Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;…(Matthew 6:19)
Prayer can be as simple or complicated as you want it to be.
I’ve heard many lessons on the subject of prayer, seen different approaches to use while praying and participated in countless prayer activities. For me, simple heartfelt prayers are the way to go. Here is a small slide show of two very simple techniques that I use and want to share. Here’s a link to my Haiku Deck as well.
Eckhart Tolle describes dysfunctional mental and emotional life which he calls The Pain Body. This body is more than occasional negativity and unhappy feelings–he describes it as a parasitic entity that seeks to gain power and control over us by feeding upon our negative energy states. The following slides describe the process.
The Pain Body – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires
The Pain Body (PDF presentation download)
Two years ago I attended a leadership workshop about the importance of leading from values. The facilitator taught us that the best leaders lead from a strong sense of personal values. We learned that when what’s inside of us matches what we do on the outside we have integrity. That makes sense.
Now, I’ve long known about the things that were important to me. The troubled was, I had never really brought focus To all of these ideas. In an easy to do exercise, I was able to reduce my larger value system into six more manageable core values.
Here’s how we did it.
- First, we looked at a long list of values and circled the 30 to values that mattered most. Here’s a link to such a list.
- Next, we reduced all of these values down to a mere 10 values.
- Finally, we were required to decide which of these ten were our top six.
I’ve been living and referring to these six values for the past two years. I remain satisfied that these six values best represent what is important to me. No, they don’t represent all of the things I believe in–but I’m amazed at how most of the things I feel strongly about can be reduced to these six categories.
I created a slide show of my core values below.If the slide show doesn’t show up, Click this link.
Core Values – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires
A few minutes ago, as I was walking through the building, I came upon a giant box. I was drawn to the box–indeed I went out of my way to look more carefully at it. Believe it or not, I’m not even a little curious about what contents used to be in the box–I’m excited to find a box! All that I can say is that for some unexplained reason I felt an old sense of joy returning. I found myself thinking What fun it would be to play hide and seek and maybe crawl into the box. That’s when an old set of memories begin to come forward.
As a kid I used to love to play with boxes. I don’t know if kids still do this anymore but it was great fun for me at the time. We lived behind a shopping center that had a furniture store. Every day there would be large cardboard boxes ready for disposal. This was before those large industrial box crushers that you see everywhere. I would take these boxes and use them in a form of imaginary play.
When I was ready to build a fort, construct a home, or use my imagination, I would go and snag a box. My favorite memory of boxhood fortune was the time I constructed a three-story apartment. I set one box on top of the other and cut holes big enough for me to climb from one box to the next. When I reached the top I discovered that I was almost as tall as the roof on the house! Sir Edmund Hillary could not have been more thrilled! There were other times that I would drag boxes to the creek and pretend that I was building a fort.
I’m pretty sure that kids of all ages have vivid imaginations–but it seems to me that very few children have the freedom I once had to scavenge for boxes and other treasures. Parents watch their children more closely today than yesterday–and they should I suppose. Even so, I would not trade the freedom I had to ride my bike and to examine the trash cans behind the shopping center for who knows what kind of treasure.
If you have a large box that you don’t know what to do with–look out! I might just turn it into a man cave, work shop, or space ship.
No matter how terrible you think your present situation may be, rest assured that at least 5 billion people would trade places with you—no questions asked—in an instant! According to census data, the world has nearly 7 billion people living on it. Of these, 80 percent, or some 5.6 billion people, live on less than ten dollars a day. Two and a half billion people live on less than 2.5 dollars a day. Yes, the world can be a cruel and desperate place; even so, billions of people around the world would be most willing to trade their problems for yours sight unseen! Think about this these things the next time you feel like murmuring or complaining. The truth is we have almost every reason to give thanks and almost none to complain.
I define gratitude as a conscious way of living where one remains alert for opportunities of expressing appreciation, thankfulness and praise to God and others for the people places and things in their lives. Grateful people realize that every breath is a gift of the Lord and that all we have is a gift of His mercy and grace. A grateful person doesn’t take the kindnesses of others for granted. They notice the little things as well as big things.
Gratitude lives with eyes wide open and constantly says “Thank You!”
