Why Can’t I just be Happy?

IMG_0368.jpg110 Bridge, Fredrikstad, Norway

     As humans, we all want to live happy contented lives. I know I do. And most of us don’t require a lot of luxuries, and things, and experiences. Most of us are content with a modest income, a decent place to live, a couple of cars, and family to go through life with. Why is it that even people who find themselves in these average conditions are often unable to have ordinary “happiness” live with them day in and day out? Happiness seems to come and go even while our conditions of life remain fairly stable. Even people that I have known who are wealthy seem no happier than anyone else. Could it be that the seemingly universal desire for happiness might just be a human dream to extract from life what it just wasn’t designed to give?

I thought about this a lot starting with my first major job working for the CIA, and living in Virginia. I was happy enough, but it was not that idyllic happiness that I had hoped for before I moved there. Some days were really good and other days were a dud. I thought “Why is this?”, when I had everything I needed except for a wife. I went back to California looking for more. I began a new career teaching, married, had a couple of children, and settled in a house in the country on over an acre of land. Overall, I was definitely happier than I was back East, but my level of happiness still went up and down. It seemed like little things going wrong could make me feel down, while little unexpected perks brought me way up. It started to dawn on me that externals in my life were what caused the variability. No matter how hard I tried to keep the “down producing” externals out of my life, the more that seemed to pop up to take their place. The search to regulate my happiness this way started to make even the dependable pick-me-ups fade in intensity. And at this time I was living a great life, and had practically everything that I had ever wanted.

What I began to realize was that the kind of happy life that I was looking for was just not available on earth, but it was available in a place that I hadn’t seriously considered. A backpacking trip to the mountains in the year 2000 with my four oldest kids at home served to crystalize my thinking. I planned to bring with me 2 sons and 2 daughters ranging from 10 to 18 years in age, and be gone for four days and three nights. The preparations went well and everything was ready to go the morning of the trip–then disaster struck! The private well at our house was not producing water and it turned out that the submersible pump was burned out and had to be replaced–an all day effort it turned out. I resigned myself to postponing the trip and we left the next morning, with me trying not to let this glitch in my plans get me angry. We drove to the trailhead at Wishon Reservoir at about 6,500 ft. and began hiking in the morning. It was kind of slow going and a lot more uphill climbing than I had anticipated, but we soldiered on. I estimated that it was a total of 10 to 11 miles to our destination, Halfmoon Lake, but as the sun was beginning to get noticeably lower in the sky, I started becoming concerned. A quick look at the map showed that we were only about halfway there. I hated these kinds of situations, and my frustration inside was starting to get to me. We soon came to a fork in the trail, and an alternate destination called Woodchuck Lake looked on the map like it was about 2 miles away, at about 10,000 ft. I told the kids that it would become our new destination. They were all glad. We headed up that way, but we were all so tired that we had to go slowly. In not too long, the sun was starting to get pretty low and my two girls were starting to cry. I told them to take a break to rest, and that I would go ahead to find the lake with one of my sons and come back to get them. It was only a half mile away, and we all finally made it there and camped at about sundown. The final trial hit me when I found that we had to boil the water from the lake before drinking it because it had a bunch of mosquito larvae swimming in it. I resigned myself to just survive the trip, and be glad when the four days were over and we were on our way home.

But, surprisingly, when I gave up my expectations for a great trip, everything started to go well. Waking up the next morning was like entering a whole new world full of brightness and hope. We all had a great time the entire trip, especially playing on the long sandy beach on the north side of the lake. Everyone was happy, including me, and I could hardly believe how things turned out. In retrospect, it turned out to be one of the best trips we ever went on. From that point on I was finally convinced that the illusive happiness that I was searching for was not found in outside circumstances, but rather was found inside myself. It was my attitude.

I learned over the years that life has its ups and downs no matter what we try to do about it. God made life so that we all have to struggle and suffer from time to time. This is because struggling is the primary situation in life that we have the opportunity to grow into better people who see our vulnerabilities. This humbles us and allows us to take our place alongside other strugglers, helping us to see ourselves as not so much better than others as we might have previously thought. This paves the way for honest interactions with other people, a true appreciation of their value, and ultimately culminating in genuine love. This true love for all is undoubtedly the most important goal in life that we could be working for. When we see ourselves as we are, we can finally see others as just as important and valuable as we are.

Happiness, I learned, comes from accepting difficult and stressful things that come our way, while also fully enjoying the good things as well. Underlying all this should be a joy in simply being alive, and a thankfulness and appreciation for each day that God gives  to us. I learned to be happy in life by deciding to be happy each day despite whether it turned out good or bad. If you let various circumstances that you encounter in life  dictate your happiness, then you’ve given them too much power over you. Your happiness on earth should be sustained by taking a continuing joy in being alive, while also looking forward to unending bliss with God in heaven after we die. I’ve been doing it for many years–it works!

Use these scripture verses from James 1, 2-4, to help you travel the paths of life: “My brothers, count it pure joy when you are involved in every sort of trial. Realize that when your faith is tested, this makes for endurance. Let endurance come to its perfection so that you may be fully mature and lacking in nothing.”

Why do some Humans Refuse to Seek God?

