Monthly Archives: February 2014

Shredded memories


I was reading an old article about “Good Riddance Day” in Times Square at the end of 2013. Visitors to the famous tour spot stood in line to write down and shred their bad memories of the past year.

Gimmicky, for sure, but I’m guessing the event is based on something many of us face: we tend to hold on to bad memories that only serve to tear us down and limit the joy God wishes us to experience. Maybe it is a grudge against someone who maligned you, or perhaps an inadvertently spoken word you interpreted as negative. Maybe it was a loss of job, money, possessions, or friendship. Maybe it was an unusually bitter summer, a flood, or other natural event that wore you down. And you keep remembering it! Face it, bad memories are for real and we have to decide what to do with them: learn from them and move on, or dwell on them and imprison ourselves in their grasp.

Actually, a small group of friends discussed a number of years ago how holding on to negative memories weighs on us and drags us down. We were invited to reflect on something that irritates us about someone we love, someone for whom we care deeply. Maybe that irritating act had become the focus of countless discussions or arguments. But in the end, we had to admit that it really wasn’t all that important. IF we were willing to give that up in a forgiving attitude, we were asked to write that down on a scrap of paper, pray for strength and wisdom to give it up FOREVER, and then drop it into the burning fireplace, never to bring it up again. The fire represented the destruction of the consuming force the memory had on us and the refining fire that would make us whole again.

I wonder if you have bad memories that you need to shred or let go into such a refining fire. Better to be better than bitter. Learn from the past and let go that which imprisons you.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

Resilience in the face of crisis


Former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords suffered severe brain injuries when she was shot in the head in 2011. Since then she has become known for great “resilience in the face of crisis.” Quoted in a news interview the recovering Giffords said, “I’m still fighting to make the world a better place, and you can too. Be passionate. Be courageous. Be your best.”

This led me to ponder what it is that allows some people to be so resilient in the face of crisis, suffering, and torturous pain, while others succumb to despair, depression and hopelessness. Certainly, some folks seem naturally dispositioned to be positive people, to look at the bright side, to look at problems as opportunities, and stumbling blocks as stepping-stones. You may have heard the old tale of a young boy being evaluated by a group of psychologists. In a room filled with manure, the boy was absolutely giddy, tossing the stuff up in the air. When they asked him why he was so happy, he replied, “With all this manure, there’s bound to be a horsey in here somewhere!”

Others, not so naturally inclined, have disciplined themselves with such a positive and hopeful outlook. This is something we all can (and should) do. Life becomes better for us and for those around us. Many who are most diligent in this area find that what started as a discipline or chore, later became a natural response. Given a choice between hope and despair, why not choose hope?

Real hope, of course, goes beyond a wish or desire. I could wish to discover how to turn lead into gold. I could desire a fulfilling life. But unless wishes and desires are based on something real, they are not likely to come to fruition. Real hope is based on a firm expectation that things will work out for good in the end. Real hope is a foundation for a better life and is itself founded on that which is always true.

My hope is based on the promises of God. While I knew them to be true before my cancer, the long journey to recovery has been filled with experiencing that truth. Real hope is based on a faith that what we cannot presently see, but is actually completely true and real, not just in the future, but in our present experience. It doesn’t deny pain or sorrow nor pretend them away. But real hope, the stuff that mature faith is made of, provides a resilience toward life that is not commonly found.

Like the boy in the room full of manure, we have a choice at how we respond to life’s difficulties. Real hope based on a maturing faith makes that choice so much easier.

Have hope and share the reason for your hope with those who listen.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.”
Proverbs 3:5-6


The pieces of your life puzzle



Do you like solving jigsaw puzzles? My wife does. And because I like being with my wife, I often get drawn into these as well. Having two people working together makes for a more enjoyable and less maddening approach. We typically work on separate parts of the puzzle, but stop to help the other look for pieces of a certain color or shape or pattern that they need.

Have you ever nearly reached the end of a large puzzle only to discover that you are missing one or more pieces? Likely lost to a vacuum cleaner or misplaced in another puzzle box, the missing pieces leave us with a sense of dissatisfaction.

