I Have Thought Deeply…

I have thought deeply about all that goes on here in the world, where people have the power to hurt each other. (Ecclesiastes 8:9 NLT)

It’s kind of a running joke in my family that I overthink things. I think deeply, I think broadly, and there’s no doubt that I think too much about things that don’t matter as much as I “think” they matter. And I think way too much about things that I have no control over. And I think… Anyhow, I can relate to Solomon (the author of Ecclesiastes) in terms of thinking deeply about all that goes on here in the world! I can’t really relate to his wealth and power, and I certainly can’t relate to his harem of somewhere around a thousand wives. But the “thinking deeply”, yes, I can relate to that!

Solomon’s very thoughtful writing in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes is sprinkled with priceless gems of wisdom about values and behavior…

    • Wisdom is better than folly.
    • Good is better than evil.
    • Enjoy life as and while you can.
    • Think seriously about the meanings and consequences of the things people do and the things you see.

But Solomon sees the world as a place “where people have the power to hurt each other.”

Solomon is approaching his thinking from the perspective that “What you see is what you get!” At least at this point in his philosophical and theological process, he thinks that there is neither reward or punishment beyond death. He has no present hope of eternity and so his conclusions often contain the word “meaningless!”

At the time he is writing, Solomon is one of the most powerful, and certainly one of the richest, men of his time. By his own admission, he has denied himself no pleasure that ever occurred to him to desire. His world is totally in his control and he is able to satisfy his every wish or whim. Yet when he “thinks deeply,” his conclusions are that the world is primarily a place where people have the power to hurt each other and that life is meaningless and without hope.

There is an amazing contrast between Solomon’s perspective on the world as a place “where people have the power to hurt each other” (He’s not wrong about this, but it’s not a very joyful point of view) and the perspective the Apostle Paul has as he writes in Ephesians chapter 4! Paul, who is writing from a prison cell, not a king’s palace, writes from the perspective of a man who has voluntarily given up wealth and power and has suffered great persecution for his faith, and yet his writings are full of challenge and encouragement and hope. Listen to these words from Ephesians 4:1-7, 32…

1 Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. 2 Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3 Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace. 4 We are all one body, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future. 5 There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 and there is only one God and Father, who is over us all and in us all and living through us all. 7 However, he has given each one of us a special gift according to the generosity of Christ. 32 …be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:1-7, 32 NLT)

Instead of viewing the world as a place where “people have the power to hurt each other,” Paul’s perspective is that the world is a place where people are learning to be kind to each other, to serve each other, to make allowances for each other’s faults, and to become unified for a common purpose. It’s a purpose that involves neither wealth, pleasure, comfort, nor power, but is simply the purpose of being Christ’s body doing Christ’s work on earth.

Sometimes when I “think deeply” I get discouraged and find myself thinking like Solomon. I may begin to think, “What’s the point in all the things I try to do to help? Does it really matter? Does anyone notice? Is what I do making any difference at all?”

Or I may think, “Is there really a reward for serving and sacrificing and giving? Wouldn’t it be better to focus my energy and attention on taking care of myself and just let others take care of themselves?”

Or I may think, “Do people really care about each other? Do people want to help and heal and encourage, or do they only want to hurt each other?”

Here’s an example of my overthinking: Do I get discouraged because I am thinking like Solomon or am I thinking like Solomon because I’m discouraged? I don’t know. I do know that line of thinking burrows me deeper and deeper into self-pity and self-centeredness.

I do know that I want to think more like Paul. I want to judge not by outward appearance and external circumstance and short-term results, but to think in the light of eternal purposes and eternity with Christ. Here’s more from Paul:

9 So don’t get tired of doing what is good. Don’t get discouraged and give up, for we will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time. 10 Whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone, especially to our Christian brothers and sisters. (Galatians 6:9-10 NLT)

Prayer:

Father, today I purpose to not be short-sighted and self-centered in my thinking and my attitude. I purpose to live in the light of eternity and see the world not as a place “where people have the power to hurt each other,” but as a place where Jesus has given us the power to hear each other, to help each other, and to heal each other. In Jesus’ Name!

