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The Power of Believing in Others

When Olympic champions are interviewed they almost always bring up the names of people who have helped them achieve their Olympic dream. Usually parents and coaches are at the top of the list. These people, they’ll frequently state in the interviews, believed in them. Imagine the emotions of the Olympiads’ parents and coaches listening to these interviews! Steve Farber, a motivational coach, writes, “None of us gets very far without someone who believes in us more than we believe in ourselves.”

All of us want our lives to count for something. We’d like to make a difference in this world, at least our little corner of it. It would be great if just a handful of people felt we meant a lot to them and were a significant part of their lives. The fact is, we ARE in a position to add value to the lives of those within our sphere of influence. A major way this happens is to believe in them!

In 1968 a study was done by psychologist Robert Rosenthal and school principal Lenore Jacobson. They gave teachers in Jacobson’s school a select list of students who, they were told, had done well on a previous intelligence test. What the teachers didn’t know was that the names had been selected at random and no such test had been given. Later on in the school year all the students were tested. Those on the select list that was given to the teachers did better, though they had been chosen at random. The teachers’ expectations of these students resulted in them actually doing better! Rosenthal also noted how the “feedback factor” played a role in the results of the study. When teachers believed in a student they gave more praise and positive feedback.

The idea that high expectations of someone often leads to improved performance is called the Pygmalion effect. The Pygmalion effect is named after the Greek mythological character Pygmalion. Pygmalion was a sculptor who created such a beautiful statue of a woman that he fell in love with it and his love caused the statue to come to life. People come to life when we believe in them!

I know, we all want others to believe in us too. But maybe, just maybe, we should forget about ourselves a little more and put more of a focus on believing in others. Believing in someone is one of the best ways to be a blessing to them, and we’re likely to find that the blessing boomerangs right back to us!

This is a tough, broken, harsh world. Everybody’s been beaten down. We don’t have to look very hard or far to find them, they’re our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and church family. What they need more than anything is for someone to believe in them. That someone can be you and me!

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (The Apostle Paul writing to Christians in 1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Skylights, Windows, and Mirrors

Interior view of our home with three kinds of glass

I had the delight of designing our small house in Mexico. We wanted lots of windows to let in light and warmth from the sun. The house, like most homes in Mexico, has no central heat. The result is three skylights, high windows on the tallest east-facing wall. There are also a large window and sliding glass door on the east wall to let in the morning sun. The other large pieces of glass in the home are several mirrors into which we can look in order to make ourselves presentable beyond our front door.

It occurred to me that these three forms of glass in our home, the skylights, windows, and mirrors, can be seen as metaphors on how we should live life. The skylights reveal the upward view, the heavenly view: the sun, blue sky, clouds, moon, and stars. The windows reveal the horizontal view: the hills, trees, grass, and people beyond our house. The mirrors reveal a reflection of ourselves: hair, face, body, and expression.

The order in which I’ve listed the three types of glass in our home is intentional and in order of priority. This order is not of my own making but that of the book I’ve studied, preached, and written about for over 50 years, the Bible.

The skylight look, the upward look, the vertical look, toward God is most important. The first commandment the Bible lists, both in the Old Testament and by Jesus in the New Testament, is to love God with all we’ve got. Everything else tends to fall into place when you get first things first, and the first thing is a connection with God like we have with no one else or nothing else. Anything else in first place becomes an idol. Look up first!

The window look, the outward look, the horizontal look, toward others is next in importance. The second great commandment in the Bible is to love others, again, stated both in the Old Testament and by Jesus. What adds value to our own life is when we add value to the lives of those God’s put within our sphere of influence. This second commandment says to love others as we love ourselves, meaning we should watch out for the good of others like we most often do for ourselves, except even more so.

The mirror look, the reflecting look, toward ourselves is to be last in priority. This doesn’t mean we neglect our own needs, we aren’t much good to either God or others if we do. It’s just that we’re not to live self-focused, self-centered lives, always looking to see how things reflect on us.

This order of priorities is counter-cultural. The world around us, self-help books, and celebrity talk show hosts promote loving self first, loving others is usually second on the list, and God comes in a distant third, hardly getting mentioned at all (at best maybe some vague reference about spirituality).

Yes, our house has skylights, windows, and mirrors. Now you know the reason why I listed them in this order!

