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Does Perception Matter?

This morning I had an interesting encounter with two very large trucks while biking my normal route into Portage, Wisconsin on State Highway 51.

Usually, road noise does not bother me.  I’ve biked from the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan across the middle of the state.  And I have traveled from Michigan to Minnesota across the top of the state.  Rarely have I ever felt intimidated or threatened.  But, this morning I felt both.

There actually was no real reason to feel that way as I was biking on a lane used only as a shoulder along a four lane section of 51 south of Portage that borders a 3 mile stretch of levee that protects the southern part of the city from flooding by the Wisconsin River.  Drivers use the four lanes, two north bound and two southbound, and leave the 10 foot paved shoulder on either side for temporary stops.  I was riding the furthest possible line from traffic lanes.

As I approached town, I could hear the familiar sound of large tires signaling that a big truck was lumbering toward me.  Semi-trucks normally move over to use the inmost lanes when passing me leaving me an entire lane empty between us for a traffic buffer.  I appreciate that.  And experience has taught me to distinguish the sounds so I often can tell how fast a truck is approaching, whether or not it is moving over and whether of not I need to turn and look.

This morning the ‘rumble’ of the tires was especially loud, alerting me that the truck was approaching very quickly and sounded as if the vehicle that they were attached to was in my lane.   I got an uneasy feeling, the hair on my neck stood up and the blur of a huge vehicle raced past me.  In an instant, thoughts began to race through my mind at warp speed:  was the driver sending me a message, a brush back, if you will, was the driver on a cell phone, where were the cops when you need one, can I get a plate number and other nice thoughts.  The confusion of my thoughts and the sound of the truck tires caused me to completely miss an identical second truck right on the bumper of the first.  Now, I was beginning to get a little steamed.  I was ready to stop, pull out my cell phone which my wife asks me to carry ‘just in case’ and call in the dangerous encounter.  Wouldn’t someone want to know what happened and be moved to action by my discomfort?

A few seconds elapsed and I had time to reflect on the incident a little more rationally.  And I began to objectively notice some details.  First, the tires of the vehicles were no closer that the white boundary line on the pavement.  I was at least 11 feet from them.  Second, although the trucks were large, they probably were not moving much over the speed limit if at all.  They were just big and somewhat scary.  Third, they were both painted in a desert ‘camo’ pattern.  Finally, I noticed that both trucks were pulling large open trailers filled with sand bags.   Ah.  Ok.

Now, I got it.   I knew what was going on.  The National Guard unit that these trucks were attached to were responsible for shoring up Interstate 39 to keep it from being washed out by flood waters caused by the recent record rains in the Madison area and up river.  I felt just a bit sheepish as I realized that something far bigger and more important than my comfort was occurring.  PROPER PERSPECTIVE CHANGED ME.   That’s not to say that I was ready for a prayer meeting, but my feelings changed.   And in a good way.

Proper perspective is not only essential in everyday life, it is especially necessary for our spiritual lives.  Perspective matters!  And how!  When God decides to ‘touch’ a troubled spot in our lives, we often feel that He is treating us unfairly or too harshly.  Our perspective is…God’s hand is against me.  But that is never true.  God is always for us, regardless of how the circumstances might cause us to believe.  And that perspective is very important.

Proper perspective helps us focus more on what God is doing IN us and focus less on what’s happening TO us.  And that perspective can make all the difference.  Let’s let it.

A New Recliner…’Preference or Conviction’?

Most men I know have, at one time or another, considered purchasing a recliner.  The thought of coming home after work to sit down and roll back the recliner to take a cat nap or just take it easy after a tough day is quite appealing.  And it seems to be more alluring as the years of work pile up.  Recently, during an 8 pm call to my accountability partner, he remarked that he frequently naps around 8:30 pm in order to get ready for bed.  Granted, he meant that ‘tongue in cheek’ (sort of).  But, as the years mosey on, I am resembling his sentiment more often.  Therefore, Shirley and I have talked about and looked at recliners.

