Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Amazing Opportunities in Our Sphere of Influence

Philip Yancey is a best selling author who happens to be one of my favorite authors. Someone posted a note to Philip on his web site stating, “My two young children were killed in a horrible car crash 25 years ago. I lost my faith. Thanks to Philip’s [book] Disappointment with God I found my way back and here remain. Thank you, Lord.”

Philip Yancey replied, “If you were my only reader, all my work would be worthwhile.”

Yancey’s remarkable reply is a reminder that it’s not about big numbers. He has hundreds of thousands of readers of his many best selling books, but he would be happy with just one reader whose life was impacted by his writing in a big way!

We can easily discount our value in this world if we buy into society’s focus on big numbers, big crowds, and big results. Our sphere of influence may be small and our achievements less than spectacular compared to some, but we can make a big difference in that small sphere!

This can be illustrated in a negative way. Think of a few really nasty insulting phrases you could deliver, and imagine saying them to the people you know, the people you’ll come in contact with just in the next week: family, friends, co-workers, neighbors. You would ruin their day, to say nothing of your relationship with them! Enough of the negative. In contrast, you can have an amazingly positive influence on those same people just through loving and helpful words and actions! They may not seem like a big deal at the time, but little words and acts of kindness add up!

I remember from my college days, 47 or so years ago, a compliment a professor’s assistant made about a speech I had delivered in speech class. After a lifetime of giving speeches (we call them sermons in the church world) I still recall her comment and believe it’s impacted my public speaking all of these many years since.

There’s no sense lamenting over the seeming lack of opportunities to do great things for God or to influence a great number of people; it gets us nowhere. Instead, we can do a great deal of good by embracing the opportunities at hand to give an encouraging word, a helping hand, or in some other way add value to the lives of those within our sphere of influence.

“Love your neighbor [that’s the person within your sphere of influence] as yourself. (Luke 10:27)

Going Bananas in Relationships

BananaVAfter 45 years of marriage I found out something new about my wife: she peels a banana the wrong way! I made this astonishing discovery while we were on a trip in the car. We decided to snack on a couple of bananas. I glanced at her when she started to peel hers. “You’re peeling that the wrong way,” I said. I’m usually not this abrupt in correcting my wife, but the situation demanded it. It turns out she always peels it from the non-stem end.

I just assumed everyone peeled a banana from the stem end – isn’t that why God put the stem there? My wife, however, argued that it’s part of the handle you hold on to when you eat it, so you peel the other end.

Sensitized to this new issue that potentially can divide people, I pursued the rumor that monkeys peel a banana from the non-stem end. Of course this assumes that monkeys are the experts on eating a banana, but I checked into it anyway. A primate expert says most monkeys don’t eat bananas in the wild and that they don’t have any certain way to peel one. I then watched numerous youtube videos of monkeys peeling bananas (what lengths I go to in order to do serious research). Most videos showed the monkeys sort of attacking the banana any which way, often mangling it more than peeling it. It’s a myth that monkeys have a set way to peel a banana; no help here.

I will admit that when checking out a variety of web sites most say the correct way is to do it my wife’s way, peeling the banana from the non-stem end. My wife edits all my writing so, Hon, this is my way of admitting to you that you’re right. (In spite of the banana split in our relationship I still find her appealing!)

The banana episode is a good reminder that we all see things differently and do things differently and that’s okay. Many times what others do that annoys us or even hurts us is not because they are doing something wrong or being sinful; they’re just being different, being themselves.

I’m not saying there’s no right and wrong to our actions and behaviors, there is. We do sin. Sometimes we do need to ask for forgiveness and offer forgiveness. It’s just that quite often our conflict with another person isn’t about right and wrong but about differences and preferences. There’s more than one way to peel a banana, and to do a lot of other things too!

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

Message from a Mattress Along the Road

MattressHDRSmallWhile living in Florida I usually take a morning walk where I end up on a little-used street behind a plot of palm trees. On this one particular morning I came upon an old mattress and box spring set that someone had discarded. Whoever did this, undoubtedly after dark, took littering to a new level!

What kind of person would do this? That’s what I wondered. I hope they have some restless nights on their new mattress dealing with a guilty conscience of how they disposed of their old one!

