Rippling Effects

Most of us think that as long as our actions don’t bother anyone else, we can do whatever we want.  I hear people saying that.  “It doesn’t hurt anyone.”  Hmmm.  Or does it?!

We have a huge example staring the world in the face right now.  Although it’s not certain as to how the novel 19 coronavirus got started, some believe it jumped to humans when someone or some people ate a certain type of unclean creature.  You know what, God is waaaayy smarter than us, and He told us not to eat certain creatures.  I guess He had a terrific reason for saying that.  In any case, once that happened, that disease has affected the entire world in one way or another.  Businesses, schools, hospitals, travel disruptions, events cancelled, governments, mounting hysteria and a growing number of deaths.  The ripples just spread further and further out.

There are so many more examples.  One person discards a cigarette in a dry forest.  One person decides to clear all the trees off of his/her property.  Another person, too lazy to follow correct disposal protocol, pours his bottle of chemicals in a local stream.  It all ripples out.  Our actions, large and small, some even apparently insignificant, do affect others.  We are all one family with common DNA.  We are all affected.

Consider something so small as a smile.  One person smiles at another.  That person leaves feeling a little better and smiles at someone else and that person goes to work humming, which in turn affects the whole atmosphere of the workplace.  Because of the warm welcome a visiting businessman receives, the company gets a new contract with a company in India and then more people in that country are smiling because they have jobs.  It all ripples out.

If my actions are going to affect people that I have never even heard of in a far distant place, wouldn’t it behoove me to mediate my behavior to make sure that I am benefiting my distant brothers and sisters?  We are all responsible for our actions.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Just think of how that will ripple out through our world!

Take heart in 2020

Daniel was a much beloved man of God.  In the book that bears his name, the mighty king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, had a strange dream.  In it he saw a large statue with a head of gold, the upper torso of silver, the lower torso of bronze, its legs of iron and its feet partly of iron and partly of clay.  What potter would try to make a statue with feet of iron and clay?  How can those two materials adhere to one another?  As Nebuchadnezzar watched, a stone was cut out of a mountain without any hand doing it and it began to roll down the hill, gaining speed as it went.  It reached those feet and smashed them into pieces.  This brought down the whole statue and it was all completely broken in pieces.  It says that the pieces of it were like the chaff of a summer threshing floor and it all blew away in the wind so that no trace of it could be found.  However, that stone grew and became a great mountain and filled up the entire earth.

We can clearly see that the Scriptures show that this supernatural stone will begin rolling during a time when there is a kingdom in power that does not adhere to itself.  It is one part this and one part that, a divided kingdom, partly strong, partly brittle.  We know from the gospels that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.  The kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar’s vision will be blown away so completely that there will be no traces left of it.  You can imagine the stone gathering momentum as it rolls down the mountain until it smashes into the divided kingdom and destroys every single aspect of it.  It is also not hard to see that there is so much turbulence in our world today.  We see it everyday in the news.  No one can agree about anything.  Politics has become very personal with each side calling the other “haters.”  Around the world, political opponents are not getting anything done because they are completely divided; they cannot agree on even the smallest detail.

Those of us who love the Lord need to take heart.  If we are already living in the time of the iron and clay feet, then we should know that the stone is also either being cut out of the mountain or it is already rolling down the hill, ready to smash into those toes and destroy them.  Despite this vision of complete destruction, it is not a vision to create despair.  Nebuchadnezzar’s dream does not end in despair, does it.  In the end, Daniel describes the kingdom of the stone that grew as a kingdom set up by God Himself that will never be destroyed nor will it be left to another people.  If we love God, we’re going to love His kingdom.  It’s beautiful.  People get along in it.  They love one another and never want to see their brothers or sisters hurt.

God’s kingdom is coming.  Is today the day?  We don’t know the answer to the question of when our physical world will change.  It is not given to a man to know the times and seasons.  Only God knows that.  However, every single day that stone is crashing into my kingdom.  It’s destroying what I thought was gold, but is in reality just dross.  God’s kingdom is destroying all of the idols that I once held dear.  It is smashing all of the pieces of my life that don’t adhere with God’s life.  Just like in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision, there will be no trace found of those former parts of my life.  His Spirit will blow them all away.  I have not really lost anything because in the place of those things, that living stone, Jesus, is creating within me a kingdom that is pure and ready to be filled with love for all that belongs to God.  Each one of us has to allow that process to happen to us.  God is kind and doesn’t smash everything at once.  He leads us one step at a time to tear down the old life, remove the sins and build up his life.  Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is within and when we allow Him to create His kingdom within us, we are getting ready to live with Him in that beautiful kingdom that will never be destroyed.  What we need to do as this process churns in our lives is to maintain our love, faith and trust in the one, true, living God.  He is above all and yet in all.

