The Spider and Electricity

I was using my electric drill and table saw in my small workshop next to our house here in Mexico and noticed that neither was operating at full power; I don’t think the saw could have cut Styrofoam. Checking the house’s electricity I found the same low voltage issue; the lights were dim and there wasn’t enough current to run the refrigerator.

What was the problem? I decided to open the main electrical box and have a look. Those of you who know me are thinking this cannot turn out well! In this case you are wrong! I crawled under the porch where the electrical box is located and carefully opened it. Inside the box was a dead spider and the web it had been weaving before its shocking death.

The only good position for me to open the box and get a good look inside was to be in a sitting position, on some rocks. Realizing I was about as well grounded as a person can be, sitting on rocks like I was, I knew I had to be extra careful in the removal of the spider and its web!

I pulled the lever down, disconnecting all three main fuses and their circuits from the incoming electrical feed. Is this getting too technical for you? I then used a whisk broom and carefully brushed out the corpse of the spider and its web.

I pushed the lever back up, closed the box, and went to check on the power. The house lights burned brightly, the refrigerator ran, and, checking things out in my shop, I found that the drill and saw hummed at full power. A tiny spider and/or its flimsy web had cut the power to my house and workshop at least in half!

Having spent a lifetime discovering spiritual principles illustrated in everyday events, I had no problem finding an application in this electrical mystery I had solved. Here it is: we can limit God’s great power flowing into our lives by allowing so-called “little sins” to go unnoticed and unaddressed.

The reality is that there really are no “little sins” because doing anything that’s outside God’s holy and perfect will causes serious alienation between us and Him and is a big deal. We distance ourselves from God, including from His power, when we choose to act in ways other than His will for us.

It’s good to always be on guard for the “little” spiders of sin and the webs of trouble they weave. Our lives will be brighter and we’ll live with greater power.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” (Ephesians 6:10)

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Stumbling Stones or Stepping Stones

Stones are neutral in nature. They can be a problem or part of a solution to a problem. I thought of this recently when admiring a set of stone steps. The stones of those steps, when they were still scattered about on the ground, could easily have become stumbling stones for a person walking or running. But those stones were gathered and carefully put into the right place with mortar and now provide solid steps. The stoney steps illustrated for me how we can deal with our problems in two ways.

Problems aren’t much fun. I’d rather not have to deal with them. To me, an ideal day is a day without problems, but that’s not going to happen, at least not very often. So then the issue becomes one of what to do with the problems that come our way.

God has given us the amazing ability to respond to a problem instead of reacting. We can decide how best to solve a problem. If a problem persistently remains unsolvable we still have the choice of how we will live with the problem.

Stones can either cause us to stumble, bringing us down, or they can be crafted into steps, taking us higher. The choice is ours. Problems are much like stones, and the choice is ours as to what we do with them, stumbling over them or using them to take us to a new level.

“The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.” (Psalm 37:23-24)

Life’s Building Materials

Part of our neighbor’s house in Mexico is built of concrete block, and the other part was built of adobe. I use the past tense when referring to the adobe portion of the house, for it is no more. It sustained irreparable damage during the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that hit the central part of Mexico on September 19, 2017.

Adobe bricks are a mixture of mud, clay, and straw and are cast in open molds, then air-dried. It’s one of the oldest building materials and can last for years, but as our neighbors and many others in central Mexico found out, it’s not especially strong.

We build our lives out of a variety of materials, the most important materials not being material in nature at all, but immaterial. The material building materials of life consist of houses, cars, electronics, bank accounts, clothes, and other tangible materials, but these aren’t the most important building products for constructing a great life.

Far more important are such things as faith in God, love, honesty, commitment, patience, integrity, and a host of other immaterial building materials. There’s also a long list of immaterial building materials that are harmful and dangerous to use. This list includes hate, lust, self-serving, racism, greed, apathy, and a host of others.

When building something it’s important to use the right materials, good materials. Our neighbor in Mexico is going to rebuild. He told us he’ll be using concrete block, not adobe! Good choice. We all need to make ongoing choices of what we’ll utilize to build our lives. It’s up to us to make good choices.

The apostle Paul’s words in a letter to the Corinthian Christians: “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.” 1 Corinthians (3:10-13)

Pouring Concrete, Dancing Clouds

Here at Refuge Ranch in Mexico we were pouring concrete by hand as the construction continues on building a larger house for our daughter and her family. It was very hard work for the family, and we all wanted it to be done. Then I happened to look up. Clouds were overhead, and they were blowing in different directions! Over the noise of the gasoline-powered concrete mixer I shouted to the family, pointing my finger toward the sky.

For a few moments we all gazed upward, watching in wonder as the wind pushed clouds different directions at the same time. Even after turning our attention back to the work at hand we would all pause every once in a while to glance upward. The experience of seeing the dancing clouds choreograph such a show refreshed us, a feeling of exuberance relieving some of our exhaustion.