Now anyone who knows me very well would acknowledge that I need very little help getting to sleep.  Wherever I’m at, if I have 30 minutes, I can sleep 29 of them.  Like my dad, I have been known to ‘nod off’ at a stop light.  For me, then, a recliner is just an ‘apparatus’ to use.  It neither helps nor hinders rest.  It just serves as a convenient reminder for me that it’s time to relax.

As Shirley and I began to explore possibilities, we found a significant range of options.  There were recliners for large men.  There were recliners for small men.  There were recliners to help you stay warm and ones to help vibrate tensions away.  There were recliners to roll away from the wall as well as ones to rock and swivel.  There were power activated ones as well as the old reliable lever activated ones (arm strong power ones).  Yet, whatever the variety, they all had one thing in common:  a price tag to match their specialty.  Sometimes those price tags made us go ‘hummm, that’s not too bad’.  Other ones made us say, ‘you’ve got to be kidding’.

Now that our search has begun to draw to a close, we’re learning something ‘new’ about ourselves…THE COST REQUIRES THAT WE DECIDE IF WE JUST PREFER A RECLINER or IF WE ARE CONVINCED THAT WE NEED ONE. For me, as the cost escalates, the level of preference also escalates.

This tendency is not only true when we are shopping for a rather costly household item.  It can be true when we consider our true spiritual condition.  Almost all of us are convinced that our fallen, sinful condition requires a ‘costly salvation’.  But, sometimes we prefer not to think about a corresponding ‘costly service’.

Reading about that service in Luke’s inspired description, Luke 14:26, 27, 33, I am struck by the stark reality of it.  His words make me blink and swallow hard.  And I’m tempted to drain some of the solemnity out of them.  But, when I compare Matthew’s inspired consensus of Jesus’ own words , Matthew 16:24-27, I am faced with a decision:  when looking at the cost of discipleship, do I just PREFER to be a disciple or am I CONVINCED that I must be one.

The cost of discipleship is one measurement of my decision.  But, the constraint of discipleship and call to real discipleship is another.  So…I want to be honest.

DO I JUST PREFER TO BE A DISCIPLE or AM I CONVINCED TO BE ONE?  DO I JUST WANT THE DELIGHT OF SALVATION and NOT THE DUTY OF IT?

I must decide!

 

A Couple of Questions…

While I was paying for a couple of items at a neighborhood gas station yesterday, the clerk asked if she could ask me a couple of questions.  It was a bit uncomfortable because two other customers were waiting in line behind me.

Without even looking at the other guests, she asked, ‘What does the word ‘evangelical’ on your church sign mean?’  ‘It means that we believe that all people have sinned and are in need of a Savior and that that salvation is found only in Jesus’, I replied.   Studying me a bit more closely, she asked, ‘Are you open and affirming?’

Taking a moment to collect my thoughts and considering the two people waiting in line and a kitchen worker listening in, I said that ‘we are open to what Jesus is open to and affirming of what He affirms.’  She began to turn away toward the other customers and then turned back to face me as if she wanted clarification.  I took the opportunity to add, ‘We affirm that Jesus is the only Savior and that we are open to all who want to be saved through Him.’

Her response of ‘okay’ ended our conversation.

Looking back, I have made several mental notes:

  1.  It is very uncomfortable to be asked these types of questions ‘cold turkey’, as they say.  There’s always the discomfort of wishing you had said more or said something differently.  And there’s always the discomfort of wondering how badly you ‘blew it’.
  2.  The exchange may not have been for the clerk.  It may have been for one or two of the other observers.  Only God knows.
  3. The Lord determines if and what results from moments like these.  As the scriptures say, ‘…for from Him and through Him and to Him are all things’.  We leave it with Him.
  4. Be ready always to give an account of what we believe and have been taught about Jesus.

Thank you, Lord, for any and every opportunity to serve as a witness to point others to You.

 

 

Pathetic or Profound…?

Rounding the corner of the house, as usual, to get into the truck and leave for work,  I encountered a couple of pesky robins who were reacting to my presence near their nest. Snuggled securely in a lilac bush near the corner of our garage, the nest was neatly cradled between two branches about five feet above ground.