A grateful person has an awareness that blessings are everywhere around us. People without an attitude of gratitude take people places and things in their lives for granted. They hardly notice the great abundance about them. A grateful person doesn’t need to be reminded of their blessings—they notice them as they occur. They live in amazement as they experience the rich blessings of family, friends, relationships, work, health and spiritual blessings. And, as they experience these blessings, they cannot help but respond in thankfulness to their God and those about them.
Gratitude is a new way of living
Imagine a new life based in gratitude. The first thing in the morning as you wake up and open your eyes, you thank God for protecting you during the night and blessing you with sleep. You thank God for the bed you slept in and the roof that covers your head. As you bathe, you thank God for the clean water and soap—so many people don’t have these things you know. As you put on your clothes, you thank God for the fact that you have clothes to wear. You thank God for your education, work, and relationships. You thank God for the transportation you have; and, as you travel to your first appointment of the day, you thank Him for the beauty that you see around you. You thank God for each person he brings before you during the day and you thank him for the acts of kindnesses that others show you as well as the acts that you can show to others. As you go to bed, you thank God for another day of care and blessings.
There are three ways we may receive something.
Gratitude is an attitude we carry as we receive God’s wonderful gifts. Sadly, many people go through life unaware of the blessings God has given them. To hear them pray you’d think God never did a thing for them. They are always aware of needs that aren’t being met and focusing upon what they don’t have. These people take much of their life for granted—never stopping to say thank you. Like the ten lepers Jesus healed, only one of them returned to say thanks. The other nine were wrapped up in their own affairs. We can be like these people as well.
Others receive with arrogance. They seem to expect good things to come their way. They blame God and act indignant if their lives don’t go as they think it should. Their prayers, if they pray at all, instruct God about how He should best go about meeting their needs. It’s as if they see God as some coin operated being who should do as they ask; but, a grateful heart and arrogance cannot exist in the same place.
The third way we can receive God’s blessings is with awareness and thankfulness. This is what God desires of us. He wants us to become aware of the care he bestows on each of us. As we become more aware, we marvel at the completeness of God’s love for us. We stop taking things for granted. We marvel at His nature and the people places and things he brings before us. We feel blessed. We stop telling God how to bless us and start thanking him for what he’s done for us.
Finding Gratitude in the Mundane
What could be more mundane than a daily cup of coffee? Yet, for every cup of coffee there are any number of people, places and things that deserve our thanks.
First we can thank God for the rain, soil, plants, growing season and coffee crop. We should also give thanks for the people who grew and cultivated the coffee on the plantations and farms. And, we can give thanks for others who worked long and difficult hours to create a product for us to enjoy. Further, we have untold thousands of people to thank for complex system of transportation that is to deliver our coffee to the store.
Equally, we should be thankful for the personal means of transportation we used to go and buy our coffee. Finally, we owe a debt of thanks to God, our family, an educational system and our employers for all the skills and finances available to us that we might purchase our coffee. Yes, even in the mundane we have innumerable blessings to be mindful of.
A grateful heart understands the power of contentment.
It lives in the realization that it doesn’t need people, places, or things to make it happy. Instead, it finds pleasure in whatever circumstances the Lord may bring. As the Apostle Paul once said, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” A grateful heart feels contentment because it understands the great abundance of physical and spiritual blessings it has received from God in his mercy and grace.
Gratitude is based in a healthy perspective.
It knows that everyone suffers trials; and, whatever trials we are going through, others have it worse—some much worse. It understands that even when we feel fear, pain and anxiety, we can say, as Psalmist David did, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil—for thou art with me.” Gratitude understands that we are never abandoned by God. Grateful hearts have little room for murmuring, complaining, or thoughts of victimization.
Gratitude is based in optimism.
This optimism continues even when as we go through strenuous trials. As a refiner’s fire makes gold more valuable and pure, so we too, become more fit and useful as we pass through our difficult trials. Gratitude helps us understand that the things we once cursed and feared are the very things that make us strong once we pass through the fire. Gratitude helps us see God’s plan through our pain and suffering. It realizes that what appears to be an unanswered prayer today may become one of our greatest blessings tomorrow.
