A tip for when you suffer

Remembering our co-sufferers

Photo: https://flic.kr/p/a88G2h

Photo: https://flic.kr/p/a88G2h

I’ve been thinking a lot about suffering – something that affects all of us in different ways. Some people suffer from illness, others from injustice, poverty, or any number of other causes, like being worried about the future.

Sometimes, suffering jolts you from a peaceful sleep. And just as the memory of your burden returns, so also does that pit in your stomach. Others wake up from physical pain. Still, others can’t sleep at all.

Suffering steals our minds and attention.

Nearly everyone suffers, at some level or another. Our own personal suffering may be far less than the suffering of others, who have different pains and worries. Yet, it is still suffering.

Our times of suffering allow us to re-connect with God in important ways—to trust God to pull us through.

When we suffer, I think it is helpful to remember the suffering of others. Our own suffering can remind us of the pain that others are going through. These are our co-sufferers. They include people who are suffering from struggling to make ends meet, losing a friend or family member, experiencing unemployment, being a victim of a crime or injustice, enduring illness.

We all suffer. So let us remember that we are suffering together.

6 Tips the Writer of Ephesians Taught Me About How to Pray



My wife and I began reading the book of Ephesians yesterday – the next book in our daily reading through the New Testament.

In the first chapter, the writer says a few words about how he prays for this group of Christians (in Ephesus, a place in southwest Turkey).

In these few sentences are some valuable lessons about what to pray for, and how.

–He says that, when he prays, he always thanks God for the people to whom he was writing.

–He says that he prays that God will give them a spirit that will make them wise in the knowledge of God.

–He says that he prays that they will have greater understanding in their hearts; then they will know the hope that God has given to them.

–He says that he prays that they will know that the blessings God has promised to his holy people are big and beautiful. (Personal note: I don’t think of blessings as specifically material ones.)

–He says that he prays that this group will know that God’s power is great for those who believe.

I’d guess that Paul also prayed for many other things—their health and obedience to God, and so much more, probably.

But the phrases above, in particular, are what he emphasized in this passage.

So, here are my 6 takeaways:

1) In our prayers, it is important to be thankful for others.

2) It is good to ask God to give people a spirit that makes them wise.

3-4) It is valuable to pray that people will have more understanding; that will help them to know hope from God.

5-6) It is wise to consider the connection between our holiness and God’s blessings on, and God’s power for, us.

May Paul’s prayer be yours today. Here is the text, from Ephesians 1:15-19:

“That is why I always remember you in my prayers and always thank God for you. I have always done this since the time I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people. I always pray to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ—to the glorious Father. I pray that he will give you a spirit that will make you wise in the knowledge of God—the knowledge that he has shown you. I pray that you will have greater understanding in your heart. Then you will know the hope that God has chosen to give us. I pray that you will know that the blessings God has promised his holy people are rich and glorious. And you will know that God’s power is very great for us who believe.” (Version: ICB)


The power of re-calibration

Why we should seek out what speaks to us

Photo: https://flic.kr/p/a9tjFU

Photo: https://flic.kr/p/a9tjFU

Sitting at an outdoor cafe in my neighborhood in Istanbul, I drank sparkling water and finished my online Turkish lesson, as a large, white street dog lay near my feet.

I perused Facebook and saw a live feed of a church service from a Church of God congregation I knew in the U.S.

In one song, the congregation sang the refrain, “Something more than my yesterdays, more than I had before…He gave me something worth living for!”

It had been so many years since I’d heard or thought of the song that I remembered the refrain incorrectly. I misunderstood it as asking God for something worth living for, not a song of praise for having already given it.

Hearing it as a request, the song spoke to me even more.

A few minutes later, they sang a song that dates back nearly 100 years, and one that I’d sung many times as a child and young adult. “No matter what happens he will care for me,” goes the refrain. I sang along quietly. My internet connection was poor, and the live feed paused more than it played. Once, it stopped just as the song leader stretched out his hand to get the congregation to hold the last word in the phrase, “And his mighty hand will enable me stand.”

What I heard was enough to remember. It was enough to be re-calibrated back to a better alignment with God, and myself, even if for a moment.

