When It Looks Impossible

Pastor and author Chuck Swindoll said:

"We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations."

Author Dr. Max Dupree said:

"Most of us tend to see life the way it is, not the way it could be."

When the angel of the Lord promised 89 year old Sarah that she would give birth to a son, she laughed at the impossibility of a such an event.  But was it so impossible?

The angel said: "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (Genesis 18:14)

In the Gospel of Luke, the angel Gabriel promised a teenager, a virgin, named Mary that she would give birth to a Son; the Son of God, Jesus.   Joseph would be his stepdad.  How could this be?  He told her that her relative, Elizabeth, a woman well past childbearing age, was already six months pregnant (with her son, John the baptizer).

These common, ordinary women, were part of something bigger than themselves or their expectations of themselves.  Impossible stuff!

Gabriel said, "For with God, nothing will be impossible." (Luke 1:37)

There is a practical application for us in this lesson:  A vision is picture of the future that inspires passion in the present.  No vision means no passion.  No passion means no purpose.  And without vision the people perish. 

Ponder these points:

1. A church will go no farther than its vision.

2. A God-sized vision is bigger than any one of the congregation, and the whole church itself.

3. For what God decides, He will provide. 

Why do we expect so little of ourselves if Jesus really is Lord,  God the Father is Sovereign, and the Holy Spirit indwells every born again believer? 

The question to ask ourselves when we doubt is this: "Is my God too small?"  If you know the True God, no He is not.  Recognizing that the limits of what you are seeing are far exceeded by the Lord who sees everything.  It's a matter of trust.

In Isaiah 49, God chastises the remnants of the former nation of Israel.  Their enemies had conquered them and destroyed their temple and taken them captive.  Isaiah's prophesy foretold of this and reminded them that they were thinking too small. They wanted to be restored to what they used to be, to rebuild the former nation, which consisted of the tribes of Jacob.  God tells them that their mission is bigger than merely preserving their own existence:

"Indeed He says, 'It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.'"  (Isaiah 49:6)

Our mission as the people of God is to do more than merely exist.  We have a God-sized mission to bring the Light to a dark world.

 

 

 

 

Trophies and Their Stories

I have accumulated a lot of trophies over the years; especially as a kid and a teenager.  Baseball, oratorical contests, and even a citizenship award. In later years they were all clutter to me, and so I disposed of them.  But one small trophy remains.

It was my first trophy.  A marble block with a gold plated plastic cyclist mounted on top; first place for a bike race I won when I was nine years old.  It was at Federal Hill in South Baltimore, on the circular drive that is now covered over for a playground.  In that park, twenty years after that milestone race, I proposed to Marcella.  And then, twenty years after that, that bicycle was proudly ridden by our eleven year old daughter, Elizabeth.  What a story it could tell.

The trophy takes me back to the Christmas morning when I saw that "big" gold bicycle with the shiny chrome fenders and steel training wheels sitting in front of the tree.  It was a Sears Roebuck, single speed bike, with twenty-four inch wheels and white wall tires.  I was almost seven years old, probably eight, when Dad took off the training wheels and coached me in the back alley.  I only fell once.  My dad had imparted to me a skill that (forty-plus years later) would take me on a twenty-one speed bicycle from Maryland to Mississippi and Indianapolis to Clear Spring, Maryland over tens of thousands of miles, and through countless towns and cities.

That very first evening, just getting me to negotiate the alley from one end to the other was a victory.  Then there would be the race, the trophy, and other adventures.  I mastered that gold steed in riding and caring for it.  Dad helped me with my first flat tire and other repairs. 

My dad could fix anything, but there came a time in my adult years when I brought house and car problems to him, but he brought the bicycles to me.  In that, I think my dad taught me discipleship.  He was wise in many things, but once he introduced me to the bicycle, he encouraged me to become the wise one.  For him, a bicycle was a toy; he helped me to learn how to play with it and take care of it.  But being a city boy who longed to be in the country, that bike for me was a ticket to freedom, adventure, and discovery.  Like a cowboy and his horse, there I was with my bike.  It was no mere toy to me.

So, when I look at that little trophy, it means more to me now than it did when I was nine.

I don't remember the race.  I do remember Dad teaching me in the back alley to ride.  I recall our working together on it.  So the trophy wasn't about winning the race.  It represents how my father invested time in making me proficient enough to enter the race.  If he was alive today, I think I would have to admit that the trophy belongs to him.  Dad would say it was no big deal.