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.

What Good Are All Your Blessings?

But Abram replied, “O Sovereign LORD, what good are all your blessings when I don’t even have a son? Since I don’t have a son, Eliezer of Damascus, a servant in my household, will inherit all my wealth.”  (Genesis 15:2 NLT)

What good are all your blessings? This seems almost—what? Sacrilegious?  Blasphemous? Or is it simply heartfelt honesty with God?

There have been times when I’ve felt like Abram did.

There was something he wanted so much that all the other blessings God had poured out on him seemed worthless to him. It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate God’s goodness to him, it wasn’t that these things were simply poor in comparison to his greatest desire, it was that as long as he was still without the one thing he desired supremely, he quite honestly felt, “What good is all this?”

There have been times when I, too, have felt: “What good are all your blessings?”

    • Sometimes the pain makes the promise hard to see.
    • Sometimes the need makes the provision seem like not enough.
    • Sometimes the waiting seems too long and the longing too strong to look forward in expectant faith.

Has that ever been true for you?

I think Abram was right to be honest with God about how he felt. God didn’t rebuke or reject him. In fact, God used this encounter with Abram as an opportunity to add new promises to the covenant he had already made with Abram and to allow Abram to grow his faith even stronger.

God added new promises to the covenant…     

5 Then the LORD brought Abram outside beneath the night sky and told him, “Look up into the heavens and count the stars if you can. Your descendants will be like that—too many to count!” 6 And Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD declared him righteous because of his faith. 7 Then the LORD told him, “I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land.”  (Genesis 15:5-7 NLT)

God added new challenges to Abram’s faith…

13 Then the LORD told Abram, “You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, and they will be oppressed as slaves for four hundred years. 14 But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. 15 (But you will die in peace, at a ripe old age.) 16 After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, when the sin of the Amorites has run its course.”  (Genesis 15:13-16 NLT)

God’s new covenant promise to Abram was a double-edged sword. God gave Abram a word of covenant promise that contained both the welcome promise of blessing, and the honest declaration that there would be difficult passages to be traveled to get from the promise to the fulfillment.

And then there is the “wild card” statement that there was another determining factor in the timing of the fulfillment. God said that “the sin of the Amorites had to run its course.” This is a reminder that it’s not all and only about me. Even in God’s covenant blessing and promise for the future, there are factors he is working with that I have no idea about.

If this was true of Abram then, I believe it’s true of me now. There are factors to the equation I am completely unaware of. So my place is simply to believe and trust.

There are two edges to God’s plan and purpose for my life, and to God’s purpose for your life too. There’s the promise of blessing and the promise that there are challenges to be faced along the way.

    • Are we willing to hear the hard part as well as the easy part?
    • Will we accept the cost as well as the blessing?

Is there something you are facing right now that makes you feel, “Lord, what good are all your blessings when the single greatest desire of my heart remains unfulfilled?”

Are you looking forward in faith to the promise God has made to you, but like Abram, you also see the pain and challenge this promise involves?

I invite you to pray this “Look up” and “Look around” prayer with me…

Father, Just as you took Abram out under the night sky and said, “Look up!” and just as on another occasion you took him up on a high ridge and said, “Look around,” please help me to look up and to look around and to realize that your promise is as good as your word and that your grace is sufficient for the challenges I will face on the journey. I believe your promise and I trust your goodness and your wisdom for my life. Amen!

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.

 

 

Watching Buddy Run!

…For the joy of the Lord is your strength. (Nehemiah 8:10)

Long before Jake the Desert Bone Dog came to be part of our family in 2015, there was another dog who spent his life from about one year of age until he crossed the rainbow bridge in 2014 bringing a wonderful quality of the very best kind of “dogginess” to our extended family. Buddy was a rescue dog, a Cocker Spaniel mix. He never told us what the other elements of his “mix” consisted of, but Buddy was a great dog! And after his passing, I didn’t think there could ever be another dog as great as Buddy, but that was before I met Jake! If you read my stuff for any significant period or follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you’ll read plenty about Jake! But this story is about Buddy the Dog.

