Cowboy Ten Commandments

I recently came across the cowboy’s version of the Ten Commandments. Here they are.

1. Just one God.
2. Put nothin’ before God.
3. Watch yer mouth.
4. Git yourself to Sunday meetin’.
5. Honor yer Ma ‘n Pa.
6. No killin’.
7. No foolin’ around with another feller’s gal.
8. Don’t take what ain’t yers.
9. No tellin’ tales or gossipin’.
10. Don’t be hankerin’ for yer buddy’s stuff.

There are all kinds of natural laws we don’t debate whether to obey or not, we just do. We know that the law of gravity will pull us to earth really fast and that the quick stop can injure or kill, so we don’t jump from high places. We know that standing out in an open field during a lightning storm is not wise, because a lightning bolt hitting us would likely be more than just a shocking experience.

God, because He cares a great deal for us, long ago gave us some laws that deal with relationships, both with Him and with each other. When we follow these relational laws life goes better, and when we don’t the result is deep hurt for us, for others and alienation from God. It’s amazing that we don’t usually deliberate about obeying natural laws, but we’re tempted to ignore the most famous laws of all, the Ten Commandments.

What we need to remember is that God has our best interest at heart. His commandments aren’t intended to limit life but to allow life to be lived at its best!

Moses said to God’s people, “Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you…” (Deuteronomy 4:39-40a)

Burma Shave and God

Burma Shave signs appeared along many of the rural highways in the United States from 1925 to 1963. The signs, five or six placed in a sequence along the road, delivered a short pithy slogan and concluded with BURMA SHAVE printed on the last sign. At one point there were about 7,000 of the series of signs scattered around the U.S.

Here are a couple of the Burma Shave slogans from the year of my birth, 1950. “Violets are blue… roses are pink… on graves… of those… who drive and drink… Burma Shave.” “The whale… put Jonah… down the hatch… but coughed him up… because he scratched… Burma Shave.”

The signs drew the travelers’ attention because it was hard to resist looking at each sign as you drove past; people wanted to catch the entire slogan. The signs helped sell a lot of shaving cream!

In a way God uses the Burma Shave advertising technique to get His messages across to us. As we journey through each day we encounter many different situations, and it’s amazing how often we can get the same message from two, three, or more such incidents. We may even silently reflect, or comment to someone, “I think God’s trying to tell me something.”

A driver would have to be dangerously inattentive to the surroundings to have missed reading the Burma Shave signs, and a passenger would probably have to be asleep to miss reading the slogans. When it comes to signs from God it’s a lot easier to miss the message. What makes each day interesting is to be intentional about what God might be trying to say to us through what we read, the conversations we have, and the experiences we encounter.

I hope it’s not sacrilegious to put a Bible verse in the form of a Burma Shave sequence. The verse is a short prayer the old man Eli told the young man Samuel to pray to God, recorded for us in 1 Samuel 3:9. It’s a good prayer for us to pray too, so we’re more open to hearing from God. “Speak,… Lord,… for… your servant… is listening.”

Cracks in the Wall

After an absence of several weeks we returned to our home in Florida to find several cracks in our walls. The house had settled! Jesus told a parable in which He referenced the dangers of building your house on sand, but in Florida you don’t have a choice.

Since buying the house a couple of years ago we’ve made some major improvements. It’s no mansion, but it’s comfy and cozy. We were quite pleased with our house, until the cracks appeared. Grrrrrrrr!

God wants us to learn and grow through all that happens to us in life, from the bad as well as from the good, so I’m trying to see some good that can come from the cracks; it’s not easy! I do have to admit, however, that the cracks have reminded me of something I’ve taught and preached for many years. When we’re deeply troubled or even angered by the “cracks” in anything or anyone it may be a good indication that we’re making a god out of that material object, situation, or relationship. We don’t like it when our “gods” have clay feet!

