Diamonds In The Trees – To Have or to Hold?

I recently came across some thoughts I wrote down in February of 2000, shortly after we moved to Oregon from London and were living out in the forest 30 miles southwest of Bend. I’ll put those thoughts here, then tell you how I’m thinking about them now:

I’m sitting in my chair in the living room of this house in the mountains of Central Oregon with windows on three sides. The early sun is coming up from behind the house and shining its rays across the forest before me. It was cold last night (0F/-18C) and there is about a foot of snow on the ground and heavy frost on the pine trees.

As I look out at Pistol Butte with the rays of early morning sun hitting the frost on the pine trees and the snow on the ground, I realize that what I’m seeing looks like an immense wealth of diamonds! As the slanting rays of the sun creep down from the tops of the trees, incredibly bright jewels appear in the branches. I can see them clearly from over 300 yards away and when I look at them with the binoculars, they become even bigger and brighter. On the snow outside my window and on the nearby trees, the frost jewels are small and they sparkle like a scattering of small diamonds. On the far trees they are big, bright, and look like diamonds the size of my fist. They shine like car headlights! How many carats of diamond are we talking about here?

These jewels appear, they gleam and sparkle, and then in a few minutes as the frost crystal melts or the angle of the sun changes, they’re gone. But while they are there, for that few minutes, they’re mine! I enjoy them and I marvel at their beauty, brighter than diamonds, more than many millions could buy. If the weather stays cold and clear, they’ll be there again tomorrow when I’m sitting in my chair, cup of coffee in hand, doing my daily Bible Reading.

I can’t own these precious jewels, but they are mine for the few brief moments they exist. I can’t collect them, hold them, mount them in gold or silver, or put them in a box. But I can enjoy their beauty and even share them with you by my words or show them to you if you were here. I can share them with you and I still have them. The precious jewels of the sun-on-snow are gone in minutes, and yet I still have them. They are mine in my memory on a dull cloudy day when the sun’s rays don’t light the distant peaks or creep down the trees from top to bottom. I can’t keep them and yet I will always have them.

To Have or to Hold… Stewardship or Ownership?

First Nations People in North America found it absurd that the Europeans who came here believed that you could own the land. The land is there. You are born, you live, you die. The land is still there. Each tribe may have established boundaries for the land that they will use, but to “own the land” was a concept that they simply didn’t have!

Years ago when Jean and I were still in business in Richland, Washington we knew a couple named Paul and Joan Dionne. Paul and Joan were customers at our Texaco garage and occasionally they would stop in and say, “Aren’t you about due for a break? Please take a few days and go stay in our cabin on the lake.” Several times over a period of a few years we did that. We would go for a few days or a week and stay in their lakeside cabin, ride their motorcycles on forest roads, and paddle their canoe across the lake. We didn’t own a cabin or any kind of vacation home, but thanks to the generosity of this Christian couple we had the use of a lovely place. We went there with our children, and we were able to take friends there with us. The memories we made staying in Dionne’s cabin, riding their motorcycles, and paddling their canoe across the lake will always be with us, will always be part of who we are and who our children are.

During our years in London of starting and developing East London Bible Training Centre we never owned a building for the school. But through the faith of Pastor Mervyn Tilley and the generosity of the Leytonstone Elim Church, we had the use of Wadham Hall, a building that was ideal in design and ideally located for the purposes of the Bible Training Centre.

Through the years there have been so many gracious people who have blessed us with the use of things we needed for a season! I think of friends who loaned us vehicles on a number of occasions when we were in the US and needed transportation for a time. I think of people who hosted us in their homes during our travels. I think of the couple who provided the house we are presently living in outside Bend and who have made such provision for us in many ways here. Their generosity has helped us to see a completely new side of God’s provision and has helped our faith grow in tremendous ways. END OF February 2000 THOUGHTS.

NOW flash forward to 2021. The pattern has held. We’ve never owned a beach house, but a couple in our local church did, and for a period of several years they made it available to us and others to use. So many memories made there! And even more recently another Central Oregon couple made their vacation cabin in the Mt Hood area available for our use for a while. More blessing! More memories made! And now Jean and I own a home here in Bend, after all those years of living in rented accommodations in Jamaica and the UK. It’s nice to have a home of our own! I can tell you that there are a lot of memories made under this roof as well!

To Have or to Hold…Ownership or Stewardship?

