Let’s Hold Off the Apocalypse

Let’s hold off the apocalypse for one more day.

If you’re anything like me,

There’s so much beauty left to see

And so many words left to say.

Even if someone would set a date,

More than likely the end would be late.

So why spend today’s precious moments

Worrying about tomorrow’s possible torments?

Why spend your day in fear and speculation

When you can now experience love and jubilation?

We don’t know what life holds in store,

Thus we must embrace everyone and everything that much more.

No matter what tomorrow brings,

Let us enjoy the beauty of life,

Listen to the song the free bird sings

And put aside the petty bickering and strife.

Lift up your head, Lift up your voice,

And find something for which you can rejoice.

 

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Peace through Music

 

Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent. - Victor Hugo

There is something about music that resonates in the collective soul of humanity. For millennia, music has been used to sing praises to God, tell stories of epic victories, songs of nature, songs of love, to bring awareness of social causes, or just simply for entertainment purposes. Just as there are billions of people on the planet, not everyone will agree on the same music, as it is a fine-tuned individual preference based on what sounds pleasant to the ears.

In recent months, I have rediscovered my love for classical music. The music has brought healing to my heart and spirit. Throughout the course of my life, I have had to fight constant battles against depression and anxiety. There would be times that I would feel so overwhelmed by the everyday events of life, that I would get anxious and the tension would rise. It would feel as if a panic attack was coming.  I would put on my earbuds and close my eyes and I would allow the classical or instrumental praise music to help me refocus on what I had to do. There is just a timeless, serene quality to a symphony or sonata that can bring such joy to the heart and mind. (Along with music, we can tap into the power of prayer and even breathing exercises, but I will focus on music).

The Bible states Saul was the first king of Israel. However, due to Saul’s continuous disobedience, God rejected Saul and anointed David as the next king. Maybe it was the weight of God’s rejection or the realization of his personal failings, Saul became a tortured man.

“Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.” (1 Samuel 16:14, NIV).

Briefly, I believe the above verse means that God had removed His protection, grace and anointing from Saul and Saul was left to deal with the fallout of his sins. God had allowed Saul to reap what he had sown.

Saul’s attendants knew what was going on with him and they sought permission to find a harp player, who could bring comfort to Saul. The harp player ended up being David, who earlier in 1 Samuel 16, unbeknownst to Saul, anointed the next king of Israel.

“And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took a harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.” (1 Samuel 16:23, KJV).

David’s harp playing would bring temporary healing to Saul’s spirit, but this verse also serves as a pivot point between Saul’s steady decline and David’s meteoric rise. Through music, David was able to bring praise to God and bring healing to the pain of others, much like how a hymn or worship song in church can touch a broken heart. David’s musical ability not only gave him audience with the king, but his praises of God would give him strength for the next challenge. In 1 Samuel 17, we come across the famous story of David defeating Goliath. David praised God before he went into battle. There are other instances in The Bible where music and praise won the battle.

*Jehoshaphat sent out the choir before he sent the soldiers to fight three invading armies. (2 Chronicles 20).

*When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the people sang “Hosanna!” before Jesus went into the temple and confronted the corruption.

*Paul and Silas were praising God at midnight while chained up in the jail at Philippi before they were miraculously freed.

Music is one of the ways we are to build up our spirits.

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Colossians 3:16, KJV).

You may not be able to read music or play an instrument, but there is a song in you. Just as David acknowledged God’s deliverance from the bear and the lion before facing the giant, you too have a song of deliverance. Allow the music to dwell in you and give you strength to rebuild your spirit. God bless you.

 

Make the Best of It

By Michael W. Raley

No one wants to see a dream go unfulfilled.

However, we quickly learn this possibility is real.

Sometimes taking solace knowing you did your best

Doesn’t always stop your heart and spirit from sinking into your chest.

You look around at this disaster zone of a mess

And you go further down the bottomless pit, the hopeless abyss.

You hold onto the hope that everything will be made right

When you cross over into eternity’s light.

