Sunday, August 2, 2020

There Is Much More To Life Than This . . .


"Don't let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me."

John 14:1 CSB

Last Wednesday was a typical day for me--at least it has become typical for me over the last four months.  I got up early.  I was in my study and on my computer by about 7 am.  I worked at my computer, taking a few breaks throughout the day until about 5.  After I quit working for the day I stayed right there at my desk and studied for another hour.  My wife came home, and we had dinner, and then I went back to my desk and attended an online Zoom seminary event for a couple hours.  I went to bed, watched TV and "socialized" on Facebook and finally went to sleep.  So I spend about 14 hours looking at one screen or another.  This will be the experience many of our children as they "go back to school" in the fall without actually going anywhere. 

Isn't it wonderful how the Corona Virus Pandemic has taught us how much we can actually do on our screens without ever leaving the house?  We don't even have to get dressed anymore!

We have a lot of people at my place of employment talking about making this permanent--working from home!  A lot of people in the religious community are actually saying that worship should all be done online now days, and that a church is "just a building."  I had no idea how many experts we had in our government on what constitutes worship and what does not until this pandemic arrived--I'd always thought in the United States those decisions were those of the faithful and protected under the constitution.

But this idea of never going back to buildings or face-to-face activities isn't limited to work environments and churches--there's a few in the education community that are asking why we spend all this money on school buildings and school buses in this day and age when we can sit our kids down in front of a screen right at home while we're working "at the office" right there on our sofa?

I think this is a terrible path to head down. There's more to life than staring at a computer screen. Mankind was meant for social interaction. They were meant to see each other, and talk to each other . . . in person.  You just can't develop the same kind of friendships online that you can by spending time with a person . . . fishing, or going to a movie, or out to dinner, or just hanging out.  And what about dating?  We going to do all that on the computer, too? 

And I hate to disagree with well-meaning people, but worship is a group activity.  We are meant to worship TOGETHER.  In a basement, in a barn, in a field, in a park, in a house, or right there in your local church, but worship is a group activity.  And a church is not "just a building" it is the family home for a group of believers.

A lot of people are afraid right now. I get that. And much of this talk is a fear reaction that will sort itself out as time passes.  I was afraid in the beginning as well. That first two or three weeks I was home, I checked my temperature three or four times a day convinced I was going to be dead by the end of the month. But I'm still here. I'm still concerned about the virus, but I'm in good health--that's no guarantee I'll be okay if I get sick, but I'm at the point now where I'm actually more worried about missing life than getting sick.

I miss going to a ballgame or to a movie.  I miss getting a cup of coffee and people watching at the mall.  I miss going to meetings face-to-face.  I miss lunch with my friends, and fall festivals, and Saturday morning charity pancake breakfasts at the American Legion post.  I missed parades and fireworks on the 4th of July.  I'm willing to take a few risks at this point to ensure I'm living my life--and I don't think I'm the only one by any means.  And I want my children and grandchildren to live life, too.  I don't want them to live their life sitting in front of a screen doing everything "virtually" as we've been doing the last few months. 

I'll bet you didn't know this about me, but I walked the entire length of the Great Wall of China!  That's what the badge I got from Fitbit says I did.  But that's the difference between a virtual experience and an authentic experience.  I didn't walk the Great Wall.  I didn't sweat under the Chinese sun, see the sights, smell the smells, learn the culture, or eat the cuisine.  I've never even been to China.  What I did was walked 13,171 miles over a period of time right here in the Midwest United States. I could have done it on a treadmill and never left the house. But it's certainly not a trek in China any more than a TV show is a substitute for worship or a YouTube video is a substitution for a college class or an online chat is a date. The "virtual" is always going to pale in comparison to the "authentic". 

And that's the question we're all going to have to deal with individually.  Is safety and security worth giving up the fullness that life has to offer?  What are we missing in the "virtual experience" that we would gain from the "authentic experience." 

I've done the calculus, and made my own decision on this matter.  I've decided I'd rather live a shorter "authentic" life, than a long "virtual" life. I have no intention of allowing a computer screen to become my window to the world.

~TEC

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Focusing On The Forest

You're focusing on the stump.

Somebody said that to me once. I had no idea what he was talking about. As it turned out, it was very wise advise, and something I think of a few times a week to this day. You're focusing on the stump.

We all do it.  We look past the forest, and focus on that one dead stump in the middle. We miss seeing all the different trees. We miss seeing the sunlight streaming down through the branches. We miss seeing the squirrels playing in the leaves. We don't see the little white flowers blooming in the open spots where the sunlight gets through. We don't smell the fresh air, or enjoy the cool breeze. We don't hear the sounds of the birds. 

We see that one ugly dead stump, and that's all we think about. We think about how that dead stump is messing up the forest.

It's easy to think like that. To obsess on that one thing that's bothering us, that one thing that's not quite right with us, and fail to see the entire picture. But there's a simple way to get out of that thinking when we catch ourselves doing it.  Simply focus on the forest.

When I get in one of the funks, and I do more often than I'd like to admit, I find one thing works better than just about anything else in helping me change my attitude. Look for the things that are going right. Look for the blessings. Look for the things we can be grateful for. And write them down. Not in the morning. Not in the evening. Not during a special time of the week, but right when you realize you're focusing on the wrong thing.  Change course.  Change your focus.

