Captivated by Creation

 

cactus wren with beak full
Cactus wren, Arizona

I love the high desert where we live: comical cactus wrens dart through the underbrush, their beaks crammed with grass and weeds for their nests; soaring night skies glitter with stars; impossibly fragile flowers adorn our desert plants with astounding color. Even the harvester ants—that arrived in countless numbers and with interminable energy to pillage my newly planted lawn and carry off every last seed—are evidence of a brilliant creator.

 

Imagine being a witness to creation! This is what I imagine…

Long ago and far away, before the first tadpole wiggled in a ditch or the first bright green blade of grass pierced the earth’s crust, there was nothing at all, anywhere. Time had not begun.Light lay locked away in the treasure vaults of God’s mind.

Only God existed somewhere, somehow.

Some time, God began a journey, an amazing journey. He decided to take a walkabout through the outback of nothingness. When God began to wade through the void, in his wake swirled glittering galaxies, spinning solar systems, and worlds without number. The stars shone with the white-hot fire of new birth, but their brilliance was only a residue of God’s presence. His glory was so vast that his every movement sent showers of stars streaming into a million orbits.

For centuries, millenniums, perhaps billions of years, God walked, leaving suns and moons in his footprints. If we had been observers of this fantastic journey, we never would have guessed that these marvels of the heavens were only the forerunners of God’s creative genius! There was a moment when our world was set into the infinite vastness of his heavens like a turquoise jewel on dark velvet. To this spot God focused his more intense attention.

Great mountains heaved themselves up from lifeless seas and belched lava and smoke into the pristine air. This small planet seemed to be in the throes of becoming something. Clearly it was being readied for some grand occasion. But what?

In God’s perfect timing, it was finally prepared. Rich soil covered the ground. Warm sunshine bathed the hills and valleys.

Suddenly life overflowed God’s hands in unbelievable profusion. Fragile tendrils of plant life lifted themselves from the soil and hung quivering in the golden light. Great ferns spread out their green sails. Luscious fruit hung heavy on a thousand branches. Orchids set the treetops ablaze with purple and white fire. An aromatic fragrance filled the air, a smell of moisture, sweetness, and life.

redwood-forest- (2016_07_21 01_37_36 UTC)
Redwood forest in Northern California

Crystal rivers and lakes reflected the transparent azure of the sky. The oceans seethed with living organisms, and soon flashed with the sudden movements of silver-sided fish and carefree dolphins. Ladybugs whirred into view, heading for richly petaled flowering trees. Their tiny gossamer wings, beating a thousand times per minute, brought them in for flawless six-point landings as though they had practiced for weeks. When they alighted, their wispy sails folded away like little parachutes under bright red enameled wing covers. Chipmunks skittered across the meadows as though blown out of a chute. Gazelles bounded in great circles, celebrating grace and life. Tortoises appeared like living lumps along the shore. A beating of wings heralded the arrival of flocks of iridescent birds, resplendent parrots, and graceful flamingos, a moving rainbow of color. Spotted fawns stooped to eat in the mottled shade encircling lush pastures.

In the words of master poet James Weldon Johnson[1]:

Then God walked around,
And God looked around
On all that he had made.
He looked at his sun,
And he looked at his moon,
And he looked at his little stars;
He looked on his world
With all its living things,
And God said: I’m lonely still.

Then God sat down–
On the side of a hill where he could think;
By a deep, wide river he sat down;
With his head in his hands,
God thought and thought,
Till he thought: I’ll make me a man!

Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;

Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.

Perhaps these words seem fanciful to you, lacking as they are in any scientific basis. Since people first arrived on the scene, some have had trouble believing God is behind our world and the universe. Today we worship science instead of God. Doesn’t scientific evidence that goes back billions of years cast doubt on the Creation Story? Not to me. I think it takes a far greater leap of faith to say it all happened from a Big Bang. A big explosion of what, exactly, and where did that whatever it was come from? And what  caused the Big Bang? How can an arbitrary explosion explain the phenomenal mathematics and science built into every single living creature? A Big Bang cannot explain the uniqueness of billions of people, each with unique fingerprints, voice prints, retina prints, and not to mention personalities. A Big Bang cannot explain intelligence, creativity, love, or loyalty. It was not happenstance that created birds that instinctively know how to build nests (every species a different type of nest, of course), or to migrate over eight thousand miles as does the arctic tern, using celestial cues from the sun and stars, the earth’s magnetic field, and mental maps.

I was reading in 1 Corinthians recently and reread this verse, “God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:21).

Truth must be revealed. God can neither be proved nor disproved. Each of us must choose to believe. The psalmist wrote, “the heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship” (Psalm 19:1).

Every bird I see with its intricate feathering pattern and its ingenious design that allows flight; every plant I see with the ability to synthesize light into chlorophyll and produce fruit;

butterfly scales
Scales from the wing of a sunset moth from Madagascar. If you photograph these from the opposite side, they would be different colors.

every time I contemplate the fragile beauty of a brilliant butterfly whose magnificent colors are made up of microscopic scales; every time I contemplate nature, I thank God for his wisdom, vast intelligence, and pleasure in creating such a gorgeous world for us to live in.

George Bernard Shaw, that brilliant playwright and self-professed atheist, was once asked, “What if, when you die, you discover that you have been wrong and there really is a God?” He answered, “I will tell him that he gave us insufficient evidence.”

Some might respond by saying—or thinking—”brilliant retort.” No. It’s a tragic, smart alecky reply. To be so intelligent and yet be blind to spiritual truth is heartbreaking. You cannot discern God with human wisdom. But you can see him everywhere if your eyes and your heart are open.

 

 

[1] Excerpt from “The Creation” by James Weldon Johnson

God Takes a Hand

Do you ever watch movies over and over again? Sleepless in Seattle is one of our go-to movies when we want to relax with something that is heartwarming and tension-free. A recurrent theme throughout this charming story is that destiny controls our lives. Whether it grandmother’s wedding dress that rips when Annie tries it on (and her mother says, “It’s a sign.”) or the windows of the Empire State Building that light up in a heart shape at just the right moment (and Annie murmurs, “It’s a sign.”), many in this film seem to believe that an impersonal force, fate is running their lives.

It is fascinating that many people assign control of their destiny to fate, or even Mother Nature, but have trouble believing that God could take interest in them. Or that there even is a God.

I throw my lot in with those who see God everywhere. We see His diverse and ingenious handiwork in the lavish color of butterflies, the unique perfection of snowflakes, and the amazing precision of our solar system’s orbiting planets. We see his love of beauty in the majestic vistas of Sedona and the glittering desert skies.

Most of all, however, we see his love for each of us in his intense interest in every detail in our lives. One man named Abraham dared to believe, thousands of years ago, that God was talking to him, and today, in 2017, millions believe that God talks to us. Of course, we regularly turn to the Bible for instruction; but I’m talking about the amazing and intensely personal ways he orchestrates things to help and guide us.

Through our lifetimes—Karon’s and mine—we have witnessed it repeatedly. Come with me as I recall a few of the amazing ways God has taken a hand.

Guidance

  • I grew up in a home that witnessed God at work. So right from the beginning I asked God to guide my life. When I wondered which elective to choose in high school, I asked my mother how to find God’s direction in prayer. She told me about her prayers for direction, including marrying my dad, and said she would pray with me. I chose Spanish. Years later this choice would become very important in my life.

 

  • God answered my prayers about whom I should marry. Even in grade school I started praying that, when the time would come, I would know who the girl was for me. (I thought that Midge. Moose’s girlfriend in the “Archie” comic strip, was pretty cute.) Years later as I made plans to attend Warner Pacific College (WPC), a Christian school in Portland, Oregon, I felt I perhaps would meet someone there. Interestingly, Karon Neal, a pastor’s daughter from California, was also praying about her eventual husband. She wasn’t planning to go to college since a high school counselor had told her she wasn’t college material. (Can you imagine?) However, a young man she occasionally dated disagreed with the counselor, telling her that she was great college material. So, with her Dad’s help, she applied to two colleges. He suggested that they pray for God’s direction by asking him to arrange for the right college to accept her first. She received her acceptance from WPC on Friday and left that weekend for Portland. Monday, her acceptance came from Anderson College! Yours truly was at WPC. We were both given jobs in the school cafeteria, and that’s where lightning struck.

