Restoring Optimism to A Pessimistic America

Although America has long been divided on social issues, the nation has been traditionally fairly united in optimism about the future.

But no longer, according to a special survey commissioned for The Atlantic and the Aspen Institute and headlined in an article Americans Are No Longer Optimists:

  • Nearly two-thirds of Americans—65 percent—question whether America will be on the right track in 10 years.
  • Most doubt whether American will be a “land of opportunity” in 10 years (33 percent say yes, 42 percent say no, and 24 percent say they don’t know).
  • The American Dream seems to be fading with seven in ten Americans cynical about whether working hard and playing by the rules will bring success in the future.
  • While 56 percent of parents believe college will be increasingly important in the coming years, less than one third—29 percent—believe they will be able to afford to pay for their children to go.
  • Only three in 10 Americans now believe our global standing will be rising in 10 years; 43 percent think it will be declining.
  • 64 percent of parents believe it will be difficult for their children to find good jobs in 10 years.
  • Only African Americans and Hispanics believe America is on the right track and will remain a land of opportunity.
  • Women are even more pessimistic than men.

Those who commissioned the poll conclude: “All we can say, then, is that Americans are full of uncertainty and pessimism about the next 10 years.”

Gospel Potential
How do you react when you read such statistics? Do you think “We’re doomed, we’re doomed, we’re all doomed!”

Or do you think, “What an opportunity for the church of Christ and the Gospel of grace!”

I hope the latter. There’s such an opening here for the good news, so wide that it’s just about an open goal without a goalkeeper. It’s like a 21st century version of Ecclesiastes.

If there’s any group of people that can offer a wonderful counter-cultural message surely it’s Christians who can passionately and compassionately communicate the Gospel of grace in all its fullness. Let’s stop moaning and groaning with the rest of the culture, and tell our despairing world about all that Jesus offers:

  • Truth in a world full of lies
  • Peace in a world full of war
  • Love in a world full of hate
  • Life in a world full of death
  • Forgiveness in a world full of vengeance
  • Power in a world full of weakness
  • Certainty in a world full of confusion
  • Purpose in a world full of pointlessness
  • Beauty in a world full of ugliness
  • Hope in a world full of despair
  • Family in a world full of loneliness
  • Guidance in a world full of mazes
  • Goodness in a world full of badness
  • Relationship in a world full of alientation
  • God in a world full of the Devil
  • Salvation in a world full of sin
  • An unshakeable Kingdom in a world of crumbling empires
  • A perfect leader in a world full of failed leadership
  • And, yes, optimism in a world full of pessimism.

A Few Vital Resources For All Desk-Dwellers

If you work at a desk, you will almost certainly get painful back and neck trouble eventually.

The only way to avoid it – and the associated sleeplessness, painkillers, depression, and even surgery –  is to consciously take evasive action.

Believe me, I learned the hard way, via one herniated disc, one prolapsed disc, and recurring neck pain for years. At one point I had got so depressed with the sciatic nerve pain shooting down my leg that I almost wanted it to be amputated.

Then, about 10 years ago I came across the Mackenzie exercises and the Mackenzie roll. These resources not only saved me a lot of pain but even saved my ministry at one point. They’ve helped rescue others too as I always make “Caring for Your Back and Neck” one of the lectures in my pastoral ministry class. Some students who listened skeptically at the time have later come back to thank me!

If you want to avoid back and neck pain, or if you are already suffering from it, here are three steps to take:

Step 1: Buy Treat Your Own Back or Treat Your Own Neck depending on your need.

 

These books will help you understand the importance of a healthy “S” shape or inward curve in your lower back (often called the lordosis) and in your neck. Once you become conscious of this, you’ll be amazed to discover how bad your desk posture is – most of us look like a turtle with a giraffe’s neck hanging out towards the screen.

Each book could save you a fortune in painkillers, physiotherapy visits, and even surgery. They will help you  understand the physics of your back as well as explain and demonstrate some very simple exercises that are easy to learn. Here’s a sample.

