Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Christ Church


This is the entrance of Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia. It was the home congregation of George Washington and Robert E. Lee. Talk about an illustrious history.
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Sitting With George and Martha


Here are the Cincinnati six sitting in the Washington Family Pew they rented annually from the church. From left to right we are Bob Robinson, Sr., Buck Rumpke, Bob Toews, Tom Morrison, Paul Butler and Gary Sweeten. I think I would like to have my own pew. Then I could limp in late and still have a place to sit.

Actually, I had a sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit in Christ Church and was certain that God was being worshipped and honored there now as in the past.
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Preaching to George Washington


On Sunday morning, August 29, 2010 a group of us from Cincinnati stopped in at the Christ Church Episcopal in Alexandria, Virginia. At one time it had been a Church of England where George Washington worshiped and prayed to God. During those pre-Revolutionary War days the Church of England was the state religion of Virginia just as it was for the entire British Empire. But following the War, it changed to an American Episcopal Church. We can only imagine the mixed emotions General Washington had when he was asked to lead a war against the army he had previously served as an officer and a Church that had ministered to his soul.

This is a beautiful building but it has changed dramatically since the days when George Washington and his family had a rented pew there. Back then it was a flat building with no raised dais or platform in front for the Preacher to stand on. Now it has a very high pulpit almost in equal height to the balcony, which was also missing in the 1790's. Our guide told us that the flat floor during Washington's era symbolized an equality between the clergy in the pulpit and the laity in the pews. When the church building was rebuild in the 1900's the philosophic distinction between clergy and laity had reared its ugly and un biblical head so the raised pulpit was almost up to the ceiling.

The guide suggested that I climb the stairs to the pulpit and say something. Because I could think of nothing profound I sang one verse of "Come Thy Fount of Every Blessing". It was a thrill for me to be able to speak to the memory of President Washington, who was, according to our friendly guide, "A dedicated Christian of the Church of England who worshiped and prayed regularly. He was not," she said firmly,"a Deist but a Trinitarian." This was found to be very agreeable to our little band.
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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Keep Voting

I told you we are in the running for a $25,000.00 prize if we win the Cincinnati Innovates prize for being the best innovation with a new product or service. Some 190 entries have been in the contest, many for some time. My friend just informed me of the contest last week so I developed the summary, posted it and went live on Sunday. We were 190 Sunday morning.

I wrote a letter asking friends to vote for the project called Special Life Skills(TM)Series. You can also vote by clicking Because we are getting so many votes it is moving up in rank all the time. Go to the http://www.cincinnatiinnovates.com open it and go to view and vote.

Set the sort to Votes and 50 per page and count down 26 or so entries. We started last on Sunday, went to 65th or so Sunday night and yesterday at 33 and now 24. When people vote it change the ranks so you can scroll to find it on the first page of 50. The key is how you sort the entries and that was no evident to us at first.

Energetic and Influential?


Just look at this fice year old boy. What do you see in him that reveals something about his character, his ability to relate with others and whether he looks as though he will succeed in life or will he fail. Think of the potential in these kids if they could simply continue to unleash God's talents, joy and gifts to others.

What does it take to make a difference in the world? Wealth, an education? Power?

Does this boy have what it takes?
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Respect and Disagreements

Silence can be golden!

For the past forty years or so I have been working with individuals and families who are in conflict. Some conflict is good, necessary and growth producing. Conflict comes from an inability of two or more people to deal effectively with differences. In marriage, parenting and work, there are many differences. In politics, religion and work there are major differences. So, learning how to work through differences is absolutely essential to developing healthy, up-building relationships and working cooperatively to accomplish worthy goals.

What are the skills and attitudes that enable us to deal with differences and thus with conflict. One time I was coaching a Minister on the best ways to resolve his conflicts with a long term colleague and he said: "I just wish I could have been on the staff with you and Jerry Kirk, Ron Rand and Harry Causey because it was obvious you never had any conflict."

My friend was dead wrong. Our staff of ten Ministers had lots of differences and so a lot of conflict. We had the usually differences of personality, gender, musical preferences, background, temper and theology which were fertile grounds for arguments, frustration, anger, disapproval, feelings of being treated unfairly, etc.

We had disagreements based on all those issues and more and we usually, but not always, resolved those conflicts rather well. By that I means we had heated, emotional and deep discussions that ended with better decisions, deeper relationships based on respect and loyalty to each other as a team.

What leads to successfully resolving differences and their resulting conflicts?