You see, in life, it’s easy to get off track. It’s easy to focus more on the here and now. It’s easy to forget what really matters most. In these circumstances, we need to be intentional about seeking out what speaks to us. We need, what I call, ‘re-calibrating experiences’ – moments when we are reminded of God (or, if you are not a person of faith, whatever is most meaningful to you).

Continue Reading »

How to Meet your Summer Goals (Part 2)

Photo: https://flic.kr/p/HrvYD

Photo: https://flic.kr/p/HrvYD

Last week, I detailed out the first part of a plan to help you make and meet your summer goals.

It starts by completing these two short sentences:

I would feel better about myself if I  ____________.

I would feel better about myself if I did not  ____________.

The objective is to complete the sentences simply, with one idea.

For example, you may have said:

I would feel better about myself if I rode my bicycle more often this summer.

I would feel better about myself if I ate more salad.

I would feel better about myself if I spent more time with my niece.

And you may also have said something like:

I would feel better about myself if I did not buy potato chips from the vending machine at work every afternoon.

Continue Reading »

How to Make and Meet your Summer Goals (Part 1)

Photo: https://flic.kr/p/fHpE4m

Photo: https://flic.kr/p/fHpE4m

With summer now upon us, there may be some goals–perhaps still lurking from your New Year’s Resolutions–that you’d like to conquer over the next few months.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is to be systematic when completing tasks or working towards meeting goals.

In my free e-guide, I explain an easy way to meet goals and be productive. In a post about writing out your goals with a pencil, I talk about the importance of using the eraser.

In this two-part blog post, I provide another simple methodology that can help you make and meet your summer goals.

What I present below

Continue Reading »

“…the lower our environmental footprint, the greater our capacity to do good in other areas.”

–Charlie Bresler, Executive Director of The Life You Can Save

How To Remember Your Baptism

Photo: https://flic.kr/p/PQZVv

Photo: https://flic.kr/p/PQZVv

A couple of years ago, my wife and I attended Holy Week services in our old neighborhood in England, at a church where chimes ring out each day from a tall bell tower. Inside, columns and arches frame each side of the nave, and a large, gold icon of the sitting, crowned Christ is painted on the wall high above the altar.

On Good Friday, a cross with the figure of Christ was placed in the center aisle. People lined up and knelt down, one-by-one, kissing it before returning to their seats. The next evening, we all stood outside around a lit campfire—the fire representing Christ’s victory over death and darkness. From this flame, a large Easter candle was lit, symbolizing the risen Christ, and we followed this candle, procession style, into the church for the Easter vigil.

Inside, we were invited to

Continue Reading »

“When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind. When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love. Where evil men would seek to perpetuate unjust status quo, good men must seek to bring into being a real order of justice.”

–Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Problem with Re-Gifting

Think before you re-wrap that old gift

Photo: https://flic.kr/p/dE5SpH

Photo: https://flic.kr/p/dE5SpH

When we lived in Cambodia, sometimes my wife and I ventured out for evening desserts.

Occasionally, we bought them from a woman who set up a table each night in the open-air market a block from our apartment.

One evening, I selected sticky rice from her selection of large bowls of colorful desserts. It was 50-cents.

I watched her spoon out a blob of sticky rice and push it into a small plastic bag with her fingers.

I thought about how her hands were quite possibly dirty, though she was simply doing what was normal in that culture.

On our short walk home, I decided to give the dessert to the security guard who sat out in front of our apartment building each night. The sticky rice just didn’t appeal to me anymore.

The security guard was happy to receive the treat. And I was pleased to give it to him.

Later, though, I thought about the whole matter.

What if the security guard thought that I had bought the dessert specifically for him?

What if he thought more highly of me because of that?

Continue Reading »

What I Learned from my Last Day of School

The value of proper conclusion

Photo: https://flic.kr/p/ek3wHw

Photo: https://flic.kr/p/ek3wHw

Every morning last month I attended a Turkish course at a language school in Istanbul.

Toward the end of the course, I learned that there would be a final exam on the last day.

All month, I had completed most of my homework and studied when I could.

But as I realized just how hard the final exam might be, I was quite sure that I would not pass it.

Continue Reading »

Can Facebook care?

