Make it obvious, please!
Not long ago I did a sermon on one of my favorite passages in God’s Word, Proverbs 3:5-6 which says:
“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.”
In that message I talked about how we tend to ask the wrong questions when faced with a decision. Questions whose answers will ultimately result in us “leaning on our own understanding.” The one question we should be asking is this one: “What does God want me to do here?”
Last weekend I drove to The Cities to help our son look for a vehicle. His current one has developed some major issues and is no longer reliable. He saw a small SUV advertised online about 40 miles from where he lives. It looked good in the pictures, had low miles and, most importantly, was one of those rare vehicles in America that has a stick shift. Hmmm. I wonder where he got the idea that he has to have a manual transmission? (Says the dad who habitually pushes his left foot through the floorboards whenever he has to drive his wife’s automatic!) ☺
Anyway, “leaning on our own understanding,” it was likely that we would buy this vehicle. So, I prayed and asked God to show us what He wanted us to do: “Lord, if this is not a car that'll be good, please make it obvious, because we are headed in the direction of buying it.”
So, we get to the dealership and here’s a list of what we find:
+ Every car on the lot is buried in snow, and the parking lot hasn’t been cleared - e
even though it was three whole days ago that it last snowed. Not a good start.
+ The dealer had to hitch a chain to the vehicle just to pull it out of the snow.
It obviously hadn’t been driven since before the first snow of the season four months ago. A bad sign.
+ The window - an old crank type, not “power” as listed - was rolled down, and
the driver’s seat full of snow. Hmmm.
+ The tires are bald - and one was totally flat. Definitely heading in the direction of “obvious.”
+ The hood latch was so rusted that the dealer had to use a crow bar to get it open. Getting close to “obvious” now.
+ The battery was so dead, the car wouldn’t stay running. Getting really close to “obvious.”
+ Out on the test drive, the shift lever kept popping out of 5th gear. Yep. Obvious!
I’ve prayed that prayer previously with similar results. Next week when I go back to help our son check out another car, I’ll be praying it again. The simple truth is that’s a good prayer to get into the habit of sending God’s way for any decision, because it’s not just when we’re looking for cars that we tend to “lean on our own understanding.”
I like finding clever sayings on church signboards. For example: “Whoever is praying for a white Christmas, please stop, or we’ll soon end up with a white Easter!”
You may know that Minnesota Twins baseball has been a huge part of my life, so it will come as no surprise that the following church-sign message is one of my favorites: Lent is Spring Training; Easter is Opening Day!
Opening Day of baseball season (which, if you asked me, should be a national holiday) is a universal day of celebration in the baseball world. It’s that day when “Hope springs eternal” for every team. It’s a day when fans are so thrilled to have baseball back that we’ll even sit on frozen seats bundled in parkas, long johns, wool socks and scarves in 32-degree temps for 3+ hours! Easter is the day we celebrate the greatest event in the history of the world! It’s a day when folks will stand outside at sunrise in freezing temps playing trumpets, guitars and singing to celebrate the fact that Jesus came back from the dead. A day when “Hope springs eternal” - literally - as Jesus’ resurrection proved He’d won the victory over our greatest enemies: sin, death and Satan.
But Opening Day would never happen without Spring Training, roughly forty days teams use to get in shape for Opening Day. Whoever compared Lent to Spring Training was onto something! Lent is a forty-day time when we prepare for celebrating Jesus’ victory. It’s typically a somber time when we’re reminded of our sinfulness - our tendency to do the opposite of what God’s designed us to do. It makes sense to prepare for Easter by being reminded of our sin. I mean, how can you celebrate a victory over sin unless you first admit that you need someone to save you from it?!
One way we typically “get in shape” during Lent is by repenting - turning away from sin and walking in God’s ways. You may try to get in shape by “giving something up” or by “taking something up.” Whichever you choose, one thing is for sure, you’ll realize just how much sin is like snowstorms: As soon as you shovel out from one, here comes another!
