Patience and Perseverace

This past Christmas I was curious; just how old was the Christmas tree we cut? I had to trim off a few inches from the bottom of the tree once we got it home so it would fit properly in the house. This gave me an opportunity to easily count the growth rings; there were approximately ten. The Christmas tree farmer had to plant this particular tree ten years ago to be able to sell it to us this past Christmas. That’s planning ahead! There are a lot of different kinds of farmers who raise a variety of plants and animals, but a Christmas tree farmer has to wait longer than most for his crop to be ready to sell.

I was going to simply apply the label of patient to the Christmas tree farmer but decided to also add the label persevering. The farmer doesn’t just sit around patiently waiting years for his trees to grow to marketable size. The farmer also has to be persevering, actively tending to the trees in different ways, including pruning and shaping them so they look like Christmas trees. The Christmas tree farmer has to be patiently persevering!

The example of the Christmas tree farmer reminded me that patience and perseverance are twin qualities worth exhibiting, even if you’re not growing Christmas trees. Think of the alternative; few results of any value come our way if we are impatient and unwilling to persevere by putting forth some effort. The fable of the two frogs who fell into a bucket of cream illustrates the point.

Two frogs fell into a bucket of cream. They thrashed about but couldn’t get out. The one frog said it was useless to keep trying, gave up, and drowned. The other frog kept on thrashing about until eventually the cream turned into butter and he jumped out!

It’s not just Christmas tree farmers and frogs in a bucket of cream who need to be patiently persevering. God’s plan for all of us in carrying out His great and grand purposes is to be patiently persevering!

“You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” Hebrews 10:36


Have a Merry – I mean – Joyous Christmas!

It was Christmas Eve, just before the first of three Christmas Eve services. There were sconces lining the two side walls of the sanctuary that contained small tea light candles. We had a faithful deacon who took it upon himself to light these candles each year. Using a long lighter, he reached up, tilted the lighter into the frosted glass holders to light the wick of each tea light candle. This particular year we decided to switch to battery operated tea light candles with an LED light in a plastic flame that made them glow like the real thing.

The problem was that no one had told our faithful deacon of the change. He had made it around to all the sconces, having successfully lit every one! Clouds of black smoke billowed up from the sconces and large amounts of stringy black soot wafted through the air, settling on every surface in the sanctuary, including the pews where, in a short time, a crowd of people would be sitting, wearing their Christmas best. Some churches have the aroma of incense when you enter the sanctuary, but what we smelled would never pass for incense!

We quickly opened all the windows to clear the air in spite of the frigid winter temperatures outside, and grabbed gobs of paper towels to wipe down the pews. Somehow we managed to clean everything up and had our Christmas Eve services.

No Christmas is going to be perfect. We wish each other a Merry Christmas, but all that happens leading up to Christmas and Christmas itself does not always produce a merry attitude. Being merry means being happy, and happiness depends on what’s happening; but there are almost always things happening that are not good.

There’s a better word than the word merry to use in the Christmas season and every season, and that’s the word joy. The angel, in announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, used this word, telling them that he had good news of great joy.

Sometimes people lament that they’re not going to have much of a Merry Christmas because they can’t afford to buy gifts or because of something else that’s made their circumstances far from ideal. Yes, circumstances can take the merry out of a Merry Christmas, but circumstances can’t rob us of the true joy of Christmas! The joy of Christmas has already been delivered to us, some 2,000 years ago, at the very first Christmas!

Happiness and being merry are emotions. Joy is more a state of being. Happiness depends on what’s happening. Joy results from accepting the gift of God’s presence with us (that’s what one of Jesus’ names, Emmanuel, means: “God with us.”). Joy comes from leaning on His guidance and help to get through the difficulties. Joy is ours when we hold on to the hope that He’ll ultimately work everything for the good as long as we hang in there with Him! This is how we can have the joy of Christmas, and have joy at any time and at all times!

I’m probably going to be wishing a lot of people “Merry Christmas” out of habit, but if I catch myself I’m going to say “Have a joyous Christmas” instead. Folks probably won’t catch on to the difference, but it’ll be a good reminder to me!

