Simple Gifts

Originally posted on PLH Publishing:

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.

In 1848, while living in a Shaker community in Alfred, Maine, Elder Joseph Bracket(1797-1882) wrote the tune “Simple Gifts”. While there are many interpretations of this tune, one source indicates that the tune was both “Dance Song” and Hymn Song.”1 Either way, the text can be relevant to what many of us might be searching for – a simple life.

At times, we all have various degrees of difficulty enjoying life. Demands of life sometimes can lead to stress, leaving us…

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Emotional Pain

For everyone, pain is real. Pain is normal. There is no exception. We can choose to share pain in such a way that hurts others who are not deserving or we can simply be responsible for accepting pain and find healthy means which allow us to heal.

Accept your true self, good and bad. Is this not what the start of forgiveness is all about. How easy it seems to divert our pain by finding fault in others or say yes by taking abuse from others. Pagans and Christians alike in all parts of translated scripture made changes in their lives when they simply learned to say no to others unresolved pain and demands, and yes to Gods truth and grace in their own lives-giving way to great possibilities. People learned to be responsible “to” others and yet not “for” others.1 This seemed to be times where amongst many, offering forgiveness and being forgiven was exercised. Such a practice seems to be where God’s love for you and through you is no longer diminished. With this understanding, there is also the realization that we owe it to ourselves the practice of seeking better emotional health.

Do not allow pain to:

• rob your ability to seek guidance, having a healthy process to deal with emotional pain.

• take away your possibility and ability to find peace in your own life.

• take away your ability to share peace with others.

James 3: 1-18

© Andy L. Westbrook, PLH Publishing, 2013

1Changes that Heal by Dr. Henry Cloud. Published by Zondervan, 1993

Image © iStock

A Responsive Role to Change.

English naturalist Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

Adapting to change is part of family life, friendship, career and certainly community. Sometimes, change requires very little effort on our part to adapt. Other times, change requires more thought and major adjustment. The way in which we are responsive can either help or hinder. While reading the list of questions below, think about your responsive role when met with certain challenges during processes of change.

• What actions on my behalf determine a potential outcome that is helpful for everyone involved?

• During change, which do I value more, a decision based on commitment about what is humane and civil or a decision   based on feeling or performance?*

• How much do I regard my faiths command to ultimately apply love and/or forgiveness of another persons actions or words with which I might not agree?

• How much do I practice reaching out to help those who are different than myself? 

When change involves others, we sometimes find it hard to listen and consider their input. From our perspective, we may already have made up our minds regarding a desired outcome. In our favor, we tend to make hasty decisions based on feelings and assumptions. We might also have a simple conviction, “I am right.” Are both attitudes always helpful? An unrelenting attitude can lead to forgetting where our nose stops and another persons begins.

As a nation, difficult times of change have always produced a society of Americans who work together and respond in a positive manner. We become a nation of people who set aside differences for the sake of survival. As Americans, we realize being responsive does not require sacrificing commitment to our own beliefs based on faith and culture. Success at being responsive simply requires adapting through choices of being considerate, loving, and forgiving of one another during the process.

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his or her own good, but the good of their neighbor. 1 Corinthians 10: 23 – 34

*Notation by Dr. Tony Hopkins.

© Andy L. Westbrook, PLH Publishing, 2012

Relational Thinking and the Church

In Christian servanthood, our appropriate displays of behavior, such as patience and understanding, can be a reflection of a continuous healthy relationship with God. If we have a healthy knowledgeable relationship with God, we are willing to let God relate his love through us to humankind and do so in a nondiscriminatory manner. This manner of communication establishes a strong faith as well as strengthen relationships in both interfaith circles and those we serve most outside the church.

Relational thinking serves a great purpose in Christianity.

As Christians we subscribe to a faith offering eternal life through a belief in Christ. Additionally, we also subscribe to fellowship which educates, nurtures and sustains spiritual growth. In contrast, staunch differences in denominational thinking often stop the potential growth of relationships which nurture Christian faith with one another to the rest of the world.