My dad used to say
That teaching was a wonderful profession because of the lives you could touch. I don’t doubt that teachers change lives—they do—but sometimes I have wondered if the touch lives aspect is a bit overstated. Most of my classes and interactions with students are professional and subject related. I try to be available to all of my students-but I’m not sure the degree that my caring is seen or understood—muchless seeps in. I think about these things as my career draws to a close. It’s not fully over for me—but the end is in sight.
Yesterday, a young woman from this semester’s came in to my office to record an interview for the Talon—our newspaper. I asked her how things were going and my usual question, Is life good? She looked sad and was slow to reply and I instinctively said, Is there something you need to talk about? I’m here for you.
That simple question started a flood of tears and before long I was listening to her side about a few problems she was facing. I listened and tried to be encouraging. After she left, I though about all of the times I’ve had conversations like this—at least a hundred times—maybe more—over the years.
Suddenly, a thought entered into my head that I believe was nothing more than the grace of the God I love. It was related to Jesus words,
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
A Simple Truth
The thought that entered my mind was this: My students are my treasures in heaven! I was reminded that what matters most is whether I try to make a whatever difference to those I come into contact with each day. I may not meet thousands of people each day—but I will meet (and I have met) thousands of people over the course of my life.
My students, my family, the men in my support group, the people in my church, and my wellbeing are my treasures in heaven. Any kindness I show to my friends, the poor, the earth or those I barely know are also small but important treasures. Each day is an opportunity to lay up a new treasure in heaven. Over time, treasures mount up. All of us can be very rich indeed.
It has been a habit of mine to drink coffee each morning. Sometimes I make a cup shortly after rising. I sit in my comfortable brown chair, not fully awake, and sip a cup of my favorite brand—which is apt to change often. There is no conversation, only silence—it’s just me and the coffee before I head to the shower and dressing room. I am in a state of self-imposed isolation and monk like quietness.
Then it’s off to work—but unless there is a pressure of time, I make certain to stop at a coffee-house. (Starbucks and Panera are my favorites—but I would be willing to branch out) My life slowly moves from the solitary to the social as I meet the friendly barista and friends that may have stopped by as well. They gently coax me out of my cocoon with small talk and easy conversation. I’ve actually made friends with people who I never knew simply because we arrive at the same time and place each day. I have transitioned from isolation to becoming more social. As I notice the people coming and going, I’m still a little distant, but I’m willing to put my toe in the water and venture forth a little social chat-chat.
Thus fortified, I head to the car—ready to meet the day and travel to the office. I’m not fully engaged with life, but I feel my power growing as I greet my colleagues and engage in banter as I pass them on the campus. I’m still not ready to sign contracts—like buying a house or car—but I’m getting there. My alert-o-meter is about 85% now.
It could all stall out right here. By now my Starbucks is running low and cold. But I have planned for this turning point. There is a final thing left to do. I carry the pitiful remains of my coffee and fill it about half full of “office brand” Joe. Office brand may not be pretty, but like cheap hard liquor, it’s effective. A few more sips and I walk into the classroom ready to meet and greet my students with enthusiasm. I’m smiling now and teaching like a caffeinated fool.
I’m fully alert, fully social, fully extroverted—stay out of my way—the power is on and flowing to the max. I’m ready to wrestle a grizzly bear if I need to. (And some days in my classes I do exactly that as I strive to stamp out ignorance in my lifetime! ). As the class concludes, I walk out, toss the cup in the trash, and click my heels at least twice as I walk down the sidewalk.
The ritual is complete. The coffee and I—we are one. We meet with other “Ones” as well. The earth is a better place.
God’s Crazy Sense of Humor
Hey David, I’d like you to come over here and meet a friend of mine!
There she was…sitting by the president of my college. An unusual moment was about to unfold—but first, let me tell you about the events leading up to this moment.
The Day Before
I was attending an event at a local college when across the room I noticed a politician working the crowd and shaking as many hands as she could. This young woman was a political hopeful and I had seen her advertisements on television many times. To be honest, I didn’t like her. Though I didn’t know her personally, something about those ads triggered a cynicism that she was just another rich Oklahoman who hoped to buy their way into political office–not that that ever happens!