I’m not saying that ownership is wrong or that anyone who owns things is materialistic. Someone has to own the stuff to make it available to those who need the use of it. I own some stuff (a lot of stuff, actually!): Home, car, furniture, computer, clothes, normal stuff a person has to have to live a “normal” life here in the USA. So I’m not saying it’s wrong to own things or to have “stuff.” I’m saying that there are different kinds of stewardship.

God is El Elyon, The Creator and Possessor of Heaven and Earth (See Genesis 14:18-23). That means all the stuff actually is God’s. That means all the stuff we have is entrusted to us by the One who actually owns it. If you “own” something you have the privilege to make it available for God’s Kingdom. If you use something you don’t own you have the privilege to make yourself and the benefit you gain from its use available for God’s Kingdom.

Look at this description of how the first generation of Christian believers dealt with issues of Having or Holding:

44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity. (Acts 2:44-46 NLT)

32 All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. 33 The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. 34 There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them 35 and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need. (Acts 4:32-35 NLT)

Perhaps the key to this incredible season of unity and community was this attitude; All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had.

I don’t think that a systematized approach to this kind of unity and sharing actually is what God has in mind. In fact, I don’t think a systematized approach really works! The first Christians were having problems with it in no time! (story in Acts 5:1-11). I do think such a way of living in community is good in some times and some situations. We saw various forms of this in the late 60’s and early 70’s in the Jesus People Movement. (All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had.) But as soon as it moved from being a heart attitude to being structured, systematized, and loaded with expectations, it began to fall apart, to be abused, and to create strife and conflict.

I don’t believe that it is inherently better to have little or to have much. I believe it is a matter of seeing God as the source and owner and seeing yourself as a responsible steward of the things you possess.

To Have or to Hold…Ownership or Stewardship?

Right values are not determined by whether we possess a little or a lot. The person with few possessions may be more bound by materialism than the person with great wealth. Here are some indications of an unhealthy attitude towards material possessions:

    • Greater concern for possessions than people. Working long and hard to achieve financial success to the detriment of family. Owning valuable things but not using them or making them available for use. Do you love people and use things, or use people and love things?
    • Excessive debt or chronic debt. Some debt is incurred because of crisis. Some debt is incurred because of investment. Some debt is incurred by spending money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like!
    • Selfish attitude. When toddlers start to play with other children often the first thing you hear is “mine!” Could we infer from this that selfishness is an indication of immaturity?
    • Pride of possession. Feeling superior because you own things that others don’t have; bigger house, newer car, more exotic holidays. Showing off by flaunting wealth or possessions. Keeping score by measuring against others.
    • Inability to give, share, or let go of wealth or possessions. The need to hoard money or things due to feelings of insecurity or fear. Could it be true that if you own something you can’t give, share, or let go of, that it actually owns you?
    • Desire to accumulate things I know I don’t need. When I have enough, what is it that pushes or pulls me to keep getting more?

To Have or to Hold… Stewardship or Ownership?

This article is not intended as a simplistic “give it all away” kind of tirade.

    • It’s intended to provoke some thoughts about issues of ownership and stewardship.
    • It’s intended to help us think about what really is valuable in our lives. What really matters?! How much is enough?!
    • It’s intended to help you think about what has true value. To help shift the focus from the material (which will pass with the using) to the eternal (which will never pass away).

I hope that this post hasn’t sounded “preachy” to you. It’s just that I found out that the trees in the forest are full of diamonds and I wanted to share them with you!

Life is full of precious treasures that we may overlook because we can’t put them in the bank or “own” them in some way!

One thing to remember about diamonds in the trees is that you must take time to enjoy them while they are there. You can’t lock them up and wait for a convenient time to take them out and enjoy them. If you don’t enjoy them while they are there, you’ll never have them. If you do enjoy them while they are there you’ll always have them.  Can you see the diamonds in your trees?

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

 

Jo Ellen

For a few years in the early 2000’s Jean and I had the great privilege of serving a group of churches in Oregon and SW Idaho on behalf of our denomination. The 43 churches in the Cascade District were grouped into geographical Divisions and we gathered with the leaders of the churches in each Division at least once per year. We’d make a weekend of it and have a dinner meeting with all the pastors and their spouses, then visit and speak in one of the churches in the area on Sunday morning, before returning to Bend.

On one of those weekends when we were with the SW Idaho churches, I spoke on Sunday morning at a church in Boise. It was a small church, meeting in a borrowed facility, maybe a Scout Lodge. They didn’t have any musicians to provide the worship music, so they played worship songs from a CD in a small boom box and the pastor stood at the front and led us in singing. It was simple and sweet!

