They Took the Trees!

Not far from where I live there was an old house with lots of big trees around it. It always gave me a sense of serenity just passing by it. But “progress” came to the street. A bank bought the property for a new branch. One of the first things they did was to bring in a bulldozer and tear down the house—and uproot the beautiful trees! The lot is bare now, waiting for the foundation to be constructed for new brick building to house the bank.

Trees that had taken 50 to one hundred years to grow were destroyed in one short afternoon by a man and bulldozer! Trees are such magnificent examples of God’s creation. To destroy them in one afternoon seems so heartless. I jog past a tree every day that must be 150 years old. I’ve often thought of all the things this tree has been present for. It has literally seen the city grow up around it.

But we sometimes do to people what a bulldozer does to a tree. We can take a word or action against a person and destroy what that person has taken years to build. When we repeat gossip or untruths, we are tearing down a character that has taken a lifetime to develop. When we lash out at someone in anger, we may be doing damage in one moment that will take years to repair. When we create division in a church, we are creating a roadblock that may take decades to overcome.

We need to watch what we say and do! In Leviticus 19:16 God says, “‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people.” One of the Ten Commandments states, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16.) David in Psalm 24:3 asked, “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?” God’s answer in part was, “Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret, I will put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, I will not tolerate” (Psalm 101:5.)

We don’t always think before we act or speak. Keep the tree in mind. A word is not just a word—it, like a bulldozer, can tear down what has taken years to develop and establish.

Dressed in White

After living several decades on this earth, I’ve learned that not everything that happens can be explained. Sometimes after an event the only explanation is “It just happened.” Perhaps that is the best way to explain these events in my life.

          When I was a counselor at Camp Shiloh near New York City in the summer of 1963, we counselors were responsible for taking our cabin of twelve or thirteen youngsters camping on a nearby hillside about a mile from the cabins. It was not my favorite part of the Shiloh experience; I did not enjoy the experience of living with bugs, ants, and other parts of nature’s inhabitants. And we did this once each of the four two-week sessions.

          We slept under the stars in sleeping bags. I was awakened one night by some unusual sounds. As I looked up, I saw a man, dressed in white, standing about ten or fifteen feet away with arms folded, looking down at us. I was frightened and pretended to be still sleeping with eyes closed. When I opened my eyes, the individual had turned and was walking down the hill. I never forgot this experience and can still see him in my mind, standing and looking down on us. Explanation? An angel sent from above to protect the dozen 12-year-old boys and two adult counselors? Just an odd manifestation, which awakened me at 2:00 a.m.? Perhaps the only explanation is that it just happened.

          About ten years ago, we were driving to Indianapolis from a funeral in my childhood home near Bedford, Indiana, when we had a flat tire. I pulled onto a side gravel road to get off the highway. It had been raining and the ground was very wet. We were dressed up and I was preparing to call AAA when a young man pulled up behind us and knocked on my window. He simply said, “If you have a spare I will change your tire.” We told him that we would wait for AAA. He would not be convinced to let me call, but insisted he do it. He changed our tire without our leaving the warmth and dryness of our car. When finished, he bade us farewell—and guess what? He was dressed in white, still spotless after changing a tire on a muddy road. I can’t explain it; it just happened.

          Two years ago, we were visiting Athens, Greece. One of the sights I wanted to see was the Parthenon. As we descended the slippery path, I was terrified that I might fall. Suddenly a woman in white held out her hand to me and led me down the path to safety. Once I was on secure footing, she was gone as swiftly as she had appeared. Again—it just happened.

Or were they angels, sent to help me in my time of distress?

Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?     Hebrews 1:14

No Regrets

One area I have spent time mulling over in my own life is learning to live without regret. I believe we all live with “what should have beens” and “what I wish I had done.” These sometimes haunt us. As John Greenleaf Whittier wrote: “For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, ‘it might have been.” A dramatic example of a father’s regret at the death of his son Absalom is David’s, “Oh, my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”

          Remember Joseph when Potiphar’s wife sought to seduce him? He fled from her grasp (Genesis 39:8-10). We know what wrong is—don’t hang around it. Run from it to avoid regret. When I was in third grade, there was boy who was always aggravating me. I could not resist getting into fights with him. If I had just run from him, I could have saved myself black eyes and bruises on my face, as well as my mother’s ire.