She was working her way methodically across the room and I began to feel uncomfortable thinking that I might have to shake her hand. I began thinking to myself, If she comes over here I will refuse to shake her hand.
In my mind I imagined myself getting out of my seat and walking away. Alternatively, I imagined myself folding my arms and making my hands unavailable. I also imagined myself confronting her in front of all these people about her points of view. I would never have done the last thing–but it gave me a kind of comfort to think that I might.
Fortunately, the lecture began and everybody began to sit down. After the speech was over I left and never gave the politician another thought.
Not so fast! The Next Day
The next morning I arrived at Starbucks, as I always do before work, to drink some coffee and eat a pastry in silence. This morning though, the president of my college was there and visiting with someone. As I looked more carefully—I saw that it was the politician from the day before! No worries, I thought, I’ll just walk to the counter, order, and slip out unnoticed.
It was too late! The president’s eyes met mine. He smiled broadly, as he always does, and said, * Hey David, I’d like you to come over here and meet a friend of mine!* I walked over and he said, * Do you know Patsy?*
I turned towards Patsy and said, * I’ve never met you in person but I feel as though I know you because I’ve seen so many of your television commercials.*
The president then went on to explain that Patsy was a member of our church and a former graduate of the university. As he continued speaking I realized the irony of discovering that I had something in common with a person I did not want to like.
And then I did what I swore I would not do the day before. I gave my best smile and offered my hand to the politician and said,* It’s very nice to meet you.*
Tail Between My Legs
I left shortly thereafter so that the two of them could continue talking and I instantly knew that God was behind all of this. It would be just like the God I love to hear my foolish thoughts the day before and to arrange a moment of truth where my petty attitudes could be seen for what they were. In my heart I had placed personal prejudices above simple human decency. For what could be more decent than to offer everyone you meet a smile, a handshake, and best wishes?
(Click here to watch a short video)
The story of the 10 Commandments describes a very Charleston Heston moment where Moses climbs the fiery, trembling, shaking and baking mountain until he reaches the very top and sees the Shekanih—very glory of God. It was a supernatural event that scared every man, woman and child who saw it. To use today’s language, it was filled with shock and awe! Moses spends time on the mountain and is given the 10 commandments––the very groundwork that would be used to create God’s special people.
The 10 Commandments are exquisite—but I am not going to write about the meaning of each of them. The Torah, countless books, seminaries and thousands of years of Judeo-Christian tradition have discussed them extensively. Who am I to add to all of this? Instead, let’s think instead about the reason they were created and given to us in the first place. Let’s look at the lawgiver instead of the law.
What makes the Commandments unique?
I am sure that one could compose a powerful argument that in Moses’s time, the ten Commandments represent an unusual good—especially when one considers how cheap and expendable people’s property and lives were. That in itself would make it worthy of study. But I would argue, and with good scholarship on my side, that the specific ideas represented by each of the ten Commandments were not that unusual or unique–even for that day. For instance, the Babylonian code of Hammurabi contains many of the Commandments found in the law of Moses. In fact, some scholars believe that Moses copied significant portions of this code.
So, if it’s not the thou shalts or thou shalt nots that make this code so exceptional, what does? I believe it is this: It’s the idea expressed in the very first commandment, the one which says You shall have no other gods before me. And here’s my thesis:
The laws given to Moses were meant to create a special people of God that would one day inhabit the land that would become the nation of Israel. When we hear people talking about the ten Commandments today it is not creating the people of God. They are talking about something else entirely. In fact–these very jewels of Judeo-Christianity have come to represent, to so many in our culture, some of the most repressive ideas about God and God’s people. What happened?
From a People of God to Cultural Orthodoxy
How did we get from creating a people of God to the cultural perception that we are forcing people into an orthodoxy of God, religion, country, politics, insurance plans and economic systems? Some may think it inappropriate to ask such questions. After all, aren’t we here today to celebrate Scripture? Aren’t we here today to celebrate our traditions even if they’re not all that well understood by those about us?
The answer is a qualified yes. But we are also told to be as lights in the world, but how can we be those things if instead we are perceived stumbling blocks?
