The Only Thing That There’s Just Too Little Of


In the spring of 1965 singer Jackie De Shannon released the single “What the World Needs Now is Love.”  By mid-July the song, written and produced by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, had worked its way up the Billboard Hot 100 to peak at number seven in the US and number one in Canada.  Written during the Vietnam War it is a folk anthem originally intended to bring people together regardless of their political views.

The song popped into my head recently while I was flipping through some journal notes.   A few months back I wrote, “every community of love can love more”.  As I read those words, quite unbidding into my head popped the lyric:

It’s the only thing, that there’s just too little of.

We live in anxious times.  Back in February I heard that over a quarter of Canadians surveyed said they would be fearful of being around someone with a serious mental illness.  I get it, mental illness has a unique capacity to make us all feel helpless.  If you have ever spent time with someone suffering from anxiety or depression you know that it doesn’t take long before you are feeling completely inadequate to help.  At that point it’s just easier to walk away and leave the afflicted to the “professionals” but the fact is that people suffering from mental illness need community more than they need clinical intervention.

And that was also before COVID, before we all started dealing with enough severe stress and anxiety to be classified as mentally ill ourselves.

It’s true that perfect love drives out fear, but repeated exposure just desensitizes us.  So the best way to manage fear and anxiety is to suck the drama out of it and just admit that it is part of being human.  Draw together, do not run in fear from one another.  We are designed to bring healing and wholeness through one another.

In addition to love at times like this we could also use a bit more justice and a bit more hope.

“Lady Justice” – there is a reason she’s always blindfolded

Justice has been a big topic lately, ever since race relations successfully bumped COVID19 off the front pages of newspapers around the world.  But we don’t want just any justice, we want the kind that puts people and things into right relationships with one another and justice that doesn’t add burdens to the already over-burdened.

And we need hope, the kind that is tied up with honesty.  We need the kind of hope that says we believe things can get better while acknowledging that things aren’t right at the present moment.

So, I guess there is more than one thing that there is just too little of, Love, Justice and Hope to name a few.  But that wouldn’t make for a very good song.

 

 

 

 

The Sun Will Come Out Eventually


Faith, Optimism and The Continuum of Hope

I’ve spent a lot of time these past few days mulling over the differences between Faith and Optimism.  It seems to me that at this cultural moment people are clinging to worldviews that are crumbling from our grasp like handfuls of sand.  What once seemed solid in our hands is slipping through our fingers while the world quakes, we tremble and the concept of normal is best left to philosophers.

The concepts of faith and optimism tend to be used interchangeably but they have vastly different meanings.  It was while watching some video content from another coach this week that I was struck with this common misinterpretation of language.  While he paid lip service to the etymological differences and traditional definitions of the two words the bulk of his video teaching focused on faith almost exclusively and he missed a great opportunity to delve deeper into our collective psyche at this moment in time.

Looking at faith and optimism in context with today it helps to look back at previous world shaping events.  War analogies have been popular among politicians and writers of late, President Trump continues to say that we are in a war with an invisible enemy.  But the war imagery doesn’t sit well with me, it’s just too violent.  Doctors and research scientists are not soldiers, in a bloody war, they are dedicated healthcare providers working to prolong human life.

As a Canadian and an endurance athlete I prefer to think of it in terms of winter and marathons, two things that suck and can seemingly go on forever.  We all know that winter and marathons eventually end, we just don’t know how much pain we are going to have to endure before we get to the finish line.  Nor do we know how long that pain is going to linger afterwards.  The current COVID19 pandemic and the sociopolitical fallout that is sure to follow are a lot like running a marathon in a Canadian winter, just one storm after another with no end in sight and the distinct possibility of a stress fractured ankle ruining our summer.

So, what about Faith and Optimism?

Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl survived the holocaust then spent the rest of his career counselling and studying victims of long-term trauma.  What he found was that those who started out the most optimistic rarely survived.  The optimist might say “things will be better by summer”, but what happens when summer comes, and nothing has changed?    As the continual disappointment of missed deadlines and failures mount, the optimist suffers a broken heart and dies a little each day.  He tends to put too much stock in his own ability to influence the outcome and bend reality to his picture of how things should be.

The person of faith on the other hand recognizes that he is but one piece in a massive machine full of autonomous and often conflicting moving parts.  As such, he rarely makes predictions that depend solely on his or anyone else’s ability to complete a specific task.  The person of faith instead places his trust in the concept of better and celebrates incremental improvement along a never-ending continuum of progress.  While the optimist can only look forward to an arbitrary point in the future the person of faith can look both backward and forward noting how far he has already come and have hope for even better days ahead.

Which brings me to hope.

If you are looking for a word to pair with faith the concept of hope is much more congruent than optimism.   Hope, according to the author of Hebrews is the driving force behind faith.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. [Hebrews 11:1]

Without hope, faith is formless and provides no measure for progress.  Hope provides the continuum of growth with a touch point we can stop at and say, “look what we have accomplished” without placing too much emphasis on our own abilities or discounting the influence of outside forces.  Hope also does not rely on an arbitrary end point but rather leaves open the possibility of continued progress than we could ever have conceived from the start.

