Monday, November 30, 2015

A Bergmanian Take on Existential Risk

Nice - This cartoon from this week's New Yorker combines Ingmar Bergman and Nick Bostrom

Discipline Allows God to Be Lord of My Mind

Marabou storks in the Rift Valley of Kenya

If you are a disciple of Jesus then you have discipline in your life. Disciples are disciplined. Like, for example, guitar students practice.

Henri Nouwen writes: "If we want to be disciples of Jesus, we have to live a disciplined life." (Nouwen, A Spirituality of Living, p. 1) "A spiritual life without discipline is impossible." (Ib.)

As a new follower of Jesus my campus ministry leaders taught me to take daily "quiet times with God." I did. I'm having quiet time with God this morning. I read Scripture and meditate on it. I'm reading the Nouwen book I've quoted from. My spirit is marinating in God's slow-cooking, disciple-making, life-giving, perspective-gaining, hope-restoring, wound-healing crock pot. 

I have done this, daily, for over 45 years. Because "it requires real discipline to let God and not the world be the Lord of our mind." (Ib., p. 2)

I do my quiet times with God in quiet places of least distraction. (See here; and here.) I have disciplined myself to do this. What began as a stream of life in my heart over four decades ago has formed a groove that channels a deep river. The source of this river is the presence of God. 

Nouwen says that "the word 'discipline' means "the effort to create some space in which God can act."" (Ib.) There is a space created in my mind and heart where the Spirit of God has a chance of getting my attention. I treasure and tend this space and attend to the moving of God's Spirit in me.

The $20 Wedding

Yes, I wore a tux...
( just read THIS, and thought I'd re-post "The $20 Wedding.")

In 45 years as a Jesus-follower and pastor I have officially performed one bazillion weddings. That is a lot of rehearsal dinners and wedding reception dinners.

1. I have done one bazillion weddings.
2. Therefore, I am overweight.

When I think of these weddings what I remember is not the food, but the people. The most beautiful weddings I have seen have to do with the marital couple, who they are, and what they can one day be. 

All the money in the world cannot cover over two clueless people. But a groom and bride who submit their lives to God and to the serving of the other shine like stars in this materialistic darkness of "happiness." I am thinking of some of them now. They loved, and still do. Their love influenced others, without trying to.

It's really about preparing for marriage and life together, not the wedding day. The more the former happens, the greater is that special day.

I present to you a wedding plan. Here are the costs, in my Monroe community.

Wedding planner - $0. (I charge nothing for this advice.)
Officiant - $0. (I charge nothing to officiate your wedding.)
Building rental - $0. (We can have your wedding outdoors. We've had weddings in our backyard, on the river.)
Groom's tuxedo - $0. (The groom wears nice clothing that can be worn again.)
Bridal gown - $0. (The bride wears nice clothing that can be worn again.)
Flowers - $0. (From your mother's garden.)
Photographer - $0. (Because all your friends have smart phones.)
Food - cost per plate - $0. (Your friends bring finger foods. That's what Linda and I did, and we had 350 people at our wedding.)
Miscellaneous costs - $0.
Marriage license in Monroe County - $20.
Pen to sign marriage license - $0. (I will lend you mine.)
Total costs - $20

Stress - less.

Relationship - more.

I have done weddings like this. I remember them for the inner beauty of the couple and the presence of God.

See also:

"Is Simplicity the Newest Wedding Trend?"

"Does a Big Wedding Equal an Unhappy Marriage?" (Wall Street Journal)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Incarnation Breeds Sympathy; Discarnation Breeds Criticism

Linda walking in Munson Park

Christmas is about the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. When you get inside someone else's skin and live and die there you feel with them. 

Incarnation breeds sympathy. Sym + pathos. "Feeling with." Hebrews 4:15 tells us that we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 

The biblical Greek word here is:
συμπαθέω,v  \{soom-path-eh'-o}
1) to be affected with the same feeling as another, to sympathise with  2) to feel for, have compassion on 

In Mark 6:34 Jesus saw a large crowd of people and had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. The Greek word here means "deeply moved."

Jesus felt with people in their struggles and disorientation. Which means: so should we who follow him. We are to...

... "clothe ourselves with compassion" (Colossians 3:12).

... "be kind and compassionate to one another" (Ephesians 4:32).