Tablets of Stone
Let’s begin by noticing that the 10 Commandments were given on tablets of stone. Tradition tells us that they were engraved by God’s very own hand. Even as Moses came down from the mountain problems arose.
He saw the people worshiping Idols and participating in indecent rituals. In anger, Moses smashes the stone tablets upon the ground breaking them into pieces. The Commandments would have to be written once again, but this time it could not be written in stone. Jewish tradition has it that the stone Commandments brought down from the mountain represent something that is hard and inflexible—a great ideal that doesn’t square with human experience. The commandments would be rewritten a second time upon something other than stone.
Laws are Irresistible
There is something irresistible about having rules plainly written in stone. As a teacher I understand this. My students want to know exactly what will be on the test. And further, in today’s world of academia, it is considered a sign of great learning to create a grading rubric that clearly explains how I will grade an assignment—complete with numerical notations. So many times I’ve heard my fellow professors bemoan that students are less interested in learning and more interested in memorizing whatever will be on a test. Stone tablets tell us what will be on the test—but they don’t necessarily mean that we love God.
We think we want to know exactly what God expects of us. We want those Commandments written in stone. We want God’s rules and expectations to be made plain. At least we say we do. There are many people who are willing to tell you very plainly what they mean–many churches exist for that very purpose!
But notice what we do. We take those Commandments and began to dissect each one of them.
We ask, What does it mean, thou shalt not kill? Is killing the same as murder? Is it okay to kill in war-time? Is it okay to kill an intruder robbing our homes? Is God really saying there are no circumstances in which killing another human is permitted? And what about adultery? Didn’t God allow men to have multiple wives? That wasn’t adultery was it? And didn’t the Kings have concubines? And weren’t men in battle allowed to bring home young women from their conquered lands?
Yes, that’s what we do with every single command of God. We analyze and parse them to death. And our interpretations of these commands become a law unto themselves. Differing groups of people spring up who interpret one way and another group springs up who sees it very differently. And then we are left with a vexing problem, What shall we do with all those people who did not interpret the law the same way that we do? We draw sharp boundaries and declare that our group is right and their group is wrong. In Jesus day there were the laws of the scribes and Pharisees—and of course those outcasts Samaritans. There were laws to tell people how to understand the laws. Laws on top of laws. Then at some point, the people who created the laws that interpret the laws became a power unto themselves–and even able to decide matters of life and death.
From Stone Tables to Stoning Others
In Jesus day the temple had become a marketplace for buying and selling animals for sacrifice. Under the guise of Jewish law the temple became a pawn of the Roman state as well as an economic and tax base. And that’s the big temptation of laws. We become more impressed in our abilities to interpret them instead of worshiping the God who created them—and then at some point we pervert the law altogether for our human advantage—usually for political and economic ones.
It’s not much different in our day. Here in the great state of Oklahoma there are churches on every corner. We have a lot of religious people living here. We have strong ideas about what’s right and what’s wrong. And there can be a huge intolerance of anyone who does not construct the world according to our secular religious and political views. We also have those in the highest branches of our state government who wish to place the ten Commandments as monuments in places owned by the state. And we are not the only ones. There are any number of states who have passed laws requiring the Commandments be placed in public places such as schools, courthouses, and state capitols.
With so many lawsuits in state and federal courts, it would seem that the ten Commandments have become a significant battleground issue. Even the church of Satan wishes to have a say in the matter. As you know, they have brought suit against the state for the right to place their monuments in state-owned spaces alongside of the Christians.
Ads are running on television with elected officials and hopeful ones proclaiming their faith in God along with patriotism, a desire for strong free-market economy and anti-care policies. Pay attention, and see if I’m not telling you the truth. And where is God in all of this?
The Monument I Want to See
The beautiful Commandments, given to us by God, to make us his people have become a law unto themselves. These laws are not used to form a people of God, but to impose interpretations and political will of one group upon another. It’s not the decalogue that’s to blame, it’s what people have done to them. If the scriptures all point to Jesus, and Jesus claims that he came to fulfill the law are true, we should listen to what he says in this matter. He says the law can be summed up in this statement, love the Lord with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength–and your neighbor as yourself. Now that’s a monument I could support.