May Jesus Calm this Storm

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Pastor Jim Melvin

And when Jesus got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” Matthew 8:23-27

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Recently I have felt moments of panic when I wanted to cry out, “Jesus, wake up! We’re dying here.” In the midst of this coronavirus pandemic it feels like I’m living a dream–more like a nightmare, and Jesus or my faith in him is nowhere to be found. My heart starts pounding. I guess that’s how Jesus must have felt when he cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

We can be forgiven those moments of panic and lapses in faith. It’s allowed. These are scary times in so many ways. God seems silent and distant. Sometimes we need to cry out. Those of us who rely on physical church for comfort are literally cut off from our community of faith and sharing Christ’s presence in the bread and wine of communion. And many are cut off from the physical presence of those they love. Many are cut off from jobs and a source of income. God understands our panic attacks.

Jesus’ disciples suffered just such a panic attack in a storm on the Sea of Galilee. They were in a life-threatening situation on an unpredictable body of water known for producing waves that would easily swamp the type of small fishing boat in which they were sailing. I can picture Jesus waking up to their cries, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and saying, “What’s the deal? What are you afraid of?” and then adding accusingly in the words of the King James Version of the Bible, “O ye of little faith!”

Over the years I’ve heard and preached many sermons on this passage. Usually the “O ye of little faith!” is described as Jesus giving the disciples a good scolding. Maybe he was scolding them. Maybe not. Maybe he was just crabby because they woke him from a good nap. Whether he was scolding them or not, one thing is certain; he calmed the storm and saved them. Like I said, even Jesus would later experience a crisis of faith on the cross; and God saved him.

One of the first things that I take away from this story is the message that we are not alone in our moment of panic. Panic is a normal and necessary human reaction. When we perceive a threat to our lives or our welfare, our bodies’ endocrine systems give us a healthy shot of hormones that give us extra strength and spur us to action. And when we don’t know how to act to save ourselves, we cry for help. At least I haven’t woken up screaming yet.

When I cry out in a panic, it doesn’t take me long to come to my senses and settle down. The thing that can settle me down the quickest is the knowledge that I am not alone. None of us is truly alone. Most of us have family and friends to rely on. Those of us who are of working age have our work families. In a less intimate sense, we have the company of people who come into our homes through television and media. In America we have a citizenry bound together in a society where we look out for each other. We’re beginning to see that more and more. From what I have seen, we are being united by crisis, not divided. And we have the company of people around the world who are sharing our hardships and our hopes. We are not alone. We have billions of people with us in the boat.

A word of caution here. Those of us who do have a sense of community and companionship need to be on the lookout for those who are truly isolated and lonely. I think first of all of the residents of nursing homes and the mentally ill living on the streets. I think of older people sitting home alone and scared. It is our responsibility to find ways to be with them. With all the social media platforms, we can and are getting creative. We have the resources to keep everybody connected if we have the will. It’s a win/win. When we are there for them, they are there for us.

For people of faith, we have another constant companion. You may know him as Jesus. In the Bible he is named Immanuel which means “God with us.” He never leaves us by ourselves. The risen Christ never leaves our side. Through faith and the Holy Spirit, you can always experience his presence. If you haven’t experienced Christ in your life, think of it this way. The Apostle Paul, speaking to a community of faith that he had just formed, looked out at them and said, “YOU are the body of Christ.” I take the you to mean the church, but I also take it to mean all of the caring communities of which we are apart. Christ is in the midst of all loving communities.

Also, Christ is in you. Martin Luther said that each of us are to be “little Christ’s” for each other. When someone looks at you and sees God’s love embodied in you, YOU are a little Christ. And a little Christ goes a long way. People are craving that presence. Yesterday I called a young woman just to check in with her and chat. She said, “I’ve been having a rough day. I feel a little better just to have somebody to talk to.” Sometimes that’s all it takes.

The next thing that I take away from this story is that the disciples’ cries for help are heard. Jesus wakes up. Now, this kind of contradicts Psalm 121 where it says, “Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” Jesus, who is Immanuel, God on earth for us, was asleep on the job or asleep at the tiller to use nautical language.

Don’t let this throw you. Throughout the Bible, Jesus often surprises us with his humanity. Although he was the most compassionate person to ever walk this earth, he had his moments. He can be impatient and harsh like the time the Canaanite woman suffering with a demon takes a shot at him for denying her healing because she was not a Jew. She says, “Even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” Jesus essentially says, “You got me.” And he heals her.

