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faith Archives | Chaplain | JM Faith at Work

It’s Five O’clock Somewhere

By | Blog

Pastor Jim Melvin

Are you wasting away in Margaritaville?  Singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffet, known for his colorful Hawaian shirts, catchy lyrics and laid-back islands attitude could be nominated as the pandemic spokesperson.  Many of his song titles like “Wasting Away in Margarittaville,”  “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere,” “And Why don’t we get Drunk,” extol the use and abuse of alcohol.

Judging from celebrity posts on Facebook, and the posts of my friends, family, and coworkers, the covid-19 pandemic has us awash in alcohol as much as in virus particles.  People working from home report happy hour starting earlier and lasting longer.  I have a friend who runs a liquor store that offers drive-through pickup and he says that since March his sales have made every day seem like New Year’s Eve. Statistics show that alcohol sales have risen as much as 55% since the covid related lockdowns began.

As lighthearted as the attitudes toward pandemic drinking habits appear, there are some serious consequences to our changes in consumption lurking in the background.  The following are some of the negative consequences that can logically be expected to result from the current uptick in drinking:

 

  • A rise in general health problems including a suppressed immune response which increases the susceptibility to disease including covid 19.
  • Weight gain which also negatively impacts overall health.
  • An in increase in the incidence and severity of depression.
  • Relationship problems, child neglect and spousal abuse are more common.
  • Lowered inhibition and lack of judgement in social situations increase the likelihood of exposure to covid 19 infections.

Lest I be accused of being a party pooper or a wet blanket, let it be known that I generally counsel moderation in all things.  Even the Bible says in 1 Timothy 5:23, “No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” In balance, however, Ephesians 5:18 says, “Do not be a drunkard, for that is debauchery.”  Medical science seems to support the biblical advice.  It has been shown that one drink per day may have some health benefits including reducing heart disease.  More conclusively, anything more than moderate consumption leads to all kinds of serious afflictions including cancer, multiple organ failure and heart disease.

Alcohol usage goes up during times of stress.  An increase of alcohol abuse was observed after the 9/11 terror attacks.  The isolation caused by the pandemic and the resulting lack of positive social connections makes us extremely vulnerable.  Working at home increases the temptation to drink during the workday.  So here are some practical suggestions of steps that you can take to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle in “Coronaville.”

  • Honestly evaluate your drinking habits. Widely accepted health guidelines recommend no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.  A drink is defined as 1 twelve oz. regular beer, 1 five oz. glass of wine, or 1.5 oz. 80 proof distilled spirits. These amounts are to be consumed over the course of the week and not saved for a weekend binge. Overall, 0 drinks per day is best.
  • Strictly limit the duration of your cocktail hour if you have one. One hour seems to be an appropriate length of time for most people.
  • Be extra aware of your drinking on weekends, holidays, and vacations.
  • Do not drink during the workday.
  • Substitute non-alcoholic drinks or drinks with lower alcohol content for cocktail hour or engage in some other kind of activity or social interaction. It may work for you to serve alcohol only at dinner time.
  • Couples and family members should positively and respectfully support one another in limiting alcohol consumption.
  • Talk openly with social acquaintances about your decision to responsibly consume alcohol.
  • Seek professional help if you or a loved one is being negatively impacted by their drinking.
  • Avoid bars and parties where alcohol will be consumed in excess. These situations are the main source of covid spread at this time.  It is your right to politely decline invitations to social events that you feel would put you at risk.
  • Pray for strength and serenity.

It’s five o’clock somewhere right now.  If I wanted to, I could find a good reason to pop a beer or pour myself a drink.  I choose not to.  I know that, like you, I am operating under a higher than normal level of stress.  As much as this pandemic time stinks and tries to drive us to drink, we can create our own silver linings by committing to staying healthy in body, mind and spirit. Today, for me, five o’clock sounds like a good time to go for a walk.  What are you going to do?  Let’s just not waste away in Margaritaville.

If Wishes Were Fishes

By | Blog

Pastor Jim Melvin

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:1

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

My mother-in-law Aggie Wilson was a master of folksy sayings. One of her favorites that she repeated at every opportunity was, “If wishes were fishes, we’d all have a bite.” If that makes you scratch your head in wonder, let me give you a few examples. Me: I sure wish I could afford one of those new mid-engine Corvettes. Aggie: If wishes were fishes, we’d all have a bite. Me: I wish winter was over. Aggie: If wishes were fishes, we’d all have a bite. Me: I sure wish you would make one of your seven-layer German chocolate cakes for dessert tonight. Aggie: If wishes were fishes, we’d all have a bite. Maybe you’re thinking to yourself right now, “I wish he’d get to the point.” Me: “If wishes were fishes, we’d all have a bite.”

