Woodlawn CC

Woodlawn CC

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Remembering where we've come from....

Well for the ladies in our family the last few weeks have been a time of remembering their pasts.  First Gail got together with two of her oldest friends Pam and Roger.  Back over 50 years ago Gail's mother Mary Alice used to take care of Pam and Roger while their mothers were at work.  So the three of them grew up together from a very young age.  They have a very precious photo of them as they were going off to their first day of Kindergarten together and the three of them reenacted that photo the other night while we were together for dinner at Julio's Restaurant.

Gail is in the center of both photos
Wm Roy Karlen photo
The three of them had a great time remembering all the things that they had done together as little tykes.  Poor Maddie was with us and she was shocked at some of the stunts that they had pulled.  But to be honest it sure sounded to me like Pam was the ornery one and my sweet Gail was the good little girl.  Or perhaps they all just chose to not tell as many stories on Gail, I suppose Maddie and I will just never know.

At any rate we all had a great time (even Maddie) and stayed at the Restaurant until they were about to kick us out so they could close.  Fortunately they were very slow that night so we weren't in their way.

In the top photo the girls are around 9 years old
Maddie is in the middle of the front row
In the bottom photo the girls are all around 19 years old
Maddie is the second from the left side of the photo
Wm Roy Karlen photo
Next Maddie went out to dinner with her friends from Elementary School.  There are five of them who were just about inseparable back then.  We always had one or more of the girls at our house, or if they were not here, Maddie was off to one of their houses.  The five of them have all grown up to be such beautiful young ladies, it makes me sad as I remember them all as these cute little girls.  One is working towards being a physician, one is studying radiology, one wants to be a teacher, one is working towards becoming a pharmacist and Maddie is right now looking very closely at becoming a realtor.  I firmly believe all of them will do well in their endeavours, and I'm proud of all five of them for their ambitions.

Each of these lovely ladies is headed down a new road.  Roads that will take them far, far away (Maddie is wanting to move to Canada) from their childhood friendships.  But even as they continue to move through life it's important for them to remember where and from whom they've come.  That's why gathering with old friends is so important in my opinion.  You relive those days and you remember what used to be important when life was simpler and more innocent.  I sincerely hope they'll stay in contact with one another as they continue to grow and start their own careers and families.

But one of the interesting things about memories is that science has found that the very act of remembering actually subtly changes our memories, therefore, our memories evolve as we age.  When you combine this with the all too human tendency to only remember the good things, can often end up giving us idyllic memories of our past.  Which brings up my own memory, of some of the haunting lyrics in the song "September When It Comes" by Johnny & Rosanne Cash.  The verse goes "I cannot be who I was then, in a way I never was...."  

I fear that often our memories of the 'Good Ole Days' are far, far better indeed than the 'Old Days' ever were.  Sad to say this phenomena can be corporate in nature as well as individual.  As a group we tend to look back at years gone by and remember them as being the 'Golden Years' for our organization.  I've seen this in many organizations for example the Junior Chamber of Commerce and certainly in any Christian Denomination that I've been involved in.  Many of our Churches in this part of the Country enjoyed their largest membership numbers perhaps 40 years ago, and have ever since been lamenting the 'Good Ole Days'.  A great deal of ink and bandwidth has been expended trying to determine just why this trend has continued so I won't pretend to try and tackle that in this blog post.

But, there are absolutely Churches out there that are bucking this trend.  And how are they doing it?  Well, I suspect that there are specific things in each instance.  I certainly don't think that fashionable things like 'coffee bars' and the like are going to suddenly turn a church around and make it the 'place to be'.  So what is it?  Well, I'm going to give my own opinion which is worth in most likelihood, exactly what you are paying for it... so take it for what it is.

I remember back when I was active in the Jaycee organization (look out idyllic memories ahead). I was at the monthly meeting for my local chapter, the Bennington Jaycees.  It was election time and they were trying to find somebody to run for Chapter President.  Now this chapter at that time had two distinct factions at work and was nearly at the point where the membership was so low that their charter would be pulled by the National organization.  Nobody would come forward to take the helm of this sinking ship and I'll confess I suddenly became very disgusted and angry with what was going on.  Suddenly, I piped up and said that I'd take the job.  Everyone looked at me kind of stunned wondering why in the world I would agree to take this thankless job (though relieved that now they could stop trying to rationalize to everyone why they couldn't do it).