The robin nest had often attracted my attention.  And every morning when I walked past it, the scolding robins would harass me with ‘squawking and swooping down at my head’.   I hated to disturb them, but there seemed to be little that I could do to remedy the encounters.  Earlier observations had revealed that four eggs had been laid and that two had already hatched.

Last week, as I passed by the nest, the same scenario began to play out with this caveat.  Stopping to peek into the nest, I checked on the ‘hatching’ progress.  The two robins were perched nearby…one sitting a few feet away on the tee bar of our clothes line and the other sitting on the corner of the peak of the gable of the neighbor’s roof holding a worm in its beak.     I gently pulled a couple of branches out of the way so I could see.  All I found was an empty nest.

No nearby debris or signs of struggle gave any clue as to the reason the nest was empty.  And judging from the reaction of the robins, they appeared to be as bewildered as I was.

It was a scenario that was both pathetic and profound.  Pathetic in the sense that the little birds were continuing to bring food to an empty nest.  It was sad.  But it was also profound as I considered the fact that during my lifetime I, too, had often exerted a great deal of energy and expended a great deal of resources on an activity that God would evaluate as ‘dead, empty stuff’.

The words of the angels to the women at Jesus’ tomb,  ‘WHY DO YOU SEEK THE LIVING AMONG THE DEAD?’ kept ringing in my ears.   Good question.  Profound reality.

Why do I spend so much on so little and then wonder why my life is so empty?

Lord, please grant me Your grace.  Please help me discern the difference between what is holy and what is unholy, between what is righteous and what is unrighteous and between what is ‘dead’ and what is ‘alive’.   And, please help me walk in the ways that You would consider eternally good and alive.  Amen.

Why Anger?

Sunday, January 21, just past, I stood as a ‘silent witness’ on behalf of pre-born children.  Following the advice King Lemuel’s mother gave him,  Proverbs 31:8, I held up a poster that pictured a cute baby sitting among a host of lovely flowers.  The inscription encouraged observers to “Joyfully welcome all priceless little ones with the careful enthusiasm with which we might welcome a garden full of brightly colored, verdantly fragrant and captivatingly beautiful flowers.”

Without expectation, I stood at an intersection of two main roads circuiting through a city near where I live.  A slow day for traffic–probably due to NFL games being played that day–I counted 150 cars whose drivers/passengers gave only a cursory glance in my direction.  Another 22 caught my attention:

12 gave a hearty ‘thumbs up’…

6 honked their horns and smiled in support…

…then…

1 driver turned the corner toward me vigorously shaking their head from side to side in disapproval.

…finally…

3 drivers slowed down, honked, rolled down a window and expressed their consternation toward me with a rude hand gesture.

As I thought about the last three, I wondered why they were so angry.  It had already occurred to me  that some people might be offended by my attempt to awaken their consciences to the reality of what abortion was really all about, but I was a little ‘taken a-back’ by the vigor with which the last three had expressed their frustrations toward me.

“Why so angry?”

Now two weeks later, I think I understand the answer…an answer already alluded to by the Lord in Romans 1:18.  These people were angry because their hearts had already realized the truth about what abortion really was.  They just wanted to suppress that truth.  In reality, their anger was not really aimed at me at all.  It was simply the result of their ‘heartfelt knowledge of the truth colliding with their unwillingness to embrace that truth’.  Their anger was simply the expression of the results of that truth collision.

Next time I stand and ‘speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves’, I’ll be prepared to use the dissenter’s reactions as a reminder to pray the inspired thoughts of 2 Timothy 2:25-26…

“Those who oppose you, you must gently instruct with the hope that God would grant them repentance, leading them to a knowledge of the truth, that they might come to their senses and escape the trap of the enemy who has taken them captive to do his will.”

And I’ll remember God’s counsel to me…

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”   Colossians 3:17

 

Here Are the Answers

In our last post, I asked readers to try their hand at recognizing famous athletes by their nick names.  Then I offered 12 names of God.  The challenge was to figure out what each of those twelve names meant as it regards our relationship to God through Jesus.