Step 2: Invest in a Mackenzie roll. I bought two, one of them a full roll for soft chairs and sofas and a D-roll for hard chairs and the car. You will want to use them whenever you sit down to push out your lordosis into a nice “S” shape and stop you sitting with a poorly curved spine.

Step 3: Change your sitting habits, especially at your desk. Learn how to touch type so that you are not looking down at the keyboard, position your screen at eye level so that you are looking straight ahead, and make sure you are sitting with your head back and your lower back slightly curving in towards your desk rather than out towards your chair.

These three steps cured my back and neck issues and have largely prevented recurrence. If I feel stiffness or pain coming on again, I whip out the books and the rolls, do the exercises, fix my postures, and within a few days I’m back to normal.

PS: I should probably put one of these small-print disclaimers in here just in case some crazy does this, paralyzes themselves, and sues me. So, please check with your doctor or physiotherapist before doing any of this. I’m just a pastor who’s found this extremely helpful and I know many others who have benefited too.

  


Let’s Live for the Moment

Live for the moment!”

Sounds like a modern hedonist, doesn’t it?

Or maybe like an ancient Epicurean: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!”

HappierHarrisOr perhaps even like a yogi (what do you call someone who does Yoga?).

A few months ago, I was reading 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works. In it, TV journalist Dan Harris (of Good Morning America fame) describes his sincere but often bizarre search for happiness that took him to many weird and wonderful people, places, and practices until he settled on a pretty extreme form of yoga-related meditation which made him, O, about 10% happier.

At the end of it you think, “Wow, all that effort for just 10% happier!” Yet, Harris still thinks it was worth it, especially learning the ability to live in the moment and for the moment. The idea, often called mindfulness, is to get to a state of mind that does not think backwards or forwards, that doesn’t remember the past or anticipate the future. Instead the mind is perfectly balanced in the here and now, and is achieved by emptying the mind of everything. If you think that’s easy, read the book, or, better, try it yourself. As Harris describes it, it’s like cage-fighting with a fish:

It was a rigorous brain exercise: rep after rep of trying to tame the runaway train of the mind. The repeated attempt to bring the compulsive thought machine to heel was like holding a live fish in your hands. Wrestling your mind to the ground, repeatedly hauling your attention back to the breath in the face of the inner onslaught required genuine grit.

Funny and Sad
While it’s both sad and funny to read about Harris’s harrowing and humorous journey to this all-too-brief cathartic experience, there’s something about this desire to live in the moment that is healthy, desirable, and all-too-absent from most Christians’ spiritual lives.

I know, I know, as Christians we don’t believe in peace through weird techniques aimed at emptying the mind of everything. We believe in peace through the filling of the mind with God’s truth and the filling of the soul with the Holy Spirit.

But, but, but…this book reveals a real human need, a God-given instinct that senses the value of inner and outer quiet as a means of knowing oneself and God.

Yes, the yogis go about it the wrong way, in a harmful and merely temporary way. But many of us would be in a much happier and healthier spiritual (and physical) state if we were better able to live in the moment in a Christian way. Like the yogis, Christians need to tame the voice in our head and learn to get in the Now.

Thought-Experiment
If you don’t think you need this, do this experiment: at various points in the day try to slow your mind down, to quieten your inner voice, and live in the moment:

  • In bed, think only of the sweetness of sleep instead of regrets about the past day and plans for the next.
  • In the shower, think only about each drop of refreshing and relaxing water, instead of your schedule and problems.
  • At breakfast, think only about the food, savor each tasty mouthful of cornflakes, milk, bacon, and more bacon.
  • In the car, turn the radio and phone off, and think about the gift of transport, mobility, and safety.
  • In conversation, focus 100% on the person in front of you.
  • In running or walking get rid of the iPod and just listen to the birds.
  • In a meeting, just be fully present at the meeting.
  • In Bible reading, concentrate only on the verse you are reading and nothing else.
  • In church, only worship.

