The Power of Words

Former President Carter, age 93 as of this writing, is the longest living president after leaving the White House. Regardless of political opinions regarding Jimmy Carter, there can be no doubt that he has done a world of good since losing his bid for a second term as president.

After his presidency he was facing “an altogether new, unwanted and potentially empty life,” as he put it. While awake in the middle of the night he had the revelation that his presidential library could serve as a center for conflict resolution. The Carter Center has become world renowned as a source of hope for many developing countries. Conquering diseases has become a major focus. The Guinea worm disease afflicted 3.5 million people in 1986. The Carter Center, working with other organizations, has made the disease almost non-existent with only 30 documented cases. The Carter Center has also helped resolve disputes around the world. Jimmy Carter has also been highly involved in Habitat for Humanity with his yearly Carter Work projects which often have him swinging a hammer, helping to build the houses. He’s also authored 31 books and still teaches an adult Sunday School class at his Plains, Georgia, church. He was the first president to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Carter credits a high school teacher of his, Julia Coleman, who gave him a piece of advice that he quoted in his presidential inaugural address and which has guided him all these many years since. “We must adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles.”

Julia Coleman had no idea the impact and influence her words would have, particularly on a kid named Jimmy! The same is true for us; we can’t know the impact our words might have on others!

I recall the encouraging words of a college professor’s assistant, a gal probably only three years older than myself. It was a speech class, I had just delivered mine, and she critiqued it. I don’t remember the speech or anything of the critique except for her words, “I felt like you were talking just to me.” Those words have echoed through my 40 years of preaching and teaching. I’m not sure how many other people who’ve listened to me would say the same, but I do know I have sought to preach and teach so that they might. This teaching assistant has no idea how she influenced me!

Words are incredibly powerful; they can ruin or make a day. What a difference words can make!

Unless you’re reading this just before bedtime, there’s a good chance you’ll have an opportunity to say a nice word, an encouraging word, a word of affirmation, thanks, or praise to someone within the hour. It may be through a phone conversation, someone walking through the door, you walking up to someone, a text, or an e-mail. What an opportunity we have to make life better for someone else, and for us too!

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” Proverbs 25:11


What Zoo Animals Don’t Know

Zoo animals are, as far as we can tell, clueless about being in a zoo. They go about eating, sleeping, pacing back and forth, pro-creating, grooming, etc., with no awareness that they are part of a big enterprise called a zoo where people pay to come and view them, delight in them, be educated about them, and be amazed by them. Their view is so narrow and limited; they don’t see the big picture.

Are we humans viewing our own lives in a similar fashion? We go about eating, sleeping, going here and there, working, grooming, pro-creating, entertaining ourselves, etc., but do we see that life is much bigger than this?

There are two fundamental ways of looking at life. We can take a naturalistic view that existence consists of what we can experience with our five senses, that there’s no spirit world, no God, and no life after this life. The other view is that everything that exists is here on purpose, by design, by a creator/sustainer and that He, God, has His grand purpose for it all.

Both views are a statement of belief, a step of faith. Many of us hold to the latter view, that there is more going on in this universe than meets the eye or can be known by the other four senses. But even though we believe there’s a grand scheme to things, we can still live each day as if we don’t really believe it! Like the zoo animals we, too, can take a zootopian view, failing to act in a way that takes into account God’s grand scheme He’s unfolding.

For me, it helps to keep asking some probing questions as I go through each day. “God, what are you trying to show me or teach me through this?” “Lord, help me handle this situation in a way that will fulfill your purposes for me.”

Zoo animals have no clue how they play a part in making the zoological gardens a wonderful place. We, unlike them, don’t have to go through life being clueless. When we realize that God has a great plan for us that’s a part of His grand scheme of things, then life becomes the rich experience He meant it to be!

“But, as it is written, What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10)

Enjoying God Most of All

A boy was asked by his Sunday School teacher, “What has a shell, moves slowly, and lives in ponds?”

The boy answered, “I want to say turtle, but we’re in Sunday School so the answer must be Jesus.”

If you’ve been reading my writings for awhile then you know what the right answer is when I ask the question, “What should be the greatest source of satisfaction in life?”

Yes, you’re right. God is the answer. What I’ve discovered, however, is that knowing the right answer is one thing, but applying that right answer is often quite another.

