all light needs is a crack or a crevice to break through. That’s what the shepherds experienced. They were at the right place and the right time to see the light break through the darkness of the time, the good news for all people. No one was expecting it. No one was ready. But all the light needed was a chance.
As you consider our world today maybe you are overwhelmed by the darkness. Maybe the season seems more than a bit negative. Or perhaps the barrage of news seems to defeat any hope you have. Do not be afraid. There is good news aplenty. And in my faith, good news has a name: Jesus. And I understand him to be the Christ, the Lord. And he makes the angels sing, and he can bring light to your darkness today.
Merry Christmas, friends. I won’t be with you for the next two weeks, but I’ll be back with you on Monday, January 11.
Monday, December 14 2020
"Nothing I accept about myself can be used against me to diminish me."
Good morning, friends, and thank you for the grace last week. I was out of town Monday, then Tuesday fell sick for the rest of the week. Let’s just forget last week! Let’s get to it!
Any adult learns the hard way through childhood and youth the power that damaging words can have on you. Who among us hasn’t had someone call us names, unjustly judge us, angrily berate us? And who among us hasn’t been the name caller, the judge, or the one who berates? Last night we watched the Charlie Brown Christmas episode. For the first time I saw it with new eyes.
Throughout the entire episode Charlie Brown is treated horribly. He gets the full measure of name calling and anger, and over and over he repeats those words to himself. At his young age he is learning the very hard way to accept himself gracefully and certainly not see himself through the eyes of his quite mean friends. Have you ever learned that lesson? I know it remains a challenge for me.
But once we begin to understand ourselves honestly and clearly see ourselves, both the good and the bad, we gain a measure of peace that nothing else can match. I’m not suggesting you see yourself the way you are judged. But wouldn’t it be helpful to know your strengths, and also understand that you are far from perfect in many ways? Then, when the slings and arrows of life come your way they have no soft tissue of delusions to hit.
I don’t know if Charlie Brown ever got there. I know how hard it is for me to progress there. Yet “there” is a place of self-awareness and acceptance that beckons us all. And peace is the prize. Have a wonderful week!
Monday, November 30 2020
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
John F. Kennedy
Good morning, friends! I hope your Thanksgiving experience was wonderful in some way and safe in every way. We live in challenging times, but these are our times. Now, let’s get to it.
I understand that I am a wordy person. It’s not just that I love words; I treasure them. And as the great philosopher Sting once wrote (no pun intended), “Poets, priests and politicians, have words to thank for their positions.” So I accept the power that words play in my life. But I also understand that words have limited power in important ways, maybe in the most important ways.
One of the most eventful experiences of my work is the funeral. Emotions are high and deep. In many cases we are at our very most vulnerable. And I find words to be the least effective tools in these times. No one ever remembers the words of a funeral. What we remember are the actions. Who was there? Who helped me in some way when I was most down? These actions stick with us.
I’m not suggesting that words don’t matter; they do! We long to hear kind words, affirming words, sincere words and more. We know how good words can be. And how bad. But we also know that words are not the best expression of any emotion, thought or idea. Actions are.
The former President speaks of the connection between gratitude and action. Did you think of that connection last week? As you were counting your blessings as thankfulness, did you equally count your opportunities to show thankfulness as well as speak it? That’s the challenge. We default to words when we should be aspiring to actions.
So the next time an idea, or an emotion, or anything that calls words from you arises, challenge yourself to think of any action or three that might convey the same point. And this time default to the actions. You may begin a trend that will change your life. Have a wonderful week!
Monday, November 23 2020
“The secret of your success is determined by your daily agenda.”
John C. Maxwell
Good morning, friends! I hope your weekend was blessed in many ways. Mine was a bit crazy, but today is a new day. Let’s get to it!
Success is a topic I’ve studied off and on for 35 years. From the time I started college in earnest I’ve been fascinated by less the question of who is successful and more by the question of why were they successful. And what I’ve learned has both fascinated me and formed me. It all has to do with the matter of magnitude.
We tend to view success through the lens of greatness, which is not entirely the same thing. Still, big successes are complicated matters; it takes a ton of factors, all working together in the right way. No one can predict or plan for great success. All one can do is prepare for and plan for the near future. On the other extreme, the success that is reachable for every one of us is the experience mostly affected by our own efforts.
