Chaplain's Corner

Chaplain’s Corner: LVIII

“Nothing Takes God by Surprise”

“The Lrod is near to the broknhreated and svaes the crsuhd in sipit”. If you copy the words I quoted as written, your spell-checker will throw a hissy fit.

What’s interesting is that our brains have no problem making sense of them. Researchers at Cambridge have confirmed that as long as the first letter is first and the last letter is last in a particular word, our minds know how to take the scrambled letters and make them say the right thing.

That’s an appropriate way to describe God’s relationship to the flow of history, and to our own personal histories. God sees the beginning and God sees the ending of everything. It doesn’t matter how seriously we have fractured everything in between God’s purposes will always stand.

This is important to know. It transforms the way we interpret events.

Something horrible happens. We lose a ton of money. A disease takes root in our bodies. Or we miss an important meeting because traffic is backed up on Highway 69 for some dumb reason. A child we weren’t expecting is born into the family. Or the child we WERE expecting doesn’t arrive. Or we wrestle, year after year with the effects of abuse or addiction.

But the God of Heaven and Earth assures us that nothing is meaningless. Nothing takes God by surprise. No one can foil God’s purposes.

The late Dr. John Gerstner routinely pointed out that there are four categories of activity in the world. First, there is what we might call GOOD GOOD-good activities that arise from entirely good motives. This is an appropriate description of every activity God undertakes.

The best that human beings can muster however is BAD GOOD-good works that no matter how hard we try, are always tainted with impure motives. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I inevitably find myself wondering if you realize how humble I am today, or if that gift to the food bank is deductible on my taxes.

It’s easy to understand BAD BAD-human activities that dishonor God from start to finish. Robbing a bank is BAD BAD. But then, so is deciding to gossip or taking somebody down a notch.

Then there is the most mysterious category of all: GOOD BAD. God is able to take the raw material of bad events and create good outcomes. What Judas and Pilate and the Religious Establishment did to Jesus was genuinely bad. But God worked through those choices to bring about the greatest good the world has ever known. Which is why that patently unfair trial and the lynching that followed happened on what we call Good Friday.

How can everything be all right when everything seems all wrong? God knows the beginning and the ending of every story, and is working toward outcomes we cannot presently imagine. And along the way, “He is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit”.

Faithfully,
Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: LVII

“A Question to Ponder this Week”

 

How many of these questions can you get right?

Who are the five wealthiest people in the world today?
Who are the last five winners of the Nobel Prize?
Who are the last five winners of the Oscars for Best Actor and Best Actress?
Who are the last five winners of the Super Bowl MVP?
Who are the last five winners of the Miss Universe Pageant?

Cartoonist Charles Schultz of Peanuts fame routinely asked people to take a shot at such questions.

The results were predictable. It is almost impossible to come up with the names of yesterday’s headliners. Hollywood alone has at least 300 annual award shows, one for almost every day of the year. But such honors, along with their accompanying applause quickly come and go.

The names and faces of the rich, famous, and talented speedily fade from memory.

Schultz would typically ask a second set of questions. Try this quiz:

Who are the five teachers who made an impact on your life?
Who are the five friends who have helped you through a difficult time?
Who are the five people who have given you a compliment you have never forgotten?
Who are the five people who have taught you something worthwhile?
Who are the five people you could call at 3am if you needed to talk to someone?

Most of us find the second set of questions considerably easier.

Who are the people God uses to change our lives? They usually aren’t Presidents or Pulitzer Prize winners. Our minds are shaped and formed by those who love us even when we screw up-who mentor us and walk with us, especially when we have lost courage or lost our way.

Before the end of summer take time to say thank you to at least one of those heroes in your life. The odds are good they will cherish your word of appreciation even more than a trophy with their name engraved on it.

Faithfully,
Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: LVI

“The Power of Nice”

Rachel Pine was flying from Los Angeles to New York City.  She noticed that the flight
attendant crew looked unusually tired.  When the flight attendant came by to see if she had
fastened her seat belt, Rachel reached into her package of Fig Newtons.  Would you like
one?” she asked. The flight attendant gratefully received the snack.  Rachel recalls that she almost seemed on the verge of tears.

A few minutes later the attendant returned.  She said to Rachel, “You have no idea what our
last flight was like.  If one passenger had been like you, it would have been bearable.”
“And by the way,” she mentioned to Rachel, “there’s a seat in first class.  Would you like to
have it?”  Such is the power of one Fig Newton.  Actually, such is the power of kindness-of
choosing to be nice.