The simple truth is: Just like we need the sun to ultimately do away with the snow, we need The Son to ultimately do away with sin - we can never shovel it away!
Follow the Leader
Maybe you played "Follow the Leader" when you were growing up. If not, it's a game where all the kids line up behind a "leader" and follow that leader around mimicing what he/she does. Whoever doesn't copy what the leader does is "out" of the game. It can be a fun game, especially when you have a goofy leader!
One of the "simple truths" I've discovered over the years is found in this saying: "As goes the leader, so go the people." In other words, "Follow the Leader" isn't just a kids' game, it's something we tend to do all throughout life. The example a leader sets is something we naturally follow. For example, children will often grow up and follow the example their parents set in many aspects of life - even if they vow not to! (You can probably give some examples from your own life. Like my dad set the example of loving baseball. I would much rather watch baseball than any other sport. Not because it's more exciting, but because it's what my dad did.)
There may not be a more appropriate time than Valentine's week to look at the example Jesus set for us about how to love. This might be one area where following the leader doesn't come naturally. By nature we tend to be quite self-centered, but Jesus' example of love is to "unselfishly seek the best for us" (not for himself).
To make that personal, try to answer this question: "What does it look like to unselfishly seek the best for ____________"? Fill in the blank starting with your spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend. Then move on to the other people in your life who need your love: Your kids, parents, siblings, friends, etc...
Keep in mind that Jesus died for us even when we are being "unlovable" or don't return His love. As Christian singer/songwriter Don Francisco said in his song Love is Not a Feeling: "Jesus didn't die for us because it was fun. He hung there for love, because it had to be done."
There's one thing that's as certain as death and taxes: The Vikings won't be winning Super Bowl LVII. It's really tough to win a game you won't be playing in :)
That wasn't such a certainty earlier this season. I was at a pastor's conference, and we were sitting around a table discussing all sorts of non-pastor stuff. The Vikings had gotten off to a good start, so one of the pastors asked, "Could this be the year the Vikings win the Super Bowl?"
Everyone weighed in with their opinion on the subject while I just listened. (I used to be a big fan, but I haven't paid much attention to the Vikings since the days of the infamous "Love Boat.") But when the guy next to me asked, "How about you Dave? What do you think?" Well, I really didn't have to put much thought into it: "Nope. Not gonna happen."
The pastor who asked the question was surprised that I was so absolutely sure about this and had to find out what I was basing my certainty on: "Really?! Why not?"
"Well, everyone knows 'The Vikings will win the Super Bowl when hell freezes over.' And you - of all people - should know: Hell doesn't freeze over!" :)
I tried to save them from the inevitable angst that was to come! But sometimes, you just need to learn the hard way :)
This is our new rooster, Mr. Silkie (far right). We’ve been “roosterless” for over a year, since our previous rooster, Rootie, hopped up on the fence and crowed one-too-many times. Catching the attention of an eagle who lives in a tall cottonwood nearby, Rootie became the main course for supper that evening. (Eagles make for cool songs and symbols of freedom, but horrible neighbors for folks who have small animals and poultry. ☹ )
We auditioned another rooster a few months ago. He was quickly “fired,” for eating eggs - and teaching the hens how to do it as well! It’s good for the flock to have a rooster, one who watches out for them and warns them of possible danger - and takes the hit for them when there is real danger. So, we were glad when some friends asked if we wanted one of their Silkie roosters, assuring us that “It is not aggressive - and doesn’t eat eggs!”
Well past dark after Mr. Silkie’s first day with the hens, I went out to shut the flock in the coop, only to find that Mr. Silkie was still under the coop - waaaay under - in the farthest corner. I tried shining a light in front of the door that leads out from under the coop. That had worked well with the hens (see my previous post). But not with Mr. Silkie! I even grabbed some sunflower seeds and sprinkled them in front of the opening. He didn’t budge from his post in the far corner. Stubborn rooster!
