The Insignificant Becoming Significant

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is smallworldcomp_cropped.jpgI hadn’t noticed the blossoms nor the bees until I sat down on one of my resting rocks that I’ve designated as such on my morning walks. As I rested I couldn’t help but observe the tiny purple blossoms. Each was smaller than a pencil’s eraser. So tiny were they that an elfin florist could create a bouquet of a dozen of them in a thimble-sized vase.

Thousands of the mini flowers were scattered all about me as I sat on my sitting stone. Honey bees were there too, flitting about from blossom to blossom. Good thing the mini flowers had strong stems, otherwise the much bigger bees would have bent each one as they landed to gather a bit of nectar and pollen. There couldn’t be much of either on the minuscule blossoms. How many visits to the blossoms would the bees have to make to produce enough honey to spread on my morning slice of toast? Tens of thousands, I’m guessing.

My days are also made up of primarily small elements. Big events are few and far between. The big events, when they come, startle me to alertness, and I give pause as to how I should best handle them. Not so with the far greater number of small happenings each day.

These small events are little blossoms of opportunity that I can easily overlook, even trample upon, as I undoubtedly did the tiny flowers when on my walk, both before and after my time on the sitting stone. The bees went from blossom to blossom, though each blossom gave little in terms of nectar and pollen. The cumulative effect would yield a significant amount of life-sustaining honey for the hive. The cumulative results of my handling of the little details of life in a right way, I realized, could also have life-sustaining results.

It’s important for me to take the three minutes to read a daily devotional from MORNING BY MORNING by Charles Spurgeon. It’s important for me to stop what I’m reading or typing to turn, give eye contact to my wife, and really listen to what she wants to tell me. It’s important for me to pause and give a genuine expression of gratitude for a small gesture of kindness from one of my grandchildren. It’s important that I take a couple of minutes and text or message a word of encouragement to a friend. It’s important that I pause and offer God a sentence prayer of thanks or lift up someone in a similarly brief prayer to Him.

Watching the blossoms and the bees was a pollinating process for me, resulting in a seed of an idea that needs to germinate and grow in the landscape of my own life. So, the next time I spread honey on my morning toast, I’m going to remember the busy bees among the mini blossoms and that handling, in a bee-like fashion, the mini opportunities which bloom in my coming day will make the day all the sweeter!

“Be careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”  Ephesians 5:15-16

Being Available

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is friendsmen-copy.jpgThe least helpful offer I can think of, and one of the most common, is, “Just let me know if there’s anything I can do.” How many people really respond to an offer like that?

What this generalized offer requires of the hurting person is to think about how they want to be helped and then take the initiative and boldness to contact the one willing to help and ask for the help. It just isn’t going to happen! It’s an empty offer in which we’re not really making ourselves available, just sounding like we are.

What people need from us is to have us show up and do what needs to be done. It’s all about being available. Availability is the key to pleasing God and serving others.

Of course being available takes sacrifice on our part. It can require being interruptible, sacrificing our own schedule to meet the needs of someone else. I’ve observed before, but it’s worth repeating, that of all the recorded miracles Jesus performed, almost all were not planned or scheduled, and most happened when Jesus was interrupted. Jesus was interruptible, and we should be too! “We can’t plan life. All we can do is be available for it,” singer and song writer Lauryn Hill said.

Being available also means being willing to listen. When we ask, “How are you?” and the person says, “Oh, so so,” we can let that go by. We let it go because we’re anxious to get on to the subject we really want to talk about or move on to conversation with another person nearby; our eyes have probably already been darting around, distracted by other people and conversations.

The person’s non-committal answer of “Oh, so so,” should be a cue for us to pause, look at them, and perhaps gently prompt with another question. Being available means giving them our time and attention so they feel they have the opportunity to share more.

It’s so easy to let our bodies be one place and our minds somewhere else. Wherever we are, we should be all there!

We don’t have to be a talented and highly gifted person to live for God’s glory and the good of others. Brother Andrew, a Christian missionary famous for smuggling Bibles into communist countries during the height of the Cold War, said, “God does not choose people because of their ability, but because of their availability.”