In their slim volume The Power of Nice, Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval acknowledge
that “nice has an image problem.  Nice gets no respect.  To be labeled “nice” usually means
the other person has little else positive to say about you…Let us be clear: Nice is not
naïve…in fact, we would argue that nice is the toughest four letter word you’ll ever hear.”

Thaler and Koval cite statistics that nice people enjoy longer and stronger relationships.
Studies confirm that for every 2% positive uptick in a company’s service climate, there is a
1% increase in revenue.  Research demonstrates that nice people live longer (despite their
apparent fondness for Fig Newtons).

And author Malcom Gladwell cites a study that correlates the niceness of physicians with a
lowered likelihood of being sued.  Doctors who have never been sued turn out to be those
who spend an average of three minutes longer with each person compared to doctors who
have been sued twice or more.  People don’t want to drag into court people who have been
nice to them.

The apostle Paul writes:  “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone”. (Colossians 4:6)

In other words, choose to be kind.  Choose to be gracious.

For goodness sake and God’s sake, be nice.

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: LV

“Mortal Lessons”

Bible commentator Dale Bruner, trying to describe “the deep grace of God for a flawed human race” says there is one illustration that has helped him more than any other. It comes from Dr. Richard Selzer’s experience as a surgeon, as reported in his book Mortal Lessons.

Selzer writes: “I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted by palsy, clownish.” A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be this from now on. The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh, I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, he had to cut the nerve. Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. “Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry-mouth I have made, who gaze and touch each other so generously, greedily.”

The young woman speaks, “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks “Yes”, I say. “It will because the nerve was cut.” She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it, “It is kind of cute” he says.

All at once I know who he is. I understand, and lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a God. Unmindful of me, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works.

What does John the gospel writer mean when he declares that God himself took on flesh and became one of us (John 1:14)? He means at least this:

Whatever our condition-whatever we may have lost while making our way through this fallen world-nothing will be able to extinguish God’s passion to come alongside us.

Faithfully,
Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: LIV

“Kick Away”

It’s the biggest moment of your life. It’s just you and the goal keeper, who is standing in the middle of the net.

The soccer goal he or she is guarding is 24 feet wide and you can hit the penalty shot that will win the World Cup and forever ensure your place in the hearts of your fellow country men and women. You will live the rest of your days in either glory or abject humiliation.

As Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner point out in their book, “Think Like a Freak”, it really comes down to where you decide to kick the ball.

Conventional wisdom says you can aim for the left or right corner. As soon as you approach the ball, the goalie is hurling his or her body, hands outstretched, in order to stop your goal.

In the elite level of soccer competition, about 75% of corner shots are successful. If the goalie guesses wrong, the odds are in your favor into the corner but it is not a gimme. Even an All-Star can miss the mark.

If you’re right-footed and most soccer players are, the left side of the net is your strong side and goalies know this as well. They fling themselves towards the ball most of the time and to the right side only 41%.

The whole world is watching. Your future is at stake. What will you do? Levitt and Dubner propose a third option. A middle kick that goes straight ahead. Statistics show that players only kick for the middle 2% of the time-which means the odds of a goal might be infinitely easier to hit than a shot to the corner. Interestingly, kicks in international competition go toward the corner. Why?

Dubner and Levitt have a theory. It’s fear. Fear of appearing to avoid the harder kick when the goalie stands their ground and easily deflects.

The clash of motivations here is huge. You want to go with the higher odds and aim for the center. But you don’t want to look stupid either which prompts most people to protect their own reputation and take the corner kick.

So what can we do? We can bet our lives on the words of St. Paul: “Brothers and Sisters, not that I have already been made perfect but I press on toward the goal, straining for what is ahead. I press toward the goal which God has called me heavenward in Christ. (Philippians 3:12-13)

What would you do if you were afraid?

Forget the past. Set your mind on the work God has set before you, however humble, knowing that underneath is God’s goal of healing this broken world.

Then kick away.

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: LIII

“Pain”

In 1898 a German scientist believed he had discovered the Holy Grail of pain relief. Heinrich Dresser, who worked as a chemist for Bayer—the corporation that had created a remarkable new drug called aspirin—was hoping to synthesize a painkiller that wouldn’t lead to addiction.

The world had long known about morphine, the powerful, naturally-occurring opioid. But morphine users inevitably discover the grim side effect to its amazing painkilling powers: the near certainty of an ongoing dependence that empties the bank account and ruins one’s health.