“‘Which commandment is the most important of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.’” Mark 12:28b-31

Chronological Snobbery

“Stand at the crossroads and look…”

It’s not uncommon to hear people say, “That’s old fashioned,” “We don’t want old ideas, we want new ideas,” or “That’s old school.” Such comments reveal our inclination to believe that old ideas are outdated and nearly useless.

The great Christian thinker and writer C. S. Lewis struggled for years before coming to belief in the Christian faith. Arthur W. Lindsley, Senior Fellow at the C. S. Lewis Institute, writes that Lewis wondered, “How could this ancient religion be relevant to my present setting?” Lindsley also writes, “This was one of the obstacles that C. S. Lewis had to overcome in order to come to faith in Christ. He dubs the problem as one of ‘chronological snobbery.’”

“That Old-Time Religion” was a gospel song that appeared around 1873. The lyrics, “Give me that old-time religion… it’s good enough for me,” have been sung by countless people and by such artists as Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton. But the fact that it’s an “old-time” religion seems to make the historic Christian faith less appealing to many, as it did at first for C. S. Lewis.

When you really think about it, though, there are many old ideas and ways of doing things that still hold up with the passing of time. Who hasn’t pondered the ancient pyramids of Egypt and asked, “How in the world did they build them?” Do we really think we are smarter than people generations ago? We’d be hard pressed to prove it.

C. S. Lewis, a scholar who taught English literature at both Oxford and Cambridge, eventually came to the conclusion that ancient writings were worth taking seriously, particularly the ancient Biblical texts. He became convinced that the Biblical texts taught ultimate truth.

As a preacher for about 40 years, I’m so glad I didn’t have to come up with a new idea each week for a sermon. In fact, I better NOT have come up with a new idea! I believe, along with countless millions, that the old idea, a message preached for over 2,000 years, is as true now as ever, and that it can’t be improved on! The best I tried to do as a preacher was proclaim this wonderful old message in a fresh way.

It’s like C. S. Lewis said, it’s snobbery to think that something old is not worth taking seriously today. It’s a relief to know that we don’t have to try and come up with some new truth by which to live. The truth has been there all along. We just have to make it relevant for our lives today!

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’” Jeremiah 6:16a

Gone and Forgotten?

We were strolling down main street in Elkader, Iowa, and came upon the Historical Society’s offices. In the front window was a display of several old photographs and a sign that asked, “Do you know who this is?” One photo was of a family on the front lawn of what appeared to be an old farmhouse, another photo was of a large gathering of over 20 people, and another was a portrait of a woman.

The historical society had no idea who any of these people were, people who undoubtedly lived in Elkader or the surrounding area no more than a hundred years ago. Apparently none of the townsfolk knew them either, for their photos were still in the window, the historical society’s question left unanswered.

It’s amazing how quickly we’re forgotten. Hugh O’Brian was an actor best known for his portrayal of Wyatt Earp in the western TV series that first aired in 1955. It ran for six years and was consistently in the top ten shows on TV. Years later Hugh O’Brian was interviewed, and he said that fame was fleeting. In his own case the scenario went like this: “Who is Hugh O’Brian? “Get me Hugh O’Brian.” “Get me a younger Hugh O’Brian.” Finally, “Who is Hugh O’Brian?” I grew up watching Hugh O’Brian as Wyatt Earp, but I suspect many reading this are asking, “Who is Hugh O’Brian?”

We all want to be remembered, even when we’re gone. The reality is that we won’t be remembered for very long. We’re familiar with social distancing to control Covid 19, but this is chronological distancing, not measured in six foot increments but in terms of of 60 years and more. None of us knew our own great, great grandparents and wouldn’t recognize them if they rose from the dead and met us on the street. On the other end of the spectrum three generations from now no one will have a memory of us.

Enough of the depressing observation that any memory of us will be short lived. There’s good news too; we don’t have to be forgotten in the future! The teachings of the Bible are packed with references of how God desires to have an eternal relationship with us and has made it possible for that to happen. The repentant thief was promised such a future by Jesus when he asked Jesus to “remember” him as they both hung on their crosses (referenced in our closing scripture quote).

The great thinker and writer C.S. Lewis stated, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” We can, like the repentant thief on the cross, choose to spend that immortality with God, carrying out for eternity His amazing purposes for us. On this earth we’re eventually forgotten, but there’s more available to us that makes us truly unforgettable!

