Joy Is a Choice

Among the optical illusions that’s one of my favorites is the staircase illusion where you are viewing the staircase from above or from beneath. Usually you more easily see it one way or the other and have to really study it to, hopefully, see it the other way. I’ll admit real annoyance, staring at the image for a prolonged period of time and still not being able to see it. I find myself blinking several times, and even being tempted to shake my head or give the ol’ noggin a hard rap with the knuckles! What a gratifying feeling to finally see the staircase the other way!

The staircase optical illusion, and others like it, remind me that there are different ways of viewing things, beyond optical illusions. The Good Lord has given us the ability to make choices. How we view something, anything, is at least in part a choice.

For me, it’s often easier to see the negative in a situation rather than the positive. The electricity goes off, and I immediately think of what I can’t do and start grumbling. My irritation only grows as I throw a light switch or reach for a remote. What about allowing the situation to prompt a curiosity as to what I can do without electricity and a greater appreciation for it when it comes back on? Using my God-given ability to actively choose how to respond rather than passively react is hard work!

Back to the staircase illustration; I find it so easy to view my circumstances from a position beneath the stairs rather than from on top of the stairs! But as a person who has decided to live my life with an active faith and trust in God I’ve determined that I won’t live in denial of God’s good presence in every situation, allowing myself to habitually react in a negative way. If I believe God is sovereign (in ultimate control of things) then I should also believe that He has something good for me to find in that which strikes me initially as not being so good.

The staircase optical illusion is a reminder that I can choose to view a situation from either underneath it or above it. My goal is to establish the habit of looking at it from above! You too?

“The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life — of whom shall I be afraid?  Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident. Psalm 27:1,3

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The Big Benefit of a Robot Mower

A while back I was at a big box hardware store (one of my favorite places to shop) and saw on display a Husqvarna robot lawnmower. I knew Husqvarna made a great chainsaw, but a robot lawnmower? Wow! I stood there in the hardware store aisle and watched the video accompanying the display. A lawnmower that goes back and forth across your lawn all by itself; wow!

I could picture it vividly. I would be sitting on my back screened-in porch sipping iced tea while reading a book and all the while my lawn was being mowed! I later shared my hardware store vision with my wife, adding that the Bible would be the book I was reading. Making the book a Bible makes the vision more spiritual, don’t you think? I argued that though the robot lawnmower costs a couple of thousand dollars it would be worth it. After all, how can you put a price on the spiritual benefit of spending more time reading the Bible?

My wife didn’t see the compelling logic of my argument! It’s not that she laughed or made fun of my argument. All she did was give a slight smile with a barely perceptible rolling of the eyes (after 46 years of marriage you pick up on these small expressions of body language).

I still get the lawn mowed, I still read my Bible; just not at the same time, as the wonderful Husqvarna robot lawn mower would have allowed me to do. I have to rob some time from watching TV or reading my John Grisham novel to let God get a Good Word into my day.

The moral of the story? You can still get done all that’s important to get done if you just determine to do so.

“I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.” Psalm 119:16

A Tale of Two Very Ill Men

This is a tale of two very ill men. Each man lived alone. Neither felt well enough to cook for himself. For several days, late in the day, both of their doorbells would ring. Upon answering the door both found a hot meal, wrapped in a towel, secure in a cardboard box on the front porch. Both men brought the hot meal into their home, set it upon their table and enjoyed the feast.

Upon getting better the first man reflected, “I’m sure a lucky man that someone would bring me food. But then again, I’m a good person, and that’s the reward you get for living a decent life, good things come your way.”

The second man reflected, “I sure am a blessed man that someone has cared enough to take care of me like this. I think I know who this benevolent person is – my close friend. The meals are familiar recipes I’ve enjoyed in their home and at potluck gatherings we’ve both attended. Even the towels they’re wrapped in look familiar, for I’ve seen them hang on a towel rack in their kitchen. I’m so thankful. I’ll be returning the empty, washed dishes and towels with great gratitude and the promise to do the same for someone else someday soon.”

When we reflect on the good we have in life do we feel lucky or even deserving? Or when we reflect on the good we have in life, do we feel grateful to the Ultimate One and the human “angels” who put it at our doorstep, even though we’re not deserving of such blessings? Do we believe in Him and know Him well enough to recognize that all good things come from Him? Then, too, are we compelled to pay it forward?

I made up the tale of the two sick men, but you and I are also making up our own story as we go along in life. Which of the two men’s tales will our life’s story parallel?