That might be a metaphor for life. We naturally have this drive for a sense of completion and fulfillment in our lives, but often find ourselves still looking for pieces to our puzzle. My mother always told me that we ought to pay attention to others because God gave them some of the pieces to our puzzle and he gave us some of the pieces of theirs.

In the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Watson would often make some seemingly obtuse observation that Sherlock would use it to tie everything together. It is like that for us too. It seems God draws us together knowing we are more complete in a community of friends than alone.

Another truth is that if God is missing from our lives, if He has slipped from our daily focus, our life puzzle will always be missing a vital piece. Without Him, we will always be lost and incomplete. God knows exactly how our lives all fit together and He makes it beautifully complete. Tell Him about the pieces you are missing and ask Him about your ‘extra’ pieces that belong to someone else. Best is the puzzled life that becomes wholly and holy His.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

Anchoring your mind


The subject of ‘mindfulness’ is frequently mentioned in the media, typically in the context of finding calmness in life balance. The idea is that we should take time each day to be mindful of our existence and our relationship with our world and others around us. The process is one of ‘anchoring’ oneself to inner values in a way that promotes emotional calmness.

Did you know that practicing mindfulness is at the very heart of focusing on and loving God? From the beginning, we are told to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, and strength (Deut. 6:5). Repeatedly, God prompts us to remember that He is our God (Numbers 15:41). We are reminded to meditate on His Word day and night (Joshua 1:8). We are called into His presence (Ps. 95:2) and to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:16). Jesus said that we can’t do anything without him, that we need to remain in him (John 15), and Paul tells us that with him, we can do all things.

Being mindful of who God is and who we are in his sight, is the essence of walking with God. It is our hope in Him that anchors us in the only way that is firm and secure (Heb. 6:19). It is the anchor that keeps us from drifting away from Him.

So how do we practice this mindfulness of God? Consider the following practical steps:
1. Find and make space for God throughout your daily actions and thoughts. When you find yourself getting upset and tense, create a space between how you feel and how you respond. In that space, think of who you are called to be. Ponder what a godly response would look like. A harsh word may seem like it would satisfy, but consider the longer-lasting consequence of that approach. Choose to be a peacemaker instead.
2. Don’t give in to fear and anxiety. Instead, practice being calm even in the middle of turmoil. Be mindful of God’s promises, His love for you, and how he has equipped you for every situation.
3. Get comfortable with silence. It’s impossible to truly hear what someone else is saying if you are always talking. Talk with God regularly and throughout the day, not just upon rising and going to bed. But more than talking, practice listening to God at least 10-15 minutes each day. Listen without interrupting. Practicing this after reading His Word will stimulate your listening ability.
4. Sharpen your saw. Break away from busyness. If you want to be more productive in what you do and to experience greater life balance and peace, practice being mindful of the One who loves you most. Stop drifting and enjoy the peace and wisdom of your anchoring your mind in meditation.

Be the friend you want


Who do you consider to be close friends? Close friendships may be a more rare commodity than we might think. A close friend might not be one you do everything with. In fact, they may live far away. But a close friend is one who knows your struggles, your faults, and aspirations and accepts you as you are. True friends offer opportunities and encourage us to grow in maturity, but our ‘changing’ is not the expectation of the friendship. I think the best of friends don’t insist that you see everything the same as you do. A good test of love is our ability to befriend people who are different from us.

It has been said that vitamins can help build and develop friendships: the best vitamin for friendship is B1 (be one). I don’t know who wrote this short commentary on friendship but I think it offers good counsel for us and may even be a good checklist for us to evaluate our own friendship skills:

“To dwell on a friend’s mistake is to make a second mistake.

A person can always be your friend even if not a friend in all ways.

Allow your friend to make mistakes and give yourself the same freedom.

Your todays will be happier if you cease to dwell on what happened yesterday or on what may come tomorrow.

A friend is like crystal, handle with care.