I appreciate the humanity of Jesus. Because he was a human being, I can relate to him. He truly suffered. He experienced the full range of emotions that you and I do, including fear and panic. I need somebody on my level to struggle right alongside me. When we’re scared and hurting, it doesn’t help to be with someone who seems to have it all figured out and assumes that you should too. When Jesus says “ye of little faith” he is speaking the truth. Our faith is weak. That’s why we need him. In part of his explanation of the Apostles’ Creed, Martin Luther says, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.” We can’t even have faith in Christ on our own. We need Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to come to him.
So, go ahead, cry out from your own place of suffering, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” You will discover that he hasn’t.

Here’s what we’ve learned so far from the story of Jesus calming the storm. First, it’s natural and ok to call out in our time of need. Second, we are not alone in this perilous time. Third, God hears our cries. But now comes the most important part. In the story, Jesus calms the storm and rescues them from danger.

Do you see where I’m going here? Through the assurance that we are not alone, and the promise that God listens, the storm is calmed. We are still in a small boat in a vast and changeable sea, but now we have our wits about us. Storms happen. And storms pass. And we sail on until the next one hits. Then we do it all over again. Each time we repeat this pattern, our faith is reinforced. God has been present for us in the past. God will be here for us in the future.

I think this image can help us deal with the uncertainty in our lives right now. It’s a time for us to turn to our faith and to one another for comfort and support. Then we will be calm enough to do our part to get this leaky boat to shore. Your part may be carrying on with your work to provide essential services and to keep our economy afloat. Your part may be home schooling your kids. Your part may be getting groceries for your elderly neighbor. Your part may simply be staying put at home so that you not only protect yourself, but so you don’t put a burden on the healthcare system to care for you.

In the long days ahead, we will all have time to turn to scripture. I’ll be sharing more with you in future devotions and sermons. For now, hear the storm calming words of Psalm 121:

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will 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.
He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade at 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 on and forevermore.

Personally, I’m going to keep reading those words over and over until they are etched on my heart. You can too. “He who keeps Israel, will neither slumber nor sleep.” We are Israel. God has been awakened by our cries. Speaking of Israel, I received a call yesterday from my friend Johnny in Jerusalem. Johnny has been our guide on many tours to the Holy Land. He reported that his family is fine, quarantined at home like many of us. Johnny says that he prays for us. Let us pray for him and for the holiest city in the world from where our help first came.

Have faith. You are not alone. God’s blessings and peace to you. Amen.

You Have a Right to Your Disappointment

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Pastor Jim Melvin

All around me I hear people voicing their disappointments and sense of loss due to the sacrifices we are being required to make because of the coronavirus outbreak. The disappointments are large and small. People are disappointed because they won’t be able to watch March Madness or the Masters Golf Tournament this year. Millions of high school and college seniors will miss the experience of walking across a stage to receive their diplomas. On a more personal level, the thirty eager people who I intended to lead on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land will be deprived of the trip of a lifetime.

My daughter recently had a research trip to Mexico canceled, her master’s degree presentation held virtually, and will likely have her graduation canceled. Of course, she is disappointed. Some have attempted to minimize her disappointment because, after all, she’s traveled widely and has enjoyed graduation ceremonies from high school, college and law school. That kind of thinking misses the point. We each have a right to our own disappointments. Your disappointment, no matter how large or small, does not compete with my disappointment or anybody else’s.

I think it would be healthy for us each to get in touch with our own disappointments. Name them. Own them. Then we can mourn them and move on. Also, getting in touch with our own disappointments can make us more sensitive to those of other people. Just as we name our own disappointments, we can encourage others to name theirs. Then we can mourn, encourage one another, and move forward together.

We may be able to find some more modest ways that we can partially compensate for our losses. We can hold smaller more intimate celebrations of our graduate’s accomplishments. We can start to dream of a new trip next year. But it’s not the same.

There will be time for expressing gratitude for our many blessings and hope for the future later. But for right now, I officially give you permission to be sad. I give you permission to bawl your eyes out and bury your head in the pillow. Your grieving is real; and nobody has the right to take it from you.

