Would a Palm Tree Grow Here?

Would a palm tree grow at 7,500 feet. That was the question. The high altitude means our home at Refuge Ranch in Mexico has nights that are cool, around 50 degrees (Fahrenheit), and the daytime temp never gets much above 70 degrees. I decided to buy a small palm tree, about three feet in height, and give it a try. Now, some 12 years later, it towers as high as the two story house along which it was planted. I recently trimmed off the lower 23 palm fronds (that were dead or dying) to keep it looking nice! I’m glad I took the step of faith and bought the tree, planted it, and tended it for these past dozen years!

Very little in life comes with guaranteed results. There’s almost always the risk that things may not turn out the way we want, and many times they don’t! This is true with relationships, business endeavors, volunteering, starting a project, or whatever.

Taking risks and stepping out in faith goes against our nature, at least that part of our nature that wants security and guarantees! We’ve all had our risk taking and steps of faith end badly, and we’d rather not repeat the performance! Sure, sometimes it’s turned out well, but for most of us we tend to remember the times it didn’t go the way we wanted rather than the times it did.

I often remind myself that Thomas Edison failed 10,000 times trying to invent a reliable light bulb. He said, “I haven’t failed. I just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” If we aren’t sure something will work out the way we want we’ll never know for sure unless we try! Trying and failing is never as bad as failing to try.

God’s calling on our lives is almost always a call to move beyond our comfort zone which means courage must trump comfort! This can, and should, play out in countless ways. God may be calling us to establish, repair or re-establish a relationship when we’re not certain the other person will be open to the idea. The Lord may be calling us to try something new, and we’re not sure we can succeed at it. He may be asking us to give up something, and that can be risky too!

I stood resting, surrounded by the 23 palm fronds I had trimmed from my thriving palm tree. In my resting I reflected on how I had wondered 12 years earlier whether the small palm tree would survive at 7,500 feet. Now I knew! It was a reminder that taking a risk is often the best way to go!

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” Hebrews 11:8

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Making a Friend of Man’s Best Friend

I came around the bend on the path that ran along the stone fence in Mexico, up the mountain from where we live part of the year. A dog started barking; I spotted him, about a hundred feet from me, then he started to run toward me, barking all the way. I wasn’t overly alarmed, his demeanor was different than on previous encounters.

Weeks earlier I had met his master, a local Mexican farmer tilling his field, the field on the other side of the low stone fence. I knew he was at work someplace in the field, for I had seen his horse tied up to a tree, his mode of transportation for his commute from his house in the nearby town. The horse was munching contentedly on some corn stalks.

The farmer had brought his dog to work as well, who I apparently startled when greeting his master with “Buenos días” which is Spanish for “Good morning.” The man’s reply was less enthusiastic than the dog’s response to a stranger’s presence. The farmer had no sooner mumbled a greeting, when his dog charged at me with ferocious barking that promised to be followed by a bite. I responded by holding my ground, never breaking eye contact, and shouting something at the dog in English (which, of course, he wouldn’t understand). I barely escaped a tooth-to-flesh encounter.

The next time I encountered the Mexican mongrel I was prepared. As he approached me with barking and exposed teeth I tossed some dry dog food on the ground between us. He was immediately distracted and voraciously consumed the nuggets.

Dogs have good memories and this dog was no exception. On this most recent encounter he had me pretty well figured for being a dispenser of delectable treats, and he was not disappointed. I have a feeling our future encounters will be peaceable as well, as long as I carry a zip lock bag of dog food treats on my walks!

The canine encounters on the rural Mexican path provided me a choice as to how I could respond. I could have continued an aggressive and antagonistic attack, or switch, as I decided to do, to a kinder, gentler approach.

The choice between an aggressive, antagonistic attack or a kinder, gentler approach is available to us every day. Perhaps a server in a restaurant is not as friendly and attentive as we would expect. We can complain to management or treat the server like a human being and ask how the day is going. A co-worker or friend may have been too busy to do us a favor last week, but how will we react when that person asks a favor from us this week?

I can decide how to handle less than ideal encounters with people just like I did with the dog. I don’t need doggy treats to do it either, just the determination to take the kinder, gentler approach!

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” Romans 12:1

Stephen Hawking’s Hope for Extraterrestrial Life

Stephen Hawking was a brilliant theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author who died in 2018. Since 1963 he courageously battled ALS, spending many of those years in a wheelchair and using a computer voice synthesizer to speak. He was, and remains, one of the most famous and admired scientists of our time.

