When Bad Things Happen to Good People

1 Peter 2:18-25

One of the hardest situations to bear is unjust suffering. We can expect to reap pain and trouble if we sow sin, but what if we haven’t done anything wrong? Even trials that seem to come for no reason are easier to bear than those resulting from someone’s mistreatment of us.

This is what Peter had in mind when he wrote today’s passage. Slaves in the Roman Empire had few rights if any, and abuse wasn’t uncommon. Becoming a Christian didn’t change the circumstances, but it did require a different response. Peter told them to respectfully submit to their masters and endure mistreatment because such a response finds favor with God.

Whoever has been saved by Christ is also called to follow in His footsteps. Although the Lord committed no sin, He suffered death on a cross for us. Jesus not only paid the penalty for our sins, but He also made it possible for us to respond to mistreatment as He did.

Christ’s responses are noteworthy, first because Jesus didn’t revile or threaten those who hurt Him. His silence was fueled by forgiveness rather than anger or thoughts of revenge. Even as He was being nailed to the cross, He prayed, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). Second,
Jesus entrusted Himself to the Father, who judges righteously. The Lord had no need to fight for His rights, because He was doing exactly what God had called Him to do.

Our job is to make sure we’re following Christ and living in God’s will. Then if others mistreat us, we can simply hand the situation over to our Father, knowing that He will judge it rightly in His time.

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Loneliness Kills

Loneliness Kills

If you’re not careful, loneliness might kill you.

Everyone feels lonely at predictable times, like when a special friend or relative dies. But doctors are quick to point out that it’s the continuing, persistent kind of loneliness that carries very real health risks.

In a 2010 AARP survey, 35 percent of all responders reported feeling lonely. Of those, nearly half said their loneliness had persisted for at least six years. That’s a lot of time for a harmful condition to unleash its dangerous effects.

Here are just a few of the consequences of persistent loneliness:

Studies suggest that loneliness is more dangerous than packing on some extra pounds. Yet Americans spend billions of dollars on diet products and often make little effort to address their loneliness.

  • Loneliness increases the risk of premature death by 14 percent.
  • Loneliness affects not only our current mental health—think depression. One recent study also suggests it increases the risk for dementia later.
  • Loneliness often brings fragmented sleep, the choppy kind that seriously affects health.
  • Loneliness can increase inflammation throughout the body, which carries its own risks. That inflammation can also exacerbate existing conditions like arthritis and heart disease.

Mother Teresa—the impoverished nun who spent her life helping the poor—described loneliness as the “most terrible poverty.”

Time with friends

The July 2014 issue of the Mayo Clinic’s Health Letter suggested strategies for combating loneliness, including these ideas for nurturing friendships:

  • Reach out: An unexpected phone call or email, even just to say hello, is a meaningful gesture.
  • Be positive: Think of friendship as an emotional bank account. Make deposits of kindness and approval, keeping in mind that criticism and negativity draw down the account. Nonstop complaining also puts a strain on a friendship.
  • Listen up: Ask what’s going on in your friends’ lives. Let people know you’re paying close attention through eye contact, body language and reaffirming comments. When friends share details of hard times they are experiencing, be empathetic.
  • Extend and accept invitations: Invite a friend to join you for coffee or lunch. When you’re invited to a social gathering, say yes. Contact someone who recently invited you to an activity and return the favor.
  • Respect boundaries: Don’t overtax the friendship with your own needs. Remember that friendships require both give and take.

Need more friends? That same Mayo Clinic article offers these ideas for finding new friends:

  • Attend community events: Get together with a group of people working toward a goal that you believe in, such as an election or the cleanup of a natural area. Find a group with similar interests in an activity, such as reading, sports, crafting or gardening.
  • Volunteer: Offer your time or talents at a hospital, place of worship, museum, community center, charitable group or other organization. You can form strong connections when you work with people who have mutual interests.
  • Take up a new interest: Take a college or community education course to meet people who have similar interests. Join a class at a local gym, senior center or community fitness facility.
  • Join a faith community: Take advantage of special activities and get-to-know-you events for new members.
  • Take a walk: Put on some good shoes and keep your eyes open. Chat with neighbors who also are out and about, or head to a popular park and strike up conversations there.
  • Think beyond two legs: Whether it has four legs or even wings, a pet can provide many of the same companion benefits as human friendships can.