One crisp, sunny winter afternoon I walked along an old track in the Juniper forest east of my Central Oregon home and watched my dog Buddy run. Buddy’s no greyhound, but he really loves to run! He runs with such abandon, long ears flapping, dodging sagebrush, leaping over weather-bleached juniper logs, chasing imaginary rabbits and deer!

Sometimes, watching Buddy run, I just had to laugh out loud! I could see the joy in him, joy that comes from doing what God created him to do. Because I loved that old dog, I felt joy when I watched him doing what he loved to do.

Buddy loved to run because that’s what God created him to do. I believe that because God is so good, and loves us so much, he made us to have the same joy in doing what he created us to do that my dog Buddy had in running through the forest and the fields.

Here are a few things we know about ourselves:

    • We do best what we care most deeply about.
    • We do best what comes from deep inside us.
    • We do best what we do with greatest passion.
    • We do best what gives us joy.

Eric Liddell, the Scottish distance runner featured in the 1981 movie “Chariots of Fire,” is quoted: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

Why does it often seem so hard to know what God created us to do and to experience the simple, profound joy in doing it? Do we get stuck in the routines of merely “getting the job done”? Have we become trapped by the expectations of others? Are we too busy to take a deep breath and ask a couple of honest questions?

If these questions resonate with you, here are some ideas you could try:

    • Take time to take stock. What gives you pure, simple joy? Have an honest think about when you’re most joyful, most fulfilled.
    • Talk to those who know you best and care about you most. Ask honest questions: “When do you see me most joyful, most energized?”
    • Talk to your Creator about what you were made for.

I’m certainly not minimizing the importance of discipline, of doing what must be done, of fulfilling our commitments. This isn’t about only doing things that make you feel good. This isn’t about shirking responsibilities or duties. This is about being honest, being brave, and being willing to step out of your “must do” zone into your joyful “get to” zone!

And one thing more. You’re an influencer of others. You are, at some level, in some relationships, a leader and influencer. So think about—be aware of—what gives joy to those you influence most.

What if we parents and teachers and managers and bosses and other influencers looked carefully and caringly at those we influence and helped each of them discover just what God created them to do? What if we made it our pleasure to create opportunities for each person we love and influence to do the things that they were created for—the things that give them joy? What if we did that?

Just as I often took Buddy to the Juniper forest or the desert to create an opportunity for him to run, I believe God loves to create opportunities for people like you and me to “run!” And I believe that when we are simply doing what God created us to do, he rejoices – he feels the pleasure and joy of it with us!

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true, there is life and joy. (Proverbs 13:12 NLT)

 What do you think?

 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.

 

I’ll Take Care of It

My friend Rick went to get his hair cut early one morning. On his way home, he stopped at the AM/PM station for gas. As Rick waited inside to pay, he couldn’t help noticing a young woman at the counter holding an 18 month old child, trying to make her debit card work. The card was refused three times, but she just kept rubbing the magnetic strip and asking the cashier, “Please try it one more time.”

Rick thought to himself, “Look how she’s dressed. She doesn’t look responsible enough to be taking care of herself, much less raising a child. No surprise she hasn’t got anything in her account to cover what she just spent.”

By now there was quite a line of people waiting to pay for their gas or buy their morning coffee. Finally the cashier called for another cashier to come and help as several customers were beginning to show signs of impatience! The young woman put her child down and took out her wallet and then just stood there at the counter holding her empty wallet in both hands. The cashier stood on her side of the counter, not making eye contact with the girl, and said, “You’ll have to call somebody to come and pay for this. Have you got someone you can call?” The girl just shook her head. Impasse.

Rick’s truck was ready and his pump number was called by the other cashier who had come out to help. He stepped up to the counter right beside the young woman. He swiped his debit card in the machine and punched in his PIN and the screen read “Approved.” The cashier handed him his receipt and said, “Have a nice day.”

