A Hike from the Other Direction

I take a walk most mornings. While we live at Refuge Ranch in Mexico with our daughter and her family the walk is part horse path with sections of rustic road, defined by two ruts, where farmers will take their old pickups and cars to get to the fields and back. Part of the route is a loop so I can choose to go clockwise or counter clockwise.

I find it interesting as to how different the view looks when taking the walk one way as over against the other way. I suspect you’ve had a similar experience when walking or driving back in the opposite direction. It’s the same scenery but viewed from a different perspective.

It’s often good to try and see things from a different perspective, especially the perspective of someone else to whom we’re relating or trying to relate. It helps us understand the other person better, helps us resolve conflict, and may even change us in a positive way. It’s even more important to seek God’s perspective on anything and everything, for His perspective is always the right one.

A big part of seeing a fresh perspective is to simply be open to the possibility, to assume there’s another way of looking at something, invalid as we may at first think it to be. Diann and I have been married for 46 years as of this writing. We’ve navigated innumerable differences of opinion by resisting shouting at each other (increasing the volume of words, we’ve learned, doesn’t make them more convincing to the other person). We’ve had to really listen to each other so we better understand each other (we’ve discovered that you don’t learn much when you’re doing most of the talking). Seeking to understand each other’s perspective has been one key to making our marriage work.

When it comes to seeing things from God’s perspective we face a really big challenge, for it’s easy to create God in our own image and, hence, to believe that our views are His views. Absorbing His printed Word and listening to and observing people who seem to be close to God are ways to begin to grasp God’s perspective on things, which is often going to be different than our perspective on things!

Taking a journey back from whence we came via the same route lets us see the scenery from a different perspective, to see things we didn’t see before. Seeing from a different perspective can also be helpful on our daily journey of living life!

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

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Enjoying God

Fireworks fill the dark sky and the crowd goes “Oooh” and “Aaah” in response to the streaks of brilliant colors followed by chest thumping booms. A car show attendee slides into the driver’s seat of a new steel chariot on display, caresses the soft interior, gazes upon the sci-fi looking instrumentation, inhales the new car smell and in an almost giddy way says, “Wow!” A fan steps into the stadium to see a favorite team warming up for a championship game, takes in the sights and sounds of the crowd, and the heart beats at a faster pace with the thrill of it all.

We all enjoy different things. I can easily identify a number of sources of joy for me. Some of my great joys are my wife Diann, my two children, and their families. Some of my lesser joys include writing, photography, a good cup of coffee, and a walk in nature. What are some sources of joy for you?

We’re wired for joy and have an appetite for finding something we can enjoy. Most joys, however, have their limits at providing enjoyment. Many joys come and go. The fireworks display ends. The new car gets old, banged up, and out of date. The championship game ends, sometimes in a loss for a favorite team. Yes, most joys have a limited shelf life, even the joy of a wonderful mate – just ask the widow or widower.

Of all the joys that can be had in life there’s one source that tops the list at providing ultimate joy, a joy that lasts forever, and that’s God. When you stop and think about it, nothing nor anyone is bigger, grander, more awesome and glorious, more powerful and loving, than Eternal God!

This doesn’t mean, however, that He tops our own personal list of joys. I’m often astonished at my own tendency to seek out other joys over and above my enjoyment of God! It makes no sense, but it’s often true. Having related with many others over the years concerning their spiritual condition, I know that I’m not alone in facing this struggle of enjoying God!

The good news is that a joy can be cultivated. We can be intentional about finding greater joy in something. In other words, finding joy in something is, in some measure, a choice. We can decide, therefore, to be intentional about cultivating God as our greatest joy in life. We can determine to enjoy God most of all!

“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

Reality Praying

When our son Dan was a little boy he would sometimes do something wrong and stubbornly resist admitting it. Stewing in his unconfessed guilt, he was miserable. I often found that a gentle and loving approach would soften his heart. He’d admit his offense, I’d say I forgave him, we’d hug, and he’d go bounding off happy as could be!

It’s been said that confession is good for the soul. I believe it, not just from observing my young son, but also because I’ve experienced the same with people and, more importantly, with God.