The trophy also reminds me of when Elizabeth was six and I told her that one day she would ride that "big" gold bike.  And a few years later, though she received a brand new pink bike with flower designs and a basket, she chose to ride the gold one. She would do tricks, riding it for miles, mastering it as if it had always been her own.  When she rode it I would vicariously ride it again through her.  I knew what she was experiencing.

I imagine Mom and Dad in that Sears store in 1966, picking out that bike for me.  They could never have known that one day their granddaughter would love that bike and make it her own.

Trophies are like memorials.  While celebrating an achievement, they help us to remember all that went into and led up to that victory.

When Joshua led the Israelites through the parted Jordan River into the Promised Land, he set up twelve stones, as a memorial to remind later generations of what God had done for them.  When future generations see it and ask, "What do these stones mean?" the story would be told of how God dried up the Jordan just as He did years earlier to the Red Sea.  Then "all the peoples of the earth (will) know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty" (Joshua 4:19-24).

Look at your trophies and awards.  Ask, "What does it mean?"  Winning the prize is not just about being better than your competitors.  It's also about being better than you were before; and fully appreciating how you came into that race... and with whom?

And why does that matter to you now?

 

Seeing What You See, But Missed

Do you get so used to having blessings at your disposal that you forget how blessed you are?

I love to explore historical places and imagine what life was like for those who came before us.  I am especially into George Washington these past few years.  After a long hot bike ride one day, as I was enjoying a well-earned hot shower, I got to thinking:  "George Washington probably never got to enjoy a hot shower."  They had tubs; the water would be hauled up from a creek or well, and heated on a fire.  And it was the slaves who did that; I doubt he handled that himself.  And for all the work they did to prepare his bath, they likely never had that benefit for themselves.

All those days and nights on dirt roads, on a horse, during the war, imagine how many of those soldiers rarely got to change clothes (if they had anything other than what was on their bodies).  There are accounts from Valley Forge and elsewhere of blood in the snow, because soldiers marched without shoes.  Some lacked shirts, blankets, socks.  Do you have all those things?  I do; and more than a few sets.

I notice things like running water, a thermostat for heat or air conditioning, as needed.  Imagine those folks back then, and in many places around the world today, where people don't have shelter from the elements, let alone climate control mechanisms. 

The summer when I biked around Cambridge, Maryland, and rode through Snow Hill, I thought of the African slaves working those fields in the heat.  In Snow Hill, there was a flourishing slave market at one time.  Imagine having your child taken and sold away to some plantation in the Carolinas,  never to be seen again. And no one consoled you at your loss or listened to your pleas, or the pleas of the child who begged their momma or daddy to stop what was happening. I imagine what that would be like for a helpless child, standing on a block to be sold into a life sentence of hard labor until it killed him or her.

I anticipated how uncomfortable that bike trip was going to be, because I would be visualizing these things and discovering the stories of the horrors that went on in our own home state.  I sometimes am in awe of God's grace and mercy on our young country in those early decades.  Some terrible cruelties were practiced against women and children and families who, because they were African slaves, were not considered human.  Many of the perpetrators of this trade and practice were church-going Christians.  And they treated their slaves worst than a farmer's mule or a cow.

President Lincoln believed that the blood shed of our Civil War was God's punishment on our nation for the sin of enslaving other human beings.  Read his second inaugural address.  I suppose God held out hope for us as a nation, that we would strive to live up to the ideals written in the Declaration of Independence. I dwell on this a lot, as I consider the blessings that I enjoy as "standard equipment" of the American life.  Studying history takes me back to real people, many nameless and forgotten, who lived real lives in desperately harsh conditions.

I think of them coming back to their dirt floor shack, with cold wind blowing through cracks in the log and stick walls.  Bugs and mice, and no clean water to bath in, or a comfortable bed on which to lay.  They gave birth in these conditions.  There was no Urgent Care, or CVS, or a hospital for them if they were sick or injured.  This filthy shack and the bare minimum of clothes and comforts was all these people had or were allowed.  And even that, they didn't own.  They didn't even own themselves or had rights to their own children.  Even the ancient laws about treatment of slaves in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus were more humane than how some of these Christian land owners were to their slaves. When I stop and really look at my house, my furnishings, the water pouring from a faucet, the car in the driveway, as well as the schools my kids attend, I think of these things.