          A second way to avoid regrets is to measure the day—use our time well. As the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 90:10, “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures.…”  Maybe David had in mind that the way he used his time was not always wise. He should have spent more time with Absalom. He should not have been walking on the rooftop observing Bathsheba bathing. Make the best use of your time each day and you will have fewer regrets. As David wrote in Psalm 118:24, “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”  

          Here are a couple of thoughts on measuring the day. Take advice from people of faith. The Spirit can speak through them. Another is to think, “If I have a choice, which decision would I be most likely to regret?” That will help with decisions and put structure in your day.

          Third, give your best effort to each responsibility. David seemed always to be out fighting battles instead of spending time with and training Absalom. When a student questioned why they made such a low grade on a speech, I’d often ask, “How much time did you spend on preparation?” Usually, they had waited until the night before the speech was due to start and had spent very little time on the assignment. Give your best no matter what the task is. As Paul wrote in Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

          Make use of every opportunity to do good. As my fourth grade Bible class teacher taught us, “Good, better, best. Never let it rest, until your good is better, then your better’s best.” 

Closed Mouth Communication

James tells us to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). We usually quote this verse to stress the importance of listening, which is a great application. I think there is value, however, in just keeping our mouths closed, no matter how good or bad as listeners we are. When we keep our mouths closed, we demonstrate humility and respect and enhance our reputations.

Humility should be demonstrated, for example, if you arrive at a meeting late. This is a time to not say anything. You don’t know what has been said, and any comment or question from you might have already been covered. James also says to “humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up” (James 4:10). You show humility when you choose to wait long enough to understand the nature of the discussion before making a contribution to it. We are pretty self-absorbed if we make a comment without figuring out what the discussion is about. Humility requires speaking only when you have specific knowledge or an opinion based on your expertise instead of making statements without support. We read a similar reminder in I Peter 5:6—“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”

When you are quiet, you also show respect for the other person’s opinion. This is especially true if you show that you are paying attention by eye contact and leaning toward the speaker. As Paul wrote, “Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10.)

Keeping quiet enhances your reputation with the group when you do speak. You will more than likely have a captive audience. You have earned the right to speak by being silent when others are talking. According to Ecclesiastes 7:1, “A good reputation is more valuable than costly perfume.” The writer of Proverbs said “A good name is more desirable than great wealth” (Proverbs 22:1.)

Not the least of reasons to keep your mouth closed is that you are less likely to say something you will regret. If you open your mouth too quickly, you might say something that shows you are not informed on the topic as well as you thought you were.

 Humility, respect, and reputation are all in play when you choose to keep silent. You may communicate best when you say nothing. Keith Whitley and Alison Krauss made famous the song “When You Say Nothing At All,” which ends with “You say it best when you say nothing at all.”

I like the message Jane Wyman spoke in 1949 when she accepted her Oscar for Best Actress in her role as a deaf-mute in “Johnny Belinda.”  “I accept this very gratefully for keeping my mouth shut for once,” she told the Academy. “I think I’ll do it again,” and sat down.

Proverbs 10:9 - Bible verse of the day -

Miracles Today?

A frequent topic of discussion is “Do miracles still exist today?” I’ve struggled with this issue over the years. As a young person I was taught that miracles ceased with the end of the apostolic period and when the scriptures were complete. 1 Corinthians 13:9-10 is a scriptural reference often used to support this idea:  “For we know in part and we prophesy in part,but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.”

Because of personal experiences in my life, and my view about personal prayer, I believe in miracles today. My guess is that you have had similar experiences. Certain positive events in life have no logical explanation. These experiences remind me of the story of the blind man in John 9.

Jesus heals a blind man. He has been blind since birth and this blind man now with sight amazes his neighbors. At first they thought it was someone else who looked like the blind man. But the man said, “No, I am the man.”  He then explains that Jesus put mud in his eyes and told him to go to Siloam and wash and then he could see.