I’m an older gray haired man who’s attempted to connect with God for over sixty years in what is usually called prayer. I’ve read stacks of books on prayer, and I’ve preached and taught on the subject more times than I can remember. I’m still learning the art of praying, but one thing I’ve become convinced of is the importance of being honest to God in prayer. Can I call it for what it really is? It’s confession.

Okay, I know, this isn’t the most popular part of praying. If we pray, the most passionate of our praying is usually pleading for God to give us what we need or even just want. Maybe we’ll remember to thank God for something good that’s come our way. Confessing something to Him just isn’t a priority. After all, don’t we have enough people telling us what’s wrong with us? Don’t we sometimes secretly struggle with admitting that we’re far from perfect? Then why would we want to get negative in our praying and bring up what’s wrong with us?

Why? Because confession’s good for the soul! My experience has been that when I’m honest to God in my praying, identifying what’s not right and good, and asking His forgiveness, I feel a whole lot better, a lot like my small son did years ago. Reality TV shows may be popular, but reality praying is what needs to gain in popularity.

What I find important to remember is that God is a loving God. He yearns to have a closer relationship with us. The way I picture it is that He is far more ready to extend grace and forgiveness than I was as a father with my young son.

When you think about it, we’re more likely to admit to someone our wrongdoing if we know beforehand that we’ll be extended grace, mercy, and forgiveness by the person. This is what God is like, but even more so! This is why I find confession a doable part of prayer, because I know He’s anxious to forgive and ready to help me move on to something better!

“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave me the guilt of my sin.” King David in Psalm 32:3-5

Joy Is a Choice

Among the optical illusions that’s one of my favorites is the staircase illusion where you are viewing the staircase from above or from beneath. Usually you more easily see it one way or the other and have to really study it to, hopefully, see it the other way. I’ll admit real annoyance, staring at the image for a prolonged period of time and still not being able to see it. I find myself blinking several times, and even being tempted to shake my head or give the ol’ noggin a hard rap with the knuckles! What a gratifying feeling to finally see the staircase the other way!

The staircase optical illusion, and others like it, remind me that there are different ways of viewing things, beyond optical illusions. The Good Lord has given us the ability to make choices. How we view something, anything, is at least in part a choice.

For me, it’s often easier to see the negative in a situation rather than the positive. The electricity goes off, and I immediately think of what I can’t do and start grumbling. My irritation only grows as I throw a light switch or reach for a remote. What about allowing the situation to prompt a curiosity as to what I can do without electricity and a greater appreciation for it when it comes back on? Using my God-given ability to actively choose how to respond rather than passively react is hard work!

Back to the staircase illustration; I find it so easy to view my circumstances from a position beneath the stairs rather than from on top of the stairs! But as a person who has decided to live my life with an active faith and trust in God I’ve determined that I won’t live in denial of God’s good presence in every situation, allowing myself to habitually react in a negative way. If I believe God is sovereign (in ultimate control of things) then I should also believe that He has something good for me to find in that which strikes me initially as not being so good.

The staircase optical illusion is a reminder that I can choose to view a situation from either underneath it or above it. My goal is to establish the habit of looking at it from above! You too?

“The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life — of whom shall I be afraid?  Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident. Psalm 27:1,3

The Big Benefit of a Robot Mower

A while back I was at a big box hardware store (one of my favorite places to shop) and saw on display a Husqvarna robot lawnmower. I knew Husqvarna made a great chainsaw, but a robot lawnmower? Wow! I stood there in the hardware store aisle and watched the video accompanying the display. A lawnmower that goes back and forth across your lawn all by itself; wow!

I could picture it vividly. I would be sitting on my back screened-in porch sipping iced tea while reading a book and all the while my lawn was being mowed! I later shared my hardware store vision with my wife, adding that the Bible would be the book I was reading. Making the book a Bible makes the vision more spiritual, don’t you think? I argued that though the robot lawnmower costs a couple of thousand dollars it would be worth it. After all, how can you put a price on the spiritual benefit of spending more time reading the Bible?