What do you think about?  Do you express your complaints more than your gratitude? 

When I ride my bike and feel my legs propelling me along, I remember that so many will never enjoy this experience, for their legs don't carry them.  I feel the handle bars and brakes, and gears that I shift with my fingers so easily; and how blessed I am that I can.  I now ride a very swift "steed" on wheels; riding upon roads that were at one time dirt and mud, traversed by horses and wagons.

It's all so good.  We are all so blessed in many ways.  It helps me to remember all those who didn't have all of this back then and do not have it now.  I have to be intentional about looking at the blessings I easily see everyday, yet so often miss because they have become, to me, entitlements.  Yet when I really pay attention to what I have and what I can do, I must admit with deep humility and gratitude, that I am entitled to none of it.

No one is entitled to blessings.  That's why they are called blessings.

 

 

Confusing Activity With Accomplishment

Saint Simeon Stylites achieved notability in the 5th century AD for living 37 to 47 years (accounts differ) on top of a small platform near Aleppo in Syria. He started on one that was nine feet off the ground, gradually increasing the height till he was on one that was fifty feet up.  Though he was an ascetic monk who sought to get away from people so that he could pray and meditate, more people were drawn to him because of his unusual practice. When he died on September 2, 459 AD, a disciple of his found him stooped over in prayer.  Apparently as he was seeking God in prayer, he left his body and this earthly life to speak with Him in person.

Persons of prominence in the imperial government as well as in the church sought his counsel, received his letters, and respected his wisdom.  Commoners also would come to visit and consult with him.  They would climb a ladder to come within conversation range of him. 

He preached against profanity and usury and encouraged temperance and compassion. Quite a man of influence and yet he never left his perch to initiate any of it.  God works in mysterious ways through some very mysterious, even rather odd, people.  Such heroic self sacrifice can inspire a person to want to do some great thing in the name of a higher cause or purpose.

French poet, journalist and author, Anatole France, was a small boy when he read about Saint Simeon. It was an incredible act of holiness, the young Anatole thought; to live on top of a pole, on a small platform, for decades.  Kind of inspiring.

So he decided that he was called to perform a similar act of heroic holiness.  He went into the kitchen of his home, climbed up on top of a cabinet, and sat there.  He stayed all morning on his little perch.  At lunch time, he gave up on this idea and came down.  

His mother was quite intuitive and could discern what was going on and how her son was feeling about it. Sitting up there for those few hours seemed like a good idea at the time; however, it proved to be a more difficult commitment than he could keep.  Anatole's mother said, "Now you mustn't feel bad about this.  You have at least made the attempt, which is more than most people have done.  But you must remember that it is almost impossible to be holy only in your own house."

It is interesting what motivates a person to do something we would consider unusual.  The same God whom Saint Simeon worshiped and prayed to, is the God to whom I pray.  Simeon wanted to be close to God, to serve Him with his life and his energy.  And so do I.  But I have never been moved spiritually to climb atop a pole and sit there. Yet he was so moved.  The same God who conversed with him over 1500 years ago is with me today, moving me to do what I am called and gifted to do.

Young Anatole made an attempt to mimic a great accomplishment.  But he soon tired from the effort, having discovered that the activity is not the accomplishment.  His mother noted that true holiness (the life set apart, dedicated to God) is not achieved within the comfort of your own home (your comfort zone).  It's is to be in the world out there and remaining distinctly different from it.  For some that may mean climbing a pole.  But for most of us, it means, as Jesus says in His prayer for the disciples, to be in the world but not of it. (John 17:13-19)

Do you agree with the above ideal?  Consider that merely agreeing with the above statement is nothing.  How can you truly be in the world and not of it, if you don't know what that looks like in your life?  Unless you are spending time in God's word and in prayer, you can't know. How can such insight find its way into your heart and mind if allow no time nor spend any effort in opening yourself to it?

The Sound of Grief

I didn't understand her grief--so deep, so unrelenting-- and always the center point of her thoughts.  She couldn't appreciate all the good and the beauty of what she had, because she obsessed over what was now gone.  I think I understand her better now.  My mother died eleven years after my dad passed; yet, she never really was living during those years.  

Dad was always there.  Then, after he died, his death was always there, creating a silence;  as if silence could be created.  We understand silence as an absence of sound or the activity that produces it.  But I observed that silence can scream louder than audible sound.  You hear it from within and it's so loud inside you that you can't hear the audible sounds trying to reach you from without.