... "be compassionate and humble" (1 Peter 3:8).

Because "the Lord is full of compassion and mercy." (James 5:11).

Since we are "united with Christ" we share in his "tenderness and compassion." (Philippians 2:1)

The more we are like Christ the less we will criticize others. The more Christ is formed in us (Galatians 4:19) the less we will judge others for their struggles. Compassion and sympathy are beautiful fruits that grow in a Christ-abiding heart.

Thank God that he sympathizes with our weaknesses! Thank God for his followers who have matured to do the same.

Incarnation breeds sympathy; discarnation breeds criticism.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Real Jesus Sermon #1

Worship at Redeemer
Pastors are to equip their people for the work of ministry.

As Redeemer's pastor I am committed to increasing the Jesus-literacy of my church.

Tomorrow I give the second of seven Real Jesus sermons.

Sermon #1 can be heard HERE

Prayer Is Relationship Rather Than Something We Have to Do


Praying is being-in-relationship-with God, rather than some religious duty that one has to do. 

I communicate with Linda, not because I "have to," but because I love her. To only talk and listen to her out of duty would be a sign of a strange, unsatisfying marriage.

Philip Yancey writes: "Prayer as transaction rather than relationship can decline into a practice more duty than joy, an occasional and awkward exercise with little connection to life." (Yancey, Prayer, Kindle Locations 844-845)

How I communicate with Linda when no one else is around is an indicator of how I view her and our marriage. In a similar way how I pray shows how I view God. "Who one believes God to be is most accurately revealed not in any credo but in the way one speaks to God when no one else is listening." (Nancy Mairs, quoted in Ib., Kindle Locations 820-822)

To pray is to be in relationship with God. Prayer is not something we have to do. When you are in a real, loving relationship you communicate.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Kevin Bacon's Argument That the Bible Affirms Dancing

5 Thanksgiving Choices

Some of our Redeemer kids

Today is Thanksgiving Day!

1. Take time to reflect on the blessings God has given you. I've made a gratitude list on my computer and printed it out. I've got the list in my pocket, and will pull it out and look at it several times today.

"We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures." 
- Thornton Wilder

2. Think of the people God has brought to add value to your life.
"At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us."
- Albert Schweitzer 

3. Focus on what you have gained, not what you have lost. In the worship song "Blessed Be Your Name" we sing "You give and take away, You give and take away. My heart will choose to say, blessed be your name." I remember precious people I have lost. I think of what their lives have given to me.

"He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has." 
- Epictetus

4. Say "thank you" to others, in your words, attitudes, and actions. Today, serve people. To serve is to love. Servanthood is the overflow of a thankful heart.

"The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated."

-- William James

5. Let the words "Thank you, God" be your constant praise. 

"Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever."
- 1 Chronicles 16:4

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Many Benefits of Thankfulness

Green Lake HSRM conference June 2015
Gratitude is greater than bitterness. Thankfulness is better than resentment. 

Colossians 3:15 says:

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.

A heart of thankfulness positively affects one’s entire being. Many scientific studies confirm this. Here are some of them.

From “Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier” (Harvard Medical School)

  • “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
  • Dr. Martin Seligman (University of Pennsylvania) says most studies on showing gratitude to others support an association between gratitude and an individual’s well-being.
  • Gratitude can improve relationships. “For example, a study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.
  • Gratitude is associated with emotional maturity.
  • “Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier, or thinking they can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.”

Here are some ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis.
·        Write a thank-you note.
·        Thank someone mentally. (“It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.”)
·        Keep a gratitude journal. I make lists of things I am thankful for and carry them with me.
·        Count your blessings.
·        Pray. “People who are religious can use prayer to cultivate gratitude.”

Research reveals that gratitude can have these benefits.

  • ·        Gratitude opens the door to more relationships.
  • ·        Gratitude improves physical health. “Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and they report feeling healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences.”
  • ·        Gratitude improves psychological health. “Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.
  • ·        Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. “Grateful people are more likely to behave in a prosocial manner, even when others behave less kind, according to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky. Study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.”
  • ·        Grateful people sleep better. “Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you may sleep better and longer." 
  • ·        Gratitude improves self-esteem.(Acc. to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology.)
  • ·        Gratitude increases mental strength. (Acc. to a 2006 study in Behavior Research and Therapy, and a 2003 study in the Journal of Personality and social Psychology.