 

  • Many people, including me, assumed that I would follow in my parents’ missionary footsteps. After Karon and I were married, I began to question this idea. In fact, I began to realize it wasn’t my idea at all. Thoroughly confused about my future in my senior year at college, I dropped out until I could decide what might be next. I looked for jobs in fields I thought would interest me, and worked several for short periods of time in display (decorating windows back in the day when department stores did that), in interior design, and then selling custom draperies and carpeting. During these months Karon had our first little girl and we moved to Salem, Oregon where the last job offer was. Karon’s parents just happened to live in Salem, too. Hmmmm. Months later we were staying at their house with Karon’s two younger brothers for a week or so and the phone rang. It was Cliff Tierney, a pastor in Southern California who was good friends with Karon and her family. He was calling to ask Karon’s Dad about what he thought was my potential of serving as his Minister of Music and Youth. But Karon’s folks were out of town, and I answered the phone. And so, without even getting an opinion from them, Cliff invited us to become his associates and gave us a couple of weeks to think and pray about it.  And that’s how we moved to southern California. Being a youth and music minister was not on my radar, but God took a hand, launching us into a career that would last forty-three years.

 

  • Fast forward fifteen years. Karon and I had three children and both worked full-time jobs. She was between jobs, a period of over six months, and finances were tight. We told no one, of course.

I was doing a lot of speaking at conventions and camp meetings that summer, and was at Warner Camp in Michigan, preparing to preach the evening’s message. I felt the keen gaze of a woman about halfway back, maybe twenty rows. It was very intense and rather unusual. After the service, she came forward and asked to speak with me. She said, “I have a word from the Lord for you.” The phrasing was unusual in my circles and her prophetic mannerism and piercing eyes made me nervous. She continued kindly, “As I prayed for you before the service began, God told me that you and your wife are concerned about finances. He wants you to know that He’s got this. Don’t worry.” With a smile, she added, “that’s all.”

Months later after she found work, God reminded Karon that, during this six-month period that she was at home, all three of our kids recommitted their lives to God.

Assistance

  • When the girls were little and before Jon was born, we moved from Oregon to Southern California to begin our very first solo pastorate. For those unfamiliar with this highway, I-5 travels through some breathtaking scenery with vistas of snow-capped mountain peaks amid soaring Douglas fir trees. It’s possible to drive it all at once, but even back then Karon and I were not ones for driving through the night. We had decided to stop about halfway, making it a two-day trip. Karon drove the car with the girls in it and I piloted a U-Haul truck jam packed with our belongings. Just before we pulled out of Portland, a friend brought over a little gray kitten as a gift to the girls. It was in a little box with a food and water dish and they were delighted. Karon and I exchanged baleful looks, but we were trapped. There was absolutely no room in the car, and so Dusty, the recently christened kitten, joined the furniture in the truck. She was securely settled and we checked on her every time we stopped.

As we approached the town of Yreka the truck began to make menacing groans and finally wheezed to a stop along the town’s icy roads at a gas station that also rented and repaired U Haul trucks: the only one in town, we discovered. Karon scouted around for a motel while I waited for the mechanic to look at the truck. We gingerly opened the back of the truck to check on Dusty. She was carsick and her cage had become dislodged. Her frantic little form was soon cuddled into the girls’ arms and we decided the mess would have to be cleaned up later. We were all freezing and Karon and the girls retreated to the car. The mechanic had examined the truck and now shook his head mournfully. “Fuel pump,” he muttered. “Totally destroyed.” It’ll probably be at least two days before we can get a replacement.”  My shoulders sagged. Have you noticed that bad news is always worse when you’re cold, hungry, and tired? After a moment, he snapped his fingers and said, “Wait a minute. I have one fuel pump I took off another truck that might get you there. It’s a long shot and so you’re probably out of luck. But let me check.”

He trundled off into the warmth of the garage and closed the door. I shivered over to Karon and told her that we might have to bunk here in this frozen paradise for a while. We looked at the girls, who were happily playing with Dusty. Could even this cat have been part of God’s strategy?

“Hey!” It was the mechanic. “What are the chances? I never would have believed it! This is exactly the fuel pump you need. Somebody is certainly looking out for you. Tell you what. I’ll work on this late and should be able to get you on the road by 10 a.m.” And he did.

What were the chances that a small-town mechanic would have just one fuel pump in his shop, and that it would work on our truck? God took a hand.

Finances, with guidance thrown in for free

  • In 1972, we drove from California to Indiana so I could attend seminary. Another long drive. We still had two girls, but no cat. (Sadly, Dusty had died in L.A.) Karon was pregnant with our third child. A benefactor had paid my first year’s tuition and we had sent ahead one month’s deposit on a rental house. Besides that, we were pretty much broke. However, we felt God was leading us and we firmly believed that He would take care of us. I had a part-time job as an associate pastor lined up that might just pay for food and rent. After that? We trusted God to handle it.

As the baby grew, Karon lined up an obstetrician. The appointment was $10. We knew the delivery would be by Caesarian section, which would be several days in the hospital and surgical expenses. Of course, we had no health insurance and few resources. One day a cashier’s check for $500 appeared anonymously in our church mail box. We’re still not sure who did it, but God knows. Two weeks before the delivery date, the doctor examined Karon and pronounced her in fine shape. He was going on vacation but would be back in plenty of time.

The next night Karon went into hard labor! That big baby was not going to endure two more weeks in his cramped quarters. With our obstetrician out of town, we drove to the hospital. Some doctor would surely be on duty. It so happened that the doctor on call at Community Hospital was Dr. Robert McCurdy, the finest surgeon in Anderson. We had not met him; however, he had served as a missionary doctor in Kenya when my parents were there and he held them in high regard. He delivered our son, Jonathan, who, at 8 lbs., 11 oz. was presented to us by a smiling nurse as a “big, fat boy.” For over a year our little girls had been praying for a brother.

Interestingly, we never got a bill from Dr. McCurdy’s office. After a couple of months, we inquired, only to be told that Dr. McCurdy had written off the bill for his services, including surgery, as a gift to my parents in appreciation for their influence on his life. God takes a hand.

Even with these generous gifts, many other bills had accumulated. Around that time Dr. Sid Guillén, head of the language department of Anderson College, called to ask me if I would teach two units of beginning Spanish for second semester. He was in a bind. He certainly must have been desperate to ask me. I’m not sure where he heard that I had a Spanish minor with my undergraduate degree, but he had, and I said yes. Remember earlier I mentioned that God had directed me to choose Spanish as my elective in high school? Do I even need to mention that the income from those two classes paid every outstanding balance we had, and in full?

Were these all just coincidences?

Some people will choose to believe these were all just happy coincidences. Not us! All of our lives we have asked God to help us, to save us, and to direct us. At the wedding altar we committed our lives not only to each other, but to him, until death do us part. And because of His generous love, deep commitment to people, and because He always keeps his word, we have not once lacked for any true need. No one leads a charmed life and many problems and difficulties have come our way. But God promises to be with us always, night and day.

Not everyone has the guarantee of this marvelous protection, and we don’t have it because we earned it or deserve it. God gives it to those who follow him and put him first. If you do that, you, too, will experience this extraordinary kind of living. This is the promise: “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear….  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matt. 6:25,33).

William Cullen Bryant summarized it in his classic poem, “To a Waterfowl:”

He, who, from zone to zone, 

Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight, 

In the long way that I must trace alone, 

Will lead my steps aright.

