If you see something, say something

 

Tuesday was a spectacular day, high on blue sky and sunshine, low on humidity.  A perfect ten!  I was taking advantage of such great weather to repaint the steps to both my front and back porch.  By 11:30 am, the front set of steps was finished and already drying.  I moved onto the rear porch steps and began to scrape them.  As I scraped the loose paint off, I noticed a car driving by that had stopped near the top of my drive and a little boy stepped out.  He must have been about nine or ten.  He took out a phone or camera and began taking a picture or sets of pictures of the little woods on the other side of my driveway.  It seemed rather strange to me and I kept my eye on the car as I continued my scraping.  The car did leave and another car quickly stopped in their place.  A woman leaned out the window and began screaming at me.  “Get inside!!!  There’s a really large bear!!!”  She repeated her strong warning again as her words sunk into my brain.  I quickly jumped up, ran inside and looked out the window.  The biggest bear that I have ever seen was ambling down my driveway just a few feet from where I had just been.  He strolled down my driveway and into my back yard where he shuffled around a bit more before heading downhill towards another street.

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The bear – taken from a safe distance!

As I processed the situation, several questions popped into my head.  What was the lady in the first car thinking!  Why did she allow her young child to get out of the car when there was an obviously large bear close by?!  Did she think it was a cute little puppy coming towards her and her son?  And the next thought, why did she fail to warn me?  I do think she saw me because I looked up to see what was going on several times.  Did she think that I would just figure it out as the huge bear got closer?  After those puzzling questions, it struck me about how kind the Lord is. “THANK YOU LORD for the second lady!!”  Thank you Lord for people who care enough about their fellow man to warn them of impending danger.  The bear was not looking to eat me, but who knows what he might have done had I reacted unwisely in my own fright.

I can only guess at the first woman’s motives.  Maybe she was too busy in her life to think about the consequences of her actions.  Maybe she was just ignorant of bear behavior.  Sometimes people are so involved in their own lives that they can’t see the needs of others.  Self involvement creates a total lack of compassion for what others may be feeling or needing.  Am I so self involved that I can’t see the need of another human being?  Would I stand by while my neighbor gets attacked by a bear, either actually or metaphorically?  Would I be the one to leave the Samaritan lying injured by the side of the road?

There are plenty of Scriptures that tell us that we are in fact our brothers’ keeper.  We don’t have to be overbearing about it, but there are many ways to warn, advise, counsel or discuss with our brothers and sisters without acting like we’re somehow superior.  Sometimes, when a threat is immediate, it calls for an immediate and clear trumpet blast.  Watch out!  There’s a cliff!  Don’t go down that road!  Don’t respond to those scammers!  I can’t let you drive when you’re drunk.  Give me the keys.  I’ll take you home.  Whatever it may be.  Of course, other times require a soft approach.  How can I help you?  And even sometimes, just silent prayer.  What we can’t do is just ignore people’s needs.  I am certainly grateful for the woman who observed the situation, took a moment out of her busy day to stop her car and shout her warning.

If you see something, say something.  It’s a good reminder in so many circumstances, both natural and spiritual.

Time Passages

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I love the title of Al Stewart’s song, Time Passages.  It describes so well the amazing gift of time that we have on this earth.

My dear mother passed away in early January.  A parent’s passing is always a defining moment in a person’s life.  My mother was blessed with time.  She was 96 when her time came to pass on.  Although she had been afflicted with some type of dementia for several years, she was still cute, sweet and at times downright funny.

However, it wasn’t always so.  Helping to write her obituary, I realized a lot of things about my mom and ever since her passing, there have been conversations with siblings about her life and reflections on what she accomplished in life.  One single life on this earth is so complex and so precious.  Each life has a myriad of experiences to go through and so much to learn from those experiences, taking each lesson learned on into the next experiences.

Mom had a lot of challenges in her life.  She had a fairly controlling mother, eight children and not much money.  She lived through the depression years, World War II and the shocking 60’s when all societal rules seemed to fly out the window.  She spent hours dealing with her own mother when she herself had small children to take care of as well and later, when her father and her mother-in-law were old and needy, she spent all of her days caring for them and taking care of those needs.

