Friday, February 28, 2014

Grace, Serenity and Change

A household project and a lame shoulder are interfering with my ability to write so I've missed 4 day.

I am continuing to think about change and to-day I offer some thoughts on the  "serenity prayer"

The Serenity Prayer ( original form)

A modified form of this prayer is  commonly used within Alcoholics Anonymous  and has sometimes  been attributed to St. Francis. However, the  earliest known forms of it appeared in the early 20th century, and it is generally credited to an American Protestant theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr  (1892 –1971)

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
It seems to me that the serenity prayer is important this discussion for several reasons

1. God's grace and strength is at the heart of living a "serene" life. 

2. Obviously (to me at least) when I explore  the question of change (in myself) I'm not interested in  being a "Don Quixote" "tilting at windmills".  I am thinking about those things that I can, with God's help,  change (within myself) especially things that will make me a better person.  And it is true that change takes courage (and persistence and faith and ... ?).

 3. I would  change the  first statement slightly to say "today accept  with serenity things as they are right now"  (because  "what is" can't be changed).

I think of the apostle Paul writing from prison when he says  in Philippians 4:10-13

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

I note in particular (paraphrased slightly)   "in whatever situation (in any and every circumstance) I have learned to be  content."

And it is this ability to be content in any circumstance that "can be done through Him who strengthens us".

First and foremost any change I  desire in my attitudes is aimed at the  "being content" wherever  I find myself to-day even when I  desire   for  a different tomorrow.

In a way this brings me "full circle" back to my "theme song" for 2013 

I will live today in the moment. I will live today as if it were my last day here on this earth  and I will dream and plan today for tomorrow because  “Today is the first day of the rest of my life; I will rejoice and be glad in it”   (cf.Psalm 118:24-KJV)

God Bless

Friday, February 21, 2014

Embracing life in Jesus

I've been thinking about whether surviving  a "life threatening" heart condition has  changed me and if so how?

Looking at the past several posts on this will make it clear that I  really haven't gotten any "traction" on this question. 
Yesterday I digressed to  cover the point that we can't depend on significant events to create change -- we seek  "change" no matter what  circumstances  we are in.  

So part of the reason I may appear confused and disoriented is that I was thinking  "a close encounter" should produce change -- but to a large extent I seem to be much the same person that I was before the surgery.

Of course there are (at least) 3 aspects of "who I am" -- there's the physical body, there's my emotional/mental   and there's my spiritual nature.  I am a firm believer that for Christians  a healthy spiritual view is holistic -- in other words  you can't separate  "living in this world"  from your spiritual health.  But teasing this apart to  get a complete understanding  of what it means  is sometimes  not an easy task.

Having said that  I will make the following observations

1. My physical health is  much better overall than it was before the surgery  --  even though I wasn't aware (for long) that I had a serious problem.  

The  reality of my illness  hasn't done much  towards  causing changes  in my exercise and diet that would   be considered a more healthy life style.  I rationalize that by thinking that I really wasn't doing too badly before -- it wasn't "poor lifestyle" that resulted in my heart problems -- although a more active  exercise program might well have pointed out the problem before it got the state it was. (On the other hand if I were a very active "exercise fanatic" I might have experienced a sudden cardiac arrest without warning) -- I don't know -- only God knows.  

So I still work at  maintaining a healthy diet and improving in my exercise  but as before I find it difficult to develop the disciplines required to do that.  My wife is  my conscience  in this area and in general my diet is "healthier"  than before and I've managed (so far) to  level out at 10 pounds lighter than I was before surgery.

2.  In the area of emotional/mental  and attitudes I don't believe there has been any dramatic change either.     

I do think (without any professional assessment to back it up)  that I am tending more towards being depressed. I have less desire to accomplish things -- or perhaps the  better way of saying it is to say that I am even worse than I used to be at procrastinating and I'm less obsessed about focusing on  projects (such as writing this blog). This is a "double-edged" change if it is a correct assessment -- because  I am (in general) doing better at staying on top of day-to-day things which I used to  let go in order to focus on things I wanted to do -- (I've written about this before).  But I am also more easily distracted  from staying focussed and getting things done so they tend to pile up even more than they used to.

3. It is hard for me to assess whether there is any spiritual change. I am more convicted than ever of the reality of God's presence in my life -- but whether than conviction is  being demonstrated in my day-to-day  thinking and action (points 1 & 2 above) and in particular in my relationships with others is unclear to me. 

It is in this area -- how my faith in Jesus translates into changed thinking and actions in my relationships that I am really asking  when I ask  "has this changed me?"

The qualities  I would want to examine are described in  2 Peter 1:3-11 (ESV)

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to] his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

and in Colossians 3:1-17

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self[with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
12 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I keep on thinking.

God Bless

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Change in the midst of all circumstances.

