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

Free Water

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is waterfountain.jpgI got to thinking about drinking fountains. In Mexico where we live half of the time to be near our daughter and her family there are no drinking fountains. The warning, “Don’t drink the water,” is the reason. Here in the United States we have drinking fountains in many of the places we frequent.

The great preacher of another era, Charles Spurgeon, wrote, “The drinking fountains around our towns are valuable things, but we cannot imagine anyone so foolish as to feel for his wallet when he stands in front of one of them, saying, ‘I cannot drink because I don’t have any money in my pocket.’ No matter how poor the person is, the fountain is there for him, and he can drink from it just as he is.”

It was these words in Spurgeon’s devotion for the day that got me to thinking about drinking fountains. I had never thought much about the fact that they provide free water. The fact is, we need water, our bodies can’t live long without it. The good news is, you can get it free, at least where there’s a faucet or fountain nearby.

Jesus talked about Himself being like water. He used the analogy of Him being water to us because, just as we need water for physical life, so Jesus taught we need Him for spiritual life. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion about what Jesus taught, but those of us who call ourselves His followers take His teachings seriously, including His teaching that what water is to our body, He is to our soul.

Just as water from a fountain to quench the body’s thirst is free, so this water for the soul is also free! One big difference between following the religions of the world or following Jesus is that other religions are all about what people have to do for God. Jesus’ way is all about what God has done for us!

It actually makes sense when you think of it logically. What does God need from us? He made everything, sustains everything and therefore needs nothing we could possibly give Him. It’s we who need what God can give. If we had to earn what we need from Him then that would mean He needs something we could give Him. He doesn’t!

But because He’s full of love He’s willing to give, freely, what we need, which is His forgiveness and life now and forever in a relationship with Him. We just have to accept what He offers. The fact is, we need Him most of all, above all else. What water is to the body He is to the soul, and He’s free!

“And let the one who hears say, ’Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” Revelation 22:17b.”

The Temporary of the Material

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dronebrokesmall.jpgI recently purchased a drone, a quadcopter, with a camera attached to take aerial photographs. On about its third flight it crashed, breaking one of the four arms to which the propellers are attached. It wasn’t my fault, it really wasn’t! The little screw holding the propeller in place hadn’t been attached securely at the factory and the propeller flew off. With only three props the drone spun out of control and crashed. I tried super gluing it, but super glue isn’t always as super as it’s marketed to be.

It was another reminder, of which I’ve had many over the years, of how the material is temporary. How many cars, cameras, and computers have I owned? I’ve lost count. Eventually every one of these possessions had major issues or became outdated, a new product having more benefits.

Material objects seem so solid and real, you don’t need faith to experience their benefits and enjoy them. The five senses make them very real, tangible. The spiritual dimension is far different. The five senses can’t give us a sense of God. It’s only by taking a step of God-inspired faith that He’s real to us. True, we experience God all around us in the tangible world of His creation and in how He’s involved in the very real events of our daily lives, but this all still requires a step of faith.

Back to the material part of our existence. We ourselves are made out of material, we call it flesh. We also need that which is material: water, food, a roof over our heads, a bed, pots and pans, and so much more to survive. Then there are things we don’t absolutely need, but they make life easier and sometimes more enjoyable: the aforementioned cars, cameras, and computers are often on that list.

However, a hundred years from now (no more than 30 years for me!) this will all be of no use or value to us. God has a different and much better future planned for us. That wonderful future is guaranteed us if we love Him more than anything we have or anyone around us and when we accept His gracious forgiveness so we can be right with Him. It turns out the spiritual lasts and the material doesn’t!

I returned the broken drone and got my money back. Since then I’ve purchased another drone. It’s working well, for now, but won’t forever; I’m going to try and remember that fact!

Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

Anthill in a Sidewalk Crack

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is anthill_small.jpgI stepped over it, the anthill in the crack of the sidewalk. Then I stopped, giving the anthill a second look. I glanced up and down the street to make sure no car was near. What I planned on doing next would prompt the driver of a car to wonder what I was doing or whether this senior citizen needed help. No cars were coming either way so I got out my cell phone, knelt down on the sidewalk, and took a picture of the anthill.

Why? Because I was impressed with a colony of ants who chose to use a narrow crack in the sidewalk as the entry to their home. I know, it actually happens quite regularly; I’m sure you’ve seen it too, an anthill in the crack of a sidewalk.

Still, I was impressed. The crack was a narrow opportunity for the ants to dig a home, and they took advantage of the opportunity. Why they didn’t build their anthill in the grass nearby I have no idea. Who knows what goes on in the tiny brains of ants?

The ants’ crack of an opportunity is not much different from many of our opportunities. Many of our opportunities are also narrow. Yes, some opportunities that come our way are wide and inviting, no-brainers in terms of taking advantage of them. But many are narrow, slim opportunities that can be overlooked.

We greet a friend, “How are you?” and they reply, “Oh, so-so.” We respond by telling the person how our day is going, missing the opportunity to probe more deeply their answer, which would give them the opportunity to share why their day is only “so-so.”

