As the church that serves the countryside, we commit ourselves to share Christ's love in action through our congregation, community, and the world.
Discipline or Freedom
Whether it starts as a young child or later in life, sometime in our life we must learn to discipline ourselves. So many lives have been ruined by uncontrolled desires. There seems to be an increased desire for more thrills, more indulgence and more possession of material things.
The crazy thing about discipline is that it seems, in modern times, to carry somewhat of a negative connotation. Many people of our present age seem to think that discipline is done at an expense of limiting our freedom. We think that the more discipline that is done, the more individual freedom is lost. However, if we stop to think about it intelligently, freedom and discipline are not trade-offs. There can, in fact be high freedom, coupled with a high amount of discipline. In fact, freedom happens when we voluntarily impose self-discipline, when we set goals, when we impose order on ourselves.
Self-discipline is essential for self-renewal and we need to renew ourselves spiritually, emotionally and mentally. The great majority of us go through our lives only partially exercising our abilities. Getting to know ourselves is one of the most difficult things we can do -as well as the most inconvenient. We spend much of our time running away from ourselves. The author John Gardner said, “More often than not, we don’t want to know ourselves, don’t’ want to depend on ourselves, don’t want to live with ourselves. By the middle of life most of us accomplished fugitives from ourselves.”
If we have no discipline, there will be no order in our lives. The most self-reliant human beings will always be self-disciplined. The higher the self-discipline, the higher will be his moral and spiritual condition. As we start a new year, please take some time for personal reflection. Hopefully, the personal reflection will create some self-mastering – the ability to govern ourselves properly through self-discipline – the only road to true freedom.
Ask The Right Questions
How many of us have searched for the right answer to our questions? All of us, of course. We are concerned that the information that we have is accurate. But in order to receive answers, it is also incumbent on us to ask the right questions. Often times we don’t spend a lot of time determining how to ask the right questions.
The apostle Paul, on his way to Damascus to persecute and destroy Christians was stopped in his tracks and asked by God “Paul said; why do you persecute me? The question that Paul (Saul at that time) asked in return was one which changed his life, “Lord, what would you have me do?” What a change takes place when we ask the right questions and how much trouble is caused by asking the wrong questions.
One distinguished author made this observation. “It is a waste of time to ask”, what causes poverty, for if you get an answer, you have merely learned how to be poor. The right question would more appropriately be, “What creates wealth?” and then use the answer to help the poor.
It has been said that a problem well defined is already half solved. So, a good question asked most likely has half the answer with in it.
There is a timeless story of the semi-trailer which got stuck trying to go under an overpass. The truck was high enough so that it got stuck. Many engineers come to render an opinion on how to fix the situation and free the truck. The answer was simple when a young child asked, “Why don’t you just let some air out of the tires and drive it out”. How simple the answer when you ask the right question.
There are many of us who believe that there was sometime in the past that was a much better time in our life than the present days. It was a time when there were less pressures in our life, less tension, a time when the summers were warmer and the winter’s less harsh. Whether it was a Christmas that seemed merrier or a birthday that seemed more joyous, there usually is sometime in the past that carries a vision of a sweeter yesterday.
Some social scholars say that these are universal feelings and go mainly back to our childhood days which seem to walk close behind us no matter how old we grow. We think of “going home”, and remembering gardens, holidays, special occasions, and special meals. We remember bread just baked, pies set out to cool and a birthday cake made exactly to our requests. For most of us, father was a rock we could come to when we had made a serious mistake. Mother’s hands could soothe away the bruises and the cuts, and life held a security so strong and warm that we could not know how fragile it was.
“Going Home”. This phrase has a host of different images but all with a common theme. When we were divided and shaken, or when life dealt us a cruel blow, we could stumble home and be made whole. Because of these images, one of the saddest things we can imagine is one of “homelessness”.
It should be no surprise then that the phrase “going home” has been used for centuries as returning to our God. That “other” home which we have not seen and do not understand, must have all the heart and passion of the world’s best home; a heavenly father who senses our slightest needs, and stands with loving outstretched arms to receive us into joy and a feeling of absolute safety. When we are divided and broken, when we feel that the world, our friends and our family have dealt us a cruel blow, we can limp to that other home in passing from this mortal life to the eternal, and be made whole.