I wish you a very happy new year and may you grow in God this year and may His Kingdom grow to be strong in your lives, a strength that will never be destroyed or given to another.

They fell for the miracles; they didn’t fall for the truth.

Motivation.  No one does anything without it.  We all need motivation to get up in the morning, motivation to go to school or work, motivation to turn off the TV and get up off the sofa.  It has never been otherwise.

When Jesus, the king of heaven, was walking here on earth, the people that ran into him had many different motivations for seeking him out.  There were probably as many motivations as there were people.

  • For some it was the miracles.  John 12:9 says that “Much people” found out that he was in Bethany.  Perhaps we could say today that hoards of people found out that he was in Bethany and came “not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead.”  So, it wasn’t really for the truth, but because of the stupendous miracle that Jesus had done.
  • For others it was the food that he provided.  John 6:26 says that the people did not look for him because of the miracles, but because of the bread that he had given them.  They were hungry and the bread had filled them up for a few hours.
  • For Judas, it was the money.  He appeared to be concerned with the poor, but the apostle John noted that, “This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein (John 12:6).”
  • For a very few, it was the truth.  Jesus told a crowd of people that he was the living bread and that they had to eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood or they would have no life in them.  (John 6:53)  Some people thought he was a nut case and said, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  Even his disciples had no idea what he was talking about.  The spiritual correspondence flew completely over their heads, but Peter, in spite of his confusion, said, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  Thou hast the words of eternal life (John 6:68).”  Here’s a guy that was there for the truth, nothing else.

It’s clear from these examples that the majority of the people in Jesus’ day were not motivated to find Jesus for the truth’s sake.  What is motivating our lives?  Sometimes we deceive ourselves about our motivations.  It takes a careful, clear and objective view of our lives to find out why we do the things that we do.  Are we looking for approval?  Do we want a lot of “likes” on social media?  Is our reputation the main focus of our lives?  Is money the reason we head into the office in the morning?  We all do need money to live, but is that the only reason we go?  Some are looking for power and others for control.  Every one of these reasons is a sham.

If every shred of natural, material motivations are taken from us, if our religious or spiritual life does nothing to improve our outward natural life in any way, would we still love Jesus just for his truth alone?  The Scriptures below make it abundantly clear that it’s the truth that needs to be the focus of our lives.

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Matthew 6:33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Jeremiah 45:5 And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not:

The Scriptures say that it is the love of the truth that saves us.  2 Thessalonians 2:10 “And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.”

John 8:32  And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

TRUTH

Is emotion the guiding force of our lives?

Last week I was listening to the radio.  The talk show host told a story about a Dutch man who is 69 years old.  In spite of his senior status, the man feels much younger and his doctor told him that he has the body of a man 20 years younger than his actual age.  Rather than feeling content about this revelation, the man has decided to sue his government to make them allow him to change his birth certificate to reflect the age that he feels rather than reflecting the years that he has spent on this earth.  Absolute insanity.

Principle.  The world has thrown it overboard.  I don’t know when it actually happened, but in the last several decades, there has been an increasing progression towards emphasizing how you feel.  Do you feel like a winner?  Well, then you must be one even though you lost.  Do you feel love for your spouse?  Or have life’s troubles made you lose that initial spark?  Forget the commitment that you made.  Throw the bum out.

My daughter teaches in a school overseas.  As a lead teacher for two middle school grades, she is responsible to deal with problems that arise and with parents that may have questions or problem children.  She has had kids that fight with others, that cut themselves, that bully, and that want to commit suicide.  These children have been thrown under the bus by adults who focus everything on how a person feels.  Middle school children are notoriously emotional.  They feel really up or really down; they feel a little wild or don’t even know how they feel.  They have been given no anchor to their soul, nothing to hold onto in the midst of all this frenzy.  So, of course they turn to things like cutting or total despair.  Their feelings have nothing to hold them in.

In years gone by, many couples weathered severely trying times as a couple, times that threatened to tear them apart.  However, even though their emotions were desperately frayed, they had an anchor.  Their commitment was a vow between them.  They stood on that principle and eventually the storm passed and love returned stronger than ever.  My parents were one such couple.  They weathered many such storms, held on for dear life and grew from their experience.  Their marriage lasted 75 years, the last of which they spent holding hands at one another’s side.

Sometimes we feel as though our world has gone insane.  It has.  An emotion that is left to run wild becomes insane.  Principle holds us.  It keeps our emotions from getting the best of us.  When everything tells us to give up, principle is the anchor of our life.  We hold on for dear life and the eternal principle of faith gets us to the other side of the tumult.