 

 

The Elephant Whisperer

dream-flyingHave you ever awakened from a vivid dream that seemed, after you were conscious, to be totally ridiculous? As I was growing up, I often dreamed that I was flying, an exhilarating experience swooping up and over treetops and soaring high above the clouds with the birds. I wish I could lasso that dream again! Sometimes I dreamed that after tying up snakes they grew legs through their ropes and ran after me! As I grew older, I began to have that awkward dream in which you find yourself naked in a crowd.

In my teenage years my dreams included sexual fantasies that embarrassed me upon waking up. Usually they included no one I knew. Only once do I remember a truly frightening dream. Our family was being chased by a crazed madman with a knife through endless rose gardens and mazes of a huge mansion. I woke up right after I had stabbed him to death. I was out of breath and wet with perspiration.

One of my most memorable and revealing dreams occurred as I was sinking into major depression. I was on a high suspension bridge over a murky river at the bottom of a rocky gorge. The cold water was foaming and churning far below. Many people were on the bridge with me, all members of the church I was pastoring at the time. One young woman ran to the edge, climbed over the railing and jumped, plunging like a rock. Most of those on the bridge rushed over to me, calling out that I should to jump in after her to save her. I knew that my jumping could not help her, and probably would be suicidal. Even so, after a moment of agonizing indecision, I jumped. I woke up as I was falling.

Today my dreams tend to end in frustration: e.g., I am ready to officiate at a funeral and look in the coffin only to discover that I have no idea who the person is; or I open my Bible to preach in front of a large crowd and my notes are completely blank. For several months last year I had severely troubling dreams which left me feeling hopeless and lost.

 Where do dreams come from and what do they mean?

The Bible sometimes describes the purpose of dreams as the foretelling of some future event, such as Pharaoh’s dreams that predicted seven years of famine. Daniel was able to tell Nebuchadnezzar the meaning of his fantastic dream which explained the future downfall of his Kingdom and the eventual rise of the Kingdom of God. Joseph, Mary’s husband, was directed specifically through dreams both before and after his marriage.

Modern psychology has opened doors to dream interpretation. It seems that our subconscious mind uses sleep to process our experiences and emotions. Many dreams are shared by people of all nations and generations: they include falling, flying, being chased, taking a test for which we’re not prepared, and that dream about being naked. Generally, these dreams are easily understood, as they express feelings common to humankind.[1] Normal dreams are forgettable, often nonsensical, and of little consequence. However, dreams can be complex and difficult to understand. Dreams can also be frightening or bothersome, leaving you troubled and fretful. Traumatic experiences often replay over and over in dreams, further exhausting us. War experiences, abuse, deprivation—all of these slog their way through our dreams. And dreams occasionally reflect darker events that reflect severe emotional imbalance, psychosis, or even demon possession.

 The Elephant Whisperer

John, a pastor friend of ours, said recently that our emotions are like an elephant and we are the rider/handler, or mahout. The rider has the implements of control, yet sits in a precarious position because the elephant is much stronger. Most mahouts today live in India and Thailand. A recent study of these mahouts divulged that most of them were raised with the elephants they handle, and all of them claimed a deep love for their animals. Yet an overwhelming 91.7% have been attacked/injured by their elephant. Among the mahouts who have been attacked by an elephant, 56.7% were attacked more than three times and remaining 35% were attacked one or two times. According to the nature of injuries sustained, 45% of the respondents received major injuries, 26.7% sustained minor injuries, and the remaining 20% of them were grievously injured with a resultant handicap.[2]

Our emotions are like those elephants. We are familiar with them since they’ve been around as long as we can remember. Yet they can catch us off guard, wound us, or even provoke despair and sadness. Dreams move like shadows, nighttime waves on an ocean shore, difficult to understand because of the darkness of the subconscious. They are unpredictable reflections of our elephants/emotions but often reveal what we cannot see in our waking moments. Dreams are neither right nor wrong. They rise in our deepest psyche where our truest personality resides. Can their meanings be harnessed? Is it possible to tame their frightening episodes or banish their lusty images?

A horse or dog whisperer is someone who has an almost mysterious ability to communicate with horses or dogs. They can communicate on equine or canine levels to bring difficult animals under control and to rehabilitate animals that seem beyond help. Jesus is our elephant whisperer. He not only can tame our emotions but he brings sense out of them and orders them into life-giving patterns. Furthermore, Jesus moves effortlessly through our subconscious world and clearly sees the sources and meanings of our dreams. He can help us control them, banish them, and learn from them.

Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 2 that because of the Holy Spirit, we have access to the very thoughts of God. In chapters 14-16 of his gospel, John explains the work and purposes of the Holy Spirit: God’s constant companionship, his desire to open our hearts and minds to God’s truth, and his superhuman ability to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Paul teaches that those whose lives are under the control of the Holy Spirit—our Elephant Whisperer—will enjoy love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control (Galatians 5:22-23).

 But back to dreams…

Remember my disturbing dream of the bridge and the jumper? I was led to a godly counselor who helped me understand that this dream revealed that I had the Messiah Complex: I was operating with the unconscious belief that I was personally responsible for the decisions and actions of my church members. If they did well, I rejoiced. If they made bad choices, I took the blame. The counselor helped me see how ridiculous this was, and I, in turn, have been able to better manage my life. Depression was the end result of this complex, and now I lead a more normal life with the help of medication.

elephant_rider_by_gorosart-d7azk1i At bedtime I ask God specifically to control my dreams. That children’s prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I ask the Lord my soul to keep….” is a good idea. God revealed to me that I should ask Karon and my children to pray with me to help control my severely troubling dreams that oppressed me for several weeks. I also have learned to wake myself up if a dream begins going toward that bad ending.

I said earlier that dreams are neither right nor wrong. But they can express horrible emotions or gratuitous sexual fantasies that feed the evil tendencies we all find within us. In that same nighttime prayer—or perhaps throughout the night—ask God to remove all that is profane from your dreams. (For ideas, read Galatians 5:16-21).

How about your dreams? Perhaps the Elephant Whisperer will open a window for you into this mysterious world.

 

[1] Meaning of dreams: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dreamscloud/meaning-of-dreams_b_4504512.html

[2] http://asiannature.org/sites/default/files/OR%2014%20Elephant%20attacks%20on%20mahouts%20in%20Kerala.pdf

You Matter to God

Does God really care about all of the details of your life? After all, our world’s population is increasing at 80 million per year! The headlines scream about refugees, wars, terrorism, hunger, and that we’re running out of clean water. With so many big things for God to take care of, how can he possibly care about my MRI or your granddaughter’s college tuition? Well, he can.

God is up for it.

  • collage for DNA copyWhen you think for a moment about our world, it’s quickly apparent that the world’s Creator has no trouble with details. In fact, He obviously has a passion for details! (Stay with me for a moment!) Our world’s vast and impossibly complicated ecosystems function in scientific and biological precision to support life in millions of ways. For example, the earth is exactly the ideal distance from the sun to support life. Think of all of the details that have to be just right for life to exist, whether it’s gravity, sunlight, the salinity in the oceans or composition of the soil, it all works perfectly together. Supporting this whirling planet overflowing with vibrant life forms is the mathematics of God. When we tap into the tiniest part of it, we find things like this. (There are endless examples.)Plants almost seem to perform mathematical calculations, allowing them to use up their starch reserves at a constant rate so that they run out almost precisely at dawn when photosynthesis can begin again.
  • Ram's hornsRam’s horns grow in a precise spiral and geometrical alignment to the animal’s head so that, even though they can weigh thirty pounds (more than all of the animals bones weigh together), the animal is never unbalanced.
  • fibonacci1The centers of sunflowers and daisies grow in opposing spirals. They are not only beautiful to look at, but mathematically perfect, allowing the maximum number of seeds to grow in the least possible amount of space. Some sunflowers have 55 different spirals going left and 21 going right.
  • DNA is the genetic code that makes every living thing either an animal or plant. The arrangement of DNA in that meticulous double helix determines whether a plant will be a geranium or soybean and whether an animal will be a fish or an amoeba. I’ve added an endnote with a layman’s explanation of this[1], but let’s just say that God creates and arranges these unbelievably complex cells so that we, every person, animal and plant, is unique. 7.4 billion people—and counting—and none of us will ever be like another, each of us has unique fingerprints, tongue prints, toe prints, and capillary patterns in our retinas, among hundreds of other unique features.
  • starsGod has named every star. “He determines the number of the stars: he gives to all of them their names.” Psalm 147:4 (Science’s best guess of how many stars are in the “observable” universe: 10 trillion galaxies times 100 billion stars in each galaxy…and no one knows how large the universe is…)
  • God catalogs every single creature. “I know every bird on the mountains,and all the animals of the field are mine.” Psalm 50:11 (8.7 million species and counting. Again…an estimate)
  • hair“And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” Luke 12:7 (NLT) (The most recent estimate I could find is that each of us has about 37.2 trillion cells in our body)

 

Not only can God do it, He loves to do it…

God is crazy about us

God misses nothing and has planned every detail of our present and future. He takes supreme delight in doing this and has been doing it since before the dawn of time.