It was one of those below-zero nights, so I was getting cold, gave up and headed back into the house tell Violet that we might have a frozen rooster in the morning. Violet reminded me, “Remember, Mikala told us that this was her favorite rooster, so we need to figure out how to get it out and into the coop!” I guess I gave up too easily.
I bundled back up and headed out to the garage in search of a long, thin scrap of wood, one that would reach to the far corner under the coop. Sure enough. I found a ten-foot-long piece I had saved from a cutting long ago. (There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when one of the million scraps you have saved actually finds a use!) My hope was that I could use the stick to gently move Mr. Silkie out of his corner and guide him to the opening.
Thank God - literally - it worked! Mr. Silkie followed my stick-led guidance and came to me at the entrance. I left the stick near the coop, figuring I might need to repeat the procedure a few nights in a row. (Us guys tend to be slow learners ☺ ) But I was delighted to discover Mr. Silkie was safely in with his girls the next night!
In the previous post, I compared Jesus to the light that the hens had followed to come out of the darkness under the coop. The incident with Mr. Silkie reminded me of a simple truth that not everyone automatically “flocks” (pun intended) to Jesus to get out of their darkness. Some people need a little extra help. Don’t give up on those folks! (Remember, we're ALL God's favorites!) Ask God to show you how you can gently move them out of their darkness and guide them to see that Jesus has what they need.
Another Lesson from the Chickens
It’s no secret that light is a powerful thing. It determines when we go to bed and when we get up. Without it we can’t read or drive. Very often I hear people say things like, “When the sun comes out it’s like someone flipped a switch on my mood!”
Not long ago I witnessed another great example of the power light has to change lives, and the experience opened my eyes to another simple truth - learned from our chickens!
We were in a cold snap where the outside temp didn’t get above zero for at least a week. During the winter months we have a light in our chicken coop that comes on an about an hour before sunrise and goes off an hour after sundown. When the temp gets consistently below -10 degrees at night I replace that LED bulb with an infrared heat bulb to help warm things up a bit for the hens. The infrared bulb doesn’t give up much light, just heat.
One night I got home late, long after it was dark outside. I always go into the coop to collect the eggs and make sure all the hens are on their roost. And I always count to make sure they’re all “present and accounted for.” We have sixteen hens, and on this night I counted eleven. I have never had such a discrepancy between what should be and what is! I counted again. Eleven. I needed to go out into the chicken "run" that’s attached to the coop and find out what happened. A couple possibilities popped into my mind: Either I’d find five frozen hens, or I’d find a racoon with such a full tummy that it couldn’t move. Thankfully, I found neither!
What I did see was five confused hens underneath the coop (Our coop is a couple feet above the ground, and the girls love to hang out underneath it.) How did I know they were confused? Because each of them had a cartoon bubble over their heads filled with “????s,” of course! ☺ They seemed to be okay, but I could not get them to come out the little door that leads from under the coop into the run. They just stood there under the coop not knowing what to do. And I didn’t know what to do to get them out. I don't fit through their little opening, and I would not crawl under there if I did! So, I went back inside the house to consult with our resident “farm girl,” Violet. Of course, Violet knew what to do. “Just hold a flashlight above the little door and shine the light down in front of the door. They’ll come out.”
Sure enough! One by one, they made their way to the light, coming out from under the coop into the run where I scooped them up and put them into the coop! Violet later told me that, since the infrared bulb doesn’t give off light, those hens didn’t know where to go to get into the coop. (Not sure why the other eleven did, but I can’t read chicken minds.)
That incident reminded me how John in his gospel refers to Jesus as “the light of all mankind,” and that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” Jesus himself, in one of His seven “I Am” statements, says, “I Am the Light of the World. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but have the Light of life.”
