Wednesday, November 26, 2014


This picture is a link for ordering the book
Click on this picture to order the book.
Terry Buethe is a Lutheran pastor, counselor, teacher, writer and good friend. He wrote this book to offer encouragement to those who suffer from depression and for those who feel sad or discouraged from personal life events. It is an excellent book for personal devotions or for group work. 

He has graciously given me permission to post one of the readings from the book. 

Enjoy, be encouraged, know you are loved by your Heavenly Father. 

Re-Learning to Receive

“Tis’ better to give than to receive,” is one of those ageless adages we have all heard. Most would agree it’s not bad advice, especially when trying to teach our children to be generous, compassionate people. But as with many other rules about life, it is not an absolute standard. Circumstances in our lives can send us through cycles of being givers and then being receivers over and over again.

Unfortunately, some of us have learned to be givers so well, it’s hard to become a receiver. When we are giving, we are in control of the situation. We might feel a certain sense of pride or accomplishment that we are able to help someone else.

But to be placed in a situation where we need someone else to help us upsets our sensibilities. We feel as though we have lost ground. We don’t like being dependent on anyone else. We feel vulnerable at the mercy of another person’s decisions. We might even wonder what receiving from this person is going to cost us in the long run because we have also learned “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” And if we are willing to be honest with ourselves, our pride also gets in the way. We don’t want to admit to anyone, not even to ourselves, that we can’t handle everything life throws at us on our own.

Of course, that’s a ridiculous stance to take. No one is equipped to handle everything in life. And if we stop to think about it, it becomes really obvious. We regularly rely on mechanics, doctors, plumbers and truck drivers to provide us with services or deliver goods that we need. We are all dependent on each other, no matter how much we want to believe we are not. But that “I can do this myself” voice is strong and it can prevent us from letting others know we are in need of something they can provide. It can also prevent them from intervening when we aren’t even aware we need help.

Our heavenly Father knows all about our prideful independent streak. He knows we need an example of how it should be done and even to do it for us. That is one of the reasons He sent His Son in human flesh to experience the trials and temptations we do, to feel the hunger, the thirst, the pain and even the fear that we do. We have a Lord and Savior who knows exactly what we are going through and He showed us how to receive as well as how to give.

Jesus received help from the angels after His forty days in the wilderness where Satan repeatedly tempted Him. He and His disciples received meals and lodging from people in many of the places they traveled. He received from a woman who washed His feet with her tears. He showed us there is nothing shameful in receiving.  There is nothing demeaning in allowing another person to come alongside us when we are overwhelmed. In fact, as He was describing the Judgment, He said that when we receive assistance from another person, it allows that person to minister to Jesus. (Matt 25:31-46)

God almost always works through people. He rarely performs big showy miracles. Instead He uses the hands and tongues and feet and ears of those who follow Him. He comes to you through the people who care about you and offer to help. And He comes to you through His Word with promises to care for you in all situations.

Suggested readings: Hebrews 4:14-16

© 2014 Terry Buethe

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Roundabout thoughts

This conversation was a part of our ride to church:
Me: Dorris, I read in the paper that this corner will be a roundabout.

Dorris: A roundabout? How many houses will be sacrificed for this endeavor?

Me: None. It will be built in existing space.

Dorris: Built in existing space. Hmm, someone got elected on that slogan.

It is interesting to me how conversation with Dorris will be simultaneously sense and nonsense. Because of the work of Alzheimer's, so many neural pathways in her brain are no longer working. Conversations on a familiar topic can easily be sidetracked to something that seems quite unrelated and yet, gives the suggestion of at least a thin connection. 

Dorris was a longtime member of the planning commission in her community, which is why I mentioned the proposed roundabout. She recognized the term and immediately thought of a possible consequence, but then, how did we venture into campaign slogans?

Perhaps she doubted the truth of my statement and this was her brain’s way of expressing a lack of trust in promises.

Then, again, it may just be a random phrase and my brain may be working overtime to try to make sense out of it. I assume that her comments must be related to mine, so I search until I find a relationship. If nothing else, at least my brain is getting a thorough work out.

I am reminded of a Human Cognition class I taught this summer. A student from Republic of Côte d'Ivoire asked why farmers in her area believed that specific rituals brought about rain. We talked about how our brains want to determine “cause and effect” and when we see a desired effect, it is easiest to believe that our own actions are the cause.

