Category Archives: Meditations

Identity: Purveying fine ideas


Sabbaticals create a crisis of identity for me. As you may already know, the halls of academia are filled with individuals who secretly believe they are frauds–that all others in the hall (teachers and students alike) should be there but we have somehow gotten in by faking our intelligence. For me: will I, have I produced enough to be a legitimate professor? Where are my many books? Why isn’t my vita longer? Where is my empirical research?

Truth is I’m not a researcher and at this point do not need to be one. My school seeks quality teachers who make important additions to the field (vs. primarily researchers who happen to teach). 

But recently I had an aha about who I’m made to be. I had been struggling with writing a book proposal (which I hope will still succeed) and trying to evaluate whether I was making any discernible progress. I needed a coffee (okay, didn’t need but wanted) so walked out through the parking lot on my way to a local shop. In the parking lot was a friend on her way to help out some families in crisis. She stopped me and asked me if I could help her consider how to respond. Within minutes I gave her several ideas and steps on how to think about the issues and some direction as to where to lead the individuals involved. She was grateful and after scribbling on a napkin some ideas we parted ways.

As I walked to the shop I got the “aha.” I’m a purveyor of fine ideas–like the purveyor of fine coffees I was on my way to vist. I doubt I’m ever going to write that revolutionary text, develop a unique model of care, provide the statistical data to back up a theory, etc. But I’m relatively decent at collecting fine ideas that may not be so well-known to the community and giving them to people in useful bits. I think the Lord has given me the gift of discerning which biblical or psychological information might be useful and how the person in need might be able to use it.

So, I don’t make good things, I find good things and try to get them into the hands of folks who need it. Maybe that makes me less of a professor but I’m coming to terms with this.

And so with this aha I go back to my computer, flush with caffeine and some comfort that my life isn’t evaluated solely on this proposal I’m working on. Of course it doesn’t you say. But we humans need to be reminded of the truth every so often.

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Filed under Identity, Insight, Meditations, teaching counseling, writing

Mind the gap


When exiting the train in England, you might hear the conductor telling you to “mind the gap” between the train and the platform. Consider another gap…

One of our pastors preached on Sunday from Hebrews 6:13-20. In this passage the writer of Hebrews reminds us of God’s promises and that they are sure because God does not lie and that he swears an oath on himself that his promises will be fulfilled (are being fulfilled in Christ).

And yet, our pastor remarked that there is a gap between our present feelings and the objective reality of God’s finished work. We live in that gap until heaven or Christ’s return. Our hope while we live in the gap is anchored in Jesus.

How do you deal with the gap? Seems much of counseling work is figuring out how to live and function in the gap, what to place our hope in, working to remember what is true, and living well with others who also struggle with their “gap.”

What have you found helpful as you “mind the gap?” 

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Filed under Biblical Reflection, christian counseling, Meditations

Visions of Jesus in Glenside, PA


No, I didn’t see an image of Jesus on a potato chip. But, I did catch a few glimpses of him at our ragtag church this past Sunday. It’s amazing what you see when you are looking…

1. A fifteen year old daughter singing enthusiastically next to her dad. She wasn’t sulky nor did she have her hands jammed into her jeans. No, she was worshipping with abandon (0kay, it is a Presbyterian church so some of you may have to translate that a bit). 
2. An able-bodied man embracing and hugging A severely developmentally delayed man in front of the congregation–as he does most every week. The man with delays was singing loudly–only one note mind you, but it was music.
3. A person many people would think has suffered enough (family sickness and death) teaching children about Jesus.

I’m sure there were many more glimpses of Jesus to be seen if I had better eyes. But, I appreciated these and thanked the Lord for letting me see him in the people around me.

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Sinner fantasies about righteousness


Ever entertain fantasies of moral uprightness in the face of evil?

I suspect we do so because we are trying to quell our own feelings of guilt…

On our trip to CT this week we listened to The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes. In the story many children make fun of a Polish immigrant child with a funny last name and only one faded blue dress. In a rare interchange with her peers she tells them that she has 100 dresses at home. Many of the girls made fun of her by asking her all about these dresses. One girl didn’t join in with the teasing but did idolize one who did. Later in the story, something happens to make this girl realize her silent participation was tantamount to teasing. But, the Polish girl disappears before she can apologize.

How does this chagrined girl respond? She fantasizes about her standing up to her teasing peers with a display of righteous indignation. She would be the hero to protect this poor defenseless child. She imagines herself lecturing the class and calling them to stop their mean-spirited behavior.

Funny how we work to appease our own guilt. We replay past incidents to get them to come out right–to turn our misdeeds into acts of righteousness.

I wonder if this behavior helps us do the right thing the next time. I doubt it…

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Drinking in color


It’s mid-November and the leaves here in Philadelphia are about the best I’ve ever seen. Late for sure, but quite good. This past weekend I got to walk on a quiet country road just south of Peace Valley Park. Its about the closest I can get to Vermont scene I grew up with. Despite the rain, the leaves were just about perfect–Maples with red-tipped leaves and hints of orange and green. The dark sky and tree trunks enhanced the brightness of the leaves.

A feast for my eyes.

Despite the 35 degrees, the color warmed me. While I do like the vistas to see many trees at one time, looking at a single colorful tree in a dark wood is even more appealing. And then my thoughts turned to God’s creative genius to create hardwoods that turn these colors for the purpose of giving me joy (Not too egocentric, huh?).