1. Humility and mutual respect. See others as equals.
2. Personal peace. Not allowing myself to sandbag and build up resentments, misunderstandings and feelings of being treated unfairly.
3. Respect and Empathy or deep understanding of others' ideas, feelings and personalities. This is not sympathy where we actually "feel" their feelings but understanding why the think and feel as they do without necessarily agreeing with them.
4. Letting people know you understand them whether you agree or not.
5. A warm smile, soft voice and self deprecating manner.
6. Prayer together. Those who pray together stay together.

This approach suggests that we can listen to, understand and even affirm a person with whom we disagree and yet make it clear that we do not affirm their position. I grew up hearing my dad say: "I strongly disagree with you but I will die trying to defend you right to believe it and say it."

Energy and Influence to Facilitate Change

On my other blog, Brave Heart, I posted some thoughts about whether Mr. Obama is a Muslim or a Christian. I take his profession of faith at face value and think it is important for other Christians to do the same thing. Why do I think that?

First, it is the biblical, Christian thing to do. Look at Ephesians 4.

1 As a prisoner of the Lord, I beg you to live in a way that is worthy of the people God has chosen to be his own. 2 Always be humble and gentle. Patiently put up with each other and love each other.

Humble: One of my life's songs is: "Oh Lord it's hard to be humble when you are perfect in every way." I so strongly disagree with some people that I find it extremely difficult to be humble because they seem so ripe to be attacked and made to change.

When I am not humble it seems as though I am the Spirit's prophet to change them. That is called, "Hubris or Pride" and is the opposite of humility. And, when I am not humble I am not patient. Patience in this verse comes from the Greek term makrothumia and means "Holding back my feelings of anger and revenge." This depends on humility because impatience reacts too quickly and refuses to listen, learn, examine the logs in my eyes and give God sometime to work in the heart of the person with whom I disagree.

3 Try your best to let God's Spirit keep your hearts united. Do this by living at peace. 4 All of you are part of the same body. There is only one Spirit of God, just as you were given one hope when you were chosen to be God's people. 5 We have only one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.

Unity comes from peace. This passage says that it is necessary for me to have peace in our hearts if we are to sow unity rather than division. Here is a suggestion: Rewrite this passage and place your name before try. "Gary, try your best to let God's Spirit keep your hearts united. We all are part of the same body".

6 There is one God who is the Father of all people. Not only is God above all others, but he works by using all of us, and he lives in all of us.

So, if we want to live according to the Bible and take the healing love and power of God to the people around us, we need to be "Aglow in the Spirit". We need the energy and peace of the Holy Spirit to be a positive influence in the world. Negative energy promotes negative influence and that cannot be of God. So, brother and sister, what do you need to do to become a more positive influence?

Can you say this about our President? It may stick in your throat but ask God to give you the peace and humility to do so. "Lord, I accept the fact that you are in Mr. Obama and you are using him to do your will. You are in charge of the USA and the Presidency and I am not. Thank you for your love, and grace for the President."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Win $25,000.00

With your help, Sweeten Life Systems can win $25,000.00 plus other great prizes. We need your help to win. We have kicked off a new aspect of our ministry that falls squarely within our mission of "Building a lifetime of great relationships"(R)

We received a generous grant to do an in depth research study on the concerns, stresses, insights and conflicts of families with Special Needs kids. The research interviews are completed as is our grant so we need more money to carry out the Action Steps.

We have entered a great contest sponsored by Cincinnati Innovates. One of the ways they judge an entry is by "Fan Voting". Will you be our fan? You can go to their web and vote daily for us. So, please log in and vote for our entry tight now as well as tomorrow and Tuesday, and Wednesday, etc.

After you log into Cincinnati Innovates. Sort by votes and then by 50 on each page. Scroll down about 30 places and look for Special Life Skills and read all about our project. Then, vote YES for Sweeten Life-Special Life Skills!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Disability Ministry

There is evidently a very rapid growth in the number and percentage of children and youth with specified Psychiatric Disorders. A recent study in Volume 49, Issue 7, Pages 686-698 (July 2010)

Prevalence of DSM-IV Disorder in a Representative, Healthy Birth Cohort at School Entry: Sociodemographic Risks and Social Adaptation

Approximately one in five (21.6 %) children met criteria for psychiatric disorder(s) with impairment. Sociodemographic and psychosocial correlates included persistent poverty beginning in early childhood, limited parental education, low family expressiveness, stressful life events, and violence exposure. Finally, diagnostic status was significantly associated with poorer social competence and family burden.