It’s radical isn’t it. Do only one thing at a time. Live in the moment. In the now. In Ecclesiastes 2:24-26.

When you start trying this, you’ll realize how hard it is to break the mental habits of a lifetime. The past and the future keep invading and capturing the present. The defaults are deep, and the old instincts so easily creep up on us again. But, as Harris, discovered to some extent, this can be learned, this mental and spiritual muscle can developed and strengthened through exercise. A muscle that helps you to stay still! 

“Be still and know that I am God.”

That’s the bottom line. There is no real, life-changing knowledge of God without stillness. 

If you read the book, you’ll notice many significant differences between transcendental and Christian meditation. And the biggest difference of all is that Christian stillness produces saving and sanctifying knowledge of God. And far more than 10% happier.

What’s worse?
I once met a Christian man who had become quite well-known for his vigorous public opposition to yoga and transcendental meditation. I’m with him 100% on that. But as I talked briefly with him and watched him interact (also briefly) with others, I thought to myself, “Wow, maybe a bit of yoga would do you some good!” I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone so agitated, so distracted, so absent while present, so distant while so near. There wasn’t a relaxed fiber in his body and he was clearly on well-practiced robotic auto-pilot in conversation while his mind was many miles away.

I’m not sure that’s any healthier a spiritual state to be in than Nirvana.

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story by Dan Harris.


10 Feelings Women Struggle With

Don’t worry, ladies, this isn’t another foolish and ignorant guy setting himself up as the latest male expert on female emotions. No, I’m basing my headline on a female expert on female emotions. Her name is Sheila Walsh, a fellow-Scot living in the USA, whom the Lord has blessed with a worldwide ministry to Christian women.

I first came across Sheila through two unforgettable interviews (Part 1, Part 2) she gave to Focus on the Family about her father’s suicide in her childhood, and her long struggle with depression, ultimately resulting in her being hospitalized for treatment. What impressed me about these interviews was not only her raw transparency and authenticity but also her ability to understand and articulate what she had experienced and how she was overcoming it with the help of God’s Word, God’s Spirit, and God’s people.

When I saw that Sheila had written a new book, The Storm Inside: Trade the Chaos of How You Feel for the Truth of Who You Are, I was intrigued to discover if her speaking voice would come through as powerfully and helpfully on the printed page, and I’m delighted to say it definitely does.

The book is based upon thousands and thousands of stories, letters, and testimonies that Sheila has received from hurting women all over the world. As she surveyed these, she found that “Time after time, they fall under the banner of the following ten feelings that can become overwhelming burdens”:

  • Heartache
  • Disappointment
  • Fear
  • Bitterness
  • Unforgiveness
  • Anger
  • Regret
  • Abandonment
  • Shame
  • Insecurity

Each chapter in the book addresses one of these persistent and devastating issues. As well as describing and illustrating these paralyzing feelings using many touching personal anecdotes and other women’s letters, Sheila demonstrates the suitability and power of God’s Word and demonstrates how to skilfully minister it to hurting women.

So, is this a book just for women? I must admit by about the fifth time Sheila addressed her readers as “Girls” I was beginning to feel a bit guilty. It felt like I was furtively eavesdropping on a women’s Bible Study, or, even worse, looking through my wife’s purse (“handbag” for UK readers).

But I decided to persevere and even managed to finish the book with a clear conscience! How? Because I believe it’s given me a greater sensitivity to the special spiritual challenges that women face. Yes, there’s overlap with male issues too (I’ve had my own Storm Inside recently), but there are definitely some areas that are much greater struggles for women and therefore a tougher challenge for men to minister to.

That’s where I found the most benefit; the book not only heightened my awareness of these spiritual battles, but also showed me how to better serve those fighting them. As such, I hope it has made me a better husband, a better father of my two daughters, and a better pastor to the Christian women I am privileged to pastor.

