Surely the Presence of the Lord is in this Place

This song from the 1970’s was written by Lanny Wolfe, an American Christian music songwriter, musician, music publisher, and music teacher.  The song came to Wolfe while he was waiting for a church dedication.  He immediately wrote down the words and melody, taught it to his trio and played it on the spot.  It’s often used on our Lutheran Via de Cristo weekends, and I used it recently as part of a closing devotion with our Fanning the Flame team.  It’s a good reminder that God is with us everywhere.

When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”  Genesis 28:16







Knowing Our Ideal, part 8

People can have an ideal for themselves, for their family, for a group, their country or even mankind.

I work for a hospital.  Our workplace ideal is to be the healthcare provider of choice in our county.  My husband and I have an ideal, as parents, of raising our children to become responsible, productive and contented adults.  A national ideal in the United States is to offer freedom and opportunity to every citizen.

Our ideals can be characterized by our goals.  If a person seeks a certain set of goals, her ideal will be different from someone pursuing other goals.  The person whose primary goal is career advancement will have a different ideal than someone whose goal is to raise and nurture a large family.

We also need the recognize the difference between the ideals we actually hold — our real ideals–and those we like to believe we hold –our apparent ideals.  Too often we tell ourselves we hold a very worthwhile goal, when, in truth, the way we live points to something very different.  I find my teenage daughters are very good at picking up on this tendency.  We recently had a very heated discussion about why I thought they should attend our church youth group meetings.  I saw my ideal as helping them to make Christian friends and grow in their faith.  They felt that since they attend church and already have Christian friends, my true ideal was to look good in the eyes of others, especially my friends, the youth leaders.  Know what?  They were probably right.

The time has come to consider the question, “What is my ideal?”

Compare your life to a boat.  Your ideal — what you are trying to become–is the mast.  Your personality–what you are–is the keel.  These two elements determine what your life will be like.  If the mast is too large, it will swamp the boat, but if it is too small, the boat will not travel as far as it could.

Think about your life.  Where do you direct your thoughts?  How to do you spend your money?  What do you do with your spare time?  The answer to these questions will reveal your true ideal.

Hoping this will raise some questions we can post about this month.  Authors and readers, what is your true ideal?

An Authentic Ideal, part 7

An authentic ideal is capable of satisfying a person’s every need.  It is vital, providing great meaning to life.  It is complete, so that we are able to live our whole life for the ideal.  It will lead us to maturity.

The authentic ideal must be attainable.  If my ideal is to become the queen of England, I am doomed to frustration, because I will never qualify for the job.  It must also be a goal or goals that are definable and understandable on a personal level.  “World Peace” may be a beautiful sounding ideal, but how do I work toward it?  If I have only a vague idea without clear, short term plans, I will soon become discouraged and lose motivation.

The authentic ideal has a series of progressive goals which are each attainable within a satisfactory time period, but it is always able to present new goals, so that the person is continually encouraged to grow.  Each goal must inspire a person to be faithful to the primary ideal, willing to give away a little more of herself each time because the results are worth it.

A good ideal gives direction and meaning to life.  A good ideal can help a person surmount difficulties.  It can help people overcome their fears and achieve greater things than they could have before.

A person with an authentic ideal does not live just for herself.  She lives for something greater.  She may even be willing to sacrifice herself.  A person’s ideal is potentially more important than life itself.  Think of the founders of our country.  For the ideal of religious freedom, they were willing to sacrifice home, security, family and belongings.  Many lost their lives.  All the things that are really worthwhile in human history have come about due to the ideals which people have held.

One of the most disappointing experiences in life is for a person to give themselves to a false ideal.  Consider someone who pours their energies into electing a particular political candidate, only to have that person renege on their promises once in office.  This can cause disillusionment and make future self giving and commitment to an ideal difficult.

On the other hand, a person can become so cautious that they refuse to give of themselves to any other person or cause.  Fear of taking a risk will prevent us from reaching our full human potential.  Therefore, people must exercise careful discernment and then commit themselves to a worthwhile ideal because this is the only path to their true selves.

More to come …..

What is An Ideal? Part 6

What exactly is an ideal?

An ideal is the center of our goals, it is the combination of ideas, aspirations and preferences which attract a person and move her toward its’ attainment.  Another way to describe an ideal is to say a persons’ ideal is what she is headed for.  It is her image of what she wants to become.

The ideal has two components:  vision and motivation.  Vision is the foundation of the ideal–the combination of ideas, aspirations and preferences which constitute the reason for our life.  It could be compared to the chassis of a car, or the framework.  Motivation is the moving element, the engine.  It is the impulse, the attraction that moves us toward our ideal and is based on our capacity to give of ourselves.

Both elements are necessary.  Without vision, we have no idea what we are moving toward.  Without motivation, our ideal is meaningless, because it cannot be attained.

There is no such thing as human life without an ideal.  A person has an ideal throughout her life, although she might not be fully aware of it.  I remember when my daughters were little girls they would say, “I want to grow up and be just like you, Mommy.”  This is an ideal often expressed in childhood.  Now, as teenagers, things have changed.  For one thing, their ideals mark them as unique individuals.  To Beth, band is life.  Nothing is more important to her than the people, the activities and the goals of the high school marching band.  Kate, on the other hand, is focused on academic achievement and the rewards she believes this ideal will bring her.  These youthful ideals will one day be replaced with new ones related to the type of career, family and lifestyle they each decide to pursue.  Every ideal my children hold as they mature will influence who they are and what they become.  Their ideals will shape and characterize their lives.  The higher their ideals, the more fully human they will become.

To be continued …..


Ideal Part #5–Becoming Fully Human

In spite of various limitations mature people make the effort to control and direct their own actions to meet a specific goal.  Thus the goal governs and transforms a person as long as she pursues it.