Here are the translations of the names of God that I listed.

God is…

…my Creator…

…my Lord God…

…my Supplier…

…my Master…

…my Provider…

…my Banner…

…my Sanctifier…

…my Righteousness…

…my Shepherd…

…my Peace…

We rejoice that our God is this and infinitely more.  Through Jesus we have as our Heavenly Father the One Who spoke and the world was.

This Advent Season let’s come humbly to Him offering gifts of praise, thanksgiving and love.

Have a blessed Christmas celebration.

A Change of Pace

In this post, for a change of pace, I thought it might be fun to play a name recognition game.  From the following list of nick names, how many famous athletes can you name.  Some became famous because of baseball, basketball, hockey or car racing.  See how many you can correctly identify.

The Big Unit, the Admiral, the Great One, the Dream, the Bus, Sweetness, the Big O, Hondo, Gunslinger, the Fridge, the Intimidator, the King, the Beast, the Deacon, the Minister of Defense, the Cheeseheads, the Steel Curtain…

How did you do?  If there was one nick name that you didn’t recognize, simply Google the famous nick name and the real name of the athlete will come up.

Now, for the next round of name recognition–one of greater importance:  see how many of these twelve names of God you recognize.  I’ll give the Hebrew name in English.  See how many of the twelve you can correctly identify and translate.  Here goes…

Elohim

Jehovah

El Shaddai

Adonai

Jehovah Jireh

Jehovah Nissi

Jehovah Mikkadesh

Jehovah Tsidkenu

Jehovah Rohi

Jehovah Shalom

Jehovah Shammah

O.k.  Work on it and I’ll give the answers in an upcoming blog.

Advent blessings to all as you seek the Lord in order to worship Him  like the Wise Men described in Matthew’s Gospel chapter 2 did.

 

Which one would you want?

I’ve been following, at least with moderate interest, an unscientific survey of sport’s commentators as they speculate as to the most sought after movie props or sports memorabilia.  Collectible because of their general popularity, these items could fetch six figures at auction.  Among those listed is an autographed Arnold Palmer golf club putter, a Wayne Gretzky signed hockey stick and a Pete Sampras autographed  tennis racket.  One item, though, piqued my interest more than the others, but for a different reason.

One of the commentators mentioned a desire to own the sweat shirt worn by Jim Belushi in the popular movie ‘Animal House’ that had the word ‘College’ written across the front.  The commentator never revealed what he’d be willing to pay for it, but simply said that he’d win the auction.

Later that day, I sat and thought about what I’d be most willing to own.  I didn’t need to think long.  Remembering the third chapter of Zechariah in the Old Testament, I decided that I’d most like to own a ‘robe of righteousness’ given me by my Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.  In that chapter, Joshua stood guilty before the Lord dressed in the filthy rags of self-effort, self-centeredness  and sin.  As he stood condemned, the Lord commanded the attending angel to ‘take off his filthy rags’ and put on new, clean, ‘pure vestments’.

That is what I’d like to own more than anything.  The pure vestments of Christ’s righteousness.  We are learning a new song in worship that repeats: ‘His robes for mine, oh wondrous exchange’.   What a joyous possession…a precious gift from God.

At the cross of Calvary, Jesus wore my robe of punishment because of what I did wrong.  By Grace through faith, He gives me His robe of righteousness to wear as a gift for what He did right.

A MARVELOUS EXCHANGE, INDEED!

 

We’ve All Done It

It happens countless times every day.

Someone decides to look at a new or different car.  After work one day, they swing by their local dealer having already decided the make and model of their next vehicle.  Arriving at the car lot, they notice three vehicles that match their new preferences–right color, year, trim package, etc.  Like any of us would, they walk up to the car, look at the price tag, check out the ‘sticker’ that details the specs and give the exterior a quick ‘once over’ glance.

At this point, we all do it.  To look inside, we cup our hands on the sides of our eyes and press our face close to the car’s window.  Shielding out the light seems to help us see more clearly what might be in the car’s interior.