Should you find fault with a friend convey it quietly.

Don’t let anger stand in the way. Remember friendships need to be nurtured with forgiveness.

Bury the hatchet and unearth the joy of an old friendship.

Be tolerant of your friends. Even the pick of the bunch has a few blemishes.

and finally. . .

Friendship can endure over many years even when the content of that friendship changes greatly.”

What kind of friend do you want to have. Likely you’ll find them when you become that kind of friend to the friendless.

This little light of mine


Remember the Sunday School song, This Little Light of Mine?
This Little Light of Mine, I’m gonna let it shine….
Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine.

Glancing at Facebook postings of many evangelical Christians might lead one to surmise that recipes, cute house crafts, sports, and funny videos are more important than “This little light of mine.” True, we need to not just talk, but walk the talk for our light to effectively shine in darkness. But looking at national trends, I wonder how much of either is being done.

According to LifeWay Research (Southern Baptist Convention), a wide majority of Protestant pastors consider religious liberty to be declining in the USA. “Ten years ago we were talking about who would win the culture war, and now we’re talking about how will Christian rights be protected after the culture war,” Ed Stetzer, the president of LifeWay Research said.

The Constitution protects Freedom OF Religion. But lately it seems revisionists want to change this to freedom FROM religion…specifically Christians.

Why is this? Could it be related to 3/4 of Christians staying home on election day or voting “their party” or their pocket-book over their moral values? Could it be that we’re losing impact on our culture because we have become so worldly instead of more godly? Have we misinterpreted “turn the other cheek” as an invitation to become the world’s door mat?

If we are going to let our light shine, we need to get it out from under the bushel in terms of our actions, decisions, prayers and our speech. We can’t be salt if we’ve lost our flavor or if we aren’t involved in our culture.

Let’s ask God to search our hearts again and to show us how to let our light shine with love in action.

“You are the light of the world.” Jesus, Matthew 5:14

(Based on original article by Todd Starnes on Foxnews.)

Faith that is fully persuaded



Which is bigger…your fears or your faith?


This past 15 months with Leukemia has not been without challenges, frets, pain and extraordinarily diminished strength. But it also hasn’t been without certain benefits: drawing closer to God, focusing more on relationships, refining one’s focus on priorities, and peace in reflecting on God’s faithfulness, goodness and mercy in the midst of difficulty.

During devotions yesterday, Marcia and I were discussing how we are coping with the situation. We surmised that we are doing well but also realized that someplace deep within, there are questions, doubts, and certain realities that contradict our mental assessment of the situation. It is a bit like driving on an icy road: you are confident the journey will end well, but still very much aware of the perilous plight.

Faith doesn’t only exist in the absence of questions. Faith rises up above them. The passage in Roman’s celebrating Abraham’s faith has always spoken to me about this:
“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” Romans 4:18-21

Did you catch it? “Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead.” And yet he was fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. Faith in the presence of unquestionable facts, hope against all hope.

That is what we face today too. We aren’t called to ignore the facts or pretend they don’t exist. We aren’t even always called to pray the facts away. We ARE called to always be faithful in the presence of our current reality, and to be fully persuaded that God has power to work his will, and that it will be plenty good.

Go ahead, bring your questions, your fears, even your doubts to God about your pain and sorrow. Keep the conversation open both ways and see if you too can find reason against all hope, to be fully persuaded that God will keep his promises to those who love him and believe in him.

Time for pruning

It’s almost that time of year, when the temperatures start to warm a little but it is still too early for the grapevines and fruit trees to bud…time for pruning.

I remember when our grapes first started producing. We collected buckets of grapes, and I thought, “Why bother with pruning? This seems to be working well just letting the vines grow.” But the next two seasons produced diminishing amounts of fruit. It seemed the branches didn’t have strength to supply nourishment to all the buds. While seemingly wasteful, pruning actually produces more fruit.