“The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ Then Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.'”  1 Samuel 3:10

A Dog and Ring Story

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ringsand.jpgElsa was at the beach with her son. She noticed a big black beetle crawling across her cap that she had just placed on the sand. Picking up the cap she swung it through the air to send the beetle flying. She suddenly remembered she had placed her diamond engagement ring and wedding ring in the hat so she could apply suntan lotion! She and her son searched and searched the sand in the large area she could have slung the rings, but to no avail.

Elsa drove to the sheriff’s office to ask if they might have a metal detector to help her find her rings. Sgt. Brad Pelli was working the front desk. He said they didn’t, but then he got an idea. He would take Dogo, the sheriff department’s K-9 to see if he could sniff it out. Dogo had been trained to look for objects with a human scent, such as a knife or revolver tossed into the woods by a criminal. Could he find a couple of rings?

At the beach Sgt. Pelli asked Elsa and her son to pack up their things and move away from the area. He then gave Dogo the command to search. Dogo sniffed around for awhile then laid down on the sand, the sign he had found something. Sgt. Pelli got down on his knees by the dog, sifted through the sand, and found the rings! Dogo’s reward was being able to play with his favorite ball and getting some appreciative pats from Elsa and her son.

This story, written by Cathy Free of the Washington Post and appearing in the Tampa Bay Times, Sunday, August 22, 2021, is a reminder that being flexible, adaptable and willing to try something new can result in great achievements!

Much of what limits us in life is our own ideas of our limitations. We have a God of big ideas, just consider the vast cosmos, which was His idea. His calling for us, His idea of how we can deal with something or do something, is very likely going to be different than our ideas.

Moses didn’t think he could communicate well and at first resisted God’s call to lead God’s people out of slavery. Moses did lead the people to freedom and several of his fine speeches are recorded in the early books of the Bible. David was but a shepherd boy and at first was overlooked as God’s choice to be king. He did become king, and the greatest king God’s people in the Old Testament ever had. Matthew was a despised tax collector but was called by Jesus to be one of His twelve disciples, and eventually wrote one of the four Gospels in the Bible.

Dogo the dog had only found knives and guns until the day his master took him on a new and very different mission. Dogo was obedient to his master’s command, and he found a diamond ring! Our Master has plans for us too. We must be careful that we not limit how God can use us!

“The Lord answered Moses, ‘Is the Lord’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you.'” Numbers 11:23

Photo by Carlos Esteves on Unsplash

A Special Word for Special Love

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is heartcarvedinsand.jpgLee Bramlett of Wycliffe Bible translators was working on translating the Bible for the Hdi people, one of the indigenous populations of the country of Cameroon. He wanted to make certain he did justice to the translation, and this weighed heavily on his mind and heart. One night he had a dream in which God prompted him to take a closer look at the word for love in the Hdi language.

Verbs in Hdi end in -i, -a, and -u, but the verb to love only ended in -i and -a, never -u. “Why?” he asked his native translation team. Why could the verb for love be dvi, dva, but never dvu?

Could you ‘dvi’?” Lee asked.

They said yes, that “dvi” is the love the husband had for his wife but was now gone.

They then explained that “dva” was the love a husband had for his wife as long as she was a good wife, remaining faithful and serving her husband.

Lee then asked, “Could a husband ‘dvu’ his wife?”

The translation team members laughed. “Of course not!” they said. “If you said that, you would have to keep loving your wife no matter what she did, even if she never got you water, never made you meals. Even if she committed adultery, you would be compelled to just keep on loving her. No, we would never say, ’dvu.’ It just doesn’t exist.”

Lee thought of John 3:16, then asked, “Could God ‘dvu’ people?”

There was a long silence, then tears in the eyes of the native translation team. They replied, “Do you know what this would mean? This would mean that God kept loving us over and over, millennia after millennia, while all that time we rejected his great love. He is compelled to love us, even though we have sinned more than any people.”

The Hdi people, through the resulting translation of the Bible in their own language, came to understand that God “dvu”-d them so much that He sent and sacrificed His own Son for them, the core message, the Gospel message, of the Bible.

The staff writer for the Wycliffe article, from which I’m obviously heavily indebted for this short piece, concludes, “God had encoded the story of His unconditional love right into their own language. For centuries, the little word was there – unused but available, grammatically correct and quite understandable.”

