Prayer and Garbage Trucks

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is garbagetruck.jpgFrom our home in Florida I find myself taking my morning prayer walk with three garbage trucks making their weekly rounds. The quiet of the neighborhood with the chirping of the birds is displaced with the grinding and growling of the garbage trucks. My view of the sun streaking through the trees is distracted by glimpses of the garbage going into the trucks, and the aroma of the morning air is covered by a whiff of the smell of garbage.

This hardly seems a holy and sacred way to pray, but I came to realize it is. The presence of the garbage trucks is a metaphor on how to pray well! The truth is, the garbage isn’t just in the garbage cans and trucks, it’s in me too! I am often amazed, maybe shocked would be a better word, how often while I try to pray that I’m distracted by thoughts which aren’t at all holy.

I find myself struggling with a bad and wrong attitude about something or someone, tempting thoughts demand I think about them, fear about a situation floods in, and distracting thoughts capture my attention and keep me from concentrating on what I think I should be praying about. I feel like pausing and confessing to God, “But I digress.”

John Newton, the famous composer of the hymn Amazing Grace, wrote in a letter, “But I am sure, that were my outward life and conduct perfectly free from blame, the disorders and defilement of my imagination are sufficient to constitute me a chief sinner, in the sight of Him to whom the thoughts and intents of the heart are continually open—and who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity!” What a relief; even the great and godly John Newton had thoughts far worse than many of his actions, and I suspect some even sneaked into his prayers!

Here’s a secret to great and powerful praying that I’ve identified in such experiences as I just described. A secret to great praying is to pray honestly! Whatever comes to mind while we’re trying to talk with God, not just the good, but the bad and the ugly as well, make for good subjects for prayer. God has broad shoulders muscled with His grace and mercy and His love is unconditional; He can handle it. Go ahead and do some honest to God praying!

Whatever creeps into our minds while praying probably is something we need to talk about with God in prayer. Most certainly we’ll end up pleading for His help, asking for His forgiveness, and expressing gratitude that He does forgive. That’s all good!

Our practiced and often repeated routine prayers with the right sounding holy words and an insistence on getting through our list of prayer requests can be boring for us, and, I suspect, for God too! We need to get real in our praying.

Yes, it’s good to be intentional about what we bring to God in prayer, trying to have some balance between worship, requests, confession, and thanksgiving. But it’s also important to talk to God and deal with what happens to come to mind that seems to be distracting us from praying. Maybe, just maybe, those intrusive thoughts can help us to really pray!

“When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.”  Psalm 73:21-23

Aim to Appreciate

Do you have any certificates or awards stashed away? They may be gathering dust or mold, but it’s hard to toss them out. Most of the time we decide we’ll keep them, at least for a while longer.

What were your certificates or awards for? People are awarded certificates for a variety of reasons. One of the most meaningful certificates has to be a certificate of appreciation. That’s because there are few feelings better than the feeling of being appreciated.

William James (1842-1910) was a philosopher and psychologist who said, “The deepest principle of human nature is a craving to be appreciated.” We all appreciate being appreciated!

One of the best ways to nurture a relationship with another person is by showing appreciation for who they are or what they’ve done. Sometimes a relationship is strained, alienated, or maybe just blah, but show a little appreciation and things start turning around for the good!

We can aim to appreciate not only what’s good in others but also what’s good in circumstances. Faith in God includes the faith that God can have good come out of any set of circumstances. There’s something in almost any set of circumstances that we can appreciate.

Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsy were prisoners in the Ravensbruck concentration camp during World War II. At one point they were reading the Bible and, inspired by the verse at the end of this piece, were trying to come up with reasons to give thanks to God. Betsy prayed, “Thank you for the fleas.” Her sister Corrie couldn’t see a good reason to appreciate the fleas. But sometime later, they found out that the reason the guards left them alone so much was because they didn’t want to spend anymore time than necessary in the flea infested barracks! Corrie and Betsy had a new appreciation for the fleas!