Where is Dad?  I want to talk to him.  Not so that he can hear me,  but so that I can hear him.  Because in hearing him, I can better understand what I am hearing within me.

He had a practical wisdom that came from enduring sad and difficult times.  Despite the struggles, he could smile, make jokes, and find possibilities in the midst of obstacles.  Even as he was dying from pulmonary fibrosis, struggling to breathe just to eat or to talk,  he could make light of it.  On one voicemail message to me he said he and Mom had been out dancing and that's why they missed my call. He panted as he chuckled.  Death from this disease would be  (and was) hard;  the frightening experience of suffocating when the lungs finally stopped receiving oxygen.  How did he not let it steal his joy?

I need to know because on some days far lesser things attempt to steal mine.

Certainly you've been there.  We usually console ourselves with the rather cruel thought that "there's always someone worse off than me". Wouldn't it be really awful if you were the one people were referring to, thankful that you're worse off than they are?   Bad for you, but good for them.

Mom thought she was the worst off of anyone.  Not because other people out there weren't struggling through tougher circumstances; but because she wouldn't see past her own.  It's like starving to death because you won't look inside the fully stocked refrigerator; or worse, you forget that you have one.

Observing this depth of grief during those eleven years, I would think of the Apostle Paul and his experience in a Roman prison. No heat, no three hots and a cot, no cable, and no basic comforts, which you can imagine on your own.  He had lost so much, yet he perceived those losses as gain toward a greater good.

To the church in Philippi, he wrote a rather upbeat letter:  He said:

(as Eugene Peterson paraphrases in The Message) "Don't fret or worry.  Instead of worrying, pray.  Let your petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.  Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.  It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (Philippians 4:4-7)

I have found this to be true.  Talk to God, through reading His word; and listen more than you speak.  God has perfect peace and contentment, which He freely gives if we come to Him.  The better I get to know Him, the more deeply I grasp that.

Paul goes on to say:

"Summing it up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious--the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse..." 

"Actually, I don't have a sense of needing anything personally.  I've learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances.  I'm just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little.  I've found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty.  Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am."  (Philippians 4:8-13,  The Message).

Whatever is happening, you don't have to let it steal your joy.

 

The Illusion That Eludes You

For much of my life I had been a perfectionist.  And I suffered for it greatly. So often I missed the fun of trying something different because I was afraid I would do it wrong.  I couldn't accept that just enjoying the attempt is a kind of perfection all its own.  How so? 

Perfection,  particularly in the biblical sense, simply means completion.  When you attempt worthy things or just have fun trying out, there's a perfecting process going on that stretches your boundaries, challenges your comfort zones, and makes you a more complete version of you.

If you are perfectionist,  you want to achieve perfection.  But, according to whose definition?  A perfectionist defines perfection as being without error or mistakes; flawless.   Some authority figure declares, "Here's the standard:  poor, fair, good and excellent (which means by implication, perfect)."  So you carefully choose which risks to take.  In school you'll balk at raising your hand to answer a question; suppose you're wrong?  You have to be right.  Right? 

You won't enter the contest; you might lose.  You subconsciously hope you're not picked for the team.  Suppose you fail or make a mistake?  It strikes right at your identity, doesn't it?

But then, maybe there is a good point being made here.

We tell an obsessively perfectionist child, "Just try your best.  That's all that matters."  Yet even with that assurance, they will still get upset with a 95 out of a possible 100.  Consider this: perfection is an illusion.  How so?  

You build on previous successes and failures.  Consider Babe Ruth, baseball's original home run record holder.  He had more strike outs than home runs during his career.  Or Thomas Edison, the inventor of the incandescent light bulb.  His "perfect" achievement was preceded by possibly a thousand attempts that didn't work.  His knowledge,  he is said to have declared, had been perfected in that he now knew a thousand ways how not to make a light bulb. Thus perfection is not a fixed destination nor a defining performance that evaluates a person's worth.

Here's the scale of effort as I see it:

1. trying your best.

2. doing your best.

3. achieving your best.

4. being perfect.

 

If #4 is not attained, as one may define it, then the previous three are rendered null and void.  Because some authority out there decides your performance score is not a 100%, then that means you are not perfect, not complete.  Therefore, you kick yourself for not trying harder, not doing better, and not achieving more. 