Our understanding of God’s love for us needs to be the understanding the Hdi people came to have of God’s love. We can experience God’s love, not because we are lovely or loving, but because He is a God of love, of unconditional love, and His love is a forgiving love and an everlasting love. We, like the Hdi people, just need to grasp this truth and respond accordingly!

“For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Loving Others by Loving What They Love

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is fishsave.jpgThe grandchildren were taking emergency actions to save my pond fish. The life-saving efforts were taking place at our home in Mexico while we were 2000 miles away at our home in Florida.

The fish were swimming funny, sort of a side stroke. They would be belly up in death soon. Catching the fish the grandchildren noticed little spots on their scales. Not knowing what was ailing the fish, they took one to a small pet store in the nearby town of Ozumba. The pet store owner diagnosed the problem and suggested a bottle of medicine he sold for such purposes. Because my fish inhabit a small pond and not a fish tank, they bought out his entire supply to treat the pond.

Our daughter, their mother, texted me pictures of several of the grandchildren, wearing medical gloves, stooped over a sink, carefully moving the adhesions from each of the fish. Under normal conditions the children just glance at the fish in the pond as they come and go past the small garden that contains the pond. The photos show my grandchildren making a herculean effort to save my pond pets!

The grandchildren didn’t have any special love for the fish, but they love me, their grandpa, and they know I love my fish, or at least sort of like them. They treated the fish with loving care because they love me. It warms my heart!

One of the best ways to love someone is to love what they love. My wife has made numerous trips with me to pet stores (for fish) and Best Buy (for anything electronic), not because she loves pet stores and Best Buy but because she loves me. I, in turn, (at a far greater sacrifice, I feel) have gone with my wife to fabric stores and clothing stores because I love her, not because I love going to these kinds of stores, because I don’t.

Loving others means we care enough about them that we come to understand what interests they have and then become interested in these subjects ourselves. Love means getting inside their head and heart. Love means seeing life from their perspective.

Life is so much more full and very much the richer when we live beyond ourselves. To delight in what those we love delight in can be a real delight!

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:3-4

The Success in Failure

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is runfall.jpg

Timothy Dalrymple was eight years old when he was inspired by the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and began his journey in gymnastics. He became a world-class gymnast, traveling around the world. His dreams of participating in the 1996 Olympic Trials were crushed when he fell from the horizontal bar and broke his neck. His gymnastics career ended, and he faced a life of chronic pain.

Timothy is now the CEO of Christianity Today and recently wrote an article titled “The Olympics Are About Failure” (www.christianitytoday.com). He writes, “As a person of faith, I believe that history is filled with the purposes of God. The universe is rich with intention and permeated with meaning… Which begs the question: What was the point? What was the purpose of those thousands of hours of training and hardship if it was only to end in injury and disappointment? What was the meaning in that?”

Referencing the recent Olympic Games in Tokyo, Timothy writes, “The vast majority of athletes who go to the Olympics will not win a medal at all, much less a gold medal. Many of those who do win a gold medal in one event will also fall short in others. Then, of course, the overwhelming majority who strive to make the Olympic team in the first place fail to do so.”

In his article Timothy then reflects, “Victory is more dangerous for the soul, defeat more instructive.” He admits that “some failures are so devastating or so complete that it may be hard to find a redemptive arc.” But he goes on to suggest that “when we’re willing to learn from its instruction, however, failure can be the best thing that ever happened to us.”

He writes that, in his own case, “Failure – the failures I endured all along the way as well as the failure to make the Olympics team due to injury – has shaped me so profoundly that I hardly know who I would be apart from it.”

Timothy’s observation resonates with me. Now retired after nearly 40 years of pastoring a church, I can think of several significant dreams and goals that I had and worked toward, but which did not become reality. I “failed” at fulfilling these dreams. Yet, I wouldn’t be the person God has crafted, molded, and pruned me to be if it weren’t for those failures. I’m far from the person God wants me to be, but I shudder to think how much further from God’s ideal for me I would be if I had experienced the tragedy of success when it came to those dreams and goals! I believe God used the failures to help form me more into the person He wants me to be.

Timothy Dalrymple concludes his article, “Your failure will refine you, if you let it. It will shape you more and more into the likeness of Christ. And in becoming like Christ, you become an instrument for his glory and for the good of the world.” Good words to which I can only add my Amen!