The chapter had once been one of the major chapters in the State and was constantly looking back and telling stories about back when they had done this and that.  Well, long story short by the end of my year as Chapter President we had more than tripled our membership, started two new chapters in nearby towns, and had helped two other nearby chapters to rebuild themselves and keep from having their charters pulled.  How did we do it?  Well we got excited about being there, we did things to generate enthusiasm and participation by old and new members.  One of the things I was the most proud of was that we had one member who had belonged to the chapter for nearly 20 years, who had never once signed up a new member, during our year he signed up five members.

We went from a chapter that was about to die to the largest chapter in our population division and the number five ranked chapter of any size in Nebraska.  It was all done by involvement and activation.  Suddenly, we had energy and folks wanted to be involved.  In any organization or life, things can turn up or down fairly quickly.  With an organization what you have to have is a core of motivated people who are having fun and feel valued because of what they are doing.  But these folks can't claim all the responsibility or duties, you have to spread around the tasks as much as you can so everyone feels vital to the group.  Plus you have to make sure that everyone knows that their contributions are valued by the whole.

The key to me is that enthusiasm, that excitement, a positive attitude in that things are on the upswing.  At the risk of falling prey to the gurus of 'the power of positive thinking', there is a great truth to the impact of believing in the best.  Ironically, too often we as Christians are 'Debbie Downers' when we should really have faith that God will provide.  God will always provide but we have to follow his path with excitement and confidence, if we do there is no place for us to go but up...

It's a wonderful thing to remember our pasts and our individual and corporate heritage, but let us not unconsciously decide to live in the past.  God wants us to be his hands and feet in the here and now, we can't do that if we are stuck in the past.

May this rambling blog post find you all well and enveloped in the Love of Christ.

In God's Grace,

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Never place a limit on God's capacity for Grace.

Well of course by now nearly everyone in the entire United States and likely a large share of the world has learned of Robin Williams unfortunate passing.  It is such a terrible loss, and a stark reminder of the problem that we have in society of widespread depression and dependency.  Suicide is such a desperate act, and unfortunately the victim just cannot see the very great pain and anguish that they will leave in their wake. 

 Robin Williams - article on his passing

We need to be ever watchful around our friends and families for those that are inordinately depressed or despondent.  One must be on the lookout for the classic signs of an individual who is contemplating taking their own life.  A quick resource for such information would be the link below.

Suicide Prevention

I am fully aware that a great many Christians feel that taking one's own life is a fast train to a very hot spot.  The idea that everyone who commits suicide goes directly to Hell is all too common among those who profess to be followers of a Loving Christ and a Gracious Father.  I have to wince whenever I hear such talk for it is more damning to God than it is to the victim of suicide.

A few years ago a couple who is very dear to my heart had the great tragedy of one of their children taking their own life.  When I called to talk to my friends I reached their adult daughter and she told me that their Minister was talking to her parents at that moment.  So I visited with her for a while trying to find out how she was coping.  I sensed that she was afraid and I came right out and asked her if she was afraid for her brother's soul and that he might not be allowed into Heaven.  She confessed that yes, she was scared of that very thing (I learned later that their Minister rather than trying to assuage their worries had basically confirmed them).

I then asked her a very simple and a very direct question.  

I said to her, "If your father had the power to bring your brother back to life right now at this very moment, do you think he would then tell your brother to get the Hell away from me and never let me see you again... or would your father just throw his arms around him and tell him he loved him?"  

She replied "He would tell him he loved him of course."

To which I answered "Then how could God do any less?  Your father is a good man, a loving man, a gracious man, but he is not greater than God."

She thanked me and I could tell instantly from her voice that she was greatly relieved.

Perhaps nothing about my chosen religion irks me more than those who try to put a limit on the capacity for God to exercise his grace and forgiveness in this world.  If you have witnessed grace and forgiveness in or from another human being, well then you've only seen a tiny fraction of the grace, love and forgiveness that God is capable of.

For you see not only would my friend have embraced his child but he would never, ever let go of that embrace.  That does not mean there would not be a scolding coming at some point but a scolding is considerably different than eternal damnation.  And I have to believe from my own life experiences that the act of the father embracing the son after all that he had done wrong, and showing genuine love and grace to the child, will have a much greater impact on that boy's soul than any amount of scolding or restorative punishment could ever have.

Let us never strive to limit God and his capacity for grace and love.  I believe fully well, that God threw his arms around Robin Williams yesterday and said "I love you" to him in an embrace that will outlast all of time.