Then the pastor introduced Jean and me and I gave them a greeting on behalf of our denomination’s District Supervisor. I encouraged them that they are part of a good group of churches that has significant outreach to many nations. I told them that we were able to be with them on that Sunday because the denomination they’re part of cares about them and had sent us to them so we could get to know them better and better understand their situation. I love to do that! Then I began to speak the message, the sermon, I had prepared for them for that morning.

A lady suffering from multiple sclerosis, sitting kind of bent and twisted in her wheel chair, sat in the front row. She was as attentive to my words as her condition allowed. I could tell when something in my message really connected with her because her head would bob back and forth and she smiled. I must have been doing okay because she bobbed and smiled often!

When the service finished, I went to her and introduced myself and asked her name. Her name is Jo Ellen. She’s been part of the church since it started, and one of the important reasons the church meets in that little building is that it has a ramp so Jo Ellen can easily get in and out in her wheelchair. Jo Ellen is an important part of that church!

Jo Ellen lives in a body that keeps her alive but isn’t able to allow her to do all she’d like to do. Her body also hinders her ability to express the thoughts and ideas of her excellent mind. She had some helpful and encouraging comments on my sermon! er naShe didn’t talk very loudly and it took her a long time to form and speak her words. I leaned in close to hear her whispers and to watch her mouth shape the words so I could understand what she was saying. I thought, “How frustrating that must be for her!” I was glad it wasn’t as hard for me to say the words of the message as it was for her to express her thoughts about it. I’m afraid I don’t have the stamina or the courage Jo Ellen has.

Our conversation took some time. As I listened carefully to Jo Ellen, I wondered how many times Father God has had to bend down close to me and watch my lips forming the words with difficulty and heard me struggle to speak my heart to him. How he loves us!

Thinking back to that Sunday morning, I realized that I don’t remember anyone else from that morning or any of the other conversations I participated in after the service before we all went our separate ways. But I’m so thankful for that conversation with Jo Ellen on that Sunday morning! It turns out that whatever else may or may not have taken place on that occasion, Jo Ellen had some things to teach me. I’m not sure how memorable my sermon was that Sunday morning. I know the things I learned from Jo Ellen were memorable!

Here are a few things that have occurred to me and that I’ve been thinking seriously about. Maybe there’s something for you to think about here as well:

    • I can’t imagine life in Jo Ellen’s wheelchair. As far as I’m concerned, she’s a hero! I can imagine, however, my own God-aware spirit living in a body of flesh that often refuses to cooperate. My spirit wants to do what is good and noble and my body of flesh can be so stubborn and uncooperative! My spirit has kind and wise things to say, and my body of flesh mumbles and stammers and sometimes doesn’t speak at all.
    • God loves the person I am, not just the person I wish I was! I’m sure Jo Ellen must have been frustrated with the reality that her brilliant mind was hindered from communication and expression and control by the limitations of her body. I know I get frustrated that my spirit is hindered from expression and control by my flesh with its stubbornness, selfishness, and me-centered focus. But God loves the whole me! And the whole you! Not just your spirit, but your whole self.
    • God may have something really important to say to you and teach you through someone you’re not expecting to speak to you. It may require some effort on your part to listen and hear. It may not be easy for the person to speak those words to you. Don’t miss it because you’re too busy to stop and listen. Don’t miss it because it’s too much trouble to listen.

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

God’s Peace

A few years ago, Jean and I and another pastor were ministering in Blantyre, Malawi, southern Africa. Stuart Palmer, one of our past students from East London Bible Training Centre, was director of an orthopedic hospital in Blantyre and had started a Bible Training Centre at his hospital using our Foundation for Christian Service course. We were there to teach a week of classes at the Training Centre and to meet with area pastors to give some encouragement and assistance. It had been a great week of ministry as well as time well-spent with Stuart and his staff at the hospital.

We were visiting three countries we’d never visited before, and we had to go in and out of Johannesburg, South Africa each time to travel between the other countries. Malawi was our second southern African country on this trip, and we still had about a week of ministry in Botswana ahead. Every time you cross an African border there are so many things that can go wrong! And besides, the national airline of Malawi, which at one point had seven planes, was down to one aging Boeing 737 that was so old it had ashtrays on the seat arms! It was rumored they might go out of business at any moment, and by that evening, we still needed to get out of Malawi, through South Africa, into Botswana.

I was so stressed! I had been saying to God that if he didn’t find a way to help me deal with the stress of Africa travel, I didn’t think I could keep doing it.