As you live out the rest of your days,

How do you find the strength to give thanks, to hope, or pray?

You feel used and burned.

You set the course, yet the winds and the ship turned.

You learned the steps, you took the chance,

Only to find out the conductor changed the song and dance.

We must continue in faith, but we must learn to adapt.

We don’t get all of the information, sometimes we must read and react.

If life is a game, we are the quarterback.

With each play, we may complete a touchdown pass or find ourselves sacked.

Sometimes a play will be broken and go haywire,

Which can get the adrenaline pumping, and turn a spark into a fire.

Life is a matter of timing and circumstance,

And we may have 60, 70, 80, or 90 years to live through.

Make the best of it, no matter what you decide to do.

Enjoy the journey, make up your own steps, dance your own dance.

 

 

 

 

 

Enduring Hardships with Strength

bruce lee 2

https://motivationgrid.com/11-powerful-bruce-lee-quotes-need-know/

A common literary device rooted in human existence is the hero’s journey. The hero’s journey has been part of mythology, fairy tales, epic poems, plays, legends, even to our modern day equivalent of novels and movies. All of these stories follow an similar three act structure. Act 1-Introduce the hero. Act 2- Put the hero in the most adverse/perilous situation. Act 3- the hero overcomes the situation, gets the girl, fulfills his destiny and lives happily ever after.

If our lives were only that simple.

If you have lived for any length of time, you know that “happily ever after” is often reserved for stories and not our lives. Life is a constant struggle, an ebb and flow, the highest of highs and the lowest of the heart-breaking lows.

Just when we think we have slayed the dragon, turned Darth Vader back to the light side of the Force, found our purpose, peace, or forgiveness from God, we find ourselves facing a new or recurring difficulty. After years of struggle and sacrifice to get a hold on the family finances, a lay off, a forced retirement, or sickness occurs. You believe that you have overcome depression and anxiety, only for circumstances to throw you back down to the pit. After being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, you do the best you can to be compliant with your care plan, only to suffer a flare-up or relapse. It feels as if all progress is lost.

We say and think such things as It isn’t supposed to be this way. This isn’t fair. I’ve already been through this. Why is God allowing this?

One of the things we must change when we go through difficulties is our perceptions, or judgments. We work under the assumption that life is fair. Do good, get rewarded. Do bad, get punished. We expect instant blessing for ourselves because we all perceive ourselves as good, while we expect the perceived evildoers to receive instant punishment.  Unfortunately, the innocent suffer and the wicked are rewarded. We live in an imperfect world that doesn’t always make sense.

Neither Jesus nor anyone else said it was going to be easy. Jesus told us that we have to “take up our cross.” That cross at times will get heavy as we walk through this life.

Numerous times throughout his epistles, the Apostle Paul compares being a follower of Christ to the life of a soldier. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul encourages him to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ.” (2 Timothy 2:3). A casual reading of the New Testament and its emphasis on suffering and persecution certainly deals a resounding defeat to the claims of the so-called “prosperity gospel,” where God grants all of our desires like a genie freed from a lamp, and life will be free from difficulty. Faith doesn’t free you from difficult times, it helps you get through them by creating within you a resilience, a persistence, the strength to fight no matter the circumstances.

Difficulties serve as a mirror as to our true reflection, our true strength, and whether we get tough when the tough gets going.

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus parallels the Apostle Paul’s statement to Timothy, but uses the analogy of being a wrestler.

“The true man is revealed in difficult times. So when trouble comes, think of yourself as a wrestler whom God, like a trainer, has paired with a tough young buck. For what purpose? To turn you into Olympic-class material. But this is going to take some sweat to accomplish. From my perspective, no one’s difficulties ever gave him a better test than yours, if you are prepared to make use of them the way a wrestler makes use of an opponent in peak condition.”1

In another discouse, Epictetus discusses an how to develop an acceptance of what God brings our way, a way to develop a sort of indifference to circumstances, or “going with the flow.”