God Bless You All,

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Finding Our Inspiration

Well last night at the gym I had another lifter come up to me and give me what is certainly one of the greatest compliments you can be given in this world.  He told me that he always enjoyed seeing me there lifting and that I was a great inspiration.  Now this is a guy that I have nodded to a couple of times in the past and who I have overheard saying things as I've been in the middle of a set (generally some profanity laden comment about how much weight I was training with) but not a lifter who I have ever actually talked to.  I told him thank you very much for the compliment and introduced myself.  We visited for a bit and then I went back to my training.

The lifter that gave me the compliment was probably in his late 20's to early 30's.  I suppose to him seeing somebody in their mid 50's still training heavy is inspirational at some level.  To me though I really don't think I'm the right person to aspire to emulate.  Rather, I see two others that train at our gym as much more inspiring.  

One is a gentleman in his early 60's who has already suffered several strokes, along with several other serious health issues and who just went in to have a mass removed from one of his kidneys.  This man, up until his recent surgery has always been there at the gym, pushing as hard as he can and making improvements in his abilities.  The worst of his strokes has left him with a stiff gait and one leg that he has to basically drag along.  But still, he trains legs just as hard as he is able.  To me, this gentleman is an example of what to aspire to when faced with difficulties in this life.  Never give up, never surrender.  He also happens to be a strong Christian and I have no doubt that this is a large part of what keeps him moving forward.

The second is a gentleman who is in his early to mid 50's and who has suffered a serious brain injury.  He is confined to a wheelchair as his legs just do not respond correctly to his brain's commands.  Yet this man is there at the gym training on the machines and even using the leg machines to the best of his ability.  Last night he even pulled himself up onto a treadmill and was walking on the mill (at the lowest speed) as best he could manage.  Another gentleman (who is also long in the tooth) and I were already walking on the treadmills and we kept shouting words of encouragement and praise over to our friend as he trudged along.  You could see that he was quite pleased with himself as he shuffled along.

Personally at age 54 I do not consider myself to be 'old' so I certainly don't think I'm 'inspirational'.  Honestly, when I'm lifting weights, my body feels no differently to me than it did when I was training in my 20's.  The one's who I find inspiration in are the two men I've just mentioned, and another man that I haven't seen around for awhile who comes into the gym and trains while dragging an oxygen tank along with him.  Now that's dedication!  He could easily give up (and most do) but instead he tries to do whatever he can manage in his current condition.

Which brings me to a point where I ask myself that question, "who should we as Christians look to as our inspiration".  Well of course the obvious answer is Jesus who is the Christ.  However, I hear so very often "well we can't be like Jesus", and even I have said to my students in Sunday School that "I can't be like Jesus, nor do I think I can live up to Paul, but maybe, just maybe I can be like Timothy".

I've come to now believe that this is a problem for us, if we don't think we can live up to Jesus' example then unfortunately few of us even try to live up to Timothy.  My late Mentor Jesse was especially critical of this phenomenon.  He felt that we as Christians have come to focus far to much on the Divine Christ and not nearly enough on the Human Christ.  We cannot obviously aspire to be the Divine Christ but we absolutely should aspire to emulate the Human Christ.  Jesse constantly pointed out that Jesus never once asked for us to worship him, but rather he asked for us to follow him, to be like him, to walk in his path and his ways.  And let us not forget that the early Christian Jewish movement was referred to as 'The Way'.

Jesse was of course (as he was so very often) absolutely, spot on, dead ringer, CORRECT.  We spend so much energy singing praises and worshipping Christ that we simply forget to walk in Jesus' shoes (and here I am certainly to be criticized, I may be the worst offender of all).  Now walking in Jesus' shoes does not to me anyways, mean doing big and grand missionary projects and traveling halfway around the world at great expense to spend a week helping out in a foreign land, (not that these things aren't important for other reasons and other means) but what I personally think it means to walk with Jesus, is how we live our daily lives, how we interact with our family, our friends, our business contacts, those we pass on the street.  Are we following the example of Jesus?  Of course a few years ago there was the great 'WWJD' movement (what would Jesus do) which I very much liked and I still like.  But, if our image of Jesus was of Jesus who is Divine, well then we're busted before we even start... we simply cannot live up to that mark.

We need to aspire to live like the fully human Jesus.  The man who feared to walk the path that he was called to walk, but who walked it anyways.  Not because he was God and he knew he would rise again on the third day, but because he was a man who had unwavering faith in his God and who in spite of all his fear and apprehensions walked that path that God called him to.  This is the Jesus we must follow... Jesse was right, we need to worship Christ a bit less and follow Jesus a great deal more.

May this blog post find each and everyone who may chance upon it richly and sincerely blessed by the Spirit of our Lord.

In God's Unwavering Grace & Love,