Starting the process to be fully human require a person to follow these steps:

  1. Choose a goal of worth
  2. Gain a conviction for the goal
  3. Let the goal fill your aspirations
  4. So that the goal sets the criteria for action
  5. And it becomes A WAY OF LIFE

Everyone has a goal in life, whether they have thought about it or not.  This goal governs the way that they live.  The goal that each person is struggling to reach is their IDEAL.

My grandfather was a person with a strong sense of his ideal.  He grew up in a background of ignorance and rural poverty.  His mother was illiterate.  Her husband did not respect her –she was treated like a servant in her own home.  The children remembered their father as a mean man who whipped first and asked questions later.  They subsisted on the bare necessities of life — sometimes lunch was a lard sandwich.  There were no presents at Christmas time, except some hard candy or an orange.  My grandfather only went to school through the sixth grade because his labor was needed to bring income into the home.  He was married by 18 with his own child to support.

Circumstances like that can cause you to grow bitter, or cause you to grow better.  My grandfather decided to grow better.  His ideal was to have a better life than the one his family knew.  He was not discouraged by his limited education or lack of a good role model.  He spent most of his working life in factories, but he was not content to learn only his assigned task.  He would watch what other people were doing, especially those with more difficult jobs.  He would ask to be taught something new.  In this way, he continually advanced himself, and ended his career as a foreman and skilled machinist.  Even that was not enough.  He wanted to own his own business.  For years, he and my grandmother both worked and saved their money.  During the evening and weekends he built the structure that became his grocery store and gas station.

A better life, to my grandfather, meant more than more money, a good job, or even becoming a small businessman.  He learned to treat people in a different way than his father did.  He and my grandmother were always partners in their little store–when he took some spending money from their profits, she took the same.  He always gave his mother $100 on her birthday and Mother’s Day–he said she never had any money of her own when he was growing up.  He was a kind and gentle father and grandfather.  I never saw him whip anybody.  He was generous to everyone, not only his immediate family.  He often gave my cousins a free fill up from the gas pumps when they stopped by.  He allowed neighbors to charge their groceries and pay him on payday.  He contributed to the local fire company and donated food for church suppers.  He was respected in the community.

My grandfather followed an ideal and it changed his life.  It became his way of life.

Coming next … what is an ideal….


Ideal part 4–Self-Giving

Despite our limitations, the human race is constantly striving to surpass itself.  Just consider the Guinness Book of Records, or the Olympics.  Everyone wants to set a new record — do it faster, or cheaper or better.  This drive for improvement has led to remarkable progress in many areas of life.  We now own computers small enough to carry with us;  laser surgery has eliminated much pain and the expense of long hospital stays;  man has even walked on the moon! But material accomplishments will never completely satisfy us because we see that death, evil and sorrow still exist.  Our world cannot be perfected.

So, how can a person achieve fulfillment?  Our greatest limitation is self-centeredness.  All people are happiest when they give of themselves.  Many times people focus on their limitations, their lack of opportunity.  But all people have tremendous abilities and talents that are never used until they become motivated.  People discover their possibilities only by testing the limits of their own conception of themselves.  Take as an example, Florence Nightingale.  Miss Nightingale was born into a wealthy family in 1820.  Over the objections of her family she became interested in nursing.  Women of her class did not work at all, much less at an occupation such as this.  But she persisted by making herself an expert in public health through her studies and by visiting hospitals in England and Europe.  During the Crimean War she realized the tremendous need for nursing care.  She took a group of volunteers to Turkey  where she struggled to improve the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.  Through her efforts, the death rate was reduced from 45% to 2%!  Florence saw a need and rose up to meet it.  She was driven by the powerful force that only a worthwhile goal can give.

Florence Nightingale’s life is a wonderful illustration of giving oneself totally.  She could have allowed herself to be limited by the expectations of her family or social class.  As a well-to-do person, she could have tried to satisfy herself with idle pursuits.  She might have spent her life simply studying health issues.  Any of these choices would have led to a restless and frustrating life.  Instead, she chose to give in every way possible.  She gave of her time to organize and accompany the volunteers;  she gave her own money to purchase supplies;  she risked her health, eventually contacting Crimean fever.  She knew that her personal fulfillment could only be reached by selfless devotion to her goal.  This is the paradox of humanity.

Of course, all people are limited in their human capacities and physical surroundings.  There is only so much any person can do.  But the focus of a person’s life either limits or extends the meaning of that life.  It is only self-giving which has the exciting ability to propel us toward our potential.

Still more to come ….


What’s My Ideal?

We don’t have a specific theme for this month, but I thought the beginning of the year was a good time to think about ideals.  What really motivates you?  Where is your attention focused?

The first talk on a Via de Cristo weekend is about this very topic.  It’s meant to get us thinking about why we’re on this earth and where we want to go.  I’ve given that talk twice, and I’ll be posting it in parts.  I hope it will help you think, in this new year, about your dreams and goals for the future. Keep in mind that I wrote this talk years ago and so some of the details of my life have changed (my children are older, I’m retired, etc.) and some examples may be a bit dated. I’ll start with just the introduction:

“Any scientist will tell you that nothing on earth is more complicated or a more fascinating subject of study than human life.  And any psychologist will tell you that as individuals, the aspect of human life which interests us most is the search for direction and meaning.

Sometimes we become so caught up in our daily activities that we don’t take time to reflect on these very important issues:  what does it mean to be human?  And what is our purpose?  Like an artist, each of us needs to step back from the picture we are painting in order to see it more clearly.  What needs to be corrected, emphasized or perfected?  Now is the right time to stop and think.”

Stay tuned for more …..