Monthly Archives: September 2014

Slow down




‘Bee’ one who slows down. – Thayerapy Gardens


“Slow down. Take a deep breath. What’s the hurry? Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway? But you say, ‘I can’t help it. I’m addicted to alien gods. I can’t quit.’ ” Jeremiah 2:25



I’ve always had a certain fascination with bees, how they charge about like roaring winged lions with golden manes and a nearly addictive focus on discovering new sources of pollen to gather and take back to their hive. If there were an illustration of productivity for high achievers, this might be it. And talk about a purpose larger than yourself: while the bees go about their business of making a life for themselves and their future generations, they perform an amazing service to us by pollinating the creations that sustain us with food and life itself.


I noticed too, how during the heat of the day it was immensely difficult to follow a single bee. They were just too busy, energized by the heat of the sun. But I learned that if you observed them as the afternoon breezes cooled, they slowed down, just long enough for me to grab a photo like this one as they rested on my Sedum plants.


The prophet Jeremiah warned the people of his day to slow down. They were working themselves into a frenzy, searching after ‘alien gods.’ “I can’t quit,” they lamented. Have you ever felt like that? Like you are spinning out of control on some cosmic merry-go-round and can’t stop? Like what you are chasing with such ambition and passion isn’t even the “real thing” but rather something alien to what you were meant to be pursuing?


There is good news to heed: Slow down. Take time to look beyond yourself. Pause for a moment to reflect on what you are chasing and ask yourself if it is really worth it. There’s nothing wrong with making a living but it is so much more important to make a life!  Plan some times during the day to slow down and take a deep breath. Stop wearing yourself out for something that doesn’t fulfill. Just because you can measure a goal doesn’t make it worth pursuing. Instead of pursuing alien gods, stop and look on the One and Only True God who never changes and never wears out. Slow down long enough to grab the vision He has for you and for your life. Breathe deeply the breath of life He freely gives to you even in the busyness of your day.


“Slow down. Take a deep breath. What’s the hurry? Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway?” Jeremiah 2:25



Consider the lilies of the field



062307 red lilly 026 closeup

Scarlet O’Hara Lily – Thayerapy Gardens

“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.” Matthew 6:28-29


The last days of summer cause me to pause and reflect on the marvels that surround me. This photo from one of our past gardens speaks to the joy of God’s creation.


We mortals worry and fret about so many things, most of which are of little or no consequence. Even the ‘big’ worries of life are not moved by our fretful way of thinking. This lily has long passed. Having shared its beauty with others who stopped to notice it has since begotten other lilies that have followed, bringing a testimony of praise to the greatness of God, and humbling us a bit in the process.   Jesus told stories about this, how we worry about making a living, having food to eat, clothes to wear. And yet, our great, creative and merciful God cares for even the ‘least’ of His creations and adorns them with such amazing beauty. How much more does He care for us!


Better that we toss our worries aside and find something in which we can marvel today; something that speaks to the greatness of God, of this amazing life He has graciously bestowed upon us, and on the beauty that we have to reflect toward others, while we have this day.


“Consider the lilies…” indeed!



What did you say?



P1020852 I walked upstairs and into the office, asking the receptionist, “Cheem?” (Korean for acupuncture.) She didn’t understand so I pointed to a photo I had thought to take of the business sign downstairs and she nodded her head affirmatively. So in my best practiced Korean I asked, “Uhl mah eem nikkah?” (How much does it cost?) She responded, “I no speak English.” Now I thought I was speaking Korean but evidently didn’t quite say what I intended! After a bit, we come to the understanding that a session costs $10. Again trying to speak the native language, I asked how long until my appointment. She answered one hour. I bowed politely and turned to leave but she waves for me to come to the back room, evidently meaning the session lasts one hour and they are ready for me right now.


Before I went to visit the acupuncturist, my son spoke from experience: “Usually it doesn’t hurt, but sometimes it might hurt a little if they misplace one of the needles. In that case you want to know the Korean word for pain: “apayo.” I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t the acupuncturist get the message if I just yelled, “OWWWWW!?” None the less, I learned the word ‘apayo’ but I didn’t need to say it. It was an entirely relaxing and beneficial experience.


