A Last Request

last wordsIn an article in Christianity Today (October 2019), Gerald Sittser wrote about the early church and the Christians who embraced a new story. “The story of Jesus opened their eyes to see history not as a narrative of the empire’s achievements—and atrocities—but as a narrative of God’s redemptive work in the world, which often occurs in quiet and mysterious ways. For them, Bethlehem and Golgotha occupied center stage, not the Roman court.”

I encourage to pause today and reflect on the babe of Bethlehem who died with His innocence intact on the cross at Golgotha. His life was a message of redemption, and His death was the sacrifice that redeemed us.

Among the last few words that He spoke, His concern was for those who persecuted Him, and “Forgive them. . .” was a last request.

Make it your mission today to give life to His dying words and “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).”

What Seeds Are You Sowing?

seedsI’ve never heard the Apostle Paul described as a Master Gardener, but he was an authority on sowing and reaping, and He spoke about it in the 6th chapter of Galatians.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

These verses may have been the words that inspired St. Basil to say: “He who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”

The importance of sowing seeds of kindness is found in a comment made by Leo Buscaglia: “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

I encourage you to make a difference in the life of someone today by giving them the gift of kindness. It doesn’t take much effort to open a door, to share a smile, to speak an encouraging word, or to say a prayer.

Like Mother Teresa said: “Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting.”

Kindness is a form of communication that is  not limited  by  ethnic or social barriers.  It is a language that even the deaf can hear and the blind can see.

The Patron Saint of Velcro

velcroWhat is it that you first think of when you hear the word VelcroIs it the stick-to-itiveness quality of this 1941 George de Mestral invention?

Mestral was perturbed by the nasty burrs that had lodged themselves into his wool pants after a day of hunting in the woods.  After examining the burrs through a magnifying glass, Mestral was fascinated by what he saw.  He discovered that each burr had thousands of tiny little hooks that had latched onto the wool fabric of his pants.

He was so impressed by this pest from nature that he developed a process to mimic the tenacity of the burrs, so he invented a system of nylon hooks and loops and called his product Velcro

Within the pages of the New Testament, we find the living breathing version of Velcro. As a Christian, Stephen was a pest that Saul could not shake.  Because of Stephen’s faithful tenacity, Saul oversaw his stoning and ultimate death.

Even after Stephen was martyred, he was still a nuisance to Saul.  Like Velcro, Saul could not shake the memory of Stephen’s death nor could he forget his last words –words of faith and grace.

Stephen’s death and the Damascus road experience led to the conversion of Saul.  The former enemy of the Cross changed his name to Paul and became an avid evangelist for the Lord.

What is the Velcro moment that changed your life?

The Nuthatch is No Chicken Little

nuhatchI don’t have any hills in my yard, but I do hear the sound of music. My feathered friends have begun their annual return, and they’re filling the air with their joyful melodies. As they arrive, they’re met by the faithful chickadees and nuthatches who have fed on sunflower seeds and weathered the winter.

If, as some say, the chickadees and nuthatches are deficient in color, they are more than proficient in conversation. The chickadee is reported to have a vocabulary of around 50 distinct sounds including phrases, like “danger!” “feed me!” or “I’m single!”

As the chickadee is busy chattering, the nuthatch listens intently; verifies the message; and, if necessary, acts as a watchman on the wall and sounds a predator is present alarm. While the nuthatch is no Chicken Little,  Eric Greene, an ecologist at the University of Montana, lightheartedly says the bird will “retweet” valid warnings to his neighbors.

The importance of conversations cannot be overstated, and ours ought to be more than idle chatter. Jesus said a person will be either justified or condemned by the words they speak (Matthew 12:27).  Our conversation should be more than great swelling words of emptiness (2 Peter 2:18), or persuasive words of deception (Colossians 2:8).

How can we fine-tune our vocabulary, so our conversation is pleasing to God? We can start with a prayer of David: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer (Psalm 19:14).

A Unique Creation

cattleSince I live in the land of bluestem grass, it’s a common sight to see cattle grazing in pastures.  More than a few steers are apt to stick their heads through a barbed wire fence to eat the grass that’s almost beyond their reach. This tendency gave birth to the cliché: The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. 

The old cliché is the life philosophy of some people.  They’re not content with what God has given them, so they keep searching for that elusive something that is just beyond their grasp.

God is not a God of mass production, and you were not manufactured on a soulless assembly line by a heartless God. You are a unique creation; the handiwork of God; designed for a specific purpose; and, blessed with the appropriate amount of grace to accomplish the mission to which you’ve been called.

You are the apple of God’s eyes, and He has blessed you with gifts that “vary depending on the grace poured out on each of us, so it’s important to exercise the gifts you’ve been given (Romans 12:6).”

As you look forward to the week ahead, frame it within the truth of 2 Corinthians 9:8: “God is able to make all grace overflow to you, so that, in all things and at all times, having all you need, you may overflow in every kind of good work.”