Little Orphan Annie said, “The sun will come out tomorrow” and whether it did, or it didn’t she had nothing further to add or look forward to.  The person of faith and hope says, “The sun will come out eventually” and when it does it’s just another event in the continual march of progress.

Surviving COVID19, like every other history shaping and personal growth defining event, is going to take faith and hope, it is not going to require optimism.  Optimism can set you up for failure, faith and hope are built to survive setbacks and endure long roads of recovery.

The road is long, there will be setbacks.  Keep the faith.  The sun will come out, eventually.

 

Solomon vs Paul, Meaningless vs Hope


hope2“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun? [Ecclesiastes 1:2-3]

 

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. [Romans 8: 9-11]

If you are looking for a mind bending experience I highly recommend reading the book of Ecclesiastes in parallel with Paul’s letter to the Romans.

I read the Bible every day. About four years ago I decided that I would try and read one chapter from the old testament one day followed by a chapter from the new testament the next. So on January 1 I read Genesis 1, on the 2nd I read Matthew 1 etc. The result has been that while I am still on my first pass through the Old Testament, I am on my third or fourth pass through the New Testament. A few weeks ago I started in on Ecclesiastes followed the next day by Romans. What I have discovered, in part, is that the two authors could not have a more opposite outlook on life!

King Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes at a low point in his spiritual life. He had every physical thing the heart could desire, money, power, sex, you name it, but he didn’t have inner peace and satisfaction. Paul on the other hand wrote Romans from a prison cell, awaiting trial for blasphemy and disturbing the peace. He had nothing and was facing the very real possibility of his own imminent death.

But where Solomon is full of despair and hopelessness, Paul is full of joy and hope. Why? Because Paul knew something Solomon didn’t. Paul new that this life is not the end and that by remaining alive we are given an opportunity through Jesus to live a full and righteous existence no matter our circumstances. Where Solomon saw meaninglessness, Paul saw opportunities to serve and make life better even though he might not reap the benefits of his labor himself. Solomon saw life as a vain pursuit of personal gain, Paul saw himself as already dead and continuing to live out the mission started by Jesus so many years before.

Elsewhere in Paul’s writings we find this (my personal life verse);

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. [Galatians 2:20]

Solomon concludes at the end of Ecclesiastes that the only thing left to do in order to make sense of this meaningless existence is to fear God and keep his commandments. In an Old Testament context that’s as good as it gets, follow the rules and maybe, just maybe God will bless you in the next life, there isn’t really much hope in that. Hope comes from knowing that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law – it’s already done so that living this life in him is freedom and perfection.

That is the promise of a life well lived, “in Christ” and that my friend is far from meaningless.

 

God is Funny Sometimes


For the past few days I’ve been fighting a losing battle with depression.

depression-week-image-300x300

It’s a risk we all take when we step out boldly with a vision that we think is from Him and try to live it out in the world. I get really excited about my vision for this site and the organization I’m building around the principles I see in scripture; principles for managing money, growing a business and giving back. I think God has given me a vision and a mission to carry these things out for Him and for the Kingdom on earth. I usually receive my visions early in the morning or on the weekends but Monday inevitably dawns and I am faced with the reality of bills, regular work and a secular society that just doesn’t get it.

This past week I was told by one of my prospects that the deal we had been working on for over a year wasn’t going to happen, at least not right now. That set me off into a deep depression.   Quite frankly the money I would have made from that deal could have sustained me for several months and I need that right now.

But it went deeper I started to doubt my ability. I am sure the deal we had worked out would have been great for everyone involved. I was offering to save my prospect thousands of dollars over the course of at least the next two years and to me it was a no brainer. But at the end of the day they didn’t see it that way. They felt the relationship they had with their current supplier was worth more than the money the unknown and unproven concept I was proposing would save.

What did I do wrong? Was there anything I could have said or done differently that would have been more persuasive? I don’t think so. The bottom line is, relationships matter and the relationship my prospect had with their current supplier trumped everything else, even the thousands of dollars they could have saved. Did I fail in some way? No, what this told me was that I need to spend more time getting to know them and building the relationship before they are going to trust me enough to give me a chance. Sometimes selling can be a long game and you have to be prepared for some opportunities to take a long time to nurture. That’s just business.

But back to how God is funny about all this.

This all happened on Wednesday and I allowed it to effect my thinking for exactly 24 hours. On my way home from the office on Thursday I started to pray. I prayed for peace with the new reality, I prayed for new doors to open and mostly I prayed for a sign that my vision was still intact and that God still had a plan for this site and this organization. I hadn’t been home for more than 15 minutes when my phone rang. It was a new contact in another city doing similar work who wanted to meet with me, provide encouragement and share ideas.

Wow!

God you are funny sometimes. I can’t wait to see what have you ‘vegot in store for me today!