A Lesson in Gratitude
The Gospel writer Luke tells of an incident in the life of Jesus in which he healed ten lepers who were begging to be healed. They all rushed away happy, jubilant and excited. Nine of those healed were so totally self centered that they never thought about the one who had healed them, only one of the ten returned to say “thank you” to Jesus. Jesus said “Were there not ten cleansed, where are the other nine?” A fair question, a question that one might well ask after a life time of being used and then forgotten. However, even though the lepers did not seem to appreciate the gift, the gift was not taken back. How many other people, that we know, have hurried off and forgotten the healer. Perhaps we, ourselves, have forgotten our benefactor after we have received some precious gift.
“As I love you, love on another” Jesus said. And His unceasing service in spite of no proper appreciation, teaches us something about the kind of love He means. Whenever we begin to lessen our acts of love and kindness to others because we don’t feel we have been properly appreciated, perhaps it is time to question our motives. Do we do good deeds so we will be noticed and thanked? Do we give for self-aggrandizements! Appreciation from others is sweet but when we give our gifts merely to receive praise, we have lost something much more sweet.
Psychologist tell us that much or most of our service may become calculated, kindness tainted with self. Sometimes when we don’t think we have thanked properly, we may cease to give altogether. Placing our concern for others on their notice of it is folly, the same folly that affects those who stop obeying the Lord’s Commandment because they fail to see an immediate reward.
Another Endangered Species
During the last couple of decades, our world has spent increasing amounts of time telling us that we need to take major steps to save our environment, to be sensitive to the animal creatures which share this planet with us! A number of “endangered species” lists have been published which include everything from the “big cats” of Africa to insects or rodents which share our own state. On those lists are the names of those creatures which will die out untimely unless we give them protection and provide special conditions for them.
Upon listening to many of the young people I encounter on a daily basis, there is something which should be added to the “endangered species” list. It’s a species whose survival at this time, I believe, is in serious doubt. It is a species whose extinction would be tragic and irreplaceable. This is not a biological creature but a sociological entity. That species is the American family.
The very existence of the family unit, a group of close-knit individuals, parents and children working together toward common objectives, is now threatened.
See the statistics! One out of every two marriages ends in divorce. One parent families are increasing in numbers much faster than two parent families. More and more children are being born in the country without the advantages of a stable, married parental unit. Fifty years ago, one out of thirty babies was born to a one parent family, today that figure is one in eight. The average American father spends seven minutes a day with his children, it is said; American husbands and wives spend an average of 28 minutes a week in serious dialogue.
Realizing Our Potential
Sadly, if most of us were really honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that our potential is greater than the product of our lives. Most of us need to admit that we are only partially aware of the full range of our abilities. Why is this? Because most of us are not willing to take risks. Most of us are not willing to take failure. A successful businessman once told a group of college students that the reason for his success was that he was not afraid to fail.
One virtue of modern higher education is that it forces us to enter into a variety of classes or activities that may not be of our own choosing-at which time we may well fail. Education is a lifelong vocation: but when we're left on our own, we tend to stay with things that we do well and to avoid the things that we've tried and failed or never tried at all.
We also need to free ourselves from the web of social pressure which makes us spend so much time asking ourselves, "What will people say?" or social situations that makes us compromise our principles and beliefs because "everybody's doing it".
One of the interesting things about life is that nearly everyone knows of ways they would like to improve their lot in life, but hardly anyone is willing to improve themselves or take the risk to do so. Self improvement, self discipline and the establishment of strong values and standards in our lives are absolutely essential and should be life long pursuits.
As a young child, I asked why the water on our property was so unlike the lakes which we went to and played in during the summer. I was told that the pond on our property had no inlet or outlet. It was what they called “stagnant”. It was a marsh, devoid of life and unfit for us to use. Very little life existed there and the species that did were not the most desirable.
As I matured in life, I became aware that one of life’s choices we most need to avoid is personal stagnation. Poverty can be overcome, ill health can be endured if the mind is strong and time eliminates most personal hurts and misfortunes. But stagnation destroys, makes happiness impossible, ravages thought, intelligence and creativity. The pond that became a salty marsh, devoid of life, becomes a picture of a life where growth and changed has stopped. When motion ceases, there is desolation. Our mental, physical and spiritual well beings are dependent on growth. This progress is not an extravagance, but a necessity. The person who stands still is really going backward.
As babies, we are created for growth, expansion, development. We were born to grow, to reach and develop continually.
