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)

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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

The Focus of Faith

Someone posted a black and white image on facebook that looks like an ink blot. Stare at it, though, for 30 seconds, then look up at the ceiling or at a plain wall and you see the face of Jesus! Okay, I know we don’t know what Jesus looked like, but the image represents a traditional portrayal of Him.

The ink blot, turned to image of Jesus, reminded me that what we fixate on often leaves a lasting impression. Such impressions can influence our thinking, speech, and behavior. Even when we’re not focusing on what habitually has our attention we can still be influenced by it.

We sometimes tell ourselves that what we look at or listen to, especially if it isn’t of a positive nature, doesn’t really have a significant negative impact on us. We lie to ourselves!

Every day we face numerous choices of input from television, radio, the internet, books, the movies, magazines, billboards, and other manifestations of mass media all around us. We can choose to continue receiving that input or turn it off or turn away from it. Obviously, this includes that which is immoral, but it can also include that which isn’t bad but isn’t the best for us to be focusing on. For instance, if I have no good reason to buy a new car, then I shouldn’t be looking at car ads or stopping by car showrooms; I’m wasting time and I’m tempting myself.

There are a lot of good things to focus on, but the ink blot turned to the image of Jesus is a good reminder of what I should seek to focus on most of all. I don’t need a specially designed ink blot to always keep God in the forefront of my thinking! Better than looking at a Jesus-like ink blot is to look at God’s beautiful creation, look at the inspiring good actions of others, look at God’s Word, and look at Him by consciously trying to think about Him very often, even several times an hour.

Looking at the ink blot that helps me see an image of Jesus is interesting. What’s really helpful, however, is to keep a faith fixated on Him at all times in all places and in every way!

“Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.” Psalm 119:37

Sowing and Reaping

We have a paper-mache sculpture in our living room of a Mexican farmer holding a basket brimming full with grain. I can’t decide if the farmer is going to sow the seed or if he has just harvested the seed. Farmers do both.

At first I was dissatisfied with not knowing whether the farmer sculpture represented sowing or harvesting. I’ve since come to a peace about not knowing. Depending on how I feel on a given day, or even hour, I can take it whichever way I find most helpful to me at the time. Sometimes I need to be motivated to sow the seed of something good; at other times I need to be thankful for something good that’s come my way. Gumption to sow or gratitude in reaping, I need both in my life.

In fact, I usually need to be sowing and reaping at the same time. There are some areas of my life, we could call them fields, where I need to be sowing something good in what seems to be a barren landscape, those areas of life where not much good, if any, seems to be happening. Usually, if I look carefully, I can see an area, another field of my experience, where there is something good that can fill a basket of gratitude. I may not be seeing results in a certain facet of my life, and so I need to persevere at planting something good while at the same time I can see I’m harvesting the blessings of encouragement from someone close to me or seeing some positive results in another area of my life.

Yes, I like my statue of a Mexican farmer who is sowing, or is he reaping? His silent words are loudly spoken; I need to be always sowing in hope and reaping with gratitude!

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: … a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted…” Ecclesiastess 3:1 & 2b

What a Little Bird Revealed To Me

It was a sunny warm morning as I paused on my walk to sit on a rock to rest. The farmland on both sides of the path was parched for it was the dry season in Mexico. But there in the middle of the brown grasses, weeds, and corn stalks was a bright spot of red capping the head of an otherwise brown bird. If it were not for the red cap on his head the otherwise drab looking bird would have blended in perfectly with the equally drab looking landscape, and would have remained unseen by me, drabness camouflaged in drabness.

I’m sure the bird had no idea he was adding a splash of color to a brown world; he couldn’t see the red feathers his genetics had put upon his head. Even if he were to glance in a mirror his birdbrain would not be able to reflect on how he added color and beauty wherever he perched. Then I heard the song of another nearby bird, adding beautiful audio to the already beautiful visual scene. Again, I reflected, the singing bird was protecting its territory or attempting to attract a mate, motivated by instinct, and likely not at all aware of the beautiful melody of its song.

God’s creatures express amazing and beautiful characteristics, but they do so unknowingly. We humans, on the other hand, also creatures of God’s making, are different! We can bring beauty and good to the world and glory to God, and we do so by choice! For us, this does not happen instinctively, at least not most of the time. In fact, being born with a fallen and sinful nature, we instinctively act selfishly and in wrong ways more often than we would care to admit!

Yes, we have the God-given ability to choose to do that which is good and beautiful! There is drabness all around and a drought of good, but you and I can be, by the grace of God, a bright spot in it all, going about doing good! That’s what a little bird with a red cap taught me!

“He went about doing good…” (The apostle Peter speaking of Jesus, Acts 10:38)

While We Wait

I write this as my wife Diann and I spend hours each day sitting in a hospital room where Diann’s mother is being treated for an infected leg. We spend a lot of time doing much of nothing. We sit and watch her mother doze in her hospital bed or, for variety, doze in the recliner beside her bed. When she wakens we talk, though she’s short of breath so these are not extended conversations.

I take a break and roam the hospital halls. I read. I write (including this piece). I go back to my mother-in-law’s room and sit again. We take a break and get lunch or dinner, then back to her hospital room to sit some more.

By most ways of measuring productivity we’re not scoring very high. Any “to do” list has been scrapped for the time being. Our main purpose is to simply be here, to be with Diann’s mother, the work of being present. It is the work of waiting, waiting for my mother-in-law’s leg to heal some more, waiting for her to regain some strength, waiting for whatever is to be.

I’ve come to believe, from both personal experience and from the study of God’s Word, that waiting is one of God’s most effective methods for getting us to be more like Him and to more likely do His will. In what ways, you ask?

First, waiting drives us deeper into a humble and profound dependence on Him. We wait for Him to act. The busyness of unbelief, going into action ourselves because we believe God is not, has been forcibly taken from us. Waiting either drives us toward increasing frustration or deepening faith, the choice is ours. And so in our waiting God also waits, on us, to yield to waiting on Him.

Second, waiting almost always gives us opportunity to draw nearer to others who are in the waiting room of the experience with us. Maybe they wait with us, maybe we wait on them to get better or to change. How well we wait usually impacts those around us. Waiting during those times when we don’t see much of anything happening is intended by God to have positive things happen with those relationships.

Waiting, ironically, can be hard work! However, God will be with us in our waiting and will work in our waiting for it to be for the good. Just wait and see!

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:14