“But the angel said to them [the shepherds], ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savor has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’” (Luke 2:10-11)

Helping God Create

There’s a profusion of wild marigolds during the fall here in Mexico where we live part of the year. Why all the marigolds, I wondered. So, I did some research and discovered that all marigolds everywhere originated in Mexico and South America!

The Aztec people considered the marigold to have magical powers and developed different varieties. The Spaniards took marigold seed back to Spain and developed other varieties, as did others as the marigold spread throughout Europe.

When I observe the humble wild marigold along the paths I walk here in Mexico I marvel at how, over the centuries, people have bred and developed so many varieties in different sizes and shades of color. Of course we humans have developed amazing variations of incalculable numbers of plants and animals. We now have an astonishing variety of dogs, cats, cattle, tulips, chickens, corn, and I’m going to stop because the list is nearly endless.

I’m reminded of how God instructed the first humans, Adam and Eve to tend the Garden of Eden. Presumably the garden was perfect, until Adam and Eve sinned. Yet, they were told to tend the garden. What did that mean? I suspect it meant transplanting plants to different spots to create a beautiful scene. I also suspect it might have included the cross breeding of plants and animals. Maybe there were no pink flowers in the Garden of Eden until Adam and Eve cross pollinated a red flower with a white flower! Okay, I’m telling you more than I know; it’s pure conjecture on my part. But, nevertheless, though the Garden of Eden was perfect there was apparently still room for improvement, God inviting Adam and Eve to join Him in the creative process by tending the garden! Since Adam and Eve we humans have delighted in taking what God has made and making it into something slightly different.

Yes, God has made us to be creative and it goes way beyond developing new varieties of plants and animals. We humans also delight in creating paintings, sculptures, cakes, stories, furniture, music, cars, movies and, again, the list is nearly endless. Most important on the list is that we are capable of creating relationships, both with people and with God.

With this creative ability, however, comes much responsibility. We can create something for good or something for evil. God’s given, along with the gift of creativity, the power of choice.

Each day provides us with many opportunities to be creative, a little bit like God Himself. What will we do with what we are given? It’s our choice.

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15)

Wind in the Pines, Wind in the Corn

The exact location when the idea for this blog came to me.

On my morning walk recently I was on a part of the path that had a set of pine trees on the one side of the path and a cornfield on the other side. A mountain breeze was blowing. I heard the wind in the pines and the wind in the corn, but the sound of the wind was different on the two sides of the path. The wind swished through the tens of thousands of pine needles and rustled through the thousands of corn leaves, stereophonic diversity!

The Hebrew word (the Old Testament of the Bible was originally written in Hebrew) “ruach” can mean either wind, breath, or spirit. So, too, the Greek word pneuma (the New Testament was originally written in Greek); it can mean either wind, breath, or spirit.

Often, when I feel or hear the wind blow, it reminds me of God’s Spirit who can blow around, into, and out of us. Yes, the breath of God can be as close to us as our own breath! The astonishing truth is that His breath (Spirit) can give us spiritual life, resuscitating us and refreshing us.

What is also amazing, and this is where the imagery of the wind in the pines and the wind in the corn comes into play, is that the Holy Spirit of God seeks to blow upon each of us in a very unique way! You and I can be uniquely empowered by God to do His good work in such a special way that no one else could take our place.

This truth can provide the incentive we need to quit playing the comparison game; we don’t have to be like somebody else we know, we’re to be the unique person God’s calling us to be. This truth can also provide the antidote we need to overcome the prideful attitude that we’re better than someone else.

The wind makes a unique sound depending on what it’s blowing upon. The Spirit of God, His breathing presence, can also be wonderfully different and unique for each of us, making each of us of special use to Him!

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)

Messing Up Lawnmower Repair

The recoil pull starter on the lawnmower no longer recoiled. The long rope with the plastic grip handle on the end lay limp over the mower. The last time it was pulled it didn’t recoil, so the rope could no longer be pulled in an attempt to start the mower. It was broken, no doubt about it.