Plucking Up the Seedlings of Regret

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I recently received an invitation to a friend’s 50th anniversay party and in inscribed in swirly script at the bottom of the card were the words Regrets Only Please. I’ve been invited to a party or two before so I know that those words are like a presumptuous form of RSVP. If I don’t respond I guess they assume that I’m coming. Do they also assume that I’m going to bring a gift? The imp of the perverse in my wanted to respond to the invitation with a numbered list. 1) I regret that I didn’t go to medical school. 2) I regret that I didn’t start putting money away for retirment 50 years ago. 3) I regret having not exercised regularly. 4) I regret not spending more time with my kids when they were growing up. 5) And more recently, I regret eating that double hot fudge sundae last night. I have a lot of regrets I could share.

Just so you know, I didn’t respond and I went to the party and I don’t regret it. The point is, we all have our regrets. Frank Sinatra sang, “Regrets, I’ve had a few; but then again, too few to mention.” Most of us have plenty of regrets to mention; and I bet Sinatra did too. But that wouldn’t have fit well with the song those words came from, “I did it my way.” In real life, most of our regrets result from us doing it our way. Then later we realize that our way wasn’t necessarily the best way. Hence regret.

Regret is one of many negative emotions that plague us. Regrets are things that we did and wish we didn’t or failed to do and wish we did. Then they keep popping up uninvited in our minds to torture us. They happened in the past but they manifest themselves in the present. They keep playing over and over in our minds like a bad pop sone keeping us awake at night or distracting us during the day. Regrets can result from stupid little slipups that we’ve made or serious injuries that we’ve done to someone.

A lot of regrets that we have deal with missed opportunities in the past. I have a friend, in California who owned a chain of successful luggage stores. In 1971 he was on a trip to Seattle on a buying trip. He struck up a conversation with his seatmate who was beginning a new business. The guy was impressed with my friend’s business savvy and asked him if he’d like to invest in his new enterprise. David was too busy expanding his luggage business at the time, so he respectfully declined. Wait for it. His seatmate that day was Jerry Baldwin, the founder of Starbucks. For decades David has been doing the math on how much he would be worth if he hadn’t thrown away Baldwin’s business card and lamenting to his friends over who stupid he was. Talk about regrets.

Regrets, sure, I’ve gotta few too.

David’s is a “lost opportunity” kind of regret. We can also regret things that we did that shouldn’t have. In my years as a pastor I’ve had many people share their regrets with me about choices in life, many times involving their choice in a spouse. “I never should have married him. He was always too friendly with other women. Now he’s run off and I’ve got two kids to take care of. If only I would have listened to my friends.” Would’a, should’a, could’a, the refrain of regret.

You get the point. We all have regrets. The question is, how do we deal with them? How can we shut off the voices jabbering in our heads that torture us?

Buddhist monk and prolific author the late Thich Naht Hahn uses the image of a garden to describe how our emotions work, both positive and negative. He says that our emotions are like seeds buried in the garden. The seeds that we water and cultivate will manifest themselves in our lives. When we water the seeds of positive emotions like love, compassion, and joy, they will benefit our lives. Nuturing negative emotions like greed, fear, and regret hurt us. Sounds simple enough.

We have an almost endless store of regret seeds ready to sprout in our spiritual gardens (or our hearts or our psyches if you want to think of it that way). We fail to act on countless opporunities every day. While we have to make decisions on which opportunities to follow up on and which not to, it’s easy to second guess ourselves. Similarly, we are constantly doing things that would have been better off left undone. I shouldn’t have snapped at my wife when she criticized me for not doing the dishes. I wish I could unsend that angry email I sent my boss.

Fortunately the majority of the seeds of regret will never germinate. But there are some that we will water, they will sprout, we will cultivate the soil around them, and we will fertilize them until they are full grown. When they mature our regrets will flourish and cause us to suffer. They will cause us many sleepless nights and keep us from being happy.

Regrets are very unpredictable. It’s hard to tell why some of them pop up when they do. Maybe I’m suddenly obsessing over not going to graduate school because my daughter is about to get the degree I didn’t. Maybe you regret not starting your own business because your best friend just retired on a golf course in Florida after selling his real screw manufacturing company. Why is it that you feel that you’re the one that got screwed?

Anyway, let’s assume that you become aware of a regret that seems to really be grinding your gears. How do you get rid of it? An obvious solutions would be to just ignore it. Unfortunately, regrets are persistent little weeds. They don’t like to go away on their own. When they start causing enough suffering for a long enough period of time, you may try to blot them out. You fall into a deep depression and beat yourself up over your failure. But that just makes it worse. Ultimately you start drinking or taking sleeping pills or opioids to numb the pain. We all know where that can lead. There must be a positive way to heal from suffering born of regret.