How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. [Italics mine] (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son (Ephesians 4:1 The Message). 

That lavish gift-giving culminated in our glorious and incomparable Christ.

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:16 NLT).

God’s fabulous purpose in all of this was to remake Eden, i.e. heaven, where humankind would dwell with him in a perfect world at last. Jesus explained this to his disciples in John 14:1-3:

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am (NLT).

So what does this mean to you?

  • You are not alone and you never will be alone.
  • You never need to wonder whether your tiniest thoughts, desires, or hurts—seemingly unimportant to anyone else—are too insignificant for God. If He even keeps track of the hairs on your head don’t you think that he wants to know everything about you?
  • God longs for your most intimate friendship. He looks forward to every word you tell him. In other words, when you spend time with him, you make his day. So few people, even Christians, care about God as a friend. Millions of Christians seldom think of him except on Sunday. Millions more only think of him when they are in crisis. Even so, He welcomes every thought of him and daily sends his Spirit and His angels to and fro throughout the world to bless, encourage, and open the hearts of children, men, and women because He doesn’t want anyone to perish apart from Him.
  • God’s intense longing for intimacy with us is fueled by his keen knowledge of the unspeakably agonizing and lonely eternity for those who refuse his love. If everyone were going to be saved, God never would have bothered sending Jesus Christ to die for our sins.
  • Your friendship and relationship with God is capable of endless enrichment, but only if you consciously cultivate it. Your peace in life is in direct correlation to the amount of time you spend with God.

Don’t wait another moment. Start the conversation. You don’t even have to tell him your name. He already knows everything about you.

___________________________________________________________father hugging child

[1]  Deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA is a molecule that contains the instructions an organism needs to develop, live, and reproduce. These instructions are found inside every cell, and are passed down from parents to their children.

 

DNA STRUCTURE: DNA is made up of molecules called nucleotides. Each nucleotide contains a phosphate group, a sugar group and a nitrogen base. The four types of nitrogen bases are adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G) and cytosine (C). The order of these bases is what determines DNA’s instructions, or genetic code. Similar to the way the order of letters in the alphabet can be used to form a word, the order of nitrogen bases in a DNA sequence forms genes, which in the language of the cell, tells cells how to make proteins. Another type of nucleic acid, ribonucleic acid, or RNA, translates genetic information from DNA into proteins.

The entire human genome contains about 3 billion bases and about 20,000 genes. http://www.livescience.com/37247-dna.html

 

The Things of Home

 

It was an old 78 rpm record that contained one of my favorite stories. I still can hear the lovely voice of Loretta Young tell the heartwarming tale, “The Littlest Angel,” about a four-year old boy who doesn’t quite fit into heaven because there’s simply “nothing for a little boy to do.” The Understanding Angel takes the cherub onto his lap, wipes his tears, and asks what he misses most. At the end of the story we find that it was the ordinary but irreplaceable things of home: a butterfly with golden wings, captured one bright summer day on the high hills above Jerusalem, a sky-blue egg from a bird’s nest in the olive tree that stood to shade his mother’s kitchen door, two white stones from a muddy river bank where he and his friends had played like small brown beavers, and a tooth-marked leather strap, once worn as a collar by his mongrel dog, who loved him with absolute devotion. The box containing these simple things was the littlest angel’s gift to the Christ Child and the gift that pleased God most.

I know it’s only a fanciful tale, but I think the author, C. Tazewell, understood how God values the things we treasure since they bring us joy, and since the cherub’s simple gift contained the very things the little boy Jesus would also play with when he wandered the Galilean hills.

joyful Hummel figureSeveral months ago, our daughter walked over to our china cupboard and opened the door. There sits “Joyful,” a small Hummel figure of a girl playing her guitar, her legs straight out before her. Jodi said, “When I see this figure, I know I’m home.” Joyful was an engagement present to Karon and me long before Jodi was born and she has never known our home without it. How is it that this little piece of pottery can evoke such powerful feelings? It is one of the “things of home.”

The familiarity of furnishings and objects warm our hearts. In many cases, items in our home have stories behind them. Just like “Joyful” suggests home to Jodi, seeing a picture or item immediately reminds us of a good period in our lives, a beloved friend, or an event that symbolizes something, like our marriage.

My things of home

Right now I’m sitting at my desk where I write, read the Bible (on my computer), pray, design greeting cards, and connect with the world. My desk itself is a sterile IKEA piece that’s cheaply made. But the objects on and around it make it “home.”

bookHolding the computer monitor one and a half inches higher (so I can sit properly) is the “Better Homes and Gardens Complete Guide to Gardening.” I haven’t used it in more than a decade and its most useful function now is that of a block. But seeing it there each day transports me back to the Midwest where I pored through its beautiful pages, reaped landscaping ideas, and sought answers for marauding Japanese beetles. Its beautifully photographed pages are bright in my mind’s eye.

karon and other photosPhotographs, of course, are of my beloved wife and family. My kids and their spouses smile at me from a Florida restaurant where we celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary. Karon’s smile lights the room, the trilogy of photos taken for her mother when Karon was a teenager. For fifty years that smile has lifted and blessed me more than she knows.

Chinese lampA Chinese carving of an old man that my father fashioned into a one-of-a-kind lamp casts a warm pool of light. My parents purchased this carving in Trinidad, our onetime home in the British West Indies, and it has been a part of my childhood home ever since I can remember. Just to see it ignites wonderful memories: smells of curry wafting in the evening air, exotic flowers in the yard, and sultry breezes billowing mosquito nets at bed time.

The red, white, and blue afghan was lovingly crocheted for us by Helen Ford, church secretary at South Bay Church of God in Torrance, California where we entered the ministry as youth and music ministers. She and her husband, Frank, were wonderfully supportive toward us, and even loaned us the down payment for a car!

pencil holderSome other sentimental things surround me: a coaster made by Kimmi Lyon, my granddaughter; while a graphics major at AU; a pencil holder with an inset photo of Curt, my grandson, sitting on my shoulders at Disney World. (He now is 22, an engineer, a weight lifter, and engaged to be married.);  and a beautiful hardwood chiming mini-grandfather wall clock, a farewell gift from North Anderson Church of God after completing a nine-year pastorate.

M&J StitcheriesElsewhere in the house are a cross stitch of two ducks made by my mother when I was a boy, some needleworks made and given by my two daughters when they were young, and many more family photos.

Karon’s Things of Home list is mainly photographs of family and our piano, given to her while she was in high school by her Mom and Dad, John and Flo Neal.

What are your favorite things? I’m not talking about food, music, or sports, but rather the simple, little things that make you feel at home.

Is it wrong to enjoy things?