It needed fixing. I could fix it! That’s what I thought. After all, how complex can a lawnmower engine be? Surely it would be a simple matter of removing a few small bolts, lifting off the top housing, rewinding the rope within and putting it back together again.

What makes the rope quickly pull back into the mower’s housing after you pull it is a long coiled spring. When I took off the housing I exposed this coiled spring and it sprung forth, uncoiling like a startled snake striking, launching out into the air, then landing across the lawnmower and unto the ground, motionless.

Now to put it back, this was the task at hand. I wrestled with the uncooperative coil, trying to wind it back into the housing. I lost the wrestling match.

Humbled, I admitted I needed help. We lifted the lawnmower into the bed of a pick-up and delivered it to a local lawnmower repairman. A few hours later we returned to retrieve the now fixed lawnmower. The whole experience cost me my pride and some money, but at least the mower worked again.

The lawnmower episode was just another example of how I can’t do much of anything on my own; none of us can. No, we don’t like to ask for help with our problems, and that’s the biggest problem we have, not wanting to ask for help!

There are no self-made people in this world. We all need each other. The Good Lord has so designed life that we’re to be here for each other. It’s not a sign of weakness to reach out for help and to accept help when it’s offered, it’s a sign of being smart!

Yes, Jesus said that it’s more blessed to give than to receive, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t receive help from others. How can someone else be blessed by helping us if we don’t accept their help? The truth is, we’ll feel blessed when we do!

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

The Spider and Electricity

I was using my electric drill and table saw in my small workshop next to our house here in Mexico and noticed that neither was operating at full power; I don’t think the saw could have cut Styrofoam. Checking the house’s electricity I found the same low voltage issue; the lights were dim and there wasn’t enough current to run the refrigerator.

What was the problem? I decided to open the main electrical box and have a look. Those of you who know me are thinking this cannot turn out well! In this case you are wrong! I crawled under the porch where the electrical box is located and carefully opened it. Inside the box was a dead spider and the web it had been weaving before its shocking death.

The only good position for me to open the box and get a good look inside was to be in a sitting position, on some rocks. Realizing I was about as well grounded as a person can be, sitting on rocks like I was, I knew I had to be extra careful in the removal of the spider and its web!

I pulled the lever down, disconnecting all three main fuses and their circuits from the incoming electrical feed. Is this getting too technical for you? I then used a whisk broom and carefully brushed out the corpse of the spider and its web.

I pushed the lever back up, closed the box, and went to check on the power. The house lights burned brightly, the refrigerator ran, and, checking things out in my shop, I found that the drill and saw hummed at full power. A tiny spider and/or its flimsy web had cut the power to my house and workshop at least in half!

Having spent a lifetime discovering spiritual principles illustrated in everyday events, I had no problem finding an application in this electrical mystery I had solved. Here it is: we can limit God’s great power flowing into our lives by allowing so-called “little sins” to go unnoticed and unaddressed.

The reality is that there really are no “little sins” because doing anything that’s outside God’s holy and perfect will causes serious alienation between us and Him and is a big deal. We distance ourselves from God, including from His power, when we choose to act in ways other than His will for us.

It’s good to always be on guard for the “little” spiders of sin and the webs of trouble they weave. Our lives will be brighter and we’ll live with greater power.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” (Ephesians 6:10)

Stumbling Stones or Stepping Stones

Stones are neutral in nature. They can be a problem or part of a solution to a problem. I thought of this recently when admiring a set of stone steps. The stones of those steps, when they were still scattered about on the ground, could easily have become stumbling stones for a person walking or running. But those stones were gathered and carefully put into the right place with mortar and now provide solid steps. The stoney steps illustrated for me how we can deal with our problems in two ways.

Problems aren’t much fun. I’d rather not have to deal with them. To me, an ideal day is a day without problems, but that’s not going to happen, at least not very often. So then the issue becomes one of what to do with the problems that come our way.

God has given us the amazing ability to respond to a problem instead of reacting. We can decide how best to solve a problem. If a problem persistently remains unsolvable we still have the choice of how we will live with the problem.