Godly principle holds in emotions that have gone astray.  Godly emotions soften principles that are too hard and fast.  Together they bring a person through the choppy seas of this life.  When we arrive at the far shore, we are stronger, wiser, and kinder.  Our principles have guided our emotions and our emotions have become soft and caring, sweet and wise.  I remember the movie, Parenthood, with Steve Martin.  At the end, the couple is riding a wild roller coaster.  That roller coaster that we call life can bring us safely to the end of its journey, but what if there were nothing to hold it back from flinging us off of its highest peak or one of its most dangerous curves?  Principle holds us to the tracks.  Sometimes we need the sheer force of gravity or the security of seat belts to hold us while our familiar world is being shaken.

We must teach our children principles.  It will give them structure to their lives.  They will have the emotions.  The principles will show them the way and carry them through the trials that they will undoubtedly face.  My age is a fact of life.  No feeling that I allow myself to convince my mind that I am twenty years younger than my actual age will change my actual age.  No matter how much I want to be a bird and fly away, I am still in a human body for the rest of my natural life.  To believe that I am a bird and can fly because I feel like one is just insanity.  Believing that lie will not make me a stronger person.  It will just cause me to try to fly out of a tree and fall on my face.  Emotion without principle is just a wisp in the wind.  The slightest puff of wind will blow it away.

   Matthew 24:35 (NIV) Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Isaiah 40:8 (NIV) The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.

Isaiah 41:10 (NIV) “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

 

Building the temple of God

1 Co 3:16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

As Christians, we sometimes neglect to read the Old Testament because we sometimes think either that it is no longer relevant or that Jesus’ life’s work was so overwhelming that we’d rather concentrate on reading about him than delve into those old stories of kings and prophets.  However, the Old Testament stories have so many shadows and prophecies of wonderful things to come that it is sometimes just as overwhelming to read those old stories.

This morning I found myself in just such a situation.  I was listening to a Bible podcast, and the reader was reading from 1 Chr 28.  In this passage, David is at the end of his life, and God has told him that it is not for him to build a house for the Lord, but rather for his son to build it.  David loved the Lord so intensely and had such a passionate desire to build a house for the Lord.  Imagine his disappointment when he could not accomplish it!  Instead, he gathered building materials: gold, silver, brass, iron, wood, and precious stones 1 Chr 29: 2).  He gave his son, Solomon, the pattern for the house.  He did everything that he could possibly do to make it easier for his son to build the temple of the Lord.  He encouraged his son and told him to be strong and of good courage (1 Chr 28:20, 21).  Then he prayed to the Lord and asked him to give Solomon a perfect heart to keep all of God’s commandments, testimonies and statutes.  He blessed the congregation as well.

As I was listening to the story, a beautiful picture began to form in my mind.  Just as David provided everything that his son would need to build the temple and to worship the Lord in the temple, so did our Lord and Savior do for us.  Jesus was not able to finish setting up a glorious kingdom of God on earth.  By that, I mean that it didn’t happen naturally in his lifetime.  During his life, he prepared all of the materials that anyone living after him would need in order to build that temple of God in their hearts.  He left words, advice and even commandments for those who love him to follow so that they might also become his disciples in their sojourn on earth.  He left a pattern to follow.  At the end of his life, just as David prayed for his son, Jesus prayed for his disciples and future sons and daughters and left us beautiful verses in the gospel of John so that we too could know that his kingdom is within and that we can live in this world and yet be kept from the evil of it, so that we too could be one with the Father and have His kingdom living in and through us.

Jesus was not exactly like David.  David was a man of war and had killed many men.  Jesus only warred with spirits, but otherwise was a man of great love and wisdom.  At the same time, David had a passionate love for God.  Likewise, God was the all in all for Jesus.  God was his only love and desire.  Everything he did was to bring out God in the lives of those he met.  What a beautiful treasure he left us!  We can grab onto the raw building materials, which are his words and we can live them and build our own temple for the Lord so that he will live in us as well.  We truly are the temple of the living God and the Spirit of God lives in us (1Co 3:16).  May the Lord’s words and deeds live strongly in your life.  Thank you, Jesus!

A Willow or an Oak?

In the past few years, the supervisory positions at both of the higher ed institutions where I teach as an adjunct have changed hands.  Learning to adjust to new styles of supervision has been both difficult on the one hand and interesting on the other.  At one university, the change was devastating and, within a few months, led to drastic and unwelcome changes that in turn led to the removal of every single one of the longtime teachers (including me).  Thankfully, the changes at the other institution were not so dramatic.  Instead, what has happened there has been both fascinating to watch and amazing to learn from.