We could read something worthwhile but opt to watch another TV sitcom instead, missing the opportunity to gain some worthwhile knowledge or inspiration. The narrow opportunity to spend that time productively is quickly gone forever.

We’re in a hurry when we see someone who could use a minute of our time to help them, offering a second set of hands to help. We don’t stop, driven by the tyranny of the urgent, missing the narrow opportunity of the moment to be helpful.

Walking that sidewalk who even notices the anthill, let alone reflects on the astonishing engineering process at their feet? Beneath the anthill mound that spills over the narrow crack in the sidewalk, an amazing maze of tiny tunnels branch out that make up the home of the colony.

Who knows what good can result from our taking advantage of a narrow, small, seemingly inconsequential opportunity? Only God knows, unless we take advantage of the opportunity. Then we can know, too!

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people.” Galatians 6:10a

Restaurant Menu Or Home Recipe?

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

What do you tend to look at more, a take home restaurant menu from which you can order food already prepared or a recipe from which you prepare your own food? Ordering from a menu certainly is easier and often takes less time than pulling out a recipe and making a dish from scratch. There’s no judgment on my part here; it all depends on a person or family’s lifestyle and budget whether they more frequently use a take home menu or the recipe box as the method for getting a meal.

These contrasting two ways of feeding our bodies have a parallel in our spiritual lives. We can take the approach of enjoying the spiritual food others prepare for us. This is part of God’s design, that there are those who create sermons, Bible teachings, devotionals (like what I’m writing here), books, or share uplifting quotes (like what I try to do daily on my Facebook page). This is like ordering from a menu and having it delivered to your home or set before you at a restaurant.

It’s also important, however, that we work at preparing our own spiritual food, much like using a recipe to create something to eat. Our recipe box, cookbook, or internet recipe source for preparing spiritual food is the Bible. It’s the primary source for spiritual input; every other source is secondary.

What I’m getting at here is that the value found in reading something from the Bible far exceeds reading something that’s just based on the Bible. Yes, that means if you only have time to read either this short devotional or the Bible then go for the Bible! My writings, or that of anybody else, can’t compare.

We don’t have to read a lot of the Bible at a sitting, just a few verses, or even a single verse is an option. Just like when putting together items for a recipe, let the ingredients of God’s Word brew or stew, bake, cook, saute, or marinate in the mind. In other words, we’re to think about it, reflect on it, ask ourselves why God would have us read what we just read. The ancient Christians called this by a fancy name, Lectio Divina, meaning that the Bible isn’t a bunch of texts to be studied but the Word from God to be reflected on and responded to.

It’s convenient and even enjoyable to study a menu, order, and then eat the food someone else has prepared. But there’s also something rewarding about studying a recipe and taking the time and effort to prepare your own food, perhaps sharing the results with others who gather at your table.

So, I hope you continue to enjoy the spiritual tidbits I prepare each week in these thoughts. The same goes for what many others write or speak that’s about God, and especially something that comes from His Word. But I’ll be the first to admit it’s best to go to the original source, the Bible, on a regular basis. No doubt about it, God’s the best author of all!

The psalmist says to God, “I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.” Psalm 119:14-16

Al Sitting on a Bench

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

Photo by MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Tampa Bay Times

Most mornings, from 6 to 8 am, Al watches the sunrise over the water from a park bench in St. Petersburg, Florida, before he heads off to work. He’s done so for years. I was captivated by his story in a recent article in the Tampa Bay Times (May 30, 2021) by Christopher Spata. The article stated that Al, 58, first came to the park bench years ago to sort out things in his life. It worked so he keeps coming back.

Early morning regulars at the park are used to seeing Al sitting on the park bench. Many greet him as they walk or run by, but every so often someone stops to talk, or sits to talk. Al realized his daily presence on the park bench was something important when, as reporter Spata writes, a woman told Al, “I know, when I see you sitting there, that everything is going to be alright.”

People often share their problems with Al, and Al says he just sits and listens, only giving advice when asked for it. He doesn’t consider himself especially smart, but he says he’s a good listener, stating to the reporter, “Mostly people want to be heard.”

Al’s onto something, something big. Al’s sitting on the park bench is a reminder that being a human being is more important than being a human doing!

The example in the Bible of Job’s friends is worth noting. Job experienced great losses and much suffering. When three of his friends heard of Job’s tragic state they came to visit. They sat with him seven days and never said a word; what a great example! They were three humans who were just being there with Job. Then, each in turn, started sharing their insights and advice with Job. They had been much more helpful to Job when they just sat with him, being with him! Even God was angry with their wordy ways of trying to help Job. When they transitioned from being with Job to doing for Job (by opening their mouths and giving advice) they stopped helping Job with his problems and began adding to Job’s problems. A footnote to the story in the NIV Study Bible states, “Their mere presence was of more comfort to him than their words of advice would prove to be.”

Yes, there’s a time to speak up and go into action. Sometimes, however, just showing up, just being with someone, just listening is what’s best. Al, sitting on his park bench, knows this. I want to know this too, know it so well that it’s what I do, be there for someone and listen!