Aggie meant that we wish for a lot of things that just aren’t going to happen. The majority of wishes that we make don’t come true. Many or most of our wishes turn out to be idle wishes. Think of all the jokes you’ve heard about someone being granted three wishes by a genie. They never seem to work out well. We all know that wishing for something doesn’t make it come true. I’ve wasted my fair share of coins throwing them into fountains, wished upon a galaxy of stars, and made wishes while I blew out the candles on more birthday cakes than I care to remember; and I have to report that my success rate is poor. I think that Jiminy Cricket’s “When You Wish upon a Star” song from Pinocchio was a scam perpetrated on generations of America’s kids. If wishes were fishes, we’d all have a bite; and, well, the fish don’t seem to be hungry.

But HOPE, that’s a different matter. Although the words hope and wish are often used interchangeably, our hopes are more significant and reliable than wishes. Our hopes are backed by something that gives us a reasonable expectation that the object of our desire is achievable. For example, I hope that I have the strength to make a difficult decision that lies ahead of me today. That hope is backed up by self-confidence that I have because I have made difficult decisions before. I hope that my friends will stick up for me when I am unfairly criticized. That hope is based on my friends’ prior loyalty. Hope is way more powerful and comforting than making wishes. Not to beat the image to death, but if hopes were fishes, we’d all be fed.
Our hopes can be supported by a variety of things. As in my previous examples, our hopes can be based on our past experiences. Our hopes can be based on our trust in people with certain skills or knowledge. We hope that the medical community will come up with protection against covid-19 and the cures for many other diseases, eventually even cancer. We also base our hopes on the reputation and integrity of people with authority. We hope that our laws are administered and enforced justly. We hope that America will continue to be a beacon of freedom in the world. These aren’t idle wishes. These are valid hopes.

There is a special kind of hope that is more powerful than any other. That is the hope which is backed up by faith. In Hebrews 11:1 we read, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Christian hope is based upon faith. It is not based on science or upon physical evidence or even human reason. Things that we hope for are by nature unseen or they aren’t even in existence yet. So, we need something powerful to support our hopes. That power is faith.

Faith and hope are inextricably linked together. To understand hope, we also have to understand faith. There’s no better place to look at the nature of Christian faith than through the story of Jesus’ disciple Thomas, the one affectionately known as doubting Thomas. Old doubting Thomas when he was told by the other disciples that they had witnessed Jesus after he was resurrected famously said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” For Thomas, seeing, and in this case touching, are believing.

Thomas is one of my favorite biblical characters. He seems real to me. I can see myself having the same reaction to being told that someone I know was killed and is now up and walking around again. I admit it. I’m filled with doubts. Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith. Despair or hopelessness is the opposite of faith. Doubt is a necessary precondition of faith. Without doubt or uncertainty, we have no need for faith. When Jesus finally does show up to Thomas, the former doubter doesn’t even take Jesus up on the offer to touch him. He is overcome and simply shouts out, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus mildly rebukes him saying it would have been better if he had believed without seeing.

Here’s the power of faith. We don’t have to see, or touch, or feel or smell. Faith is a matter of the heart and not of the mind. Martin Luther says that we don’t come to faith on our own. In part of his explanation of the Apostles Creed Luther says, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” Faith is a gift from God to us who are by nature unbelievers.

You see, faith is another word for trust. When I say I have faith in God, I’m not saying that I believe that God exists. Whether or not God exists is a question for skeptics and philosophers and theologians. Whether or not Jesus Christ was just a brilliant teacher who lived two thousand years ago or the Son of God incarnate is a question for biblical scholars who make their money writing books. I trust God and live my life knowing that God loves me and will care for me. I trust Jesus and follow him because he will lead me to live a life worthy of the coming Kingdom of God. I didn’t figure out my faith. I’ve learned it and lived into it.

Where did my faith come from? It’s too much a part of me to tell you. It’s like the air that I breath. I imagine that my parents had a lot to do with it, but maybe not in the way you would think. It’s not because they made me go to church and Sunday school, but because they taught me how to trust. I never questioned that they loved me or that they would take care of me. They gave me everything I needed growing up, especially love. They taught me how to trust. Using the words of faith, it is the Holy Spirit dwelling within me that let me learn that lesson.