Stones can either cause us to stumble, bringing us down, or they can be crafted into steps, taking us higher. The choice is ours. Problems are much like stones, and the choice is ours as to what we do with them, stumbling over them or using them to take us to a new level.

“The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.” (Psalm 37:23-24)

Life’s Building Materials

Part of our neighbor’s house in Mexico is built of concrete block, and the other part was built of adobe. I use the past tense when referring to the adobe portion of the house, for it is no more. It sustained irreparable damage during the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that hit the central part of Mexico on September 19, 2017.

Adobe bricks are a mixture of mud, clay, and straw and are cast in open molds, then air-dried. It’s one of the oldest building materials and can last for years, but as our neighbors and many others in central Mexico found out, it’s not especially strong.

We build our lives out of a variety of materials, the most important materials not being material in nature at all, but immaterial. The material building materials of life consist of houses, cars, electronics, bank accounts, clothes, and other tangible materials, but these aren’t the most important building products for constructing a great life.

Far more important are such things as faith in God, love, honesty, commitment, patience, integrity, and a host of other immaterial building materials. There’s also a long list of immaterial building materials that are harmful and dangerous to use. This list includes hate, lust, self-serving, racism, greed, apathy, and a host of others.

When building something it’s important to use the right materials, good materials. Our neighbor in Mexico is going to rebuild. He told us he’ll be using concrete block, not adobe! Good choice. We all need to make ongoing choices of what we’ll utilize to build our lives. It’s up to us to make good choices.

The apostle Paul’s words in a letter to the Corinthian Christians: “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.” 1 Corinthians (3:10-13)

Pouring Concrete, Dancing Clouds

Here at Refuge Ranch in Mexico we were pouring concrete by hand as the construction continues on building a larger house for our daughter and her family. It was very hard work for the family, and we all wanted it to be done. Then I happened to look up. Clouds were overhead, and they were blowing in different directions! Over the noise of the gasoline-powered concrete mixer I shouted to the family, pointing my finger toward the sky.

For a few moments we all gazed upward, watching in wonder as the wind pushed clouds different directions at the same time. Even after turning our attention back to the work at hand we would all pause every once in a while to glance upward. The experience of seeing the dancing clouds choreograph such a show refreshed us, a feeling of exuberance relieving some of our exhaustion.

Pouring concrete with dancing clouds overhead was a reminder that whatever challenge, problem, disaster, or difficult task we’re facing, we can break the fixation with it by taking a moment to look “up” and by that I mean look up to the Lord. There are a number of reasons why this is important, and why it works even better than looking up at clouds. First, it’s from Him we need strength, and He’s certainly capable of providing it. Second, we often need fresh insight and perspective, and there’s no one better than God to give that as well. But what we need most is the reminder that God really does care about us and that we’re important to Him. Those reasons, and more, are why, when life’s looking down, we need to look up – at Him. While pouring concrete the dancing clouds reminded me of this!

“Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.” (Psalm 105:4)

Something Better than Good Luck

Like many in the Tampa, Florida, area, my wife and I were much relieved when Hurricane Irma didn’t deliver a full punch as had been forecasted. Our house and that of our son and his family didn’t sustain any damage. We “dodged a bullet” as some put it.

After the hurricane passed, the Tampa paper published the headline, “We’re Lucky,” in big bold letters at the top of the front page. My son took his copy of the paper, struck out the word “lucky” and wrote the word “blessed” in its place. What a correction, a Biblically based correction! The word “luck” and its derivative “lucky” aren’t in the Bible.

Luck refers to chance. God created this universe, and nothing in it, absolutely nothing, happens by chance! Nothing happens without His active or passive will coming into play. Nothing catches Him by surprise, nothing is beyond His control. God is (and here’s a big theological word) sovereign; He is in total control!

What about the “bad luck” that happens? What about the evil in this world? God’s unfolding story with humans as documented from Genesis to Revelation in the Bible reveals that God never causes evil, for He is all good. Yes, He does allow evil things to happen. However, if He does, He has His good plan that can unfold in spite of the evil.

This is why it’s so important that we determine to yield to Him and His will. We don’t have to count on good luck; we can count on the good Lord!

“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)