I have been thinking and writing on the subject  of change -- especially  change resulting from a "significant event" in our lives

One of my friends  provides a daily quote  to is intended to challenge our complacency that as Christians we have "all the answers".

Recently he posted this quote which addresses an important (to me) point: Do we   need to wait for a major event to cause changes that make our lives better change to fully live" or  does  Christ give us the ability to change to live fully in whatever circumstances exist in our life?

"Elisabeth Elliot (in her book Keep a Quiet Heart   (see Amazon)  wrote, 'The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.' The bigger story of our life begins the moment we understand this truth. Life does not begin when you get married, land your dream job or board a plane to travel the world. It is found in the beautiful, powerful love of Christ, which changes us in the midst of all circumstances, especially the ones we find most difficult."(Cara Joyner)

Elisabeth Elliot (née Howard; born December 21, 1926) is a Christian author and speaker. Her first husband, Jim Elliot, was killed in 1956 while attempting to make missionary contact with the Auca (now known as Huaorani) of eastern Ecuador. She later spent two years as a missionary to the tribe members who killed her husband. Returning to the United States after many years in South America, she became widely known as the author of over twenty books and as a speaker in constant demand. Elliot toured the country, sharing her knowledge and experience, well into her seventies.

Cara Joyner is a freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom living on the East Coast with her husband and two sons. After years of working in student ministry, she has come home to raise her boys and pursue her Master's in Clinical Mental Health Counseling

The above quote by Joyner  which includes the Elliot quote is from an article "Life won't begin at your next milestone" in Relevant magazine 

This quote caught my attention because

1) It seems to fit with Phillipians 4:8-13 where Paul writes:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Paul tells us to be content in whatever circumstances -- not to wait until circumstances change and somehow that changes us. It is clear however that being  content doesn't mean complacency -- it  means accepting that the Spirit can work  with us to make us more Christ-like no matter  our circumstances. 

2) The second reason this "resonated" with me is that I believe that in our prayers (for ourselves and for others) we need to focus on the "grace" to  experience God's strength, to be peaceful and love-filled  in whatever the circumstances --  of course we can also pray fervently for change in circumstances but our faith and connection  with God is not dependent on  that change.

So  as I think about change I don't want to miss the blessing of God's love in the here and now and in my current "messed up" state.

God Bless

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I am second

In this series   of posts I'm thinking about change -- especially long term change  following  surgery to correct a "major life threatening"  medical problem.

Scott Scovell Hamilton is a retired American figure skater and Olympic gold medalist. He won four consecutive U.S. championships, four consecutive World Championships and a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics.

Along with his sports success Scott has faced some serious health issues.  
In this  video (I am Second)  he talks about some "defining moments" in his life.  Not so much about dramatic change but rather how these "moments" made a difference in his life.  

As I think about the change resulting from my "brush with death" it seems that if there is change it is more of a gradual nature - nothing dramatic -- but perhaps as I reflect  on it, I will see it as a "defining moment" that allows me (by God's grace and the help of his Spirit) to build on prior strengths and "overcome"  in some sense a number of weaknesses.

One thing that has come from all this is the certainty that any (positive) chage  comes from trusting in God and Psalm 121 comes to mind

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
    the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
    nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time forth and forevermore.

God Bless

Monday, February 17, 2014

A change of heart?

I  am thinking about how  or whether a "significant, life-threatening" event is "life-altering".  I an just past 1 year since I had open heart surgery to replace a "badly stenosed"  aoritic valve.   In a period of six weeks I went from thinking I was as "healthy as a horse" to being told by a cardiac surgeon look at my echocardiogram  and  "you are a very high risk of sudden cardiac death"  and  shaking his head and saying "I don't understand why you are still walking around".

However, the surgery was successful and here I am a year later as "healthy as a horse". 

In a report by  Lifewire  heart bypass  patients often experience post-surgery significant changes  including

  • Fear: Being afraid of what lies ahead, especially concerning your health
  • Anxiety: Sleeplessness, feelings of nervousness, tension
  • Depression: Sadness, low energy
  • Loneliness: Feeling no one understands what you're going through
  • Anger: Losing your temper, negative feelings for those around you
Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a cardiologist and New York University associate professor is quoted as saying     "What triggers this is people feel they don't have control over their situation,"

(To be clear heart bypass is  a different procedure than a valve replacement but they both involve the trauma (and risk) of open heart surgery where the patient is put on heart-lung machine and the heart is stopped so I'm assuming this is applicable to my situation).

The report goes on to say that

 "patients who felt fine until they discovered they needed a heart bypass, the shock of suddenly dealing with health problems can be overwhelming."

"Medication such as beta blockers -- often prescribed for heart patients -- can cause depression, and researchers are investigating whether anesthesia may be a culprit as well."