Saturday of the Soul


For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. [Jeremiah 29:11]

So I might be a little late to the party on this one but I had a thought while on my morning run today.

Easter weekend is perhaps the busiest weekend of the year in the world of Christian blogging. Everyone who writes even a little bit on-line will post something on Easter weekend. Most are about the hope and joy found on Easter Sunday, some will be about the pain and suffering, (that points to hope and joy) found on Good Friday. But this year at least I couldn’t find a single post that talked about the day in between.

Easter Saturday is a dark and depressing time. For the first Christians it would have been the worst day of their lives. Jesus was dead, all they had hoped for was lost and to top it off, they had abandoned him in his greatest time of need. I don’t know about you but if I had been one of the disciples I wouldn’t have been very anxious for Jesus to come back, I would have been too ashamed to face him knowing what I had done.

Thankfully we know how the story ends but they didn’t.

We all have Saturdays. Days when our hope is gone, our pain is too fresh and our failure too recent, days when we can’t see God working right in front of us to make things right.

But we at least we have an advantage over the first disciples. We know how the story ends and we can look back through the rest of history and see all the times God made promises to his people that he kept beyond what anyone could have imagined.

Hope springs eternal, so they say. But hope is not naive. It stands on the history of promises and fulfilled prophesy we see all around us.

hope

So the next time you experience a Saturday of the Soul, remember God’s promises and hang on to hope. Who knows, tomorrow might be a Sunday like that one 2000 years ago, where God shows up in power and makes everything right.

On Faith…


“You’ve got to have faith to believe“.

That’s pretty profound and I’m sure somebody famous somewhere has been quoted as saying it.  A quick Google search revealed at least four songs that contain the phrase, everyone from George Michael to Bruce Springsteen has used it at one point.  It’s such a common phrase that to attribute it to anyone is pointless.

But what is “faith” and what’s it for?

Napoleon Hill gave a good working definition of faith way back in the 1930s in his book “Think and Grow Rich”.

Faith is the “eternal elixir” that gives life, power, and action to the impulse of thought.
Faith is the starting point of all accumulation of riches.
Faith is the basis of all “miracles” and of all mysteries that cannot be analyzed by the rules of science.
Faith is the only known antidote for failure.
Faith is the element that, when mixed with desire, gives you direct communication with infinite intelligence.
Faith is the element that transforms the ordinary vibrations of thought, created by the human mind, into their spiritual equivalent.
Faith is the only way the force of infinite intelligence can be harnessed and used.  [Napoleon Hill; Think and Grow Rich]

Napoleon Hill set out to write the first comprehensive philosophy of success and he hit on an essential element when he discovered the link between success and faith.   For Hill faith was not a religious word, as many of us associate it today, he was not writing about faith as something that is placed “out there” into the functioning of some external deity he was instead using the word faith in its correct grammatical form.

When I was in high-school my Christian friends and I had a saying:  “faith is a verb”.  Faith is something you do, not something you “have”.  The phrase; “have faith,” is misleading in that it makes it seem like a passive response when to have faith is really to make an active choice.

The other great definition of faith is found in the book of Hebrews.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. [Hebrews 11:1]

Hebrews 11 has been called the faith hall of fame as the author goes on to give a list of great men throughout history up to that point who acted purely out of faith.  By faith – Abel brought his offering, Enoch received eternal life, Noah built an ark, Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son, etc.

Faith gives us power and strength when we have no reason to believe in ourselves otherwise.  It is confidence and assurance as Hebrews puts it, it’s the elixir of life and the antidote for failure, to quote Hill.

But what happens when we lose faith, or just don’t have any to begin with?

Life without faith is a dark and desperate place.  In The Divine Comedy Dante describes the gates of hell with an inscription that reads in part “abandon all hope, those who enter here”.  Hell is a hopeless place devoid of faith.

I have only seen this level of despair once in my life when I went to visit a friend who had been contemplating suicide.  For years this person had lived with a vision of life that she could not make into reality, she had fought circumstances beyond her control to make a life for herself that lined up with the pictures in her head of what happiness was.   Her family never believed in her, they put her down and at times actively sought to sabotage her efforts until finally she started to believe the messages they were sending.  Confidence was lost and faith soon followed.  And if we read Hebrews backwards we can easily see that without faith, there is no hope.  Life for this friend became a living hell.

So where do you turn when hope and faith are lost?

Sadly the Bible doesn’t really give us the answers.  What it says very clearly is “don’t”.  Don’t lose hope, don’t lose faith, fear not, and rest in the knowledge that you are an infinitely valuable image bearer of the divine.  Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest California and author of the best seller, The Purpose Driven Life recently said that you can tell the worth of something by measuring what someone is willing to pay for it. We know from scripture that God was willing to pay a huge price for us.  We are valuable enough to die for!  Therefore; we can’t lose hope that our lives are worth living.  That’s what love is and it’s the basis for holding on to faith in the midst of despair.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners (without hope and without faith), Christ died for us. [Romans 5:8]