They say that whenever two people speak there are really six people talking. There is WHAT I said, what I THOUGHT I said, and what you HEARD me say. And of course, there is what you said, what you thought you said, and what I heard you say. No wonder communication is sometimes difficult! Like the time I went to exchange money in a Bolivian bank. The Spanish word for dollars is very similar to the word for pain. So while I thought I said ‘dolares’ the teller heard me say ‘dolores’ and hence she snickered when she heard me say I wanted to exchange my pain for Bolivianos. (Actually, I could get pretty rich with that kind of exchange! 🙂


Communication is a tricky thing even if only one language is involved. So I reckon it best to laugh at our own mistakes and try again to get the proper message across. It’s well understood that the answer, “Fine!” when spoken between two people can have a number of meanings, including “definitely NOT fine,” depending on the tone of voice and facial expression. So understanding is not just a matter of hearing what was said but how it was said and with what expression. Communication is hard work and easy to mess up even in the best of relationships. Let’s slow down, especially when clear communication most matters and make sure an accurate and respectful message gets across.


“Be careful what you say and protect your life. A careless talker destroys himself.” Proverbs 13:3



Tearing down walls



On one of our long walks around Seoul we came across this monolith. We fairly quickly surmised that it was part of the infamous Berlin Wall that was suddenly set up overnight one evening in 1961 and stood as a physical and symbolic barrier dividing East and West Berlin until 1989.


A local Korean university student sitting nearby explained to us that this section also represents the division between the once united Korean countries. The freedom decorated side of the wall represents South Korea and the sterile blank other side of the wall represents North Korea. He spoke both simply and sadly about the symbolic and real division of what used to be a united country. Now the division separates not only political entities but families and loved ones.


It caused me pause to consider the ‘walls’ we allow to separate us from others in our own families and communities: not just the disagreements on how we see life, political views, religious views, but petty things as well. Someone said something and you took offense – a wall sprung up.  You inadvertently slighted someone and another wall went up. We build walls to defend ourselves from others and to keep others at a distance.  Sin in our life builds walls and strongholds that resist change. Life is too short to build dividing walls. I wonder as you look around you what walls you will see that need to be torn down. Better to build understanding than walls. 


We demolish arguments and every pretension (barrier) that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5 



Plant a garden



P1020902One of the things that quickly impressed us while in Korea was how well the people make use of the land available to them. Small fields the size of backyards were filled with rice. Vacant lots in the city grew beans, cabbage, peppers, radishes (the size of watermelons), and even corn. Hills along roadways and bike paths were abundant with pumpkins, beans and peppers. Even the inches between a storefront and the street contained pots of peppers or beans. Clearly the relationship the Koreans have with their food is a tight-knit one and their concept of stewardship well understood.


Whether you garden at home or at the grocery store, we are all called to cultivate and share our other ‘gardens’. Jesus tells us in John 15 that He is the vine and we are the branches. We are to bear fruit, not in our own power, but simply by remaining in Him. If we remain connected to Him throughout the day, and not leave Him sitting by our devotional spot at home, He promises we will bear much fruit. It is after all, our primary job: remain in Him; bear fruit.


Every ‘space’ in our day can be cultivated to bear fruit if it is connected to its life-giving source. That is why it is essential to stay connected to God throughout the day, not just in those brief moments of prayer. The living vine gives life only to branches that remain attached. Everything else is superfluous. Everything not related to bearing fruit gets pruned. We might take great pleasure in the amount of leaves we generate or the expansiveness of our active growing cycles. But all our ambitions and activities, unless they bear fruit, are all cut off and thrown in the fire.


How do you remind yourself to stay attached to the vine? You might set “appointments” in your day planner to acknowledge God. You might put up visual signs or notes to draw your attention to your life-giving source. You might use every transition point in your day, when you move from one task to another, to draw near to God. You might train yourself to see others around you as reminders to see God in a new way.


However you choose to remind yourself, stay connected. Grow your garden and bear fruit wherever you are today. Use every space available.


“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5



Know the truth



P1020832 This symbol is commonly seen throughout Korea and particularly in places of Buddhist worship or shops that sell religious artifacts. It is meant to convey the message that “all is well” or good fortune. You notice right away the similarity to the Nazi swastika, except that it is reversed.


I wonder if the Nazi swastika was meant to convey the false message that “all is well” when indeed, all was very horribly wrong. It’s said that if you repeat a message often enough it will be believed. We are aghast at the political propaganda of other countries but often ignorant of the effect of such political and advertising propaganda in our own culture. Whether it be sexism or consumerism we still buy into it. We want more because we are told that more is fulfilling. We come to believe that things are true because we have heard them so many times. The lies become accepted as truths.