In relating these previous thoughts, I ponder such questions:

Are denominational differences important in the eyes of  individuals we are to offer Christian service? 

Are we serving ourselves internally because it is comfortable or do we make choices to serve a world which does not always agree with Christian teachings?

How can we effectively serve communities outside the church when inside the church we are divided and not willing to listen to each another?

What efforts are we all taking to educate ourselves about the strengths of other churches ministries in our own communities?

Are we willing as a congregation to partner with them at various times?

The Apostle Doubting Thomas, Anabaptist Pilgrim Marpeck and Catholic nun Mother Teresa must have understood a greater purpose behind Christian service, not allowing differences in doctrine to hinder their discovered purposes of Christian servant hood. Each made a clear choice to communicate beyond the boundaries in a way that truly challenged their own personal thinking. Through gained wisdom, each had a willingness to share in God’s healing ministry of care and compassion for all peoples.

Governing laws in the church do serve a purpose. Formats of worship serve a purpose. These purposes should not stop us from forming denominational relationships which utilize the strengths of each congregation in a communal fashion. Serve one another. Serve together. Serve ALL mankind.

For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding. Proverbs 2:6

© Andy L. Westbrook, PLH Publishing, 2011

Family of Faith

When opening a door, do we give any thought to what is on the other side? We turn the knob and enter. A simple process. How much thought goes into opening a door toward good decision making? This kind of door can be a path to better opportunity or a path to a not-so-good decision with negative consequences. To make the first few steps with confidence, stronger faith is often required. Sometimes opening such a door becomes a decision based on what is strictly the right thing to do. In such decisions, how do we get to the point of understanding what is the right choice? There was once a man named Joseph who faced such a challenge.

For Christians, four weeks of Advent signify a time of spiritual cleansing and other preparations leading up to Christ birth. Joseph’s preparation started much earlier with Mary’s unexpected pregnancy. At the time, Joseph and Mary’s arranged marriage was in the first of two stages-the betrothal stage. As understood, both practiced Jewish law regarding marriage which does not allow consummating the arrangement until the latter stage.1 When a child is conceived before the appropriate time, to the public and religious authorities, adultery is considered the obvious cause. To dissolve the arrangement, seeking divorce was the only legal choice for Joseph.

Joseph was faced with choosing a door towards his own escape or trusting God to offer a door and path beyond his own initial understanding. What questions and answers did he face from the public? What possible answers did he seek from God, and more importantly, Mary? I imagine Joseph’s initial thoughts and approach to solving this for himself would be no different than our own approach today.  Perhaps, Joseph sought quiet solitude as well as experienced feelings of confusion and anger? What would be your self dialogue? Who would you talk to about such a dilemma? Eventually Joseph had his questions answered. Text from the book of Matthew brings into account Josephs dream encounter with an Angel of God explaining simply, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for she has conceived a son which is from the Holy Spirit.” Could this have been the point where he really questioned his own faith?

Joseph did not want Mary to face harsh lawful penalties which accompany the charge of adultery, nor did he want her to face public ridicule. He also realized marriage and fatherly support for this child might bring lifelong ridicule upon himself. Regardless, Joseph chose to obey Gods command, becoming a husband and an adoptive father in Christ. No matter how much Joseph may have questioned and sought understanding on his own, he eventually chose to stick with a principle to trust God’s plan. As Isaiah prophesied in Old Testament writings, the New Testament text from Matthew gives an account of Joseph’s commitment for years to come.

Joseph must have been a rightous man who spent much time in study and prayer. At first, he might have felt that his only partner was himself. As his faith grew, he realized his partners were Mary, God and the Holy Spirit. As a result, he embraced a faith much greater than his own and brought the whole family with him. During Christ childhood, this very commitment and Godly faith provided protection and guidance to those God intended. Joseph chose to trust God, opening the door and embracing his purpose in the moment. He chose to become part of a family of faith. Where we clearly see and understand God’s presence to be in our own decision making, like Joseph, may we choose to open doors and become part of such a family.

