Look at the Rainbows

I was taking my morning walk near our home in Florida. It had just rained. The sun was already shining as the last raindrops fell, making for a good chance a rainbow would appear.

I walked with umbrella in one hand and a home brewed cup of Starbucks coffee in the other. The umbrella was not so much for my protection from rain but for the purpose of keeping my strong coffee from being diluted by the raindrops! Okay, this last statement is not entirely true, but it’s within the realm of possible motives for me carrying an umbrella.

Then I saw it, a double rainbow! I kept glancing at the multicolored arches in the sky as I walked. On this double rainbow sunny/rainy morning I came upon a man pulling his wheeled garbage can out to the curb – yes, we have to do such mundane things in Florida, too! The man leaned forward as he pulled his garbage can, shoulders stooped, eyes to the ground. He wasn’t seeing the rainbows.

“Hi!” I said. Pointing out from underneath my umbrella with the cup bearing hand to the sky I said, “There’s a double rainbow!”

The garbage can-towing man glanced upward, “Maybe you’ll find something at the end,” he said, referring, I suppose, to the proverbial pot of gold. I walked on.

It occurred to me as I walked that the man didn’t see the rainbows because he was occupied with garbage. I couldn’t be too critical of the garbage toting man, however; it happens to all of us, even when we’re not taking garbage to the curb. It’s often easier to be downcast because of a less than ideal task at hand, sometimes moving on to grumbling or zoning out, and all the while failing to take an upward look at the good that we’re failing to see. The garbage of life can so easily distract us from the goodness of life.

Then, too, we sometimes can see the good but not the really good that’s in it. The garbage can-towing man eventually saw the rainbows but thought immediately of the fictional promise of gold at the end of the rainbow instead of God’s promise given to Noah after the flood. The man eventually saw the rainbows but not God’s intended message of a promise, even though in this instance God repeated Himself by displaying a double rainbow!

Finding good in each day is good, but giving thanks to God who is the giver of all good things makes the good even more good! Today is another opportunity to see the good. Today is another opportunity to experience the good God behind the good!

“And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.’” Genesis 9:12-13

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Empathy

“Never say anything bad about a person until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. By then he’s a mile away, you’ve got his shoes, and you can say whatever you want.” Okay, so this is not a very nice variation by humorist Jerry Corley on the famous quote. The original quote goes something like this: “You can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”

Walking in someone’s shoes is a way of describing empathy. Empathy’s that wonderful ability of placing ourselves in the place of someone else, to understand where they’re coming from, to have a sense of how they feel, to see things from their perspective. The empathetic person, when seeing someone cry, tastes salt.

One of the greatest feelings a human being can experience is to feel they’re being understood, that they’re being shown empathy. An equally great feeling is to know that we’re the one who understands, the one who’s expressing empathy!

This is no easy task, putting oneself in the shoes of another. Expressing empathy takes a willingness to look beyond ourselves. We don’t want to be like the person who went on and on about himself when he met someone on the street, and then finally said, “But enough about myself. What do you think of me?” The empathetic person focuses on the other person’s perspective, situation, needs, and feelings, not his or her own. It’s a matter of practicing self-forgetfulness.

Some might argue, “But what about my feelings, what about my need to have someone understand ME?” Unfortunately, there are those who it seems are incapable of showing empathy no matter how much we seek to show them empathy. The blessing of empathy doesn’t always boomerang. Such situations are a reminder that wanting to be shown empathy should not be our motivation for showing empathy (that would put us right back at acting self-centered).

But the reality is that if we seek to understand others we’ll likely be understood. The major benefit of empathy, however, is the satisfaction of knowing that we’re doing what we’re called by God to do, placing ourselves in the shoes of another.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Romans 12:15

Just An Ordinary Day

An ordinary day years ago while visiting my parents in Parkersburg, Iowa. I’m making pancakes, Mom is getting the rest of breakfast ready, and Dad is watching. Just one of the pictures in Mom’s shoe box of photos I mention below.

I’ve been going through a shoe box of photos belonging to my late mother. There are photos of special days like birthdays, Christmas, graduations, and vacations, but a great number of the photos are of ordinary events that happened on ordinary days. As I study the pictures, particularly those that included me, I usually can’t recall the moments the camera captured. Though the moments were not memorable enough for me to remember, most of us were smiling in most of the pictures! Those ordinary days were good days.

The news is filled with stories of people who are going through far from ordinary days dealing with floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, drought, mass shootings, war, and a host of other life impacting negative events. All of us have also had our share of painful disruptions to normal life. In many cases the day started out ordinary enough, and then something happened. Good is the day that started, continued, and ended as an ordinary day!