IMG_0110.jpgHarmony Borax Works, Death Valley National Park, CA

January 4th, 2019

     Here in America today, it is easy to live without God. Most of us live comfortable enough lives where we have our needs met, and have enough resources to support us even if unexpected problems were to come up in the future. Many think that they no longer need to “make up” and maintain a concept of God, like our ancestors did, to keep them going during recurring hard times. We are beyond all that, they say, and don’t need the crutch of religion to keep us feeling safe. People say that we are undergoing an evolutionary process where we are breaking free from archaic beliefs from the past, and are now in the process of forging a great future on our own. We are on the verge of true freedom! So they say.

I am currently reading a book about the Titanic disaster called How it happened, TITANIC, edited by Geoff Tibballs. It consists almost entirely of newspaper accounts and eyewitness testimony of survivors which were gathered from various sources from before, during, and after the Titanic collided with a huge iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank on the night of April 14, 1912. The graphic stories of bravery and survival, as well as human selfishness, strip away the comforts and niceties of life and put you face to face with the raw power of natural forces, and the precious value, as well as vulnerability, of human life. The Titanic was glorified as the most luxurious, the largest, and the safest ship ever built–and was declared unsinkable! It represented the epitome of what man could accomplish on his own, basking in his own ingenuity, industriousness, and success. Man was functioning as his own god and was now the master of his own destiny at sea, or so he thought. Then, 4 days into its maiden voyage, the Titanic sank in less than three hours after hitting an iceberg, with a loss of life of over 1,500 people, and with only 705 survivors.

Yes, men are capable of great feats, but despite his accomplishments, man remains highly vulnerable to the blind power of physical laws, as well as being subject to God’s awesome will, power, and authority. With great accomplishments like we see all around us in the world today, men tend to forget their weaknesses, like they did in 1912, and put blind faith in their strengths. This can easily lead to disasters like the Titanic met over 100 years ago. We can clearly see our vulnerabilities, but tend to deny their existence. When recklessness and overconfidence enter our personal lives, this can translate into a disaster of our own making. Scripture gives us a clear reminder and warning from God of that possibility in Revelation 3, 14-19:

“The Amen, the faithful witness and true, the Source of God’s creation (Jesus Christ), has this to say: I know your deeds; I know you are neither hot nor cold. How I wish you were one or the other–hot or cold! But because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spew you out of my mouth! You keep saying, ‘I am so rich and secure that I want for nothing.’ Little do you realize how wretched you are, how pitiable and poor, how blind and naked! Take my advice. Buy from me gold refined by fire if you would be truly rich. Buy white garments in which to be clothed, if the shame of your nakedness is to be covered. Buy ointment to smear on your eyes, if you would see once more. Whoever is dear to me I reprove and chastise. Be earnest about it, therefore. Repent!

This was written for a time just like ours, for men we see today who have arrogant attitudes and depend on their self-sufficiency and strength for protection and safety. But to think we possess that kind of control is akin to believing in a mirage. What stops some men from coming to God, their Maker, for the real thing?

For one thing, many are afraid to submit to God’s will and give up their freedom. They keep thinking that it is safer to keep things within their power, rather than submit to a God who might require them to do things that they just don’t want. The reality is that they are ignoring the fact that they already lack the power and wisdom to control their lives, but deny it. They really don’t have much control over what they might face in the future, like the passengers on the Titanic, nor do they have any idea about what they will face at death. All that reassures them are their imaginations. Is this wise?

Another thing often stopping them is their pride. They shudder at the thought of humbling themselves before the whole world, admitting that they need help and need God. They like to think that they can do it by themselves, relying on the old Yankee “pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps” confidence in themselves. It makes you wonder why saving their pride is worth risking their future to possible disaster.

And probably the most difficult thing to accept, if they submitted to God, is obedience, and making major changes in their lives. Here, they would have to submit to God’s understanding of right and wrong, and maybe give up things that they love and can’t do without. Yes, you do have to conform your will to God’s will, but what you gain is infinitely more valuable than what you give up. You see strong, intelligent, and persistent people create new inventions, harness and make use of electricity, and explore the far reaches of the world and space. In these efforts they must all bow to, respect, and conform themselves to the immutable natural laws of chemistry and physics to obtain such success. But they often balk at doing the same thing with God, who made those laws! They fail to recognize that conforming themselves to God’s will in a similar way will also give them success, except that it will not be temporary, like worldly success, but provide them with life eternal with God forever in heaven. This is not imaginary, but real! 

If you find yourself reluctant to reach out to God because there is some risk and uncertainty involved, remember that everything in life that is worth accomplishing always has some risk. That is the nature of life. Everyone at times in their life senses that God is really there, waiting for us to come to him, but not everyone has the courage to respond by seeking him. The status quo is often too comfortable for many people to abandon. But, don’t forget that the status quo is still going to lead you, maybe kicking and screaming, into your future–you won’t escape by inaction. Are you sure that the direction your life is taking you in now is going to get you where you want to go? You can use your imagination to anesthetize yourself temporarily concerning the future, but that will vanish when the future comes and begins to affect you.

Reach out to God and persist until you find him. Don’t give up and you will know what your future will be. My partnership with God for the last 45 years has done that for me, and reassures me of it each day no matter what kind of adversity impacts my life. It can be the same for you. The following declaration from Jesus Christ concerning God’s view of the world gives us something to rely on concerning our future, and has substance and reality, unlike what we might manufacture in our imaginations. Step out in courage and test God’s promise:

“Yes, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die, but have eternal life. God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”  John 3, 16-17



What’s Wrong with America?