Dr. Hawking believed that the universe exists on its own, that there is no need to believe in a creator/sustainer. Most of what he said and wrote indicates he was an atheist. He believed that the universe came into being on its own, that it created itself and that the law of gravity made this possible. Hence, no need to postulate the existence of God. It’s interesting that centuries ago Newton discovered the law of gravity and, unlike Hawking, believed in God!

Not all great scientists and thinkers agree with Dr. Hawking that there is no God, such as Dr. John Lennox who was educated at both Oxford and Cambridge and is Emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford. He observes that “statements by scientists are not always statements of science.” So true. Stephen Hawking’s comments about God are outside his area of expertise, science, and are only about his own religious beliefs. Hawking stated, “In my opinion, there is no aspect of reality beyond the reach of the human mind.” Hawking was right, this was his opinion.

Hawking saw a belief in God as being in conflict with science. However, people who believe in God see no conflict and see science as revealing astonishing things about the universe God created! For many, it makes more sense to believe that God, who exists apart from and outside of space and time, created the cosmos rather than to believe the universe came into being on its own. Dr. Lennox says the idea of the universe creating itself, as Hawking proposes, is nonsense. His words: “Nonsense remains nonsense even if scientists are talking it.”

Dr. Hawking was intrigued with the question as to whether there is other intelligent life in the universe. He said, “It is important to know if we are alone in the dark.” Dr. Hawking wanted to believe that there is extraterrestrial life and was open to the possibility, but was unwilling to hypothesize (take a step of faith) that there might be an ultimate extraterrestrial being who exists outside time and space, who made it all and sustains it all, and who is God!

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1

Chickenphobia

I know someone who’s afraid of chickens. I guess you could say she’s chickenphobic. Actually, the proper word for this phobia is alektorophobia, but I’m never going to be able to remember this. The fear of birds in general is ornithophobia, which also isn’t easy to remember. I’ll stick with chickenphobia. I find chickenphobia difficult to understand. I’ve raised chickens as a hobby for over 40 years, even hatching them in an incubator. I don’t find chickens very intimidating, except maybe for a few roosters I’ve had over the years. Generally chickens are, well, chicken!

In talking with this friend who’s fearful of fowl I found out that when she was a little girl her brothers would terrorize her by catching chickens and throwing them at her. These feathered, flapping, brother-tossed ballistic missiles gave her a life-long fear of anything feathered.

Knowing of her childhood trauma keeps me from poking fun at her phobia or judging her for having what strikes me as an irrational fear, which is, as it turns out, very rational! In fact, she’s a very smart person, is an RN, and can handle bloody situations that would make me turn green and faint. So, I’ll be a gentleman (unlike her brothers), and not toss one of my pet chickens into her lap for her to pet if she comes to visit us.

My friend’s understandable chickenphobia is a reminder that the less we know about a person the easier it is to be condescending, judging, or to give unsolicited advice. Most of us have trouble figuring ourselves out, so why do we think we can easily and accurately judge someone else?

Even if the other person’s situation seems similar to ours, it’s not; there are all kinds of factors that are different. For us to say, “I know how you feel,” or “Been there, done that,” is insensitive, ignoring the fact that every person is different. We all have a different past and we have different personalities. Two people’s experiences may be similar, but they’re not the same!

People need less judgment and advice from us and more of a listening ear and a compassionate heart. I was reminded of this when my chickenphobic friend shared her fowl past.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Colossians 3:12

Jawbone of a Donkey

I took a picture of a mule’s jawbone (or maybe a horse’s, hard to tell). The animal had died weeks before, and the skeletal remains were scattered about, just off the path I was walking near our home in rural Mexico. I take lots of pictures, many of them capturing a beautiful scene. This photo, however, stands no chance of making it onto a Hallmark card.

I felt compelled to photograph the jawbone because it reminded me of the strange story in the Bible of the strong man Samson using a jawbone as a weapon to single-handedly dispatch 1,000 enemies. Samson then came up with a little ditty to celebrate the event. “With a donkey’s jawbone I have made donkeys of them. With a donkey’s jawbone I have killed a thousand men.” (Judges 15:16) Samson was far from a perfect guy, but God had him use what was at hand, the jawbone, to do what needed to be done.