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” James 1:17

Why Does God Say, “Look at Me”?

A child is doing something that she thinks is amazing and calls out, “Look at me!” An adult posts a new selfie on Facebook and asks, “What do you think of the new look?” A husband flexes his muscles before his wife with an expression that communicates, “You’re amazed, right?” We all do it at one time or another, but calling attention to ourselves is usually looked down on.

This is why it can be bewildering as to why God wants us to worship Him, telling Him how great He is. Does God have insecurity issues? Why does He want our attention, our praise and worship?

The great professor of Cambridge and influential author C. S. Lewis addressed this question. Tim Keller in his book, PRAYER, writes and then quotes Lewis on this subject, “If God is the great object of admiration behind all other beauties and magnificence, then to praise and admire him would be [to quote Lewis] ‘simply to be awake, to have entered the real world… we must praise God or live in unreality and poverty.’”

God wants us to praise and worship Him because in doing so we are seeing reality as it really is, that God made everything, sustains everything, and is infinitely greater than it all! To be aware of the visible creation is only part of reality. The bigger part of reality is to understand and respond to the One responsible for it all, and the appropriate response is awe and worship. To fail to respond to God in this way means we have an inaccurate view of reality and that we “don’t get it.”

Life can be far more than an animal-type existence where we simply respond to the material world as experienced by our five senses. We more fully grab all the gusto of this life when we look upward, worshiping, being in awe of, and giving thanks to the One who put us here in the midst of everything that He’s given us!

God lovingly wants us to have a full grasp of reality and that includes having a right view of Him that will lead to the appropriate response of adoration. No, God doesn’t need us to praise and worship Him, but we have a need to do so!

“It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High.”  Psalm 92:1

Right Person, Right Place, Right Time, Right Thing

It was early morning. I was returning to the hospital to visit my wife Diann who was recovering from surgery. After pulling into a tight parking space in the hospital garage I surveyed the situation to see if I had left adequate room on each side of my car. I then observed a young woman doing the same after exiting her car. “Not much room,” I said.

I made my way down the parking ramp, the young woman a few steps behind me. Once past the security guard at the reception desk we both entered the elevator. “You have someone in the hospital?” I asked.

My father just died,” she said with great emotion.

She had apparently been called at home with the news and had rushed to the hospital. Perhaps it was my combined look of surprise and sympathy at her answer or maybe I had a harmless grandfatherly look about me, whatever the reason, she reached out for a comforting quick hug. I said a sentence prayer for her, the elevator door opened, and I stepped out, turned back and said, “God bless you.” The elevator door closed and she continued up to her floor and I to my wife’s room.

A chance encounter? I choose to describe it in different words, it was more like a divine appointment! If God has no trouble keeping the earth spinning around the sun in just the right configuration and at the right velocity and has electrons spinning around the nucleus of the atom in exactly the right way at the right speed and has a gazillion other elements of the creation synchronized in just the right fashion, then He can easily direct your life and mine, if we let Him.

Life’s an adventure when you believe, and act on the belief, that God has His divine appointments for us every day when it comes to the people to see, the things to do, and the places to go. God’s calling for each of us is unique. You and I are the right person in the right place at the right time to do the right thing!

“I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.” Isaiah 48:17

Fourth Week in Advent

“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas…” Not me! We’re spending this Christmas in Florida.

A snowy scene is so much a part of the ambiance of Christmas that there are even lighted snowmen ornaments for sale here in Florida.  Some Christmases we spend in Mexico where they also display lighted snowmen ornaments, and I dare say nine out of ten Mexicans have never seen a real snowman, let alone made one! Think about it; how much of the world never celebrates a white Christmas? Certainly the first Christmas, the Christmas that started all Christmases, the one in Bethlehem, likely didn’t have snow.

I know, if you live in a colder climate it’s nice to have a blanket of snow for Christmas, best yet is a light snowfall on Christmas Eve. I agree, I grew up in Iowa and lived most of my adult life in Michigan. So, for you northerners, I hope your dream comes true.

But let’s all take stock for a moment. There are a lot of trappings of Christmas that we count on for it to be a good Christmas in addition to a Christmas snowfall – Christmas presents, Christmas parties, Christmas trees and decorations, Christmas carols, Christmas ties, sweaters, vests, and socks.

Is this what makes Christmas really Christmas? You know the answer as well as I do. So, as we enjoy many of these “Christmasy” elements let’s not be so distracted by it all that we fail to take the holiday back to its source. I try to be a creative writer so I steer clear of cliches which means I WILL NOT use the cliché, as true as it is, that we should “Keep Christ in _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.” You go ahead and fill in the blanks yourself!