IMG_3114.jpgSunset, Disappointment Lake, Central Sierras, CA

December 28, 2018

     When I first noticed some cultural changes taking place in America, I was not far into elementary school and only 6 or 7 years old. The first thing that I remember  were small transistor radios that a couple of students brought to school to show them off. Next, I remember walking from our house across a vacant field to a home in a nearby housing area to see a large wooden piece of furniture with a small round piece of opaque glass in it. It was a new invention which could show a moving picture show without having to go to a movie theater or having a film projector. When I saw it do its thing, I wasn’t very impressed by the not so clear black and white show that I observed. Next, in 1955, TV came to our house. That didn’t really impress me either, even though the screen was bigger and more rectangular. All that it seemed to have on it were shows about food, some news broadcasts, and a few other things which seemed to be for adults. A little while later, some odd looking young adults, called beatniks, came on the scene which I remember hearing about and seeing on TV. Then things started to get more interesting with the introduction of  “pop music” on the radio, and how my older brother and sister were enamored with singers like Elvis Presley. Then came channels which sprang up on the radio, geared almost exclusively to the younger crowd. I was smitten hard by the Beach Boys singing group, and was sent out of this world by my favorite song of theirs–little “Surfer Girl”, released in the summer of 1963. I was 15 years old. There seemed to be developing quickly a whole separate culture that was primarily for us kids. I really couldn’t believe that we were getting to be part of something that was all our own. It was awesome! Little did I realize, however, that these types of rapid additions to the existing culture would rage on indefinitely, seemingly unchecked.

Some of what was changing was occurring behind the scenes quietly, and not really presented to the greater society. One of these things was the advent of birth control pills being made available in about 1960 to the general public, at affordable prices. This paved the way for a startlingly pervasive change in the way people would live in the future. Then, on November 22nd, 1963, our beloved president, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in Texas. This got my attention, as I thought that such things took place only in 3rd world countries which were out of control. The thought went through my mind, “Is America becoming out of control?” This thought hit me over and over again the rest of the 60’s, as a lot of tumultuous events began to happen, including the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.; massive race riots in various cities across America; widespread protests of the Viet Nam War by college students, starting at Berkeley, California; and the blooming of the Hippie Movement, marked by the Woodstock Music Festival in a field in New York, and the invasion of San Francisco by the “flower children”, bringing unbridled  sex, drugs, and anti cultural clothing and ways of living. Mixed in with this massive change came two things that I loved: The Beatles, and the landing of men on the moon. Processing all this change in my mind was fascinating to me, but it also produced a sort of foreboding in me concerning what sort of future we were creating for ourselves.

Looking back later, I began to realize that the rapid change in the 60’s was actually ushering in a change that I didn’t see coming: that rapid change itself would become the “new normal.” Adjusting to this has become the hardest thing for America to handle, and she has done a poor job of it.

Along with some of these changes I was seeing, came an underlying assault on America’s values, including alternate ideas of what is moral, new understandings of right and wrong, a questioning of the need for religion or God, and a slow dismantling of the primary building block of society–the American family. As America was reeling from all this sudden change, two potent forces began to infiltrate and grow within the population: the legalizing of abortion, and the women’s liberation movement. It seemed that once change became the norm, anything could become the target, and nothing was considered sacred anymore. These tumultuous times cleared the way for the assault on literally what defined and built what we call America: a serge of atheism, a decline in church attendance, and a widespread acceptance of non-belief. These took a while to establish a strong hold on the population, but they are very entrenched today. America’s slow pulling away from God, religion, and moral living has been instrumental in creating two radical results we see today: The destruction of the American family; and, secondly, the making of money and the accumulation of wealth becoming our main source of security and hope, and where a majority of Americans spend most of their time and energy. This has become the new “purpose of life” for many people and has resulted in a widespread departure from God. In this article I will concern myself with the first radical change.

With the advent of easily obtained birth control pills in about 1960, I began to see many people choosing to have just two children, hopefully a boy and a girl, instead of the more typical family of five children that I grew up in. I remember feeling sorry for kids I knew who were an only child, or were from families with two children who were both boys or both girls. I just thought that they were missing something important by not having at least one sibling of the opposite sex. But the change that shocked me most was mothers opting to go to work. This trend started off slowly, but it eventually took off, with a majority of mothers working outside the home today. Even in the 1980’s and early ’90’s, my wife found it very difficult to find mothers to socialize with who were home during the day. Our neighborhood was mostly deserted. A mother like my wife needed the support of other women, but when most women went to work, that support vanished.

I was wondering, who is raising the children? Well, it was babysitters, daycare, pre-school, and then elementary school. I thought, how will these kids find any stability, feel real love, have a mother to depend on when they were young and needy, or have brothers and sisters to play with and bond with. In our family of 9 children, I remember my wife and I being reluctant to go out to dinner even for one night, and leave our precious kids with strangers. We heard and read about the excuse that people gave that they needed two incomes just to make ends meet. That never seemed valid to me, since I taught at a private school and never made a lot of money, my wife was home full-time, and we were able to raise 9 kids. Our home life was subordinate to our priority of putting our children’s welfare first. My thought was that people, with few exceptions, simply didn’t want the hassle of raising their own kids. Shouldn’t the choice to work be the very last resort, that no other job was as important as raising children to be good people and good citizens? Weren’t the children to become America’s future? That seemed to all get lost in people’s desire for money, freedom, and things. But what price did we pay? Broken families and a broken society!