Comments by a Christian Child Psychiatrist, Dr. Grcevich said:

That approximately one in five children evidenced a psychiatric disorder with impairment during the transition to formal schooling highlights the importance of integrating psychiatric epidemiological and developmental approaches to inform conversations about school readiness and intervention planning
How will the church serve a generation of families with kids who have issues with emotions or behavior that interfere with their ability to function on a day to day basis?

Kids with “hidden disabilities” like these are gradually becoming the new normal. Check out this study in the current issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. To summarize:

22 % of U.S. children entering first grade met criteria for at least one mental disorder. Kids with autism spectrum disorders or developmental disabilities were excluded from this sample.

The most common condition experienced was Simple Phobia (9.0%). Other common conditions included ADHD (8.7%), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (8.4%), Separation Anxiety Disorder (2.1%) and Tic Disorders (1.7%).

An important point the authors of the study made was to note that the 22% figure applies only to kids who demonstrated problems that interfered significantly with their ability to function normally on a day to day basis. In lay terms, that means the child is able to learn at a level consistent with their intelligence in school, make and keep friends in an age-appropriate manner, function in an age-appropriate way as a member of their family and participate in extracurricular activities common for that community…like church.

The numbers quoted in this study from Yale are pretty consistent with data reported elsewhere. If you were to look at the kids involved with children’s programming at your church, do you think anywhere near 22% of the children being served experience one or more of these conditions? If not, let me welcome you to the new mission field down the street and around the block from your church.

It is important for many reasons Christians to be involved with people with chronic illnesses and disabilities. God calls us to minister to hurting people, it is a joy to know these people and we can offer them relief, support and healing prayer.

Most people with chronic illnesses are isolated from society. They cannot get around easily and they are tired. The need us to go to them rather than expect them to come to us. This is a challenge for many churches since the traditional approach is to get people to ATTEND church.

Think of a member of your church that would benefit from a regular visit from another member. The Stephen Ministry trains Peers to reach out in love to develop fellowship, support and prayer with home bound members. Can you or others in your church provide this kind of service to younger families as well?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Healing Care

We need God's fruit

We do not need to have special healing gifts to be in the healing ministry. I am not against the healing gifts of miracles, power encounters and dynamic up front types of ministry. I rather like them myself and wish I could do them all the time. Most of the time I get to see people healed, changed and grow through a much slower process. Being With Them!

As shown in my past posts, listening with care also brings change and healing. By patiently listening with a warm demeanor and a respectful tone the people around us will usually get better. Even bartenders have learned that lesson. They get a lot of business from lonely people who want and need a person that will patiently tune in to their ideas, concerns and feelings.

But you, dear reader, may think, "They are there because of the booze". That may be true for many people but they can drink at home more easily and less expensively. But lonely, helpless people want the touch of a human voice and ear. Just imagine what would happen if our churches would set up listening cafe's or coffee shops available each evening. This is what Jesus did as He traveled around the country. He stopped and ate with folks and chatted with them over meals and a cool drink.

When I teach in Europe and use the term "COUNSELING" my interpreters always say in German or Norwegian the same term: seelsorge. It means the care and cure of souls. The church has been the primary place people have gone for the care and cure of their souls for almost 2000 years. They have been the places people went for comfort, love, concern, compassion and prayer. We call that COUNSELING and Psychology.

A Ministry of Presence

This is possibly the most important thing any of us can provide others; not do but be! When we are Prayerfully Present, we bring the presence of God into a place as well as His primary source of love, care and healing.

Being present with another human with peace in our heart and prayer in our spirit can move mountains and touch people deeply.

Silence can be golden if done with love.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Listen Up

What effect would dealing with Scrooge on a daily basis have on a person?Would they tend to get defensive and uptight? Would they tend to react like Scrooge and treat others as badly as they are being treated?

Remember the research by Dr. Rich Walters? He had some actors record various levels of caring and uncaring statements and then paid students to listen to those statement to see what would happen to their autonomic nervous system. What happened was pretty clear.

When the students heard the recorded voice speak in a cold, harsh, rejecting manner their pupils got bigger as if ready to fight or flee.When they heard the recorded voice say something warm, respectful and inviting their pupils got smaller, indicating increased trust and openness to the speaker.

I can only imagine how bit the pupils of Scrooges relatives and employees were on a regular basis. For sure, "Death or life is in the power of the tongue."

The greatest skill for building trust and openness is the ability to listen without interrupting the speaker. Of all the communication skills we learn in life, listening is used most and spelling least. Yet, schools spend a lot more time teaching reading and writing and spelling than they do listening.

