"Do Good"

The first step of faithful Christ following lifestyle is “Do No Harm”. It helps us to be aware of ourselves and our impact upon the lives of others, and to take responsibility for it. The next step in the faithful journey is “Do Good”. It takes the lessons learned in step 1 and helps us to grow outward by choosing to live in such a way as it improves the lives and circumstances of others. We work to improve the wellbeing of others.

Doing Good is based upon the first command of Jesus to his followers which is to “love others as I have loved you.” So, as intentional persons we take time to think before we speak or act and choose that which (to the best of our knowledge or effort) brings about the best possible results.

To “do good” is to take initiative. It is to consider someone else’s needs and responds. It is considerate, kind, thoughtful, compassionate. It is to devote oneself to making a positive difference in the lives of others whether friends or strangers. It is to include the outcast, to lift up the downtrodden, to be a friend to the friendless, to offer our best for the sake of others.

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"What's Wrong With Them

So I'm attending this class on systems when the leader shone a light on a frequent and long standing paradox:  "Why do leaders call for change, and then punish those who make it happen?"

My primary profession is service as a pastor in a mainline denomination of faith in Jesus Christ.  For decades the statistics of many "Christian" bodies of faith have shown decline.  Concern has driven leaders of the hierarchy to put together great sounding words and speeches calling for transformation, calling for change, calling for revitilzation.  They try to protect an image of looking forward and casting a vision they hope the pastors, people and churches will adopt and fulfill.  They call for new methods, new approaches, new spirit, and new openness all in the hopes of staving off disaster.  I am sure they are sincere in their desire to restore vitality, relevance and to reverse the decline.  But for me and others it is frustrating to see them call for change and then not stand behind or support those who actualy try to accomplish those goals.

For a while I thought they were naive.  It seemed to me they believed all they had to do was say it and everybody would just fall into line and do it...and cheerfully.  Having had to lead people through the challenges of change with several congregations and situations from attendance to building, to program, and worship I know how difficult it is to accomplish.  And though everyone says they want to grow, the truth is change brings anxiety.  It is not easy to accomplish and never happens without challenges.

The professor surprised me with a truth I knew but had forgotten.  He said "When growth happens don't be surprised when the hierarchy doesn't support it."  I asked him why they don't stand behind fulfillment of their call to arms and he said "They are part of the homeostasis fo the system.  Change disrupts the system."  He was so mater of fact, like it was a simple fact.  That was a little upsetting to a fulfillment/"do it" guy like me.  But then I remembered the words of a favorite professor of New Testament in seminary.  Teaching about how and why Jesus Christ ran into opposition from the leaders of the faith.  He said "Those who are most invested in the way things are tend to be least likely to accept change" (even if the change brings about fulfillment of their hope).

Zap!  The lights came on.  Every church says they want to grow.  But we all know that we don't really like change.  The disruption brings anxiety, uncertainty, and worry.  In my ministry I have always been concerned with helping people find ways to improve their lives and struggled with how some almost prefer the familiar misery to the change even when the promise of freedom, peace, joy, better is on the line, so powerful was their fear.  And I could never understand how increased attendance, vitality, outreach and activity was not received as good news.  To me people coming alive with the real joy of faith is what ministry is all about.  How could the leadership not embrace us realizing our purpose and potential?

Lest you think this is just about church I suggest this is true about most institutions and organizations in U.S. Society.  I have seen this sort of reaction occur in Education, Politics, Business and Industry as well.  Leaders have risen to the top through the system as it is.  To change it can be perceived as a threat.  Of course they would fear the very thing they and the system wants and needs.  Does that mean change shouldn't happen?  No!  God does not intend us to fall into oblivion, nor to enjoy the ride.

Part of the solution is not just effecting the change but helping people to negotiate it with you, even the leadership above you.  Regardless of the organization or circumstances if we help each other get past the fear we can move together through to restoration, renewal, vitality and success.  The good news is joy can be ours, but most likely wen we get there together.

"Trial & Error"

This week the trial of Casey Anthony was concluded. The verdict: “Not Guilty”. The uproar over this result is loud and sweeping. The passionate upset and debate have been likened to the acquittal of OJ Simpson who was also acquitted of murder. It is a case study of the human condition, of mass pressure, emotion and response.

On one hand we in the United States place a great value upon justice and the rule of law. We cry out for it. We demand it. We expect it and defend it. The concept of justice we consider essential to the wellbeing of self and society. Especially in the care of children, even in prisons the lowest regarded are those who harm our young. This value expectation and hope is good.