I find myself regularly shaking my head, figuratively if not literally, in bewilderment at what some people will do or even say. In fact, being critical of others is really easy for me to do!

I don’t want to be critical (okay, maybe I do), but I’ve noticed that most of us have trouble with being critical. Please humor me.

What I’m trying to say is that none of us is perfect, including this writer. We may not litter the roadway with our old mattress, maybe not even with a gum wrapper, but I have it on good report (the Bible) that we all litter life with wrong words and actions and even wrong thoughts.

It makes little sense for me to make it my life’s goal to straighten out other people. The only one I have any say in changing is me!

Does this mean we can’t be honest with others when we feel they’re in the wrong or have hurt us or others? No, there’s a need for honesty and openness in relationships if they’re to thrive. On the other hand, we can enjoy being critical of and correcting others too much while at the same time ignoring where we ourselves could use some change for the better.

It’s been said that the unexamined life is not worth living. The next time I see the roadside trash of an extreme litterbug I’m still going to allow myself a few moments of astonishment mixed with anger. But then I’m going to let it remind me that there’s still some cleaning up to do in my own life.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Luke 6:41)

 

The Old and Slow Way with Bread, Ice Cream, Popcorn, and Life

OldWaysSmall

I like using our bread machine, ice cream maker, and stove top/crank popcorn popper. They’re the old fashioned way of making bread, ice cream, and popcorn, and that’s part of their charm.

Okay, I’ll admit bread machines are not really old fashioned, they’re electric and do a lot of the work on their own. I’ve made bread the really old fashioned way, from scratch, kneading the dough by hand so, yes, the bread machine is a compromise between a handmade loaf and a loaf purchased in a store.

The ice cream maker isn’t an antique either, it’s also electric, so it does the turning and churning of the cream. We had an old fashioned crank ice cream maker when I was a child, and I didn’t want to go back to cranking for an hour to get my ice cream so, yes, another compromise.

The popcorn popper, though a recent gift to me by my wife, is really old fashioned. It heats the popcorn on the stove, and you have to crank it when the popcorn starts popping.

The use of these older methods requires more time and effort than taking the modern short cuts of buying bread and ice cream and microwaving the popcorn. I would argue, however, that there’s something pleasurable about occasionally taking the extra time and effort to do things the old fashioned way.

An added benefit for me in using these older, time consuming methods is that in doing so I model how God often works. Am I saying God is old fashioned? Well, He is older than dirt; in fact, He made dirt. God never changes; He’s the same today as He was a billion years ago so, in a sense, I guess you could say He’s old fashioned.

Throughout the historical record of God dealing with human beings, the Bible, it’s clear that God often does take considerable time to unfold His will. He also involves the inefficient participation of people.

There are few short cuts to carrying out God’s plans for us. Time and effort, that’s what it usually takes to fulfill God’s purposes and claim His promises.

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.” (2 Peter 3:9)

 

Cowboy Ten Commandments


I recently came across the cowboy’s version of the Ten Commandments. Here they are.

1. Just one God.
2. Put nothin’ before God.
3. Watch yer mouth.
4. Git yourself to Sunday meetin’.
5. Honor yer Ma ‘n Pa.
6. No killin’.
7. No foolin’ around with another feller’s gal.
8. Don’t take what ain’t yers.
9. No tellin’ tales or gossipin’.
10. Don’t be hankerin’ for yer buddy’s stuff.

There are all kinds of natural laws we don’t debate whether to obey or not, we just do. We know that the law of gravity will pull us to earth really fast and that the quick stop can injure or kill, so we don’t jump from high places. We know that standing out in an open field during a lightning storm is not wise, because a lightning bolt hitting us would likely be more than just a shocking experience.

God, because He cares a great deal for us, long ago gave us some laws that deal with relationships, both with Him and with each other. When we follow these relational laws life goes better, and when we don’t the result is deep hurt for us, for others and alienation from God. It’s amazing that we don’t usually deliberate about obeying natural laws, but we’re tempted to ignore the most famous laws of all, the Ten Commandments.

What we need to remember is that God has our best interest at heart. His commandments aren’t intended to limit life but to allow life to be lived at its best.