I think it was Francis Schaeffer who said “The downfall of America will come without the firing of a single bullet. It will happen when we tolerate the things we once abhorred, we accept the things we once merely tolerated, and we embrace the things we once accepted.” Think about it. We see this manifest on both cross-cultural and personal levels. Aren’t we quick to excuse our own “pet sins” that we keep close to ourselves? We tolerate them by rationalizing they are not ‘so bad.’ We accept them as part of who we are and defensively embrace them when someone points them out to us. We could similarly examine our own attitudes toward societal changes. What things have you or your children come to tolerate or accept as normal that once were considered abhorrently abnormal?


Wherever you find an original truth you will always find a counterfeit that is dressed up to look like the original. How do you tell the difference? You go back to the source. When we were mentoring men in prison we always told them if what we say doesn’t match the Word of God, to stick with the Word of God. That is the original and genuine message of God’s love to you and me. If we are not grounded in the understanding of His Word, we will easily find our ears tickled by all sort of false teaching and lies that appeal to our earthly desires. Be cautious of those who preach that ‘all is well’ in the world.


For the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.…” 2 Timothy 4:3-4



Guard your mind and heart



P1020616 Korea is a mountainous country with a long history of territorial wars. And so it is no surprise to find many fortresses wherever you go. This is a part of the Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon, Korea and demonstrates a cunning strategy to defend one of the fortress entrances. Potential intruders would have to navigate an ever narrowing and winding uphill path to reach the gate while becoming targets of archers from many parts of the wall. The expansive wall itself is several feet wide and circumvents a large portion of the city. Rising up hundreds of feet above the city, the fortress provides a good defense against attack. Just climbing the steps of the wall was an arduous task.


Walking around modern Suwon, it seemed that people in general were very calm and did not act as if their lives were threatened. Even the persistent threats from a noisy neighbor north of the border doesn’t seem to shake the citizenry. Chances are you and I enter each day with a similar attitude of calm. Yet God reminds us that we are at war with evil and calls on His people to guard their hearts and mind as well as their bodies from attack of the enemy, lest we too be toppled and fall victim to their prey.


To be successful in war we must first be aware that we are engaged every day in the battle for our mind. We all know how easily we can be tricked by smooth talking and cunning lines of persuasion if we are not alert. Knowing what you believe – and why – is as important as knowing what you are against. Understanding and focusing on basic truths that are always true and unshakable helps us to stand firm. There can be no moral truth if all morals are accepted as equally true. Some truths are absolute.


Studying and meditating on God’s Word will establish these in your heart and mind. Memorizing and applying them to your daily life is like putting on an armor that protects you from enemy attacks. Put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the boots of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit. (Ephesians 6)


Above all else, guard the fortress of your heart and your mind so you can stand firm whatever battle arises against you.


Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4:23


And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7







Live fully awake and truly alive



“I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start over again.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

Chances are the engine on your airplane didn’t blow up on a recent flight. But apparently that happened on JetBlue Flight 1416 last week shortly after take off from Long beach, California. It must have been a scary event. According to passengers, the cabin filled up with smoke, many people cried and some prayed, breathing through those little oxygen masks that fall from the aircraft ceiling. Four people were injured with one going to the hospital, but a major disaster was averted.


Can you imagine what would go through your mind if you had been on board? One moment you are happily on your way to Texas, perhaps to conduct business, visit a friend, or to vacation, and the next you are wondering if you will make it home. One passenger said, “I am just happy to be alive. I don’t think I’ll be mean to anybody ever again.”


Catastrophes and near-death experiences have a way of bringing us to our senses. They serve as a wake-up call to pay attention to what is important in life. They bring to mind our shortcomings and give us motive to live better lives, or at least to make such vows.


But why wait for a catastrophe? Why not decide now to intentionally be nice to people, to greet strangers with a smile, to spend more time meditating on your life purpose and daring to live it out? Why not decide to not waste your life when things are going well? Maybe we sleep so deeply through our lives that we sometimes need a catastrophe to awake us from our slumber. Maybe the humdrum routine of our life lulls us to wearily nod our heads just as the steady drone of the jet engine lulls us to sleep.


But it doesn’t have to be so. You can live with your eyes wide open to each day that comes. You can establish a thankful morning routine that wakes you up to the importance of living this day well. You can be intentional about your thoughts and actions. You are not alone in this quest. God Himself goes with you and offers His Spirit to help and guide you.


Live fully awake today. Be truly alive. It matters.