On the other hand there are times when our perceptions of justice are skewed. Sometimes passion drives us more than reason. Sometimes emotion is more important than fact. We face a danger that in our pursuit of noble justice we may run over it in a headlong rush to satisfy our passions, judgments, or perception of justice that may or may not be accurate.

How many times have we questioned our leaders, our courts and juries about the decisions they make and the actions they take?  How many times have we allowed the media or the plethora of commentators determine our opinions for us? How many times have we taken positions with less than all the available facts in our knowledge base? Who was it that said “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”? Only the jury knows what happened in their deliberations. There seems to be a presumption of guilt and a will to undermine our judicial system, mistrusting the jury and process. There is a dangerous presumption of guilt.

The challenge for Christ followers is not to get swept up in the fervor, to mediate the passion and to be faithful at all times, when things go our way, and especially when they don’t. Our judicial system and until recent times our society is based upon another principle that stands beside our value for justice. That value is “innocent until proven guilty”. Our forefathers felt it best that we let a few guilty go free rather than wrongly convict or penalize the innocent. People of good sense and faithful heart need to be advisors of wisdom and guidance to moderation and balance of values. It is up to the faithful to help prevent the society running headlong into chaos. Today one’s character may be challenged in the in the court of public opinion that person can be ruined for life. Has anyone considered what happens for the rest of their lives? Does anyone consider the witness they make in their passion and outburst?

There is a need for us to trust God with the true and pure upholding of justice accountability and compassion. There is a call for us to be civil with one another always and everywhere and not to lose control of our emotions, our actions, or our good sense. What is true is this, we will not always agree with what happens. We will not like every decision. But we are always and everywhere on display. Our words and actions reveal the truth of our being and values to all who observe us. Perhaps we should take care before we bluster about. Maybe we should remember our values before we challenge. And it might be a good idea to gather all the information we can from all sides before we decide?

Wimpy Religion

Recently I heard a congregation singing the old hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers marching as to war” and I was struck by the cultural contrast. When was the last time we have seen Christ followers as courageous? Most of our media stereotypes of Christian faith is weak, frail, soft, and “wimpy”. Preachers are portrayed as cartoons. What’s up with that!?

Why is it that in the church people are passive and permissive, allowing themselves to be walked over in ways they would never tolerate anywhere else?

Why is it we somehow think it is noble to not stand up for right, emphasizing being nice, looking good, or not making waves even though to remain silent is to suffer the spirit?

I remember hearing on the radio in New York some years ago as a DJ was signing off for the night he said “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything!” How true.

In a day when churches are closing by the dozens every year, and more effort is applied to internal politics and power rather than Christ’s teachings, values and the mission to make a difference in the world can we afford to wimp out and waft away to insignificance? Do we actually enjoy a faithful life that resembles left over spaghetti in the back of the frig?

Perhaps the song reflects a vibrancy, commitment and zeal once known but few are the churches with that kind of spirit today. More is the pity for non-churched seekers do not consider the church as having anything to offer and Christians may be nice but don’t exemplify the Christ like courage the bible portrays nor do many reflect the kind of discipleship they have heard about from the New Testament. Are we irrelevant?

Yet, it is not hard to see how vital is the need for Jesus’ message; Easy to see how people no longer know how to get along, to think, to work, to have values that guide good living, or the comfort of meaning and spirit that makes life better. Great is the need of the world for Christ and his message. And those faith communities that come alive with the message, with activity and spirit, with courage and dynamism are blossoming and growing. For in such lively communities people are finding what they are looking for. 

Perhaps we need to re-think what and how we represent the Messiah, the message, the life, and the difference.

What do you think? 

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"Change What"

I have been hearing a lot of leadership say they want to change things. They say we need to change in order to survive, to compete, to grow. But if you listen carefully you will notice they do not say specifically “what” they want to change, or “how” they want to change. They do not acknowledge the price they are willing to pay in order to make the changes they recommend. And they do not want to make the risk associated with the changes they say we all need to make. It is almost as if they believe that they can say it and everyone, everywhere will simply say “Yes” and willingly, even enthusiastically make the changes they in their great wisdom have suggested. They seem to deny that there is any cost involved. They seem to fail to realize why people resist change. Or perhaps they never learned the maxim I have had to live with throughout my professional career. It was taught to me in graduate school and continues to be (perhaps eternally) true: “Those most invested in the way things are, are least inclined to embrace or accept change.”