Look around today and what do you see? Very few normal families that used to be, consisting of a father who worked, and a mother who stayed home full-time raising the children. Now you see a large percentage of couples living together without even being married and who never have kids. You see divorce as the norm. You see a great number of single mothers struggling to raise their children. You see many 2nd and 3rd marriages, complete with step-mothers and fathers and step-children. Is this healthy? How can you build a great nation again on this foundation? The answer is that you can’t–unless Americans decide to go back to what families should be, to raise children in households where they can grow up with safety, a nurturing environment, and a place of stability and love. If you asked the kids what they wanted, they would probably all scream, “I want my Mom and Dad!” Why don’t we give that to them as the goal of life and marriage? Are we too selfish, too entrenched in what we call freedom? Listen to scripture and you have the template which all Christians should follow:

“Jesus then called them (his disciples) together and said, ‘You know how those who exercise authority among the Gentiles lord it over them; their great ones make their importance felt. It cannot be like that with you. Anyone among you who aspires to greatness must serve the rest, and whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all. Such is the case with the Son of Man who has come, not to be served by others, but to serve, to give his own life as a ransom for the many.’ ”  Matthew 20, 25-28

To make America whole again, we must make raising our children the number one goal of life. We must serve them by serving and preserving our marriages, by having a parent home full time, by sacrificing extra money for extra love for our children, and by sacrificing individual freedom and time to raise our own children, rather than paying hirelings to do the job for us.

Then our children will shout for joy, parents will be admired and valued, and best of all, Americans will cheer from the sidelines saying, “Hallelujah, parents love their children more than their jobs or money!” Yes, we can do it, but it begins with me and you–let’s start NOW!



Who Controls Your Life?

IMG_1960.jpgSierra Nevada Foothills, Central California

December 21, 2018

     I used to tell my high school students from time to time that I didn’t like school very much growing up, except for college. My high school days were actually what I remember liking the least. I know what you’re thinking, I might say, you’re thinking then why did you ever become a teacher? Good question. I became a teacher because God led me to it, almost against my will; but after I taught for a while, the value of school started to become apparent to me. I wanted to run my classes in a way that they were interesting, where students learned a lot, and where they were happy coming to class again and again–because they liked it there. I wanted to make my students’ high school days a lot better than what I experienced. Although these things are really important, the most important reason, I learned, went well beyond that. It has to do with the subject of this article–who controls your life?

One of the main things which can take control of your life away from you is ignorance. NO, that doesn’t mean that you are dumb, it means that you don’t know a lot of things. When you don’t know things that other people do, they often take advantage of you. A good example of this for young people is buying a car. A nice-looking car with all the features you were hoping for, and with a nice low price besides, is pretty tempting. If you buy it accompanied by a friend for moral support, without either of you knowing a whole lot about cars, you may be buying trouble, especially if it’s an older model. Within a couple of years, many possible things may go wrong: a transmission repair costing thousands of dollars; a radiator which leaks and needs replacing; a wheel bearing which goes bad; an air conditioning system which suddenly quits; 4 bald tires which you didn’t notice before, which need to be replaced ASAP, etc. etc.,etc.  Any of these kinds of things can cost you much more money than you can possibly afford. This is just one of the many ways that ignorance can cost you. I tell my students that the more they know, the more control of their life they will have. Study hard and learn as much as you can. I reassured my students that if I didn’t know for sure that teaching high school was valuable, I would have quit teaching and done something else long ago.

The answer to the question about who controls your life, is that you do–with your  choices, decisions, understanding and knowledge. Even though life puts certain things beyond your control, such as your ethnicity, the family that you were born into, or the time period in which you live, the direction your life takes as you become mature will be largely determined by how you use your free will, and your willingness to learn. Essentially, either you run your life, or by one circumstance or another you willingly give this control to someone or something else.

The first and most important thing that you will ever decide in your life is how you respond to the idea of God’s existence. There is only one God, and he is responsible for creating the entire universe, the world and all life in it, and the concept of time where all these created things are experienced and our human lives play out. I am not going to belabor the issue, but if you don’t reach out to meet and fellowship with this being, our Creator, you will eliminate, by inaction, all the benefits that you might have enjoyed, both on earth and in eternity after death. If you presently know God, take full advantage of the relationship, for your partnership with him has the potential to provide for you much more than anything could that you might pursue in the world. If you don’t know him, then start reaching out to this Creator of the universe, and persist in this effort until you actually contact him. God will never deny any sincere searcher who pursues him in this way. The more completely that God is part of your life, the more control of your life that you will have.

I would say that in life, one of the primary ways that we succumb to being controlled  by something other than ourselves, is through what I call “barriers” that we build and maintain. One of these barriers is inertia. Say that you want to get married, but fear that no one will love you, that you aren’t good looking enough, that you are too introverted, that you don’t meet many eligible people, that you have a lousy personality, or any of a host of other so-called deficits. You need to stop feeling sorry for yourself and do something! Start shoring up weak areas in your life, change your thinking to viewing yourself as desirable, and put your best self forward for others to see. Also, observe other married people who are similar to you, and realize that if they are married, then you can be too. The more that you value yourself, the more that others will value you. It starts with how you view yourself inside. Good self esteem can give you back control of your life.

