Paradise is not a Place

Imagine that you are having your routine physical.  The doctor checks your blood pressure, your heart rate, and your cholesterol.  In fact, she runs a whole range of blood tests.  She listens to your breathing, asks about your medical history, and checks for any allergies.  And then, she checks … your attitude, your outlook on life.  She wants to know how optimistic you are.  Are you hostile?  Do you carry anger or worry around with you?  And before you conclude that these last questions are too personal, let me correct myself.  I said, “imagine” a routine physical.  You don’t really have to imagine.  Paul Costa Jr., former head of The National Institute on Aging said, “personality has to be assessed as a standard part of health work-ups.”  Not only good food, but also good thoughts are important for physical, mental, and spiritual health.

And so, what kind of food do we serve our minds?  Criticism, complaining, bitterness, blame?  With this kind of nourishment, what will grow inside?  Probably not hope or joy or patience or optimism.  Carefully and thoughtfully read Philippians 4:8-9.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Paul is not simply telling us to do the right thing; he is telling us to do what is right for us.

Ilene Siegler, of Duke University Medical School says that that “hostility is the most health damaging type-A quality.”  Carol Franz, of Boston University did a ten-year study of optimistic people and found that, “regardless of how much stress they had to cope with, people high in this kind of motivation had better health.”  Then there is the twenty year Duke University study of more than four hundred men and women that found that the most suspicious and hostile people in the group stood the smallest chance of even surviving that twenty year span.

I always find it interesting when the “experts” of humanity reach a conclusion that God has been saying all along.  “Think on these things.”  “Put it into practice.”  “And the peace of God will be with you.”

The Power of Contemplation: “think”  Mull it over, repeat it to yourself, write it down, talk about it, sing about it.  It was Alexander Pope who wrote; “Some people will never learn anything because they understand everything too soon.”
The Power of Selection: “on these things”  Not on “those things” but on “these things.”  Fix your attention on what is good and change the channel on what is bad.  Yes, there is evil in the world, and no, you can’t turn away and pretend it’s not there.  But, when you choose your focus, your center of attention; when you select the kind of thinking that you will serve to your mind, choose carefully.
The Power of Action: “put it into practice”  This is because it’s not meant for my head, but for my heart.  Complete life change is the goal.  And if my diet is consistent and constant, then the outcome will be unavoidable.  My heart will change and my life (practice) will show the transformation.

I remember when my friend Rick, on a whim, applied for a teaching job on one of the Hawaiian Islands.  He had grown up on St. Louis, attended college in Missouri and never really expected to get the job … but he did!  He was excited and amazed.  But after living there for a while and experiencing real life, even in “vacationland,” he wrote me and said, “I’ve learned that ‘Paradise’ is not a place, it’s a state of mind.”  Thankfully, Rick knew the Father and he knew what to serve his mind.

Of the eight qualities Paul lists, which do you need the most?  Why?
What will you do first to give God control of your thoughts?

Something I Needed to Read — About Sleep

I am not, as they say, a morning person.  But I have 4 early morning meetings each week (5:30-7:00am).  So I am in a constant struggle to get in bed early.  

As I have aged I have noticed that my struggle has become even more difficult.  Because of this I do a lot of reading about the value of sleep. It is a good motivator.  I have read several articles about the waste removal system that our brains use and I wanted to pass on this one.

https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/news/story/5508/not-all-sleep-is-equal-when-it-comes-to-cleaning-the-brain.aspx

In his book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, John Ortberg wrote:

Before Elijah was to spend a prolonged time in solitude and prayer at Mount Horeb, the angel of the Lord had him take not one, but two long naps. Contrast this with the disciples at Gethsemane, who could not pray because they kept falling asleep. Sleep is a gift from God … For some of you reading this book, perhaps the single most spiritual thing you could do right now is to put it down and take a nap. 

The Power of Gratitude

In my office I have a hand-carved book stand designed to hold an open book.  For several years I have had a Bible on that stand open to Psalm 116.

I keep it on a shelf with several items that represent significant moments in my life: small souvenirs from important trips, pictures of special people, gifts from my children.  I have a cup from Dresden, Germany, a bullet from a friend’s unsuccessful suicide attempt, an animal carving from Ghana, West Africa, and a few other items that pull me back to those moments in my history that I do not want to forget.

But in the center of this shelf is the open Bible.  I keep it open to Psalm 116 because this Psalm led me through a very difficult time in my life.

One morning during this difficult time, I was reading in the Psalms, trying to regain my spiritual focus and my sense of purpose.  I usually read with a pen in my hand, marking repeated words and themes, and I noticed in chapter 116, three themes that seemed to be woven together throughout the psalm.  I spent quite a bit of time reading, marking, thinking, and praying about these themes.  Eventually I assembled them into three lists and wrote them in my journal.  Here is almost word-for-word what I wrote that morning:

Psalm 116 Describes — 1st The Human Plight

“Death Entangled Me”  (Vs. 3)
“The Grave Came Upon Me”  (Vs. 3)
“Overcome By Trouble And Sorrow”  (Vs. 3)
“In Great Need”  (Vs. 6)
“Death”  (Vs. 8)
“Eyes . . . Tears . . . Feet . . . Stumbling”  (Vs. 8)
“Greatly Afflicted”  (Vs. 10)
“In Dismay”  (Vs. 11)
“My Chains”  (Vs. 16)

Psalm 116 Describes — 2nd The Personal Rescue

“He Heard My Voice; He Heard My Cry”  (Vs. 1)
“He Turned His Ear To Me”  (Vs. 2)
“The Lord Protects”  (Vs. 6)
“He Saved Me”  (Vs. 6)
“The Lord Has Been Good To You”  (Vs. 7)
“You, O Lord, Have Delivered My Soul”  (Vs. 8)
“His Goodness To Me”  (Vs. 12)
“You Have Freed Me”  (Vs. 16)

Psalm 116 Describes — 3rd The Only Valid Response

“I Love The Lord”  (Vs. 1)
“I Will Call On Him As Long As I Live”  (Vs. 2)
“Be At Rest”  (Vs. 7)
“Walk Before The Lord In The Land Of The Living”  (Vs. 9)
“I Will Lift Up The Cup Of Salvation” (Vs. 13)
“Call On The Name Of The Lord”  (Vs. 13)
“I Will Fulfill My Vows To The Lord In The Presence Of His People”  (Vs. 14, 18)
“I Am Your Servant”  (Vs. 16)
“I Will Sacrifice A Thank Offering”  (Vs. 17)
“Praise The Lord”  (Vs. 19
)

Psalm 116 helped me to turn the corner because it opened my eyes to the coming rescue and led me to gratitude.  Gratitude helped me see through the pain of uncertainty.  And now I keep the Bible on the book stand as my constant reminder of the power of gratitude.