More Than Pepper and Salt

723buffaloI couldn’t resist the urge, so I took a peak.  Even though I may never float it again, I still wanted to check the river levels on the Buffalo National River and reminisce.

Every time I paddled this river, I marveled at her beauty:  The pristine water is framed by towering limestone bluffs that rise above the river below.

The first night out on the river was often the best because supper would be venison.  As soon as I arrived at the campsite, I would put the venison strips in a plastic bag to marinate.    By the time I had set up the tent, collected firewood, and started brewing the coffee, several hours had passed and the meat was thoroughly seasoned.

In the solitude of this magnificent wilderness, I found it easy to see the beauty of God’s creation.  I also found it easy to reflect of His Word.

One evening after I had finished off the venison, I was reading Ephesians 1:7:  “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.”

It occurred to me that being lavished with God’s grace is somewhat like marinating venison.  When you encounter the grace of God and you are covered-up by its life-changing power, you are transformed:

  • You are holy because He is holy—I Peter 1:16
  • You can forgive because you have been forgiven—Colossians 3:13
  • You can be merciful because you have experienced the mercy of God—Luke 6:36
  • You can live a life of love because you’ve been blessed by God’s—Ephesians 5:2

The riches of God’s grace is more than a sprinkle of pepper and a dash of salt.  When God lavishes you with His presence, you are redeemed, renewed, and refreshed, and you are a new creation in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Recycling and Refocusing

recycle_word_peopleIn the Sunday edition of the Washington Post, Chris Mooney wrote:  “We have a problem, people: Even though we’re supposed to put the right stuff in the blue bin, a lot of recyclable material nevertheless winds up crammed into landfills. One of the most noteworthy of these is paper: While 64.6 percent of paper and paperboard got recycled in 2012, that still left 24.26 million tons of the stuff discarded, according to the EPA (Why We Don’t Recycle Crumpled Paper).”

While some things get tossed out simply because people won’t toss them in the recycle bin, research suggests there might be another reason.  The Environment and Behavior journal has reported on research by  Remi Trudel, Jennifer Argo, and Matthew Meng of Boston University and the University of Alberta.

Their research focused on the way your brain categorizes information and then acts on it.  When your brain sees a piece of crumpled paper, it perceives it to be trash and not something to be recycled.

The study found that, “Full sheets of paper were recycled 77.4 percent of the time, whereas crumpled paper was only recycled 7.8 percent of the time.”  The researchers said: “We consistently show that consumers’ decision to recycle the same product depends on whether the product is intact (i.e., whole) or distorted (i.e., crumpled, cut).”

When you meet an individual whose life has been crumpled by the power of sin or the heartache of failure, how do you respond?   Do you see them as trash or someone who can be recycled?

You are probably familiar with the verses that call you to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world,” but how well do you know and put into practice the scriptural admonition to be a recycler?  In Romans 15:1-2, Paul said:

Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”

What is Christianity to you?  Is it an experience and relationship of convenience or are you willing to “lend a hand” to those in need?

Are You Good At Doing Good?

be-good-logoCan I let you in on a little secret?  There’s a standing invitation from Lady Temptation to come over and abide on her side.

Because it’s so easy to follow the path that leads to an evil and vile life style. Paul issued a warning to Christians in Romans 12:21:

  • Don’t allow yourself to be overpowered with evil. Take the offensive—overpower evil by good! ~Phillips
  • Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good. ~The Message
  • Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ~English Standard Version

Evil can be so subtle that it’s hard to recognize and offer a rebuttal.  This is why it’s necessary to take the “offensive.”  If you allow yourself to be overpowered with evil it will have power over every area of your life.

Paul said “doing good” is the key to gaining the upper hand in this conflict, and he described his game plan in a letter to the Thessalonians:

“Live together in peace, and our instruction to this end is to reprimand the unruly, encourage the timid, help the weak and be very patient with all men. Be sure that no one repays a bad turn by a bad turn; good should be your objective always, among yourselves and in the world at large. Be happy in your faith at all times. Never stop praying. Be thankful, whatever the circumstances may be. If you follow this advice you will be working out the will of God expressed to you in Jesus Christ . . . by all means use your judgment, and hold on to whatever is really good, and Steer clear of evil in any form.”

I’m not going to lie to you—“doing good” is tough work.  The following list from Kent M. Keith (The Silent Revolution: Dynamic Leadership in the Student Council) makes it clear:

  • People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered—Love them anyway.
  • If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives—Do good anyway.
  • The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow—Do good anyway.
  • People really need help but may attack you if you do help them—Help people anyway.
  • Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth—Give the world the best you have anyway.”

Remember, “Never let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.”

The Esau Syndrome

happy-treeWhile visiting with a neighbor, I was asked:  “Do you know anything about trees?” Before I could reply in the negative, he pointed to a tree that was losing its bark.  I suggested that he call an arborist or someone skilled in dendrochronology.

