Amazingly Ambitious Ants

Photo taken with my camera phone of actual ants referenced below.

While taking a walk I noticed a trail of ants trekking across a large rock. It was a two-way trekking, a going back and forth to some food source and back to their colony.

They were also traveling fast! As I paused in my walk to watch them work I realized that, considering their size, they were covering an amazing amount of rock very quickly.

While watching the rush hour traffic of ants I imagined looking down upon a highway of cars from a height where the cars would be the size of these ants. I estimated that cars seen from such a height, being the size of these ants, would be traveling about 60 miles an hour. For their size these ants were traveling the equivalent of about 60 miles per hour!

How these little six-legged creatures had the strength and stamina to travel back and forth like this, for a long time, and at this speed, was absolutely amazing. Then too, they were working purposely and together! This was an unmarked highway, but they were keeping in their lane, ants going both ways, and no head-on crashes!

As best as we can tell ants aren’t particularly smart, but they certainly have a lot of programming packed into those tiny brains allowing them to instinctively do what they do to survive and thrive. God’s created ants (and all other creatures great and small) to be an integral part of His creation, to live out their lives in accord with His plan.

We humans are also creatures created by our Creator to live out our lives in accord with His plan. The difference between us and the ant (and all other creatures great and small) is that, for us, instinct plays a very minor role and choice plays a most significant role. What the ant does instinctively we’re to do intentionally. We humans can choose whether we cooperate with God, carrying out His will and His plan for us, or not.

I have to admit that there are times when I have little enthusiasm, energy, and motivation for doing that which I know I should. I can face a stretch of the day when I feel the way I do on a holiday afternoon after a big meal, finding it easier to imitate the sloth than the ant!

What can help us face each day with a significant degree of the ant’s energy and endurance is to realize we’re doing far more than the ants’ gathering of their thimble sized underground storehouse of food for a later season when there will be no gathering. We can be serving and pleasing the Lord God Almighty, the fruit of our labors being stored up not just for a season but for an eternity!

This, then, is the lesson to be learned from the ant, according to the book of Proverbs. “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.” (Proverbs 6:6-8)

The actual door referenced in this post in the process of being painted.

I was painting a new door we had installed in our house. I don’t enjoy painting, but the task had to be done. My attitude wasn’t the greatest. I could think of a lot of things I’d rather be doing than painting a door.

The week of painting the door was also the week there was massive flooding in Houston, Texas, in some places more than three feet of rain falling within just a few hours. Images on the news showed flood waters filling homes to the height of where you hang pictures, or higher. What a mess, what a disaster! I tried to imagine all of the work involved in fixing a house after a flood. Any of those homeowners would love to have had nothing more to do on their home than paint a door! It put it all in perspective for me.

Sure, life has both minor and major struggles, and it’s okay to be honest in our response when it comes to the troubles and tragedies of life. But on the other hand, we can get to complaining about almost anything and everything, much of which should illicit no complaint at all. If we were required to write out each complaint on a separate dollar bill we’d be doing a lot less complaining!

Sometimes our complaints are based on wrong information, a misunderstanding, or misguided assumptions. I heard of a guy who called and complained to the pizza place that had delivered a pizza to his house. He said it was all crust and no toppings. A few minutes later he called back to apologize for his complaining; he had opened up the pizza box upside down!

We complain we have dishes to do, but at least we have dishes to do! We complain we have to put the groceries away, but at least we have groceries to put away. We complain we have to do something for a friend, but at least we have a friend. I complained I had a new door to paint, but at least I had a new door and a house to attach it to! Much of our complaining is in response to the small shadow of the negative cast by that which is largely good. Gratitude should overshadow grumbling!

Let’s save our complaining for the really big things, and take those complaints to the Lord (as King David did in the reference below). At the same time let’s jettison the petty complaints; they simply don’t deserve the attention we give them!

“I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift my voice to the Lord for mercy. I pour out before him my complaint; before him I tell my trouble.”  Psalm 142:1-2

Beyond Building Sandcastles

The sea water, wind, and the moon’s invisible arm of gravity pushing and pulling in tidal waves joined forces to destroy the structure. It had been a castle, a sandcastle. I came upon the ruins along a stretch of beach on the Gulf of Mexico. Some sand sculptor, or perhaps several, had spent considerable time building the structure out of nothing but sand.

The unceasing, unending waves’ pounding assault had left the sandcastle in ruins. Soon enough there would be no sign at all that it had ever existed.

Builders of sandcastles know that their creations have a short life-span, usually less than one cycle of the ebb and flow of the tide, perhaps even shorter if there’s a mean little kid walking the beach.