“And he [the repentant thief on the cross] said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.’” Luke 23:42-43

Beyond Self

C. S. Lewis

The author of the best selling children’s book series, The Chronicles of Narnia, also wrote non-fiction best sellers such as Mere Christianity. Mere Christianity began as a series of radio talks on the BBC. It was such a popular series that it was said Lewis’ voice was the most recognizable voice in all of Britain second only to that of Winston Churchill’s. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings, were close friends and critiqued each other’s writings. Lewis was a professor at both Oxford and Cambridge.

This intellectual giant became a follower of Jesus Christ only after a great and prolonged struggle. Moving from being an atheist and materialist, he became a believer in a higher power. He considered himself spiritual, which included dabbling in the occult. He wrote, “We could talk religiously about the Absolute; but there was no danger of Its doing anything about us…To let go of the stern truths of the creed [from his Christian roots in childhood] and to embrace the vague speculations of spiritualism with nothing to be obeyed or believed except what was exciting or comforting – ‘Oh, the relief of it!’…This was a religion that cost nothing.”

C.S. Lewis was greatly influenced by the Christian writer George MacDonald. MacDonald described the kind of life to which C.S. Lewis held and lived out before he turned to God. “I am my own. I am my own king and subject. I am the center from which go out my thoughts; I am the object and end of my thoughts.”

But then Lewis became a believer in God. He wrote, “I have been, as they say, ‘taken out of myself.’”

Lewis moved from a self-centered life to being taken out of himself, as he put it. These, then, are the two ways to live, certainly the two options I see throughout the Bible. We can live with our self as the center of our universe. What do I want to do? What will please me the most? How can I fulfill my own purposes? Or we can life with God at the center of our universe. What does God want me to do? What will please God the most? How can I fulfill God’s purposes?

I’ve chosen the latter of the two, seeking to put God at the center of my life. Why? For at least three reasons. First, and by far most important, it’s the right thing to do. After all, if God is real, and is really God, then He deserves to be the God of my life. Second, because it pleases Him, and to please God, wow, that’s as good as it can get! Third, (this reason verges on being a selfish reason, but putting it third should make it acceptable) because God is all wise and all loving, whatever His will is for me is going to ultimately turn out the best for me (maybe in this life, but most certainly in the life hereafter).

I want to experience what C.S. Lewis described. I want to be taken out of myself!

“I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Galatians 2:20

“Happy Little Clouds”

Artist Bob Ross made it look easy every week on TV to paint pictures (which it is not). He’s famous for painting “happy little clouds” into his scenes. With a few brush strokes he put white paint to canvas and created those happy little clouds!

I, along with countless others, have enjoyed watching Bob Ross paint and then have appreciated gazing upon the final product at the end of the show. There’s another painter whose painting I enjoy and that’s God. His artwork isn’t hung on a wall or featured in a gallery. You simply have to look up and there’s His artwork. “Happy little clouds” doesn’t do justice to His work for they aren’t clouds measured in inches on a canvas but measured in miles, “happy big clouds” on a giant canvas of blue.

God paints upon this blue canvas of sky that’s miles thick and thousands of miles wide, extending from horizon to horizon, suspended on the black easel of space. His brush is the wind. His paint is evaporated water and He mixes in pigments of various colors from the setting or rising sun’s rays piercing through miles of air. The scene He paints is ever changing, unlike the static image that an earth-bound painter like Bob Ross paints.

Sometimes God dabs His brush of the wind, using upward moving currents of air, to create puffy cumulus clouds that are often thousands of feet high. Other times He paints cirrus clouds using the broad strokes of fast moving high altitude winds so cold that the cirrus clouds are painted with tiny ice crystals, instead of the paint of water vapor, creating wispy trails of clouds that go on for miles and miles.

One has the option of viewing the cloud-filled sky from a purely materialist point of view, that it’s evaporation, condensation, wind, and light that gives us the scene. Or one can take the view that there’s a creator/artist who uses material and natural processes as His painting tools to create something beautiful to be enjoyed, worthy of giving praise to the Painter.