"Some people also feel their memory is not as good after the surgery."

The  main focus of the article is to recognize these effects quickly and take action to restore emotional "strength".

It may be of value to  go back and look at this  process of "sudden loss of (perceived) health" and  coming to grips with the new reality. 

I did touch on this in one of my pre-surgery posts "Beginnings and Endings" - Part 3" especially whether the Kubler-Rosss   stages of grief model would apply. (this model is described by the acronym DABDA; Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance)

However at this point I'm more focussed on whether there is any  long term change whether "negative" or positive"

I am particularly interested in  examining changes in spiritual attitudes.

I have started some research  in this area which I will share as it unfolds. 

What makes the difference between "Damascus road changes"  (cf. Acts 9) and other  reactions (no change or a "turning way from God). 

In my case I don't think there has been any dramatic change but there has been  some change - some I would see as "good" and some  that's "not so good".  

Perhaps musing on the  "why or why not" of change can be helpful. We'll see

God Bless

Friday, February 14, 2014

Good change - bad change

I  mentioned in my last post (2 days ago) that I wanted to reflect on  whether there were any "significant" changes in my approach to living  as a result of  my open heart surgery a year ago.   The fact that I missed writing anything yesterday is a symptom of what might be considered a "negative" change.

I have ( it seems) always had a tendency towards procrastination when I'm starting something new.   Part of that is a desire to have a "grand plan"  and "do it right" -- part of it is the tendency towards day-dreaming about what might be rather than getting on with  living in the present --  whatever the reason finding a balance between planning and doing has  always been a "challenge" for  me.

 I have written about this before (long before  the surgery). in a post called "Living by the Nike creed?".

Last January before  I knew that I  had a very serious  problem  with my heart, I had  re-stated  several principles for living that I wanted to keep my eye on.  These principles  are summarized in this "theme for living" which remains  "front & center" in  my  thinking.

I will live today in the moment. I will live today as if it were my last day here on this earth  and I will dream and plan today for tomorrow because  “Today is the first day of the rest of my life; I will rejoice and be glad in it”   (cf. Psalm 118:24-KJV).

During the recovery period from my surgery my thinking was mostly on "how do I make the most of each moment?" and "What would I be doing if this were the last day of my life?" -- however, in the past few months I've been wanting to shift more into "first day .." thinking.

So that's what I "want" to do -- and you'd think  that bumping up against your mortality  would make it easier to  live  this way.  But  as time goes by I find myself drifting back into old habits ... and in particular  letting unimportant, things fill my time while procrastinating on the important  or at least what I consider to be important.

So, in an effort to get past that  I'm committing a relatively short time - half hour at least - to writing  in this blog.  To see how it  evolves and whether it  is helpful to me -- and maybe to  others in being more satisfied that I  am "making good use of the time" God has given me here (cf. Ephesians 5:15-16,  Col. 4:5).

My point  in this post is that I have found myself drifting very much into procrastination and "time wasting" activities such as playing games and  over attention to things like FACEBOOK. 

I hope re-focussing on "just do it" will help -- although what I "do" must have meaning and purpose -- I found myself thinking of Abraham's servant in Genesis 24  when he was sent to look for a wife for Isaac -- 
He had  completed a long and tiring journey -- he might have been forgiven if he'd said  "I'll rest tonight and do my business tomorrow" but in Genesis 24:33  we find "

Then food was set before him to eat. But he said, “I will not eat until I have said what I have to say.” 

If something is important  (to me) and has a purpose for me, I pray for this attitude to "just do it".

God Bless

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

To change or not to change?

Here I am again in my  sporadic efforts to get back to a regular routine of blogging.

The  blogs I posted in 2013 where dominated by the themes  of "endings and beginnings" and in a particular by  the major life event of having open heart surgery  to replace a "broken" aortic valve

That part of my journey was covered in a 4 part series in February 2013 called    How to Fix a Broken Heart
 Link goes to the 4th (and final) entry for the series)

I also reflected on some spiritual lessons  related to this event in a sermon series  in November-December   called  "The New Heart: My Heart Story".  

Today is the 1st anniversary of my surgery and I have been reflecting on "how has this changed me?". (or has it changed me in any significant way?).

Last night Linda and I watched a  "cartoon" movie called the Croods.  It looks at the need to for a "cave man" family adapt (change)  when an earthquake   destroys their  "safe" cave.

It is an often stated truism that it requires a significant event  to make significant change. However, it doesn't always  seem to happen.

So if I'm  disciplined enough -- over the next while I will explore this  question related to  whether or not a "near death" experience has  resulted in any significant and permanent change in my life.  and Why or why not? and how does this relate to the changes we might see in the lifes of those who - through faith -  are seeking to have their lives transformed by the Spirit (cf. Rom. 12:2)   Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind

God Bless