That elusive concept of perfection causes you to define yourself by what you do; a human doing,  rather than a human being.  Can ever find contentment in who you are?  You can only be who you are in the moment .  There is no perfect moment.  

Consider why a perfectionist is never really happy, never really content.  The goal of perfection is an illusion that eludes the pursuer. Perfection is not a goal.  It is a process. 

The late Dr. Wayne Dyer said, "If you are what you do, then if you don't,  you aren't."

The Apostle Paul was, in his former life as Pharisee, legalistic and focused on defining himself by his religious performance.  But then he realized the emptiness of that kind of life, counting his former achievements as "rubbish".  He realized that perfection, completion, is a process, which was not wholly dependent on his own efforts.

"Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has laid hold of me.  Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians:12-14)

Press on in Him, not in you. That is where your true completion may be found.

 

Starve the Darkness

After dropping off my daughter at a program in downtown Hagerstown, I went to my "field office" at Starbucks to do some work.  But when I arrived, I discovered that I had brought none of it with me.  After scolding myself for this mistake in planning, I realized that it wasn't a mistake.

I have learned that these unscheduled twists to my routine are often a message from heaven; that there was something else for me to do-- and somewhere else I needed to be. And it occurred to me that the place was downtown; so I went back.

Upon parking my car, I walked a few blocks up Washington Street toward the abortion clinic.  Some of the members from my church have been conducting a quiet prayer ministry out front, determining to be a positive presence and a loving support team for the women who come there.  They pray for the clinic staff as well as the orange-vested escorts who guard the entrance so they can quickly usher in any young woman who is abortion-minded.

I have never been part of a sidewalk prayer team.  But that day I felt compelled to walk to that clinic.  I think it takes courage to be there, whether you are an advocate or an opponent of what goes on inside.  Why?  Because there is a spiritual presence there.  A place that makes its profit from the killing of perfectly healthy babies is a dark business.  It's been my experience that most pro choice people I've known are not pro abortion; nor would they likely choose this for themselves.  But they believe the choice to have one's baby killed is a woman's right.  And so the argument goes.  I am being blunt, but let's be honest; that's what it is. It's not like getting your appendix out, which is not as traumatic; and you can get over that.   

However, this is not the point I want to ponder here today.

As I approached the area, the Holy Spirit impressed a message upon my heart: "You are going to have some interesting encounters today."  I saw four escorts in their orange vests, prepared to protect abortion-minded women from being spoken to or prayed for by the pro life team.  I felt sorry for the frightened, stressed out pregnant woman who encounters this scene. None of our people were protesting or holding up graphic pictures.  That's not our purpose.  

Within moments of my arrival, a young woman carrying a bag of clothes was heading to the recently closed Hope Resource Center to trade her items for a package of diapers, as she had done in the past.  Finding the place closed, she broke down and cried.  Financially strapped, behind on her rent, three preschool age and one preteen at home, and difficulty finding work, she was broken.  The older women consoled her, gave her some money and prayed with her.  Being a pastor I had knowledge of other agencies that can help and I could get some funds as well.

We located where she lived, got her some help, and have a relationship with her as she gets her life together.  In the New Testament book of Titus, chapter 2, older mature women of faith are told to mentor and teach the younger ones.  Some women have taken this young mom under their wing, visited her home, and encouraged her.  Simply put, it's all about relationships. You can curse the darkness or be the light that helps dispel it.

It is a sad welcome to our city,  to encounter on the main thoroughfare an abortion mill.  But ponder this: businesses close when they have no customers.  That day I saw a group of God's people love a single mom of four through her crisis.  This is doable, for it is what God has called and equipped us to do.

Meanwhile there are other moms in crisis coming to Washington Street in fear, feeling they have no other "choice" but that clinic.

Imagine if we who claim to love God would overwhelm this dark space in town with love.  If, for Christ's sake,  these women encountered LOVE there, what could happen?.   By loving kindness, and prayerful presence,  what if we simply dried up the demand for the services being offered?  Adds a whole new meaning to pro choice.                                             

Spoiled By The Blessings

Do you get so used to having blessings at your disposal that you forget how blessed you are? 

Do you have food in your cupboard?  Does clean water run from your faucet?  Do you realize that in the United States, even in the wealthier ones like Maryland, that there are still people living in houses that don't have indoor plumbing?  Do you believe that you are entitled-- that you have rights--to these things.  Well, there's a spoiled attitude right there.  Not that this is wrong; it just is. 