It is foolish to think that people will change their hearts, minds, expectations, or desires simply because someone said so. It is ridiculous to believe that change will come without cost. And it is ludicrous to think that everyone will accept that “their way” may not be the best or most effective way, especially if at one time previously “their way” was the most effective. After all, it still works for them.

The truth is that in business, institutions, social services, and even at home things do need to change and they need to change regularly, even frequently. Many times we do not notice or resist the changes since we are the ones making them as we go along. It does not bother us too much because many of the changes are not massive, life-changing, pattern altering, mind-changing events. When babies leave the breast or bottle, they learn to eat. Pre-school leads to kindergarten which in turn leads to elementary, and middle, high school etc. Each step difficult, each requiring adjustment and growth, adaptation and work in assimilating the change. And most of us like to make things better if and when we can. But at some point in our self-directing adult lives we become comfortable with ourselves, our patterns and practices. And subtle influences change our focus and priorities. We cease to desire to become and we focus our attention on our comfort. Familiarity becomes more important than purpose. Control becomes more important than product. Self-significance becomes more important than group or common good. That is when we slide into sloth and irrelevance, ineffectiveness and eventual eradication.

Finally it is not really the “stuff” (the activities, procedures, forms, or products) changing that bothers most folks. (Who uses 8-track tapes anymore? Who does not own if not use to its fullest capacity a cell phone?) No, what matters to us in changing times and circumstances, in making changes to the way we do things is our sense of ability and our feeling of place in those changes. We do not want to change if it means we no longer have worth, or if the things we value lose their meaning. So perhaps what we need to change first, is the well being and “place” for each person in the organization. Perhaps we need to establish “community” well being as well as personal wellbeing so that one benefits the other and together both can change and grow. Maybe if I feel that I am not forgotten or de-valued, if I feel that my needs are not being discarded in favor of the needs of someone else, and if I can increase my concern for other’s wellbeing as well as my own, and trust the mutuality of concern, well maybe then I won’t have to fear change and may even support and participate in it for the good of all.

In the final analysis it will not be the “party” calling for change that will make things better. What will save our institutions, our communities and our world will be caring for one another and together working toward the common goals. Changes are just steps in that process and most would be happy to take a step rather than wallow in misery. We just need to see what specific step to take and have a reasonable idea of what the effect of that step will be.

What do you think?

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"Wording Ain't Working"

What’s up with today’s leaders? Maybe it is true in every generation but currently have you noticed:

1. Their top value is image.

2. They read up on trends and then try to get in front to look like they are leading.

3. They seem to be intimidated by hard work and real leaders.

4. They promote mediocrity and eliminate excellence.

5. They seem to think if they “say it” all the people will love it, jump up, and do it.

Where did they learn this stuff? How could they not realize what human dynamics are truly like? Do they know how their pursuit of popularity or fame, their self-serving power, wielding and cronyism is self-defeating?

In Washington they seem to be standing for what they think is important but are willing to let the nation suffer. Perhaps they fear whatever compromise they make will cost them in the next election rather than realize their inability to govern costs them respect. After all we hear them plan for ten years and most common folk know we would be lucky if such plans last more than one or two.

In businesses and administration the pursuit of power and the forgetting or disregarding of purpose costs them esteem and regard. Not to their faces of course, but institutional support wanes so that the institution dies.

Work is what saves. Far more than words, hard work is what makes the difference. It takes conviction, courage, and sacrifice to make the changes needed, to stay on course, to turn the decline around, to restore well-being and hope. In short, it takes something far greater than ourselves, a belief, a trust, a vision, and a commitment to purpose, value and worth above the cost. When you think about it the transformation comes not from the boardroom but from the line. It is not the planners but the doers who make the difference. And it is the true and genuine that we trust far more than words. What matters is authenticity, hard work, good values, and true devotion. And these qualities do not come from the top. They come from the heart. They come from the common and from the family, not the famous. And when you think about it there are a lot of “famous” we would rather not call role models, whereas there are a lot of genuine hardworking and genuine folks in our lives who we cherish and emulate for their quality.

So work above words, heart above hardship, vision and devotion these are the traits ot transformation.

"Do The Good Stuff"

In much of our lives, home, work, school, faith, and even recreational activities demand that we give of ourselves. Time, money, thought, energy all forms of personal sacrifice are required. Sometimes the demands are not too high, the cost is not too great, or the price is worth the benefit. But sometimes we get tired. When physical, mental, or spiritual fatigue strikes we may doubt the value of our activities, the sacrifices, our purpose. And the doubts can lead to loss. Unchecked we could lose well-being, peace, happiness, or even ourselves. This is not the life or experience we want. The good news is it’s not the kind of life God wants for us either.