· If you (or I) move effectively every day for one year, regardless of whatever else happens, we will be far healthier.
· If you (or I) consistently make simple choices that have a long-term view, instead of immediate satisfaction, we will have greater wealth.
· If you (or I) reach out to people in friendly ways every day for years we will have more quality relationships than we can count.
· If you (or I) seek self-improvement every day for one, two, or ten years we will climb ladders we once thought too high.
If you are looking closely, you should notice that the key to everyday successes that are important for your life is your daily agenda, or, put another way, daily habits. What you do today, intentionally, and tomorrow, and every day after that affects your life in the most powerful ways, certainly in ways you control.
ü Did you begin today with a success-oriented agenda?
ü Do you have ideas of the successes you want?
ü What would be a good habit for tomorrow to enable success?
Remember this: you are far more in control of the everyday, ordinary successes that matter to your life than anything else. It’s your habits, or daily agenda, that make the difference. Nothing else. Get to it!
And happy Thanksgiving!
Monday, November 16 2020
“If you don’t sow, you don’t reap. You don’t even have a chance.”
Good afternoon, friends! I hope you are blessed today. Actually, I know you are blessed today; what I really hope is that you know it, and show it. But on to bigger things. Let’s get to it.
The older I get (and at 55 I do feel old…) the more I realize that the most important truths in life are pretty simple, pretty few and pretty powerful. We clutter our lives with so many cliches and truisms that we too often forget what is of most importance. I’m on a quest to remember and reflect those most important, simple truths.
And today’s truth is a perfect example. Reaping and sowing. The apostle Paul famously said, “A person will reap what they sow.” That truth is so simple it can stand up to the one of the most basic mathematical theories we all learned, the commutative property. In case you have forgotten, when adding or multiplying numbers, the order of the numbers will not affect the outcome of the solution. 2 x 3 = 6 just as much as 3 x 2 = 6. The same is true for our quote.
You reap what you sow. If you don’t reap, you don’t sow. Both equally true, but not equally remembered, kind of like the commutative property (it’s OK if you didn’t remember it.). Why does this simple truth matter? Because our lives are incredibly dependent on our sowing, completely dependent perhaps. Whatever you are experiencing in your life, in any measure or any area, you have and/or are sowing it. You reap what you sow. Conversely, if you want anything other than what you are experiencing, you MUST begin to sow it. If you don’t, you won’t reap.
You may be struggling with my simplicity today, but I promise you that you likely have some “wants” or even “needs” that are not being met in your life. And you may be blaming the lack on someone else, or some circumstance, or God knows what else. I’m reminding you it’s a business of reaping and sowing. And it isn’t too late.
To quote Mr. Rohm, if you want even a chance at something, anything, you’d better get to the business of sowing it. Otherwise, the harvest will be pretty dead. But if you do, the chances are great you’ll have a nice harvest. That’s incredibly simple stuff, but even more incredible is how often I forget it. Now you know, and have a wonderful week!
Monday, November 09 2020
“It is the mother of gratitude that gives birth to happiness.”
Good morning, friends, and thank you for welcoming me back! Last week our internet was out for a few days after the big storm rolled through town, but I’m back at it and here it is! Let’s get to it!
Only once is my ministry have I seen more clearly the grand interplay of scripture and my world: 9/11. In that case it was evil. Anyone with eyes could see it, and I consider myself naïve for not seeing it all the time, but for that week I saw it clearly. Recently I’m having another “eyes opened” experience and kicking myself for being slow. This time it is happiness, or joy, whatever the word, the feeling of goodness inside. What I’m seeing is how cheaply we value our inner goodness and therefore give it away for nothing.
The quote-master for today cobbled together three common “traps” of our happiness. They are not thieves; we give our inner goodness away for little or nothing. What are the supposed traps? Postponing happiness, making others happy first, and contrast/comparison. I’m sure there are other traps, but these will do for the most part.
Postponing happiness is the idea, “I will be happy when…” When? When get more money, or reach a goal, or rid myself of some hindrance, or anything really that is in the future. Making others happy first is self-evident. And contrast/comparison is placing our happiness in the hands or experience of someone else. With the recent election I’ve witnessed many people gain a new happy face, and many other people lose their happy face. Ironically, this awareness makes me sad.