We know how to eat healthy, but we don’t necessarily do so. We know some ways on how to handle our money in a responsible way, but we don’t always carry through on implementing those principles. Similarly, we may know that our greatest satisfaction in life should be God, but that doesn’t necessarily make it so.

We can find great satisfaction in many ways: good food, making money, spending money, sports, movies, friends, gardening, hunting, boating, crocheting, family, career advancement, travel, and countless other ways. These can be good, especially when we’re grateful to God for them. They can be good, but they aren’t to be the best!

I’m reading a book by Wayne Grudem in which he states of God, To be in his presence, to enjoy fellowship with him, is a greater blessing than anything that can be imagined.” (Systematic Theology, p. 441) When you really stop and think about it, how can we view God as boring or irrelevant? He is, by very definition, infinitely powerful, wise, loving, beautiful, and a host of other infinite attributes. What could be more amazing and awesome than God?

I’ve determined to be intentional about thinking of God a lot every day, reaching out to Him in prayer many times throughout each day, and depending upon His help and direction every step of the way. Yes, I want to enjoy the good things life can offer, but my goal is to delight in God most of all. You too?

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psalm 16:11) “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.(Psalm 73:25)

I Am the Washing Machine Repairman, Sort of

The agitator on our washing machine was broken, which really agitated me. One part was supposed to swish both ways and one part was to swish one way. The one-way swishing part wasn’t swishing. I am no washing machine repairman, but I was determined to give it a try rather than pay a pro many dollars to fix it.

I did what any self-respecting man does when the decision is made to fix something yourself; I went to YouTube on the internet to watch videos of how it should be done. I was shocked to see how popular videos about washing machine agitators are! Two videos had a quarter of a million views each, and another had a million views!

I went to an appliance supply store and bought the $3.50 replacement parts. I then positioned my laptop on the dryer next to the washer and watched and re-watched and re-watched again the videos. My wife Diann assisted me, with a few more suggestions than I felt were necessary; these kind of fix-it projects, when they become a couples’ project, can test a marriage. I can now report that both the washing machine and marriage are doing fine.

The repair project reminded me of the need to be humble enough to know you need help, in this case from some YouTube videos and, yes, from my wife too! If this is true concerning a broken washing machine, then how much more should it be true of our lives in general, which are also broken? We have brokenness all over the place: in our relationships with people and God, in our attitudes, in our bodies, in creation itself with hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, droughts, floods, etc. with which we have to cope.

What we need are some good input and direction, and the ultimate source for that is, of course, God. Where to get God’s guidance? Yes, we can even get good Godly advice from YouTube, you just have to be discerning about who you watch and what they say. Teaching and preaching in churches is another good source, as is counsel from wise friends or family (discernment is needed when getting input from any human, for everyone is broken). Direct reading from God’s Word is undoubtedly the best place to go for input and direction. Asking God’s Holy Spirit to clue us in on what we should understand is another good angle to pursue.

It has been said that he who doctors himself has a fool for a patient. We move from foolishness to wisdom when we seek direction from outside ourselves. The best source for this is none other than God and all the avenues He offers us to access His input.

“Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” Psalm 25:5

Beautiful Greetings

“Hi! How are you doing?” The greeting, or one similar to it, is what we often give when we encounter people. We all know it’s a normal way of acknowledging another person’s presence, so no one takes it too seriously, giving any kind of an extended answer. In other words, the other person usually won’t start pouring out their heart to the person offering the greeting. The response is usually something to the effect of “Fine” or “Okay” even if life is far from fine or okay.

We encounter people every day in passing and can’t get into an in-depth time of sharing with each one of them – we’d never get through what’s on our schedule for the day. But could we do a little better at treating people as human beings when we meet them in casual encounters?

I was prompted to think about how I treat people whom I casually meet after reading an article by Douglas Groothuis in Christianity Today magazine titled, “Learning to Say Hello Again.” He concludes his article by stating, “It seems like a small thing, but it really isn’t. How we greet—or fail to greet—others says much about our character. But in the power of the Holy Spirit, we may practice the presence of people by acknowledging and recognizing them for who they are: creatures made in God’s image.

