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

By | Blog

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!!!

My Father Was A…

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Pastor Jim Melvin

How would you write the story of your origins in a few sentences? Mine would go something like this. “My father was a coal miner born in Southern Illinois who moved to Iowa as a young man to build a better life where he met my mother, the child of hardworking German immigrants who came to America also seeking a better life.” Variations of that story could be told by millions of Americans.

Near the end of their forty-year Exodus wandering in the wilderness, Moses reminded the children of Israel of their story of origins. They were to recite this story when they entered the land flowing with milk and honey and make it a part of their worship forever. These words were to be said in the temple on Shavuot each year as the harvest offering was presented,

“A wandering Aramean was my father,
he went down to Egypt and sojourned there,
he and just a handful of his brothers at first, but soon
they became a great nation, mighty and many.
The Egyptians abused and battered us,
in a cruel and savage slavery.
We cried out to God, the God-of-Our-Fathers:
He listened to our voice, he saw
our destitution, our trouble, our cruel plight.
And God took us out of Egypt
with his strong hand and long arm, terrible and great,
with signs and miracle-wonders.
And he brought us to this place,
gave us this land flowing with milk and honey.
So here I am. I’ve brought the firstfruits
of what I’ve grown on this ground you gave me, O God.”

That wandering Aramean was Abraham the ancestor of Jews, Christians and Muslims. All of us who identify with these three “Abrahamic” faiths have in our past been called aliens, immigrants, foreigners and refugees. Whether we are Jewish or not, in our settled and secure lives we should regularly recite these words so that we remain appropriately thankful for our blessings.

We are not indigenous people. We are all, to use the language of ecology, invasive species. All of us sre immigrants to whom God has granted a resting place on our journey. We thank God for that. We show our thanks by acknowledging those who still wander in the wilderness waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise of a homeland. The children of Israel were required by their own religious law in their sacred scripture to not only welcome but to care for the dispossessed strangers whose wanderings brought them to their land. Here are some of those references,

“You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Deuteronomy 10:19

“The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:34

“You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore, I command you to do this.
When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.

When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore, I am commanding you to do this. Deuteronomy 24:17-22

And in Jesus’ description of the final judgement, God says to those whom he welcomes into his kingdom,
“I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Matthew 25:35

For a variety of reasons including war, political oppression, drug violence, and drought and famine caused by climate change, we are witnessing massive shifts of human populations on an unprecedented scale. Today more than 70 million people are displaced from their homes including 6.7 million in Syria, 2.7 million in Afghanistan, 2.3 million in South Sudan, 1.1 million in Myanmar, and .9 million in Somalia. There are about 5 million Palestinian refugees, of which 1.5 million live in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Closer to home, there are 4.5 million refugees from Venezuela and 650,000 asylum seekers from that country. The list goes on.

It is no wonder that we who live in America and people of other developed and prosperous nations feel a need for self-protection. The flood of humanity seeking a secure place to call home is overwhelming and seems to threaten our way of life. That does not, however, absolve us of our biblical call and the demands of our basic humanity to help our neighbors. The scale of the refugee crises should create a sense of urgency among us.

America has a long history of welcoming refugees to our shores. We are, after all, a nation of immigrants and refugees. But it has never been easy. Even after the horrors of the Nazi holocaust were exposed through graphic pictures to the American people as the concentration camps were liberated, few Americans were in favor of increasing the number of Jewish refugees allowed to our own shores. Still, we have found the courage and the will to help the dispossessed. For the past 40 years we have led the world in the number of refugees whom we have resettled in some years topping 100,000.

In the past few years, however, that number has been reduced to under 30,000 per year. In other words, the number of refugees and the number that we are accommodating are diverging. Once again, we find ourselves struggling to balance our self-protective instincts with our call to sacrificial love. It is time for us as people of God to seriously align our personal advocacy and our governmental policies with our religious and humanitarian obligations.

One of the greatest obstacles that we face in dealing with the immigrant and refugee crisis is our own fear. We fear that that immigrants will bring with them crime. We fear that terrorists will arrive in their midst. We fear that they will overwhelm are welfare, healthcare, and welfare systems. We fear that they will alter our culture and even our language. We fear that instead of us raising them up, that they will drag us down.

These are all legitimate concerns, but America has faced great challenges in her past and met them with integrity and moral courage. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt encouraged the American people in his first inaugural address, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” And Jesus reminded his followers, “Have no fear little flock. It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32

We can only put aside our fears by first committing ourselves to work together. In the polarized environment in which we find ourselves, we cast the people with whom we should be working to solve problems as our enemies. We are wasting most of our time and energy attacking each other rather than attacking the problem. We don’t have the time and energy to spare.