I’d add to that list “Activate old interests.” I’ve made new and interesting friends, thanks to signing up for weekly hospice visits to the  sick and shut-ins.

Every list I see about maintaining wellness invariably includes a recommendation for staying socially engaged. It’s good for body, mind, and spirit. Communicating via email and cellphone is nice—and certainly convenient. Still, there will never be anything like the real thing: spending time—together, face to face—with other people.

(DJS)

Losing Someone You Love….Now What !?

Losing Someone You Love….Now What!?

You can shed tears that they are gone
Or you can smile because they had lived

You can close your eyes and pray that they’ll come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all they left

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see them
Or you can be full of the love you shared

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday

You can remember them and only that they are gone
Or you can cherish their memory and let it live on

You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn you back
Or you can do what they would want: smile, open your eyes. love,
help others and go on.

(D.J.Saker)

Will We Learn From History? (Tisha B’Av)

Will We Learn From History?

Isaiah 61:3 To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.

Tonight we enter into Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the fifth month of the Hebrew calendar year. Some of you may know that a lot of bad things have happened to the Jewish people on this date, the first of which was when the spies returned with an evil report of Canaan, the Promised Land, recounted in Numbers 13 and 14. Both the first and the second Temple were destroyed on this exact date, hundreds of years apart. The Crusades began on this day in 1095. The Jews were expelled out of England on this day in 1290, and again were expelled from Spain and Portugal on Tisha B’Av in 1492. And there are many more examples of this infamous day in Jewish history!

The number “nine” is sometimes associated with “judgment” or “fruit” in scripture. Not taking this too far, yet we may still see repeated expressions of the Lord’s judgment through this recurring historical pattern. Moses warned, especially in Deuteronomy, of the terrible things which would happen to the Jewish people throughout history were they to abandon the Lord, worship false gods, and forsake His covenants. And He often used idolatrous nations who hated or were jealous of Israel, to bring judgment upon their disobedience, though they often went way too far and angered the Lord bringing His judgment against them as well.

But God’s judgments are almost always tempered with His mercy and grace, for one constant purpose — and that is to bring people back to Himself! We see this in our own lives and in the history of nations throughout the world. But as the saying goes, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. And we have a powerful example of this in Tisha B’Av. Israel’s idolatry brought God’s judgment upon her. And as the Jewish people around the world are fasting in preparation for the observance of this “day of judgment”, we may remind ourselves of our own past failures which we don’t want to repeat!

Will we remember and learn from these past failures? We are not doomed to a fate of failure. If repentance is sincere and deep, we can avoid the judgments and consequences of past sins, and learn from history. If we seek the Lord to expose the roots of failure in our lives, and pray with faith for healing and deep repentance, trusting Him for the power to overcome the sinful nature…we really can avoid a pattern of judgment. Let’s spend the time with Him now… so we don’t need to return to Him through the terrible shame and sorrow of “Tisha B’Av.”

(D.J.Saker)

The Diary That Changed The World

The diary that changed the world

On the morning of August 4, 1944, a teenage girl living in Amsterdam was arrested by Nazi soldiers and sent to a concentration camp. She was one of 107,000 Jews deported from the Netherlands between 1942 and 1944; only 5,000 survived. She did not, dying of typhus eight months later.

She was one of six million victims of the Shoah (as Jews often refer to the Holocaust). Her father was the only member of her family to survive; many of her friends were murdered as well. A family friend gathered up the scattered papers of her diary after her arrest, and gave them to her father when he returned. Her diary was published in the Netherlands in 1947, in Germany and France in 1950, and in the U.K. and America in 1952.

The world knows it as The Diary of a Young Girl. Its author was Anne Frank.