Rick suddenly thought, “I could pay her bill. How much could it be? Even if it’s forty bucks, I could pay it.” Instead of thinking of all the reasons not to do it, Rick just said to the other cashier, “How much is it?” She looked at him and asked, “What did you say?” Rick said, “How much is it? How much is her bill?” The cashier looked at the register and said, “$20.00” Rick said, “I’ll take care of it” and took a twenty out of his wallet and handed it to the cashier. As she took the twenty Rick handed her, she asked, “You want a receipt?” Rick smiled and shook his head.

The girl looked so surprised – kind of embarrassed and surprised. She said, “Thank you so much!” She smiled and picked up her child and busied herself getting ready to go out the door, looking at the child to avoid eye contact with the other customers. Embarrassed, relieved, surprised. Rick just said, “Sure. Glad I could help.” They both went out the door together and the girl said, “Thanks so much!” again as she hurried toward her car. Rick said, “Sure. No problem.”

Then Rick got in his truck and started for home and being the amateur philosopher-theologian he is, couldn’t stop thinking about what had just happened.

First he prayed, “Thanks, Father, that I’m not broke at this point in my life. Thanks that I had the money in my pocket to do that. I remember times not too long ago when I was nearly in the spot that young girl was in. Thanks.”

Then he thought about the message his pastor had preached the previous weekend on being sensitive and willing to do “simple acts of kindness.”

Then later he thought, “Did I do that because I’m a Christian? I didn’t say, ‘God bless you,’ or ‘Jesus Loves you!’ I didn’t even invite her to church next weekend.”

As he thought about it a little more, he decided this:

    • If I did it because I’m a Christian and it seemed at that moment that it’s what a Christian should do, that’s a good thing!
    • If I did it because I just simply wanted at that moment to help a young girl who couldn’t pay for her gas, then maybe I did it because Jesus actually lives in me and I’m actually learning more to let him call the shots. That might even be a better thing!

Rick thought, “I hope I did it for the second reason more than the first one. Anyhow I’m glad it happened and it sure felt good to be able to do it. I hope next time something like that happens it doesn’t take me so long to actually do something to help!”

Like I said, Rick is only an amateur philosopher-theologian, but it seems like his conclusion about the incident and his response makes a lot of sense.

What do you think?

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.

 

Self Defense

Special Note: I’ve just posted an update on my health and treatment here. It’s a moving target, so I’ll post a follow up in about two days with more news.

Now here’s this weeks post –  Self Defense

Recently I received an email from someone I felt had judged me unfairly—misjudging both my actions and my motives. There was an initial flare-up of defensiveness and self-justification, but in the busyness of the day, I soon forgot the email and just got on with the things I had to do.

A few days later I started thinking again about how unfair the emailer’s judgment was and how I really needed to defend myself against this obvious attack on my character and my motives.

I turned on my laptop to write the rebuttal email that I was putting together in my mind and could hardly wait the few seconds for it to boot up! My emotional state was mildly ramping up and I can tell you that the email I was about to write had at least one “…and another thing!” in it! I would certainly vindicate myself and give the emailer reason to think twice before judging me again!

As I waited for my computer to start, I went into the kitchen to get the coffee carafe to fill Jean’s coffee cup. As I poured her coffee, I mentioned the recent “critical” email and my noble plan to set things straight.

Jean asked me what I would be accomplishing by my self-justification-motivated, resentment-fueled email. As I thought about Jean’s question—about what I would really be accomplishing—I came up with this list:

    1. I’ll say some self-righteous, self-justifying things that don’t really need to be said.
    2. I’ll push the emailer toward anger and self-justification.
    3. I’ll drive a wedge between myself and the emailer and between myself and Jesus, who loves both me and the emailer a lot.
    4. My self-justifying email will provide the opportunity for misunderstanding, discord, and separation to spread in ways I can’t even imagine!
    5. My loving Father will, after the dust settles, ask me why I responded out of my old ego self instead of my new nature, my Christ nature. To which I’ll reply that it’s very likely because I’m an idiot and I’m sorry and please forgive me! (and He will!)