Here is my simple proposal for a commitment that each of us can make as we seek to deal with the plight of immigrants and refugees in America:

1) I will listen to and acknowledge the fears of my fellow citizens and treat them with respect so that we make seek solutions together.
2) I will not use the language of hate nor be triggered by sarcastic attacks on immigrants, refugees or people who are labeled as other.
3) I will live out my biblical and moral mandate to care for the alien, the immigrant, the stranger, and the refugee in our midst.
4) I will seek to educate myself on the religious, social, political and moral issues to the best of my ability seeking out reliable and objective sources of information.
5) I will always remember my own humble origins and thank God for how I am blessed to live and prosper in this land.

My father was a wandering Aramean. So was yours.

Me Too!

By | Blog

Pastor Jim Melvin

Most of the people who I know like it when men and women work together with mutual respect and mutual recognition. Me too! Most of the people who I know believe that different men and women contribute their own unique skills and abilities to the workplace. Me too! Most of the people who I know believe that no one should be harassed or assaulted due to their gender or because their rank or position makes them vulnerable. Me too! The Bible affirms that God created men and women as partners in life’s journey. Me too!

I’m not trying to co-opt the title of the #MeToo movement for my own ends or minimize its importance. The #MeToo movement was born out of the need to address widespread incidents of sexual harassment that had been too long tolerated in our culture. The #MeToo movement is not a matter of political correctness. The women and men who identify with and participate in the movement have raised our awareness and have accomplished much in bringing justice for abused women, especially in the workplace. Much yet remains to be done. I would add my own “me too” to their mission.

But I also want to add my personal “me too” to all of the men and women I see living working together around me who already embody the biblical partnership to which I have referred. Here are some of the positive things I see going on around me.

1) I see women, many of them young, working and advancing in careers once reserved for men. I see women construction workers, truck drivers, doctors, lawyers, pastors, scientists, pilots, soldiers, CEO’s etc., etc., etc., who are competing and succeeding in the workplace.
2) I see men accepting, supporting, trusting and relying upon women coworkers in all of these jobs.
3) I see men and women paying attention to their language and behaviors out of respect for one another.
4) I see all of us relating together comfortably in social settings with the understanding that not every man/woman interaction needs to be sexualized.

We are witnessing the birth of a new age in the way men and women relate to each other and work with each other; but we’re still in a painful time of transition. The Apostle Paul said 2,000 years ago in another time of societal and religious transformation, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” Do you want to be a part of the new creation? Me too!


By | Blog

Pastor Jim Melvin

If you have seen the Broadway musical Rent, the number 525,600 may ring a mental bell; it’s the number of minutes in a year. The average life expectancy of an American today is 78 years, a couple of years more if you are a female and a couple of years less if you are unfortunate enough to be a male. Male or female, our minutes are numbered, 41,776,800 to be exact if you live that average 78 years (not counting leap years).

41,776,800 is a big number; but it’s not THAT big a number. It’s way less than a billion. We talk about US budget deficits in billions and trillions of dollars. And as the popular astronomer Carl Sagan used to say with great emphasis, “There are BBBillions and BBBillions of stars in the universe.” Our lives are small and of short duration on a cosmic scale. This life is not infinite. The clock is ticking my friends; our clocks are ticking.

Thinking about this may call your attention to the clock ticking in your chest or even send you into a panic attack. That’s not my intention. To the contrary, I’d just like us to consider the opportunities for living represented by that pile of minutes so that we don’t waste them. Each minute is made more precious by its relative scarcity.

There’s an economics term that I hear my friends in business throwing around all the time, opportunity cost. Simply put, opportunity cost is the value you give up doing one thing when you choose to do something else. For example, when I choose to stay in bed for an extra hour in the morning, I’m giving up the opportunity to make money at work or the opportunity to enjoy an hour taking a walk or going fishing with my child. On the job, my boss might not be so happy to know that spending time playing Candy Crush on my phone is robbing me and him/her of the opportunity to get some work done.

It’s a matter of the choices we make on a minute by minute, day by day basis that will ultimately add up to a life well spent or a life wasted. We shouldn’t be obsessed by this kind of accounting of our lives; I’m don’t want to analyze my life on a spreadsheet. But here are some do’s and don’ts to make healthy choices about how to spend your time.

1) Cut back on screen time. Here’s a statistic that I find shocking. According to a Nielson Company audience report, the average American spends 10 hours and 39 minutes per day peering at some kind of screen consuming media. Although we spend more and more times on our personal devices, television is still the main consumer of our time. Consider the opportunity cost. That’s 10 hours and 39 minutes a day we could spend interacting with our children or spouses. That’s 10 hours and 39 minutes a day we could spend at exercise and healthy recreation. That’s 10 hours and 39 minutes a day we could volunteer to our church or service organization. I might even devote a few of those minutes taking a refreshing nap. In short, turn off the tv, put away the phones and tablets, and spend some time in the real world.

2) Spend more time in prayer, devotion, meditation, and other spiritual pursuits. As opposed to almost eleven hours we spend looking at screens, the average American spends about 8 minutes per day in prayer. (That’s actually a little higher than I expected.) Studies show that people who spend significant amounts of time praying and reading the Bible are healthier and live longer. Try devoting just five minutes to prayer when you wake up in the morning and before you go to sleep at night. See how you feel. Also, maybe try to squeeze in 30 minutes reading the Bible or other devotional material.