Now, it is not possible to avoid getting tired. And truth is we like to rest on occasion. It brings refreshment, and renewal. So, what do we do? In talking about the path of faith and discipleship John Wesley taught three basic rules. The first, “Do No Harm”, trains us to be considerate of our impact on others and to take responsibility for it. Whatever we choose to say or do we do all we can to reduce or avoid causing harm to the lives of others. The second, “Do good”, gives direction to our responsibility, how to think about consequences before we make our choices, and guides us to do what we can to make a positive difference in the lives of others. The concern that comes from applying these two rules is that we become drained or exhausted, feeling like everything is taking from us and nothing is replenishing or encouraging. And who wants to just pour out all we’ve got? That can’t be the “better life” God promises.

As Jesus says, God knows our need before we ask (Matthew 6:8). So, to overcome weariness, to “re-charge our batteries” Wesley gives us rule #3: Do the Good Stuff. The “good stuff” are the things that build us up and keep the energy flowing. There are several things we can do that help us to feel better and live better and empowers our following through with rules 1 and 2.

The Good Stuff:

            Read the Bible Daily            A lot or a little, spend time with God’s word every day.

            Pray Daily                            Spend time with God, can’t ask help from one you don’t know.

            Go to Church Weekly          Worship with faith community, gain support & encouragement.

            Spiritual Friendships           Spend time with faith friends, for fun & support.

            Take Sacraments                Do not block the ways that God can bless and help you.

By spending a little energy on yourself and your spiritual growth, you will find the encouragement and strength you need to continue to make a great difference in the world and to live well through or in spite of everything that happens. And that is indeed worth it.

"Polarities and Poles"

I am concerned for our country. A few weeks ago we watched as congress, senate and president battled for control in economic policy, pushing us to the brink of default on our loans. We watched world markets teeter and tremble as our political posturing, ineffective and worthless, did far more than fail, it reduced trust and respect in the world. Why, because in our current state of politics image and statements are more important than well-being of the nation or responsibility in the world. Our “public servants” are acting like anything but. In the end they did not resolve the crisis, they deferred, they delayed; they saved the fight for another day perhaps hoping that it will somehow miraculously go away. It won’t.

Now the presidential campaign is gearing up and we see why the government could not solve the problem. They all have elections coming up. None want to appear weak. All want to be seen as pure standard bearers of ideals. So they stake out ground of extremes and refuse to compromise painting it as yielding and sacrificing. This posturing by the pols is raising poles that will interfere with any and all good progress for the good of the people. It reminds me of a movie I saw years ago wherein a general was portrayed as a man willing to destroy the world with nuclear weapons “in order to preserve the American way of life”. I guess what I would ask is “who cares if you win when all of us are thrown into economic crisis and world shame the likes of which has notbeen seen since the 1920’s and 30’s. It is not noble to be the last one standing. In this nation what is noble is standing up and helping all others to stand up as well. Did not our founding fathers say “Either we all hang together or we will surely hang separately”?

Now I do not fault the politicos for having different points of view. I think the differences and productive dialog between them is the best way to meet needs of all. The problem is not their differences, nor even the extremes of their points of view. What is wrong is their radical adherence to absolutes and refusal to respect or work with one another. In their posturing and widening of “no man’s land” between their philosophies using any talk of conciliation as signs of weakness they prevent progress. They erect barriers to well-being. They forget the central ideal around which the public has placed their trust and which is the hallmark of our national identity. In the beginning, the end and all the way through we are a nation built upon freedom, respect, and good for everyone, “One nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”

Perhaps we need to remind our so-called leaders that their narrow views and self-proclaimed vision does not reflect the will of the people as much as they think it does. Perhaps we need to hold them more accountable, not by attack or complaint but by calling them together, calling for and protecting the middle ground, reminding them of the principles we expect of them and not allowing ourselves to slide down their poles of polarity into oblivion. True statesmen work together for something greater than themselves. And the good of the nation and the future for all of us is at stake. Please pols, put off the posture and put away the polarity. Think more of us. You may find in the end that such a change will raise you higher than you imagine and restore respect to our system, our nation and our people, returning to the place where we are admired, respected, and revered.



Greg Spencer:
Telephone:    724-858-5587
Mailing Address:
   Way Stations Ministries
   126 Elbrook Drive
   Natrona Heights, PA 15065


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