I didn’t write the email! Instead, I prayed God’s blessing on the writer of the email and then on everyone else I could think of toward whom felt the slightest negative attitude. Thankfully, it was a very short list!

I’m thankful for Jean’s wisdom and grace. I’m thankful for God’s grace and unconditional love for me and for the people on the other side of each big or little issue that comes up in my big or little life!

So how’s your week been so far?

 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.

 

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.

Buddy Trusts Me

There’s a big difference between how well I can look after my dog and how well God can look after me. But I have learned some important things about trusting God from my experience with how my dogs have learned to trust me through the years. That’s what this story is about.

Important information before reading further: This story is about Buddy the Dog, and not about Jake the Desert Bone Dog! You may know Jake from my Facebook page or my Instagram account . Buddy was a Cocker Spaniel mix rescue dog who was a very big part of our family from 2003 to 2014. Jake is an English Springer Spaniel who has been a very big part of our family since October 2015. There will no doubt be some Jake the Desert Bone Dog stories in my blog posts from time to time, but this is about Buddy!

A few years ago, my dog Buddy had to have surgery on his left rear knee (who knew dogs had knees?). Buddy loved to run and while running like a crazy dog in the desert, he had badly torn the ligament that holds the joint together. He had been lame and in a lot of pain for a few days as we processed him through visits to the regular vet and referrals to a veterinary orthopedist and arranged for his operation. The vet surgically replaced the torn ligament with monofilament nylon line and patched in some tissue from another part of his leg to repair the joint. Buddy stayed in the veterinary hospital overnight and I picked him up the next morning.

Poor little guy! His hindquarters were shaved on one side but he was still his hairy self over the rest of his body. He had a bright blue hard and bulky bandage that covered the length of his left back leg, a pain meds patch on a shaved part of his back right foot, and a bandage on his right front leg where the IV needle was inserted for the operation. He just didn’t know what to do or think about his situation!

The veterinary surgery technician sent me home with dire warnings of what could go wrong if I let him run, jump, climb stairs, jump into the car, or do any of the other things he loved to do and was apt to do suddenly and without notice. So for a few weeks, Buddy was severely restricted for activity. He had to be on leash all the time he was outside the house. I had to lift him in and out of the car and carry him up and down stairs. That really changed things in our household for a while!

For the first few days home, Buddy was not in a running and jumping mood. He was lethargic from the medication and he moaned softly from time to time from the pain. It hurt me to see him hurt! I so wished Buddy could tell me how he was feeling and when he needed to go out to relieve himself and when he was thirsty and when the pain was just too much! But he couldn’t. He was a dog and didn’t speak human. I’m a mere human and couldn’t read his mind. The fact is, if I had known what he wanted or needed and had the power to do it, I would have done most anything, because I love my dog!

I remember sitting in my red recliner chair early in the morning, doing my Bible reading and journaling and Buddy lying on the floor right beside my chair, as close to me as he could get. Buddy was getting as close to me as he could, because Buddy trusted me! He was in pain, he didn’t know what was happening and what the outcome would be, he didn’t know what to do, so he simply wanted to be near me because my behavior toward him had always been consistently for his benefit. He trusted me!

Think about this:

    • Even though it was action on my part (vet, surgery, bandages) that caused his immediate pain…
    • Even though there was no way I could explain to him that the pain and discomfort was for his good and that it would lead to healing…
    • Even though there was nothing I could do to help him feel better except scratch behind his ears a little…
    • He wanted to be near me. He pressed closer instead of moving away. He trusted me!

Then I thought about me and my master – my Father God. I wished that I could be as good a master to Buddy as God is to me! I cared for Buddy during his injury and recovery. I paid for Buddy’s diagnosis and surgery. But I couldn’t fix him or stop his pain or explain to him what was going on! I could only do my best to see Buddy through the necessary recovery process. I could only restrict his running and jumping and watch him carefully and try to read his little doggy mind to figure out what he needed. In spite of my limitations, and based on a few years of interactions and my behavior toward him in all sorts of other situations, Buddy trusted me.