I debated writing about the cracks before we’ve found a solution; everyone likes a nice ending to a story. But then I realized everyone’s in the middle of some frustrating, difficult, fearful, or intimidating set of circumstances. I decided to share about the cracks before I have a happy ending to the story. We need to praise God for His peace, strength, and direction in the midst of our troubles and not wait until we have the cracks fixed before we do so.

The reality is that nothing is perfect this side of heaven. Nothing is ever what “it’s cracked up to be!” Only God is perfect. The cracks of life are a good reminder that nothing should be our god but God Himself!

We’ll call upon the experts to deal with our cracks and what’s causing them. The good news is that we can also call upon God to be with us, help us, direct us, and to see us through the cracks that show up in our lives.

God says in Psalm 50:15, Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.”

Silently Sowing Seed

Walking the dusty road in Mexico that was fit for only foot traffic, horseback riding, or slow moving vehicles, I came upon some farmers farming their farm. One man was plowing with a team of two horses, manhandling the two handles of the plow as the horses pulled it through the rocky soil. Two other men were sowing seed on the plowed part, holding a container of seed in one hand and casting forth the seed with the other.

I was surprised by the observation that came to me: the three men and two horses worked in virtual silence! There was only the sound of silence as my feet traipsed along on the soft dusty path, passing the men working the field.

Within a minute I met another farmer on the dirt road, driving his tractor to a field. The noise of the tractor’s engine intruded brash and loud on the quiet landscape.

The contrast prompted me to yearn for a return to the pre-industrial age. I know that can’t happen, and I really don’t want to give up planes, trains, automobiles, and a host of other inventions of the last 200 or so years. Nevertheless, the three farmers and two horses versus the one man and his tractor got me to thinking about the value of silence.

So much of our modern living is accompanied by noise pollution. Cities are noisy with vehicles, suburbs with lawnmowers and rural areas with the aforementioned tractors.

Construction used to be accomplished with nothing louder than a hammer, chisel, saw, and the human shouts and grunts of people doing a big task together. Modern construction generates noise from large engines powering big machines.

Yes, the world has changed into a noisy place, but we humans have not changed in what we need, and what we need is some silence! The good news is that we all have some God-given control over our own lives, and we can be intentional about putting some silence into our lives.

We don’t have to have the TV, radio, mp3 player or other sound producing devices on all the time. We can choose to sit, walk, or even drive quietly for a short period of time. This is good to do because silence is good for the soul! If there’s too much noise most of the time we can’t hear ourselves think or hear from God who, as big and awesome as He is, prefers to whisper rather than shout when seeking to communicate with us.

Silence is golden. We are the richer when we embrace that truth!

“Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

Finding Something in Common

Betty was one of the home bound people in my church that I visited regularly. She lived in a dilapidated small house with tar paper faux brick siding. It was located at the end of a long bush-lined driveway with tire ruts so deep that I had to straddle them so that my car wouldn’t bottom out and get hung up.

Betty smoked constantly, the years of nicotine causing her skin to look like old wrinkled leather. The wrinkles, however, couldn’t hide a big smile that she regularly displayed; she was a warm and vivacious little lady.

Betty and I had something in common; we both loved reading Louis L’Amour novels. We’d sit at her kitchen table discussing the adventure of the Sacketts while she puffed away with both of us sitting under a cloud of smoke that hung just below the kitchen ceiling.

It was my good fortune that she subscribed to the leatherette hard cover collector edition of the novels for after reading a novel she passed it on to me. She usually gave me one at every visit, a great incentive for me to make a regular pastoral call! However, I couldn’t start reading each volume immediately; they wreaked of cigarette smoke so my wife insisted I air them out in the garage a day or two.

One of our God-given instincts is to be a positive influence on people who cross our path. For this to happen requires that we establish some kind of a connection with the person. Louis L’Amour was my connection with Betty that helped me relate with her at a deeper and more spiritual level as her pastor.

