God Is Not Needy!

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There are lots of things we need in order to live including air, water, food, light, even a place to stand, sit or lay. We need other people. We are very dependent beings!

We’ve all experienced the inconvenience of a breakdown in the supply chain of things we need or want. We can’t find a certain product because a key part of that product is in short supply. Every manufacturer has its suppliers, but if those suppliers can’t get what they need from other suppliers then everything grinds to a halt.

One of the wonderful attributes of God is that He needs nothing from anyone. God is self-sufficient. He needs nothing found on earth, in the cosmos, or from us. God was complete in and of Himself before He made anything. He didn’t create all that He created out of some kind of personal need.

When it comes to humans God didn’t create us because He was lonely. This is why the idea of the trinity of God, of Him being Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, makes sense. If God were not triune in nature then He would have gained something by creating creatures like us to be in relationship with Him, meaning that He would have been less than He was before He created us.

But God, being triune in nature, has always had relationship within the Godhead, between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Note, and this is really important, the Bible makes it clear that He’s not three gods, but one, three persons within Himself. (It shouldn’t surprise us that we can’t fully comprehend this; why should we think we can totally understand God?) This means that God created us out of no need on His part but out of choice. That’s real love!

God also doesn’t need us to do His work, carry out His plans, or further His kingdom. He’s chosen to include us, however, much like a parent of a small child allows the child to “help” with chores around the home with their plastic tools or miniature broom and dustpan.

The practical application of reflecting on God being self-sufficient is that we’re prompted to be eternally grateful for His gift of love and His invitation to partner with Him in His work, both offered without His need to do so. It also means we can confidently look to Him to meet our needs because He’s never short of anything, never lacking, and always able to provide for us. How wonderful it is to delight in God because He is self-sufficient!

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.” (Acts 17:24-25)

Choose the Third “B”

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Sometimes ideas for my weekly writing come while I take my morning walk. On one particular morning I started thinking of the different ways we can look at life. Suddenly my thoughts coalesced on three words, all beginning with the letter B. Life can be viewed as a burden, boring, or a blessing. I’m sure there are other ways to look at life, but these three will occupy us adequately for a few paragraphs.

Life can be viewed as a burden. There are certainly enough troubles, problems, and tragedies that can make life burdensome. The Christian faith, based on the Bible, affirms that this is a broken, fallen, and sinful world. Yes, burdens abound!

I’ve known people who spend most of their time lamenting how messed up the world is. They tend not to be very happy people, as if they had a glass of lemon juice for breakfast. If there’s a negative side to a situation they’ll find it and fixate on it.

When you factor God into life, then the burdens can become manageable. If He doesn’t remove the burdens, then He has a plan to help us deal with them. “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.” Psalm 68:19

Life can be viewed as boring. Most days are routine. There’s a sameness about most of our schedules. If we’re not careful, days can slip by without us taking much of a notice. How sad that among the very young we most often hear the complaint, “I’m bored.” As we grow older we may learn to not wear such an emotion on our shirt sleeve, but there are times when we wonder if there shouldn’t be something more.

When you factor God into life, you see that everything that exists, all of creation, is His design. It’s an insult to Him to see the life He’s given us as boring. We need to open our minds and hearts to the truth that there are wonders all around! “Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them.” Psalm 111:2

Life can be viewed as a blessing. This is the best of the three options I determined on my walk. Life’s not to be seen as a burden or boring but as a blessing!

When you factor God into life, then in the midst of a broken world and a daily life filled with routine, you realize that God is at work! His intentions are all good. He has our best interest at heart. He blesses us with Himself, and so we are blessed and can be a blessing to others too! “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord.” Psalm 89:15

Honey for My Toast

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Most mornings I enjoy a slice of toast covered with honey as part of my breakfast. One morning as I munched on the sweet and savory slice of honey-covered toast I wondered how many honeybees had to work how long for me to enjoy this daily delight. I did a little research and was astonished to learn that it takes about 24 bees a lifetime of work (about six weeks) to satisfy my daily honey habit!