The description of Job’s friends’ behavior, before they started giving advice, “Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.” Job 2:13.

Spreading Seeds of Different Kinds

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is seedfloatinghdrsmacl.jpgI’m always amazed how God has designed plants to spread their seeds in so many different, diverse ways. Some seeds are designed to float on the wind with fluffy gossamer filaments acting like parasails. Others also use the wind, spiraling downward like auto-rotating helicopters with one or two propeller-type blades creating the spin. Then there are the seeds that cling to whatever brushes against them, hitching a ride in animal’s fur or people’s clothes. Still other seeds are cloaked in fruit so that they’re eaten, and after a journey through the eater’s digestive system, are (how shall I say this delicately?) deposited on the ground surrounded by natural fertilizer to give them a kick start at germination and growth.

We humans also scatter and sow seeds, and it’s not just gardeners and farmers who do so. We all sow seeds of a different kind, other than those identified in botany; we sow seeds of ideas, words, and actions.

As we go about living our day we sow these seeds of influence in the lives of others. We float an idea by them. They eat up our words. Our actions stick stubbornly in their minds. All the time, everywhere, and to all those with whom we come in contact, whether physically and face-to-face or virtually using digital media, we spread seeds of influence.

Plants sow their seeds without consciously doing so (at least most of us believe plants can’t think). Plants spread only one kind of seed, seed of their own kind. We humans sow seeds of different kinds, seeds of encouragement but also of discouragement, seeds of kindness but also seeds of hate or indifference, seeds of help or seeds of hurt, and a huge variety of other seeds of influence that make the world a better place or a worse place. Like plants we may do the sowing of the seeds of influence unconsciously, but we also can choose to be conscious about how we go about sowing our seeds of influence. On the whole, it’s a good thing to be conscious of the fact that we’re sowers and that we leave a crop of good or bad behind us.

I personally take seriously Jesus’ teaching about sowing His seed of what He called the Gospel, the Good News. That Good News, in a nutshell (which is a type of seed), is that He came into the world to rescue us from our sin, offering to be our Savior in paying the price for our sin by dying on the cross. All we have to do is humbly accept what He’s done for us that we couldn’t do for ourselves, getting rid of our sin, forgiving it, and making us right with God. There! I just sowed the seed of the Gospel in the previous two sentences!

Just as there are varieties of seeds that plants spread so there are many ways we humans can spread seeds of kindness and goodness. God has made us all different so we’ll be sowing seeds of influence of different kinds. We just have to be ourselves, the unique self God made each of us to be, and we’ll have our own unique influence on the place where God has planted us. We just have to bloom where we’re planted and spread our seeds of influence from this our place!

“Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.”  2 Corinthians 9:10

Allowing for the Unscheduled in the Schedule

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is interuptionssmall.jpgWhile taking my morning walk I passed someone’s trash can that had been placed at the end of their driveway for the garbage truck to pick up. It was full, the lid pushed partly open by all the contents. Conspicuous on top was a book in the trash. “There Can’t Be a Crisis Today, My Schedule Is Already Full” was the title.

I’ve never read the book, but if I dare judge a book by its cover, I’m not surprised the owner pitched it. The title contradicts reality. In spite of our insistence otherwise, a crisis will often interrupt our schedule! In fact, it doesn’t even take a crisis to be an interruption. Many less serious circumstances than a crisis can disrupt our plans.

If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans” is an adaption of a Yiddish proverb, “Man plans and God laughs.” Yes, making plans is necessary and wise to do, but to insist they’ll not change is laughable. All of our plans are subject to change, without even a moment’s notice. God is sovereign (in ultimate control) and we’re not!

Now that I’m into my 70th decade of living I can look back on many plans I had that didn’t turn out the way I planned. Many of those plans I prayed over and believed were God’s will for me. I was wrong.

In spite of many of my plans not turning out the way I wanted I still make plans, seeking to be guided by God in doing so and praying boldly to Him that those plans will unfold. The reason I can pray boldly is that I trust God, who is infinitely wiser than me, as to whether He makes my plans happen.

So, each day we make our plans, but we also should plan for the possibility that God will interrupt or change those plans! He has His own plans for us, and many times that means an interruption to our plans.

Sometimes those interruptions are a crisis, painful, an accident, a shocking medical report, someone’s bad behavior, and we could go on. What we need to hold on to at such times is that God’s still on His throne and in control, and He has a plan! He’s a good God so ultimately His plan will be proven to be good. I know, it takes a lot of faith to believe that, and so part of our plan has to be asking God to help us trust Him!

Sometimes the interruptions aren’t horrendously bad, just annoying. “But I was planning to…” This can happen frequently in a single day! Again, it’s a teachable moment God wants to use to remind us that we’re to be yielding our lives over to Him.

God has His plans for us, and sometimes it’s difficult to know what those might be; He tends not to tell us beforehand. But one plan of God’s for us we can know for a certainty is that He’s planning on putting the unscheduled into our schedule!

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21