Much of what we work for, make, buy, maintain, and achieve has a limited lifespan, perhaps longer than sandcastles, but not by much, when measured against eternity. We note buildings being demolished that have outlasted their usefulness but are less than 50 years old. That shiny new car we excitedly drove off the car lot 20 years ago and took down the highway while inhaling the new car aroma may be, today, on the flatbed truck of crushed cars we meet on the highway going the other way to the recycling center. I’ve lost count of the number of computers I’ve excitedly bought and then, less than a half-dozen years later, at best, unceremoniously stashed in the closet, unable to bring myself to throw them in the trash, which I inevitably end up doing.

Fortunes gained may be ours, if we’re both smart and fortunate, until the day we die, but not beyond. Fame doesn’t have a long shelf life either. We might remember that a hundred years ago Woodrow Wilson was president (I didn’t, I had to look it up, 1913-1921). I’m sure that his vice-president thought himself fairly famous. How many people can recall his name? Probably just the rare historian with a knack for details. It was Thomas R. Marshall.

What can we do, what can we pour our lives into, that will last and last and last, that will last for an eternity? The answer? That which is important and memorable to our Eternal God. In Christian literature there’s a line in a poem by C.T. Studd that goes like this, “Only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”

We live in a material world where we have to deal with much that won’t last, and that’s okay. God’s made it all and we can use and enjoy it for a time, like the building of sandcastles. We just have to keep it all in perspective, looking beyond building sandcastles, focusing most of all on that which will last, last forever!

“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.” Jesus in Matthew 6:19-21

The Danger Within

The actual vase and plant referenced in this post. Note that the water has been changed and is fresh and clean!

A pesky mosquito or two would interrupt our attempt to sleep at night with an annoying buzzing about our ears. During the day the mosquitoes seemed to be in stealth mode, but we soon experienced the effects of their presence by an itching of an arm or leg. Even if we were successful at dispatching a specific mosquito, another one soon had taken its place. Where were they coming from? Our windows had good screens and we weren’t in the habit of leaving a door open.

Then I happened to gaze at a plant we had in a small glass vase of water on the window sill over the kitchen sink. There were mosquito larvae wiggling about in the water! We were raising our own mosquitoes in the house!

An effective defense against the mosquitoes was not to focus on the window screens or the doors to keep them from coming in. Rather, our focus to keep the mosquito population at zero within our house had to be on the vase with the plant, located on the window sill over the kitchen sink. I changed the water, and from that point on kept an eye on the vase’s water!

The experience reminded me of the story of the Trojan horse. In order to gain entrance into the city of Troy during the Trojan War the Greeks built a large hollow horse. They then pretended to retreat, leaving the large wooden horse behind. The Trojans brought the abandoned horse into their city, and that night a group of Greek soldiers emerged from hiding in the hollow horse and opened the city gates, allowing their fellow Greeks, who had secretly returned, into the city which they then conquered.

We were dealing with Trojan mosquitoes! The danger was not from without but from within!

This is so true for life beyond Trojan horses and Trojan mosquitoes. Sure, we face problems and setbacks that assault us from the outside. Yes, circumstances and social circles around us can tempt us to respond badly. However, what ultimately determines how anything external impacts us is how we deal with it internally.

It’s our private thoughts, our inner feelings, our hidden passions, our deepest motives, and our core commitments that determine how well we do with life rather than the external issues we face. Complaining about external factors or blaming outside forces will get us nowhere. The mind and heart are where the battle is won or lost. The battle is within!

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23

Empty Shelves

Living in Florida means living with the threat of hurricanes. In preparation for the arrival of a forecasted hurricane, I went to the store to stock up on essentials. I quickly realized I was not the only person doing so! In fact, it was obvious many had already done so! This was four days before the forecasted arrival of the hurricane, and the bread shelves were already bare.

Another aisle of shelves that was nearly empty was the bottled water aisle. We were warned to stock up on water in case the water out of the tap became undrinkable. People certainly had heeded the warning! Fortunately, for us in Florida, the hurricane missed us.

The experience of the empty bread shelves and water shelves clearly indicates the importance of bread and water. If bread and water are the basic provisions for physical survival, then what would be their counterpart in the realm of spiritual health? What are the bread and water for the soul?

We have many options for trying to fill this deepest hunger and thirst. Often, we mix our own personal cocktail of these. Sometimes, we opt for that which is outright harmful such as over drinking, drug use, or pornography.

At other times, when we feel empty, alone, fearful, joyless, bored or whatever, we opt for that which is not necessarily bad, and sometimes is actually good. We go for our favorite comfort food, watch TV, go to the movies, read a novel, go shopping, spend time on a favorite hobby, or try to gain the attention and affirmation of others. We attempt to make such things our primary source of gratification, satisfaction, or fulfillment, and they’re not up to the task. They can be good for us but can never be the best for us!