The Pharisees hear about the miracle and talk to him about how he is now able to see. He gives the same explanation. They do not believe him, so they go to his parents. Their response is basically “Ask him. He is an adult.” So the Pharisees go back to the seeing man the second time and repeat the question. Probably by this time with some frustration he simply says, “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see.” 

 In that one sentence I believe he gave me the explanation of what a miracle can be today. If something amazing happens in your life that cannot be explained by logic, common sense, or some expert knowledge, then you have experienced a miracle.

The most recent event that falls into this category for me happened in the middle of December of last year. My grandson and I were driving home from visiting my sister about 130 miles away. We were driving on double lanes of Highway 50 near Dillsboro, Indiana, at night with no highway lights. Total darkness. I was driving about 60 miles per hour in the right lane when suddenly I came upon the back of a box truck with no lights and barely moving. Instead of slamming into the back of the truck I swerved to the left and lost control of my car. I careened down the left lane I had swerved into and a ditch was waiting for me to the far left. I was no longer in control. I knew the end was not going to be pleasant. But somehow the car straightened out on the lane through no help from me. We were able to slow down and pull over to the side of the road. I still don’t know what happened to the truck.

I look back to the event and I cannot explain how we did not flip end over end at that rate of speed combined with jerking the steering wheel to avoid the truck. In fact, I have no memory of what was involved that got my car back under control. There is no logical explanation for why we did not wreck. So for me it was a miracle.

I think one of the reasons we spend time in prayer is that in many cases we are praying for a miracle, whether we realize it or not. Someone is in a situation where there is no expectation of a positive outcome and yet we are praying. We pray for God to heal or to work out a human relation problem that seems insurmountable. Some call it an answer to prayer when the impossible becomes possible. At any rate, you have seen a miracle. In many cases, you receive an answer to a prayer you didn’t even verbalize.

Probably my favorite Steve Martin movie is entitled “A Leap of Faith.”  In it he plays the role of an itinerant tent preacher. He is a faith healer and, of course, takes up collections. He makes quite a production of performing miracles and has shills stationed in the audience who radio to him about vulnerable audience members. He wants someone who has a malady for which he can lay hands on them and talk them into feeling like their pain in the stomach or shoulder has gone away. He begins by running out on stage and shouting, “Are you ready for a miracle?” 

 I think this sentence is a positive way of looking at the future. What can I do to help someone with a problem? What can I do to help someone who is facing a seemingly impossible situation?

Pray—and expect a miracle.  

Growing Up on Poor Farm Road

Instructions on school forms read, “Address of student.” I carefully wrote down “R. R. 5, Poor Farm Road, Bedford, Indiana.” (Of course that was before the days of state codes, such as IN, and zip codes, such as 47421.) How would you like to grow up on the Poor Farm Road? Wouldn’t you rather have a box number and a street name instead?

In the 1950s, as a little boy, I did not think much about it. I was blessed, even though it was a gravel road of only about three miles. The day we got the road blacktopped was one of the banner days for all of us who lived on the road. We had no shoulders and no guardrails, but we also no longer had clouds of dust billowing into our houses or large holes to steer around. Steve and Larry on bikesTwelve families lived on the three-mile stretch. We shared our phone with six other families as part of a “party line.” In an emergency, you just politely asked whoever might be talking if you could have the line for an important call. Only one family of the twelve ever had a new car, and there was only one car in each driveway. But we all had access to a second car—a neighbor’s car. If our car didn’t start in the early morning, we’d simply stand by our mailbox until a neighbor came by. Dad would wave and the neighbor would stop, or the neighbor would wave and Dad would stop; then he’d drop you off wherever you worked. Most worked at the same factory in town. If a neighbor got sick and could not plow his garden or feed his cattle, word got out quickly and the neighbors would take over. One farmer often drove his tractor down the road to see if any neighbor needed his garden plowed so he could do it for them. Neighbors shared skills. My mom went to Mrs. Neal, who lived in a house trailer behind her daughter’s house, to have her hair done. My mother was known for her home-made rolls and pies. She would share recipes as well as provide a fresh butter pie when a need arose.  As a small boy, I would tag along and play with the dog or listen to the women talk.  As I look back on those days, I realize the laughter and camaraderie gave a little boy a feeling of security and love. Across the street lived a hermit, Mr. Alexander, who had very little to do with any of us. I’m sure he was just shy and felt insecure around people. But his life style was puzzling to me, so I often walked over to talk to him and watch him around his little farm. He planted his own garden, cleared the land, and hunted. I’m still not sure how he survived. But I learned later that he was not a happy person since eventually he took his own life. I wish I had been nicer to him and included him in some of our activities. He was left alone mainly because he chose to be, but also because his breath and his body always smelled awful. After all these years, I still think of him as one who laughed with a six-year-old and patiently answered questions about what he was doing, his farm, and the tools he used.