Let’s go back to the garden analogy. When you notice a seedling of regret starting to grow, gently pluck it up out of the soil. Don’t throw it away. Hold it in your fingers caked with dirt from gardening and look at it. Look at its’ leaves. Examine the root system that was beginning to develop. In carefully inspecting your regret, you will learn from it. That way you are less likely to repeat the behavior that caused the regret in the first place.

Now, once you’re on intimate terms with your regret, do not throw it away. Instead, lovingly place it on the compost heap with the other negative emotions that you have weeded from your garden in the past. Let them fertilize and nourish your spiritual growth in the future. Let it help you grow a healthy crop of emotions like love, forgiveness and happiness. Gardening is a lot of work. You’ll have to keep at it. Soon, like a real gardener, you will learn to discern the desirable plants from the weeds before they get very big.

In more practical terms, when you are plagued by regret, take the time to stop and identify it. Take some time to sit quietly and ask some questions of yourself. Why is this really bothering me? What happened in the past that I regret? What is happening now that is causing this regret to bother me so much? Then you can act.

You may discover that you have some unfinished business in the past. There may be a person to whom you owe an apology. If possible, sit down with them and try to resolve the issue. If you can’t do that, write them a letter asking for forgiveness even if they’re no longer in your life or dead. Then you can let it go. Say to yourself, “My regret is a thing of the past.” I will live in the future.

If you determine that you are dealing with a “lost opportunity” regret, it may be possible for you to still take advantage of that opportnity. I could enroll in some graduate classes if I really regret not getting the Ph.D. Maybe you want to try your hand at starting your own business. Most likely we can just be grateful for what we have in the present instead of ruing the past. We do not need to suffer for the past when we have many blessings in the present.

So, in review, pluck up your regrets. Examine them and learn from them. Use them to nurture your soul in this moment. Then maybe your regrets will be too few to mention.
Now might be a good time to sit down with a pencil and piece of paper and take inventory of what’s growing in your garden. Pluck out the seedlings of hatred, regret, revenge, and all the other things that cause you to suffer. Then cultivate your garden so that love, compassion, and happiness may flourish. Sing to yourself the words of a popular Christian song, “Lord, let my heart be good soil.” You won’t regret it.

Who Are You

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Who Are You?

Well, who are you?
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
I really wanna know
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Tell me, who are you?
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
‘Cause I really wanna know
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

“Who Are You?” a song written in 1979 by none other than The Who, is one of the most repetitive songs of all times. The word who is repeated 150 times to my count. Well – who are you? Do you really wanna know?

Emily Dickinson answered the question in a poem and then turned it around with her own question,

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?

I might think that’s an easy question to answer. But what if you ask me, “Who are you?” I might say, “Well, I’m Jim Melvin, of course.” That doesn’t satisfy you. “Those are just words on a page,” you say. “Who are you really?” I answer, “I’m a seventy-one-year-old man?” Unsatisfied you press on. “You were seventy last year. Are you a different person now and will you be a different person again next year when you turn seventy-two?” I decide to turn to my profession. “I’m a Lutheran pastor.” You’re ready for that one. “Were you someone else before you were ordained? Does that mean you’ll be somebody else when you retire?” I’m getting frustrated. It’s around election time so I guess maybe you want to know my political affiliation. “I’m a Democrat,” I say definitively. Of course, that won’t satisfy you, so you press further. “What if you don’t like the person your party nominates for president this year and you vote republican? Will you be a different person then? Who ARE you?”

At this point I’m going to call time out to take a little break and think about this question more deeply. It wasn’t so easy after all. As I go deeper and deeper it occurs to me that there is a part of me that has never changed. I can remember looking out at the world as a little child and I recognize that the same me is looking at the computer screen as I write this. The same four-year-old me that looked up at my mother’s face as I sat on her lap is the same me that looked down at her lying on a bed the day she died. There is continuity in my me-ness.

Who am I? I am the subject of my own life. I look out at the never-ending river of experiences that flow by me. I am the one who from the inside watched this body around me age for seventy-one years. I am the one who my parents named James Edmund Melvin and others called pastor. I am the one who assigned labels to myself like Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, depending upon my time in life and the current situation in our country and world. Who am I? I am consciousness. I am my soul or what the Buddhists call Atta. I am the stable part of being. I am eternal. I am the one who looks out at the world in wonder through the portals of my eyes. I am the one who is relationship with God, with the divine.