So back to the fundamental question: what’s to be the bread and water for the soul? Most everyone agrees that Jesus was one of the greatest spiritual teachers of all time. He taught on this subject of what’s to be the bread and water in the spiritual part of our lives. Astonishingly, He taught that He is this bread and water!

On a regular basis I’ll pray, “Lord, I want you to be my bread and water.” I need this reminder that He is to be my all in all, my greatest satisfaction.

In our pre-hurricane prep we shoppers didn’t go to the shelves that stocked electronic devices, books, toys, tools, or candy. We went for the shelves that stocked bread and water! In a crisis we know what we need most. Wise are we when we realize this even when not in a crisis!

“Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’” John 6:35

Anyone Can Be An Encourager!

Diann and I are among the crowd gathered at a cross country meet to encourage the runners. We, of course, are there to encourage our grandson Casey, the runner in maroon, # 550. He looks like he’s encouraged!

The people that have impacted my life most in a positive way are not those who’ve criticized me, though honest criticism can and should be helpful and constructive. The people most helpful in my life have been those who have encouraged me. I’ve needed lots of encouragers over the years, about ten encouragers to every one critic. That’s because criticism seems to stick a lot easier than does praise!

The bad news is that we can’t ultimately control the ratio of criticism and encouragement we receive. True, if we try to do our best and seek to do what’s good and right, we can hope to receive more praise than criticism; but it doesn’t always work out that way.

The good news is that we can control the ratio of criticism and encouragement we dish out to those around us! Other people are no different than you and me; they love encouragement far more than criticism. And they, like us, are more likely to respond in a favorable way to praise and continue on that course of action than they are to criticism and change their course of action.

There’s an old proverb that first appeared in printed form in Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanac” in 1744. It goes like this, “You attract more flies with honey than vinegar.”

This is a tough world; everyone we encounter needs encouragement! People need to hear from us: “You’re doing a great job!” “I really appreciated what you said.” “You did the right thing in that situation.” “__________.” (fill in the blank) My personal experience has been that when I consciously try to be an encourager to those I meet in my daily activities it boomerangs on me and I feel encouraged!

I recommend an experiment of intentionally, for one day, by face-to-face contact, phone call, texting, or letter, communicating something encouraging to everyone with whom you come in contact! I know, with some folks it’ll take some effort, but try to do so anyway. I believe you’ll be pleased with what a difference it will make in your day!

People should give us the nickname Barnabas! Why? That’s what the people in the early church did to a guy named Joseph, from Cyprus. “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement)…” Acts 4:36

Celebrating Answered Prayer 40 Years Later

prayerhandsSam Anderson was five years old in 1975 when he put a pin on a world map where Easter Island was located. His parents worked for Wycliffe Bible Translators and were living in Nevada working on a translation for a tribe of people who didn’t have a Bible in their language. Sam’s parents encouraged their children to pray for a specific Wycliffe translation project somewhere in the world and give a tithe, ten percent, of their allowance to the project.

The only problem with Sam putting his pin on Easter Island was that there was no one there from Wycliffe doing translation work. About the same time Sam started to pray for a Bible translation on Easter Island newly married Bob and Nancy Weber, both children of Wycliffe missionaries, were praying where God would have them serve.

Some time later Sam’s parents got a letter from a friend who mentioned that the Weber’s were being assigned to Easter Island to strengthen the Rapa Nui language, on the verge of extinction, and then translate the New Testament into Rapa Nui. Sam started to send the tithe of his allowance to Wycliffe, designating it for the work on Easter Island.

Bob and Nancy Weber would send notes of thanks to all of their supporters, including Sam. Nancy said, “We had no idea that he was just a child [at the time] or that he had started praying for us when he was a very small boy, so we wrote our thank-you notes to a ‘Mr.’ Sam Anderson.”

In early 2019, over 40 years after their work began, the Weber’s were at the Wycliffe headquarters in Orlando, Florida, celebrating the completion of the translation of the New Testament in the Rapa Nui language of the people on Easter Island. Sam Anderson was there as part of the celebration!

Sam said, “Growing up as a missionary kid, I knew that a Bible translation is a huge undertaking and takes a long time. It was amazing to hold the Rapa Nui New Testament in my hands and to see living proof of God’s faithfulness in answering prayer.”

God calls us to participate with Him in what He wants to do in our world. One way He has us do this is by praying. God listens to what we have to say, to what we ask for, and He responds. Of course God doesn’t give us everything we ask for, just as a wise parent doesn’t give their children everything they ask for. We leave it up to Him to do what’s best with our request.

The poet Alfred Lord Tennyson said, “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” Prayer can unleash God’s good working! Prayer changes things!

“You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds…” Psalm 65:5a

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

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