That’s the way it is in our lives too. None of us look forward to pruning away the unproductive aspects of our life. But spiritual pruning is as necessary for us as physical pruning is for the vine branches. We don’t have enough time or energy for every ‘budding’ activity in our lives. Pruning causes us to reflect on our dependence on God, it brings repentance, and reveals again the purpose of our lives, that is to enjoy our abiding in the vine and to produce good fruit. Pruning, as painful as it seems at the time, causes us to live a life of greater purpose and productivity.

We associate pruning with pain, suffering, and the stripping away of pride and focus on ourselves. But the purpose of pruning is to bring about a closer relationship with and dependence on the vine, that which allows us to produce more useful and mature fruit. Jesus, the vine in John 15, reminds us that apart for him, we can do nothing. Matthew 19:6 tells us there are things impossible for men, but that for God all things are possible. Romans 8:18 and 28 promise that the weight of this present suffering cannot be compared to the future glory it will produce; that God will work all things for good for those who love him. We can be thankful for pruning because it produces God’s best for us and those whose lives we impact.

What trials and suffering are you facing in your life? Instead of complaining and fretting over them, consider what positive effect this pruning could have on your life and how you – and others – might actually benefit from this season of drawing closer to God.

Then Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father takes care of the vineyard. He removes every one of my branches that doesn’t produce fruit. He also prunes every branch that does produce fruit to make it produce more fruit.” ~ John 15:1,2

Let light shine out of darkness


If you were in a dark place you’d want someone to bring you a light wouldn’t you? For physical darkness most any light would do. But what about spiritual darkness? A flashlight is of little value to that area of our lives that resides in our minds and hearts, that area that houses our fears, anxieties, secrets, worries.

Spiritual darkness requires spiritual light. That light we all need comes only from God:

‘For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.’
2 Corinthians 4:6

But even though we need the light, God tells us that some will not receive such light:

“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.
Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” John 3:19-21

Light is the focus of GLOW – Go Light Our World ministries. Our purpose is to be and to bring light to shine into darkness, so that those who need it will have a choice as to how to live. That’s actually the calling before all of us, isn’t it?

But even lightbearers need to check their hearts and minds for any patch of darkness that secretly resides within us. And all that is required to dispel darkness is to continually expose it to light. Light is truth and truth dispels lies, doubts, anxieties, and worries. Where there is darkness let us be committed to shining God’s light, his truth, his grace, and his love.

Maybe you’re right

I was talking with another cancer patient recently, and the conversation turned to how crises have a way of getting our attention and how they often cause us to dig deeper in our life. We shared how this horrific disease drew each of us closer to our spouse and also to God. I suppose it is cliché to comment on how it encourages us to think about what is important in life, what we want to be known for and how we want to spend the days we have. The ‘need’ to BE right gives way more and more to focus on having the right spirit. Tozer writes in The Keys to the Deeper Life, “Always it is more important that we retain a right spirit toward others than we bring them into our way of thinking, even if our way is right.”

How many times have you found yourself in an ‘argument’ over some trivial matter? “It was in 1974.” “No it was 1975.” It will be faster if we turn left here.” “No, it will be longer that way; turn right.” I remember sitting in the back seat of a car as the couple in front spent a full five minutes berating each other over who was right. It is not that disagreement is unhealthy. Quite the contrary sometimes. But striving over trivial matters is a sign of an unhealthy relationship. Even good relationships can be better, even great.

Marcia and I used to get caught up in such pettiness. I suppose sometimes we still do, but we are quicker to realize the trap before we fall too deeply into it. Sometime ago we discovered the wisdom of, “Maybe you’re right,” not as some psychobabble but of realizing 1) we might in fact be wrong and 2) that too much focus on trivial arguments is slippery slope toward relational distancing.

Sometimes, determining the right facts is crucial to a conversation. But many times not. Think on your interactions with others and how many times you find yourself sliding into trivial arguments that don’t matter. Is that really how you want to spend your time? How does having to be right affect the other aspects of your relationship with others? And your relationship with God?

Let’s all commit to living a deeper life, one where we measure when it is important to strive, and when striving becomes harmful.

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. James 4:1-2