Sometimes we may almost feel guilty for feeling such affection for “things” when the Bible tells us to treasure things in heaven and not of this earth. However, don’t you think that being comforted by things is far different than worshiping and hoarding them, as misers do? I do. I can easily imagine how wonderfully it comforted Jesus—with no home of his own—to stay with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. I can see him taking a nap in the back of the house while the ladies fixed dinner, awakening to the marvelous fragrance of baking bread and the sound of clinking dishes down the hall as they set the table. The dour Pharisees criticized him for attending banquets, but Jesus didn’t care because he enjoyed life. I’ll bet he knew a few good jokes, and we know he attended wedding receptions since He provided more wine when the host ran out. He was a human as we are human, and gave us the faculties to appreciate the beauty of His world and the comforts it provides. He strolled the beautiful Judean hills ablaze with wildflowers and surely took pleasure in the singing of birds at sunset. As God He rebuked the wind and the waves, but as a man he needed a cushion to sleep on in the back of the boat.

As we grow older we must downsize, which means ridding ourselves of things we no longer need. My parents had a house, attic, and two sheds full of things when they finally made the plunge to sell the house and move into something smaller. What was hardest for them to relinquish were their many souvenirs from around the world. They were flabbergasted that others placed no value on their Indian and African artifacts. Even after we children and grandchildren took our favorites, many were given to a local charity. Wisely, Mom and Dad kept their favorites; a couple of these stayed with them through two more downsizings until the end. That’s the way it is with the things of home. What has value to one is unimportant to another. How could it be otherwise? Yet they have inestimable value.

The gentle ticking of a clock and the faded photo of a young couple on their wedding day speak to us of home, where we are at peace and can shut out the madding, noisy world. To wake up in the morning among familiar, timeworn surroundings and to have those we love greet us with a friendly gaze: these are true riches. We can easily let go of a big house as long as the accommodations into which we move have space for a few favorite reminders of the wonderful life we have lived.

If you are a caregiver for the elderly, inquire about their things of home. Make sure some familiar belongings accompany them to a new apartment or facility where everything may be strange and intimidating.

Does God have favorite things?

You and I are the “things of home” to God. The Bible brims with the story of God and His desire for honest companionship. Eden in its incredible, pristine beauty was created for one reason: as a beautiful home for the ones He loved. When careless behavior and selfishness sabotaged and destroyed that plan, God found a way to salvage the original dream that flowed longingly from his big heart. His astounding self-sacrifice restores to us and to God the chance to be together and to have loving, honest companionship. He keeps us and will take us with him forever!

CW & Ree 1938
Claire and Retha Shultz, around 1938

This old song was my Mother’s favorite. She and Dad—in their younger days— often sang it as a duet.

My God And I [1]

Austris A. Wihtol and I.B. Sergei

 My God and I go in the field together;
We walk and talk as good friends should and do;
We clasp our hands, our voices ring with laughter;
My God and I walk through the meadow’s hue.

My God and I will go for aye together,
We’ll walk and talk just as good friends do;
This earth will pass, and with it common trifles,
But God and I will go unendingly.
[1] © 1935 New Spring (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

 

Letting Go

letting go
Seven days ago was that perfect day gardeners dream about: sunny, a light breeze, time on my hands, and work that needs to be done. This is what I love and have always loved. I remember even as a child the satisfaction of sweeping dead leaves from the sidewalk and weeding flower beds so they look better. The love of growing things and landscaping yards has been my hobby for as long as I can remember. I have scoured plant catalogs for days as spring approached and woefully discovered that what arrives in the email rarely bears even a slight resemblance to the bountifully blooming plant pictured on those pages. Nevertheless I persevered: fertilizing, spading, weeding, and planting. I drew landscaping diagrams on graph paper and witnessed the circles and lines transform into flowering crab apple trees and beds of brilliant tulips. I wore out wheelbarrows and shovels and frequented local nurseries so much they knew me by name. I designed pergolas in California and rock gardens in Arizona. And I loved every minute of it.

Seven days ago Karon also answered the gardener’s call and tackled a project that involved moving rocks, a furniture dolly, and a wheelbarrow. Not that long ago I would have been the one moving rocks and wheeling them to a new spot with the furniture dolly. Seven days ago, not so much. Work like that now disables me for several days and so, much to my chagrin, I step aside and let Karon do the “big” jobs. Instead, on that perfect day, I settled for a less arduous task of trimming last fall’s dead foliage out of the planter and around the bird feeders. I felt the warm sun on my shoulders and listened to the house finches fussing over the sunflower seed in the feeder. My favorite music was playing from Pandora in my back pocket. Yes, it was a glorious day. In about an hour I had filled up the trash can and slowly stood to view my handiwork. Yup, it looked great!

The next morning it was hard to stand up and I reached for my cane. Burning pain accompanied those familiar aches in my back and down my legs. It subsided long enough for some tennis with friends, but by afternoon I knew that my evening plans would not materialize. Karon went to the church dinner without me. My pain sidelined me from our Sunday service, too. Odd, sitting home on Sunday morning.

 

A Painful Realization

Later, as I sat reading the Bible and writing in my journal, I sensed that another milestone was arriving that I don’t want to acknowledge: soon I am going to have to give up gardening. I can hardly even write these words because it’s inconceivable to me that this day may be near. But I’m afraid it is.

As we age we start saying “goodbye” more and more often. The children grow up and leave home. The grandchildren grow up, too, and get married. We retire and leave meaningful work we loved. We sell the house and downsize, probably the first of other such moves. We attend more funerals than weddings. We adapt to hearing aids and patronizing strangers. We catch a look at our reflection in the Walmart window and see our father or mother instead, stooped and wearing big tennis shoes. Can that be us? Yes. I’m afraid that very few of us look like the “vibrant” older adults on the cover of AARP magazine.

Socrates quote

I’m learning that letting go is part of aging: we must let go of the demand that everyone agrees with us, looks like us, or thinks like us. We must let others—even our children and grandchildren—be themselves. I must let go of my perfectionism. (I know, I know. But it’s so hard when everyone needs my advice and so many pictures need straightening.) I must let go of things that are not good for me, and now—sadly–that includes some of my favorite things.

Many people—some not that old—face difficult change. Even children cope with cancer, cystic fibrosis, autism, and their parents’ divorce. Thousands face eviction, evacuation, or the catastrophic loss of life and limb in natural disasters and war. If we don’t die first, we will all grow old.

Our national and world situations seem worse than ever, and there is a lot of discontent these days on the Internet:  people rail at change and post online about being “mad as hornets” about this and that. I admit that I am disgusted along with the psalmist who pleaded to God, “Don’t let liars prosper here in our land” (Psalm 140:11). I fear America no longer even faintly resembles the America I know and love, and the majority of voters share neither my ideals nor my hopes. Every generation faces similar wars, losses, and personal disappointments.

If all we get from disappointment and aging is bitterness and anger, are we not missing the most fertile years of our life to become like Christ? We can learn to face loss without becoming resentful. We can learn to accept change without blaming others or God.

 

Good from Loss

I remember hearing a missionary friend once tell me that his life had been characterized by lots of goodbyes: goodbye to friends, favorite restaurants, familiar neighborhoods, and family. But he went on to say that he discovered there also were many hellos: new friends, new foods, and new things to appreciate. Maybe we can learn to look for hellos: more time for reading, perhaps; or more time to pray. Some may face the frightening prison of Alzheimer’s disease, but most of will always be able to pray. God is endlessly creative and has the knack for making things out of nothing. (Read Genesis.) Cannot He create fresh ideas in our aging minds and bring us to refreshing discoveries about transferring our reliance from what we have lost to what we still have; and ultimately to God alone?

We must learn to let go. These are the years to get rid of our controlling demands and our stubborn wills. Have you ever thought that anger is a demand? These are the years to take time—we have plenty of it—to cherish others and find ways to encourage them and help them to feel good about themselves. These are the years to finally study the Bible and ask God to reveal himself to us in different ways. Now is the time to learn contentment and to accept—with joy—what each day offers.