We stopped at our friend Stuart’s office at the hospital where we had held the Training Course and the pastors’ meeting, to pray together, to say goodbye, and to borrow his Land Cruiser and driver to get to the airport. We talked for a while and then Stuart prayed for us. He prayed for safe travel and several other things and then he prayed for peace. As he prayed, something engaged in my spirit and soul and I said, “Father, I receive the gift of your peace.” I consciously took all my “what-if’s” and gave them to my Father. I felt peace!

The day was long and the details of our travels were complicated. Our flights were late. But every time the stress started to rise, I consciously and intentionally said, “Father, I give you all these things I can’t control. Deal with them as you choose. I receive your peace.” It worked, and it has had a long-term effect. It still requires conscious attention, decision, and release. But it still works!

As time passes, I’m realizing some things about myself. I know, it’s about time, right!? One of the things I realize is that under my outwardly calm and cool exterior, sometimes there’s quite a bit of stress and anxiety going on. And in keeping with this entirely appropriate mantra for a 78-year-old: “Nothing to gain, nothing to lose, nothing to hide, nothing to prove!”, I’m more often and more quickly facing up to and acknowledging some of this stuff. So this is that: I get really anxious sometimes, and sometimes I feel simply and darkly overwhelmed.

I mentioned some of this in a recent blog post “Emptying The Dishwasher”. If you missed it, you can read it here.  But this is a little deeper dive into my anxieties and stress. I don’t know if it’s getting worse as I get older or if I’m simply a little more able to face and acknowledge it, but there are a couple of ways it hits me.

I get really anxious over details of things. Next week at this time I’ll be in Portland, preparing for the Stem Cell Harvest that precedes my currently postponed Stem Cell Transplant. I’ll keep you posted on when the transplant gets scheduled, but as I mentioned last week, the ICU beds at OHSU are filled with COVID patients so cancer treatment is postponed for now.

During my week in Portland, I’ll be undergoing testing of most of my body’s systems. I’ll be poked, prodded, and subjected to a variety of indignities. One of the procedures I’ll have is a bone marrow biopsy. I had one of those in April to confirm my Multiple Myeloma diagnosis. It was unpleasant. I’m going to have another biopsy next week. But you know what? It’s not the indignities and unpleasantness that make me anxious. It’s the details—the details of getting to the appointments, of finding a place to park, of worry over being on time, that sort of thing. My anxiety is far more related to the processes than to the outcomes. But it’s real nonetheless and it’s something I have to deal with.

Lately I have times when I feel darkly overwhelmed—times when I sit down and put my head in my hands and just feel bad! This occasional feeling of being overwhelmed is something I’ve just noticed since beginning cancer treatment. Part of my treatment is a fairly large dose of steroids every week. For two days after taking my steroids, I feel full of energy (well half-full anyhow) and I make plans for lots of projects around the house, things to do, places to go. Then I don’t feel so full of energy (as the steroids wear off?) and I discover that my brain has been writing checks my body can’t cash! And some weeks I start to feel overwhelmed – darkly overwhelmed. Is it the steroids or something else? Or maybe a little of both? Whatever it is, it’s something that has to be dealt with!

For those of you who are thinking, “Get a Grip”! Snap out of it! Thank you! I’m happy for you that you are able to be in command and control of your life in all situations. Thank you to all the people who have instructed me to “Get a Grip” through the years.

However, for those of you who, like me, face anxiety and an occasional sense of being darkly overwhelmed, this is about another resource… God’s peace. So today, I pray for you and for me, the way Stuart prayed for me a few years ago in his office at the hospital in Blantyre!

Father, I reach out to you in prayer today for my friends and me. I’m praying especially for my friends, who, like me, sometimes get stressed and anxious over details and processes and things over which we don’t have control. I’m also praying especially for my friends who experience times (moments, seasons?) of feeling darkly overwhelmed. Sometimes the details seem to spin out of control, and we get really anxious. Sometimes things seem heavy and dark, and we feel pressed down under the weight of it all.

I pray that you will give us peace in the whirling storm of detail and that you will lift from us the weight and burden that presses us down.

I pray the promise Jesus gave to his followers and I ask that by your Holy Spirit you would make this promise alive and personal to each of us who needs this promise and assurance today: “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27 NLT)

Thank you for your gift of peace. In Jesus’ Name!

Friends, let’s choose to let God control our today and our tomorrow! Let’s receive the gift of God’s peace!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.