That God inspired ability to trust grew and was transferred to my Christian faith. I found that the gospel message that Jesus taught in the Bible was reliable. I saw how powerful faith could be as I witnessed it in the people in my Christian community. And yes, my faith was inspired by the Christlike love of people all around me, many of whom did not even know that they were Christlike. In my life faith works and it works in the people I see around me. It will work for the world.

Do you want that faith? Do you want to trust God loves us and that Jesus Christ has the power to save us in this desperate hour? I can’t convince you of that with carefully crafted sentences and well-reasoned arguments. But I can share my faith with you. I can witness my faith to you. There are a lot of other people of faith that can do the same. Look for them in your life. Through them and through scripture you can learn to trust Jesus Christ. Even if you haven’t had a lot of reasons to trust other people as you grew up, you can still come to trust God. Look for that seed of trust, the seed of faith in your heart, nurture it and watch it grow. It’s never too late. There is no better time than now.
We need faith now. We need it to nurture our hopes. Our hearts crave good news. We need to know in our hearts that our hopes are not wishes—or fishes.

I can recommend another tool for you to live into your own faith. Start praying. You may assume that faith needs to come before prayer. Why would I pray if I don’t have faith to start with? Not so. Start a conversation with God and let God take it from there. If you need some help, do what Jesus told his disciples to do. Pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. They kingdom come. They will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.” That’s a good conversation starter. That conversation may give you that burst of faith you need.

I’m personally putting my trust, my faith, in a lot of things right now. I trust the scientists who are working to get the current pandemic under control and to protect us from future such disasters. I trust the doctors and nurses that are selflessly caring for the afflicted. I trust our government, economists, business leaders, and workers to help us put our lives back together again when the medical threat passes. And I trust in the lovingkindness of all the people around me who share my hopes and fears and who are doing their own part to care for those around them.

But most of all I have faith in the God and the saving power of Jesus Christ. We’re coming up on Easter. I can say without reservation that for Christians this is the most hopeful time of the year. It is through our faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ to new life that our hope comes. Jesus, who suffered death and the grave, was raised to new and eternal life. Truly, if you can believe that, you can believe anything And through the power of the Holy Spirit, you can believe it. . So really, you just have to come to trust that one thing, what we call the Good News. You just have to let yourself trust. God will do the rest.

Resurrection means the possibility of new life. It is our hope for the future. Instead of worrying about all of the bad things that might happen, spend your time hoping for the resurrection of our lives and our worlds. Hope for a world where people are more conscious of the blessings that they receive from God every day. Hope for a world where all are united by a sense of cooperation and compassion. Hope for a world where poverty, disease and hunger become our true enemies. And you can hope for a world where you and your family will live in health and happiness. Wish upon a star if you like. But put your faith in God.

Let me give my favorite poet Emily Dickinson the final word on hope. She writes,

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

May God bless you and keep you. May God make his face shine upon you. May God look upon you with grace and mercy and give you peace. Amen.

May Jesus Calm this Storm

By | Blog

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

By | Blog

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.

Let There Be Light

By | Blog

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.

525,600

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.

What Worries You Most

By | Blog

Pastor Jim Melvin

The list is long of things that we can choose to worry about. Just turn on the TV news and that’s really most of what we hear about. It doesn’t matter if we listen to Fox, CNN, MSNBC, or our local evening news. They all barrage us with things to worry about. For your convenience I’ve compiled a list of worrisome things to keep you awake at night.

1–Death
2–Climate Change
3–Environmental Disaster
4–Gun violence
5–Immigration
6–Racism
7–Economic Recession
8–Drug Resistant Disease
9–Terrorism, Global or Domestic
10–Sexual abuse
11–Gender Inequality
12–Famine
13–War, Nuclear or Conventional
14–Cancer, Heart Disease, Alzheimer’s & Other Diseases
15–Drug Addiction
16–Gangs
17–Loss of Religion (or for some, too much religion)
18–Lack of Clean Water
19–Species extinction
20–Invading Aliens from Outer Space

These are all legitimate concerns. (Well, maybe not the last one.) Not only is the list long, many of the threats have multiple dimensions. Take gun violence, for example. You may fear the number of guns in circulation and that you may full victim to a mass shooting; or, you may fear that someone is going to restrict your right to have a gun because of the fear of others. In the case of immigration, you may be concerned about the onslaught of poor people coming to America. Or, you may be concerned that America is turning it’s back on our historic openness to people seeking freedom and opportunity here. Or, if you’re an immigrant, you may fear that ICE will come for you one day.