Before I go too far, let me get to the point. Value to the highest degree your happiness/joy. Be aware of the traps that can easily diminish it, and don’t give your happiness away for nothing. Happiness traps are everywhere! Be grateful and protective, and live a better life with your inner goodness glowing. And have a wonderful week!
1 John 4:4
Monday, October 26 2020
"You are where you are today because you stand on somebody’s shoulders. And wherever you are heading, you cannot get there by yourself. If you stand on the shoulders of others, you have a reciprocal responsibility to live your life so that others may stand on your shoulders. It’s the quid pro quo of life. We exist temporarily through what we take, but we live forever through what we give."
Good morning, friends! We’re in the home stretch, and I’ll just leave it at that. As for us, let’s get to it.
In recent years two grand adventures have been taking place in my life, but only recently have I become aware of the interconnectedness of the adventures. On the one hand, I have been moving towards a more minimalistic lifestyle. To my family’s chagrin, I am shedding homely assets faster than a rabid dog and encouraging my family to join me in the effort. I want to live a much lighter life and I don’t want to carry them, either.
Equally, my mind has been sifting ideas in recent years of the people who have assisted me in my life. I’m talking about the big assists, the people who have made grand efforts to help me actualize. Specifically, I think of the one gentleman who devoted years of my young adulthood to my care, concern and support. I think of another gentleman who not only used the times our paths crossed to bless me, but also reached out to me early in my career to support me. And I think of a young couple (at least at the time!) who embraced me, encouraged me, and supported me at a very vulnerable time of my life. And I could go on and on about these people and more people, but you get the point. I’m not a creature of my own making. I am a product of a community.
The connectedness that I see now is clear. I want less of my time and energy spent on maintenance of my lifestyle (as if I ever had one) and more on opportunities to bless other persons. Quite frankly, I’ve learned this lesson as a pastor, and particularly at funerals. Bad and poorly attended funerals are focused on the lifestyle of the person. Great and well attended funerals are filled with stories of how the person sacrificially gave. I see it all the time, and I clearly want to be on the giving side.
What about you? I’m not suggesting you follow my grand adventures. I’m only asking if you are aware of who helped you become you? Do you know how much they gave to help you? Can you see how different you would be if they had not? And do you have the courage, and understand the blessings, of blessing someone else in similar ways? It certainly presents things about which to think. Will you? I hope you do, and have a wonderful week (current events notwithstanding).
Monday, October 19 2020
The word has a very specific meaning, which is why it’s so powerful.
If we accept behavior that’s unacceptable, we’re compromising on something that we thought was too important to compromise on.
And that’s how we end up with the unacceptable becoming commonplace.
Good morning, friends, and welcome back! Or welcome back to me, at least. Last week was a Godsend for me and now I’m back in the groove. Let’s get to it!
One of the major arcs of my life in the past ten years or so has been to turn words and ideas I once considered only relevant to other people back towards myself. One simple example is judgement. My old pattern was to let judgement run rampant at the end of my eyes, like a wild dog on the end of a long leash. I was, as many people are, easy to judge anyone and anything based on my own biases, understandings, ignorances, fears, etc. But a little self-reflection turned that dog onto me, where it belonged in the first place.
Another word equally misplaced is “unacceptable”. (I’ll save the puns for another day…) So often in my life I’ve applied “unacceptable” to the behaviors and ideas of other people. Perhaps you have, too. Isn’t it so easy to examine “them” instead of “self”? But what if we turn “unacceptable” to ourselves? It isn’t so comfortable, is it?
I’m not suggesting that we do unacceptable things, although we likely do. I’m suggesting, as Grodin does, that we participate in the “unacceptable” business. For example, you may have at one time or another considered some weight to be unacceptable. But bit by bit and bite by bite you got there (as did I), compromising to the point of commonplace. Or maybe you titled certain personal behaviors unacceptable, or connections, or anything else.
One point to remember is that we have to be careful what we title “unacceptable”; too much can wear you out. But take a look at what in your own life is or was unacceptable and ask yourself if you are true to your word. And be careful what you label going forward, all the while upholding your standards. And have a great week!