A good book for women. An even better book for men!

The Storm Inside: Trade the Chaos of How You Feel for the Truth of Who You Are by Sheila Walsh.


Check out

One of the post-blood-clots changes at the blog is that I won’t be doing daily Check out posts, at least for the time being. However, as I’d still like to connect you with many of the fantastic articles and wonderful resources that appear every week on the Christian blogosphere, I’m going to use the end-of-week post to give a longer list of links (minus descriptions). But first some books you may want to consider, the first ones with a July 4th flavor.

Weekend Reading

First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James Hansen ($1.99)

America the Beautiful: Rediscovering What Made This Nation Great by Ben Carson ($3.79)

On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery by Robert Poole ($1.99)

How to Grill: The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques by Stephen Raichlen ($2.51)

The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity by Barnabas Piper ($9.05)

Jesus The Evangelist by Richard Phillips (FREE)

A Woman’s Wisdom: How the Book of Proverbs Speaks to Everything by Lydia Brownback ($0.99)

Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World by Carolyn McCulley ($2.99)

Operation Mincemeat: How A Dead Man And A Bizarre Plan Fooled The Nazis And Assured An Allied Victory by Ben McIntyre ($2.99)

Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig by Jonathan Eigg ($1.99)

Check out

Four Questions to Keep Close to Your Wallet

Two Cautions for Conservatives

Two Types of Critics Who Can Help You

Free 168-Page Annotated Bibliography For Preachers

5 Ways to Keep Email From Running Your Life

The Emotional Life of Jesus

Why My Family Doesn’t Do Sleepovers

Weeping In The Psalms

10 Promises for Parents

A Biblical Theology of Burial

How To Find A Good Commentary

What’s Wrong With Preaching Today?

250+ Free Online Seminary Courses, Resources, etc.

More Sleep, Fewer Car Crashes

The Hidden Blessing Of Infertility

Videos

Video Profile of Louis Zamperini

Setting Boundaries: Personal and Professional by Henry Cloud
Cloud is the author of the bestselling Boundaries and Necessary Endings.

Untamed Americas: Gigantic School of Rays

The NBA Fulfills A Player’s Dream Cut Short by Medical Diagnosis
Click through to watch this God-glorifying and moving clip.


10 Reasons God Stops Us In Our Tracks

I’m beginning to ease myself back into a few hours of work a day after my second experience of pulmonary emboli in three years. If you’re interested in what happened from a medical point of view, here’s an animated video.

Personally, I’m not that interested in the medical side of things. I’m much more concerned with the spiritual dimension. It’s been a sobering and solemnizing time in which I’ve been prayerfully trying to interpret this providence and hear God’s “voice” to me in it.

Basically God has stopped me in my tracks once again and I’ve been asking myself Why? Not at all in a rebellious way, but in a humble and teachable way. Did I miss or forget the lessons of three years ago? I’ve already had two strikes; I desperately don’t want a third.

I realize that the ultimate answer is something between God and I alone, but maybe you can offer some suggestions that I’ve not yet considered. Here are the options I’ve been mulling over - maybe it’s one of these, none of these, or all of these!

1. I’ve been on the wrong track and I need to turn around and get on God’s track.

2. I’ve been going too fast on the track and need to slow down.

3. I’ve been traveling on too many tracks at the one time and I need to trim my ministry activities.

4. I’ve been pulling too many carriages behind me and I need to share burdens and delegate better.

5. I’ve been traveling on the right track but on my own steam and I need to rely on God’s “steam” alone.

6. Someone else is on the wrong track and God is using me as a warning to them.

7. My engine needs some rest and repair in a siding for a while.

8. God is preparing me for another journey, but I cannot see it round the corner yet.

9. God wants to stop me from going over a cliff or some other danger ahead.

10. God wants to end my journey. Maybe God is saying, “48 years is all I’d planned for you David. Your journey is over.”

As I said, sobering and solemnizing.