There's been times when I'm having difficulties at work when I'll skip my lunch hour, and just spend that time writing down things I'm grateful for--sometimes I can fill several journal pages without thinking very hard about it at all.  And when the writing slows down, I just keep going until I get to point when I can look at all those things on my list that are right, and realize that stump I've been focused on isn't really that big a deal after all.

And we need those stumps--they may test our patience, but there is nothing that makes us stronger than a challenge. They test us. They help to build our character by learning to deal with problems big and small with grace and patience. God throws them into our path to build us up. Like it says in James 1:2-4, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

And there's nothing more affirming to our continued development than overcoming a challenge with grace and dignity . . . and gratitude.

~TEC

What do you think?  Email me at webmaster@toddcreason.org or leave a comment!

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Starting The Day Off Right

"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."

~Romans 12:2

How many decisions do you think you make during the average day?  Think about that for a minute.  From the time you wake up in the morning, until you doze off that night, you do little else but make decisions.  Decisions about what you're going to wear.  What you're going to have for breakfast.  What you're going to do about a certain problem you've been having.  What you're going to try and get done, and what you're going to leave for tomorrow.  You'll interact with a number of people both on the phone, text, email, social media, etc.  There may be conflicts.  There may be difficult issues to address.  There may be choices you have to make.  All day long we're making decisions.  Some important.  Some not so important.  But we make hundreds of decisions each and every day. 

The best thing we can do for ourselves is to start our days off on solid ground. Take a little time first thing in the morning, as part of your morning routine, to spend a little time in the scriptures.  Read from the Bible, or find a good devotional you enjoy, and start with it each day.  You may be surprised what a huge impacts spending ten or fifteen minutes in the morning like that will have on you. Those ideas from that devotional will come back to you throughout the day.  That passage you read this morning will suddenly help you during a tough moment. If we don't spend time in the word, it's very easy for us to fall into the pattern of the world around us.  It's easy to make decisions based on what's expedient and easiest rather than what is right.  When we put God in the center of our lives, and start with God each day, and keep God in our minds throughout the day, it's amazing what a difference that can make.  

I do this every morning, and after I've spent some time reading, I usually take a walk and reflect on what I've read.  It makes a huge difference in my day when I begin this way.  When I miss doing that because I've gotten up late, or I get started earlier than usual due to an issue that has come up, I notice the difference. 

Maybe you're not a strong Bible reader.  I've got an idea for you--something I've been doing.  Over the last couple weeks I've been reading a chapter of Proverbs every morning.  It's convenient  as there's thirty-one chapters and thirty-one days in a month approximately. The chapters are very short--you can read a chapter in a few minutes.  And there's so much good and useful teaching in there that is applicable every day. It's very easy to read, and very easy to understand. So much in there has to do with every day life and every day situations. It's surprising how many times a day I'll remember something I read in Proverbs that morning.

So tomorrow morning, why not spend a few quiet moments over your morning coffee reflecting on God's promises. Start your day by renewing and refreshing your mind in God's word, and keep it close to you throughout the entire day, and throughout every decision, and every choice, and every conflict, and every conversation. It will surprise you just how quickly you'll see what a huge difference such a small change to your routine can make.

~TEC

What do you think?  Email me at webmaster@toddcreason.org or leave a comment!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

What Are You Saying To Yourself? Part III

Welcome to the third and final installment in the What Are You Saying To Yourself? series. In the first part of this series, I talked about that negative internal dialogue that so many of us seem to have, and how to get a handle on how we talk to ourselves. In the second part of my series I talked about some common sources of this negative thinking.  And as promised, in this one, I'm going to tell you why it is so important to silence as much of this internal strife as we can.

Learning some of these lessons, and practicing some of these techniques I've talked about has not been easy. But the benefits have made all that effort worth it. And I'll tell you why. Because I can sit now quietly and think.  I can think clearly. I can think without all that clutter that used to make it impossible to reflect--instead I was always reacting. And by reacting, I caused more problems, which lead to more stress, and more mental clutter, and more anxiety.  I finally broke that cycle.

I'm able to see the difference between things I can fix, and things I can not, and I don't waste my valuable mental bandwidth on things that our clearly outside my control. I can let things go now. I can consciously decide I'm not going to be mad about something, and actually not be mad about it. And I can accept the fact that I can't change other people.  And I can turn off the television and not absorb so much of the ugliness, and bias, and anger that seems to permeate our culture these days, and focus on where I can do good.

God speaks to us.  He speaks to us through his word. Sometimes he speaks to us more directly. There's been some times in my life when I think God has stepped in and given me a push.  Opened a door. Introduced me to somebody I needed to know when I needed to know them. It's not thunderous booming voice commanding me. It's not accompanied by marching bands and fireworks. It's not a flashing billboard. It's a clear perfect thought that comes during a quiet moment. Or sometimes it's an impossibly well-timed coincidence (I no longer believe in coincidences by the way).

I practice diligently keeping all those worries, and all those other concerns at bay so that I can focus on God's word, and so that I can catch and hold those perfect thoughts when they come, and so I can see God at work in my life pushing me towards the path and the plan He has for me.

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.

~Proverbs 16:9

~TEC