My wife didn’t see the compelling logic of my argument! It’s not that she laughed or made fun of my argument. All she did was give a slight smile with a barely perceptible rolling of the eyes (after 46 years of marriage you pick up on these small expressions of body language).

I still get the lawn mowed, I still read my Bible; just not at the same time, as the wonderful Husqvarna robot lawn mower would have allowed me to do. I have to rob some time from watching TV or reading my John Grisham novel to let God get a Good Word into my day.

The moral of the story? You can still get done all that’s important to get done if you just determine to do so.

“I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.” Psalm 119:16

A Tale of Two Very Ill Men

This is a tale of two very ill men. Each man lived alone. Neither felt well enough to cook for himself. For several days, late in the day, both of their doorbells would ring. Upon answering the door both found a hot meal, wrapped in a towel, secure in a cardboard box on the front porch. Both men brought the hot meal into their home, set it upon their table and enjoyed the feast.

Upon getting better the first man reflected, “I’m sure a lucky man that someone would bring me food. But then again, I’m a good person, and that’s the reward you get for living a decent life, good things come your way.”

The second man reflected, “I sure am a blessed man that someone has cared enough to take care of me like this. I think I know who this benevolent person is – my close friend. The meals are familiar recipes I’ve enjoyed in their home and at potluck gatherings we’ve both attended. Even the towels they’re wrapped in look familiar, for I’ve seen them hang on a towel rack in their kitchen. I’m so thankful. I’ll be returning the empty, washed dishes and towels with great gratitude and the promise to do the same for someone else someday soon.”

When we reflect on the good we have in life do we feel lucky or even deserving? Or when we reflect on the good we have in life, do we feel grateful to the Ultimate One and the human “angels” who put it at our doorstep, even though we’re not deserving of such blessings? Do we believe in Him and know Him well enough to recognize that all good things come from Him? Then, too, are we compelled to pay it forward?

I made up the tale of the two sick men, but you and I are also making up our own story as we go along in life. Which of the two men’s tales will our life’s story parallel?

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” James 1:17

Why Does God Say, “Look at Me”?

A child is doing something that she thinks is amazing and calls out, “Look at me!” An adult posts a new selfie on Facebook and asks, “What do you think of the new look?” A husband flexes his muscles before his wife with an expression that communicates, “You’re amazed, right?” We all do it at one time or another, but calling attention to ourselves is usually looked down on.

This is why it can be bewildering as to why God wants us to worship Him, telling Him how great He is. Does God have insecurity issues? Why does He want our attention, our praise and worship?

The great professor of Cambridge and influential author C. S. Lewis addressed this question. Tim Keller in his book, PRAYER, writes and then quotes Lewis on this subject, “If God is the great object of admiration behind all other beauties and magnificence, then to praise and admire him would be [to quote Lewis] ‘simply to be awake, to have entered the real world… we must praise God or live in unreality and poverty.’”

God wants us to praise and worship Him because in doing so we are seeing reality as it really is, that God made everything, sustains everything, and is infinitely greater than it all! To be aware of the visible creation is only part of reality. The bigger part of reality is to understand and respond to the One responsible for it all, and the appropriate response is awe and worship. To fail to respond to God in this way means we have an inaccurate view of reality and that we “don’t get it.”

Life can be far more than an animal-type existence where we simply respond to the material world as experienced by our five senses. We more fully grab all the gusto of this life when we look upward, worshiping, being in awe of, and giving thanks to the One who put us here in the midst of everything that He’s given us!

God lovingly wants us to have a full grasp of reality and that includes having a right view of Him that will lead to the appropriate response of adoration. No, God doesn’t need us to praise and worship Him, but we have a need to do so!

“It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High.”  Psalm 92:1

Right Person, Right Place, Right Time, Right Thing

It was early morning. I was returning to the hospital to visit my wife Diann who was recovering from surgery. After pulling into a tight parking space in the hospital garage I surveyed the situation to see if I had left adequate room on each side of my car. I then observed a young woman doing the same after exiting her car. “Not much room,” I said.

I made my way down the parking ramp, the young woman a few steps behind me. Once past the security guard at the reception desk we both entered the elevator. “You have someone in the hospital?” I asked.