Her story nearly defies belief: as Nazi oppression escalated, the family pretended to flee to Switzerland before hiding in secret rooms they entered behind a bookcase. In total, eight people hid from the authorities for more than two years before they were betrayed by an informer. Anne and her sister were taken to Bergen-Belsen, where they died just a few weeks before British troops liberated the camp. Their bodies were buried in a mass grave at an unknown location.

Her diary has now been translated into 70 languages and published in over 60 countries. More than 30 million copies have been sold. It has introduced generations of young people to the reality and horrors of the Holocaust. In 1999, Time magazine selected her as one of the 100 most important people of the century.

Reading parts of her diary is an extremely emotional experience. She describes her mounting despair: “I’ve reached the point where I hardly care whether I live or die. The world will keep turning without me, and I can’t do anything to change events anyway.” But she refused to abandon hope. Just two weeks before she was captured, Anne wrote:

“It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”

Anne Frank was right: it is impossible to build our lives on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. Seventy years after she was arrested, God still offers “liberty to the captives” (Luke 4:18). Why do you need his freedom and hope today? How will you share them with the world?

(D.J.Saker)

Finding Strength In The Face Of Tragedy

Finding Strength in the Face of Tragedy

Glance at the front page of any newspaper these days and odds are good you will see the words “hard times.” Our national problems are spawning many personal woes, it’s true, but personal hard times can strike at any point… in your relationships, on the job, with the kids, and, of course, in matters of health. As life coach and Daily Health News frequent contributor Lauren Zander says, “Eventually your number is going to come up — bad stuff happens to everyone.” She is quick to add that while there is much you can do to prevent trouble, some of it is simply the unfolding of life. The challenge, she says, is to accept life’s blows as part of the journey, to learn from them and emerge stronger and wiser, rather than to create unnecessary drama that drags you down a path of misery.

We deal with hard times in several predictable ways. One approach is to cower and complain and use your bad luck to fuel comparisons to the experiences of others: “You think that’s bad, wait till you hear what happened to me!” But no one can possibly judge another’s hard time or determine whose is worse. Your tough time is tough and it is yours. Then there are those who take this concept of ownership too far, says Lauren, wrapping their hardship in a shroud of secrecy — such as the guy who got fired but tells nearly no one, pretending to many in his life that it simply didn’t happen. Or the person who suffers silently as a close family member spirals downward from substance abuse. Attempting to hide a hard time shows you don’t understand the most basic thing about it — everyone gets kicked by life sooner or later. Lauren’s advice is to accept what happens in much the way we accept puberty — as a part of life filled with challenges and all sorts of feelings, including humiliation. We all experienced it and we all understand.

THE UPSIDE OF BAD THINGS

Being open about what is happening in your life offers several specific benefits. First it allows you to demonstrate your attitude toward the matter, and thus signal to others what you would like from them, be it a lot of help or a little. It also helps you process your emotions, far better than stuffing them inside and hoping they’ll stay put. When you’re having marital trouble, for instance, the last thing you might want from a friend is for her to turn into Sally Sunshine, reassuring you earnestly that everything will be just fine… but, on the other hand, you won’t benefit from constant hand-wringing and shrill assessments about how awful it all is. Hard times make people feel separate and isolated from others and, to some degree, from life itself. Try to let people around you know that you don’t want them to over- or under-respond to your struggle. Help them understand how to be supportive.

In fact, the second benefit of sharing bad news is just that — an important opportunity to gather support. Many people secretly crave more attention from friends and loved ones than they get on a day-to-day basis. Ironically, tragedy can open that door, bringing you emotional support you need, which makes you feel loved. Be frank with others that you are devastated by debt, a diagnosis, a divorce… it will tell your friends and family that you need comfort and attention. Keeping matters to yourself will cut you off from what you need most.