It would seem that there are three kinds of days: exciting days with great things happening, bad days, and ordinary days. Most of us have lived long enough to know that really great and exciting days happen rather infrequently. That leaves the rest of our days to be bad or ordinary. I’ll take ordinary!

So much of life is ordinary that we’re wise to see the value of these ordinary days. Those of us who are serious about living to please God are to see ordinary days as sacred. John Newton, the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace” and a great Christian, pastor, and writer, penned these words in a letter to a friend. “If we consider this life chiefly with respect to the things which make up a great part of it, as eating, drinking, buying, selling, putting on our clothes, and putting them off—a spiritual mind may well be weary of such a train of necessary trifling. But even the common actions of life are sanctified, and become a part of our acceptable service, when performed in a spirit of faith, love, and dependence.” The Letters of John Newton” by John Newton

The great Christian devotional writer Oswald Chambers put it this way, “We have the idea that God is going to do some exceptional thing – that He is preparing and equipping us for some extraordinary work in the future. But as we grow in His grace we find that God is glorifying Himself here and now, at this very moment. If we have God’s assurance behind us, the most amazing strength becomes ours, and we learn to sing, glorifying Him even in the ordinary days and ways of life.”

Each day is a gift from God. Each day He loves us. Each day God is nearer to us than the air we breathe. Each day is holy and sacred! As it turns out, no day is really ordinary!

“Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Psalm 90:14

Countdown to a Sunset

A sign in the window of a restaurant in Clearwater, Florida, is part digital, counting down the hours, minutes, and seconds to sunset. They’re inviting people to view the sunset while enjoying food and beverages at their restaurant.

The sunset countdown clock reminded me just how predictable the sun is with its rising and setting. The sun doesn’t have anything over the moon, the lesser light that rules at night, for it too is absolutely predictable in its rising and setting and, with the cooperation of the sun, its monthly cycle from full moon to full moon.

There’s not only predictable movement with the macrocosm of sun, moon, and stars too, but also within the microcosm of atoms and their subatomic particles. That countdown clock in the restaurant window had it down to the second when the sun would set. What is a second? A second in time is measured to be the time it takes a cesium-133 atom to oscillate 9,192,631,770 times. Okay, now my head is the object that’s oscillating! All of this to say that God’s built a great deal of predictability into His creation, a major principle that science depends on to describe natural laws, make hypotheses, explain things, and make predictions.

The predictability of nature is because God, the creator of nature, is predictable. He’s always the same, He never changes. Theologians have a fancy word for this attribute of God, immutable. Is your head oscillating again?

Believe it or not (and I hope you believe it), the fact that God’s immutable, that He never changes, means He can be counted on, that He’s dependable. He’s predicable in that He will always, yes, always, do what is good and right because He can be no other way!

God never is in a bad mood. He’s absolutely consistent, being consistently good. Yes, God is good all the time and all the time God is good! In our lives in which everything is always changing, and not always for the better, it’s good to have a personal relationship with God who never changes, who is always faithful!

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17

Discover the Joy of Gone

I picked up the small pamphlet, intrigued by the title. It was advertising huge rectangular green bags that hold as much trash as a small dumpster. You can fill it up with trash and have it hauled away. “DISCOVER THE JOY OF GONE” was the title of the pamphlet.

What a great title, not just for promoting a giant garbage bag, but for life in general! We all have garbage in our lives, and not just the kind that can be left at the curb.

Most of the material garbage we put at the curb is of our own making, the trash from our waste baskets, food scraps, or waste material from a home improvement project. Sometimes it’s the trash of someone else: discarded aluminum cans or fast food bags on our front lawn or the previous owner’s junk left in the house we just purchased.

Similarly, the non-material garbage in our lives is usually self-inflicted sin, but it can also be the sin of others that’s dumped into our lives. What are we to do about it?

The basic answer is that we can always do something. God has built into us the amazing ability to make choices. We’re free to choose!

When it comes to the garbage that others dump into our lives we often don’t have much to say about it happening. But we can have a say as to what happens next! The Bible is filled with stories of people treated badly by others and how God brought good out of it.

When it comes to the self-generated garbage in our lives, we can have God’s help in overcoming the grip of addiction that’s causing us to hold on to it. Some of this help from Him is channeled through people, requiring an openness to receiving help from others.