And how about finding reasons to express appreciation for that which is ordinary or just ho-hum? How about aiming to be appreciative for “ordinary” days? G. K. Chesterton wrote, “We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.” Emerson wrote, “The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.”

The Four Blessings of Life

Blessings4_5CroppedSomeone sneezes and we say, “Bless you.” We don’t use the word “bless” a lot in our contemporary, secular culture, mainly just when people sneeze. In religious circles it gets more use. I got to thinking about this word “bless” and how it can be applied in four ways. God can bless us, we can bless God, we can bless others, and others can bless us. I’d like to suggest that making these four forms of “bless” operative in our lives can make them full lives.

The dictionary defines “bless” as bestowing good on someone. God does that with us. I know, there’s a lot that’s not good in life; this is a fallen and broken world, after all. Still, God’s ultimately in control and He can even have good come out of bad. It’s good to affirm that God blesses us. If we find it difficult to affirm God’s blessings, then it’s a warning we need an attitude adjustment.

The most intriguing to me of the four uses of “bless” is when we “bless the Lord.” The phrase is found quite a few times in the Bible (21 times in the English Standard Version). How can we bless God? After all, He is self-sufficient and needs nothing from anybody. The dictionary says to bless means to make or pronounce holy. We can’t make God holy, He’s as holy as holy gets. But we can pronounce Him holy, that is, agree with the idea. So, yes, we can “bless the Lord” by just affirming He’s the best!

One of the key ways to find meaning and purpose in life is to “bestow good on others” as the dictionary defines blessing. It’s far better for people to feel we’re a blessing rather than a curse in their lives, right? For sure! Another way to look at it is that we can be a channel for God blessing those around us!

Oftentimes it’s easier to offer help than it is to ask for help. But one way people connect with us is by realizing that they can contribute to our well being. We also come across as more humble when we’re willing to accept help, or even ask for help, and this endears us to people. People feel valued when we value their help.

Our life is being lived well when we embrace the four ways of blessing. God blesses us, we bless God, we bless others, and others bless us; it’s the way to live a blessed life!

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” Psalm 103:1 (English Standard Version)

What to Say About Easter

I checked a list of 30 suggestions to put in an Easter greeting that were posted on the internet. The list had references to bunnies and eggs, new beginnings and spring, but no mention about Jesus and His resurrection.

So, I found my own quotes about Easter. After reading the above referenced 30 quotes, it was good to wash my eyes out by reading the following quotes.

“The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is one of the best attested facts on record. There were so many witnesses to behold it, that if we do in the least degree receive the credibility of men’s testimonies, we cannot and we dare not doubt that Jesus rose from the dead.” Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) English preacher.

“If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.” Timothy Keller (1950- ) pastor, writer, theologian, and apologist.

“No one can remain neutral regarding Jesus’ resurrection. The claim is too staggering, the event too earthshaking, the implications too significant and the matter too serious. We must either receive it or reject it as truth for us. To remain indifferent or undecided is to reject it.” Mark Driscoll (1970- ) pastor and author.

“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world – and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.” Charles Colson (1931-2012) attorney and special council to President Nixon, convicted and sent to prison in the Watergate scandal, turned to Christ, and founded Prison Fellowship Ministry.

“There is more evidence that Jesus rose from the dead than there is that Julius Caesar ever lived or that Alexander the Great died at the age of thirty-three.” Billy Graham (1918-2018) world-famous evangelist.

“We live and die; Christ died and lived!” John Stott (1921-2011) English Anglican pastor, theologian, Biblical scholar, and teacher.

And now, one more quote, the words of the angel at the tomb of Jesus, speaking to the women who had come to anoint Jesus’ body. “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead…’” Matthew 28:6-7a

The Power of Responding

What did Alexander the Great, George Washington, Napoleon, Queen Victoria, Golda Meir, Hitler, Stalin, and Fidel Castro all have in common? They were all orphans, an interesting list of both good and evil leaders.