My father just died,” she said with great emotion.

She had apparently been called at home with the news and had rushed to the hospital. Perhaps it was my combined look of surprise and sympathy at her answer or maybe I had a harmless grandfatherly look about me, whatever the reason, she reached out for a comforting quick hug. I said a sentence prayer for her, the elevator door opened, and I stepped out, turned back and said, “God bless you.” The elevator door closed and she continued up to her floor and I to my wife’s room.

A chance encounter? I choose to describe it in different words, it was more like a divine appointment! If God has no trouble keeping the earth spinning around the sun in just the right configuration and at the right velocity and has electrons spinning around the nucleus of the atom in exactly the right way at the right speed and has a gazillion other elements of the creation synchronized in just the right fashion, then He can easily direct your life and mine, if we let Him.

Life’s an adventure when you believe, and act on the belief, that God has His divine appointments for us every day when it comes to the people to see, the things to do, and the places to go. God’s calling for each of us is unique. You and I are the right person in the right place at the right time to do the right thing!

“I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.” Isaiah 48:17

Fourth Week in Advent

“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas…” Not me! We’re spending this Christmas in Florida.

A snowy scene is so much a part of the ambiance of Christmas that there are even lighted snowmen ornaments for sale here in Florida.  Some Christmases we spend in Mexico where they also display lighted snowmen ornaments, and I dare say nine out of ten Mexicans have never seen a real snowman, let alone made one! Think about it; how much of the world never celebrates a white Christmas? Certainly the first Christmas, the Christmas that started all Christmases, the one in Bethlehem, likely didn’t have snow.

I know, if you live in a colder climate it’s nice to have a blanket of snow for Christmas, best yet is a light snowfall on Christmas Eve. I agree, I grew up in Iowa and lived most of my adult life in Michigan. So, for you northerners, I hope your dream comes true.

But let’s all take stock for a moment. There are a lot of trappings of Christmas that we count on for it to be a good Christmas in addition to a Christmas snowfall – Christmas presents, Christmas parties, Christmas trees and decorations, Christmas carols, Christmas ties, sweaters, vests, and socks.

Is this what makes Christmas really Christmas? You know the answer as well as I do. So, as we enjoy many of these “Christmasy” elements let’s not be so distracted by it all that we fail to take the holiday back to its source. I try to be a creative writer so I steer clear of cliches which means I WILL NOT use the cliché, as true as it is, that we should “Keep Christ in _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.” You go ahead and fill in the blanks yourself!

Food Train

Tray of food brought to us by a Food Train participant

During my wife Diann’s recent post-surgery recovery people from our church brought us food on a regular basis for about two weeks. They call it a food train at our church. When someone in the church is going through a difficult time others in the church sign up for the food train on line to provide a meal. When I was told the food train was planning on stopping at our home I explained that I was fully capable of cooking our meals, but they insisted on helping us out in this way.

I argued against the food train coming to our house, but I didn’t argue very hard or very long. I sort of liked the idea of answering the doorbell and having someone standing there with a hot meal ready for us to enjoy! As it turned out the food was far better than any pizza delivery, it came with genuine smiles and a few minutes of warm conversation, and I didn’t have to pay, not even a tip!

Since then we’ve had the opportunity of being part of the food train to take sustenance to someone else in post-surgery recovery. It’s a good system; you help me when I’m down and I help you when you’re down. It takes humility to receive graciously, and it takes love to give graciously. Both can be a challenge.

Accepting help requires that we overcome an over inflated self-esteem that says we don’t need anyone’s help or that we overcome an under inflated self-esteem that says we aren’t worthy of anyone’s help.

A healthy balance on the self-esteem issue is found when we recognize our value comes from being valued by God. Because He also values everyone else, as He does us, and given the fact that we are all but frail people of dust, we’re called by Him to help others and to be helped by others. It’s the divinely established economic system of give and take and take and give!

We’re blessed when we let others help us, and they enjoy being a blessing. We’re a blessing when we help others, and they reap the benefits of being blessed. It’s blessings all around!

“At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.” 2 Corinthians 8:14