My mother was an overcomer.  She met all of those challenges with grace and dignity.  Sometimes she had reactions as anyone would, but she did what she needed to do without complaint.  As we were writing our mother’s obituary, we realized that we couldn’t make it so flowery that she would seem to be a saint from the moment of her birth.  It wasn’t that way.  It never is, right?  Isn’t it more real, more adventurous, and more challenging to have a life long parade of situations that, through the passage of time, shape our nature?

Mom always had her own personality, but her character developed as she aged.  She became more patient, a better listener, more concerned with others.  As those qualities increased, others decreased: less anger and less worry.

Enhancing the positive qualities and diminishing the negative ones is what this life’s journey is all about.  We are all born with issues and we all encounter troubles along the adventurous road of life, but what an exquisite testimony there is when one of God’s children is at the end of their journey here, giving those who knew them the opportunity to look back at all the hardships along their route and to witness firsthand the growth of God’s life in that person.  What a solid evidence, sure and positive, that we can do the same in our lives.  Our situations may be different, but we have the same potential that they did.

When we witness a wonderful life, we don’t have to stand far off and feel dismal about our own existence.  This person was an ordinary person, just as we are, and he or she began his/her life with the similar challenges and similar skepticism about the possibilities of ever changing them.  Because we, like them, are born into the human condition, we too can allow our circumstances to mold our character and improve those things that require either a bit of touch up or a major overhaul.  We too can experience time passages and watch God’s handiwork in our lives.  Day by day, step by step, we come up a little higher and when time has finished its passages in our lives, hopefully others will say of us that we were overcomers and will, in their time, find inspiration to do the same in their lives.

The Kingdom of Heaven is within!

I have a relative that lives on an island in the Caribbean.  He has often said that he lives in paradise.  During the night on Tuesday, his paradise was demolished.  He lost everything but his dog and his life.  We are extremely grateful that his life was spared.

Many stories emerged this week that make it abundantly clear that the earthly places that we equate with paradise can be destroyed.  However, the true paradise, the Kingdom of Heaven, will never be destroyed.  If it dwells within you, it is your life and can never be taken from you no matter the circumstances.

It will be like the house built upon the rock.  When wind and storm and rain beat against it, nothing, no storm and no attack from hell, can tear it down.

Life is an allegory of something bigger

 

My garden is my place of quiet and peacefulness.  Yesterday I brought in the top of a lettuce plant that had gone to seed and this morning I was taking off the tiny flowers and opening them up.  The tiny seeds inside fell into the paper bag.  Soon there were enough seeds in the little bag to plant plenty of lettuce in next summer’s garden.

One lettuce plant produces enough seeds to create ten future gardens.  Imagine how many gardens could be created with all of the seeds from all of the plants in the garden!  God is amazing.  He put enough seeds in one plant to create an abundance of new plants.  It’s a miracle.

Think of a maple tree.  Each maple has thousands of tiny helicopters on it that will float down to earth and potentially become more maple trees.  He gave us enough seed to make up for all the possibilities.  Seeds falling on rocks.  Seeds being eaten by squirrels.  Seeds being washed away by rain.  Even with all of the destruction that can happen to each maple seed, in the spring we find our yard filled with tiny maple seedlings after a few spring rains.  And no matter how I clean up my garden, in the spring I find random lettuce plants growing here or there, tiny tomato seedlings sprouting where I don’t want them any more.  About fifteen years ago, I planted some mustard green seeds.  Every year those mustard greens still show up.  They never sprout in exactly the same place, but they faithfully make an appearance wherever the wind has blown them.

As I open each miniature seed pod and scrape out the seeds, it is impossible not to realize that these seeds represent hope.  They are the hope of a successful garden, not this year, but next.  They are the hope of the return of spring even before winter has arrived.  They are the hope of new life, of all things good, of things even bigger and better than this year.  Thank God for hope.  Thank God for the tiny seeds that anchor us in the faith and knowledge that life will go on.  Winter does not last forever.  Hardships will cease. Spring will come.

Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible nature – his eternal power and divine character – have been clearly perceptible through what he has made.  (Romans 1:19)

Memorial Day Freedom

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Memorial Day. In memory of those soldiers who died in the service of their country.  There is a boulevard in my small town called Memorial Boulevard.  Along this boulevard are several memorial statues dedicated to city soldiers who lost their lives in various American wars.  There are also oak trees planted along this boulevard and next to each oak there is a marker with the name of a city soldier lost in World War I.  There are about thirty such markers, a huge toll for such a small town at the time.  It has been nearly a hundred years since they died on foreign soil fighting for freedom.

So, what freedom did they fight for?  One hundred years ago, the average citizen had less freedom than modern young people in regards to his or her family.  It seems as if young people had certain obligations towards their families that young people today don’t have.  To a large degree, today’s youth can choose the career of their dreams, move to the location they desire and marry whom they choose.  They can make a life for themselves, but is that freedom?  At the same time, we have lost other kinds of freedom that people one hundred years ago took for granted.  Today, we owe much to our government.  More and more, our government decides what is appropriate.  We have lost the right to pray in our schools, to put the Ten Commandments in public places and even to display a creche at Christmas time on the town green.  The people of one hundred years ago would be surprised at what we can no longer do.  Are we now “free?”

What makes a person free?  We would all agree that a  person who is addicted to alcohol, smoking or to internet porn is not free.  He/she is a prisoner to that habit.  Just as an addict is not free from his addiction, I am not free if I freeze in fear each time I face a large crowd in a public speaking situation.  I am a prisoner of that fear.  Or perhaps each time I open a package of cookies, I eat the entire thing.  I am a prisoner to that craving.  Both situations create a negative result for me.

So, on this Memorial Day, as we honor those who died to preserve our freedom, what makes us free?  Freedom in regards to our family or our government increases or decreases and yet still we find ourselves not one hundred percent free.  The only real freedom we can enjoy is freedom inside of ourselves, in our souls.  Only the truth can make us truly free.  If we live that truth and free ourselves from those things that hold us prisoner, then we are free indeed with a freedom that no one can take away.

We are truly grateful for those soldiers who nobly fought and died to preserve our natural freedom.  It gave us the opportunity to find and live our spiritual freedom.  Thank you to those thirty young men who died one hundred years ago.  Thank you to the men and women who have died before then and since that time.  The most deeply felt thank you must be reserved for Jesus who most nobly fought and most lovingly died that we each might find our true freedom.  Thank you Jesus.  We remember you this Memorial Day weekend.

Open season on Christians

It’s open season on Christians these days.  In Kenya, men with guns separated Muslims and Christians by asking a simple question.  “Are you a Christian?”  An affirmative answer and they were shot.  Here in the West, we think that we don’t kill Christians.  Everyone is free to believe as they wish.  Freedom of worship.  They’re killing Christians in the MIddle East and Africa, but here in the West we don’t do that, do we.  Or do we?

What about in the spirit?   They’re asking the same question here.  Are you a Christian?  Yes, is the reply of some.  Who’s doing the asking?  The media.  If your answer is in the affirmative, they don’t shoot you.  They just tweet and pretty soon you’re a bigot, a homophobe and a hate monger.  They will destroy you.

If they’re not trying to destroy you and your reputation, they are trying to wear the Christians down.  Water down the message.  Make it more palatable for the masses.  Just “be nice” and maybe people will believe.

It’s time for Christians to get strong.  Be sure of who you believe in and what it is you believe.  Get filled with the Word and the Spirit.  Be kind and live what you believe.  Don’t give in to hate.  Don’t listen to the labels that they put on you.  Stay true.

COMMITMENT

 

Recently, my students were learning how to revise an essay in my evening ESL reading/writing class.  A few sentences in the introduction of the revised final draft that we were studying in the book caught my attention.  “A generation ago, it was common for workers to stay at their place of employment for years and years.  When it was time for these employees to retire, companies would offer a generous pension package and, sometimes, a token of appreciation, such as a watch, keychain, or other trinket.  Oh, how times have changed.  Nowadays, people – especially younger workers – jump from job to job like bees fly from flower to flower to pollinate.”  (Great Writing: Great Essays 4, Cengage Learning, 2014)  We continued reading as the essay went on to explain the reasons people have for quitting their jobs.  However, my eyes and mind remained focused on the ideas and images evoked by those descriptive words, ideas about the subject of commitment.