This may seem like a frivolous exercise, the epitome of naval gazing. If we stumble through life without this realization, however, we live as prisoners of our own illusions. Our illusions become delusions when we believe that they are real. There is great freedom in this knowledge. Now we are free to redefine the artificial identities that we have constructed and make ourselves new. The only thing that cannot change is me. With greater insight we can redefine our outer identity to match the inner. When we do, we experience greater happiness, freedom and authenticity than we have ever known before.

I invite you too look in a mirror. Look past the worry lines that have developed over the years. See if you can envision the child that looked in a mirror many years ago and saw him or herself for the first time. Say hi to you. Sit quietly when you have a moment to be alone. Listen to the thoughts swirling in your head. Who is doing the listening? That’s you. That’s who you are watching and listening to your life. Enjoy the show. Enjoy life. You have been liberated.

To turn the question of Emily Dickinson’s poem around again –

I’m Somebody! Who are you?
Are you – Somebody – Too?

Let There Be Light

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Pastor Jim Melvin

I have good news for you, my Vitamin D deprived friends; the days are getting longer. We’ve already gained over half an hour of daylight since the sun started coming home to the northern hemisphere on December 21st. The bad news is that it’s still almost two months until spring. We have the darkest time of the year, both physically and emotionally and perhaps spiritually to endure.

It’s no accident that the first thing God created was light. Light is associated with good and life. That’s why Jesus was called “the Light of the World”. It’s no coincidence that we celebrate Jesus’ birth during the darkest time of the year. At a time when we feel at our lowest, it gives us hope to hear that light will be returning to our lives.

There are some things that we can do to help us through this remaining period of light deprivation. One of the most important things is to realize that we are not alone if we feel down or lack energy during this period. Our bodies are chemically reacting to decreased light exposure including the production of Vitamin D which takes place in our skin with exposure to light. So have hope. This too shall pass. Your feelings are normal. The days are getting longer.

In the meantime, there are some simple steps that we can take to feel happier and more energetic right now. Here are a few:

1. Get as much light as you can, natural and artificial. You can buy special high intensity full spectrum lights at the pharmacy.
2. Get outside and breath in the fresh air even if it is cold.
3. Exercise frequently.
4. Take time to enjoy the sunrise even if you have to adjust the time you get up in the morning.
5. Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
6. See your doctor if you feel unusually depressed or your sleep patterns are seriously disrupted. Your doctor may prescribe anti-depressants on a temporary basis to help elevate your mood.
7. Get social. Find plenty opportunities to socialize with family and friends. Isolation worsens depression.

Those are a few physical things that may help you survive until spring, but don’t forget your spiritual life. Take time each day to pray and reflect on the light of God which dwells within your heart. Close you eyes and visualize a warm glow emanating from your heart. Remember that the promise of new life through Jesus Christ is yours.  And let there be light.

Working Man Blues

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Pastor Jim Melvin

Wish I was down on some blue bayou,
With a bamboo cane stuck in the sand.
But the road I’m on, don’t seem to go there
So I just dream, keep on bein’ the way I am.

Wish I enjoyed what makes my living,
Did what I do with a willin’ hand.
Some would run, ah, but that ain’t like me.
So I just dream and keep on bein’ the way I am.

“The Way I Am” by Merle Haggard

Who of us can’t relate to the feelings that Merle Haggard touches on in “The Way I Am”? Did you ever find yourself daydreaming on the job wishing that you were sitting on a beach drinking a Corona or up north making tracks in fresh snow on your Skidoo? Did you ever feel like the path that you’re taking through life will never get you to either of those places? So, you just dream and keep on bein’ the way you are.

I’ve always loved Merle Haggard’s songs and how he can put his finger on the struggles of everyday people. It probably comes from the fact that he grew up poor in the depression and spent some time in prison, including the infamous San Quentin, when he was young. He probably never did much manual labor himself because he made his living as a country singer after he turned his life around, not that being a musician isn’t hard work. But he could see how difficult life was for the hard-working men and women of America.

Many of Haggard’s songs express a sense of helplessness and a woeful acceptance of the way things are. None does this better than his song “Working Man Blues.” He sings, “I drink my beer in a tavern, sing a little bit of these working man blues. In this song, the working man is saddled by his responsibility to support nine kids and a wife. Despite his blues he vows to “keep his nose to the grindstone” and work as long as his “two hands are fit to use.”