If any or all these fears are hounding you, I have something that may help. I’m not going to string you along like some of those internet or TV infomercials that bait you to keep watching for twenty minutes only get you to send them $19.99 for a piece of obvious junk (And get an extra one free if you order now!). My suggestion for overcoming every one of these fears is FAITH.
Yada, yada, yada. Don’t tune me out just yet. Jesus had faith that God would save him, you say, and look what it got him, a painful death on a cross. Exactly! Jesus faced the most terrible struggle and abuse imaginable including crucifixion, but in the end experienced victory and eternal life. Knowing throughout his life that his path eventually led to that hill upon which he was crucified, his faith allowed him to live life courageously and meaningfully. His example inspired those who followed him in his own day and inspires millions today who put their faith in him.

The book of Hebrews we read, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…(Hebrews 11:1; 12:1)

Life isn’t easy. Everybody struggles, some of us a lot more than others. Every item on my list above is a real concern (once again, maybe not the aliens). Go back and read through the list again. Now cross off number one. That’s what faith does. Through faith we’ve already won the final victory. We have the assurance that the thing we most hope for yet haven’t seen, eternal life, is a reality. Now we are freed to work on all those other problems.

If only it was as easy as I’m making it out. I know that it isn’t. Faith is hard. Faith is the work of a lifetime. And faith takes a lot of different shapes in different people. I’m a child of the ‘60’s and can still hear groups of people singing, “All that we’re saying—is give peace a chance.” All that I’m saying, is give FAITH a chance.

Pastor Jim

How to Celebrate a Life

By | Blog

Pastor Jim Melvin

“Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!”
Psalm 98:4

I was recently asked to lead a “Celebration of Life” service for my wife’s aunt, something that I always feel privileged to do. This was the type of service that her aunt specifically requested. As I was speaking with the family, we started asking exactly what a “Celebration of Life” entails. After a few days of reflection, here is what I have come up with on how to celebrate a life.

GATHER

The first thing we must do is get together. You can’t really celebrate by email, text, or telephone. Family and friends have to get together in the same place, preferably a place that holds some significance to the person being honored. Sometimes it has to be a place of convenience accessible to the most people – and that’s ok too.

I learned the power of family gatherings through my wife’s family. Coming from a small family, we didn’t get together as a group much. But my wife had 15 aunts and uncles and a bazillion cousins, so family reunions were major events. As the aunts and uncles have passed away over the years (there is only one left in my wife’s family) the reunions mostly occur when someone dies. The first thing we say when we guiltily greet each other is “We only see each other at weddings and funerals.” That statement reinforces the importance of gathering.

REMEMBER

It says in the Book of Proverbs, “The memory of the righteous is a blessing.” You can substitute “the ones we love” for “the righteous” if you like. Remembering allows the person we have lost to be present with us. I’ve heard of people who have their celebration of life ceremonies before they die so that they can attend. Not necessary. When we remember, we summon their presence.

One thing that I have found about remembering is that it needs to be honest. It is important to remember the good and the bad, the happy and the sad. Sugarcoating a person’s life or character in a way dishonor’s them. To truly celebrate a life, we should remember them as they were, not as we wish they were. When we remember somebody in the full context, warts and all, it opens the possibility for healing where it is necessary, and a true appreciation of what has been lost. By the way, when you remember me, don’t be TOO honest.

PARTY

This is a celebration, right? So, party on. The Bible, the Psalms in particular, are full of partying. Psalm 98:4 sings, “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!” When the prodigal son returned the father said, “ʽBring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So, they began to celebrate.” And when Jesus attended the wedding at Cana in Galilee, they ran out of wine and so they asked Jesus to come up with180 gallons more. Tell me that wasn’t a real party.

Seriously, the party, the eating and drinking together (it doesn’t have to be alcohol) are an essential part of healing. The beginning of the banquet signals that it is time for life to move on and for happiness to enter into life again. In my midwestern Lutheran experience nothing says healing more than a hot dish and bars.

LIVE

My final step for celebrating the life of someone we love is to throw ourselves back into life again. We honor their life by going out and leading the kind of life that they would be proud of. We are the ones who now have the opportunity to create a living legacy for the one who has gone before us. That applies not only to our parents and older relatives, but also to our friends for whom the opportunity to make a direct difference in the world has been closed.

GATHER. REMEMBER. PARTY. LIVE. THAT’S THE WAY TO CELEBRATE A LIFE.