Perhaps every generation is surprised by aging. Even though we as children have seen our pet turtles and goldfish die and, more recently, our parents fail, it’s a shock when we are the ones who hurt every morning and walk everywhere with aching feet. Perhaps being forced to let go is God’s way of gently forcing us to prepare for the transition from a physical world to one of the spirit, from being independent to interdependent to dependent.

let go and let God copy

Last year one of my first blogs was about my mother’s transition from life to death and her phrase,” That was then. This is now.” My mistake was thinking it was easy.

 

I Will Take Care of You

In earlier blogs I have talked about my pain from a degenerating spine. Surgery in October of 2014 promised relief which did not materialize. More recent tests have revealed multiple issues and my surgeon has declined further surgery at this point. For the last year I have managed pretty well with pain medicine and even enjoyed a trip to Florida for our fiftieth wedding anniversary. In recent days, however, new pain episodes have occurred which impeded walking. Fortunately this pain has been temporary and passed in a day or so.

These episodes have made me think. If you’re like me, you usually jump to the worst scenario. Will I have to use a wheelchair? Will I be able to walk? Will we have to sell the house? The fact that my mother spent the last twenty years of her life in a wheelchair lurks darkly in the back of my mind.

My wife, Karon, is always super helpful at times like this to keep me level-headed. She is good at balancing compassion with level-headedness, and and so I am going to return to the doctors and see about additional spinal injections. Yet I wonder…

God speaks

light streaming through forestA couple of days ago I went into the bathroom late afternoon for medicine. My hamstrings were aching terribly and the new pain was on my mind. Out of the blue God spoke: “David, I will take care of you.” I have learned to recognize these rare moments when God intervenes with a word for me, but these unexpected words of comfort were clear and incontrovertible. They were not whispered but almost shouted into my ear.

I don’t know if you believe in things like this, but I do. I am immensely grateful for such undeserved moments. Why the Creator of the Universe should care about me, much less communicate His care, is inexplicable. But God wasn’t done yet…

Quite often I waken in the night from troubling dreams. I think perhaps that my medication makes them more intense. These dreams are all similar: in every one I am in an exasperating situation, like showing up to preach a funeral only to discover I don’t know any of the people there, including the deceased. At times I am traveling and get lost in a large foreign airport teeming with strangers, or I arrive to speak at a convention, step to the podium, and discover the notes I brought are blank paper. My entire career involved preaching and traveling and perhaps my subconscious mind is processing years of unspoken fears. Occasionally I have enlisted prayer support from my wife and children when the dreams become darker and scarier.

God’s gift

Just one night after God’s message to me, “I will take care of you,” I had a vivid, brilliant, and completely different kind of dream. I found myself in an extensive building with soaring ceilings and beautiful appointments. An ingenious blending of indoors and outdoors gave the impression of timeless wonder. Wide corridors lined with planters and fountains opened into spacious rooms filled with light and peace. Everywhere there was a sense of tranquility, holiness, and safety. Beautiful, ethereal music somehow interpreted what I was looking at.

Tall windows looked out onto breathtaking views. Behind three churchlike windows tall trees in the bronze of autumn color stood majestically. They were backlit with the light of dawn. A gentle breeze drifted through their branches and leaves floated quietly down, spiraling, twisting, hovering, and sinking. The slightest tinkle of wind chimes could be heard in the distance.

Behind a wall of the palest aquamarine glass was a huge aquarium in whose transparent waters floated exotic fish and coral fans swaying in the warm current. There was no sound, but the movement of the fish and the corals seemed to produce their own music.

Hallways and alcoves were covered with iridescent mosaics that shimmered in hues of pale green, blue, and mother of pearl. High windows slanted light and shadows into the rooms and hallways where benches offered a many places to sit in contemplation.

There were many people present who met me with warm smiles and kindness; but no one intruded into my thoughts or interrupted my observation. I felt almost as though I were in a large hotel where the muffled sounds of conversation mixed with the clinking of silverware and china in a nearby restaurant. It was a holy and indescribably beautiful sanctuary that went on forever without effort, maintenance, or care. There was no hurry. There were no expectations. No lost notes. No pain. Only wonderful beauty, light, peace, and uninterrupted serenity.

As I awoke from this dream I again heard God’s voice, “I will take care of you.” I am not sure whether, for this blissful moment, God gave me a vision of heaven, that unimaginably beautiful place where death, fear, pain, and tears will be banished. Maybe God created this vision of the things I love, the world that feeds my soul, and beauty that transcends pain in order to let me know that the desires of my heart are important to him. But I know this, I am not alone and the One who redeemed me also cares for me now and forever.

I know something else. God cares for you, also. He will speak into your life and your pain if you will listen for him. Have you noted that in Scripture, whenever an angel came to someone, the first words were, “fear not?” This is God’s first and deepest desire for you. Jesus said, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am” (John 14:1-3).

He will take care of you.

The Costs of Fear

It seems that everyone is fearful these days. The Nairobi, Beirut, and Paris terrorist attacks have immobilized us. Reporters talk of “palpable fear” in European cities. Everyone has an opinion about how nations, ours included, should respond. The desperate plight of refugees streaming out of the Middle East exacerbates an already difficult situation. Facebook mirrors this awful tension. The media pumps it up with suffocating rhetoric.

a

Of what are we afraid? In the 1950s we were terrified of atomic bombs and communists. America’s biggest fears in 2015 are, according to the Chapman University Survey of American Fears 2015, (1) corruption of government officials,(2) cyber-terrorism, (3) corporate tracking of personal information (4) terrorist attacks, (5) government tracking of personal information, (6) bio-warfare, (7) identity theft, (8) economic collapse, (9) running out of money, and (10) credit card fraud.[1] Today in late November, many Americans are afraid of Muslims, the takeover of our nation, and further erosion of our cherished ideals.

 

These huge global and national fears are shoveled on top of the things that regularly sprout anxiety and tension into our lives. Senseless, random crime unnerves us. Winter snow and ice may sabotage Thanksgiving and Christmas travel plans in clogged airports and on freeways. Family tensions twist the happiness and joy out of get-togethers. We all face different stressors such as insufficient income, high job stress, or family dysfunction. Deep inside are the unspoken fears we seldom voice: we are afraid of ending up with a stroke in the back room of a convalescent home reeking of urine. We are afraid of failing, afraid of embarrassing ourselves if somebody knows us as we really are, and afraid of not being good enough. No wonder many people are anxious and afraid.

 

Fear can be a good thing when it keeps us from stepping on a rattlesnake. If fear prompts you to lock your doors and to look before you leap, that’s a good thing. But long-lasting fear is not only unpleasant, it is dangerous. It raises blood pressure and fosters depression. When afraid, we make poor choices. We may react too quickly or so slowly that we put ourselves in harm’s way. When fear overtakes a city—or a nation—people get hurt or killed. Fear of others produces riots, looting, and mayhem. Fear starts wars.

 

Ultimately, fear destroys your hope for the future. This is perhaps its most costly outcome, because people with no hope and no reason to live will do just about anything—or nothing.