The first option, I would argue, is like viewing a painting while stubbornly resisting giving any thought or credit to the artist who painted it. I prefer the second view, that recognizes the natural meteorological processes but also acknowledges that those processes are skillfully used by the Painter for our delight. This same dual observation can be applied to any part of the creation, appreciating scientific explanations of how trees grow, deer run, and birds sing while at the same time acknowledging and responding to the Creator who has made it all for our pleasure.

Bob Ross could quickly paint “happy little clouds” that amazed us as we stared at his canvas. There’s opportunity for us to be even more amazed. We just have to look up at the happy big clouds and be really amazed at what we see while in worshipful awe of the Painter!

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Psalm 19:1

Praying When God Already Knows What We’ll Pray

“I knew you were going to say that!” It’s a statement we find ourselves making to someone who we know well, well enough that given the specific situation we knew they’d say what they said before they said it. Diann and I have celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary, so this happens quite often with us, especially her knowing what I’m going to say; I’m so predictable.

One of the attributes of God is that He knows what we will say before we say it (also, what we will think or do before we think it or do it). We humans can predict what someone close to us will say part of the time, but not all of the time. This is where God is different. He knows with 100% surety what we will say (and also what we will think or do).

This is difficult for us to comprehend. How can God know the future before it happens? In fact, there are those who believe God can’t know the future, it’s called open theism. But it doesn’t jive with the Bible at all. All of the prophecies throughout the Bible demonstrate God knows the future.

It shouldn’t surprise us that we can’t fully grasp the idea that God has foreknowledge. We don’t fully understand our own bodies and minds, so why should we expect to fully comprehend God, including His ability to know the future?

God exists outside space and time. Picture a time line; God isn’t on the time line like we are, He’s above it, and can see it all, past, present and future! That’s what King David realized. He prayed, “Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.” (Psalm 139:4) So why should we pray if He already knows what we will pray? Because He desires a relationship with us and wants to hear from us.

A positive aspect of His having foreknowledge of what we will pray is that we don’t have to explain all the details, unless it’s helpful to us in a cathartic way. He is not surprised or caught off guard by whatever we pray. In fact, He quite likely has already set into motion events and circumstances in answer to our prayer before we pray it!

What’s great about praying to God is that we can do so with the confidence that He’s way ahead of us and He has a plan! He’s got it covered!

“Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.” (God speaking through Isaiah the prophet, Isaiah 65:24)

Note: For years I had to look for a photograph of old hands folded in prayer, or find an old person so I could photograph their hands. In this case, I put my camera on the tripod, set the timer, and took a photo of my own old hands! This is the photo at the top of the post.

Life in Florida

Let me share with you what it’s like living in Florida. I know, we Floridians are infamous for cruelly giving our friends and relatives up north the “winter” weather report from Florida while they’re experiencing a real winter of sub-zero temperatures and deep snow. I confess my own guilt in doing this.

Give this Floridian another chance, okay? So, here’s something of what living in Florida is like. What follows are some of my normal weekly activities as a Floridian.

Twice a week I pull the trash cans to the road. On Monday evening I pull the garbage can, the recycling can and up to three cans filled with yard waste to the curb for pick up on Tuesday morning. On Thursday evening I only take the trash can to the curb for pick-up on Friday morning.

The one to three filled yard waste cans require the hard work of filling them with leaves that have fallen from the live oak tree (yes, I still pick up leaves here in Florida), twigs, and Spanish moss that’s also fallen from the tree. During the summer months this means doing these tasks when the daytime temperature is never below 90 degrees for an entire month or more.

The summer rainy season requires that the lawn be mowed every week. This is also done in 90 degree heat, even if attempted in the early morning or late evening hours.

I go shopping for groceries once a week or more in groceries stores that look no more exciting than do stores up north. Then there’s the three times daily process of turning those groceries into meals and cleaning up/doing the dishes afterwards. I sometimes have to make a trip to the hardware store to buy something for a home repair, usually making two or maybe three trips to get the right items for the project.

I also dust the house every couple of weeks, sometimes every week, if company is coming over. Diann is more consistent with the task of cleaning the two bathrooms, doing them weekly. She also does several loads of wash each week. I go through a lot of shirts in the sweaty summer months.

So, this is something of what life in Florida is like, much the same as any other part of the country. It’s easy to fantasize how life would be different and better some other place, but ordinary days, with their daily tasks, are found wherever people live..