Timothy quotes the following Bible verse in his article, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:16

The No-See-Ums in the Campground

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is noseeums.jpgI fled with my family from a West Virginia campground because of a tiny bug you can’t easily see. The teensy-weensy bugs are so small that a normal screen that keeps out flies and mosquitoes won’t keep them out, and that included our tent screen. It turned out that the no-see-ums, as they are often called, had a particular attraction to me and not to my wife or our two children. Coincidentally, I also seemed to have a strong reaction to their bites.

It was hot so I didn’t want to snuggle down into my sleeping bag where I could find some relief from the little critters, but I had to. The entire night was spent switching from hiding in the sleeping bag to throwing the top of it back so I could cool down a bit, then back into the sleeping bag, and out again, over and over. By morning I had had more than enough of the nearly invisible enemy, gave up, and fled with my family far, far away to another state and another campground where no-see-ums were nowhere to be seen. To this day I’ll admit it was the teensy-weensy bugs that drove me out of the state of West Virginia!

This is true of life beyond a West Virginia campground. It’s not always the big problems, disasters, and upsets that challenge us to respond well and to grow through what’s happening. We often overlook the fact that it’s the little negative events that catch us off guard and trip us up.

A proverb dating back to the 14th century states, “For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the message was lost. For want of a message the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.”

When things go wrong in a big way they have our attention, and we often ask ourselves, “How should I handle this?” The small annoyances of each day don’t grab our attention like this, and yet how we handle these little irritants matters. As each one comes along we often are not intentional as to how we respond. After all, it’s no big deal so we allow ourselves to react however we feel like reacting and don’t put forth the effort to decide how we should respond. When the day has a string of these irritants we end up being very irritable! Sometimes we’re handling these petty problems pretty well until there’s one more and that’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back. We find ourselves reacting in a big way, not at all proportionate to the small triggering event.

Life’s filled with the “no-see-ums” of little irritants. We blow them off as being no big deal and not worthy of serious, intentional responses. Eventually, however, they add up to ruining our day, our marriage, our job, our families, our friendships, and our relationship with God.

God calls us all to live for Him, to do things His way (which is always the best way), and it’s often in the little day-to-day events that we fail to do so. The art of living well means not only rising to the challenges of the big upsets in life but also the “no-see-ums” of irritations that are a part of each day.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Jesus’ words as recorded in Luke 9:23

The Uncertainty of Life

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is accident_tonemappedcropped.jpgOur Jeep Grand Cherokee is on the right.

I had just picked up our grandson Casey, 14, from his cross country practice. We stopped at a doughnut shop and took some sweet sustenance to go. At the first red traffic light we were sitting there munching on our treats when WHAM! A huge sound, a jarring, blurring movement, and we were out in the intersection. We had been rear ended! I looked over at Casey and asked, “You okay?” “Yeah,” he said, then asked, “You okay?” “Yeah,” I said. We thank the Lord neither of us was injured.

A semi-trailer had plowed into the lady behind us and she into us. It took the emergency people about 20 minutes to extract her with several sets of jaws of life. We pray she’s okay.

All of our plans for that day, and days after, changed in the ONE second that took us from contentedly munching on our doughnuts at a red light to finding ourselves in a crumpled car in the intersection. Transportation for the next days was complicated, this vehicle was our one and only. There were many conversations with all the insurance companies involved. We’re now shopping for a different vehicle.

Many accidents and other unplanned events people face are much worse than what Casey and I experienced, but, nevertheless, it was an upsetting experience. It also has been, as God would have it be, a teachable time. God never wastes pain, and our experience was no exception.

Casey’s take-away? He told me, “I realized that life is a gift and it can be taken away from you at any moment of any day. That your only safety is in Christ and that’s it.” Wise words from a 14 year old!

I’ll share what I’ve shared before how my mother, when talking about future plans, would conclude by saying, “Lord willing.” It was a verbal reminder that we’re not in ultimate control of events but that God is. “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps,” is the way the book of Proverbs puts it in chapter 16, verse nine.

The fact that God is in ultimate control of everything is referred to as His sovereignty. Having an accurate assessment of life, viewing it in the right way, means we realize God is in control and we are not! Whatever happens to us has His ultimate approval, because He has his reasons and they will ultimately be proven to be good. Life is lived well when we are mindful of this fact and yield to Him and His oftentimes mysterious ways.