Dresser cooked up a synthetic opioid called diacetylmorphine. He declared it to be five times more powerful than morphine. The leadership team at Bayer called it a miracle. That’s actually what they wanted to call this new drug, but it came to be known as heroin.

Bayer immediately began peddling it over the counter. Sales skyrocketed. By 1900 Eli Lilly had claimed the American market. But by 1905, it was clear something was terribly wrong. Dresser had patient-tested this drug for only four weeks, not nearly enough to realize it was one of the most addictive substances on the planet.

The quest for an ideal painkiller continued to dominate the 20th century. By the 1990’s the American Pain Society and several large pharmaceutical companies were committed to the idea that no one should have to feel pain.

But as Harry Wiland points out in his book “Do No Harm”, pain is highly subjective. Seemingly identical injuries can produce widely varying responses. Our pain can be impacted by a variety of emotional factors, including sadness, depression, worry, fear and childhood trauma. How can such circumstances ever be quantified?

The quandary continues. It’s still widely felt that no one should feel pain. After all, we have such fabulous painkillers.

For as long as scientists and doctors have been seeking the Holy Grail of pain relief, there have been members of the Christian community who think they have the answer. Are you hurting and sick? Crippled or broken? Preachers spotlight verses like Exodus 15:26 where God says to His people: “I am the Lord your God, who heals you.” God will take away your pain! It’s such a wonderful blanket promise. But as the old saying goes “a text out of context is a pretext.”

The Holy Spirit gently opens our eyes to all 66 books that make up the biblical library. What we discover is that God’s people routinely suffer pain, hurt and disappointment. Followers of Jesus get cancer, ALS and Diabetes. Sometimes God provides miraculous healings. Often He does not.

So what is the point of abandoning ourselves to such a God?

First, our pain matters to God. Jesus shared it on the cross what it feels like to be cut off from his Father in Heaven: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”. (Matt. 27:46)

Second, God never wastes pain. The Apostle Paul asserts that “suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us.” (Romans 5:3-6)

In a broken world, there’s no such thing as a pain-free life. But we weren’t made just for life in this world. And the God who became one of us, and whose nerve endings have registered hurts just like ours, has promised never to leave our side.

Faithfully,
Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: LII

“Who Can You Trust?”

“It’s all a big lie.”

That’s how Wall Street icon Bernie Madoff’s gigantic Ponzi scheme was discovered in 2008 to be one of the biggest frauds in American history. Tens of thousands of investors had entrusted their entire life’s savings to Madoff. Madoff faked records of stock deals and when investors wanted to withdraw their funds back in the recession the money was no longer there.

On paper, Madoff’s accounts were worth almost 65 billion dollars. But how much money was actually in the bank? Somewhere around $300,000. The list of Madoff’s victims were among some of the world’s richest and famous: Steven Spielberg, John Malkovich, Kevin Bacon and Zsa Zsa Gabor all lost millions. The fraud hurt philanthropic endeavors and estates as well. Holocaust survivor and Peace Prize
winner Eli Weizel’s $15.2 million Foundation for Humanity was gone.

Why did Madofff do it? He loved being the guy who wrote big checks and garnered people’s praise for his generosity. But it was all a lie.

Madoff’s 46 year old son Mark committed suicide after his father’s confession. Madoff was sentenced to spend 150 years behind bars. He recently died in jail.

Which brings us to this frightening question: Who can you trust?

Trust is risky. It makes us vulnerable. But if we avoid trust we lose out on much of life’s joy. What we know for sure is we have to trust somebody.

Who do you trust to address these important issues of life and how we find meaning and purpose in the midst of them?

You might choose Buddha. Or Karl Marx. Or Science. Or Shirley MacLaine. Or Jesus. Or Michael Jordan. Or your favorite author. If you decide that no one is worthy of your trust but yourself, life can become a hopelessly untrustworthy place over time.

There’s a reason: Proverbs 3:5 is one of the favorite passages of scripture. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight.”

More than we can ever know, life comes down to the simple question: Who do you
trust?

What are you doing today to grow your trust in God?

Faithfully,
Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: LI

“The Intersection Between Trust and Fear”

In the Book of Numbers, Chapter 13, Moses and the people of Israel are poised on the threshold of The Promised Land. Behind them lies slavery in Egypt. And ahead of them lies the Land of Milk and Honey, the place God had promised them.