There’s something to be said about being content where you are. Wherever we find ourselves, God knew we would be where we are, and He has a plan for us to make the most of it. The Bible records how God sent His people into exile for a time. He told them, through the prophet Jeremiah, that they were to make the best of it. We’re to do the same, finding the good of being where we are, being at peace with this our place!

“Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jeremiah 29:7

Seeing Creation Two Ways

There’s a kind of optical illusion where, if you look closely, you can see two different images. Usually one of the two images is obvious while it takes some concentrated viewing to see the other image. My favorite is the optical illusion of the old woman and young woman. I usually see the old woman first and have to study it a little more before I see the young woman.

When I look at creation I also see it two ways. I see it with my physical eyes (and experience it with the other four senses as well). Science helps me understand what I see and also what I can’t see with my own eyes (the microscopic and telescopic views). It’s astonishing what scientific study and research have discovered about our amazing cosmos!

But when I look at creation I also see it through the eyes of faith. I see more than what I see physically; I see a creator behind the creation. Everything had to come from something. When I view a painting I know it’s been painted. When I see a sculpture I know someone sculpted it. When I see creation I know someone created it.

Science is not the enemy of faith, the two just operate in different realms. Science describes what is. Sometimes science conjectures, hypothesizes how things got the way they are, but until it’s proven it remains conjecture, a hypothesis. Science moves beyond its realm of study when it holds an opinion about God, who is not able to be studied. When scientists don’t believe in God’s existence it is as much of a belief as it is for those scientists who do believe in God’s existence.

Some very smart scientists believe God does not exist, and some very smart scientists believe God does exist. A decision about God’s existence depends on more than just what can be observed. It’s as much a heart decision as it is a head decision. The reality is that there isn’t enough evidence to compel belief by everyone, but there is enough evidence to make belief compelling for some!

When I watch a nature program I appreciate all they’ve learned and photographed about creation. God is conspicuous by His absence in most of these presentations, but I simply overlook this absence and insert my own praise to God for His astonishing creation that science helps me to see!

Yes, I like the optical illusions where there’s two ways of seeing it. I like looking at creation in the same way!

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible attributes – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” Romans 1:20

Hike or Bike?

I was recently hiking a trail in a park when the trail split. Two signs marked the diverging paths; one read “Hike,” and “Bike” marked the other trail. Because I wasn’t riding a bike I took the trail with the “Hike” sign.

The trail marked with the “Bike” sign seemed to be an easier trail with fewer branches hanging low across the path under which I would have had to duck and fewer roots protruding up from the ground over which I would have had to step. My preference was to hike the bike path, but that would only have frustrated any bikers.

Why is it that we often look longingly at a different path other than the one we’re on? I’m not just talking about hiking, but about life in general. Sometimes we’ve chosen a path and wish later we had taken a different path. Sometimes the path we’re on has been chosen for us by others who have made poor choices that impact our lives. Sometimes circumstances beyond anyone’s control put us on our current path.

Whatever the reason, there are times we wish to be on a different path or envy others who are on a different path from us. There’s the chronic health issue path that some must navigate. The occupation path finds many who wish they were on a different path, the unemployed wishing they could just get on the path to being employed! Marital status paths vary; happily married, unhappily married, divorced, widowed, or single and not everyone likes the marital path they’re currently walking. Some are trying to navigate the path of mental health issues. Many are hiking along with hurting relationships. I could continue listing possible paths, but suffice it to say there are many.

In the terrain of a specific circumstance we can be on only one path at a time; I never heard of a cowboy getting on his horse and heading off in all four directions! Sometimes it may be the Lord’s will for us to change paths, and we’re to work toward that end. But sometimes His will is for us to be on the path we’re on, at least for the time being, and to find peace on this path.

It’s often easy to imagine how a different path would be better, though we’ve only gotten a glimpse of that other path and likely have idealized it. It’s also easy to fixate on the rough aspects of the path we’re on and overlook the beautiful scenery along the way. I know, I’ve done my share of wishing I were on a different path in one area of my life or another. The reality is that, for now, we’re on the path we’re on, and God has a plan! It’s best if we determine to follow His will for us on that path. It’s also good to know that He’s willing to help us in astounding ways along the path. He may not take us off a difficult path, but He is with us on it!

“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” Psalm 16:11