1  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_views_on_marriage

© Andy L. Westbrook, PLH Publishing, 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Building Foundations Together

As kids, some of us had the privilege of parents, grandparents or just an older friend sharing a story. Some stories make us laugh, cry, feel warm inside or even frightened. As years progress, our own lessons learned in life have provided more personal insight into those old stories and the messages behind each. These lessons help us pass down to younger generations similar stories that can be remembered.

I once heard of a farmer who was building a fence around his crops. As he spent the day digging post holes, setting even cut post and laying the rails, he also had to contend on his cart with one particular post of odd length. This piece of wood kept getting in the way. Continually having to move it around the wood he needed, in frustration, the farmer threw it into a nearby ravine (or as we like to call in the South, a deep gully). Later that day, as he reached the last short section needed to complete the fence, he noticed that the cart was empty and he had one last post hole to fill. While scratching his head, he questioned, How did I mis-count? I know I have another post around here somewhere. What once was a thorn in his side was now suddenly a stick of wood which could provide a solution. Just one problem. That odd length post now rested, where the farmer found reason to discard, 25 feet down at the bottom of a steep red dirt coated bank-side. What once was an object of distaste and frustration had now become very important.  Without it, he could not  “tie the knot” towards completing a whole days work. Without the post, he simply would not be finished.

Why does a farmer build a fence around his or her property anyway? Is it to let others on the outside know the property boundaries? Many times, a fence can help protect livestock and food. Perhaps, the farmer is using the fence as a reminder of where his or her property ends and another persons begins. Regardless, for the fence to be effective, it must be complete. Without a post placed firmly in the ground to connect and hold all joining parts, the strength of the protective boundary does not exist. The fence becomes useless simply because one piece is missing. Like the farmer, what do we tend to discard, only discovering later the value and importance of what we have thrown away?

In scripture, Christ is expressed as being the cornerstone to doctrine. As a servant leader who practiced love, listening and forgiveness, Christ teachings help us understand the value of practicing these very actions on ourselves and others in order to form better foundations in our lives. As a result, we discover the value of each part which makes a solid foundation-you and me. Each of us can essentially be regarded, not discarded.

 

Ecclesiastes 4: 9-16

© Andy L. Westbrook, PLH Publishing, 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Recognition is the Virtue

Frustration happens when we find wet clothes in the dryer that was not turned on earlier that day. Disappointment grips as vacation plans have to be changed. Sorrow is a feeling that often finds a place in our hearts when a best friend or parent passes away unexpectedly. Heartache and even anger are feelings that we encounter when someone has deliberately abused our trust. We encounter doubt when over time, we just don’t get the break in life we have worked so hard for. Anxiety and worry are felt as we wonder if our jobs are secure. Our feelings and the sources of those feelings can become obstacles towards personal progress. During such moments, recognizing the challenge and developing a sense of patience can provide clarity.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with experiencing these feelings. We all do. Some of these feelings will vanish as quickly as encountered; however, some won’t. A lack of patience can send us into a counterproductive mode, not allowing us the chance to apply ourselves toward decent decision making. Sometimes, we simply have to make hasty decisions. What about times though where a decision has to be made carefully. It might be a decision that not only will effect you but others as well. When experiencing emotional stress, the use of patience simply gives each of us an upper hand to slow down a RE-ACTION, gain some direction and take care of ourselves in the process. So how do we acquire such patience? First, recognize some critical times in life when patience was not chosen and ponder the outcome. Secondly, presently seek to learn appropriate changes with behavior as a result of using patience. A tree is known by the fruit it bears. Sometimes, so are we. The bearing of good fruit takes time. In Christian text from the Bible, Paul refers to patience as one of the fruits of the spirit. Perhaps to experience patience and any other fruit we must first recognize the importance of acquiring such things as well as the wisdom gained from the experience. This simple act of recognition is a virtuous quality.