Try an experiment. The next time you meet with someone with whom you have a poor relationship, just listen twice as much as usual. let them finish their stories without interrupting and ask them some open ended questions about their life. If that does not change your relationship for the better I will buy you lunch.

A Model for Modern Life?

Possibly the very best description of a person who cares little for anyone but himself was written many years ago by a Christian author who powerfully communicated what it meant to be redeemed. Charles Dickens wanted to write a story of positive hope and change in redemption but first he needed to place in the reader's mind a character so cold and uncaring, so callous and cruel that there could be no doubt about the fact that only a supernatural force could bring about love from a lump of coal. Dickens did this in a marvelous manner when he introduced us to Ebeneezer Scrooge.


MARLEY was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change for anything he chose to put his hand to.

Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.

Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Scrooge and he were partners for I don't know how many years. Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, his sole mourner.

Scrooge never painted out old Marley's name, however. There it yet stood, years after wards, above the warehouse door, -- Scrooge and Marley. The firm was known as Scrooge and Marley. Sometimes people new to the business called Scrooge Scrooge, and sometimes Marley. He answered to both names. It was all the same to him.
Oh ! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, was Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! External heat and cold had little influence on him. No warmth could warm, no cold could chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn't know where to have him. The heaviest rain and snow and hail and sleet could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect, -- they often "came down" handsomely, and Scrooge never did.

Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, "My dear Scrooge, how are you? When will you come to see me?" No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o'clock, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blind men's dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, "No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!"
But what did Scrooge care! It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance.

**This description of Scrooge is the best illustration I have ever seen of a hardened, callous sinner whose heart and mind and spirit are so deadened to human life and nurture that he prefers loneliness and rejection to warm fellowship.

Just imagine the cold, hard, penetrating eyes and lack of compassion that covered his face like a steel mask. No knight in armor ever had a more forbidding visage than Scrooge. Here is a person we moderns can appreciate because we see it in operation far too often on TV news and in the papers.

Recently an airline steward, who is charged with serving the passengers and keeping them safe, cursed them, grabbed a beer and exited the airplane before the people on board. This guy seems like a modern Scrooge. He cared for himself not others. He failed to serve their interests and abandoned them when they needed his leadership. He, like Scrooge, needed a supernatural intervention of love.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Music, Worship, Counseling and Healing

I just read Daryl Chow's blog called Music of Therapy and found it fascinating and well written. He has a well developed blog and integrates music and counseling/therapy in a interesting manner. I think he is on to something and hope you will read it.

Friday, August 13, 2010


I have changed my settings to allow comments but they are not showing up. I am working on it so please be patient.

Updates on the Blog

Thanks to a friend in Singapore I have updated some of the settings for this blog. Now you can leave comments and insights to it. I would appreciate hearing from you on this very important topic of healing and growth. I know there are a lot of people who want to bring positive ideas and actions into a hurting world and want to add their insights and experiences to the mix so write us about what you have found to be good for you and good for others.

As you peruse this blog you will see it is a mix of my thoughts from a background of professional counseling and psychology as well as my personal ideas and my experiences as a Christian. I have spent the past 40 years as a committed Christian and an educator and counselor.

When I was getting ready to leave teaching elementary school and pursue a masters degree in counseling college students I was warned by some well meaning friends to avoid psychology at all costs lest it destroy my Christian faith. I can safely say that reading the research and outcomes from psychology actually strengthened my faith in God and the Bible. Some of my professors challenged my beliefs as did some of the conclusions authors and psychologists drew from their work. However, the research itself elevated the power and insights of the Bible and I became more committed to finding out how to integrate it with helping people grow in grace.

For example, my last post was about the research of one of my mentors and friends, Dr. Richard Walters. He found that the passage of scripture found in Proverbs was literally true. I understand that much of scripture is metaphorically true; the hills do not actually clap their hands, but Rich found that when the inspired writer of Proverbs 18:21 said,
Death or life are in the power of the tongue
he was factually and metaphorically right.

Karen, my wife of 48 plus years, is a very wise person. She has often said, "Gary has job security. The world, the flesh and the devil are messing people up faster than he can put them back together." Wars, rumors of wars, dysfunctional families and destructive diseases all conspire to bring shock, trauma and abuse to people and they leave their trail of tears all over the earth. This is why I have spent most of my adult life training Peer and Professional Helpers in several nations how to be more effective in health prevention, promotion and healing.