You know, trust is not really effectively commanded or demanded. Trust is developed through relationship and interaction. When a person (or a dog) (or God) acts consistently in a certain manner over time, you begin to think in terms of that (person, God, or dog) as being trustworthy. Worthy of trust. Trustable. And you begin to assume, expect, trust that given a certain situation or set of circumstances, that person, dog or God will continue that expected action. You feel you can trust them.

Well, here’s the thing: I want to have the same attitude towards my Father God as Buddy had towards me! I want to so simply and completely trust God that when I’m in pain or confused or afraid, I’ll instinctively get as close to God as I can and simply trust God to do the right things and be with me in the pain and arrange the best outcome possible. And I’ll do that because I trust my Father God – not because I’m commanded to trust God and not because God demands that I trust him – but because I’ve learned to trust God through years of interactions and situations.

God loves me even more than I love my dog. He does know what I’m thinking and he understands my moans and groans perfectly. And not only that, he has the power to do what needs to be done.

I don’t want to be preachy here, but you and I both know that trust is not effectively demanded or commanded, it’s developed in relationship and experience. So here’s what I do and I’m strongly encouraging you to do some form of trust development with our Father God. I know you trust God, but what I’m aiming for here is some attitudes and practices that relationally grow and develop your God-trust so it will be the kind of trust that makes you move closer to God when the pain hits, when you’re confused or discouraged. Here are some suggestions:

    • Develop constant God-awareness. Our Bible-derived theology tells us that God is always present. God is near, not far. I see the value in places: sanctuaries, church gatherings, rituals. But bring your God-awareness into every part of your life. Think lots of God-thoughts.
    • Talk to God conversationally and often. I’m in favor of formal prayer practices, but I carry on a running conversation with God as I go through my day. I ask a lot of questions. I “run things by” him. I make suggestions and then listen to try and see how God thinks about my ideas. Engage with the God Who Is There!
    • Develop your own God-awareness, your trust developing attitudes and practices, and tell me and others what works for you. Share your insights.

I’m determined to learn to trust God like Buddy trusted me. Even when the pain passes through God’s hands to me…

    • Even when there’s no way God can explain to me why…
    • Even though there are factors at work that only God understands…
    • I want to, I will press closer to God and not turn away.

How about you!?!

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.

There’s an update on my health and cancer situation here.

 

The Cemetery

It was a bloody battle in a wood outside a small French village, near the end of WWII. When the battle ended one young American soldier knelt beside the body of his best friend and wept. The thought of his friend lying in an unmarked grave was not acceptable and he lifted his friend’s body to his shoulder and began to walk toward a village nearly four miles away.

As he neared the village he saw the steeple of a chapel rising above the trees and turned his weary steps toward the church. He soon saw that it was a monastery and that beside the chapel was a little cemetery surrounded by a white picket fence. The graves were marked with stones and the grounds were well-tended. The young soldier thought, “If only I can bury my friend here in this little cemetery, I’ll know I can return to visit his grave someday.”

He approached the chapel and gently laid his friend’s body on the ground, then stepped up to the rough wooden door and knocked. Almost immediately the door opened and a monk, a young man about the age of the soldier, stepped out and greeted him. As he was about to ask if he could help the soldier in some way, the monk saw the body of the dead man lying on the ground just at the cemetery gate.

The soldier said, “Please Father, may I bury my friend in your cemetery? He was a good man, a good friend, and I can’t bear to think of his body lying in an unmarked grave here in these woods, so far from our home in America.”

“Was your friend a Catholic?” the monk asked?

“No, Father, he was not Catholic but he was a Christian and he loved God with all his heart.”

The monk looked at the soldier with obvious regret and said, “I’m sorry, friend. The rules are clear and I don’t have the authority to make exceptions. Only Catholics can be buried in the cemetery. I’m so sorry!”

As a look first of disappointment and then pain passed across the face of the soldier, the monk continued, “Would it be alright with you if we buried your friend just outside the cemetery gate? We could put a nice stone at his head and clearly mark the grave.”