I’m glad beekeepers know how much they can harvest from a hive and still leave plenty for the bees, otherwise I’d feel really guilty. What I do feel, as I munch away on the sweet slice of toast, is gratitude.

Reflecting further, I realized that my honey-covered toast is not the only slice of my life for which I’m dependent on other creatures. If my breakfast consists of cereal I’m dependent on cows providing the milk. If my breakfast is bacon and eggs then the chickens provide the eggs and the hog provides the bacon, with its life! The farmer was involved in putting all of this on my breakfast table and the trucker getting it to the store where I purchased what I have for breakfast. I could add the storekeeper and others to the list of those who make my breakfast possible.

This is only breakfast where I’ve assessed who’s responsible for helping me to make it happen. How about lunch and dinner, the clothes on my back and in my closet, the roof over my head, the medical care I need, the education I have, the achievements I can look back on in my life, my hopes for coping with whatever comes down the road in the future?

The reality is that no person is an island, no one is a self-made person, none of us can make it in life without others. We all stand on the shoulders of others.

We could take a lesson from many of the recipients at awards programs who give thanks to all the others who made their receiving of the award possible. The lesson is also provided by the winning coach who is quick to give the credit to a winning team.

Let’s make a mental list of people who sacrificed for us, encouraged us, were there when life was tough, or celebrated with us when something good happened to us. Then too there’s the list we could make of people who are currently adding value to our life. Along with experiencing gratitude for all our helpers in life, we can both boomerang the blessings back to them, if they’re still around, and pay it forward to others. That’s the lesson of which I was reminded when munching on my honey-covered toast, a sweet lesson indeed!

The apostle Paul in writing to a group of Christians: “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers.” 1 Thessalonians 1:2

Before the Beginning

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“But who made God?” the child asks after being told God made everything. The right answer is, of course, that no one made God, that He’s always existed. God is self-existent. That seems difficult not only for a child to accept but many adults too.

The idea of God always existing and having created everything seems, to some, to be a far fetched, made-up, fantasy explanation for everything being here. But those of us who believe in God find that to believe everything is here without God bringing it into being is even more far fetched and unbelievable.

The prevailing view of the origins of the cosmos is that it came into existence in what is called the Big Bang. The web site science.com states, “The universe as we know it started with an infinitely dense singularity, then inflated – first at unimaginable speed, and then at a more measurable rate – over the next 13.8 billion years to the cosmos that we know today.”

What caused the Big Bang to happen? Cosmologists and other scientists say they don’t know. One theory is that it’s a rebound from the collapse of a previous universe. Still another explanation is that there are multiple universes and ours popped into existence from these.

The questions for me and many others that keep coming up and beg for an answer are, “But what made the Big Bang happen?” Or “Where did these earlier universes or multiple universes come from?” One of the fundamental principles of science is that of cause and effect. Every effect has a cause. So what caused the existence of the matter and energy that makes up the universe in the first place? To say it has always existed, that it’s eternal, is one answer given, but for many of us this belief, and it is a belief, isn’t very intellectually satisfying. We want to know where it originally came from. How can something material always have existed?

How about being open to the idea that something outside the time/space continuum, something that is neither energy nor matter, created what exists? Then, too, the fact that all which exists looks well-designed would further indicate that this something is a Someone, who planned it, then created it.

Many scientists do believe in God, as did a great many of the first scientists. Science does not necessarily rule out God. In fact, the idea that there is no God is as much of a belief as the idea that there is a God. There may not be enough evidence to compel belief in God, but many believe there’s enough evidence to make belief in God compelling!

Clear thinking, smart people come down on both sides of the issue as to whether God exists. Could it be that what we believe is more of a heart issue than a head issue?

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

Adopting a Positive Perspective

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Leadership expert John Maxwell tells the story of a boy who was playing with his bat and ball. He announced to his mom, who was watching, “I’m the greatest hitter in all of baseball!” He then tossed the ball up in the air, swung with his bat, and missed.