Pierre Rentchnick did a study of 300 leaders who had been orphaned through the death of the parents or by severe emotional separation from the parents. He concluded that the deprivation of parents gave these leaders tremendous willpower to lead in either a good or evil way.

Dr. Paul Tournier, a Swiss physician, counselor, and author, was intrigued by Rentchnick’s study. Tournier, an orphan himself, asserted that circumstances are morally neutral, that what matters is how we respond to them.

All of us have to deal with less than ideal circumstances and even bad circumstances. We may not have a choice as to what happens to us, but we have a choice as to how we respond to what happens to us. Rentchnick’s observations concerning the contrast of good and bad orphaned famous leaders shows how bad circumstances can be responded to in very different ways.

I have known people (and I suspect you have too) who have allowed bad circumstances to turn them into negative, bitter, angry, and self-centered people. I have also known people (and I suspect you have too) who have responded to bad circumstances by choosing to be positive, joyful, caring people. What’s the difference? The difference is the choice they made, the choice of how to respond to the negative circumstances in their lives.

When going through bad circumstances there’s the easy choice of taking the path of least resistance, the low road, the giving in to the emotions and attitudes that easily come to us, which are often negative, angry, hopeless, vindictive and lead us to feel victimized.

There’s another path to take when we go through bad circumstances. It’s the high road. It means we resist reacting and are intentional about responding. This chosen path can lead us to grow, persevere, develop a deepening faith in God, a heightened desire to help others, and to feel victorious.

We have the God-given power to respond instead of reacting to bad circumstances. We just have to accept that gift of choice, unwrap it, and use it!

“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 6:16

What’s Good for Julie Andrews Is Good for Us

Julie Andrews

Julie Andrews is famous for her roles in Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, and many other movies and musicals. Now in her mid-80s, she revealed in an interview, referencing her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, “As long as they all remember me fondly I will be very, very, happy.”

I find it interesting that in her later years, Julie Andrews, who has enjoyed a lifetime of fame, wants to be remembered fondly by her family most of all. Many of us may not have a strong desire to be famous, but there’s still a healthy reminder for us in Julie Andrew’s words.

We can find ourselves trying to impress people with whom we aren’t all that close. We watch our manners, act nicely, and put on the charm with perfect strangers. It can be nothing more than good acting.

The real questions are, how do we treat those who live with us behind our front door when the door is closed? How do we treat our extended family members at family gatherings? How do we treat our friends when they’re having a bad day, or we are? How do we treat our co-workers when things are tense at work? How do we treat our neighbors when they’re not acting very neighborly? Yes, the real question is, how do we treat those nearest to us?

Patrick Morley, author of The Man in the Mirror, writes in his blog of a time years earlier when he and his wife were going over their schedule. “One evening as we reviewed our calendar and a stack of time-consuming opportunities, the thought came, Why not prioritize everything we do on the basis of who’s going to be crying at our funeral? We did it. The results saved our family.” (Man In The Mirror Blog, October 25, 2014)

Who’s going to be crying at your funeral and mine? Of all those in our sphere of influence it is these, the attenders at our funeral, over whom we have the greatest influence.

Others with whom we’re not so close may appreciate our kindness and be hurt by our meanness, but they’ll move on with their day. Not so with those near to us. We’re important in their lives, those that would shed a tear or more at our funeral. These are the people, though they be few in number, who deserve the best of us that we have to offer.

I, along with countless others, think Julie Andrews is a great actress. When she dies, if she does before me, I won’t be at her funeral, and I likely won’t cry over her passing. Neither will those countless other admirers. Her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will. Julie Andrews knows that. We should too!

“For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor [those near you] as yourself.’” Galatians 5:14

What Makes a Winner

Kurt Vonnegut

Best selling author Kurt Vonnegut tells of a life-changing conversation he had when he was 15 years old. “I spent a month working on an archaeological dig. I was talking to one of the archaeologists one day during our lunch break, and he asked those kinds of “getting to know you” questions you ask young people: Do you play sports? What’s your favorite subject? And I told him, no I don’t play any sports. I do theater, I’m in choir, I play the violin and piano, I used to take art classes.