“Lift up your head, like a person finally released from slavery. Dare to face God and say, ‘From now on, use me as you like. I am of one mind with you, I am your peer.’ Whatever you decide, I will not shrink from it. You may put me where you like, in any role regardless: officer or citizen, rich man or pauper, here or overseas. They are all just so many opportunities to justify your ways to man,by showing just how little circumstances amount to.”

Though it does seem counter-intuitive, the Apostle Paul, Epictetus, and Bruce Lee all concur- don’t  pray for difficult circumstances to flee, but ask God for the strength to get through the hard times. You will be a stronger and better person for it. God bless you all.

 

1Epictetus, Discourses and Selected Writings, Translated and edited by Robert Dobbin. London: Penguin Books (2008):56.

2Ibid, 116.

 

Unplug from the Noise

The everyday noises of life are often a shrill cacophony of discord rather than the harmonious and beautiful sounds of a symphony. From the moment we wake up, we are seemingly bombarded by the alarm clock, relationship or health problems, arguing children, barking dogs, honking horns stuck in traffic, bombastic talking heads on the news, the boss coming down on you- all of which equally frustrating. Our minds are overstimulated, but our souls and spirits are malnourished. How can we push aside the external demands and feed what the Apostle Paul referred to as “the inner man”?

I love to travel and go on vacation. I also read to relax. However, if you manage to get away from it all, whether via trip or prose, you do eventually have to come back. Problems could arise on the trip or be the first one to welcome you back. What if we could be selfish with just a little bit of our time- ten, fifteen, or thirty minutes and unplug? No demands. No phone. No social media. Sounds great doesn’t it?

Even the Lord Jesus Christ had to get away from time to time. Christ is God in the flesh, but He was also man. As a man, His body was subject to fatigue from the demands on His life and time. Not only did Jesus carry the burden of having to surrender His life for the sins of humanity, He also dealt with a hostile religious establishment, Rome, the political implications of being the Messiah, leading a group of disciples who were infighting for the best seat in the kingdom, healing the sick, raising the dead, and casting out demons-even confronting Satan himself. Jesus would often escape the fighting disciples, the demanding crowds, the religious teachers, and pray on mountain.

“And when He had sent them [the disciples] away, He departed into a mountain to pray.” (Mark 6:46, KJV, brackets mine).

“And it came to pass in those days, that He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12, KJV).

All four Gospels record instances of Jesus spending time alone on a mountain, which either proceeded or followed a big decision or miracle (choosing the disciples, walking on the water, feeding a multitude, etc).

It is not necessary to travel to a far away land to accomplish this. Start where you are and make it a practice. Pray, read a chapter of the Bible, enjoy beautiful worship music, or just sit in a dark and quiet room, drown out the crowd and reconnect with God.  So if the Lord Jesus took the time to renew His body, mind, and spirit, shouldn’t we do the same?

 

 

Change the Perception of Failure

The word failure elicits harsh and judgmental responses in our collective hearts and minds. Failure is often seen as a scarlet letter which unfairly negates all of a person’s accomplishments and deems others unworthy of success. “Failure is not an option” and “Second place is the first loser” are examples of how failure is perceived by some.

The very thought of failure to some can bring about great pressure and anxiety, whether from inside or outside influence. If the person does fail, then they may slide into a deep depression, maybe into hopeless despair. However, what if we could change our view of failure by changing our perception of success?

As a society, we have come to believe that successful people have “the Midas touch,” where everything they do turns to gold. However, that’s not the case, as many successful people have failed at some point in their lives. Some famous examples include Michael Jordan being cut from his high school basketball team. Abraham Lincoln lost multiple elections before becoming U.S. President. Steve Jobs was fired from Apple, the company he co-founded, only to come back and build it back to what it is today. It is said that Vincent Van Gogh sold one painting in his lifetime.