The former director of our program at a local community college was an incredible, kind, cheerful, organized and dedicated Christian woman.  Now, there’s a hard act to follow.  We all loved her so and were deeply sorrowful to see her retire to a distant location.  When the new director came on board, we were all skeptical.  I heard that she also was a Christian, but she apparently did not wear her Christianity on her sleeve.  The most visible difference in their styles was instantaneously obvious.  The previous director’s office was constantly and thoroughly organized and tidy.  There was never a stray paper or textbook.  The first time I walked into the same office under the new director, it looked like a bulldozer had come through and left heaps of file folders and books in disorganized and messy stacks on every surface of the room.  It was stunning to me that it could even be the same room.

Personally, my first semester with her did not go very well.  She observed me teaching one day and the class was not exceptionally successful.  It seemed that by the end of the first year, I did not know her much more than I had in the beginning.  Even so, whenever I had a problem with students or entire classes, as I was accustomed to speaking with my directors, I continued to do so with her.  By the end of that year, I felt that I was confiding in her too much and that she might think that I was being overly emotional and perhaps not quite capable of dealing with things myself.

The next school year started and because of another teacher’s sudden illness, she asked me at the last minute to change the class that I was going to teach.  I did and in the end, it worked out quite nicely.  We began to chat more often and she seemed to begin to trust me more.  Now, just this last week, something happened that has become a lesson in my life that I will need to meditate on and work on to implement for years to come.

I stopped by the office the other day to check on the status of a struggling student who had gone to the tutor.  It turned out that the tutor was out, but that my boss had tutored him herself.  We chatted and then the chatting turned to the books we would use for next fall.  She explained that she was studying the books currently being used by different teachers and told me of her frustration with how the books were not fulfilling the needs of the students.  Some were too difficult.  Some were not difficult enough.  Students were not talking enough.  They were not being required to improve their grammar.  Eventually, she shared her frustrations, without naming names, of some of the teaching styles and how some of the levels had no continuity among the teachers at that level and how some of the students were being passed on to the next levels without being ready.  Specifically, she was frustrated by some teachers who were more interested in being liked than in making the tough choices to hold the students to a standard.  I just listened as she continued on.  It seemed as though she really needed to talk it out with someone and it was very clear that she had a vision and she wasn’t going to let it go.  It was almost like a dress rehearsal for the topics to be brought up at our next meeting.

After listening to her express herself, I came to a realization about the two directors and about life as a Christian.  My previous director was a very nice Christian.  She lived her Christianity, listened to students who came to her with their devastating problems.  When they were very low, she was able to sympathize with them and help them get up off the ground.  She cried with them, went out of her way to help them, and prayed with them when it was clear that they wanted her to do so.  She prayed for new students to come and they came.  Just before she retired, I spoke with her and she told me her story, how she came to be director and some of the things that had happened while she was director.  I felt humbled, deeply moved and emotional about her story.  She was a willow tree bending with the wind.  In her own way, bending was her strength and many students responded well to her “willowy-ness.”

However, I can see now that she wanted so much to be a Christian that she allowed some things to continue on unchecked.  She allowed some teachers to have too much freedom in what they taught.  She allowed teachers at the same levels to have apparently different standards.  She was wonderful, but she could only take our program so far.  I’m sure that she prayed that we would get the best new director for our needs.  Our new director was the answer to her prayer.  Our new director is also a Christian, but she has principle.  She can discern what needs to be done and she has the strength to carry it through.  Although she needed to test out her ideas with me to get a little reassurance, or maybe just make it more sure in her sight, she has the strength to stand up to teachers who are used to getting their own way.  She has the strength to say that “this is what we need to do to improve the integrity of our program.”  She is an oak tree.  She sees what is needed and she will do it as kindly, but as firmly as she knows how.

So, there are different kinds of Christians.  Some have so much empathy that they can feel the difficulties that others are facing.  They can get people’s attention and help them to go in the right way just by feeling and understanding and demonstrating their love.  This is a start.  However, to make the nitty gritty changes that will produce real results, you need a Christian with back bone, someone who will stand on principle and not tremble or flee when the earth begins to shake.

I think that sometimes we need a willow.  We especially need a willow when we are at our most fragile.  The willow will give us encouragement and help us to recover from the sometimes seeming cruelty of life.  However, in order to truly progress, we need an oak.  We need someone who is willing to tell us that we’re wrong or that we’re behaving badly.  How can we know these things by ourselves?  Sometimes, when we don’t understand ourselves, we need someone willing to tell us exactly what we are doing wrong.  We need standards that we must abide by.  Only then can we attain to those standards and pull ourselves up higher, one step at a time.  Thank God for both the willow and the oak.  Taking it further, am I willing to be the willow when the situation necessitates it, but in other circumstances, will I be able to be the oak?  Either way, souls are at stake.

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.