It’s kind of tempting to put his songs on the jukebox in the tavern and wallow in our own working man (or woman) blues. Although a little self-pity feels good once in a while, it profits us more to stop crying in our beer and head down the path of our choosing.

Dreams can be put into two categories, passive or active. When Haggard dreams of sitting on a blue bayou with a cane fishing pole stuck in the sand, he is describing a passive dream. We call that a daydream. He has no intention of acting on this dream. He seems to imply that there is no way to get from where he is to that idyllic destination. He is resigned to the fact that his dream will remain just a figment of his imagination. He settles for the small pleasure that he gets from the act of dreaming. He’ll just drink his beer after work and sing the working man blues. Passive dreams are pessimistic. They feed on self-doubt.

Active dreams lead to action. Active dreams bring a vision of a better future toward which we want to move and toward which we can envision a path. Instead of resignation, these dreams lead to action. Instead of heading to the bar every night, when we commit to realizing our dreams, we spend at least some of our spare time drawing a roadmap for the future. That doesn’t mean there’ll be no time for enjoying life with our friends along the way. Active dreams are optimistic. They require and inspire confidence.

The good thing is, we get to choose the type of dreams we dream. We all are confronted with challenges and obstacle in life, some of us more than others. But we are all fortunate enough to live at a time and in a country that presents us with opportunities if we are willing to take the time to figure out where we can realistically go in life and are willing to put in the hard work to get there. Even if we have to support nine kids and a wife or husband, we don’t need to sing the blues.

Which type of dream will you invest your time and energy in? I would encourage the latter. Here’s how you can get started. The company for which serve as chaplain employs two professional “dream coaches” to help our associates identify and realize their dreams. If you don’t have someone to guide, try working through the following steps on your own.

1)Make yourself a Dream Planner Book. This can be a fancy journal you buy in a bookstore, a spiral bound notebook, or even a yellow legal pad.

2)In your planner, start brainstorming with yourself or with your spouse and/or other members of your family your dreams for the future. Be bold. You don’t have to worry about being realistic at this point. It may help you by thinking about different aspects of your life to focus on such as professional, educational, spiritual, emotional, recreational, material, health/fitness. You may think of others. Try to write down one or two dreams in each area. See if you can come up with twenty dreams. Some examples might be to own your own home, get a specific promotion at work, spend time each day doing something fun with your family, eating a more healthy diet, etc. Your dreams can be as big or as small as you want them.

3) Circle five of the twenty which energize you the most. What is most important for you to achieve? Then narrow your list down to two. These are the dreams that you are going to work on.

4) After you have identified your most important dreams, write out the steps that you will need to take to get you from where you are to where you want to be. Pretend that you are using Google Maps to find the route to your own “blue bayou.”

5) Write out a realistic timeline on when you are going to accomplish each step. Keep returning to your Dream Planner Book and check off the steps as you take them. Make yourself accountable to a trusted person whose job it is to encourage you to keep on schedule.

6) Celebrate your victories along the way and really celebrate when you reach your final goal. Then keep on dreaming. This is a lifelong process.

I encourage you to find someone to accompany you on your journey. You may be able to find a professional dream manager. If not seek out a life coach, counselor, or trusted pastor who is willing to work with you.
So, what’s your dream? At this point in my life, I’m setting sights on that blue bayou; you might have something grander in mind. Either way, let’s leave the blues singing to musicians.

Pastor Jim

We Celebrate the Death of No One

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Pastor Jim Melvin

It is human nature, when spurred on by a sense of righteous indignation, to take joy in and celebrate the death of heinous people. We may feel like fist bumping our neighbor when a mass murderer receives a lethal injection. We saw televised images of mobs of Iraqis dancing in the streets following the violent hanging of Saddam Hussein. It is not surprising, therefore, that immediately following the assassination of Iranian General Qassim Suleimani in Iraq that social media lit up in celebration of the death of a man responsible for the death of thousands. Those who did not join in the festivities were denounced as unpatriotic.