So, feel free to leave me a message or two that will edify all of us. Blog and media comments are full of hatred, anger, bitterness and attacks that demean and destroy and I will not allow those to show up. However, I would love to hear your insights, additions, corrections and challenges offered in faith, hope and love.

Gary Sweeten

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Love and Healing

An Israeli soldier helps a Muslim woman and her children find refuge from war.

There has been a lot of research on what kind of behavior facilitates healing in body, soul and spirit. And, not surprisingly, we find that caring, kindness, patience, gentleness and tenderness brings about positive changes in the bodies and behaviors of other people.

Many years ago, Richard Walters did his doctoral research on the effect of a Helper's behavior on someone seeking assistance. He hooked students up to an instrument that could measure their pupils while they were listening to taped comments by actors who pretended to give them advice and counsel.

Some of the comments were written to emulate care, warmth and respect while others communicated harsh judgment and rejection or something in between the two. As the students listened to the taped statements the pupilometer was measuring the automatic response of the listener's pupil. When they heard a harsh, rejecting statement, the pupils became larger and when they heard a caring, understanding statement the pupils relaxed and became smaller.

Large pupils indicate an automatic bodily and emotional reaction to threat. Stress was immediately communicated from the taped comments to the listeners and their bodies reacted in defensiveness when they heard actors play a harsh role. Just imagine how threatened a child or spouse reacts when they are interacting daily with an intimate threat.

This is why volatile, angry, shaming families have such high stress levels. It is called, "The Fight or Flight Syndrome and leaves family members reeling for decades and, just as the Bible says, even generations from their inner pain. The scriptures are so amazingly accurate in their psychological and emotional and relational insights.

There are no fancy ten dollar words used to describe what happens when we are bitter and lash out a the ones we love and live with, but there certainly are powerful simple truths written for our benefit and the benefit of a hundred generations if we will simply follow them. Proverbs has dozens of useful and powerful insights on the inherent power of relationships to destroy or heal. Death or life are in the power of the tongue! is one of my favorites.

Another is found in Ephesians 5 and says, "It is OK to be angry but remember not to miss the mark with your frustrations and hold it in until the days pass and you become bitter and take revenge on one another." As a Marriage and Family Therapist now retired I have seen so many marriages and families deeply wounded by bitterness when forgiveness would quickly solve the problems.

Take a few days and wander through the book of Proverbs and write down some of the wise statements about the power of relationships for good or ill. It will do you good and the people around you will benefit. "A gentle word turns away anger."

How to Promote Healing and Growth

Over the past forty or so years that I have been in education, counseling and pastoral care I have done hundreds of seminars, workshops and coaching sessions on healing and growth. These are pretty complicated topics because they refer to every aspect of human life and the needs of people are great in every city and nation.

The biggest difference between people is not wealth but health.

The single biggest difference between successful and unsuccessful organizations, families and schools is not IQ, money, facilities or talent but the ability of leaders to promote healthy living. There are three different areas of Christian life that can promote either dysfunction or life giving harmony. They are:

Love and its various aspects as revealed in interpersonal relationships.

Truth as it is related to others with love.

Gifts of God unleashed to benefit others.

If you want to help people grow, then love is the place to start and to finish. I CO 13:10 says, "These three remain faith, hope and love but the greatest is love." Far too often this word love is interpreted by preachers, teachers and even normal people as something it is not; in fact something that does not bring healing or growth.

The biblical kind of love is tough as nails and as deep as is necessary to help others. Here is a definition I learned from a Medical Doctor I "shadowed" some years ago. "Mature love is wanting, willing and doing the best for others under the Lordship of Christ." That is cool but heavy, isn't it?

Many people say they want the best for others, even when they are selfishly taking advantage of them. All kinds of dysfunctional behavior can be rationalized away as "loving". For example, some parents coddle their children and reinforce dependence, immaturity and laziness; all under the guise of "love".

Sex addicts can rationalize a furtive, secretive, impersonal midnight rendezvous because they are "loving" that person.

If I am the only one judging whether my actions are loving or not I can easily distort what is going on and take credit for Christian love when it is no more than selfishly grabbing all the gusto I can get for me.

But this definition offers some clarity for us when we use it to define what biblical love as the "Fruit of the Spirit" really is. It says: "Under the Lordship of Jesus Christ". Does this love honor and glorify God or simply glorify me?

Behavior that edifies others while honoring God comes pretty close to being loved. And, when we live in love, we show Christ and promote health. Take a look at Galatians 5 for the complete list of what love means. I will revisit it later.