Thankfully, it’s unlikely we’ll be called upon to fight such a gory battle, but nevertheless we all do have our battles to fight! The good news is that just as Samson found a jawbone to be within reach, we too can find the resources within reach to do what needs to be done. God doesn’t ask us to do something, to cope with something, or to conquer something without providing the resources to do it.

It’s unlikely that the resource we need is a yucky old jawbone. The “jawbone” I have found at hand when I needed it was the help or encouraging word of someone, financial help when I least expected it but greatly needed it, or reading just the right words when so much seemed to be going wrong. When we feel inadequate or overwhelmed it’s time to affirm the belief that God will give us what we need to do what needs to be done!

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” (the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:19)

Instruction Manual or Personal Journal?

I have piles of instruction manuals for everything from our lawnmower to our printer. I usually don’t need instruction manuals to fix things (my wife thinks I do). Okay, sometimes I consult one, if none of my male friends are around to see me in such a moment of desperation. Consulting instruction manuals is not something a guy likes to own up to doing. I can also assure you that I don’t pull them out in pursuit of an enjoyable read!

I’ve heard it said that the Bible is God’s instruction manual for life. That would make it a boring read! True, it contains some instructions, but the Book is so much more! It has history, poetry, fiction (they’re called parables), in-your-face prophetic words, and picturesque descriptions of an astonishing future. I’d say that the Bible is more like God’s personal journal that chronicles His relationship and interaction with the most precious part of His creation, people.

Personal journals contain historical details, personal reflections, opinions, maybe even some poetry, and perhaps thoughts about the future. That’s what the Bible is, God’s personal journal for you and me to read and respond to. (This is the same God who keeps 100 billion stars in 100 billion galaxies going and every sub-atomic particle in the cosmos doing its thing, so He has no trouble making His journal personally applicable for each one of us.)

This journal of God’s was written over many centuries, God using the unique personalities and specific circumstances of dozens of co-writers who He made certain wrote exactly what He wanted them to write (He controls the universe, He certainly could carefully guide the compositions of a few dozen writers).

If we came across a journal of a person close to us or of a famous person we admire we’d be anxious to read it. We would especially want to read it if we knew the author intended for us to read it. That’s what the Bible can be for us! It’s less a cold and detached description of how to do this or that and more a passionate expression of God’s love for us and a record of His unfolding plans and purposes for us. It’s God’s story and we humans are the main characters in that story with God being our Hero. This is why I pick it up virtually every day to read. It’s the greatest story ever told!

“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.” Psalm 130:5

A Windy or Sunny Approach

Walking the rural paths among the rolling hills above our home at Refuge Ranch in Mexico often results in a gentle assault from both wind and sun. The paths are at over 7,000 feet altitude where the sun is stronger because it doesn’t have to penetrate as much air to reach the earth. The wind, too, is stronger for the hills are an exposed target with nothing to hinder the wind’s blowing.

This added strength the high altitude gives to both both wind and sun means I often feel both press against me at the same time, the warmth of the sun and the cool of the breeze. It’s as if both are wrestling control for whom I will have the most feeling.

It reminds me of Aesop’s fable of the wind and the sun. They were disputing which was the stronger when they saw a traveler walking a path. The sun said, “I see a way for us to resolve our dispute. Whichever of us can cause the traveler to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger.” The wind agreed to the contest. While the sun hid behind a cloud the wind began to blow. The wind blew and blew and blew harder and harder, but its efforts only made the traveler wrap his cloak more tightly about himself. It was the sun’s turn, so it came out from behind the cloud and shown bright and warm, and warmer and warmer until the man removed his cloak. The sun’s gentleness won over the wind’s force.

We too can use force or gentleness. We have little, if any, control over what others say or do, but we can, especially with God’s help, exhibit control over how we respond. We face countless opportunities every day where we have to decide, often very quickly, whether to use a forceful or gentle approach, a windy or sunny approach. Aesop’s fable, past personal experience, and the wisdom found in the Good Book all vote for us taking a sunny as over against a windy approach!