But this, we can say, is philosophy and philosophy is less painful than reality. But I might venture to say that almost every one of us has chosen at one point or another in our lives to stagnate to some degree. We may stay at a job long after development, learning and enjoyment have ceases. Words such as “security”, “tenure” and “pay scale” keep us where we don’t want to be, as the words “fulfillment”, “happiness” and “achievement” slide hopelessly into our past.
We obtain a high school or college degree and then cease to pursue formal learning altogether. We then realize that it was not in the objective that we found joy but in the pursuit of learning.
It Needs to be Dusk to Really See the Light
If we had our choice, I suppose we would choose to be in a much safer and pleasant world. We would like a place where weeds did not exist in our lawns and fields, where pain was not a constant reality in our physical lives, where the plans and dreams we have worked out, and where wisdom always overcame ignorance. Perhaps we would choose not to let our bodies age, muscles did not grow tired, and where cells did not deteriorate. We would like a world without overwhelming bills, a place where food was plentiful for all, and where we could experience comfort all the time.
But we have no such world. Life is not perfect. But have you thought of this? If the world were perfect, we would lose one of our greatest joys we have, and that is our need for each other. If we were self-sufficient, we would not need another’s hand to help us up. If we didn’t run high temperatures, we would miss the cool hand of another’s touch. If we could meet every need in life before it was spoken or felt, we’d miss the sweetness of gratitude when someone responds to our emptiness and fills it.
One author said, “What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for each other? It is the act of giving to others in need that we find meaning and significance in our lives.
The story is told about a family whose father was out of work and whose refrigerator was empty. There was a question of how the family would eat. One evening the mother came home to find a refrigerator full, the shelves stocked with food and a roast in the oven. “How could you know?” the mother asked a friend. While the family’s world had been breaking around her, some neighbors had met and worked together to help them out. Perhaps the feeling of being loved was a far better gift than the food on the once empty shelves.
Remember the Living
The reply of Jesus to the potential disciple who asked Jesus to wait for Him to bury his father, “Let the dead bury the dead” Matt 8:27 seems very harsh, especially harsh at this time of the year as we celebrate Memorial Day and remember departed friends, relatives and military casualties. It was not disrespect for the dead but, rather ultimate respect for the living that prompted the words of Jesus. It is respect for the simple truth of life that service rendered is of little value to those we love when they are dead. Kindness that is shown to those who have passed on to eternal life is like the rain which comes after the crops have been destroyed by the summer heat.
The love we offer to the dead, the eulogies, the wreaths and the epitaphs do little to bless the lives of the departed. We should remember them with great fondness, but how much better would be memory if we had shared our fond thoughts about them while they were still living. Most often we withhold our encouragement and affection from the living, waiting for the right moment to express our love, waiting, procrastinating, keeping ourselves busy with the irrelevancies of life until the last moment which we could do something is gone. The flowers which we could have given are now bought as wreaths, appreciation we could have shared with our parents are now a part of a funeral eulogy and the undelivered expressions of love which could have made somebody’s day are now engraved on gravestones.
George Childs made this challenge to us. “Do not keep alabaster to boxes of your love and tenderness sealed up until your parents and friends are dead. Fill their lives with sweetness. Speak approving, cheering words while their ears can hear them; and their hearts can be thrilled and made happier by them.”
Let Faith Replace Fear
In this country, as in most of our world we have become increasingly fearful about the health of our economic system. So many factors have eaten away at our confidence and have affected the currencies in almost every nation. In our own country the value of our dollar continues to decline and incomes have either not risen, or in many cases, declined or ceased.
The consequence of the economic sickness will affect almost everyone; the young couple’s dream of owning a house may be postponed. Meeting the educational needs of children is becoming more difficult for their parents, and the retirement hopes of the elderly are being used up to pay for the more expense demands of present day living.
As it is with the diseases that attack the human body, the causes of the economics cancer are more complex. Without question, the deficit spending of governments and by individuals is partly to blame. Declines in the rate of worker production along with the great number of individuals in our society who consume without producing must also bear some of the responsibilities for these uncertain economic times. These contributing factors must be dealt with in the same way that the causes of many diseases are handled; they must be isolated and eliminated as much as possible.
There is one other factor that is more problematic to the economic system than those I have just mentioned., and that factor is fear; fear that the future will not alter the problems of the past, fear that the economic system will collapse, the fear that the traditional values which have made our nation a strong and vibrant economic system are no longer relevant. Fear itself is the greatest threat to our economic system.