Did you ever think of that? What things has God placed around you that are there for the only purpose of giving you pleasure? A dog or cat? A tree? A fast moving brook?

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Knowing God’s faithfulness in a broken world


Several important people in my circles are experiencing serious, life-threatening, health problems. Within the last year, several acquaintances have died. When you hear or experience one of these events, do you ever question whether God is faithful? Good? Do you find it hard to sing about God’s faithfulness when relationships are broken or breaking down, when health or finances are lost?

When we are young and naive we may come to equate health, wholeness, success, etc. with God’s faithful protection. And in the reverse, when we experience brokenness, sometimes we find it difficult to believe that God is faithful and truly for us. But even in difficult times, most believers can name numerous ways in which we KNOW that God has been faithful in the recent past. So, where does our discomfort with God come from?

I have noticed that the greatest discomfort comes NOT from wondering if God is faithful or if he loves me but from the realization (again and again) that his faithfulness may not produce the outcome that I am looking for. I have expectations–even demands–about how God can best protect me and the people I love from pain. I am tempted to give in to despair, bitterness, even anger when an unspoken expectation is shown to be what it is–an assumption I have placed on God that he may not meet. And I find myself saying to God, “I know you have done (all these good things) but what I really want is _________.”

During a song at church this Sunday, I was reminded (If I were charismatic I would say the Lord spoke to me. But I’m Presbyterian so we use different language :)) that this world would be far more broken if not for the Lord’s power to limit the effects of sin on the world. We would have no measure of physical, emotional, or spiritual health if not for God’s restraint of the Evil One. Things are bad in so many ways but God continually is caring for and sustaining us, even in our poverty, sickness, and broken relationships. We become blind or dulled to his constant caring. When something surprising happens (safety from a near accident, unexpected monetary blessing) we see God’s handiwork.

Lord, help us to see your handiwork in the mundane as well as the extraordinary. 

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Filed under Meditations, suffering

Not enough grace?


Prayer found in Valley of Vision:

Every new duty calls for more grace than I possess, but not more than is found in thee, the divine treasury in whom all fulness dwells. To thee I repair for grace upon grace.

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Filed under Great Quotes, Meditations

Don’t judge a book by its cover


Several years ago I sporadically attended an early morning prayer meeting at my church. While our pastor always seemed cheery and wide awake, most of us dragged ourselves in the door and to our seat. I noticed one man there. Bill was rather dumpily dressed, somewhat disheveled with white hair askew, usually unshaven, drooping eyelids with bushy brows, and very quiet. I had seen this man before but had never talked to him. Didn’t really know who he was or what his story was.  

He didn’t say much in the meeting but when he prayed out loud it was quickly evident that the waters ran deep in his soul. Two years ago, Bill lost his job and called me to see if he could take some counseling classes at Biblical. In those classes and in our discussions afterward, I learned several things about Bill: he loved to learn. In this way he was the perfect student. On breaks or during the week, he wanted to discuss what he was reading. And he wanted to know what else he should read. Not to argue, not to show his great wisdom, but just to engage the topic and to learn all that he could. He cared about his fellow students. I saw him practice counseling another student with significant pain in her life. He didn’t always know what to say but you could see the pain on his face. He wasn’t going to focus on his own personal pain but on the needs of others. He didn’t say alot about his own suffering, but it wasn’t hard to see it just the same. And yet, he quickly turned the subject back to the others in the conversation.

Yesterday, I attended Bill’s memorial service. He died after a brief bout with cancer. I was moved by the number of folks who got up to tell how Bill’s love for books, love for serving, and love for praying changed their lives. It took nearly an hour to get through them all. One man said it best, when you pray with a man over 800 times (he had calculated the number of times they had prayed together at bible studies, prayer meetings etc over the last few years), it starts to put grooves in you.

Who has put grooves in you? Who have you grooved with your care?

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Waiting


I hate waiting. Does anyone like it? When you are waiting for 15 minutes to pass so you can do something else, doesn’t it seem like a long time (unless you do a good job distracting yourself)?

Right now, I’m waiting for a phone call from a transmission shop. We think our transmission went over the weekend. Had to leave the car 1.5 hours from home and rent another to get home. The guy said he’d call yesterday after lunch. He didn’t. I finally called at 4:30 pm. He would get to it before “they guys left for the day” and give me a call then. He didn’t. So, now its the next mid morning and I’m still waiting and growing impatient as  the minutes tick by. I want to know the damage and I want to know it NOW!

How long did Abraham have to wait for his promise to be fulfilled that he would have a son with Sarai? How long did Joseph have to wait for his dreams to be fulfilled? David, for his annointing as king to become a reality? Israel, for the promised messiah?

I’m sure there is something to be learned in waiting. Frankly, I’m not always sure I want to learn it. But for the moment, I’m going to try. I’m going to learn that this is not heaven, that I am not God, that he has given me many other blessings that I have failed to thank him for, that perseverence is sanctifying me, as opportunity to pray for the less fortunate…

Lord help me accept your time table.

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Ponder this: Epictetus on God’s power and our focus


Here’s a couple of tasty quotes from Epictetus. Yes, I know he was a stoic and not a Christian, but still they are tasty morsels to consider.

I am always content with that which happens; for I think what God chooses is better than what I choose. The Discourses, Book 7.

What do we admire? Externals. About what things are we busy? Externals. And have we any doubt then why we fear or why we are anxious? The Discourses, Book 2, chapter 16.

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Filed under Anxiety, Meditations