Another barrier that can keep us caged up is fear. Say that you live in fear of contracting a fatal disease, and you keep noticing little things happening in your body and fear the worst. This can leave you in a constant state of misery and paralysis. Many people caught up in this state of mind visit the doctor innumerable times and get all of the latest tests that they can. These measures may produce no positive diagnosis of sickness, but hypochondriacs like this usually think that something was missed. This mindset can never allow you to live in peace and enjoy life. Your fears inside can control your life–don’t let them!

Many people today also create barriers by immersing themselves in regrets from the past, while at the same time dreading what the future might hold. This leaves little time or energy for living today. For many, the past is constantly relived in their minds daily and brings them a misery that is never addressed and forgotten. Why? Because they may feel tainted for having an abortion, or that they were fired from a job, or that their marriage fell apart, or that they mismanaged their money and are broke, or that they committed a really bad sin, etc. If you suffer from your past, there is a remedy: Ask for and accept forgiveness from God, forgive others, and most importantly–forgive yourself. Don’t punish yourself for your past, make a decision to forgive yourself, move forward and don’t look back. Every human being deserves a fresh start.

Also, when you are overly worried about what might happen in the future, you also sabotage your happiness today. It could be about anything: the potential loss of a job, a fear of failing a test, dreading being alone in old age, inheriting a fatal disease from your mother or father, worrying that your house might not sell, and the like. In this case, you create a future problem in your imagination and suffer from it, even for years, when it doesn’t even exist. My Mom used to tell me from time to time, “Don’t borrow trouble!” It means that if you don’t have a problem, don’t manufacture one. A good rule about the future is to reasonably prepare for the future, but don’t start fearing and solving phantom problems which don’t exist. Save your energy for when and if  they do arrive. Never let the past or future take away today’s life, if you do then you won’t really have a life.

The hardest task you will ever face in life is fighting against something that doesn’t exist. You can’t defeat that kind of enemy by fighting it, but only by stopping imagining it into existence. Here is a Bible verse which will help you with the future. Jesus says in Matthew 6, 31-34 :

“Stop worrying, then, over questions like, ‘What are we to eat, or what are we to drink, or what are we to wear?’ The unbelievers are always running after these things. Your Heavenly Father knows all that you need. Seek first his kingship over you, his way of holiness, and all these things will be given you besides. Enough, then, of worrying about tomorrow. Let tomorrow take care of itself. Today has troubles  enough of its own.”

The Curse of Depression

IMG_3120.jpg                  Disappointment Lake, Red Mountain Basin, Central California

December 14, 2018

     When I was young and in grade school, I remember learning about the Spanish explorer, Juan Ponce de Leon, and his purported search for the “Fountain of Youth” in Florida in the 1500’s. The Fountain of Youth was a legend of a spring, which if you drank from it, would make you young again. Even though I suspected that it didn’t exist, the idea of using this water to live on the earth forever was an attractive and comforting thought to me. This fountain seemed like a great thing to have, because you would know what sort of future you would live, instead of facing the uncertainty of death and beyond. As I have grown older, I realized that on earth we all face an unknown future and have to come to grips with it eventually. In order to live peaceful and tranquil lives, we must have some sort of hope concerning life after death. As men, we are often uncomfortable facing our mortality, so the common response is to busy ourselves with daily activities which keep us from thinking about death, and maybe even imagining that we are somehow immortal. Unfortunately, our thoughts inevitably return to reality, causing some of us great angst.

In America today, a large percentage of people, even Christians, have put their hopes for happiness in their own prosperity on earth, which has brought them the money they need to buy rich food, top medical care, beautiful houses, cars, clothes, vacations, and a large savings account to secure their future. This, they hoped, would bring them their own Fountain of Youth, and give them amnesia concerning the future. But it never works for long before a gnawing anxiety within begins to erode their happiness. The death of someone near and dear to them, or even a serious illness in their own life, can turn their anxiety towards depression.

Webster’s Dictionary defines depression as “A condition marked by hopelessness, self-doubt, lethargy, etc.” I have seen evidence of it in relatives and friends, and I have even felt its tug on me from time to time. In my experience, it has shown itself to be a potent foe, as it tries to pull me down into a mindset of helplessness coupled with a dark irrational foreboding about the value of life. It is the same kind of feeling of despair that I could produce in the past by imagining that there was no God, no purpose for life, and a future where neither myself nor anything else even exists. When we have a God, but willingly depart from him, nothingness is all that we really have left. Humans cannot live in these kinds of thoughts for long and remain psychologically balanced and sane. Many in America today are trying to live a life where the only real hope they have is trying to maintain balance and happiness by running from one experience, possession, or fad to the next, trying to forget the unknown that awaits them at death. As time ticks relentlessly on, however, their hopes for this life drain slowly away. We were not meant to live like this.

I have for the most part been an optimistic person who sees the future as working out for the best. I have also learned that my happiness is not really the result of circumstances and conditions that I might be experiencing, but rather it is the result of my thoughts and attitudes inside. I discovered this at a young age by comparing my experience of walking into my bedroom in an upbeat and optimistic mood, as opposed to walking in with a brooding and unhappy mindset. When I was optimistic, everything in the room seemed light, cheery and inviting, while when I was brooding and unhappy, everything had a heavy somber look to it. I deduced that the difference wasn’t in how the room was decorated or painted, which didn’t change, by rather in my attitude. Further, I realized that my attitude came from my own choice of how I decided to look at the future. I could either look optimistically at the good things that were coming up, or dwell on and dread what I feared might be bad experiences. As a result, I learned early in my life to prepare for the bad, but live in expectation of the good to come. This has gotten me through many hard times in life. Remember, your attitude does not come from what you experience, but how you react to what you experience.