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If is is the Lord’s will, we will lie and do this or that.'” James 4:13-15.

A Wise View of Money and the Material

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is moneys.jpgAbigail Disney, granddaughter of Roy Disney, brother of Walt Disney, said of wealth (her own wealth being estimated at 120 million), “When you have things, you have to have more things, anything you have turns into what is normal.” John D. Rockefeller Sr., one of the richest men in history, was asked how much money it takes to make a person happy. He famously replied, “Just a little bit more.”

Most of us, quite frankly, would probably agree with both Disney and Rockefeller, that we easily get comfortable having a little bit more and could use “just a little more” yet. There’s no doubt that we need money to survive in this world. My father said on more than one occasion, “I tried to pay my bills with a smile, but they wanted cash.” So where’s the balance when it comes to material things and money?

As I think about it, the people I’ve admired most when it comes to money and material things are those who had enough to get by, but not a lot more, and were content with what they had. It seems to me that they focused on having a right attitude toward money and possessions more than focusing on having the right amount of money and possessions.

A Princeton study showed that people who were on the low end of the economic spectrum gained quite a bit of happiness by having a little more money. Those who were wealthy didn’t really acquire more happiness with more money. It was the middle income people who were happiest.

Jesus teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” not “Give us this day our daily cake.” Sometimes he does give us cake, even frosting on the cake. We should be surprised and thankful for the icing and the cake, but not expect it, or worse yet, demand it.

I’d sum up a healthy attitude toward the material and money by suggesting that all we have is a gift from God. If we don’t have enough to live on it’s good to ask God for enough. If we have enough we should aim to be content. If we have enough, or more than enough, we’re called to find ways to share some of it. It’s all a tool to help us live to the glory of God and the good of others. And in the end we can’t take it with us, so in the meantime we should hold on to it loosely.

“Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.Proverbs 30:8b-9

Insights from the Valley

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is timkeller.jpgTim Keller, well known pastor, speaker, and best selling author, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. After months of chemotherapy, surgery, and much prayer, Keller shared his thoughts of the journey that he’s been on, along with his supportive wife, Kathy.

Keller says that he and Kathy have talked much and cried much in the months following his diagnosis. In spite of all that they’ve been through, Keller states that they “never want to go back spiritually to where we were before the cancer diagnosis.” He said they have a new appreciation for the reality of God’s presence and control over their lives. He also stated, “I’m actually happier than I’ve ever been on a given day. I enjoy the things around me in a way that I’ve never enjoyed them before – I see them as gifts of God – and I enjoy my prayer life more than I ever have in my life.”

Tim Keller’s experience is a reminder that much of the best of life comes to us when we are at a greater risk of losing life. The stars shine brightest on the darkest of nights.

We, of course, don’t want troubles to come our way; we’d have to be a glutton for punishment if we did. We’d quickly forgo any possible benefits troubles can bring us if we could avert the trouble in the first place. But the fact is, troubles do come our way, so it’s good to take Tim Keller’s observation seriously, that good things can come from trouble.

Tim Keller’s personal growth through his experience with pancreatic cancer is a reminder to embrace each day and what it has to offer. Elizabeth Barrett Browning penned the words, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God, but only he who sees takes off his shoes; the rest sit round and pluck blackberries.” Jean-Pierre de Caussade, in The Sacrament of the Present Moment, wrote, “The present moment holds infinite riches beyond your wildest dreams, but you will only enjoy them to the extent of your faith and hope… To discover God in the smallest and most ordinary things, as well as in the greatest, is to possess a rare and sublime faith.” And this from best selling author Anne Lamott, “All the people I’ve known who have received a terminal diagnosis have gotten serious about joy, forgiveness, simple pleasures…” Carpe Diem! Seize the day! Seize the moment!

God’s call on our lives is focused on the here and now. Yes, He calls us to reflect on the past and build on it, He calls us to look to the future and move toward it, but both callings can only be fulfilled by fulfilling His call for us in the now! This moment and this place is where God meets us. It is a sacred moment, a sacred place, and we should be all here!

“Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord. They rejoice in your name all day long; they celebrate your righteousness.” Psalm 89:15-16