The way God has for us to get rid of the guilty garbage of the wrong we’ve done in the past (and present and future) is to offer us forgiveness. It’s not wise to begin by trying to forgive ourselves; that’s like trying to lift ourselves up off the ground by pulling on our own shoestrings. We first need God’s forgiveness, and we can have it. We just need to ask Him for it, then believe we have it. Once we’ve experienced the overwhelming forgiveness of God we can more easily forgive ourselves.

We don’t have to continue living in the squalor of the garbage in our lives. We have available to us a Divine Garbage Collector who can haul it away and have it be gone! Because of Him we can “DISCOVER THE JOY OF GONE.”

“The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ Then he said to Joshua, ‘See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.’” Zechariah 3:4

The Direction of God’s Forgiveness

If you keep going north you’ll end up at the North Pole, and if you go past the North Pole you’re on your way back south, until you go past the South Pole at which point you start going north again.

East and west are different from north and south. You start going east and you keep going east as long as you can keep going. If you head west you keep going west as long as you keep going that direction.

North and south end, east and west don’t. The Bible talks about God forgiving our sins and casting them as far away as the east is from the west, which is an infinite distance. It’s not a north and south forgiveness, for that’s a limited distance.

Most everyone would agree that Jesus was a great teacher, even people of other faiths or of no faith. A frequent theme with Jesus was forgiveness. This is because another common theme of Jesus was sin, which needs forgiveness if it’s to be dealt with.

In human relationships we can try to focus on understanding each other, giving each other some space, helping each other and other positive measures. All of this is not enough. You can’t have a close relationship among two imperfect people for very long before forgiveness has to come into play, on both sides.

Jesus made it clear, as does the whole Bible, that we can try to have a relationship with God by meditation, right behavior and good religious rituals, but this is not enough. Because a relationship with God involves one very imperfect participant (insert the word sinner), namely you and me, forgiveness on His part has to come into play if there’s to be a relationship.

The good news is that He is more than anxious to forgive if we’re willing to admit we need forgiving! We can find the courage to admit our sinfulness, because no sin is so great that His forgiveness is not greater still. His is not a north and south forgiveness but an east and west forgiveness!

“… as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12

The Pond of Life

I maintain a small decorative pond as a hobby. I created it. I put plants and fish in it. I have to do ongoing maintenance, including keeping a pump running that tumbles the water over rocks, aerating the pond. The pond wouldn’t exist or continue to exist if it wasn’t for me.

God has a great big pond, a colossal pond, the cosmos! He created it. But He didn’t just make it, He constantly maintains everything that exists.

Thanks to science we are learning more and more about our universe, our planet, and life. What we’re continuing to discover is that everything is infinitely more complex and more amazing than we had previously thought. Though we’re learning so much more about everything, the mystery only deepens and grows about everything.

A couple of the greatest questions are why anything is here and why it continues to be here? As much as I love and respect science, I don’t expect it to ever be able to answer these questions. I believe that God is the answer, but because He exists outside the space/time continuum He is beyond the limited scope of what science can study.

When I give attention to my small decorative pond in my backyard it sometimes prompts me to think about the great big pond of the cosmos. I expand my pondering and consider the One who created and sustains it all. This is something the fish in my pond cannot do.

The fish in my pond only occasionally get a blurry and distorted image of their pond creator and sustainer through the lens of where air and water meet. At best, I’m training them to come to the surface near me as I kneel at the pond’s edge, dropping fish food before their gaping mouths. Their inability, however, to ponder things great and amazing greatly limits the relationship I can have with them and they with me.

Not so with me (and you too) when it comes to the Creator and Sustainer of the great pond of the universe! He is so infinitely beyond us that we can’t know all there is to know about Him, but we can know enough! We can know we are known by Him and can know enough about Him to be in a relationship with Him! And what a difference that can make!

“Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.” Isaiah 40:26

Distracted from the Divine

I called up the daily devotional web site Diann and I use after dinner. At the bottom of the scripture for the day was an advertisement for living room chairs, for which we had searched on-line days earlier. Everything seems connected on the internet, and so it was really no surprise that the chair advertisement appeared.

As I read the scripture out loud (Diann and I take turns reading each day) I couldn’t help glancing down to the bottom of the screen where the chairs we were interested in purchasing were displayed. My focus on faith was being distracted by furniture!

It’s a common experience, being distracted from the Divine. God is spirit, and can’t be known through the five senses like the physical world can. Add to this the tyranny of the urgent, and we can go through a lot of our day without giving much thought to God. We can spend much of our time living as if God doesn’t exist!