An arborist is someone who is trained to plant and cultivate trees, and dendrochronology studies tree rings to determine the dates and chronological order of past events.  By studying the rings of a tree, a person can identify the years that were dry spells and distinguish them from the wet seasons.

It’s not the rings of a person’s life that reveals his wet and dry seasons, but it’s the scars and the wrinkles.  Naomi is a woman who experienced both the wet and dry seasons.

As a young woman, she left Bethlehem with her husband and two sons.  Even though Moab was off-limits to Jews, she and her family settled there.  While living in the forbidden land of Moab, Naomi lost her husband, both sons, her wealth, and her beauty.

The dry years in Moab left their marks on Naomi.  By the time she returned to her homeland, her youthful skin had become wrinkled and she had been scarred by spiritual neglect.  When her old friends and neighbors saw her they asked:  “Is this Naomi?”

She replied:  “Don’t call me Naomi.  Call me Mara: for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty.”

Because her life experiences had changed her, Naomi didn’t believe she was worthy of a name that means “pleasant, winsome, or agreeable.”   She believed the name Mara or “bitter” was more appropriate.

Naomi and her husband had made the same mistake that Esau made many years earlier.  Due to a lack of spiritual insight, he had traded his birthright to satisfy his short-term appetite:

“Work at getting along with each other and with God. Otherwise you’ll never get so much as a glimpse of God. Make sure no one gets left out of God’s generosity. Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time. Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears.”

What do the rings of your life say about you?  When you look into the mirror of God’s Word, what do you see?  Do you see the weeds of discontent or do you see the fruit of love, joy, and cheerfulness?

The Standard of Purity

81rMuq0yIEL._SL1500_In recent years, the debate over greenhouse-gas emissions has been hotly debated.  At issue is the matter of stifling the effect of the toxic emissions without trifling with industrial-strength free enterprise.

Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory think they may have an answer to the problem.  They believe it’s found in caviar-sized bubbles that are designed to absorb carbon dioxide.

The ecological impasse over greenhouse gas may have found a solution to the world’s pollution in something as simple and mundane as baking soda.  According to a Bloomberg report, these micro-bubbles have a” highly permeable polymer shell and a fluid (made up of sodium carbonate solution) that reacts with and absorbs carbon dioxide.”

I see a similarity between the ability of these micro bubbles infused with baking soda and the spiritual cleansing you can find in Jesus:

  • Paul said that it is, “Through the blood of his Son, we are set free from our sins. God forgives our failures because of his overflowing kindness. He poured out his kindness by giving us every kind of wisdom and insight (Ephesians 1:7).”
  • In Hebrews, it says that Jesus was crucified outside of the city, so he could purify people from their sin with his own blood (Hebrew 13:12).

Arm and Hammer market their baking soda as “The Standard of Purity,” and it helps eliminate the smelly odors in refrigerators; however, before the soda can work, the box must be opened.  The same is true in your relationship to Jesus—you must be open to Him: “ Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me (Revelation 3:20).”

I’ll leave you with this link to Alan Jackson as he sings about Jesus’ standard of purity.

Siri: Where Am I?

pigeon-statue-11If you were a statue, you would think of a pigeon about like the kennel boy does a dog.  Not me—I raised pigeons when I was just a kid, and the unique ability of these birds to find their way home has always amazed me.

Evidently Cornell and the University of Pittsburgh share my appreciation for this innate ability of pigeons.  The research from both universities has concluded that pigeons use multiple facilities to help them determine the correct sense of direction.  While the sun is their primary orientation, they also use the earth’s magnetic field as a guide to get them safely home.

After an all-to-common and failed attempt to get directions from Siri (iPhone), I’ve decided I might have better luck finding my way home if I could somehow tether my truck to a pigeon.  Even though I speak clearly, Siri only understands about 10% of what I say when I ask for directions.

As I thought about the proficiency of the pigeons and the sad service of Siri, I was reminded of the words of Jesus:  My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me.

Whenever we are lost or feel alone, we can listen for the Shepherd’s voice and have the comfort of knowing we are never lost when we are with Him.

The Whistle of God

whistling-clipart-mickwhistle1When the high school wrestling coach lives next door to you, there’s a good chance you are going to learn to like the sport.  When he moves out of town, and his house is purchased by the new coach, there’s an even better chance that you’re going to learn a little something about wrestling.

On Friday evening and Saturday night of last week the undivided attention of most sports fans was focused on basketball—not me. I was splitting time between basketball and the NCAA finals in wrestling.

Like many of those muscle-ripped young men with chiseled bodies that reflected hours in the weight room and years  contending on the mats, my son started wrestling when he was 6 years old.  Those kid’s tournaments were loud and noisy with all of the young wrestlers, the screaming parents, and multiple matches running at the same time.

To make sure Wade wasn’t distracted by a false whistle, I gave him some advice:  “Son, You wrestle until you either clearly hear the ref’s whistle or you feel the touch of his hands.”