And he went ‘WOW. That’s amazing!’ And I said, ‘Oh no, but I’m not any good at ANY of them.’

And he said something then that I will never forget and which absolutely blew my mind because no one had ever said anything like it to me before: ‘I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.’

And that honestly changed my life. Because I went from a failure, someone who hadn’t been talented enough at anything to excel, to someone who did things because I enjoyed them. I had been raised in such an achievement-oriented environment, so inundated with the myth of Talent, that I thought it was only worth doing things if you could ‘Win’ at them.”

Kurt Vonnegut’s telling of this pivotal conversation when he was a boy prompted me to reflect on the many stories I know of people who did something great for God, most of them in the Bible. Few of these people had a lot of talent and ability or were winners over others. Often, God called people to a task who seemed least likely adapted for the task. A frequent result was that it made them more dependent on God.

If we only did that which we could be the best at doing, then we’d do very little! A lot of good gets done by people doing the best they can do, though it may not be better than what someone else could do. The fact is, we’re often in a unique position to do something good when no one else is where we are who might be able to do it better. We’re it, and God can help us do what needs doing!

We’re not called by God to be better at doing something than someone else, we’re called by Him to do the best we can! We’re not always called to be successful (certainly not always in terms the world around us would suggest). But we are always called by God to be obedient to Him. We may not always feel qualified, but He will qualify us to do that for which He’s called us.

Opportunities and challenges are a call to do our best, not necessarily to do better than someone else. They’re set before us to teach us things, encourage us to grow in different ways, help us be more the person God wants us to be, and to change the world around us in some small way. This is what makes us a winner at what we do!

Words to a worker by his boss in one of Jesus’ parables, words that we can hope to hear from God to us when we get to heaven: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness.” Matthew 25:23

Forgiven Much, Loving Much

Two men found themselves in debt to the same lender. One owed the equivalent of what he could earn in 500 working days. The other owed the equivalent of what he could earn in 50 working days. It became apparent to the lender that neither would be able to pay back their loans. Realizing you can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip and being a compassionate kind of guy, the lender forgave both men their debts.

If you had to guess which debtor was the most grateful you’d probably go with the guy who had been forgiven the debt ten times as big as the other guy’s debt. It’s a made-up story, but not one I made up. Jesus told the story to a religious man who, it was apparent, cared a lot less for Jesus than did a woman of bad reputation who, with tears of joy and gratitude, had washed Jesus’ feet, kissed His feet, and anointed them with oil right before the religious man’s eyes.

The incident of this unique social interaction between Jesus, the woman of bad reputation, and the religious leader that prompted Jesus’ story of the forgiven debtors gives us remarkable insight into the only way to have a dynamic and growing faith in God. The level of vitality of our faith in God and the depth of our relationship with Him is in direct proportion to what degree we grasp the idea of our need for God’s forgiveness.

The love the woman of bad reputation had for Jesus was evidence of her having been forgiven, likely because of an earlier encounter with Jesus. The amazing contrast between the woman of bad reputation and the religious leader in how they related to Jesus reveals a fundamental spiritual principle. The less we see our need to be forgiven by God the less of God we experience; the more we comprehend and respond to our need for God’s forgiveness the more of Him we experience.

A first step in getting right with God is to acknowledge our need for His gracious and merciful forgiveness. This is the reason for Christmas (God entering our world as Jesus), Good Friday (Jesus dying on a cross for our sins), and Easter (Jesus’ resurrection affirming that He was who He said He was, God come to us in order to save us from our sinfulness). When a person responds to this truth in a positive way they’ve entered into a right relationship with God. God’s forgiveness is the key.

Those of us who have taken this step of accepting Jesus as our forgiver can easily fall into the trap of the religious guy with whom Jesus had the conversation. We can get to thinking we live a pretty good life, don’t do terrible things, and need little forgiveness. Ironically, as we become more “religious” we can drift from a close and dynamic relationship with God.