Pouring concrete with dancing clouds overhead was a reminder that whatever challenge, problem, disaster, or difficult task we’re facing, we can break the fixation with it by taking a moment to look “up” and by that I mean look up to the Lord. There are a number of reasons why this is important, and why it works even better than looking up at clouds. First, it’s from Him we need strength, and He’s certainly capable of providing it. Second, we often need fresh insight and perspective, and there’s no one better than God to give that as well. But what we need most is the reminder that God really does care about us and that we’re important to Him. Those reasons, and more, are why, when life’s looking down, we need to look up – at Him. While pouring concrete the dancing clouds reminded me of this!

“Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.” (Psalm 105:4)

Something Better than Good Luck

Like many in the Tampa, Florida, area, my wife and I were much relieved when Hurricane Irma didn’t deliver a full punch as had been forecasted. Our house and that of our son and his family didn’t sustain any damage. We “dodged a bullet” as some put it.

After the hurricane passed, the Tampa paper published the headline, “We’re Lucky,” in big bold letters at the top of the front page. My son took his copy of the paper, struck out the word “lucky” and wrote the word “blessed” in its place. What a correction, a Biblically based correction! The word “luck” and its derivative “lucky” aren’t in the Bible.

Luck refers to chance. God created this universe, and nothing in it, absolutely nothing, happens by chance! Nothing happens without His active or passive will coming into play. Nothing catches Him by surprise, nothing is beyond His control. God is (and here’s a big theological word) sovereign; He is in total control!

What about the “bad luck” that happens? What about the evil in this world? God’s unfolding story with humans as documented from Genesis to Revelation in the Bible reveals that God never causes evil, for He is all good. Yes, He does allow evil things to happen. However, if He does, He has His good plan that can unfold in spite of the evil.

This is why it’s so important that we determine to yield to Him and His will. We don’t have to count on good luck; we can count on the good Lord!

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Filtered Water, Filtered Words

“Don’t drink the water” is a piece of advice worth heeding when traveling abroad. We live part of the year in Mexico to be near our daughter and her family, and we follow the advice, drinking only bottled water. Our home’s water supply is trucked in and pumped into a holding tank. This water needs to be filtered for it to be drinkable, so we have a two-part filtration system under our kitchen sink.

Recently, when I was changing the filters, I reflected on how words need filtering like water does. We don’t have to say everything we think; we shouldn’t say everything we think! Not every thought is worthy of words. What we’re thinking may be irrelevant, off the subject, inappropriate, or hurtful. Even if what we’re thinking is true, it may be the wrong time for the truth to be told, or we may not be the right person to tell it. We may also have, at the moment, the wrong attitude, which makes the truth we want to tell almost impossible for the other person to take well.

God has given us the amazing ability to think before we speak, and He expects us to use that ability. We need to speak responsibly. In fact, someone who says, “I just say what’s on my mind,” or “I just tell it as it is,” needs to confess their sin, repent, and begin to guard their tongue!

Sometimes no words is the best course of action. An often quoted piece of wisdom goes like this, “Better to remain silent and thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

When we drink unfiltered water in a foreign country it often doesn’t turn out well. When we speak unfiltered words it also usually doesn’t turn out well!

“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18)

What’s Extra-ordinary about Ordinary Days

Billy said with a smile, “This is going to be an ordinary day!” Billy is a character in a new novel I’m writing. He’s a special needs young man, living with Downs syndrome. In my story Billy loves to see events unfold in a predictable way and frequently exclaims, “This is going to be an ordinary day!” Of course something happens in the novel that keeps a long series of days from being anything but ordinary.

In a novel it’s usually good to have something other than ordinary days; it makes for excitement, tension, and an engaging story. In real life, however, ordinary days can be good.

Ordinary days are underrated. We complain of boredom when we think a day is so ordinary. We should think again. I did when watching news reports of the horrific event of Hurricane Harvey devastating the Houston area and of Hurricane Irma decimating Puerto Rico. Tens of thousands of people faced the unrelenting daily struggle of recovery. What those folks wouldn’t have given for a string of ordinary days instead of what they had to deal with!

On a personal note my wife and I “dodged a bullet” as did many others in our area of Florida when Irma came through with far less force than, sadly, the hurricane did in other areas. Our home and that of our son and his family were spared. It could have turned out so differently with the days following the hurricane being far from ordinary.

Within days of Hurricane Irma Diann and I experienced a 7.1 magnitude earthquake the epicenter being no more than 40 miles from our home in Mexico. The earth rolled and shook so severely we could hardly stand up. In addition to significant loss of life, much damage was done to homes, businesses, churches, and roads. Thankfully our home, and that of our daughter and her family, were spared any damage. The days following the earthquake could have been far from ordinary.

Ordinary days are good. God must like ordinary days for, on average, He gives most of us a lot of them! We would do well to see them less as boring and more as a blessing.  Here’s hoping you have an ordinary day!