Wade scored points in some matches because he continued to wrestle when his opponent stopped.   The other boy had heard a false whistle from an adjoining mat, and he quit before the ref halted the match.

When I heard the ref’s whistle on Saturday night, I thought of the message it signaled.  The ears of the wrestlers were tuned to its sound, and they responded in a split second.  Their muscular bodies were like a tensely coiled spring that sprang into action, or they would immediately relax and stop wrestling—all in response to the whistle.

It may surprise you to learn that God also whistles:

“I will whistle for them and gather them in, for I have redeemed them, and they shall be as many as they were before. Though I scattered them among the nations, yet in far countries they shall remember me, and with their children they shall live and return (Zechariah 10:8-10).”

Some people believe this whistle is a sound that is only  heard and recognized by God’s children.  I equate it with the words of John 10:27-30:

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.  I and My Father are one.”

During my Summer breaks from school, I spent very little time inside the house.  I was either playing a game of baseball, wading the creek, or following a trail through a field.  When my stomach told me it was getting close to suppertime, I would begin to listen for Dad’s whistle–it was the signal that said:  “It’s time to come home.”

Some day God will do the same.  He will whistle and call His children home to heaven.

 

March Madness

Stanford v TexasMarch Madness is an annual event that sports fans look forward to each year.  I would imagine that more TV sets are flashing images of slam dunks than they are of Duck Dynasty.

The Big 12 entered the tournament with high expectations and much optimism; however, by the end of the first round reality had struck.  The University of Texas, Baylor, Oklahoma State, and Iowa State University had suffered defeat and have been sidelined for the rest of the tournament.  The youthful enthusiasm and hard work of their players was outmatched by the effort of their opponents.

Three teams from the Big 12 live to fight another day.  Kansas University, Oklahoma University, and feisty West Virginia move forward into round two.

Of these three, the Rock-Chalk-Jayhawks of KU have one of the more interesting matchups.  The regular season Big 12 champs will face the Wichita State University from the Missouri Valley.  This is a game that many from the state of Kansas have been asking for since Greg Marshall placed his winning brand on the WSU program.

Basketball, like other sports, can have a long-lasting impact on the lives of those who have played the game.  Players benefit from both the positive influence of coaches and teammates, and the discipline they have learned.

There is another benefit to sports, and it’s seen in the ministry of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.  This group uses sports as an arena to teach their four core values:

  • Integrity: A Christ-like wholeness that is to be demonstrated privately, and publicly. (Proverbs 11:3).
  • Serving: A life that reflects the servant’s heart of Jesus (John 13:1-7).
  • Teamwork: A unity in all of our relationships that is possible through Christ (Philippians 2:1-54).
  • Excellence: A life that honors and glorifies God in all we do (Colossians 3:23-24)

When you set down in front of your TV to watch your favorite team, give some thought to these four core values.  During the timeouts or commercials, examine your life to see if these values are at the core of your life.

God-Colors

plan-your-visitDid you accept the challenge I proposed yesterday?  If you read this blog on Thursday, you know that I encouraged you to be the peace in your piece of the world.

If you embraced my challenge, you were living the words of Jesus found in Matthew 5:16:  “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

The Message elaborates on this command of Jesus:

“You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).”

If you made my goal your goal, and you did your best to be the peace in your piece of the world, you were cherishing a basic principle of Jesus.  You were, “bringing out the God-colors” in your piece of the world, and people had the chance to see your light shining. They could see your “good works” in:

  • Your warm smile they enjoyed awhile because it reflected the love of God.
  • Your courteous disposition that was void of suspicion and full of sincerity.
  • Your word that cheered them while others jeered them. You were the “you-can-do-it” voice they needed to hear.
  • Your hand that helped them stand: You reached down, to help them stand up.

If you missed my challenge on Thursday, you can accept it today.  Be a “light-bearer” for Jesus, so you can share the dazzling light of God-colors.

I would like to hear your comments:  What do you think of when you think of “God-colors?”

Your Piece of the World

03world-puzzleWhether you live in the USA, England, Europe, Africa, or Asia, there is one thing you hold in common.  You and the rest of humanity want peace in your piece of the world.

I know I’ve grown weary of all the protests, murders, shootings, and rapes that I see on the screen of my TV.  The headlines of the newspaper are depressing with stories of theft, scandals, and abused children.

Here is what I am going to do in my piece of the world today. Instead of being, “overcome by evil, I’m going to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).”  I am going to try my best to, “pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another (Romans 14:19).”  J.B. Philipps translated this same verse in these words:  “Let us concentrate on the things which make for harmony, and on the growth of one another’s character.”

Will you join me and make this your goal for today:

  • I will pursue and concentrate on bringing peace to my piece of the world.
  • When confronted with the off-key and unkind remarks of others, I will try to bring harmony to the situation.
  • I will do my best to be a positive presence in the life of those I encounter.

So what in the world are you going to do today?  I encourage you to bring peace to your piece of the world.