By recognizing that a challenge exist, there is a further a reason to choose a path of acquiring patience. When we fail to recognize a lack of patience and the sources, the re-action of the moment and the sources of those feelings win. If that is the case, should we pursue learning about patience and work at acquiring it more and more? Yes. Should we also consider recognizing the sources of our feelings? You bet. By choosing to recognize what can be done to exhibit better behavior, we understand the source of our feelings and learn how to be patient enough to take control and create positive change.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Galatians 5: 22-23.

© Andy L. Westbrook, PLH Publishing, 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Hope for the Possibilities

Gloom, despair, and agony on me. Deep Dark depression, excessive misery. If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all. Gloom, despair and agony on me.

For most of us born in the 1960s and 70s, we probably associate this line of text with a skit performed on the popular show Hee-Haw. The words were sung in unison by four tired and depressed overall dressed men who, between each chorus, would tell a joke explaining the cause of their depressive and hurtful states. While a joke can lighten up a such moment, real pain and misery are not funny. Although with good intention, others often say to us, “What you need to do is”, or Cheer up, it could be worse” and of course my personal favorite, “God only gives you what he knows you can handle.” While such insightful phrases might serve some partial truth, physical and emotional pain unique to ourselves is very difficult at times to experience and let go of. We all are capable of trying to ignore pain, hoping it will go away. We can also be strong enough to challenge the issues related to pain and seek ways of working with it all together.

While there are various reasons we hold onto pain, there is probably not a more capable feeling that clings to pain than misery. Whether emotional or physical pain, not much is going to change until we choose to adopt a different attitude and allow ourselves the privilege of throwing misery out the door. In doing so, our pains in life can gradually become easier to accept and embrace. What could possibly be a driving force behind such a change? Hope. Considered both a feeling of trust and an expectancy or longing, hope is where we turn for understanding and answers. Hope reinforces our change in attitude. In the midst of pain and suffering, hope allows us to develop belief, trust and patience for the possible. During the time of New Testament writings found in the Bible, the Apostle Paul wrote a passage that puts into perspective just such hope. Although Paul is speaking of having hope in the context of redemption, his words about hope ring true even during many other types of pain encountered during life.

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? If we hope for what we do not have, we wait for it patiently.”

We are part of creation. Creation groans inwardly; therefore, we groan inwardly. Just as God has provided the first fruits of our life, so will he provide the rest of what is needed. At times, feelings of bitterness, frustration and disappointment so easily accompany our pain and misery, keeping us from having the kind of hope that moves us forward. When we choose to have the kind of hope and patience Paul speaks of, God begins to reveal what is evident. As a result, we become more willing and readily available to accept the greater possibilities of dealing with painful moments in our lives.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by the endurance and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.  Romans 15:4

© Andy L. Westbrook, Westbrook Publishing, Ink., 2010

A Father’s Care

A Father’s Care.

When you read this, which idea comes to mind first? Is it your father’s care or the care you provide for one child or more? Either way, there are lessons given, and certainly lessons for every father to experience with each child. Whether you are a father of 1 child or ten, part of communicating a message of caring is simply having the right attitude of giving and receiving as well as modeling appropriate behaviors.

Would you agree that listening is a form of giving? When a child understands a father to be a listener, this lends to the trust a child seeks when wanting a father that is approachable. It takes much work for a father to be a listener. As fathers, we naturally want to teach and communicate teaching by directing. We wish to be heard. Children also wish to be heard. If we choose to not model listening how do we expect them to listen during those teachable moments we are given. Children learn to gain trust in a fathers guidance by this route-fathers giving through a listening process.

Modeling appropriate behavior complements this as well. At times when any child can naturally express negative emotions in an unhealthy manner, it is our example of appropriate behavior that can potentially encourage them to choose likewise. During our own difficult and joyous times of life, children observe what we do. How do we stay true to appropriate behavior during such moments? When put to a test of willpower by a child, how do we exhibit patience and control of our own boundaries during this process? How do we obtain peace? Children can recall how we choose to model behaviors toward ourselves, others and them. They will remember your giving through a modeled approach.