I believe that a root cause of depression is trying to live a life that has no real meaning or purpose, except trying to derive happiness within our obviously unfair world of uncertainty and conflict. And even if we do happen to acquire wealth and material possessions, their power to impart happiness is uncertain and temporary at best. To be truly happy we need much more hope than that. Our situation on earth reminds me of a Pearls Before Swine cartoon that I cut out from our local paper, dated October 6, 2017. It has been up on our refrigerator ever since. In it Pig says, “My dreams never seem to come true.” Rat responds, “That’s good.” “Why is that good?” asks Pig. “Because if they do come true, and you’re still not happy, you’re screwed,” replies Rat. “So my miserable life is a blessing,” muses Pig. “Yes”, Rat concludes, “This way there’s still hope.”

We were not meant to live as orphans on earth. If we stray from life’s true purpose, we take our hope away, and when hope deserts us, the specter of depression can’t be far behind. We need to have real hope: “Now, since the children are men of blood and flesh, Jesus likewise had a full share in ours, that by his death he might rob the devil, the prince of death, of his power, and free those who through fear of death had been slaves their whole life long.”  Hebrews 2, 15

As I have said in the first few articles I have written, without the presence of God in your life, you cannot truly get from life, or accomplish in life, what it was designed by God to provide for us. But, with God’s Spirit living within us, we are constantly bathed in the knowledge of the eternal life in heaven with God that awaits us after death. In essence, God’s Spirit within us today, is a down payment on our future life with God forever in heaven. In Christianity, even though the main goals you are working towards in life, salvation and heaven, are fully realized only after death, their hope can sustain you through practically anything you might face in life. That’s what sustains me, and it also can sustain you. The following verse from John 5, 29, gives us a capsule summary of what we are laboring towards on earth, and gives us hope: “…………for an hour is coming in which all those in their tombs shall hear his (Jesus’s) voice and come forth. Those who have done right shall rise to live; the evildoers shall rise to be damned.”  This is a glorious hope, take comfort in it.

Besides this foundational goal, there are practical ways to live life hope filled and depression free. Your attitude of optimism coupled with rejection of dwelling on the negative, can sustain you through most of the natural ups and downs of life. You also need to establish a network of face to face friendships with real and optimistic people. You will generally find these in church, in family members, at work, and the neighborhood in which you live. Take the time to cultivate and maintain these relationships–they will be your lifeline in times of trial. And lastly, persist at establishing a career that involves meaningful work that you value, that is helpful to humanity, and that you have a passion for. I know, that may be hard, but it is well worth it. My teaching career that God led me to, although hard, has brought me untold meaning and satisfaction in life. The statistic I have read over and over in recent years, says that 70% of working people in America are unhappy, and dissatisfied with their jobs! You don’t want to be one of those 70%. Remember, the portrait of your life is painted by you and you alone–paint well! I pray that God grants a happy life to all that have taken the time to read these words.




The Electronic Tsunami

IMG_3066.jpgPost Corral Creek Falls, Central California

December 7, 2018

     When I was young and bold, I frequently imagined my future as having a house full of happy kids–eight to be exact! There was just one little problem, I wasn’t married and I didn’t even have a girlfriend. But, besides those issues, I suspected that my main problem would be finding a girl to marry who also wanted a lot of kids. Through my 20’s I searched for her far and wide, but repeatedly came up empty. When I reached 29, I placed a desperate plea before God to help me find my future wife. I decided to write this request down on my first ever “prayer list”, and it happened to be dated August 29th, my parent’s wedding anniversary. Then I went to where I figured that my future wife might be lurking–a church that had a college and career class filled with over 300 young people. I also remember the date that I first met her–October 22nd, 1977, less than two months after I wrote my petition to God. I was astounded at how fast God answered my prayer after I became humble enough to ask. My own efforts lasted over 10 years with zilch results, while he took less than two months and hit pay dirt! She was cute, friendly and nice and, long story short, we married the following year. And, by the way, she also wanted a lot of kids.

After the first two kids were born, we settled in and things were going pretty well, except for a gnawing anxiety concerning the TV. It seemed to be on all of our waking hours, even if nobody was watching. The first thing our oldest, a 5 year old boy, would do when he woke up, was turn the TV on and plop himself down in front of it. Unbeknownst to each other, my wife and I were both thinking privately that we needed to get rid of the TV, or it would addict and mess up our kids and future kids. The Lord had told me earlier, without using words, that if we wanted to raise a lot of good Christian kids, then the “boob tube” would have to go. The first off-color TV show that I remember going beyond what I thought was acceptable for kids to watch was Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, which ran from 1967-1973. Other worse shows followed, and here we were in 1984 fearing exposing our kids to too much junk. When my wife approached me and broached the topic of maybe getting rid of the TV, I was elated. We talked and then agreed to this, and into the closet it went. In the next month or so it came out of the closet twice, so I decided to make it harder to bring it back, and deep into the garage rafters it went, never to return.