Fowled Communication

woodpeckerAbout this time each year, I start looking forward to the return of the brightly colored yellow finches that will gorge themselves at my birdfeeders. They will be joined by other guests, Blue Jays, Robins, and Redheaded woodpeckers.

To be honest, today is the first day I’ve thought about the woodpeckers; and, I can thank the internet for that. While I was checking my news feed on Twitter, I read a story about some acorn woodpeckers.

Audubon’s field guide for birds, describes these birds as a “clown-faced… western woodpecker with a complicated social structure, living in small colonies. Best known for its habit of hoarding acorns.”

According to National Geographic, some of these clown-faced little devils had stashed some 300 pounds of acorns in a wireless antenna in California. Jim Greer, spokesman for AT&T, commented on the situation: “Moisture and sheer volume caused the microwave signal to finally give out. As soon as the acorns were released, the signal came right back on.”

A single acorn did not render the antenna inoperative; however, it was the first step towards an impaired signal. As the acorns accumulated, eventually the signal between the antenna and the customers went silent.

In this instance acorns are like sin, the power of one might not be noticed; however, when they accumulate, they can be detrimental.  The prophet Isaiah knew this to be true, and he said: “Your sinful acts have alienated you from your God; your sins have caused him to reject you and not listen to your prayers (Isaiah 59:2).”

The answer to the dilemma is to dump the acorns. This is accomplished through confession. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9).”

The Measly and the Mighty

NOSELESSIn Psalm 135, a vivid contrast is painted in broad strokes that compares the almighty and robust God of King David to the puny and powerless idols of the Canaanites. The Psalmist describes the inept and impotent gods: They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths.

A recent viewing of some photography reminded me of this Psalm. The photographer had captured the image of some artifacts that portrayed their gods with smashed ears and crushed noses. I wondered if these ancient scars were the work of vandals or mischievous imps.

After reading Julia Wolkoff’s article on the subject, I found my answer: The ancient Egyptians, it’s important to note, ascribed important powers to images of the human form. They believed that the essence of a deity could inhabit an image of that deity, or, in the case of mere mortals, part of that deceased human being’s soul could inhabit a statue inscribed for that particular person.

By smashing the ears and crushing the noses of these images, the perpetrator thought he was castrating the idol and nullifying its power.

My worship and prayer aren’t focused on a toothless god who can be rendered impotent by the hand of man; my devotion is to the Omnipotent God who is great, above all gods, and the One who does whatever He pleases.

The God who is the focus of my attention is the one spoken of by the prophet Isaiah: I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose (Isaiah 46:9-10).

Focused or Fretful

headcaseIf you could look inside your head, would you find the thought center of your mind dotted with the warts of worry and the ulcers of anxiousness?

In anxious moments, I’ve found comfort in the potent promise of Isaiah 26:3: You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You because he trusts in You.

Here’s a simple truth: The mind that’s not staying on God, is straying from Him, and it’s easily disoriented by the worries of life.  Undisciplined thoughts leave room for unfounded arguments that foster fear; however, Christ-centered thinking augments faith and smothers the fires of fretfulness.

To “stay” your mind on God, I suggest that you begin by:

  • Focusing on God: I sought the Lord, and he heard me and delivered me from all my fears. ~Psalm 34:4
  • Claiming the promise of God’s presence: Be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the Lord your God, am with you in all you do. ~Joshua 1:9
  • Believing God loves you: The Lord your God is in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you with His love; and, He will rejoice over you with singing. ~Zephaniah 3:17
  • Getting a grip on life: For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.” ~Isaiah 41:13

Think about it: When God is holding your right hand, you never have to worry about holding the wrong one.

Phil 4

Death by Hash Brown

hbrownAs I was leaving the coffee shop this morning, I looked to my right to see if it was ok to cross the parking lot.  Since the car at the drive-up window was stopped, I felt I could safely walk to my truck.

As I took my third step, I heard the roar of an engine, looked to my right again, and I took a quick step back. Instead of looking where he was going, the driver was stuffing a saliva-inducing hash brown in his mouth; with a river of drool dripping from his chin, and his eyes focused on the sack in his lap, he was the typical distracted driver.

This near-miss reminded me that if we are going to get where we’re going, it helps to look at the road ahead, stay focused on our goals, and live a disciplined life.

With this in mind, I think we can benefit from some specific looks:

  • A Look of Devotion—Psalm 5:3: My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord; In the morning I will direct it to You, and I will look up.
  • A Look of Expectation–Psalm 145:15 The eyes of all look expectantly to You, and You give them their food in due season.
  • A Look of Empathy—Matthew 9:36: When Jesus saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.
  • A Look of Righteousness—2 Timothy 2:22: Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
  • A Look of Excellence—2 Peter 1:5-7: Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.
  • A Look of Gratitude—I Thessalonians 5:18: In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you

To finish life’s race,  we need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus the source and the goal of our faith (Hebrews 12:3, Phillips).