In retrospect, these very simple ideas about a father’s care relate to the idea of a father being a caregiver. A caregiver enjoys his children; however, is not afraid to set firm but fair limits.1 More than likely, he teaches the value of taking care of oneself and lives by the simple standard, “Treat others the way you wish to be treated.” Even in those disciplinary moments, build trust and care by teaching through simple giving and receiving approaches.

Colossians 3:21 Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

1 Pioneerthinking.com, Fathers Care by Charles A. Smith

© Andy L. Westbrook, PLH Publishing, 2009

A Worthy Opponent

The great Gary Player once said, “Golf is not a team sport where the ball is passed. It is a game where once you hit the ball, you are on your own. Today you can be the best player in the world and tomorrow you can be a chump.”1 This path of success and failure can be experienced by the best of players. Whether an amateur or professional, golf requires more than average patience and adversity. Success in golf revolves around an individual commitment to improving skill, physical strength, and most importantly, personal ethics on and off the course.

To truly be successful in golf there are certain ethics each player must exhibit. Exactly what ethics are we talking about?  Perseverance, responsibility, courtesy, confidence, sportsmanship, integrity, respect, and judgement are all ethical practices that are expected in the game of golf. Universal rules and guidelines keep a game fair for all skill levels of play; however, exhibiting a code of ethics in golf is what determines those that are truly successful and those that are not. Belief and practice in this system of ethics guides a player equally on those “on top of the world” days as much as the “chump” days.

In the game of golf, individual scores are recorded for each day. The score total comes from performances made at eighteen different fairways. In a tournament, a player must keep their total score the first few days under a certain number in order to advance to the last few days. It’s called the cut. Life itself has days like this. We may feel like our score does not make the cut toward a standard we set out to achieve. As a result, we sometimes have no desire to try again. Similar to golf performance, our own path of success does not revolve around a certain physical skill or mental preparation alone. Life is much easier when we learn to govern our own conduct with consistent ethical practices. It helps to understand that the real opponent is not the co-worker or neighbor we don’t get along with nor the child who chooses not to cooperate. A more worthy opponent becomes ourselves. When we believe and practice ethics that are good for ourselves and are also fair to others, there is no better teammate.

Believe in the practice of ethics and commit to a bigger purpose behind your own steps you take to achieve. Start to understand the importance behind patience and perseverance during those “on top of the world” days and those “chump” days. Learn and teach with ethics in mind. Those who observe you will be glad you did. At the end of the day, a more worthy opponent will feel better about this decision to do so.

Relent, do not be unjust; reconsider, for my integrity is at stake. My righteousness still stands. Job 6:29

1 Psychology Today, Gary Player Swinging hard On Life’s Course, published March 1, 1999

© Andy L. Westbrook, PLH publishing., June 2009

Leadership By Engagement

I recently had the privilege of lecturing in a Sociology class at a local University on the subject of “Leading Groups”. There was already an established discussion on the purpose and various ways to establish groups. In this particular classtime, the emphasis would be on how to be an effective group leader. For the class, I chose to present the idea of an absolute oriented leader compared to a more unconditional approach, a leader who chooses to engage in the group session.

A group leader can be more effective when he or she approaches leading a group from a participants frame of mind-engage to be a listener. There are times when leadership may call on performing an absolute decision such as enforcing time constraints on discussion to stay on task; however, there are engaging approaches. A group leader can help others find appropriate ways to engage in discussion, encouraging and guiding the  flow of creative ideas coming from group participants.  Also, a leader can encourage participants to expand on each others ideas. Let’s briefly look at contrasting roles.