Pastor’s sermon today pointed to a particular phrase that tends to twist around in the roundabout of cause and effect.

We are saved for works, not by works

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7, ESV)

We want to be saved by works because it seems to make sense. If we do good things, then God will let us into heaven. We want to live our lives in such a way that we can bargain at heaven’s gate:
"Yeah, I know I messed up there, but then I made up for it later."
"I wasn’t good all the time, but I was good most of the time- or at least, I was good when it counted."

"Sin is no big deal, just look at the good things I did."

We want that cause and effect to be about us. But we wrongly put the effect before the cause.

We are saved for works, not by works

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. for we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2: 8-10, ESV)

As much as we would like to be the reason for our salvation, we are instead the result of our salvation. God created us; we ruined that creation. Through the death and resurrection of His Son, God saves us even though it is impossible for us to do good works of our own accord.

God could have stopped there. Jesus made it possible for us to enter heaven covered in a white robe, earned for us through His victory over sin and death. God could have left us in our miserable lives and simply waited to see us at heaven’s door.

But, He created us for good works, which He “prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

We are simultaneously blessed by the work of justification and the work of sanctification.

We are already saved through Jesus. Now, and only now, are we ready to participate in the good works prepared for us.

We are not the cause, but we are blessed by the effect.

We are loved. We are saved. We are prepared.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Tools of the mind

Before the tower that serves Chicago’s airports could be repaired, I missed a connecting flight and spent the night at O’Hare. I turned down the offer of a discounted hotel, thinking I probably could not afford it. The sad look on my face prompted the United customer service rep to hand me a complimentary personal hygiene bag.

I walked the length of B concourse looking for a gate without a working TV. I found a quiet spot, claimed my space, and opened my gift bag. It contained everything I might need to survive the night such as shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, all of which smelled suspiciously like airport bathroom soap. I also had a shaving kit, a dental kit, deodorant wipes (one for each underarm), something called calming cream, and laundry grains.

I was not sure how I was supposed to use these wonderful hygiene tools. Certainly, I could brush my teeth and apply calming cream, but was I supposed to use the shampoo in the drinking fountain? Perhaps it was intended for me to wash my undies using the laundry grains in the toilet. I did not want to envision the body wash scenario.

What I really needed was food and a blanket. What I had was a bag of tools that were useless in my context.

I feel a bit like that complementary bag. If you open up my brain, you will see some interesting tools. I am packed full of theories on motivation, there are remnants of statistics, and an entire compartment full of research methods. I have many big words, some of which I could still use in a sentence, and lots of memorized stuff leftover from tests. I have a brain packed full of tools, but I have no idea how they are to be used. The only thing I know for sure is that God has a plan.

In some ways, I am at the opposite end of the continuum line that stretches between my mother-in-law and myself. Because of her dementia, Dorris’ tools are losing their effectiveness, even though she still has much use for them. It fascinates me how she can spend four hours in an ER exam room and not realize that she is in a hospital or that it is daytime, or that she quit smoking (insisting that she just smokes behind my back). It fascinates me because later, on our way home, she points to some trees and creates this wonderful one-line poem:

We cannot call those trees beautiful because we must call them splendid.

I do not know why Dorris has to slip away like this, but I do know that God has a plan for her.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.(Jeremiah 29:11, ESV)

I have no idea how God will use the tools he has packed into my brain. They seem to be an odd assortment for any kind of job I know or contemplate. I suppose that none of us really know how God will use us in the future as he can change our ministry as quickly as he creates it. But, I have hope.

And, hope is good because God is all good.

I have no idea how much longer Dorris will be with us – either mentally or physically. It takes enormous effort for her to walk to the dining room and back to the room that is hers, but is often not recognized. So many of the tools God gave her are already gone. In this thought, I struggle to remember that God is good all the time.

Yet, even when I struggle, God is still good.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2: 16-17, ESV)

God promises us a hope and a future. That hope is not tenuous, nor is it thin. It is a hope that comes from the perfect love of our Father. A hope that comes from the saving work of God’s Son and the sanctifying work of God’s Spirit. 

This is a hope that is good – all the time.