We can almost always find some common interest with almost anyone, if we just spend a little time and effort getting to know them. It’s this connection that paves the way for us to impact people’s lives and for them to do the same with us. Finding common ground with others makes it possible for us to travel at least a small part of the journey of life together, and this is a good thing, something God intends for us to do!

“I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some.” (The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:22)

“Is This all There Is?”

County fairs, state fairs, Disney Land, Disney World, Six Flags, Cedar Point and other adventure parks offer an escape from everyday reality. You would think that such places would offer an uninterrupted time of delight and excitement. Not so! The lines for the rides can be long, the weather hot, rainy or even cold, the food expensive, the kids get tired and cranky. At such times I’ve thought to myself, is this all there is?

My wife and I and our daughter and her family recently enjoyed ten days at a private Mexican ocean beach front property. Living in Mexico, we could drive and not have the expense of flying and the Christian owner gave us a huge discount, blessings from God for sure. In this paradise setting, however, we still had to deal with all the issues that go with a family of 16 children ranging in ages from an eight-year-old to adult children. Then, too, there were bugs and I came down with a flu bug. I wondered as I enjoyed this paradise setting, is this all there is?

I knew a couple who took a cruise for their honeymoon on which the new husband was sea sick most of the time. I suspect they both wondered at times, is this all there is? The reality is that nothing this side of heaven is perfect.

Could it be that our desire for perfection here on earth is really a God-given yearning, an instinct, for heaven? More and more, when I’m in a situation that isn’t ideal I try to let it be a reminder to me of the hope I have of enjoying God’s perfect heaven someday. The hope of heaven also helps me embrace and enjoy that which is good in a less than perfect situation.

Is this all there is? No! For those who seek after God most of all the best is yet to come!

“For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the coming glory that will be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18 NET version)

Captain Sully, a Savior

On January 15, 2009, Captain “Sully” Sullenberger successfully landed US Airway flight 1549 in the Hudson River after a flock of geese disabled the aircraft, leaving it without power. All 155 of the crew and passengers survived, thanks to the skill of Captain Sullenberger.

A reunion of crew and passengers was held later at which there was loud applause as Captain Sullenberger and his crew entered the room filled with the passengers of flight 1549. There were many hugs and expressions of deep and profound gratitude for the crew, but especially for Captain Sullenberger. One woman exclaimed, “Thanks for saving my life.”

Those of us who have followed this story admire Captain Sullenberger, but not as much as those passengers and crew saved by his skillful landing of the plane on the Hudson. He is their savior, not ours.

This distinction helps clarify what, for me, is an authentic faith in God. I can believe in God’s existence, that He is all wise, powerful, and good. I can even believe He can be of help to me in life. This, however, is not enough for me to fully embrace a deeply profound relationship with Him. This requires that I am able to say to Him as the passenger did to Captain Sullenberger, “You saved my life.”

Jesus is my Captain Sullenberger, my “miracle on the Hudson” is the “miracle of the cross,” and I have been saved from something far more disastrous than a plane crash. I have been saved from that which would keep me forever from God (my own sin).

Like Captain Sully’s passengers I am overflowing with a deep and profound sense of gratitude toward my Savior. Such gratitude, I’ve discovered, is one of the most important aspects of a deep faith in God. It’s what gives me a deepening love for God, motivates me to serve Him, and gives me the hope of being with Him eternally in His heaven.

Captain Sullenberger told his crew and passengers at the reunion, “We will be joined forever because of January 15th in our hearts and in our minds.” They will never forget that day. I never want to forget that day some 2,000 plus years ago when Christ went to a cross for me so that I can be joined forever with Him. For that event I will be profoundly and eternally grateful!

“I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation.” (Psalm 118:21)

The Good Shepherd Is Near

I was taking my daily walk on the path I frequently use while living at Refuge Ranch in Mexico. It was the dry season, with little grass anywhere and most of the fields barren of any crops. Walking past a field I noticed a dozen or so sheep grazing on what little remained of last year’s crop.