The last house on the road was once a county-run residence where poor people, mainly the elderly and disabled, lived; thus the name “Poor Farm Road.” But on that road I learned about the richness of life—how to treat everyone, to respect older people, and what it meant to be nice. In addition, I enjoyed the fresh air, the smell of newly-mown hay in the summer, and the delicious vegetables that were not only eaten every day, but also frozen or canned for the cold days of January and February. You see, I never thought negatively about this name’s being associated with my home. To me, the Poor Farm Road is synonymous with great lessons I learned—rich lessons that guide me all these years later. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:3

When God Whispers

Sometimes God whispers. In I Kings 19, God chose a whisper to communicate with Elijah. Elijah was discouraged and depressed. In verse 12: “After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”  In verse 13, Elijah knew it was the Lord and went out to the opening of the cave he was in to await the message God gave to him.

God whispers when the need arises. Elijah had too much going on in his life. He was over-stimulated. He had just called down fire from heaven that licked up the water and dust off the ground. He had just seen the power of God bring rain to a land that had a seven-year drought. Now he was seeking to escape Jezebel who had a contract on his life.

We certainly don’t have the same kinds of events going on in our lives, but at times we all live over-stimulated lives. We live in a world that is over-stimulated.

Simply making choices at the grocery store can be challenging. You want a bag of potato chips. You walk down the potato chip aisle and you have to choose among plain chips, barbeque chips, sour cream chips, fried pickles with ranch chips, deep dish pizza chips, chile con queso chips, Cajun spice chips, or Chesapeake Bay crab spice chips.

You want a bottle of shampoo and again the choices are overwhelming. Walk down a different aisle this time and you can buy clarifying shampoo, neutralizing shampoo, chelating shampoo, keratin shampoo, color-protecting shampoo, volumizing shampoo, or dry shampoo.

Restaurant menus sometimes resemble a book in size; some are even spiral-bound. You put all those choices together with the stress of a job, friends, family, and elderly parents and you are definitely over-stimulated,

Like Elijah, we need a whisper from God. The prophet Zephaniah said to God’s people, “He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17.)”

We need to listen for God’s whisper. Here are ways we may do this: Slow down. Pay attention when your pace is too fast. Plan some quiet time in your life. Turn off the noise. Take a break from your phones, your television, and your email. Find time to retreat. Find solitude. Take a walk, sing, and observe nature. Even God rested on the seventh day.

In The Message translation of the Bible, David wrote, “Open your ears, God, to my prayer. Don’t pretend you don’t hear me knocking. Come close and whisper your answer. I really need you” (Psalm 55:1-2, MSG.) He also wrote, “He leads me beside quiet waters” (Psalm 23:2.)

Remember God loves you and wants to show you grace. His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23.)  He sometimes speaks in the earthquake, in the fire, in the wind, and the thunderstorm. But there are times when God speaks in a whisper.

Live life in such a way that, when needed, you can hear God whisper.

Work on Yourself

Goethe wrote, “Let everyone sweep in front of his own door and the whole world will be clean.”  This statement made me consider a thought that I don’t have often enough:  that one way to improve the world around me is self-improvement . Paul makes a similar point:  “I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (I Corinthians 9:27). In other words, to influence others I must improve myself.