A Christian need not be fearful.

name tag 1 copyIt seems to me that Christians who live in fear misunderstand who God is. Perhaps they have not read the Scriptures that proclaim God’s sovereignty and power.[2] Maybe they have overlooked the fact that this is His world.[3] Could it be that they don’t know Jesus Christ, who left heaven to become a person like us, to provide salvation now and forever[4], as well as personal friendship and help? Maybe they’ve forgotten that “this world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.” Possibly they never heard that Satan is a defeated foe[5] and those of us who trust Jesus not only have the power to always defeat him[6] but hold tickets to a front row seat for that Day when Jesus returns to set everything right and make all things new.[7]

 

If you are fearful, know that your feelings are normal. But faith must sit in the pilot’s chair of your life and heart. Christians need not fear anyone or anything.[8] I AM is our God. Do not live in fear. Do not allow the enemy to cloak your outlook with fear. Consider again the God you serve. No one can blemish or stain his name.[9] No one can change what Jesus Christ has done or will do when He comes again.[10] Distance yourself from all of the naysayers and fear mongers. Jesus said this:  “Love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you”.[11] Perfect love casts out fear.[12]

 

When you start to feel unsafe and wonder why God hasn’t swooped in to save you (physically), remember that Christians for generations have lived under oppression. Not only in the Roman Coliseum have Christians faced death; many today are being persecuted and killed just for professing faith in Jesus Christ. God’s Word shows that God allows much of it for his own reasons but that He works ceaselessly in the midst of tyranny to bring people into His Kingdom. He promises victory of the spirit now to all believers.[13] Ultimately He will judge and bring to justice evil and those who work evil.[14] In the meantime, we are to proclaim His name and His Kingdom.[15]

 

Be reminded that these are the results of walking with Christ: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. [16]Fear and hatred are Satan’s plan for you, not God’s!

Walk in joy and peace

 

name tag 2 copyThe genius of the Christian life is Jesus Christ, himself. Not only has he saved us now and forever; not only has he promised us heaven so that we can be with him where he is[17]; not only has he promised us the twenty-four-hour-every-day friendship and help of his Holy Spirit;[18] but He faced every fear you and I will ever have and far worse. He walked through abandonment, loneliness, misunderstanding, betrayal, torture, and crucifixion, and conquered death. He’s the one who said, “Because I live, you, too, will live.”[19] “I am with you always even to the end of the age.” [20] “I will not leave you as orphans.”[21]

 

When fear shows up today and lays claim to you, say, “Excuse me! Not today! I am a child of God and Jesus tells me, ‘Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.’”[22]

[1] https://blogs.chapman.edu/wilkinson/2015/10/13/americas-top-fears-2015/

[2] Colossians 1:15-20

[3] Psalm 24:1-2

[4] John 1:12

[5] Revelation 20:10

[6] James 4:7

[7] Revelation 21:5

[8] John 14:27-29

[9] Philippians 2:6-11

[10] Revelation 1:17-18

[11] Matthew 5:43-48

[12] 1 John 4:18

[13] Ephesians 1:18-23

[14] Matthew 25:31and verses following

[15] Matthew 28:18-20

[16] Galatians 5:22-23

[17] John 14:1-3

[18] John 14:16

[19] John 14:19

[20] Matthew 28:20

[21] John 14:18

[22] John 14:1

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Ten Huge Mistakes Christians Make (Part 2)

Magnifying glass title-part 2 copy

(See Mistakes Numbers 1-5 in earlier blog, “Ten Huge Mistakes Christians Make—Part 1”)

Mistake Number 6: No Devotional Life

By “Devotional Life” I mean a daily time of prayer and Bible study. (Blurting a few “Help me’s” on the way to work really isn’t going to deepen your faith.) Because we lead such frantic lives and overschedule ourselves and our families relentlessly, we somehow feel justified that these things supersede a time of daily prayer. The intrusion of electronics into absolutely everything erodes this important discipline. If we never turn off our phone and would answer it even if we’re praying or reading Scripture, what does this say about who is important to us? For whom and what are you praying? Do you have a prayer list? Are you asking God to inform your day? Do you bring your To Do list to him each morning to see what He would prioritize as most important? Are you working to overcome your temptations? No prayer? It’s killing us.

Mistake Number 7: An Undisciplined Lifestyle

There’s a reason the early church practiced disciplines. Those who had been with Jesus knew the only way to live as He did was to practice what He did and taught. The only way to get good at it is to keep practicing. Besides reading Scripture and praying, here are some disciplines we must practice: purity, gentleness, perseverance, forgiveness, and frugality  (not an exhaustive list). A good place to start is by reading an old classic, Discipline and Discovery, by Albert E. Day,[1] or other devotional volumes that have stood the test of time.

“Undisciplined,” you say? “You should see my daily schedule. I get up before dawn to go to the gym. I commute long hours to work…” Let me interrupt this recitation to point out that many of us are disciplined about these things, but we are not disciplined in training ourselves to be like Jesus.

The cost of this enormous vacuum in our lives is staggering. One study shows that the lifestyles of evangelical Christians are hardly different than those of non Christians.[2] How can this be? Many have no governor on their entertainment and viewing habits. They live the same, act the same, and drink the same, watch the same movies, television programs and pornography, and divorce just as much. Perhaps this is so because we have adopted the culture’s values and abandoned those of Christ. And this happens because the culture has absorbed us to the point that our souls are withering and dying and we don’t even know it. We must be savvy about the lessons of R-rated films are teaching us. It broke my heart to read a recent post on Facebook from a missionary asking if the film “Fifty Shades of Gray” was as good as the book! I immediately thought of Samson from the book of Judges who wandered so far from God that God left him and he didn’t even know it.[3]

Mistake Number 8: Rely on ourselves rather than God.

Perhaps it’s to be expected that we Americans are self-reliant. We place huge importance on making your own way and sticking it out. Such independence helped settle the American West and win World War II. When it comes to faith, however, independence is deadly.

God-reliance is the central pillar that supports our faith. He is first, ever and always. Paul understood and practiced this. In Colossians he writes, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.[4]

We love and believe this Scripture, but do we fail to grasp how it should affect our lives? This means that the first order of business is prayer. Trouble? Pray. Sickness? Pray. Misunderstanding? Pray. National election? Pray. Work issues? Pray. I have at times felt guilty about praying too much!  Yep. “I shouldn’t bring this trivial little thing to God. He has more important things to do.” Have you ever thought that? Or how about this, “I have been a Christian so long I should know how to handle this by now.” This line of thinking may appear righteous but it is seriously misinformed about where our strength comes from.

You and I will never be wise enough, strong enough, or clever enough to make it on our own. NEVER!

Mistake Number 9: Defend sin rather than confess it.

Probably every Christian has at some time done this. I have. When we are convicted that something is wrong or displeasing to God, we quickly make excuses why in our case it isn’t so bad. We are masters of rationalization and artists at fooling ourselves into believing that our sin isn’t really a “sin.” “While for someone else gossiping is bad, I am really just sharing a prayer request.” “You know, no one should get hooked on pornography, but my sexual appetite is especially strong and has to have an outlet.” “I’m going to see this movie to understand the culture.” “I would help the homeless if I just weren’t so repulsed by their cardboard pleas for assistance. And who knows? They are probably making a lot of money standing there by the freeway exit.” “I know that the Bible teaches against living together unless you’re married, but it makes financial sense for us to do it.”

As a former pastor, I am sadly aware that many longtime Christians hide secret sins—as though God suspends judgment of our sins because we’re so special! Don’t fool yourself. All sin is abhorrent to God. It always will be. C. S. Lewis said it eloquently, “If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.”[5]

God, help us rush to obedience rather than to sin. Help us readily and immediately repent of any sin the Holy Spirit brings to our attention. May we, unlike Esau,[6] not give away God’s priceless salvation as he gave away his birthright because of an appetite we refuse to control.

Mistake Number 10: Living a Life Devoid of God-Worship

America is becoming a nation of image-fixated narcissists living with an entitlement mentality who put themselves above everything else. It’s more than a trend. It’s a frame of mind that infects us from the time as one-year olds we starting putting selfies on our Facebook page (helped by a doting parent) to the time we become senior citizens complaining about the quality of a free meal delivered to our doorstep. Materialism has so mesmerized us that we think it’s just a personality quirk to have 150 pairs of shoes or normal to post hundreds of photos of oneself on line every week.