It occurred to me that where there were sheep there would be a shepherd; with no fences to contain the sheep a shepherd had to be nearby. Sure enough, there, under the shade of a nearby tree, stood the shepherd watching over his flock. As I continued walking it occurred to me that there was an application in what I had just seen, but I had neglected to take a picture. My usual hiking route looped back this way so I was ready with my camera phone when I came alongside the field. The shepherd had moved out into the field making for an even better picture than when he was partially concealed under the tree, and that’s the photo that you see accompanying this photovotional.

The application? We may find ourselves in far from ideal circumstances. Within our field of vision all may appear barren of any significant blessings. Where is God? At such times He can seem so far, far away.

The Bible frequently refers to God’s people as sheep and to God as their shepherd, their Good Shepherd. Where there are sheep the shepherd is nearby – where God’s people are, the Good Shepherd is nearby! God wants to consider each one of us a precious sheep under His care. If we’re willing to let Him be our Good Shepherd, He will be, and He will always be near!

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” (Psalm 23:1)

Painting a Door

I recently painted two doors in our home, but I have to confess I didn’t paint the top or bottom edges. The way I see it, no one ever sees those edges! To do the top edge I would have had to get a stepping stool; too much work. To do the bottom edge I would have had to remove the door; way too much work. Only the flies will see the top edge and only the crickets will see the bottom edge, and as far as I can tell they don’t have any aesthetic sense anyway.

I will admit I feel a bit guilty over the unpainted edges. I have a faint recollection of the famous painter/sculptor Michelangelo’s response to someone asking him why he was working so hard on a part of a painting or sculpture (don’t remember which) that no one would ever see. He is reported to have said, “I see it and God sees it.” Ouch!

Okay, so it doesn’t really matter if I paint the top and bottom edges of the doors or not. There are times, however, many times, when it is important to give attention to the hidden parts of life.

What we think and do when we we are reasonably certain no one will find out reveals our true nature and character. So, does it really matter? Certainly, and for a couple of reasons.

First of all, a lot which was to remain hidden, doesn’t! How many tragic headlines of a person’s moral failing started out as a thought or hidden set of actions by the person!

Secondly, as Michelangelo reportedly said, God sees it! Even though no one can read our thoughts, and even though no one may be around to see our actions, God is inside our head and is our audience of One.

I’m okay with not painting the top or bottom edge of a door. When it comes to other areas of my life, however, those are another story!

“For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.” (Luke 8:17)

The Hand in the Glove

I’ve been thinking about gloves and how different they are (this is what the mind does once you’re retired, reflecting on non-important to bizarre subjects). Humor me. Some gloves are designed to keep you warm and tend to be made of soft, fuzzy, insulating material. Then there’s work gloves. They’re made out of tough material, like leather, that’s resistant to wear and are designed to protect the hands. Gardening gloves let you dig in the dirt without getting your hands dirty. There’s rubber gloves that protect from the caustic nature of household chemicals when doing serious housecleaning. Then too, there’s vinyl or latex gloves used in medical procedures that protect the patient from infections.

Though gloves are made from different materials and serve a variety of purposes they all have one thing in common: they are limp and useless until a hand is slipped into the glove. The hand is what animates the glove; the hand is what brings talent to the glove. (You wouldn’t want my hands in surgeon’s gloves operating on you, you’d want a real surgeon’s hands!)

I see in the glove an analogy of how God wants to work with us. Much of what He wants to do in this world is to be done in partnership with us. When we’re willing to let Him dwell within us He animates us, helping us to do amazing things for Him. Like a hand in a glove, this is to be our relationship with Him.

Just as there’s a variety of gloves for different purposes, so God’s made us all different for the different purposes He wants to accomplish. We save ourselves a lot of grief, envy, and jealousy when we understand this.

When we let Him get His hands on us (or better yet, let Him slip inside our minds and hearts) we become who we were meant to be and are able to do what we were meant to do. Contemplating the hand of God working in this world is an awesome thought; realizing we are to be the glove to His hand is even more amazing!

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6)