Food Train

Tray of food brought to us by a Food Train participant

During my wife Diann’s recent post-surgery recovery people from our church brought us food on a regular basis for about two weeks. They call it a food train at our church. When someone in the church is going through a difficult time others in the church sign up for the food train on line to provide a meal. When I was told the food train was planning on stopping at our home I explained that I was fully capable of cooking our meals, but they insisted on helping us out in this way.

I argued against the food train coming to our house, but I didn’t argue very hard or very long. I sort of liked the idea of answering the doorbell and having someone standing there with a hot meal ready for us to enjoy! As it turned out the food was far better than any pizza delivery, it came with genuine smiles and a few minutes of warm conversation, and I didn’t have to pay, not even a tip!

Since then we’ve had the opportunity of being part of the food train to take sustenance to someone else in post-surgery recovery. It’s a good system; you help me when I’m down and I help you when you’re down. It takes humility to receive graciously, and it takes love to give graciously. Both can be a challenge.

Accepting help requires that we overcome an over inflated self-esteem that says we don’t need anyone’s help or that we overcome an under inflated self-esteem that says we aren’t worthy of anyone’s help.

A healthy balance on the self-esteem issue is found when we recognize our value comes from being valued by God. Because He also values everyone else, as He does us, and given the fact that we are all but frail people of dust, we’re called by Him to help others and to be helped by others. It’s the divinely established economic system of give and take and take and give!

We’re blessed when we let others help us, and they enjoy being a blessing. We’re a blessing when we help others, and they reap the benefits of being blessed. It’s blessings all around!

“At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.” 2 Corinthians 8:14

The Elephant in Our Daily Lives

“It’s the elephant in the room.” The familiar phrase prompts an interesting image, an elephant taking up most of the space in a room. Elephants are big, they can throw their weight around, and they can be noisy as well; if an elephant were in the room it would be difficult to ignore! The phrase is used when referring to a subject that no one wants to talk about because it’s uncomfortable, hard to deal with or controversial, but it’s a subject that’s impossible to ignore.

Lots of topics could be a candidate as the elephant in the room, depending on the people involved and the circumstances being faced. I’m thinking, however, that there’s one subject that beats out all others as being the supreme example of the elephant in the room. That subject is God.

The universe is absolutely huge! There are billions of galaxies with billions of stars in each. The known universe extends over 13 billion light years in size! If God made it all and keeps it all going then He is bigger than it all! In other words there is no bigger subject in the universe than God!

Consider then, too, the fact that God has made us as intelligent beings who are not only self-aware and aware of others, but we’re capable of being aware of Him! Obviously, God has unique plans for us, the pinnacle of His creation.

It doesn’t take, then, a whole lot of thought to come to the conclusion that God matters most, and should matter most to us, for without Him nothing would be that is, including us! Follow the line of logic a bit further and doesn’t it seem to make sense that we should be orienting our lives around Him, if He’s the biggest subject in the universe?

What’s amazing is how we can spend so little of our day thinking about Him and living in response to Him. He’s the ultimate elephant in the room. He doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be ignored!

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

Second Sunday in Advent

This is the second week in Advent. Most of us are making preparations for Christmas. We wouldn’t expect gifts to appear magically under the tree without shopping for those gifts and having them wrapped, nor would we expect a Christmas party to come together without the significant work of preparation.

Then why would we expect Christmas to impact us in a profoundly spiritual way without preparation? Let’s be thinking about the Christmas story as we drive here, there, and back again. Let’s reflect on the miracle of it all when we hear the traditional Christmas carols. When we wrap gifts for others or anticipate opening our gifts may it prompt us to think of God’s great gift He unwrapped for us in Jesus’ birth from the womb into the world.

Over the remaining weeks leading up to Christmas may we be led into a deeper appreciation of what’s behind all of the hoopla. May we see the holy hoopla of it all!

First Sunday in Advent

Today begins the first week in Advent. These four weeks leading up to Christmas are to be a time of preparation for being able to fully embrace Christmas, taking it to a level far beyond that of Santa, presents, parties, decorations, etc. Pray with me that with all of the meaningful, nostalgic , and also hectic aspects of this special season that we can take it to the highest level.  This level is where the focus is on Jesus, who was born among us, is the source of this season and the One who can make this season of Christmas all that it’s meant to be!