The simple truth is that we are often like our five confused hens, living what can often be a very “dark” world. Sometimes it is a world so dark and cold that we really don’t know which way to turn. In those dark moments we need to follow the chickens’ example and just make our way to the light - the Light that is Jesus. He came into this world to lead us through this dark world and to a place that will be safe for eternity!
The Right "Wrong Dog"
This is our little feather-duster-of-a-pup named Blackberry. She's a Shih-Poo (Shih Tzu / Poodle). Blackberry joined our family in late November primarily to be a companion for our other "pup" a spunky, twelve-year-old Lhatese (Lhaso Apso / Maltese) named Hemmers - short for Hemingway. Technically, Hemmers is our "Grandpup," since he actually belongs to our son. But we've had the joy of raising him, because his "Dad" lives in a town and feels Hemmers is better suited for the country life.
Hemmers had a sister out here on "the farm" until a very unfortunate thing happened Memorial Weekend this past year. Sister Nilla was a big Lab / Hound Dog - and who knows what else! Nilla was a goofball who absolutely lived to play. Hemmers and Nilla weren't just "siblings," they were best buds and "partners in crime" who had grown up together for eleven years!
So, when Nilla died after eating some rodent that had been poisoned, Hemmers was depressed - to put it mildly - for months! He was "lost" without Nilla. We deliberated whether or not we should get him another sister - until we saw how happy he was on a "play date" with a friend's new pup. So, after checking puppies.com for possible new sisters we came across a litter of ShihPoos a couple hours away from here. There was one pup in particular that we had our eye on. But how do you pick a new dog that will be part of your family for years to come? How do you know from just a five-minute "meet and greet" which one is the "right" dog? I certainly didn't know, so we prayed that God would lead us to the right one!
After a snowy, two-hour trip to check out the three ShihPoos, the owner asked Violet if she had one she'd like to hold. She pointed to Blackberry and instantly fell in love with her. I wrote out a check, and we hopped back in the car with our new member of the family. A few miles out of town I asked Violet why she had picked that particular pup. She said, "It's the one we had our eye on in the picture." I said, "Ummm. No. It isn't," then got out my phone to show her the picture. Violet's response: "Oh, no! We got the wrong dog! Should be take her back?"
Having prayed for God to lead us to the right one, I said, "No. This is the one we're supposed to have."
And, oh my goodness! We definitely got the right, wrong dog! Blackberry's a goofball another level up even from Nilla! We call her "The Smile Machine." She has got to be the happiest pup I've ever seen. You just cannot help but smile when she's in the room. She's a perfect fit for our family!
Our "Right, wrong dog" experience reminded me of a simple truth from God's Word found in the book of Proverbs: "Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails." (Proverbs 19:21). We had planned to get a different pup, but God directed us to the one He knew was best for us - and for Hemmers!
There are probably as many answers to the question of the meaning of Christmas as there are people on the planet. In my estimation, it would be hard to improve on Linus' answer in A Charlie Brown Christmas as he steps on stage and recites from Luke chapter 2. He recounts the angel's "good news of great joy for all the people" message given to the Bethlehem shepherds about the birth of "A Savior who is Christ the Lord." Then Linus turns to his friend and says, "That's what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown."
Indeed! Christmas is all about Jesus - or at least it should be.
You know how, every now and then, someone makes a comment that's so profound it sticks with you for life? Well, here's one of those:
It was probably thirty years ago now. Anthony, Becca, Violet and I were at my parents' home for Christmas - on break from my pastoral studies at the seminary. Violet and I left the kids with Grandpa and Grandma for an afternoon of "spoiling." The two of us took a walk through the snow to visit some folks at the nursing home in town. One of those residents was the wife of the mechanic my dad had turned wrenches with at the local Chevy dealership. I started with some small-talk. Asking questions like "What did you have for Christmas dinner?" and "What did you get for Christmas?"
Mary brought my small-talk to an abrupt end with this comment: "David! Christmas is not about food and presents. It's about Jesus!"