From “Giving Thanks: The Benefits of Gratitude” (Psychology Today)
Psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough “point out the benefits of expressing gratitude as ranging from better physical health to improved mental alertness. People who express gratitude also are more likely to offer emotional support to others.

·        “Expressing gratitude in your daily life might even have a protective effect on staving off certain forms of psychological disorders. In a review article published this past March (see below), researchers found that habitually focusing on and appreciating the positive aspects of life is related to a generally higher level of psychological well-being and a lower risk of certain forms of psychopathology.
·        Increase your gratitude-ability by looking for small things to be thankful for.
From “Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude” (University of Berkeley)

·        It’s easy to take gratitude for granted. “That might be why so many people have dismissed gratitude as simple, obvious, and unworthy of serious attention. But that’s starting to change. Recently scientists have begun to chart a course of research aimed at understanding gratitude and the circumstances in which it flourishes or diminishes.”
·        Recent studies on people who practice thankfulness consistently report a number of benefits:
·        Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure;
·        Higher levels of positive emotions;
·        More joy, optimism, and happiness;
·        Acting with more generosity and compassion;
·        Feeling less lonely and isolated.

From “Thanksgiving, Gratitude, and Mental Health” (Psychiatry Advisor)
Gratitude can have a positive effect on a person’s emotions in four significant ways.

·        First, gratitude magnifies positive emotions by helping us to appreciate the value in something; thus gaining more benefit from it.  

·        Second, it blocks toxic, negative emotions, such as envy, resentment, and regret - emotions that can destroy happiness.  

·        Third, gratitude fosters resiliency.

·        And lastly, gratitude promotes self worth. 

  • Gratitude is good for your heart. “According to a recent study at the University of California, San Diego, being mindful of the things you're thankful for each day actually lowers inflammation in the heart and improves rhythm. Researchers looked at a group of adults with existing heart issues and had some keep a gratitude journal. After just two months, they found that the grateful group actually showed improved heart health.”
  • ·        You’ll smarten up. “Teens who actively practiced an attitude of gratitude had higher GPAs than their ungrateful counterparts, says research published in the Journal of Happiness Studies.”
  • ·         It’s good for your relationships. “Expressing gratitude instead of frustration will do more than just smooth things over—it will actually help your emotional health. Expressing and attitude of gratitude raises levels of empathy and abolishes any desire to get even, found researchers at the University of Kentucky.”
  • ·        You’ll sleep more soundly. “ Writing in a gratitude journal before turning in will help you get a longer, deeper night's sleep, says a study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being.”
  • ·        You’ll have better sex. “Couples who regularly say thank you to their partner feel more connected and more confident, according to a study published in the journal Personal Relationships.”

See also:

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Our Masks Are Not Our Reality

Ann Arbor store

What sort of wisdom could come from a person dedicated to dwelling in God's presence, from someone not captured by the idols of technology and media? Thomas Merton, for myself and many others, serves as an example. Merton never watched television! What could he have to tell us?

The answer is: prophetic words of ontological realities. One ever-relevant Merton-theme is the stripping away of the false self, accomplished by God, in God's presence. He writes:

"If we take our vulnerable shell to be our true identity, if we think our mask is our true face, we will protect it with fabrications even at the cost of violating our own truth. This seems to be the collective endeavor of society: the more busily men dedicate themselves to it, the more certainly it becomes a collective illusion, until in the end we have the enormous, obsessive, uncontrollable dynamic of fabrications designed to protect mere fictitious identities - "selves," that is to say, regarded as objects. Selves that can stand back and see themselves having fun (an illusion which reassures them that they are real)." (Merton, Raids On the Unspeakable, 15)

Merton published Raids in 1965. That's 50 years ago. He discerned the creeping shallowness of American culture. Were he alive today he would see the same, only multiplied, magnified, and glorified. 

The American social milieu profits on sustaining hypocrisy. A "hypocrite" (Greek ὑποκρίτης) is: an "actor," a "mask-wearer." We are a world of false personas who don't merely hide behind our culturally constructed masks but who have come to believe that our masks are our reality. Halloween, our preferred holy day, has become every day.