“Strike one!” he said, picked up the ball, tossed it in the air again and, again, missed.

“Strike two!” he said, picked up the ball, tossed it in the air and missed again.

“Strike three!” he said, then added, “I’m out!”

His mother asked, “So, are you disappointed you missed, since you wanted to be the greatest hitter in baseball?”

He replied, “No. I just discovered I’m the greatest pitcher in baseball!”

The benefits of having a positive attitude have been promoted time and time again. But, in all honesty, is it a valid perspective to adopt?

It’s been suggested, after all, that if you take a negative, pessimistic view, most of the time you’ll not be disappointed, and when occasionally things turn out better than you thought, you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

There’s no doubt that this is a messed up world and that circumstances often don’t turn out the way we want. The Christian/Biblical view agrees with this assessment and adds to it the idea that this is a sinful and fallen world. However, the Christian/Biblical view also calls for adopting a positive perspective in life! Why?

Because God’s a good God, and He’s ultimately in control of everything. He also has a plan, and that, too, is good. True, in the short run things often seem to go badly. But God has the long view in mind. It can sometimes take a long time before we see how something bad has turned out for good. Sometimes it can take an even longer time, into eternity, before we’ll see how the bad turned into good.

This is where faith, hope, and love come into play, faith in God that He has things in control, hope in His working out things for the good, and love for Him because He loves us and has our best interest at heart. This is why we can embrace a positive perspective in life!

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

Contentment

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In 1907 Carnation Condensed Milk began using the phrase, “Milk from Contented Cows.” I’m not sure the company had any proof that milk from contented cows tastes better, but the slogan sounds good.

I grew up on a farm and helped take care of the 18 or so milk cows we had. Sometimes the cows seemed content, especially as the evening grew dark. One by one the cows would first fold up their front legs, leaning downward with their head, then fold up their back legs, lowering themselves into a position of rest and eventual sleep, often with a sigh. Then they would start to chew their cud, a way for them to better digest the roughage of grass or hay they had eaten during the day. It was a perfect picture of contentment.

On the other hand, there were times the cows would push their heads persistently through a fence to reach the grass on the other side that, presumably, looked greener to them. Admittedly, the grass on the other side of the fence was often longer, so I guess I can’t blame them. Still, the cows pushing their heads through the fence wasn’t exactly a picture of contentment.

Like those cows it seems to me we can be content and then again, not be content. I’m aiming for contentment. My personal experience of over 70 years of living, plus observing many other people and decades of studying the Bible and delivering its message, has convinced me that contentment is one of the best attributes we can possess. Much of our misery and a great deal of our temptation to sin, and consequently falling into sin, is the result of not being content.

Pearl S. Buck stated, “Many people lose the small joys in the hope for the big happiness.”

Socrates – “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.”

Epictetus – “Wealth consists not in having great possessions but in having few wants.”

Plato – “The greatest wealth is to live content with little.”

Aren’t there reasons and times to be discontented? For sure. Unless we’re discontented in healthy ways we won’t be motivated to change what could be changed for the better. I call it Divine discontent, a sense of a call from God to want and work for something to be different than it is. To know what can be changed and what can’t, ah, that’s the challenge! Sometimes something can’t be changed, and that’s where it’s applicable to aim for contentment. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow stated, “For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.”

The apostle Paul wrote a letter to some Christian folks that’s recorded in our Bibles. I’ve saved this quote on contentment for last, because I think it’s the best quote of all.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Philippians 4:12

Our Wishes and God’s Ways

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Trying to explain to a small child why they can’t have their wish granted of having candy close to mealtime is an exercise in futility. They have no concept of how a sweet treat can ruin the appetite for more nutritious, though less tasty, food that they’ll be required to eat. Often the child reacts to the denial with anger, maybe even a temper tantrum, walks away in a huff, or at the very least displays sadness that drops the lower lip to the chin.