As a Christian, I turn to scripture, especially the teachings of Jesus Christ in the Gospels, for moral guidance. If I did not do so, I would be a hypocrite. If we bear the name Christian, we are bound by the authority of Christ as we learn to know him in scripture through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Let me therefore turn to the words of Jesus himself that I find enlightening in our current situation. Jesus, laying out his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount told those assembled there,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:43-45

Admittedly this is a hard teaching. Loving our enemies runs contrary to human instinct. Praying for those who are doing us harm seems impossible. Few if any of us, hanging from a cross would be able to pray as Jesus did for his tormenters, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

We cannot change our gut reactions toward the punishment of radical evil. We do, however, have control of and a moral obligation to be imitators of Christ in our subsequent actions. That would include refusing to join in the celebration of Suleimani’s death. If we cannot bring ourselves to pray for him, we can soberly pray that his death was just and will serve the greater purpose of peace. Peace is truly a cause for celebration.

Being a faithful Christian does not make us any less patriotic and it certainly does not make us traitors to America. To the contrary, there is no higher form of patriotism than to adhere to the religious and moral values that inspired our forefathers to establish this great nation under whose flag we live. We can also pray for those who continue to celebrate Suleimani’s death, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

You Must be Present to Win

By | Blog

Pastor Jim Melvin

I bought a raffle ticket at a charity event the other night. Several times during the night the host got on the microphone to spur ticket sales and each time announced emphatically, “You must be present to win!” I’m on to their game. They do that to keep their crowd numbers up through the evening. Anyway, it reminded me of a main teaching of insight meditation, live in the present moment.

This seems like stating the obvious until we stop to examine where we place our awareness most of the time. Much of our time is spent regretting the past or worrying about the future. It is hard for us to keep focused on the present moment. We keep getting distracted. We live in a social media fueled world and everywhere we turn we are confronted by lighted screens demanding our immediate attention. Ever go to a sports bar and experience how hard it is NOT to keep your eyes from wandering to the nearest TV, even if it’s reruns of Chinese ping pong matches? (Which is pretty amazing, come to think of it.)

Living in the present is important for us individually, but it is also important in our relationships. How much of the time are we “really present” for the important people in our lives, our friends and family, and the people we work with? When we stop for a moment of self-reflection, we’re likely to find that we often aren’t present for those people much at all, even when we’re working beside them or sitting butt to butt with them on the couch.

Being in the present moment is obviously important on the job. If I’m fuming over that guy who cut me off in traffic on the way to work while I’m swinging a hammer, somebody is likely to get hurt. Or if I’m dreaming about the party I’m going to tonight while I’m entering payroll data on the computer, somebody might not get paid this week. You get the point. Being in the moment is vital to safety, productivity, and eventually to our success in life.

Being in the present moment is vital in our relationships. We can’t love anybody in the past. Love in the past is just a happy memory. We can’t love anybody in the future. Love in the future is a fantasy or a daydream. Only in the present can we love another person meaningfully. Love is best accomplished looking someone in the eye and connecting with a gentle touch. We must be present to love.

When you get a free moment today, stop and engage in this little mental exercise. Find a quiet place where you can sit and close your eyes. Try to think of a time today at work or when you were involved in a household task when you were really present and focused on what you were doing. Then think of a time when you were doing one thing while your mind was somewhere else. How does this make you feel?

Do the same exercise again, only this time recall a time when you were truly present with someone you care about. And when was a time that you were physically near someone, but you weren’t really present? How does that make you feel?

These recollections can bring up some strong feelings. Not only does a lack of mindful presence make us less safe, productive and a good companion, it leaves us with feelings of guilt and regret. When we engage in these behaviors day after day, those negative feelings grow and can eventually having a crippling impact in our lives. Regret and guilt are horrible companions.

Back to what that ticket seller said the other night, “You must be present to win.” That’s not only true with raffle tickets; its true with all of life. It turned out the jackpot the other night was four hundred and thirty-six bucks. (I was present, but I didn’t win.) The jackpot in life is much greater, happiness. But unlike a raffle, when you are truly present in life, you always win.

Don’t Burn Your Turkey: How to Deal with Holiday Stress

By | Blog

Pastor Jim Melvin

Although I saw a few Christmas trees going up before Halloween, for me the holiday season begins with Thanksgiving. That’s when the joyful expectations start ramping up. We begin to look forward to holiday parties and gatherings. We prepare for travel or welcoming visitors into our homes and seeing people who have been absent from our lives for a while. We ponder the gifts that we will give and receive.