The soldier said, “Thank you, Father. You’re kind and I appreciate it so much. I’ve just got to be able to find my friend’s grave when I return after this terrible war is finally over.”

Together they dug a grave just outside the fence. Together they laid the dead soldier’s body gently in the ground. Together they carried a heavy stone and placed it at the head of the grave. With bowed heads they stood and the priest prayed for the young soldier’s safety as he endeavored to find his way back to Allied lines through dangerous enemy territory.

The soldier made it to safety and he survived the terrors of the war and at war’s end he returned to his home town in America.

Over twenty years had passed before the not-quite so young man managed to save up the money to visit his friend’s grave just outside the little cemetery near the French village. His ticket bought, he flew to Paris and traveled by train to the village. As he left the station, he could see the spire of the little chapel in the woods near the town. With the steeple as his guide he walked quickly to the monastery and rushed over to the fence of the cemetery and walked quickly along to the gate.

He looked all around – the grass was still carefully tended – but he couldn’t find the headstone. He couldn’t find his friend’s grave. He soon realized that something was wrong! The grave simply wasn’t there!

His initial confusion turned to disappointment and disappointment to pain as he walked quickly to the door of the chapel and knocked again as he had so many years before. Almost as quickly as before the door was answered – answered by the same monk he had met after the battle that took his friend’s life.

He hardly greeted the monk and then his disappointment tumbled out in a torrent of words, “It’s gone! My friend’s grave is gone! You helped me bury him after that awful battle so many years ago. We put a stone at his head just outside the fence so I could find the grave when I returned. But it’s gone! What has happened to the grave?”

The monk gently took his arm and led him toward the cemetery gate. “You’ll find your friend’s grave just inside the fence. Go ahead, it’s just over there. Do you see it now?”

“Oh Father,” he cried, “Have you moved my friend’s grave?”

“No, friend,” the monk replied. “I moved the fence.”

I was raised in a segment of Evangelical Christianity that specialized in fences. We had fences that were put in place by the rules we made, kind of like the fence around the little cemetery in France that was put in place by a rule to only allow a certain kind of person to be buried there. Our fences and rules weren’t about who got to be buried in our church, but were certainly about who got to be counted as part of our church. And I suppose that can be a good thing. But our rules and fences were pretty technical. Not so much about heart condition but more about things one should or shouldn’t do, places one should or shouldn’t go, and doctrinal belief requirements that were pretty far from the basics on simple faith in Jesus.

I know, “broad road to destruction and narrow road to life”, but this wasn’t really that. I guess we thought it was, but it wasn’t. So there were a lot of really genuine Christians, Christ-followers, that we didn’t fellowship with because they baptized differently or had a different approach to church structure, or whatever.

Later, when I was in the Army and met other kinds of Christians and when I was in Vietnam and worked with a chaplain of a different denomination, and then met and learned from a Vietnamese Catholic priest who had established a refugee village near our battalion HQ, I realized that my fences were too narrow and had been put in place by the wrong kinds of rules.

Anyhow, I’ve been moving fences for quite a few years now. I realize I could get carried away with fence moving or maybe even tear the fences down altogether and it could lead to a bad result. But so far, I have no regrets about the fences I’ve moved. There’s room for a lot more diversity than I realized in those early days.

Here’s a thought: Is there a fence that you could move to make a little more room on the inside of your heart, in your circle of fellowship?

Prayer:

Father, I’m so thankful that when I don’t quite measure up to Your standards and there is nothing I can do to help myself that You find a way to satisfy Your righteousness and to manifest Your mercy toward me. Thank You that in Jesus’ sacrifice for my sins, you “moved the fence” to include me.

 Please help me to be willing “to move the fence” for others as You have for me. Fill me with Your compassion and grace that I may never exclude others simply because they somehow don’t  measure up to the requirements of “the rules”. May I always look for creative ways to bring others in and not fence them out.

 For God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.  (John 3:16-17 NLT)

 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.