It seems to me this is much the same issue we frequently have with God. Our wishes and His ways often seem to clash. My prayers have often not been answered the way I had wished. As a pastor of nearly 40 years I prayed a multitude of times for a certain resolution of a situation that turned out differently. I witnessed many prayers of others that weren’t answered the way they wanted. I suspect your experience is similar.

The response to our wishes being in conflict with God’s ways can be as varied as the child who’s denied candy before mealtime. I know people who have turned away from God because they didn’t get a major prayer request answered the way they wanted. Others may not have overtly turned from God but distanced themselves from Him, permitting the denial to cool the relationship.

When it comes to the child being denied candy as an appetizer there’s another response, the ideal response, from a parent’s or grandparent’s perspective. That’s for the child to shrug their shoulders, get on with their play until mealtime, and even come back to the adult for some attention or to extend an invitation to enter into a playful activity.

Our response to God when our wish is not His way can be similar to that of the obedient child, if we so choose. We, too, can accept His ways over our wishes. In my own life I’ve experienced what were, for me, disappointing and even painful denials by God of my wishes that I had made known to Him. Looking back, though, each has been an opportunity for me to resist being angry and, instead, express acceptance, to move beyond disappointment to a dependence on God in helping me navigate His different way for me.

There are times I wish God would answer all my prayers the way I pray them. But upon further reflection, I realize I’d be paralyzed from praying almost any prayer if I knew He would automatically give me my wish without first passing it by His all-discerning and wise judgment. Instead, I’ve come to realize that I can, in child-like enthusiasm, make my wishes known to Him but, like an obedient child, be willing to accept His ways over my wishes.

“’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” Isaiah 55:8-9

Being Fully Known

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This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is cardssmall.jpg“Pick a card, any card.” That’s how the magician begins the card trick. The person picks a card, puts it randomly in the deck. The magician shuffles the deck, then shows the chosen card. It looks like the magician can read minds, but he can’t. It’s a trick, an illusion.

What’s not a trick or an illusion is that our minds and hearts are an open book to God. God knows everything about us. I find this reality to be both sobering and comforting.

First, the sobering part of God knowing everything about us. This can be unsettling, that God knows what we don’t want anybody to know, not even Him.

But this is good, and here’s why. More often than not, what we privately think and feel eventually becomes public; we may not think it will or want it to, but it does. How often haven’t we tried to keep our thoughts to ourselves or stuff a feeling when something triggers us and all of sudden we utter words or express actions that expose what we tried to keep hidden? Knowing that God knows our thoughts and feelings can help us be intentional about dealing with them to much the same degree that we seek to control our public words and actions.

The fact that God knows our thoughts and feelings, some of which would embarrass us if made public, can drive us to an honest and open relationship with Him. It puts us in a position to humbly ask for God’s forgiveness and joyfully accept that forgiveness. Amazing – He loves us and is willing to forgive us and accept us in spite of what is so bad within us that we want to keep it hidden at all costs!

And now for the comforting part of God knowing everything about us. We sometimes complain that no one understands us. God does! We are not alone with our thoughts and feelings. God knows, He understands! Yes, God is closer to us than we are to ourselves. We are fully known by Him and this is good, very good!

In fact, He understands us better than we understand ourselves! He can help us unravel our deepest inner mysteries. He’s the ultimate counselor! John Newton, who wrote the famous hymn “Amazing Grace,” observed that, in his own life, “there is seldom an hour in any day when lively communion with my God, in Christ, is not present to my view as the chief good.”

There’s always a trick as to how the magician can identify the chosen card. The magician could explain the trick to us, but that would remove the amazement factor. It’s no trick when it comes to God reading our minds and hearts. It’s for real! We are fully known by Him, and that’s what’s really amazing!