“From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised.” (Psalm 113:3)

Like Tire Tracks in Concrete

On a sidewalk near our house there’s a set of bicycle tire tracks embedded in the concrete. The tracks must be 30 years old, my estimated age for the sidewalk. While the concrete was still soft, presumably after the workers left, somebody rode their bike on the new sidewalk, leaving the permanent tire tracks.

I see these tracks almost every day as I take my morning walk. They’re a reminder to me that our actions, and words, too, can have long-term, sometimes very long-term, ramifications.

We all want our good words and actions to have long lasting effect, and they often do. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the same principle applies to our hurtful words and actions; they too have long lasting effect. This is sobering, as it should be.

Thankfully, we can have God’s forgiveness and, hopefully, the forgiveness of those we’ve hurt. Forgiveness, however, doesn’t do away with all of the ramifications of what we’ve said or done. Someone can extend us forgiveness, but they still have the painful memory. A person can overcome an addiction but may have to live with the resulting health issues. Convicts can pay their debt to society, but it may be difficult to get a job with a past record.

We write words and build sandcastles on the beach while on vacation; what we’ve said and done in the sand is washed away in no time at all. In real life the results of our words and actions are more akin to setting them in concrete, where they last a long time, maybe a lifetime, and perhaps for eternity.

Yes, our choices are like tracks in concrete. By the grace of God may we leave a good track record!

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. (Galatians 6:7 ESV)

A Stronger Faith

Imagine you’re in a public place and suddenly develop strong chest pains. Dropping to your knees, grasping your chest, you believe you’re having a heart attack.

Then imagine a person coming up to you, kneeling beside you and saying, “Let me help you.” What’s your level of confidence that this person can really help you? Probably not much. You don’t need the average person on the street helping you, you need medical attention! But then what if the person says, “I’m a doctor,” then adds, “a podiatrist.” Your confidence level momentarily goes up, but then drops; you don’t have foot issues! But what if the person says, “I’m a cardiologist.” Now your confidence level and your faith in this good Samaritan is way up there.

In this make believe scenario what increased your faith in the person offering help? Was it your own self-talk, “I gotta have more faith in this person who wants to help me, I gotta work at believing this person can really do some good for me”? Not at all. What increased your faith and confidence in this stranger offering help for your heart condition was the realization that this person was a heart specialist. The identity of the person is what inspired the confidence and faith.

An analogy like this helps me understand the only real way to increase faith, trust, and confidence in God working in my life. For me to say to myself in some kind of self-directed mantra, “I have to have more faith, I have to have more faith,” isn’t going to help in the least. No amount of grimacing, hand wringing, nail biting, or pounding of clenched fist is going to increase my faith in God.

What will increase my faith in God is seeking to have an ever increasing understanding of the kind of God He really is. Just as coming to understand that the stranger who seeks to help me with chest pains is a cardiac doctor increases my faith in the help offered, so a greater understanding of God is going to prompt a greater faith in Him. The goal is not a greater faith in God but a greater understanding of God and a closer walk with Him, then the greater faith in Him will come automatically!

“For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness.” (Psalm 26:3 ESV)

Finding Joy in Life’s Mixed Bag

Life’s a mixed bag, no doubt about it. This creates a dilemma for us; how can we find any joy in life when a part of our life is anything but joyful?

Maybe it’s the big “C” word, cancer, that seems to have been shouted into an otherwise quiet life. Perhaps it’s financial distress that distracts from seeing the wealth of good that still exists around us. A recent major failure can keep us transfixed on the past, preventing us from looking forward with hope. There may be a family member who’s going though some dark experience, the long shadows of which takes the vibrant color out of our own life; we feel guilty for any pleasure that does come our way when our loved one is in such pain. We even experience life as a mixed bag when reading or watching tragic news via some media source while sipping a cup of coffee or eating a bowl of ice cream.

Embracing the good that’s in life while at the same time experiencing the bad and tragic of life is tough. Searching the Bible for perspective, I found three approaches to dealing with life as a mixed bag of good and bad. There may be more, but I’m working on these three.

DO WHAT WE CAN! We can’t do everything, but God calls us to do what we can, whether it’s taking just a small, but positive, step with our own problem or helping someone with theirs. When it comes to others it may mean something as simple as providing a meal for the hurting family next door or making a donation to the Red Cross to help others across the country. “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16)

PRAY! Praying for our own needs and problems and for others for whom our hearts hurt unleashes God’s good actions in this fallen, hurting world. Believing this, we can take our burdens to the Lord and leave them with Him! “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

GIVE THANKS. Giving thanks that God can help us with our trouble and the troubled person for whom we’re concerned is helpful. Also helpful is giving thanks for all the good that still is all around us. Practicing thanksgiving helps us see beyond burdens to blessings! “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Yes, life’s a mixed bag. God is aware of the mixed contents and has His plans for it all!