FINDING THE WAY

Seen in the rearview mirror, hard times offer the opportunity to see how difficulties in the past have contributed to who you are today. To learn how the patterns and personality you developed over the years has shaped how you react to difficulties, Lauren urges you not to wait for another to hit. Make a list of awful experiences in your life, along with what you did to handle them — for better or for worse. Maybe you demonstrated amazing pluck publicly but consoled yourself each evening with pints of ice cream. Perhaps you shared nasty stories about the lover or boss who spurned you at every opportunity, but then cleaned every closet, lost 10 pounds and went to the gym daily. Or maybe you mostly just sat home and closed off the world. “The crucial thing to explore in this exercise is whether your pattern involved withdrawing… being destructive… or making changes that turned out to be productive. The more you know from your history including the traps you fall into and the ways you strengthen yourself to emerge better from a tough event, the better equipped you are to handle the hard times in the future,” points out Lauren.

For all the pain hard times cause, the truth is they also come bearing a gift… really. Hard times force change. At first you probably won’t like it, says Lauren, but a change — however dumped on you — presents the opportunity to do something different. Look around at those you know who were suddenly faced with loneliness during early retirement who started volunteering and met a whole new group of friends… who lost their home in a fire or flood and took the opportunity, then, to rebuild something they liked even better… or emerged from a painful breakup more capable and independent with a life that is more interesting, exciting and satisfying. And, there are many, many stories of cancer survivors who found an entirely new perspective on life after their diagnosis and treatment.

MAKE A PLAN

When life wallops you, Lauren says it is totally reasonable to throw a pity party and lick your wounds and feel dreadful about what has happened… for a while. (This advice does not pertain to people dealing with the death of a loved one — bereavement is a separate issue and for that Lauren recommends finding one of many excellent bereavement experts to help guide you through.) You need this time to process the event and your feelings. You may even benefit from joining a group with whom you can share your feelings and thoughts if, for example, your teenager is in trouble or a spouse is seriously ill. This can help you to work through feelings faster and more thoroughly, says Lauren. Whether in a group or by yourself, the trap to avoid as you process your pain is blame… be it the world, your genes, your rotten luck or that old standby, other people. Blaming turns people into victims, a true no-win position.

How long you devote to feeling sorry for yourself depends on the harshness of the blow and the reality of your current situation. If money is tight and you just lost your job, you obviously need to get a new one fast. Find people to talk to who will bring a fresh perspective. It is also important to do good things for yourself such as getting out for a long walk or taking a yoga class. “Seek out activities that are healthy and cathartic and will distract you from your problems. This will help re-engage you in what is good about life,” says Lauren. Now is the time to refer to your list of past challenges… what were the skills you saw in yourself that you can draw on now to move ahead? Did you divert your attention to avoid behavior that would be unproductive? Did you get back on the metaphorical horse and try again? Lauren recommends that her clients use the strength they gained from the past, avoid what didn’t work and learn even more from the current problem. Whatever you do, don’t give up and give in. As Lauren says, “However bad it might seem at the outset, a hard time is yet another chance to rise to the occasion with choices and behavior that will turn you into a hero in your own life.”

Texas Medical Center Hospice (Houston, Tx.) (D.J.Saker)

Born To Be Great!?

“Everyone is born with potential to be great. However, potential on its own is worthless. It’s only when we realize and live out our potential that it becomes meaningful. Tests are an effective method for bringing out our potential and making it real. A person may be born with the capacity to have faith, but it is only once he is tested that he becomes a man of faith. Or maybe someone is born with an innate ability to be a rock for others, but it’s only when she is tested that she becomes a woman of strength. We are born with the ability to love, but it’s through our tests that we discover how fierce our love can be. We are born with kindness, but we will never know the depths of our selflessness until we are put through a trial.”

“There is only failure when there is a test; however, tests are only given to those who can pass them.” Or, as the concept has been shortened in this Yiddish proverb, “God gave burdens, also shoulders.”

When you are faced with a test, remember: Every test is given by God out of love – and there is no such thing as a test from Him that we cannot pass!

This way of thinking brings hope, courage, forward movement and lasting success. Something GOOD is happening! (DJS)

(Texas Medical Center Hospice)