If we want God to be a significant part of our day-to-day living (actually, the most important part of our daily experience), then we’re going to have to be intentional about it. The world shouts at us, and God seems to whisper. You really have to want to connect with Him, to relate to Him, if it’s going to happen.

In his classic little book, The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence who lived in the 17th century states, “We have to know someone before we can truly love him. In order to know God, we must think about Him often. Once we get to know Him, we will think about Him even more often, because where our treasure is, there also is our heart!”

It sounds rather simple, but it’s a good way to make God the central focus of each day, to determine to remind ourselves often through the day of His presence with us, to practice His presence. It’s also helpful to ask Him to help us do this! Yes, we can counter the tendency to be distracted from the Divine!

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18

Sacrifice and Success

My wife watches movies with me that she would not choose to watch (movies that include considerable gun fire and leaping from building to building). I watch movies with her that I would not choose to watch (this includes almost all musicals). A good marriage is made up of multiple “mini” sacrifices by both husband and wife. Any successful relationship requires that both will have to sacrifice their own wishes in favor of the other person’s wishes.

Life’s not only made up of many mini sacrifices but big sacrifices too, and such stories of sacrifice are inspiring. We honor fallen war heroes for making the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. We admire the person who sacrifices a kidney so that a stranger can live.

As much as we admire stories of sacrifice, and as quickly as we’re willing to declare the value of sacrifice, we sure don’t like to sacrifice! It’s costly and is not “fun” to carry out. We don’t want to give in to compromise, give when we know we’re going to give more than we’ll get, or give when there’s no expectation of receiving something in return at all.

And yet it’s an irrevocable principle of life that sacrifice is what makes life worth living. We only achieve something of value by sacrificing time and effort. Author Tim Keller writes, “We know that anybody who has ever done anything that really made a difference in our lives made a sacrifice, stepped in and gave something or paid something or bore something so we would not have to.” (The Prodigal Prophet p.154)

The message of Christianity, the central theme of the Gospel, is that Jesus sacrificed Himself for us. Christians believe that it’s because of His sacrifice for us that we can have a meaningful and eternal relationship with God. His ultimate sacrifice sets the standard by which we’re to live our lives, sacrificing for those within our sphere of influence so that we can have more meaningful relationships with each other. The operative word for a fulfilled life is the word sacrifice. Sacrifice makes the world go ‘round!

“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” Psalm 51:17

Fifteen Pound Puzzle Pieces

Me with my pavers, after my back healed and I could smile while near them.

I purchased the two dozen or so paving stones after seeing the ad on Craig’s List. Molded from concrete, they were of two sizes, medium and large (or, more accurately, heavy and heavier, the heavier ones weighing at least fifteen pounds each). All the large pieces were of the same irregular amoeba-like shape; the medium sized pieces shared the same shape as the other pieces their size.

You would think it would have been a simple matter to fit these concrete jigsaw pieces into a single concrete pad. It was not. For one thing, I didn’t know which of the two sides of each stone should face up. I have never really enjoyed putting jigsaw puzzles together, so hefting fifteen pound and ten pound puzzle pieces got old quickly. Two hours later, through perseverance and the arrival of my wife, who enjoys jigsaw puzzles much more than I do and gave me some much needed direction, the task was finally finished.

The next morning I returned to the completed concrete puzzle to level each piece by tucking some additional sand underneath here and there. I lifted the first piece. My back muscles, which had not complained loudly from the previous day’s exertion, suddenly spasmed in a painful, paralyzing stab of pain; they had had enough!

I lay there on my side, immobilized by pain, when my wife came out of the house (per my previous request to take a picture of me and the project). She quickly decided to forgo the photo shoot (though, in retrospect, it would have made a very interesting picture) and ran over to me with great concern on her face. Eventually she helped me to my feet, and I hobbled into the house.

The whole project took much longer with much more pain than I had anticipated. What else is new? A great many endeavors in life take long and can involve pain that we hadn’t anticipated. Ever since the first man Adam sinned and God warned him he would have to accomplish things by the sweat of his brow, we humans have had a difficult time of getting anything done.

This is just the way it is, and is going to be. Being successful at a job or career takes work. Couples may “fall” in love (“falling” takes no effort at all), but they will have to work hard to stay in love. Overcoming a problem, an addiction, or difficulty will take considerable time and effort.

You and I know this, but I’m thinking we still need to be reminded of this fact on a regular basis, and this is one of those times. That’s why I decided to share my episode of putting together the concrete puzzle pieces.

“We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; (The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:12)