Absolute forms of leadership such as a Drill Instructor, Dictator or even an Auctioneer set courses that challenge quick decision making on behalf of each participant or else there might be negative consequences. Imagine if both leader and group participants got involved with a mind set where their thoughts were infinite or absolute. With this approach, there would be no need for a group in the first place. Everyone would be right. A more engaging and unconditional type leader such as a Motivational Coach, Pastor or Counselor would more than likely allow participants to engage. If these professions are done effectively, there is simple guidance that exist from the leader to the participant which allows them to engage together.

Regardless of why a group is formed, remember people are present to be motivated towards creating an environment that engages ideas and topics about change. Personality and sometimes emotions play a role in such engagement. If someone is leading with conduct that shows fairness, trust and encouragement, most participants will want to help create vision and positive change in the process of engagement.

© Andy L. Westbrook, Westbrook Publishing, Ink., 2009

Simple Gifts

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.

In 1848, while living in a Shaker community in Alfred, Maine, Elder Joseph Bracket(1797-1882) wrote the tune “Simple Gifts”. While there are many interpretations of this tune, one source indicates that the tune was both “Dance Song” and Hymn Song.”1 Either way, the text can be relevant to what many of us might be searching for – a simple life.

At times, we all have various degrees of difficulty enjoying life. Demands of life sometimes can lead to stress, leaving us overwhelmed. The same can happen in relationships. Like the song verse above, we bow, bend, turn and sometimes even twist to meet the demands life has placed on our tables. In contrast, we don’t find ourselves in a place just right. While we may all define “just right” differently, we would probably agree that an idea of a simple life is one that has less demand. Perhaps, we have chosen to be in a vehicle that drives us instead of us driving it. Maybe at times we find it harder to serve simply because the table we reside from is too big. Either way, there is much to be said for a simple life that sticks to an idea of basics. There was a time when people dwelled in places they built with their own hands, ate food that came from their own gardens, played on the lands they owned, shared time with family, and wrote letters to those they appreciated. People also spent time with one another eating at tables sized just for the families God bestowed upon them.

In a world that can easily lure us into thinking what we need, the choice to venture still depends on us. God himself knows what we need. He starts by supplying us with the basics. From this we can build a life. We can retreat to the basics during times of difficulty. We can also find joy in the simple gifts we possess. Do we learn to live simple and reap the benefits of having more peace, or do we complicate things in search of a perfect life defined by someone else? Meet your family at the dinner table and ask what they think. It is possible you will find more than yourself searching for what is just right.

© Andy L. Westbrook, PLH Publishing, 2009

Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving; Colossians 4:21

1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simple_Gifts

ACTing in the Moment

 

Do you ever have frustrating moments of conflict you simply choose not to resolve? We all do. Sometimes this is our way of saying we don’t want to experience the feelings associated with conflict. Many times, the moment of conflict involves a spouse, a child, a co-worker and even conflict within ourselves. When unresolved conflict becomes a continuous pattern between us and someone else, if left unresolved, this can effect our ability to have meaningful relationships. Perhaps there are more appropriate ways to resolve such moments.

Resolving conflict inappropriately when others are involved can cause us to experience double dosed feelings of anger, frustration and even fear. It is common in such situations that people, including ourselves simply REACT to a situation instead of ACTing.1 When a conflict or situation is so strong that we let it control us, there will be a reaction. When others are involved, assumptions on our part often cause reactions as well. There are many good ways of creating conflict resolution; however, if we are going to act, we must first be willing to listen before making hasty decisions based on assumption and identify feelings which can contribute toward in-appropriate responses on our part.

It is certainly ok to express our feelings as long as approached with both a listening ear first and while expressing ourselves, a willingness to be respectful of the other persons feelings. Simple, safe and mature ways of communicating allow the other person a chance to communicate effectively. In doing so, others can have a fair chance of understanding our position; furthermore, being given the chance to ACT and work with us, leading to a better chance for a fair resolution.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification(Romans 14:19).

© Andy L. Westbrook, PLH Publishing, 2008

1Changes that Heal by Dr. Henry Cloud. Published by Zondervan, 1993