My own father worked at GMC for many years and retired exactly as described above.  He had a nice party where they gave him a fine watch and a very nice pension package.  He was rewarded for his dependableness and his loyalty and his retirement package helped him to live a comfortable life for many years.  In contrast to his traditional life, it seems to me that nowadays people are not content to be in one job.  They are always looking for something better, something bigger, something with better pay, more benefits, or more prestige.  High profile CEO’s and sports team managers flit from team to team or from corporation to corporation just like the busy bees in the essay that my students read.  University presidents stay at one university just long enough to make a name for themselves before they start a search for something better.  They appear to be loyal at the time that they are at the university, but they are on a career path for themselves, not for the university.

No one blames any of these career people for jumping ship.  The sole exception seems to be when sports figures leave one team for another one that offers them a better package.  The fans blame them for leaving the home team and may even boo them when they come back to the hometown for a game against their former team mates.  The booing may last for a while, but before long that sports figure is replaced by another favorite in the hearts of the fans.  It makes you wonder though.  With so many prominent examples of professionals doing “what’s right for themselves,” how can young people understand the importance of loyalty or of a commitment?

Furthermore, the lack of loyalty in a sports figure or a university president or on the job is just a scratch on the surface of modern society.  What happens when there is no commitment or loyalty in a friendship or in a marriage?  In the United States, many friendships don’t seem to last very long.  Even in marriage, the idea of commitment is on the wane.  Couples come together for a time, but when difficulties arise, their love diminishes and they lose their interest in maintaining the relationship.  Before too long, they find “something better” and move on with their lives.

However, commitment and loyalty are qualities that are desperately needed today.  They are not simply old-fashioned qualities for a generation that is quickly disappearing.  It occurred to me recently that the importance of commitment cannot be negated.  In this life, we all are made up of both emotions and principles.  Emotions are as fleeting as the wind.  They sweep in like a summer breeze and inspire us with all kinds of wonderful feelings and ideas.  We think that these intense feelings will last forever, not realizing that life’s situations will change just as assuredly as the weather and as our situations change, so also do the feelings that accompany them.  For one minute we are on cloud nine and the next we can hardly remember what it felt like to float so high in the stratosphere.  Emotions inspire us, give us courage and make us take giant leaps of faith, but they can never hold us.  In a relationship, when we no longer feel the intensity of our first feelings, the emotional “high” of falling in love, will we “fall out of love” with the person we are with?  Will we forget what we ever even liked about the person?

That is why we need commitment.  We make commitments based on those lofty feelings.  We jump into relationships or marriage because we know what it is to feel on top of the world.  We enter into something that we say is for the long haul, but do we have what it takes to hang on to it?  A true commitment is the faith to hold us through.  It is the anchor that we hold on to when the current gets too swift and knocks us off of our feet.  Life is such that difficulties will inevitably come.  Everyone is subject to difficulties.  If someone has no difficulties, they must not truly be alive.  Some of the troubles that pop up in our lives seem but a moment, but others linger and pester us for years and years.  What does a person hang onto that has no faith?  More and more, we see people around us that are drowning.  They flounder and flail their arms and cry out for help.  Some get angry and act out on their anger in horrible ways that become the next day’s headlines.  They have no anchor.  They would like to make a commitment, but they have no faith.  There is nothing there for them to hang onto when trials come along.  In their relationships, they don’t even see the point of hanging on.

Commitment, on the other hand, hangs on in troubled times.  Commitment knows that troubles cannot last forever.  Faith holds on when everything around it is just a blur, at times not even remembering why it is holding on.  It just knows that it must hang on.  Everything we know and hold dear can crumble, but faith stands strong.  One day, when the situation finally changes and the summer breeze returns and the tender feelings fill our hearts again, then that faith finally receives its reward.  The emotions that once were strong are stronger still.  The person him/herself could not have ever imagined that the original loving emotion could somehow one day be doubled in sweetness, but now finds that it is so.