The Lord said to Moses: “Send spies into the land which I am giving over to the Israelites.” Twelve spies secretly step into the territory now known as Palestine. Over a period of 40 days they conduct a thorough investigation.

What did they find? They come back with two reports. Ten of the twelve said the cities are fortified and very large and the people are giants. They said, “We ourselves seemed like grasshoppers in comparison.”
Public morale promptly implodes.

One of the spies, a man named Caleb gives a different perspective. In one of the great confidence builders he shouts, “We should go up at once and occupy it! We can certainly do it!”

Joshua enthusiastically sides with Caleb. And they were successful.
Day by day we face a future that is challenging. What we choose to do with the data that we choose to follow–Trust or Fear. At one time or another we all look out on our Promised Land.

So where do we go next?

Choose to be Caleb or give in to the fear of the crowd?

In my life I have found it is better to face the giants while trusting God in the face of an uncertain future. Whether it be COVID-19, a relationship problem, illness, the death of a loved one or a problem at work, trusting God can make all the difference.

At the intersection of Trust and Fear we can say, “With God’s help we can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: XLVV

“Pride”

One of my Professors at Princeton Seminary was Dr. Howard Lindquist who at one time was Pastor of Hollywood Presbyterian Church. At one point in his ministry he visited the home of one of his parishioners. The older woman asked him, “Has anyone ever told you how wonderful you are?” Dr. Lindquist smiled and answered, “Why no!” “Where then did you ever get that idea,” said the woman.
Ouch!

During the time I knew Dr. Lindquist, he was continually processing that comment.
From time to time, people debate which sin is the worst. For British theologian C.S. Lewis there is no question. “The essential vice, the utmost evil is pride. Pride is the devil becomes the devil. Pride is the complete anti-God state of mind.”

It can safely be said that pride is the cause of division and disruption of our relationships with God and other people. It’s fun to spot this character flaw in others until the disturbing realization dawns on us that pride is a flaw for us as well.

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector becomes center stage for how Jesus teaches the disciples about the sin of Pride. Pharisees saw themselves as superior to other people because they fasted and fulfilled all the finer points of the Jewish law. They saw the tax collector as sinful but the tax collector saw himself as in need of God’s mercy and humbled himself before God. There was no humility for the Pharisee. (Luke 18: 9-14)

It’s worth noting that in this parable, Jesus flips the script. No longer is the tax collector the bad guy. The Pharisees become the bad guys because of their pride. Historians estimate that there are about 6,000 Pharisees at any given moment. They were not clergy. Pharisees means “The Separate Ones”. They took upon themselves to be the model citizens for the whole nation of Israel. They saw their religious accomplishments as what was required for their righteousness before God. They saw themselves as winners and people like the tax collector as losers, sinners and below them.

What is the first of Jesus’ Beatitudes-“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God.” That must have seemed a strange message to the disciples and certainly a contrast to the lifestyle of the Pharisees.

We come to God not by our goodness and pride but by our humility-leaning on the mercy of God who loves us with an unconditional love that we see on the cross Good Friday and on Easter celebrates the new life, eternal life that is ours in Christ Jesus.

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: XLVIV

“Living in the Daily Presence of God”

How often does the average person touch his or her cell phone?  The answer seems to be more than you can possibly imagine.  According to the research firm Dscout, typical owners touch their phones 2,617 times a day.  And we’re not talking about extreme users.  The most serious addicts, who responded to the survey study, touch, tap or swipe their phones more than 5,400 times every 24 hours!

That presents a conundrum.  The smart phone has long been marketed as a time-saving, relationship-enhancing, life-enriching marvel.  But it may be just another distraction that prevents us from the things that really matter.

Our culture isn’t suffering so much from busyness.  Busyness is normal but hurry is a frantic state of mind, a sickness, a suspicion that our lives are slipping away from us and so we immerse ourselves in activities that numb us from facing life before us.

If only we had 10 more hours a day.  Then we could become our best.  But we already have time to do amazing things.  Now it’s just a question of how we utilize those hours.  Even here at Westminster Village we can become remarkable mentors and friends to other residents.  You can become an inspired student of scripture.  Or will you settle for the next TV series?

Many would-be disciples of Jesus feel frustrated because they feel Jesus just needs to be squeezed into a crowded place in their lives and wonder why spiritual growth seems fleeting.

Let’s face it:  There is a real possibility that our lives are so crowded that we are unable to follow him at all.  What can we do?

 

Faithfully,
Ron Naylor, Chaplain