“Wake up sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Ephesians 5:14

Remain quiet a little longer



P1020421 Do you know what these are? They are called onggi, Korean fermenting pots. We saw these in an historical palace and also in the patios and rooftops of houses and restaurants throughout the cities. They have been used for the last 6000-7000 years to create unique sauces made from foods such as red chili peppers, beans and rice paste, cabbage, soy sauce. Not exactly fast food, it takes months to prepare the specialty sauces. I think fermented foods demand an acquired taste and obviously requires much patience to obtain the final product.


There is a similar concept applied to thinking that also has been around for thousands of years: meditation. From the beginning of history, God’s people were instructed to meditate on His Word, day and night. To meditate means to think deeply or focus one’s mind for a period of time. Some synonymous words include: contemplate, think, consider, ponder, muse, reflect, deliberate, ruminate, brood, mull over. Meditation is not like reading the headlines of the news. It is thinking deeply about something, not unlike letting it ferment in your mind, breaking down the large ideas and letting them stew until you can absorb the richness of flavor offered by truth.


Like fermented foods, meditation requires patience and deliberation. We in the western world are not very accustomed to fermented foods or to meditated thinking. We’d rather go for a quick bite to eat and listen to 30 second “sound bites’. We can all understand this: meditation, like preparing a thickened sauce, takes time. And we are all so famously busy in this fast paced day and age. We might not know where our busy life is taking us but we are getting there so very quickly! Like the husband who says, to his wife while driving, “I know we are lost but we can’t stop now because we are making such good time!”  We encounter problems and want quick and easy solutions, ones that cut to the chase. That approach to solving problems works with some things. But some problems and trials in life are more complex and require more complex solutions.


The problems of pain and suffering, disappointment, grief, injustice and feeling unfulfilled are not resolved by a diet of fast food problem solving. The more one has contemplated and meditated on God’s truths, the more one is prepared to work through these issues with a greater sense of satisfaction and acceptance.


But it takes time. And none of us can add a single second to our days. We have to choose how to invest our time. Choose today to remain quiet a little longer. You can do it. Let your thoughts ponder the wonders of God, the miracle of His presence, His unending love and His amazing grace, even the miracle that He created in you. Do this every day and throughout the day so you can be strong and courageous, ‘prosperous and successful’ in the things that matter most.


“Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:8-9



Standing on holy ground



P1020396In the western world, we often defer respect to our guests when they enter our homes. If a guest starts to remove their shoes at the door, more often than not they may be greeted with, “Oh don’t bother; leave them on by all means.” But not so in Korea.


Our traditional Korean guesthouse featured an inner courtyard surrounded by sleeping rooms and a common kitchen. Before entering the rooms we were instructed to remove our shoes and walk in slippers or socks. The same instructions were given when we entered traditional style restaurants. It seems it is a sign of great disrespect to ignore this rule. In fact, we westerners are considered backward when allowing shoes that have trod through who-knows-what to also enter the intimate setting of one’s home.


Sacred ground is not to be violated. It is not to be trampled on carelessly. In years past, American churches used to be regarded as hallowed ground and treated with a measure of reverence and respect. In recent years, respect has been deferred to the guests in a ‘come as you are’ atmosphere to encourage people back into the churches. Korean temples and historic palaces still retain the atmosphere of historic respect and maintain the no shoes rule (though shoes are allowed in the courtyards).


I remember a Promise Keeper’s event where Jack Hayford invited 70,000 men to remove their shoes in the Twin’s stadium while he read the account of Moses’s encounter with God at the burning bush.


“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Exodus 3:5


Jack asked us to quietly reflect on where our feet had been earlier that day – in the bathroom, on the street, in places where filth and decay lay hidden from our view. And where have our minds been? What unclean thoughts have we entertained? With what impure and unkind regard have we considered those around us? All these things cling to us and keep us from entering a pure setting without infecting it. We were also asked on what basis do we come before God? On the basis of our good deeds or special accomplishments? On the basis of our gifts or talents? I greatly appreciate the invitation to come to God “just as I am,” but sometimes need to be reminded that this is not a casual “buddy time” encounter. Yes, Jesus is my friend, but he is also my Lord.


And so we were invited to symbolically remove our shoes, and not just our shoes but also to remove the attitude of self-righteousness and pride that so often cling to us, to bow down and approach the holy ground of God solely on the basis of Who He Is and on What He Has Done.


Take time to stand on holy ground today. If God gets your attention, He will change the way you walk before Him… with or without shoes.