But what is true when looking at a car is NOT true when creating a more civil, healthy or godly culture.  There, shutting out the light creates an increasing darkness that results in cultural arrogance, hostility, unkindness and murderous self-centeredness, to which the rash of recent shootings attest.

Arguments and blame begin within hours of these crippling events.  One person blames firearms.  Another blames legislation or the lack thereof.  Still another blames poor efforts to help the mentally unstable or chronically aggressive.  But all of these fall short of providing a good description of the REAL source of our  problems.

Simply stated, we do not have a GUN problem.  We have a GOD problem.

For far too long, we have culturally bonded together to close out true light from our public conscience and create a ‘darkness’ in our souls that has just begun to bear fruit.  I don’t believe we are going to benefit from reaching the goal to which we are heading.  Just in my lifetime, we have culturally adopted sinister thoughts that can only harm us.  We’ve said…

  • You can’t pray in public whether at school, athletic events or other sanctioned functions.  Oh, we can have ‘student initiated prayers’ as long as they’re not at graduation ceremonies.  We’ll be forced to censor those.
  • You can use God or Jesus’ names as long as they are curse words, but don’t include them in a speech where their dignity and worth are extolled and praised.
  • We tell our children that they arrived on planet earth by evolving from ‘goo’ to ‘you’ by way of the ‘zoo’.
  • We tell our students that it’s fine to kill a pre-born baby because, after all, it’s not human.  BTW, some stem cell companies will gladly ‘purchase’ your aborted baby so that ‘human genetic research’ can be conducted on him/her.  What heartless irony, that.
  • We teach that whatever you think is truth to you and no one has the right to contradict your ascertains. And if they do, well, that’s hostility toward you.
  • We teach that the Bible is ‘passe at best and hateful speech at worst’.
  • We applaud ‘putting yourself publicly forward as priority #1, even if it’s at another persons’ expense.
  • As for violent video games/movies–that’s ok.  That’s good entertainment.

Why do we wonder at the crass paucity of our increasingly uncivil, violent society when we have dedicated the last 60+ years of our lives to BLOCKING OUT THE LIGHT?   Let’s all realize that if you take G-O-D out of g-o-o-d, you end up with ‘0’.

Are Analysts Asking the Right Question?

In today’s age, it is rare to be in a public setting and not hear numerous discussions regarding the public protests of our national anthem and the symbol of our freedom–the American flag.  I would like to make one observation regarding this issue, without delving in to the ‘rights of protest’.

Almost every analyst is heard asking the same question: “Why do they hate America?”  To answer this question, most of the analysts suggest the same litany of reasons why the protests are not only justified, but even required.

Granted, there are many injustices that deserve our attention.  With the level of suffering in the world and our nation, it is fitting for us to reflect on the injustices and resolve to help alleviate a measure of injustice.

If we remove just one word from the question that is being asked, we discover a more important issue to ponder.  The question, “Why do they hate America?” is appropriate to ask in a purely ‘social’ context. But, in a ‘spiritual’ context of greater importance, simply removing one word could frame the discussion in a more compelling way. For example, should we not be asking the question, “Why do they hate”?

In general, hating America is a temporary concern.  It will only last as long as America exists or we live.  However, hating in particular is of eternal consequence.  When we face God in judgment, He may not be as concerned with our hating America as He is concerned with our hating.

Understand that hating is not the result of the presence of unjust circumstances.  It is the result of how we choose to respond to those circumstances.  For example, take the tragedy of the Nazi death camps.  Two individuals experienced the same horrors and yet left with polar opposite reactions.  Elie Wiesel left the death camp with a heart full of bitter anger and resentment.  Corrie Ten Boom left the death camp with a heart prepared to live in humble forgiveness.  Same circumstance . . . different responses.  One chose hate while the other chose forgiveness.  It is all a matter of the heart.  The same is true of our social controversies.

It is entirely rational that so many are furious with our unjust social conditions.  But is hatred our best choice?

Perhaps our responses should more appropriately mirror the counsel of our Lord in Matthew 5:43-48

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward to you have? do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is  perfect.