If you have ever failed, consider yourself in good company. The world’s most celebrated singers, writers, actors, preachers, salespeople, leaders, inventors-among others have failed. What if we were view failure as part of life, like getting older or even death? There will be times in life when relationships, careers and opportunities won’t go according to plan and we are forced to reassess, maybe even rebuild. Don’t be afraid to start over. Don’t worry about what others think because you can’t control that. You will face critics no matter if you succeed or fail. As long as breath and blood are flowing through your body, it’s not too late. I will share with you some of my favorite quotes on failure.

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” -Winston Churchill.

“He who has conquered doubt and fear has conquered failure.” -James Allen.

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”-Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” -Colin Powell.

“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”- Michael Jordan.

“A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying.” – B.F. Skinner.

“Without failure there is no achievement.” -John Maxwell.

“Most great people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure.”- Napoleon Hill.

“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”-Bill Gates.

“Do not brood over your past mistakes and failures as this will only fill your mind with grief, regret, and depression. Do not repeat them in the future.”- Swami Sivananda.

Do Your Best and Let it Be

Maybe it’s a by-product of being anxiously driven, but when I have a day or weekend off, my thoughts shift to a different type of work. As soon as the work day is done, my mind shifts into “to do list” mode and I give myself a list of projects- minor home repair, car maintenance, yard work, and other projects that I haven’t had time to get around to doing. I try to squeeze so much into the day that I am just as tired when I get back to work. Though I am well aware of this, I find it to be a hard habit to break.

I suspect that is a problem for many of us- we spend more time living as “human doings” instead of human beings.

For many people with anxiety, planning a social event such as a wedding, dinner party, or even a simple family cookout can be a daunting chore. Is the house clean enough? Do I have enough food? Are there enough chairs for everyone? Oh, it looks like rain. I hope everyone’s on their best behavior. What if Uncle Louie and Cousin Fred get into politics again? 

As thoughts such as these may race into someone’s mind, these are all easily fixable. More than likely, the house is fine. I’m sure your guest aren’t going to give you “the white glove treatment.” You can always ask guest to bring food or extra seating. If it rains, move the party inside. You can’t control other people’s behavior. If Uncle Louie and Cousin Fred get into politics, kindly change the subject. You have done the best you could, let it be.

Luke’s Gospel (10:38-42)  records a situation similar to what I just described.

Jesus and His disciples were invited for dinner by a woman named Martha. Martha had a sister named Mary and a brother named Lazarus, whom Jesus would later raise from the dead.

Martha was in the kitchen preparing the meal and called for Mary to help her out. However, the Bible  states that Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to His teaching.

“But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She [Martha] came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10:40, NIV).

Notice what Jesus replied to Martha: “‘Martha, Martha’, the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed-or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.'” (Luke 10:41-42).

Jesus knew that Martha was speaking from anxiety and even pointed that out to her. Jesus essentially told Martha, “the amount of food you made will be enough.” While Martha was worried about a temporal things such as food, Mary was focused on being in Jesus’ presence and learning about the spiritual and eternal things that would sustain her long after the meal would was finished.

In previous blogs, I have detailed my battles with Celiac disease and anemia. A little over two years ago, I spent three days in the hospital receiving blood transfusions and iron supplements because I was so anemic. Three doctors independently told my wife that I could of had a fatal heart attack. God told me to slow down. With the overall business of life, anxiety and bouts of depression, I still find it difficult to slow down, but I am making progress.

I know what lies before me for the day, but I try to make it a priority to feed my spiritual man before I begin my day-through prayer, reading, writing, focusing only on the  present moment, or listening to some quiet instrumental music. At the end of the day, I try, though I am not always successful, to let things be. If you did the best you could at the time with the information you had, you couldn’t have done anything else given the circumstances. If you know that you could have done better, don’t beat yourself up, just make a mental note, ask God for forgiveness, and do better. Focus only on today. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow isn’t here. Tomorrow may not even come. Problems will always be here, but don’t let them steal your joy of living this one life you have. God bless you all.