3) Engage in meaningful conversations. It says in the Genesis creation story that it’s not good for us to be alone. Most of us would agree that there is nothing more important than our relationships. And yet, we seldom take the time to really talk to one another about important things like our feelings, our hopes and our fears. Sitting down to leisurely meals on a regular basis with the significant people in our lives encourages us to talk. And, of course, don’t bring the phone to the table and don’t watch tv. Just talk and chew.

4) Exercise. The Mayo Clinic says that 300 minutes of moderate exercise per week provides significant health benefits. They say that 150 minutes should be a minimum goal. Just going for brisk walks is good enough. If possible, walk in pleasant and peaceful surroundings. You might even try praying as you walk. Get double benefits for each minute spent in your perambulatory devotions. (No, I didn’t make up that word.)

5) Work hard. When you are on the job, or when you have important tasks to take care of, put your heart and your soul into it. When we are working hard and accomplishing something, we don’t have to worry about the opportunity costs. We are making good use of our time. After all, we have to get things done and make a living. No regrets here.

6) Chill. This is my favorite. Just spend some time doing nothing. I remember a Seinfeld episode where Elaine is sitting on an airplane with a friend. He asks, “What are you doing?” “Nothing,” she replies. “You have to be doing something,” he insists. “No, I’m just staring at the back of the seat.” “Boy, you really are doing nothing,” he finally admits. This may be the hardest one for you type-A people, really doing nothing. Once in a while, don’t worry about the opportunity costs. Just do nothing.

Well, that’s kind of a random list; but I hope you get the idea.

On a personal note, I’m almost 71. Assuming that I make it to 82 (that’s how long my dad and brother lived), I’ve got 5,781,600 minutes left. That’s 60 minutes less than when I sat down to write this. Talk about tick-tock. Here’s the way I’ve decided to game the system. I’m going to live each minute with Psalm 118:24 on my lips or at least in my heart: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Then how can I go wrong.

Help the Bahamas

Let’s Not Act Our Age

By | Blog

Pastor Jim Melvin

Jesus called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:2-3

 My wife and I recently traveled to Beaufort, North Carolina to help our daughter Emily move into her new home.  She is studying at the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort and had evacuated during Hurricane Dorian.  Fortunately for Emily and most of the people of Beaufort the damage to her property was minor and cleanup was a matter of cutting up and disposing of tree limbs which had been felled during the storm.  Beaufort breathed a corporate sigh of relief.

Walking to town a couple of days after our arrival, we came across four elementary school age kids selling lemonade from a brightly decorated stand.  These young entrepreneurs were not motivated to take advantage of this hot North Carolina day to enrich themselves.  Their sign, decorated with colorful palm trees, bore a simple message: “Help the Bahamas.”  Not content to happily go about their lives unscathed by the storm, they shared the plight of the people of the Bahamas whose lives will not go happily on as usual for a long time – if ever.

These young activists show us why Jesus used children as models for adults behavior.  Children naturally possess one of the qualities which makes us most human, compassion.  They have the ability and the willingness to suffer alongside of others.  Compassion is more than just a feeling; it is also a call to action. In this case a call which they answered. 

I suspect that the reasons to NOT open that lemonade stand never occurred to them.  Reasons like: “It’s a beautiful day and I can go to the beach.”  OR “The few bucks that I’m going to earn won’t make a difference.” OR “People in the Bahamas are different; they can take care of their own problems.”  They just saw people hurting and knew that they needed to help them.   That’s a childish attitude.  Exactly.  We all should have such an attitude.

If you feel a little childish, here are a few suggestions that you can cultivate and demonstrate your humanity:

1)     First of all, don’t forget the victims of Dorian.  As much coverage as disasters like this receive in the media, the news cycle will quickly move on.  That’s just the nature of the news.  Naming the people of the Bahamas in your regular prayer and discussing the ongoing relief efforts with your friends will keep you from moving on too soon.  The problems and suffering generated by this storm are enormous and long lasting.

2)     Find a way to show your support.  Churches and other community organizations are good places to find ways to support the hurricane victims financially or in other material and spiritual ways.  Help your church group organize its own relief effort. Don’t forget to include the real children in your planning.

3)     Advocate for the victims.  Contact your elected representatives to let them know that you want our government to provide meaningful amounts of aid and support in the immediate aftermath of the storm and on a continuing basis.  Tell them that you support granting Temporary Protective Status to Dorian refugees left without homes.

4)     Become like a little child.  Don’t let your own sense of powerlessness or your own fears get in the way of your inborn feelings of compassion.  Because we can’t help everyone doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to help anyone.  If all else fails, open a lemonade stand.  Those kids in Beaufort can stand the competition.

Prayer:  Gracious God, bless the people of the Bahamas with your ever-present support.  Guide our hands and our hearts in your service.  Fill us all with childlike hope and enthusiasm as we dare to suffer alongside all those in need.  Amen.