Our intuition turned out to be prophetic, as the coming flood of inventions, designed to deeply penetrate families, lives, and souls came into the world fast and furiously. These included cassette tapes, cable TV, digital disks, home computers, the internet, satellite TV, cell phones, smart phones, laptop computers, and various other gadgets which give you practically anything and everything you might want day and night, and are virtually worldwide. This invasion of change came so often and so fast, that it has denied society the time that it needed to create an effective reaction, response, and adjustment to one gadget before the next one came on the scene. This has created a chaotic disruption, dismantling, and erosion of our societal norms, morals, family lives, religious beliefs and order in social structures. Here we are now in 2018, 34 years later, and the flood continues unabated.

I want to quote here what I posted in an earlier article to help clarify the choices that we are all facing: “Have no love for the world, nor things that the world affords. If anyone loves the world, the Father’s love has no place in him, for nothing that the world affords comes from the Father. Carnal allurements, enticements for the eye, the life of empty show–all these are from the world.”  1 John 2, 15-16    It seems that 2000 years ago, people were plagued with the same kinds of problems that we are facing today. All humans seem to be flawed in similar ways, no matter what era they find themselves living in.

When the quote above speaks of “the world”, it is not speaking of the pure world that God created, but rather a world within the world that man has carved out for himself and presides over as king. It is a world where he serves himself and feeds on all of the pleasure, entertainment, praise, fame, self- righteousness, flattery, goods, homes, cars, vacations, rich food, fortune, power, control of others, and self-love that he can acquire or milk from other humans. He lives for what the world can give and he wants it now. He lives for the temporary and disdains the control of or obedience to anyone else, especially God his Maker. This very kind of world has been made infinitely easier to create for ourselves by the introduction of all the electronics and gadgets that I mentioned as having flooded the world after we got rid of the TV in 1984. I don’t think that it was a coincidence that George Orwell’s “1984” was set in the exact same year that we jettisoned the TV. His theme was control of the population by “Big Brother”, which was a totalitarian government which watched everything and kept everyone under control. Our own electronic media world is similar to the world 1984 describes, except today we have engineered the slavery of ourselves, although we are mostly blind to the fact.

As I have watched the slow destruction of America starting about 1965, with the introduction of drugs, “free love”, rebellion against authority, self indulgence as a way of life, ridding of ourselves of the concept of sin, and belittling obedience to God, to today’s moral wasteland, it makes me want to throw up my hands in frustration at the sheer magnitude of it all and give up. It’s like facing a slow motion tsunami combined with a never ending earthquake. What can one do to stop it? It seems impossible, but with God’s help it is possible.

What we need to do is use what I call the pebble thrown into the pond technique, where the concentric circular waves generated are disbursed far and wide. You be that pebble. Instead of looking at the enormous forces facing us and thinking, “Somebody needs to do something about it!”, like little children looking to their parents for help, we need to suck it up, give up our adolescent ways and do it ourselves–we are the parents and we are the adults. You start with influencing the person that you have the most control over–yourself! You use self discipline.

Do you love the tainted and self-centered world that man has fashioned from God’s pure creation? Do you find yourself captivated by off color and perverted humor? Do you enjoy TV shows which feature dysfunctional relationships, sordid adolescent humor, making light of serious sin, mocking God and holiness, and making fun of living morally? Do you indulge yourself in spending an inordinate amount of time playing useless video games? Do you go to chat rooms or other interactive places on the internet and enjoy observing people attacking each other back and forth using witty comebacks and bashing each other, often laced with profanity? Are you involved in or addicted to pornography? Do you spend a lot of time on Facebook trying to impress others, or coaxing “likes” from others to bolster your self esteem? Do you waste time every day sampling U-tube videos out of curiosity, boredom, or looking for excitement? Are you addicted to conspiracy theories and fill your self and time with mostly untrue nonsense? Do you watch junk movies regularly because you have nothing better to do? Do you use various social media constantly instead of using your time to cultivate real face-to-face relationships? Do you find yourself addicted to your phone, so that you have to always have it with you and let it disrupt relationships with people in your life? Do you notice that you have hours to serf the internet, but can’t seem to find the time to spend just 20 minutes a day in prayer to God? Do you watch sports so much that games and contests affect your schedule and stunt relationships with your spouse, kids, family, and friends? Are you so dependent on news shows that you need to check in on them all day long? Or anything and everything else that has you enslaved in one way or another? It just goes on and on.

You need to be a role model for all those watching you by eliminating all your off color and tainted activities, and by getting rid of most time wasting activities on all electronic media. In other words, you need to begin to fashion a new life with real people, wholesome activities, outdoor adventures, being cheerful to all that you meet daily, getting rid of self-indulgence, being involved in serving others, and living for God and good. Are you up to the challenge? If you demonstrate how it is done, others will follow. This is the best way you can begin to blunt the destructive effects of the electronic tsunami. Start fresh, start wholesome, start a truly productive life, and who knows, maybe start a trend! The best time to start is TODAY.



Why is Faith necessary in Life?

IMG_0708.jpgGiant Sequoias, McKinley Grove, Central Sierras, CA

November 30, 2018

     When I was young, I went to church every Sunday because we were Catholic, and my parents were very devout. I didn’t dislike going, but I don’t remember often being eager either. Church to me seemed primarily like an obligation, and the prayers and rituals at Mass had an ancient feel to them, almost like I was entering a time from hundreds of years ago. There was a lot of talk about saints and miracles, especially in elementary school where nuns were our main teachers. I could sense a certain reality at church, but I couldn’t seem to get really close to it. It seemed to me that church was designed for grownups. I did feel a personal sort of spirituality within myself, but I wasn’t inclined to share it with anyone.