In communication theory, one of the ways researchers have found to improve the way we communicate is not to change the other person, but to change our response to that person. Maybe the problem with communication is not with others, but with ourselves.

Jim Rohn said, “To be successful in life work harder on yourself than you do on your job.”  When we seek to improve the quality of life we want to begin with ourselves. Work on self to be a better influence in the world.

The apostle Paul was a believer in self-improvement, as we can tell by the earlier statement from him. He also reminded Timothy of the potential we have for self-improvement: “ For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (II Timothy 1:7.) And Peter wrote this among other traits to develop, “…add to your faith virtue”  (II Peter 1:5.)

A familiar dialogue between Jesus and a rich man illustrates the need for self-improvement.  Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?  “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.  “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony,  honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself. “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Matthew 19:16-22). He still needed to work on himself.

As Paulo Coelho wrote, “When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too.” Our Christian light will shine a little brighter with continual self-improvement.

Unique Faces

Clown eggsThe clown industry is interesting. No two clowns have the same working face. A beginner must send a sketch of his proposed face to the Secretary of the International Circus Clown Club, who paints the face on an eggshell and compares it with the hundreds of other faces in a collection housed at Croydon, England. If the new one duplicated a face already in use, the novice is advised to create a new face.

These thoughts made me ponder faces. No two are exactly alike. God made each of us special. Think of all the billions of people who have been born, and no two are exactly alike! Even identical twins have slight differences. I’m sure it must be frustrating for an aspiring clown to dream up a new face—one that is unique. But God does it all the time.

This is just one characteristic of humans that illustrates the greatness and glory of God. The fact that none of us is exactly like anyone else demonstrates that we could not have come into existence by chance. There has to be a supreme being. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping that creeps upon the earth’” (Genesis 1:26).

It all began with God! God made it possible for humans to have the dominant role on earth, and we need to be reminded of God’s supremacy and our dependence on Him. We can remember that as we see each person’s unique face.


In Defense of Silence


Silence has to be a part of our relationship with our Savior. In Habakkuk 3:19 we read, “Let all the earth keep silence before Him.” Trappist Thomas Merton wrote, “A man who loves God necessarily loves silence.”  Jesus had his favorite places to go alone; the garden of Gethsemane was one. He needed to get away from the crowds and followers. He needed the time alone in silence with the Father. Job said, “Stand still and consider the wondrous works of God.“

Silence is difficult for many of us. We kill the silence with words. We need to spend time in silence. It is hard to feel the closeness of Jesus without silence. The greatest tribute we can pay to anyone “…is a moment of silence.”  We need many of those moments with God.

Build into each day periods of silence. This might be in the family room or office before the family rises in the morning. Perhaps give yourself extra time before a plane departure and slip into the chapel available in most major airports. Public libraries can be a place to embrace silence. Some cathedrals and church sanctuaries are open for prayer and meditation.

Let God speak to you as you sit in silence. I find that ideas, names of people, and issues sometimes enter my mind in times of silence. I often sit in our solarium in the early morning darkness or out on our deck in warm weather. People and ideas just seem to “float” into my consciousness; I try to respond by contacting that person or giving attention to an issue that I have forgotten about. Without the silence, I cannot bring these thoughts to the forefront of my mind.

Develop leisure time activities that involve silence. Walking the streets of our city before rush hour traffic and before children are walking to school is such a time for me. Place a bird feeder near a window in your kitchen and observe the birds as they come for food. Just clearing your mind for the activities of the day can give you peace and comfort.

You need silence for prayer time. Perhaps a reason David was described as a man after God’s own heart—in spite of his sins—is because as a shepherd he had much silent time to commune with God. Even Jesus, the perfect human, still needed quiet time to pray to the father.

Herman Melville wrote, “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended to by silence.” That includes our time with the Master each day.

According to Plutarch, writing in 4 B.C., Herod Archelaus, a well-known politician and tetrarch of Judea, sat down in the chair of his local barbershop. “How would you like your hair trimmed?” asked the chattering barber. Archelaus responded, “In silence.”

Addressing issues of spiritual significance