In my experience, the joyful expectations are equaled or exceeded by the dread of the chaos and stress that we are about to subject ourselves too. We wonder where we will find the time to pack more into our busy lives. We may be forced into spending time with people who we would just as soon avoid. Not to mention, how are we going to handle all of the extra expenses that come with the celebrating?

Here’s my laundry list of suggestions to help us not only survive but thrive through Thanksgiving and the holiday season.

1) Put the phones away. Holiday gatherings are a time to enjoy each other in real time. Consider having everyone deposit their phone in a basket – at least during dinner. The fact that this radical action seems nigh on to impossible is a sign of how addicted we are to our little screens. At the very least, have everybody silence their phones and keep them out of sight. Maybe come up with a catchy silence your phones announcement at the dinner table like they do in theaters or on the airplane. Good luck!

2) Everybody pitch in. I can remember waking up on Thanksgiving morning back in the good old days to the first smells of the turkey beginning to bake. My mom and aunts would slave in the kitchen all morning, serve everybody seated at the table while they seldom sat down, and wash the dishes and clean up while the menfolk retired to the living room to talk about important stuff and the kids played games. Maybe there were some things that weren’t so good about those old days. Make sure that you do your share and encourage everybody else to do the same including the kids.

3) “Be thee not a drunkard…but take thee a little wine for thy stomach.” (Ephesians 5:18 & 1Timothy 5:23) Wine and other spirits play a central role for many of us at holiday celebrations and dinners. Holiday toasts and good cheer contribute to the joyful atmosphere. But alcohol use also contributes to many domestic disputes and violence at holiday events. The abundance of alcoholic drinks at our gatherings is a particular hazard for those struggling with addiction. The Bible counsels moderation. Simple steps like not starting to drink too early, providing alternative beverages, and offering designated drivers for those who overindulge can help keep our celebrations happy and safe. Consider an alcohol-free Thanksgiving this year.

4) Don’t talk about religion and politics. It is no secret that we live in divisive times. Differences in political and religious points of view can create serious divisions within families and among even the best of friends. While it’s important that we engage each other in honest and open conversation about important issues, holiday gatherings, particularly around the dinner table, might not be the best time for political and moral debates. Our emotions are already amplified this time of year. Focus instead on positive and personal topics that will unite rather than divide. When somebody presses our buttons it’s okay to back away from arguments with words like, “Let’s get together and talk about that later.”

5) Honor the empty chair. Many of us will have experienced the death of a family member or loved since we last gathered. The void opened up by their absence can cast a pall over the celebration. Loss and grief are inevitable and are best dealt with openly. Acknowledge the loss and provide an opportunity for everyone to deal with their feelings. Tell stories and show pictures, shed some tears, and name your lost saints in prayer. Most of all, give thanks for what they meant in your life.

6) Give thanks. Speaking of giving thanks, especially at Thanksgiving, take some time to name the things that you are grateful for. Some families go around the table or the room before they eat and have everyone speak aloud one thing that they are thankful for from the previous year.

7) Say a little prayer. Whether or not you’re religious, physically connecting by holding hands around the table for a prayer provides a spiritual connection that can put the HOLY in HOLI-day. The prayer can be as simple and inclusive as “We give thanks for our family and friends who are gathered here and for how we bless each other’s lives. We thank you for the food we are about to receive and for the loving hands who have prepared it and serve us. Amen.” If nobody feels comfortable praying off the cuff, write it down and read it.

8) Take a hike. Does the following sound familiar? You eat too much, you drink too much, and then you fall into a coma in front of the T.V. The next morning you feel groggy and guilty. Adding a little exercise to the holiday menu can help. After dinner, before you wash that stack of dishes and greasy pans, have everyone put on their coats and walking shoes and take a stroll around the neighborhood. Walking is not only healthy for the body; it is a stimulant for conversation. It will make everybody feel better.

9) Lower your expectations. We want our holiday gatherings to be perfect. They never are. Not everybody will show up on time. Not everyone will be on their best behavior. Somebody’s favorite dish will be missing or cooked wrong. All your problems won’t magically go away. Start out by thinking of the holiday as just another day. Then all of the good special stuff will be, as we say, gravy.

10) Invite the lonely and less fortunate. Your holiday may be almost perfect. That’s not true for everyone. Be on the lookout for the lonely and the less fortunate around you. Invite them to dinner and lavish your hospitality upon them. In blessing them, your whole family will be blessed. Or, forego your own dinner and volunteer as a family to serve in a community meal.

And most importantly, don’t burn your turkey!!!