You are a blessed person. Wouldn't it be a good exercise to consider the simpler things that you and I so readily and regularly take for granted, and just dwell on them a bit?  

I remember when I bought my first house, a two bedroom townhouse in East Baltimore.  One day I sat on a step in the stairwell and just looked at the walls on either side of me.  I touch one side and just thought, "Wow, I have a wall."  It was really cool.  This is my wall.  I felt a sense of overwhelming gratitude.  A lot of people around the world don't even have a house or an apartment, or even a room to rent.

The wall felt good.  Being thankful for it and the rest of the house connected to it, lifted my spirits.  I have found over the years that a grateful heart is generally a happy heart.  The reverse is certainly true as well.  An unthankful person is an unhappy person.

There is good advice from the Apostle Paul, as he writes to the Philippian church from prison.

"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds through Christ Jesus." (Phil 4:6-7)

Then he says to focus your mind:

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, ...noble, ...just, ...pure, ... whatever things are lovely, ...of good report, if there is anything praiseworthy--meditate on these things. ..these do, and the God of peace will be with you." (v.8-9)

There is so much treasure laying about.  How much better off you would be if you realized how much better off you already are.

 

Things Are Not Always as They Seem

Many years ago, I was riding my ten speed bike on a long tour through Western Maryland into West Virginia.  My bike was carrying about 35 lbs in the rear panniers.  Heading home over the Catoctin Mountains, I'd had ridden through a series of long climbs and fast descents.  I was a bit worn, as the late summer rains began to fall. Turning onto a long road that would lead me beyond the grand hills to a roller coaster of ups and downs for miles to come, I saw a yellow diamond shaped warning sign through the rain drops.

I'm wet, and tired, and so as I look up ahead at the sign, it reads, "Steep Hills Ahead". 

What?? I said aloud, "Really?"  Then I looked again.  It didn't say that at all. 

I had seventy miles to go, in the rain, and I had just come over some hills. So my mind was already anticipating an extended time of suffering.  So my mind projected that onto the sign.

When we're going through a hard time, on a long stretch of life's road, our minds can project into the situation negative thoughts, preconceived notions, and even prophecies of impending doom.  How often have you made a hard situation even more difficult because you thought you saw what was there or thought you heard a word about it?

The one thing we can count on when we are not sure about anything else is the Lord.  In the midst of a destroyed and decimated Jerusalem, Jeremiah writes:

Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed because His compassions fail not.  They are new every morning.  Great is Your faithfulness." (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Things are never quite as they seem because God is the only One who can see everything that is there.

They'll Learn in Retrospect

This morning I had to remember something that I needed to get done in the afternoon.  So I repeated an abbreviated statement to myself, a summary of the task, FIVE times.  Mrs. McCullough,  my third grade teacher at Thomas Johnson Elementary School in South Baltimore, taught us that if you wanted to remember something,  repeat it to yourself five times.

Mrs. McCullough had white hair, wore a white button down sweater and looked like somebody's grandma (probably was).  Sweet and loving, she made learning enjoyable.  I have used that five times memory principle for ...well...a long time (like 50 years, can you believe it?).  Whenever I needed to remember to remember something vitally important, I did what she said.  And as far as I know (or can remember), it has worked.

I met a father of two daughters, who were older teenagers at the time, lament that his kids blew off his teaching and, even more hurtful, his values.  They blindly and arrogantly plowed on with their lives, making choices that he thought would certainly harm them.

I was single, in my late twenties at the time, and I said, offering some encouragement from my own experience, "Well, maybe they will learn in retrospect."  They weren't hearing his wisdom at the time, but someday his words may replay in their heads, and descend to their hearts.

That's my hope as a dad myself.  I now have one college-age daughter and another in middle school.  Two different stages of mental impairment are represented in that, largely due to the blindness caused by immaturity.  I remember how smart I thought I was when I was their age.  And I keep that in mind whenever I try to impart some wisdom to either of them.  After all, how can someone as out of touch and stupid as their father tell them anything about real life?

How do I impart what I have learned, especially through mistakes and poor choices, without sounding preachy?  How do I speak of what is right and good to a determined teen who thinks she knows what's right for her, and that what feels good now must therefore be good?

Now, after my parents are gone, I hear their words and I get their points. And I hate to admit that.!  But what I have learned to realize in this is that my own kids, like me, may despise Dad now, may think I'm out of touch, and may blow off whatever wisdom I may share.  But somewhere deep within them, there is a storage place.  And from that place, at perhaps just the right time, they will recall "something Dad said about ..." and they will learn in retrospect.

