January 28, 2011

Get out of the Boat

For most of my career, I was a college admissions officer, the school administrator charged with the responsibility for determining which applicants were qualified to study at my institution.

Because of my work in admission, I was more than a little interested in a conversation I had with the chairman of a church committee appointed to determine the attributes and personality traits a person should possess to qualify for the ministry.

Pardon me, but I always thought people were "called" to the ministry. I didn't realize there were specific qualifications, or, as Max Lucado puts it in his most recent book, Outlive Your Life, "God doesn't call the qualified. He qualifies the called."

Recently, the Reverend Judy White , pastor of the Bluff Point Methodist Church, reminded her congregation of Jesus’ call to Peter to get out of his boat and, “Follow me.” With that simple overture, Peter was invited to leave his family, his friends and his way of life to walk with Jesus.

And who was this impulsive fisherman Jesus chose to be a disciple and his Rock? The New Testament describes Peter as a blundering, impetuous, hypocrite whose vocabulary was unpolished and coarse. But Jesus didn’t choose Peter because he was brilliant, well educated, sophisticated or because he scored well on a psychological test or personality inventory. Peter was not called because of what he was but what he could become.

It is astonishing to recognize that when we accept the call to “get out of the boat,” it’s not because of who we are or what we have done. When we choose to follow Jesus, we are forgiven for the sins we have committed, and we are given an opportunity to change and to live the life Christ wants us to live.

January 21, 2011

Guest Blog - Our Father, Who Art in Penn Yan

My name is Steve Westerdahl. I’m Bruce’s son. Dad was born 80 years ago today, on January 21, 1931. This “guest blog” is a way of honoring him on this very special day and is written on behalf of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who love and admire him greatly.

Nobody ever said that being a father was easy. The role requires a diverse skill set and places high demands on even the most well-grounded of men. A father is a provider, a protector, a role model, a teacher, an enforcer, a mediator and a banker. (Somebody once said a father carries pictures where his money used to be.) The job requires patience, perseverance, an infinite amount of energy and the unmitigated capacity to love.

As they dispense with their duties, even the best fathers are under-appreciated by the children they are raising. The recognition tends to come later. Mark Twain said, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he'd learned in seven years.”

And the stakes of fatherhood are high. We are in many ways reflections of our fathers. Like a garden, a man’s children reflect the amount of weeding he has done in the growing season.

It is significant that “father” is a title given to God, symbolizing His infinite power to love, protect and forgive us. The Bible contains abundant references to the importance of a father in his children’s life. In the Old Testament we are commanded to “honor our father and mother so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

On this special day we honor Bruce Westerdahl, “our father who art in Penn Yan (NY)”. His children, grand-children and great grand-children know we are very fortunate to call him Dad, Grandpa and Great Grandpa. Even in our 50s, Doug, Tammy and I seek his advice and approval. Then, now and forver, we'll be guided by his shining example, steady hand and unconditional love.

In 1901 a pastor in Lockport, NY wrote a hymn titled, “This is My Father’s World.” Today, it’s Bruce Westerdahl’s world and we are all blessed to be in it.

January 19, 2011

Dealing with Stress

Rising costs, increasing debt, lower home values, unemployment, natural disasters, lives lost in two wars and the longest recession since World War II would be enough to create stress for any American. But in addition, we can all have anxious moments just dealing with health problems, the pressures of work and family life, or our relationships with each other.

Stress is a common problem in our fast-paced action-oriented society, and it’s not limited to any income, education or socio economic status. Regardless of our station in life, we all regularly face situations which cause anxiety and even fear.

How is your courage and confidence when you face stressful situations that can make our lives miserable? If you are searching for the inner strength to face your problems, perhaps it’s time to reexamine your faith in God, for if you believe in God, you have the power to face stress and adversity without fear or anxiety. And that power is available to you any time, any place and in any circumstance.

We know because it is written again and again in Scripture. Here are just a few examples:

Joshua said it:Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Timothy said it: “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and love and of self discipline.

And David said it in Scripture we all know: “Yea, though I walk through the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”

In times of stress, in days and nights of trouble, I invite you to believe the Grace of God can help you find the strength and courage to respond with confidence to every problem, every difficulty, every broken heart and every human sorrow.

January 4, 2011

Don't Let the Devil Steal Your Joy

If the cards you received from friends and loved ones at Christmas were typical, most included a wish for a Happy New Year. What about it? Will your new year be happy? According to a 2006 Pew Research Center survey, over 46 million people in this country say they are not happy.

Our country is involved in a war against terrorism, but each one of us is in a private war against Satan who is determined to deprived of all our joy.

The apostle Peter said that Satan walks around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour, and Paul tells us that we wrestle, not against flesh and blood but the rulers of darkness.

Paul Meier, author of Happiness is a Choice, points out that the Devil cannot steal your joy if you recognize that you, not Satan, are in control of your own attitude. Or as Abraham Lincoln said, “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

In other words, your attitude toward life, toward misfortune, toward the irritants of each day is yours alone, and nobody, not the Devil, not your boss, not the Republicans or the Democrats, the liberals or the conservatives can take your attitude from you unless you let them.

One of Satan’s most effective weapons for stealing your joy is when you allow yourself to brood, stew, fret and fuss over a disservice that someone did to you. Meier suggests that forgiving others is the single most important thing we do to be happy.

People whose opinions I respect debate the existence of Satan, but for me, Paul’s command to “put on the armor of God” is an invitation to prepare for battle against an image of evil personified who exists to steal my joy. I invite you to share that image.