Praying was a big thing in our church, and although I prayed frequently, it seemed that my prayers just floated into space where God was, but I never really knew if they were reaching him or not. In my early years, it looked to me like God was so far away, that only the very devout were able to reach him. I kept asking myself, “Why doesn’t God just show himself and get it over with, instead of hiding himself? Why all this mystery?” This baffled me for a long time. Why would God take a chance that people would not find him somehow and then fail to get to heaven? Is this some sort of game we are playing where only a few people win? This didn’t seem fair at all to me.

What about kids who are born and then die, at say, 2 years old? They never had a chance to find God. That was very wrong in my mind. My church said that they would go to heaven if they were baptized, but I immediately thought about the kid who didn’t have religious parents. It seemed like the whole system of rules and requirements that needed to be followed to get to heaven was really disorganized. I was young and needed answers. This period in my life lasting through my teenage years was difficult for me, but my gut feeling inside told me that there were answers to my dilemma.

As I passed into my 20’s I began to turn to the Bible for answers. I noticed that the good thief on the cross who was crucified alongside Jesus got into heaven merely by saying to Jesus, “Remember me when you come into your reign.” He probably didn’t go to church much if at all, and probably didn’t follow many rules either. What gives? These kinds of thoughts began to open up a lot of possibilities of entering heaven even if a person didn’t follow all the rules, or couldn’t because he grew up in a time or place which didn’t have them. I also wondered that if Jesus’s death on the cross made salvation possible, how could it apply to people who lived on earth before his time? Were they just lost? My sense of justice told me that they must have had a chance to get to heaven, but then I wondered what they needed to do to get there. At this point in my progress I began to feel better. I needed to start looking for the truth that enabled anyone who ever lived to have a chance to reach heaven. This appealed to my sense of logic and justice. I thought again about the faith of the good thief who reached out to Jesus at the very last moments of his life. Faith began to look like a powerful tool which had the capacity to smooth out the bumps in the road on our journey towards heaven. Faith didn’t seem to have to follow all the rules, all it required was pouring out your needs to God. I began searching the Bible more earnestly.

In speaking to his disciples as recorded in the Bible in Matthew 17, 20, Jesus says,”I assure you, if you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you would be able to say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’, and it would move. Nothing would be impossible for you.” Wow, nothing impossible! Maybe Faith would somehow help me to get my questions answered.

In Hebrews, chapter 11, we have a wealth of information concerning Faith, including: “Faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see.”  (11,1); “Through faith we perceive that the worlds were created by the word of God, and that what is visible came into being through the invisible.”  (11, 3); “…….without faith, it is impossible to please him. Anyone who comes to God must believe that he exists, and he rewards those who seek him.”  (11, 6)

These and many other verses finally led me to the conclusion that Faith is our doorway to God, and the answer to my questions. I began to pray with earnest Faith. God began to show me that he does not usually come to us uninvited and overpower us with his presence. That would make us into a kind of slave. He instead tries to entice us to seek him through many small messages, through experiences he brings our way, through other people, through logic and understanding, or just through an intuition that he places within us over and over again that he exists. Anyone who does much searching will hear his voice, he says, but we always have the choice to examine the message, or turn away and ignore it.

I finally concluded that Faith was going to have to be used to get answers to all of my questions. I did come up with a lot of understanding and truth about life through my  own efforts with logic, observation, and reading what I could get my hands on. But while none of this brought me the full truth, it did bring me face to face with the “Door of Faith” that I had to open to finish the job. The key to this really lies within ourselves, not some hidden place on the outside that we have to find. When I finally reached the point of having the courage to open this door of Faith, I began getting answers to all that I had wondered about. This is because Faith leads directly to God, and he has all the answers. As I have said before, this puts our destiny within our own hands.

It was after I walked through the door of Faith that I got answers to the sticky questions that I posed at the beginning of this article. A major theme for me was how are people judged as worthy to enter heaven or not when they come from so many backgrounds and circumstances, some seeming to thwart them of any chance for heaven. My words don’t do justice to the truth God has shown me, but this is how it goes: The Bible tells us that God judges by the heart. In your heart is what you value, what you treasure, what you support, what you seek in life, what you agree with, and who you really are. In a sense, your heart IS you! That is why scriptures say to guard your heart. For us to know what others are like, we must carefully watch what they say and do, how they treat other people, and how they act in various circumstances–and then read between the lines. God, however, doesn’t need these externals to judge us, he simply looks within us to see the source of our behavior. We can fool others by acting holy around them, but God can never be fooled. That is why he is a just judge: Jesus says, “A good man produces goodness from the good in his heart; an evil man produces evil out of his store of evil. Each man speaks from his heart’s abundance.”  Luke 6, 45. And in Luke 16, 15 it says: “He said to them, ‘You justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God reads your heart. What man thinks important, God holds in contempt.’ ”

So, if you don’t even have rules to follow, or you were born in the wrong era, country or religion, or you are without religion, you are judged on your heart coupled with your actions. But, if you happen to be born with all the advantages, then this scripture applies to you: “When much has been given a man, much will be required of him. More will be asked of a man to whom more has been entrusted.”  Luke, 12, 48

In the final analysis, our role is to seek our Maker, humbly listen to what he places in our hearts, and obey what is right the best we can. If you do that, relax, you have a good heart. This verse from Micah 6, 8 gives us a great blueprint to follow: “You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.”