Every person we meet has been made in the image of God; each has an eternal destiny. Groothuis quotes C. S Lewis in The Weight of Glory, “You have never talked to a mere mortal.” How will we treat these beloved creatures of God, made in His image and whom He loves, even in casual encounters?

It’s so easy to treat a cashier in a store or a server in a restaurant as if they’re nothing more than a means to an end, somebody we have to deal with to buy our item or to get our food. Each such person likely has a family for whom they have concerns or with whom they struggle. They may also be dealing with financial concerns or health issues. God has placed us, for the moment, in their world, and we can make a difference, however small it may seem!

Eye contact, a smile, using the person’s name, and an appropriate word of affirmation or praise are just a few of the ways we can make even brief encounters with people something special. Beautiful greetings are just one way to make a day more beautiful, for everyone!

“And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” Matthew 5:47

A High Rock

Actual rocks referred to in the blog post

During the time each year when we live in Mexico to be near our daughter and her family I take a daily walk on a rural path. Along the path I pass a cluster of huge boulders up high on a hill. Every time I look up and see those big rocks I think of Psalm 61:2 that talks of God being like a rock, a rock that is higher than us.

The characteristics of these rocks I see on my walk – big, unmovable, and high up – are characteristics the psalmist saw in God. As we face the struggles of life and find that our “heart grows faint” as the psalmist put it, we too, like the psalmist, should focus on God.

When we face a difficulty, challenge, setback, or problem there’s the tendency to either fixate on it so that it’s all we see, try to distract ourselves from it by focusing on something else, or (and this is usually considered the best option) try to deal with it with all we’ve got, as best we can.

There is, however, another approach, a much better approach, and that’s to look to God. We more often than not glance Godward as a last resort. Turning to God should be what we do first. Going to God should be our knee-jerk reaction, going to our knees in prayer. When all else fails we try prayer, but we should go to prayer before all else is tried and fails.

God has designed us to depend on many things in this life including air, water, food, and other people. He’s also designed us to depend on Him. Because He’s given us a great deal of freedom we’re free to ignore Him. The good news is that we also are free to turn to Him, which, if we really stop and think about it, is a smart thing to do!

“From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Psalm 61:2

Tip of the Iceberg, Tip of Faith

If you were afloat on a leaking life raft in the Arctic and saw an iceberg, you’d paddle toward it. A majority of an iceberg is hidden under the water line, but it wouldn’t matter what size and shape it was under water, as long as what you saw above water was large enough to survive on until being rescued. The same is true with God. We don’t have to know and understand everything about God, but we can respond to what we do know about Him.

This is a huge universe with astonishing diversity and complexity. We continue to discover more and more about everything. The more we discover the more we uncover new mysteries of the universe. We can never grasp everything about everything.

It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that if we can’t fully comprehend the universe we certainly will not be able to fully comprehend God who made it all and sustains it all. God, far more than His creation, is ultimately incomprehensible. For instance, how could God always have existed? How can God be sovereign (in full control) and yet how can we have free choice? How can God know how the future will turn out when we humans have the free will to influence and change the future? How can God be one God and yet the three “persons” of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

Believing in God and responding to Him is a lot like the desperate soul paddling his leaking life raft toward the tip of an iceberg. We shouldn’t concern ourselves too much with what we don’t understand about God but respond to what we do understand. The great writer Mark Twain said, “It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

All we can do is give as much as we know of ourselves to as much as we know of God. This is the starting point. By God’s grace, it is enough!

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33)

Healthy Boundaries

Speakers at graduation ceremonies often proclaim exuberantly to the graduating students that they can do anything they can dream. Not true! I have what’s called a “lazy eye” that doesn’t see well, even with a corrective lens. With only one good eye (with the help of a corrective lens) I could never have been a fighter pilot, no matter how much I dreamed of being one, no matter how hard I would have pursued it.

We can’t do everything we want to do. We can’t take advantage of every opportunity. We can’t do, and shouldn’t do, everything others want us to do, no matter how much we want to be a people pleaser.

Life is filled with limitations. We deal with practical limitations every day. We limit ourselves to driving on the road, though it curves and zig zags, instead of going off road and taking a straight line through ditches, woods, swamps, and fields. Airplanes seem free to wander around in the wide open space of the sky, but each is limited to an assigned flight path. Trains are only free to go great distances as long as they are limited to traveling on railroad tracks. If a train is freed from staying on the track we call it a derailment, and the train will go no place and cause great harm and destruction.