The principle stated in Proverbs gives me hope for the long haul:  "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6)

The key word there is, "when he is old".  It may take that long for the stubborn, the rebellious, and the proud one to learn what they always had known was right.

The Best Holiday Diet

My title seems to imply food and some new trick to avoid eating it.  But actually it's a diet of thinking.  You consume with your mind and your spirit many more harmful things than excess calories. Are you finding this time of year to be a painful experience you must endure rather than look forward to with joy? It eats at you.

Bo Stern, author of When Holidays Hurt, offers an insightful suggestion.  If you are entering into this holiday season with dread because you are anticipating a painful experience, you can be proactive in how you live through it.

She suggests fasting.  Not a fast of food, but a fast of negativity.  This is not to deny that your losses are real and the emotions are raw;  the weight of your grief still sits on your heart.  No, all of the realities you have experienced are not going to magically disappear or change back into what used to be in better times.  However, you don't have to relinquish authority over your life to the power of your reality.  You can give it its place, a proper place, which recognizes its existence; but that place need not be at the center of your moment.

Moment?  Yes, think of it; you can only live in the moment you currently occupy.  An hour ago will not repeat itself.  There are no "do-overs"; and the hour from now can't be touched until it arrives.  But this moment-- a single moment-- is within your grasp and can be influenced by your choices.

There's an old saying: "Every cloud has a silver lining." 

I have observed that habitually negative people can find a cloud within that silver lining.  Have you noticed how negative people drain your energy?  Do you realize that sometimes you are that person?  But you can change this by deciding to fast.  Fast from negative comments.

Do you really need to say "that"?   You can avoid using negative words to describe anything.  You could just zip your lips.   Abstain from dwelling on what's wrong or what's missing.  Decide to not criticize, condemn, or complain about anything.

Instead, determine to worship.  God is there with you in that moment.  Find Him in the room and dwell with Him.  Be thankful.  Feast on gratitude.

From a Roman prison,  the Apostle Paul, wrote to a house church in Philippi: 

"Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I will say, rejoice!  Let your gentleness (kindness) be known to all ...  The Lord is at hand.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:4-7)

That'show you handle your negative stuff.  Now, here's how to think; he says:

"...whatever things are true...noble (honorable)...just...pure (acceptable to God)...lovely...of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy--meditate on these things."  (v. 8)

The best spiritual diet affects what comes out of your mouth.

 

 

Getting Started

Today my new book just came out,  Ponderings of a Pedaling Pastor.  This blog is a continuation of the purpose my book was written to serve: encouraging readers to ponder the typical and the easily overlooked.  Sacred moments don't always start out that way.  But given time and thought, you can find a gem. 

I tell a story in my book about a bike ride on Maryland's Eastern Shore, during which I was hunting for a restroom.  Over there, most businesses in the rural areas are closed.  So I asked a man at a gas station convenience store for directions.  That led me to his little hotel in a small town.  Wound up staying over, meeting a new friend, and discovering a quaint little town I otherwise would have passed by. All of that because I asked where I could find a restroom.

In 2016, I met a pastor at our local Starbucks.  He was driving from Fort Edward, NY on his way to see family down south.  Our brief conversation led to him giving me his address and inviting me to ride to his home if I ever do some cycling in upstate New York.  Because of that offer, I rerouted my planned summer bicycle trip to explore American Revolution sites in the Hudson River Valley, with the goal of reaching Fort Ticonderoga.  The end goal was to stay at his place and meet his family in Fort Edward.

I didn't make it that far, but I did get to see the Saratoga Battlefield as a result of a delay caused by a bike repair issue (an unexpected detour).  And I did make it to his home in Fort Edward. 

My trip introduced me to incredible stories of heroism from the Revolutionary era.  I discovered that Benedict Arnold was a brave and amazing general; a war hero.  If he hadn't sold out to the British, we'd revere him as much as we do Nathan Hale, or even George Washington.

But all of this and the adventuresome 300+ mile bike ride I took that summer, which was gorgeous, came as a result of striking up a conversation with a man at Starbucks. 

I tell stories like these in my book and will tell more in this blog.  It's not just about what I do and where I've gone on a bicycle.  It's also about just taking time to think.  There's so much we miss because we just don't slow down and ponder it awhile.