Someone without God on the throne will put something or someone else, usually himself or herself, on the throne. We have added God to our long list of other possessions and give him a share of our time and attention. Incredibly, we feel good about having God as part of our lives as we apportion him a pathetically miniscule amount of thought. How arrogant we are to think God can be possessed or that we do him an honor to make him a tiny part of our lives! Read Job 38 to be reminded of who God is. The Bible is exceptionally clear on the disastrous outcome of idolatry. “Everyone [who makes idols] is senseless and without knowledge; every goldsmith is shamed by his idols. The images he makes are a fraud; they have no breath in them. They are worthless, the objects of mockery; when their judgment comes, they will perish.”[7] Paul wrote, “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry [italics mine] and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition [italics mine], dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.[8]

Every day we must remind ourselves that God is everything and we are nothing (but God elevates us to the position of his heirs alongside Jesus Christ because He loves us).We must consciously carve out time to worship, to meditate on God, to read His Word, and to pray. We must ask Him to reveal to us our selfishness, pride, egotism, and arrogance; then repent and humbly acknowledge and worship him.

We have lived in an age of ease in which Christian faith has been the norm. That time is over. A tiny faith built on little prayers that only seek personal benefit will not survive the times ahead. The Bible and history teach us that Christians will be persecuted and that our faith is made strong through suffering. Let’s stop whining about how the pagan world should faun over us (aka Starbucks red cup nonsense). Instead resolve today to love God wholeheartedly and abandon small dreams whose only focus is your happiness. Launch yourself into the bracing oceans of life where God’s wonders will be discovered[9] and stop paddling around in the stale tide pools of self-indulgence.

[1] Available for one cent on Amazon.com!

[2] http://www.christiantoday.com/article/american.study.reveals.indulgent.lifestyle.christians.no.different/9439.htm

[3] Judges 16:20

[4] Colossians 1:15-18 (NLT)

[5] The Great Divorce, HarperOne; New edition (April 21, 2015).

[6] Genesis 25:29-34

[7] Jeremiah 10:14-15

[8] Galatians 5:19-21

[9] Psalm 107:23-24

Ten Huge Mistakes Christians Make (Part 1)

Magnifying glass title copyToday is my seventy-first birthday. Funny, I never imagined myself as seventy-one. Old people are achy and wrinkled but I couldn’t imagine it would happen to me. Old people are forgetful and love thinking about the “good old days.” But me? Yep. The Dave Shultz of 1962, the year I graduated from high school, could not have imagined my life today. But here I am, and here you are, changed, different, learning to adjust. And don’t get too comfortable, because more changes are on the way. “Change is the only constant in life” was first penned by Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher who lived about 500 years before Christ was born. Apparently the ubiquity of change hasn’t changed!

In this everything-is-changing environment, many say that the church also needs to change, perhaps even that Christian beliefs should change. What, exactly, does that mean? What should change? And what should not?

Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God. One of its fundamental characteristics is that it does not change. Imagine! In an environment of chaos, there is something eternal, everlasting, and altogether predictable. When we get up every morning we have no ideas what changes will come that day. The dog may throw up on the carpet. We may meet the person we’ll marry. You just never know. Wouldn’t it be good news to have something that is ageless and utterly dependable? We do: God’s Word.

Yet many question whether there is absolute truth anywhere. I choose to believe what God’s Word says about itself and what Jesus says about it. The Psalms declare, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”[1]  John’s gospel tells us that Jesus is the living Word of God[2] and Hebrews proclaims that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”[3] If you choose to believe this, you are also choosing to believe that Christ and His Word are unchangeable and eternal.

I’m taking the time to lay this quick foundation because it is absolutely essential that we Christians comprehend and embrace it. If we don’t, we’re toast. Here are ten huge mistakes Christians are making.

Mistake Number 1: Ignore the Bible

Christians are in trouble if we don’t know what the Bible says. It is astonishing how few Christians have committed any verses to memory. Many could not tell you how many books are in the New Testament or what they are. We confuse the Bible with colloquial proverbs like, “God helps those who helps themselves.” Many would be hard put to turn to any verses that explain their own salvation. We know it’s in there, but we’re not sure where. Do you read the Bible regularly? Have you read through the Bible? What did Jesus teach about Himself? The Bible is eternal and provides the only sure hope for our future. We ignore it at our peril.

Mistake Number 2: Substitute Reason for Faith.

Repeatedly Scripture tells us that truth is not perceived by wisdom, but by faith.[4] Even so, the Christian belief system is staggering under the onslaught of our culture that demands that we accept its norms as our own. Shockingly, many Christians are buying into this mindset. We believe that the world’s brightest minds understand more than the Bible. If science says it’s true, then it must be so. If God cannot be proved, then maybe…and we wonder. If there are so many religions, then…and we wonder. If so many people say it…and we wonder.  Hear again Paul’s proclamation to a church that was infatuated with sin: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’”[5]

Mistake Number 3: Fail to form a personal relationship with God.

I could never begin to describe what my friendship with God means to me. We are in constant communication. I love him with every fiber of my being. He is my number one encourager and friend. For me Jesus is highly personal and the Holy Spirit is an ever-present helper. Because of this, I want to please him and show him that I love him. I know that He is taking care of me now and always. I can’t wait to meet Him in Heaven. My first priority in the morning is to be with him. It’s not something I have to do. It’s something I get to do! The apostle John writes about this intensely personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “We are writing to you about something which has always existed yet which we ourselves actually saw and heard: something which we had an opportunity to observe closely and even to hold in our hands, and yet, as we know now, was something of the very Word of life himself! For it was life which appeared before us: we saw it, we are eye-witnesses of it, and are now writing to you about it. It was the very life of all ages, the life that has always existed with the Father, which actually became visible in person to us mortal men. We repeat, we really saw and heard what we are now writing to you about.”[6]

In every church I’ve pastored there were people who had no idea this was even possible. For them Christianity was keeping the rules and trying to be good. How tragic!

Mistake Number 4: Pick and choose what you like about Christianity.

Large congregations of Christians meet every Sunday firmly believing that if they serve God that he will bless them with money and cars. Or that every Christian will be healed. Or that Jesus loves people so much that He will abandon the whole redemption thing and just take us all to heaven.[7]

Thomas Jefferson, one of our founding fathers, believed that God had created the world but no longer intervened directly in daily life. “In fact, Jefferson was devoted to the teachings of Jesus Christ. But he didn’t always agree with how they were interpreted by biblical sources, including the writers of the four Gospels, whom he considered to be untrustworthy correspondents. So Jefferson created his own gospel by taking a sharp instrument, perhaps a penknife, to existing copies of the New Testament and pasting up his own account of Christ’s philosophy.”[8]  Sad that such a brilliant man thought he knew more about the Bible than those who were eyewitnesses to Jesus Christ and his teaching!

Are we doing the same thing? Fornication is practiced by unbelievable numbers of Christians. And what is fornication? Sleeping with anyone to whom you are not married. The Bible says it is a sin, period. Society says it isn’t. So we cut out the part of Scripture that condemns our lifestyle.

Mistake Number 5: No Church Attendance

A few years ago we met a couple who, like us, were new in town and looking for a home congregation. They stayed a few months and left. We run into them now and then, but they have stopped looking. The husband who, according to his wife, “studies Greek and Hebrew,” can’t find a church worthy of them. Really?  One gets the idea that he would advise Jesus on his theology.

Finding a group of Bible-believers and meeting with them regularly is essential to your faith. We need the messages (even if they don’t meet our lofty standards), the singing, the scripture, and the fellowship. We need people to pray for us and we need to pray for them. Christians are the body of Christ. If my hand were chopped off it would die without the body to sustain it. We need the discipline of getting up and by so doing tell ourselves that our faith is as important as going to work or watching the Pittsburgh Steelers.

(Look for Part II coming soon)

[1] Isaiah 40:8 (NIV)

[2] John 1:1-14

[3] Hebrews 13:8

[4] 1 Corinthians 1:20-21

[5] 1 Corinthians 1:18-19

[6] 1 John 1:1 J. B. Phillips New Testament

[7] See Luke 13:23-25

[8] Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/how-thomas-jefferson-created-his-own-bible-5659505/#usdk1IlI0PMkwTB6.99