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”  (Proverbs 15:1)

Maintenance in Life

The large chandeliers hang high in the lobby of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort at Disney World. There’s much glitter and grandeur in the Victorian-styled lobby, and the twin chandeliers contribute their share to the lobby’s ambiance. Each chandelier has about two dozen lights, each covered by a small shade. As I gazed at the chandeliers I noted that not a single bulb was dark. It can’t be a small task to change a burnt out bulb in these high flying chandeliers, but there wasn’t a burnt out bulb to be seen. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, Disney is known for keeping their property well maintained. It’s an admirable trait.

Everything needs maintenance, including houses, cars, lawns, and relationships. Life needs maintenance!

Entropy is what we’re dealing with in every aspect of our lives. Entropy refers to the tendency for things to wind down, deteriorate, become disordered, and move toward a state of inert uniformity. Keeping things running, updated, improving, and moving forward takes intentional thought, time, and effort.

Especially important is maintaining relationships, both with others and, even more importantly, with God. Left to themselves, relationships will quickly plateau and then begin to decline. If they’re to deepen and improve we have to work at them. Whether it’s our relationship with a mate, family member, friend, co-worker, or whoever, what’s required is that we listen carefully, respond appropriately, forgive often, cut each other some slack on a regular basis, encourage consistently, confront lovingly and rarely, and give the gift of time. When it comes to our relationship with God we nurture the relationship with Him when there’s conversation with Him through prayer, regular input from His Word, hanging out with others regularly who also are serious about a relationship with Him, and a willingness to obediently follow His will for us.

It takes considerable effort to maintain life as it was meant to be in a world that keeps wanting to deteriorate and fall apart around us. The good news, however, is that it takes less effort than living a life that’s not well maintained!

“But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.” (Hosea 12:6)

A Link in Life

C. L. Sherman M.D., 56 Years of Dedicated Service to the Community 1904 to 1960,” read the caption beneath the picture. It was the first photograph in a row of images on a basement wall of the hospital in Luverne, Minnesota, of those who had served as president of the hospital.

My mother-in-law was hospitalized in a room one floor above the row of images. Stretching my legs after spending time bedside with her I found myself pondering the row of presidents. One after the other, each took a turn leading the hospital as it sought to meet the medical needs of the rural Minnesota community for over the past hundred years.

Each of us could have our own image framed in such a row of images with those who came before us and those who are coming after us. In fact, each of us could be featured in a number of such galleries, a gallery of family, a gallery of employees, a gallery of church members, a gallery of the neighborhood and other galleries, too! We are the generation that came after the previous generations, and we are the generation that other generations will follow. We take over a responsibility from someone else and someone else takes it over from us.

We are but one link in a chain of links. No link is all important and no link is unimportant, this dual truth giving us both a good dose of humility and responsibility, helping to guarantee that we do our part when our time comes, which is now!

The question is, what do we pass on? The Bible talks about the passing of both curses and blessings down through the generations. Even on a daily basis we can choose to pass on gossip or praise, revenge or forgiveness. We’re always leaving a legacy of one kind or another, whether it’s long term for the generations to come or short term for someone at the end of the day.

Part of a prayer of King David: “One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.” (Psalm 145:4)

Making God Personal

One of my favorite authors over the years has been Calvin Miller. After years of reading his books I finally met him at a conference. I took the initiative and, with some fear and trepidation, approached him and asked for a few minutes of his time. Calvin Miller invited me to lunch! I had read his books, read about him, and tried to take his teachings to heart and apply the truths he taught, but getting to know Calvin Miller personally was the best yet!

I realized that my experience with Calvin Miller is something like what an experience with God should be like. We can know about God, hear of Him from teachers or preachers, read His words in the Bible, and attempt to follow His principles, but there’s something missing. There’s something more: we can get to know Him personally!

A majority of people believe in God, that He exists. Those who have a connection with the Christian tradition may even believe that what the Bible says about God is true, including belief in Jesus and that the Bible gives us the right way to live. A person can believe a great deal about God but not know Him in a personal way. Christian writer A. W. Tozer stated, “To most people God is an inference, not a reality. He is a deduction from evidence which they consider adequate; but He remains personally unknown to the individual.”

I find that the word “trust” may be a better word than the word “believe” when it comes to God. We all know many people and have no trouble believing they exist; trusting them is another matter! Most likely we really put our trust in only a few of those people, most likely those with whom we have a close personal relationship.

Trusting in God involves a lot more than just believing in Him; it means trusting Him with every aspect of our life. We can’t really know God until we do!

“In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.” Psalm 25:1