“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Hebrews 4:13

The Fragrance of Influence

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is beegreenbloomcropped.jpgI sat on one of my designated resting rocks along the path I hike most mornings from our home at Refuge Ranch in Mexico. Sitting and resting, I heard and saw the busy bees flitting from flower to flower. What drew my attention were the flower blossoms. They were tiny flowers and an indistinct camouflage green. From a distance they’d go unnoticed. No splashy, big blossoms here. My best guess is that the bees were attracted by the fragrance of the flowers.

The sense of smell is important to us, too. It’s very disturbing when we lose our sense of smell, as many who have suffered from Covid-19 will testify.

Ever notice how a certain smell will trigger a memory or emotion? That’s because, more than any other sense, the nose is more directly wired to the emotions and memories part of the brain. No wonder essential oils are frequently used to help adjust moods.

I like pleasing aromas (freshly baked bread, bouquets of flowers, newly mowed hay, rain, new books, electronics fresh out of the packaging) and so the imagery of being a person who spreads a pleasant aroma by his or her presence is fitting, it seems to me. Look at it the opposite way, who wants to live a life that, to others, stinks?

The Bible talks a lot about pleasant aromas. Many of the references are in the Old Testament and refer to the aroma of sacrifices the people made on an alter in worshiping God. In the New Testament the aroma imagery is in reference to Christ being the ultimate sacrifice, a pleasing aroma to God. In addition, the pleasing aroma also comes from those who seek to live the way Jesus did, a life of love toward God and those He’s placed around them.

When it comes to pleasing God most of us don’t feel compelled to offer some kind of burnt sacrifice. What’s clear when you reflect on the Holy Scriptures is that God’s plan is for us to sacrifice ourselves, that is, to live His way and not our own way.

At first thought this can strike us as being a win/lose situation, God wins and we lose. Not so. Because He’s a good God when He calls us to live sacrificially for Him it ultimately turns out to be the best way for us, too. It’s a win/win situation, putting forth the scent of sacrifice!

In God’s flower garden we’re not all big and splashy blossoms. Some of us feel like we blend in with the landscape and aren’t making much of an impact. In a social gathering we may feel like a wallflower! The fact is, little nondescript blossoms can produce a significant aroma that can be pleasing and attractive to bees or other pollinating insects. In God’s garden we who see ourselves as little, bland-colored flowers can still offer a wonderful aroma of positive influence to others and delight to God!

“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2

Wishing Vs. Deciding

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is twopathssmall.jpgIn one of J. R. R. Tolkien’s novels this conversation takes place…

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Good words, Gandalf! Wishing comes easy for most of us. There seems to be an abundance of wishing! We find ourselves wishing many things were different than they are. The wise Gandalf admitted to wishing things were different too. But Gandalf gives wise advice. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” More effective than wishing for what is not is deciding what to do with what is. The old adage still applies, “If wishes were horses beggars would ride.”

Author Philip Yancey tells the story of a man held in a Cambodian concentration camp who, instead of wishing things were different, decided to make them different. Like others, he was tortured. But worst of all, for him, he resented having no time to be alone and focus on God; the guards were always yelling at them. Then he noticed that the guards couldn’t find anyone to clean out the cesspits and so he volunteered. He said, “No one ever interrupted me, and I could do my work at a leisurely pace. Even in those stinking depths, I could look up and see blue sky. I could praise God that I survived another day. I could commune with God undisturbed, and pray for my friends and relatives all around me. That became for me a glorious time of meeting with God.” (Reaching for the Invisible God, Philip Yancey, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2000 – page 207-208)

We don’t think of a concentration camp as being a place where you’re given opportunities to make your own decisions; it would seem that most decisions are made for you. The man who volunteered to clean the cesspits knew differently. In the worst of circumstances he made a decision that made a difference!

We all face situations and have to deal with circumstances that we wish were different. Perhaps they can be changed, perhaps not, or not in the big ways we’d like to see them changed. However, we can switch from wishing things were different to deciding how to deal with them differently. Like Gandalf said, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Mordecai to Esther, “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14