Each of us has a calling from God that’s defined as much by what we shouldn’t do as it is by what we should do. Sometimes saying “no” to something good is the way to say “yes” to something better. Living a great life means coming to peace with the fact that we must live with limitations.

“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” Psalm 16:6

The Divine Watchmaker

If, while walking along a path, I find a watch setting on a rock, I know for a certainty that the watch didn’t just happen to come into existence by some accident. Lightning, or some other source of energy, zapping various minerals found in the surrounding soil or rock didn’t bring it into existence. I know that somewhere and at some time the watch was intentionally made by someone and placed on that rock.

Over two hundred years ago (1802) William Paley used this illustration to argue that life, which exhibits an incredibly more complex design than a watch, exists because of an Intelligent Designer. The argument that the first single and rather simple looking cells of life could have come into existence from the right chemicals being zapped with some form of energy seemed somewhat plausible to some when they knew far less about cells than we do now. Thanks to science, we now know that even the simplest cells are incredibly complex, far more so than a working watch.

In a living cell so many parts, like the parts of a watch, have to be present and all doing their assigned task (communicated by the astonishingly complex strand of DNA in each cell) in order to work. Author Michael Behe describes these simple cells or simple cell structures as “irreducibly complex.” Behe uses the example of the simple mousetrap to explain what he means by “irreducibly complex.” The mouse trap contains five basic parts. You can’t catch a few mice with one part, a few more with two parts, a few more yet with three parts, more yet with four, and the most with five parts. You need all five parts of the mouse trap in order for it to work. How could complex cells evolve when you need all of their many parts for the cell to live and reproduce?

The watch setting on a rock has a designer. Each living cell, whether plant or animal, is amazingly complex, far more complex than a watch. It makes sense to believe that everything that lives, moves, and has its being has been designed by The Designer, and that would include us humans. I yearn to know my Designer, to worship Him, and to serve and please Him! You too?

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Romans 1:20

God’s Call to Organize Paint Cans

I stepped back into the doorway of my workshop and admired my work. No, I wasn’t admiring a great piece of furniture I had just finished building (I don’t think I’m capable of such a feat). I was admiring a row of paint cans I had neatly lined up on rustic shelves I had just built. Before, the cans had been clustered on the floor in a helter skelter way, some precariously stacked on others.

Looking on the neat row of paint cans and the shelves on which they sat, I asked myself if it had been a good use of my time and effort. In the grand scheme of things was it worth building the shelves so I could organize paint cans?

We all end up doing a vast number of mundane and non-earth-shaking tasks: washing dishes, making the bed, gassing up the car, buying groceries, etc. Is this what life is to be all about? I directed my thoughts to what God might have to say about this in the Bible, the place I go to when I want to find what God has to say on anything and everything.

Mentally flipping through the pages of the Bible I was reminded that Jesus didn’t start His public ministry until about age 30, and that up until that point He spent His adult early years working in his step-father Joseph’s carpenter shop, several of those years Jesus being in charge, due to the early death of Joseph. During those years He presumably not only built furniture, yokes, buckets and other such items but He had to have spent considerable time picking up his tools, organizing them, and sweeping up the sawdust.

Then, too, when Jesus went on to His public ministry of being an itinerant preacher He spent many hours simply walking from one place to another. I’m sure He was talking to His disciples and teaching them along the way, but I suspect there were also many miles when He just walked. Jesus not only lived out many ordinary human experiences like we do, He also was fond of telling stories (parables, we call them) about ordinary objects and subjects like lost coins, sowed seed, and workers waiting to be hired.

God is all places at the same time and this means His presence is with us even when we’re doing the most ordinary and mundane tasks, thus making it possible for these moments to be sacred. While doing such tasks of the ordinary we can be mindful of His presence and attention, have an inward and private conversation with Him on whatever subject we choose, and feel gratitude for the strength and ability to do what we’re doing.

Ordinary is good. It’s okay to organize used paint cans and to do other ordinary, often humdrum, tasks. It’s part of our call from God, He is near, and we can do it with an attitude that is pleasing to Him. It’s our choice – to make sacred the ordinary.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31