I’ve discovered that as I learn more and more about God and allow myself to be more and more honest with myself, I’m more and more aware of my sinfulness and my constant need for God’s gracious and merciful forgiveness. The ensuing and ongoing great relief and gratitude prompts a deeper and more profound love for my Lord. When we understand that God continues to forgive us for much it’s natural to love Him more!

Jesus, referring to the woman of bad reputation positioned at his feet as He addressed the religious man, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” Luke 7:47

Two Words for Purposeful Living

Sometimes it’s possible to summarize really important subjects in a simple, concise, and easy to remember form. At this point in my life (having entered my 70th decade) I’ve come to the conclusion that I can summarize what gives my life purpose with two words, and then summarize the purpose of life in one sentence using those two words.

The words? GLORY & GOOD. The sentence? The purpose of life is to live for the GLORY of God and the GOOD of people.

There’s a famous document that goes all the way back to the 1600s that explains the beliefs of the Christian faith called the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It’s done in a question and answer format. The very first question and answer are, “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

Our chief purpose is to glorify God? God is already all glorious, so how can I give Him more glory if He already has it all? I’ve come to understand that I give God glory when I respond appropriately to how amazing He is (how glorious He is). This means I’m more impressed with Him than with anything else, including myself. I also bring glory to Him by seeking to live my life to please Him, to live as He would want me to live. So, I’ve determined that the main purpose of my life is to live it for God’s glory.

Second, my purpose is to live so as to bring about good to those within my sphere of influence. I want to make a positive difference in other people’s lives. I want to leave the world a better place than I found it. The temptation is to live for self. I’ve discovered, however, through both serious reading and study and from life experience, that to live in such a way is ultimately less satisfying than living for the good of others.

It’s been in just recent years that I’ve come to express the purpose of life in a sentence using the two words, GLORY and GOOD. And so I often affirm, reflect on, and repeat the sentence to others. Let me state it one more time; the purpose of life is to live for the GLORY of God and the GOOD of people. Yes, it’s as simple as that!

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”  “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people…” The inspired words of the Apostle Paul as found in two of his letters in the New Testament of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 10:31 & Galatians 56″10a

Here and Now Is Where It’s At

If we were asked, “Where is a favorite place for you?” most of us would come up with an answer rather quickly. I suspect that wherever that place is, it isn’t where we are now!

Most of us, at one time or another, and maybe even now, find ourselves in a place we’d rather not be. We might not be thinking of a different geographic location but wishing we were in a different place when it comes to our health, finances, relationships, job, or some other circumstance.

When we’re not where we’d like to be it’s good to remember that God has a plan for us where we now find ourselves. That’s the situation a man whom Jesus healed discovered.

Life had been miserable for him. He had no home, often living among the tombs on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. He was at war within himself, haunted by many demons. Everyone saw him as a crazy man, a wild man, a demon-possessed man. When they tried to apprehend him he would rip off the chain restraints they tried to use.

Then Jesus came across the lake in a boat with His disciples and healed the man. The man experienced an astonishing change that was truly miraculous.

When Jesus and His disciples were ready to climb into their boat to head back across the lake to the western shore, the newly healed man pleaded to go with them. Who could blame him? If he stayed in his old stomping grounds he had a horrible reputation to live down. Who would want to be around him, the one known as the crazy cemetery man? It was far more appealing to him to sail off into the sunset and into a new life with Jesus and His friends.

Jesus denied his request, telling him to stay where he was. Interesting. When Jesus called His 12 disciples it was a call to literally follow Him, wherever He went. For this man, Jesus was calling him to stay where he was!

So, what about our circumstances? Some of them may not be ideal, some even far from ideal. It’s possible God will call us to a new set of circumstances; we can pray for that, even work toward that end. Then again, maybe our call is to make the best of where we now find ourselves. Until the Lord changes our circumstances, our call from Him is to be the person He wants us to be right where we are! After all, we can’t do God’s work where we are not, but only where we are. Here and now is where it’s at!

“As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, ‘Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.” Mark 5:18-20