Photo: https://flic.kr/p/e1LKVj

Photo: https://flic.kr/p/e1LKVj

On Saturday morning, I woke up to find a picture at the top of my Facebook homepage that reminded me of something from six years ago. My roommates and I had taken funny pictures around the old La-Z-Boy recliner in our kitchen. It was like our Christmas card family portrait.

I’m glad Facebook reminded me of that memory. I presumed that Facebook also posted the same photo to the homepages of my old roommates. In a sense, it kind of brought the four of us together again in some magical, existential way—us all remembering the fond memories of that evening and our life together that year.

If recalling that fond memory wasn’t enough, Facebook even told me that it cared about me.

“John, we care about you and the memories you share here,” Facebook wrote, above the picture.

But as nice as it was to re-live that memory, I don’t think Facebook pinned that photo to my homepage only to make me feel good.

Nor do I think

Continue Reading »

Understanding why we fight

Photo: https://flic.kr/p/9AeqD2

Photo: https://flic.kr/p/9AeqD2

Waiting at the water department in Istanbul, my wife was number 30 in line.

After she was there for a while, the office closed for lunch.

And everybody waited longer.

Someone made a comment about the dysfunctions of bureaucracies in “Muslim countries,” and that sparked a small shouting match.

A government employee finally intervened and the security guard appeared.

Continue Reading »

“Theology by its very nature is, or should be, troublesome. If theology is doing its job applying the teachings of the prophets—from Jeremiah to Jesus to current issues—it will inevitably vex the guardians of the status quo. It is part of theology’s job description.”

–Harvey Cox, my former professor

How to have a Life Make-over

Photo: https://flic.kr/p/4kmmho

Photo: https://flic.kr/p/4kmmho

This morning, I’ve thought: If I were to have a Life Make-over, what would it be like?

To get from Here to There, what would it require?

First, it would mean identifying what I don’t want in my life and then planning–and committing–to changing so that I can do what I want to do.

Doing what I want to do (do I even know what I want to do?) requires first being who I want to be.

A Life Make-over for many of us, I’d imagine, requires a lot of changes.

Sometimes I think about my past–in good and less-good ways.

I think about who I was in order to think about who I want to be.

Continue Reading »

“Elusive God, companion on the way, you walk behind, beside, beyond; you catch us unawares. Break through the disillusionment and despair clouding our vision, that with wide-eyed wonder, we may find our way and journey on as messengers of your good news.”

–Anglican Prayer, Third Sunday of Easter

“As people of faith in something greater than ourselves, or as people who want to live meaningful lives with purpose, how do we propose to live? And what difference are we going to make?”

–David Hempton

The inconvenience of privilege

Photo: http://mrg.bz/Icmu8S

We Westerners enjoy many privileges. We drink clean water from the tap and can defecate in a toilet without paying a fee. Unless we travel abroad, we aren’t at risk of contracting malaria or any number of other diseases. We enjoy a great deal of freedom.  Our human rights are protected. We know English as our native language. We have easy access to the Internet.

If you’re like me,

Continue Reading »

The problem with ‘doing good’

We just don't know how to do it well

At the top of an email I received today, was this quote:

“Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.” (Minor Myers)

Photo: http://tinyurl.com/o8c55fp

Photo: http://tinyurl.com/o8c55fp

I read it a couple of times, over and over, just to make sure I understood it.

Do well. Do good.

What does that mean? 

Continue Reading »

Enjoyed a concert by the men’s a cappella group from Yale, “The Spizzwinks(?),” performing in our neighborhood in Istanbul. They performed in tails in a 9th century Byzantine cistern. (In the 9th century, a church stood atop this cistern.)

God’s ultimate justice

I was talking with someone recently about botched justice: when someone deserving punishment doesn’t really get it.

Photo: http://tinyurl.com/ka2loyw

Photo: http://tinyurl.com/ka2loyw

That’s the unfortunate reality for many places in the world–some people aren’t punished accurately.

This person said that, when justice was not accurately (or adequately) received on earth, there was somehow comfort in believing that it would, ultimately, be received from God.

Now, I’m not one to say that someone is going to hell; that’s not for me to decide.

Continue Reading »

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

–Mark Twain