I've probably forgotten 99.9% of what I learned in the classroom about being a pastor, but Mary's comment will - hopefully - stick with me forever. The simple truth about Christmas is that it isn't about food or presents or any of the other things we tend to make it about. It's about Jesus!
So, in honor of Mary St. John, "Have yourself a "Mary" Christmas!" (One that's all about Jesus!)
On our recent visit to Atlanta to spend some time with our daughter Becca and son-in-law Tom, I was reminded that God’s timing is not our timing. And thank God for that! It’s been said that we make plans, and God laughs! I have a picture in my mind of God sending out this text message: “Hey angels! Get a load of what Dave is planning this time . . ." And the angels text Him back a bunch of those “rolling on the floor with laughter” emojis!
Sometimes the difference between "my timing" and God's timing is pretty small, like the day we flew to Atlanta. We fly "standby," so we never quite know when we will get two open seats .and be able to fly. (But that never stops me from "counting on" getting on the flight we originally sign up for!) We signed up for the 12:30 p.m. flight. We got bumped from that one to the next flight at 3:00. And then, bumped to the flight at 5:00. And from there we got bumped to the 7:30 flight. Thank God - literally - we made it on the 7:30 flight! If we hadn't made that flight we were seriously considering hopping in the car and driving 18 hours to Atlanta, because all the flights the next day were over-sold!
Other times, God’s timing differences are much bigger. After enjoying a few days with Becca and Tom, we headed to South Carolina for three days on the ocean at Isle of Palms. It was unseasonably hot and humid there. It was that kind of humid where you feel like you are breathing water instead of air. I found myself saying - more than once - "It would be nice if we'd been able to come here next week when the heat and humidity will be gone."
THANK GOD His timing was not mine!
A week later, Hurricane Ian made landfall just a few miles from our Isle of Palms beach retreat! On the evening news we saw pictures of a street we'd walked down in Charleston [similar to the cobblestone street pictured here]. Instead of cars driving and people walking we saw water flowing through the street - hip-high! Thank God for the reminders that He always sees the Big Picture and as a result always knows the perfect time for everything.
A family in our church is wanting to sell their current starter home in a small city about 15 miles from our church. They’re looking for something a bit larger and in a smaller community. They told me recently about a certain house they found in the town only a couple miles from where we live, so I decided to check it out on one of the real estate websites. As I scrolled through pictures of the house, it struck me as a home that would be good for their family.
And then “Holy Cow!” (A phrase of joyful surprise that entered my vocabulary years ago from listening to Twins radio announcer Halsey Hall call a home run.) Something familiar caught my eye as I flipped from photos of one room to the next. It couldn’t be - could it?! I zoomed in on a painting on the wall. Sure enough! It was a watercolor painting of a dragonfly that Violet had done years ago. How cool is that! Again, "Holy Cow!"
Later that same evening Violet and I were driving through town and I noticed in one of the backyards a yard-art fish Violet had sold at least ten years ago. The sight of that fish took me back to the day that creation was sold at a fund-raising auction. I remembered how excited the buyers of that fish were as the auctioneer pointed to them indicating they had the winning bid! They were thrilled as they came up to tell Violet about “the perfect spot” in their yard where they were going display her creation! And, "Holy Cow!" it is still in that spot after all these years!
As I thought about those two by-chance sightings, it occurred to me that there is an important “Simple Truth” lesson in those experiences:
God often puts us into people’s lives just to brighten their day. Some of those day-brighteners are “here today and gone tomorrow.” But every-so-often one of them just keeps on giving and makes a lasting difference in someone’s life.
At the time, we never know which things we say or do will last and which will be momentary. The key is to remember this: Our job is to simply do things that bring joy. God is in charge of how long they keep on bringing that joy. (But, Holy Cow! What a joy it is when He gives us a glimpse of the things we’ve done that have remained!)
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.