Moses said to God’s people, “Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you…” (Deuteronomy 4:39-40a)

Burma Shave and God

Burma Shave signs appeared along many of the rural highways in the United States from 1925 to 1963. The signs, five or six placed in a sequence along the road, delivered a short pithy slogan and concluded with BURMA SHAVE printed on the last sign. At one point there were about 7,000 of the series of signs scattered around the U.S.

Here are a couple of the Burma Shave slogans from the year of my birth, 1950. “Violets are blue… roses are pink… on graves… of those… who drive and drink… Burma Shave.” “The whale… put Jonah… down the hatch… but coughed him up… because he scratched… Burma Shave.”

The signs drew the travelers’ attention because it was hard to resist looking at each sign as you drove past; people wanted to catch the entire slogan. The signs helped sell a lot of shaving cream!

In a way God uses the Burma Shave advertising technique to get His messages across to us. As we journey through each day we encounter many different situations, and it’s amazing how often we can get the same message from two, three, or more such incidents. We may even silently reflect, or comment to someone, “I think God’s trying to tell me something.”

A driver would have to be dangerously inattentive to the surroundings to have missed reading the Burma Shave signs, and a passenger would probably have to be asleep to miss reading the slogans. When it comes to signs from God it’s a lot easier to miss the message. What makes each day interesting is to be intentional about what God might be trying to say to us through what we read, the conversations we have, and the experiences we encounter.

I hope it’s not sacrilegious to put a Bible verse in the form of a Burma Shave sequence. The verse is a short prayer the old man Eli told the young man Samuel to pray to God, recorded for us in 1 Samuel 3:9. It’s a good prayer for us to pray too, so we’re more open to hearing from God. “Speak,… Lord,… for… your servant… is listening.”

Cracks in the Wall

After an absence of several weeks we returned to our home in Florida to find several cracks in our walls. The house had settled! Jesus told a parable in which He referenced the dangers of building your house on sand, but in Florida you don’t have a choice.

Since buying the house a couple of years ago we’ve made some major improvements. It’s no mansion, but it’s comfy and cozy. We were quite pleased with our house, until the cracks appeared. Grrrrrrrr!

God wants us to learn and grow through all that happens to us in life, from the bad as well as from the good, so I’m trying to see some good that can come from the cracks; it’s not easy! I do have to admit, however, that the cracks have reminded me of something I’ve taught and preached for many years. When we’re deeply troubled or even angered by the “cracks” in anything or anyone it may be a good indication that we’re making a god out of that material object, situation, or relationship. We don’t like it when our “gods” have clay feet!

I debated writing about the cracks before we’ve found a solution; everyone likes a nice ending to a story. But then I realized everyone’s in the middle of some frustrating, difficult, fearful, or intimidating set of circumstances. I decided to share about the cracks before I have a happy ending to the story. We need to praise God for His peace, strength, and direction in the midst of our troubles and not wait until we have the cracks fixed before we do so.

The reality is that nothing is perfect this side of heaven. Nothing is ever what “it’s cracked up to be!” Only God is perfect. The cracks of life are a good reminder that nothing should be our god but God Himself!

We’ll call upon the experts to deal with our cracks and what’s causing them. The good news is that we can also call upon God to be with us, help us, direct us, and to see us through the cracks that show up in our lives.

God says in Psalm 50:15, Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.”

Silently Sowing Seed

Walking the dusty road in Mexico that was fit for only foot traffic, horseback riding, or slow moving vehicles, I came upon some farmers farming their farm. One man was plowing with a team of two horses, manhandling the two handles of the plow as the horses pulled it through the rocky soil. Two other men were sowing seed on the plowed part, holding a container of seed in one hand and casting forth the seed with the other.

I was surprised by the observation that came to me: the three men and two horses worked in virtual silence! There was only the sound of silence as my feet traipsed along on the soft dusty path, passing the men working the field.

Within a minute I met another farmer on the dirt road, driving his tractor to a field. The noise of the tractor’s engine intruded brash and loud on the quiet landscape.

The contrast prompted me to yearn for a return to the pre-industrial age. I know that can’t happen, and I really don’t want to give up planes, trains, automobiles, and a host of other inventions of the last 200 or so years. Nevertheless, the three farmers and two horses versus the one man and his tractor got me to thinking about the value of silence.

So much of our modern living is accompanied by noise pollution. Cities are noisy with vehicles, suburbs with lawnmowers and rural areas with the aforementioned tractors.

Construction used to be accomplished with nothing louder than a hammer, chisel, saw, and the human shouts and grunts of people doing a big task together. Modern construction generates noise from large engines powering big machines.

Yes, the world has changed into a noisy place, but we humans have not changed in what we need, and what we need is some silence! The good news is that we all have some God-given control over our own lives, and we can be intentional about putting some silence into our lives.

We don’t have to have the TV, radio, mp3 player or other sound producing devices on all the time. We can choose to sit, walk, or even drive quietly for a short period of time. This is good to do because silence is good for the soul! If there’s too much noise most of the time we can’t hear ourselves think or hear from God who, as big and awesome as He is, prefers to whisper rather than shout when seeking to communicate with us.

Silence is golden. We are the richer when we embrace that truth!

“Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

Finding Something in Common

Betty was one of the home bound people in my church that I visited regularly. She lived in a dilapidated small house with tar paper faux brick siding. It was located at the end of a long bush-lined driveway with tire ruts so deep that I had to straddle them so that my car wouldn’t bottom out and get hung up.

Betty smoked constantly, the years of nicotine causing her skin to look like old wrinkled leather. The wrinkles, however, couldn’t hide a big smile that she regularly displayed; she was a warm and vivacious little lady.

Betty and I had something in common; we both loved reading Louis L’Amour novels. We’d sit at her kitchen table discussing the adventure of the Sacketts while she puffed away with both of us sitting under a cloud of smoke that hung just below the kitchen ceiling.

It was my good fortune that she subscribed to the leatherette hard cover collector edition of the novels for after reading a novel she passed it on to me. She usually gave me one at every visit, a great incentive for me to make a regular pastoral call! However, I couldn’t start reading each volume immediately; they wreaked of cigarette smoke so my wife insisted I air them out in the garage a day or two.

One of our God-given instincts is to be a positive influence on people who cross our path. For this to happen requires that we establish some kind of a connection with the person. Louis L’Amour was my connection with Betty that helped me relate with her at a deeper and more spiritual level as her pastor.

We can almost always find some common interest with almost anyone, if we just spend a little time and effort getting to know them. It’s this connection that paves the way for us to impact people’s lives and for them to do the same with us. Finding common ground with others makes it possible for us to travel at least a small part of the journey of life together, and this is a good thing, something God intends for us to do!

“I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some.” (The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:22)

“Is This all There Is?”

County fairs, state fairs, Disney Land, Disney World, Six Flags, Cedar Point and other adventure parks offer an escape from everyday reality. You would think that such places would offer an uninterrupted time of delight and excitement. Not so! The lines for the rides can be long, the weather hot, rainy or even cold, the food expensive, the kids get tired and cranky. At such times I’ve thought to myself, is this all there is?

My wife and I and our daughter and her family recently enjoyed ten days at a private Mexican ocean beach front property. Living in Mexico, we could drive and not have the expense of flying and the Christian owner gave us a huge discount, blessings from God for sure. In this paradise setting, however, we still had to deal with all the issues that go with a family of 16 children ranging in ages from an eight-year-old to adult children. Then, too, there were bugs and I came down with a flu bug. I wondered as I enjoyed this paradise setting, is this all there is?

I knew a couple who took a cruise for their honeymoon on which the new husband was sea sick most of the time. I suspect they both wondered at times, is this all there is? The reality is that nothing this side of heaven is perfect.

Could it be that our desire for perfection here on earth is really a God-given yearning, an instinct, for heaven? More and more, when I’m in a situation that isn’t ideal I try to let it be a reminder to me of the hope I have of enjoying God’s perfect heaven someday. The hope of heaven also helps me embrace and enjoy that which is good in a less than perfect situation.

Is this all there is? No! For those who seek after God most of all the best is yet to come!

“For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the coming glory that will be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18 NET version)