Try a Little Kindness

When I was growing up in the 1960s, my favorite singer was Glen Campbell. Among the many other records of his that I had was a song entitled, Try a Little Kindness

If you see your brother standing by the road
With a heavy load from the seeds he’s sowed
And if you see your sister falling by the way
Just stop and say, you’re going the wrong way

You’ve got to try a little kindness
Yes show a little kindness
Just shine your light for everyone to see
And if you try a little kindness
Then you’ll overlook the blindness
Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets

Don’t walk around, the down and out
Lend a helping hand instead of doubt
And the kindness that you show every day
Will help someone along their way

It’s a message I’ve been thinking about lately.

A couple of years ago, the Marriott Hotel chain began running a series of TV ads based on the theme of “The Golden Rule” – they even had their own hashtag, #GoldenRule. Part of the commercial includes the question, “What if all of mankind were made up of kind women and kind men?” The ads show Marriott employees – and others – performing simple acts of kindness to help others.

I realize that expressions of kindness towards others have often been in short supply, but it seems that lately such acts of kindness are even more rare than ever, and it makes me sad for our society. When did simply being nice to another person become so rare and remarkable that it makes the national news?

This may come as a shock to some of our younger readers, but there was a time in this country when politics “ended at the shore,” when political parties would not criticize a president (even from the other party) about the way he handled foreign policy; a time when we could disagree about political issues without assuming the other side was evil and out to destroy the country; and a time when we could discuss politics without the conversation degenerating into shouting match on the level of, “You’re stupid!” “No, you’re stupid!” We were willing to recognize the humanity and basic decency of others, and to acknowledge that a political opponent was a fine person, even if we had different ideas about what was best for the country.

It seems to me that Jesus went out of his way to tell us that we should be kind to others, and not merely to those we already know or love, and especially not only to those who are able to pay us back. He told us specifically to invite to dinner those who COULDN’T pay us back. He calls us to set an example of kindness and grace to everyone.

He’s not the only one. The prophet Micah told us to “practice justice, love kindness, and walk humbly before our God” (Micah 6:8). The Apostle Paul lists “kindness” along with the other fruit of God’s Spirit. And that list is not a buffet – we don’t get to pick & choose which items we want. “Yes, I’ll take some love and a little peace, please, but no thanks on the self-control.” If God’s Spirit is alive and active inside of us, He will be producing all of those qualities in us.

The problem with kindness is that, by its very nature, it doesn’t call attention to itself; it’s more concerned with serving others than in tooting its own horn. And in our self-promoting, selfie-obsessed culture, most of us simply don’t think of how to serve others.

Caring about others – putting the needs of others first – is a learned behavior, and contrary to human nature. It’s an act of discipleship that follows in the self-sacrificing steps of our Lord. Maybe that’s why it’s so rare.

Jesus is still looking for disciples who will walk as He walked, and live as He lived. That includes showing kindness to all. Especially those who don’t deserve it.

A Few Good Books

Read any good books lately? One thing is for certain – there’s no shortage of books, Christian and otherwise, on the market. I’m not claiming to have any special insight about what makes a book “good” to read; it’s obviously very subjective. I’m not saying that these are the best books ever written, only that they have especially blessed me over the years. My point is to encourage us to read more, and to choose books that will challenge, inspire, sharpen our thinking. Too many of us either don’t read at all, or we only read stuff by writers who agree with us.

Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis

Although now better known for his “Chronicles of Narnia” fiction series, C.S. Lewis was also the author of numerous non-fiction books on Christian beliefs and theology. Mere Christianity was originally a series of radio talks given on the BBC between 1942 and 1944, which he later edited and compiled into its present form. He uses “mere” the sense of “basic” – in other words, the book contains the principles and teachings which are held in common by ALL Christian groups, rather than more “advanced” doctrines about which different denominations would disagree.

Now, I will freely admit, this is NOT an easy book to read. Lewis was British, and his writing can sometimes come across as wordy and cumbersome, especially to Americans who are used to three second sound bites and 140-character tweets. But I urge you: please make the effort to read this book. C.S. Lewis is a deep breath of very fresh air.

What’s So Amazing About Grace? Philip Yancey

By his own admission, Philip Yancey has had a difficult road of faith. When he was still a child, his father died from complications of polio, after church members told him he needed to “turn off the machines” so that God could heal him. Yancey’s journey of faith was a long road back from that. He went on to become the editor of Christianity Today magazine (since retired) and has authored a number of outstanding books. Here, Yancey describes examples of grace and forgiveness that are so lovely they will make your heart ache and your spirit soar. He points to soul-crushing examples of what he calls “ungrace” – attitudes of pettiness and meanness that we see all around us, and too often, still within ourselves. I especially enjoy chapter four, “Lovesick Father.” And I will not spoil it by saying more than that.

God Came Near, Max Lucado

Many Christians would list Max Lucado as their favorite Christian author, and it would be hard to disagree. In God Came Near, Lucado explores the implications of the humanity of Christ. My favorite chapter is, “The Question for the Canyon’s Edge,” based on the encounter between Jesus and Martha, after the death of Martha’s brother, Lazarus. When Jesus asks Martha, “Do you believe this?,” what He is really asking each of us is, “Do you trust Me?”

A Sacred Sorrow, Michael Card

The church in America today is often criticized for being out of touch with the harsh realities around it. We put up fake smiles and phony friendliness, offering shallow “bumper sticker” platitudes and coffee mug theology, while ignoring the complexities and pain of the world around us. And then we wonder why the world has written off the church for being clueless and irrelevant.

Author Michael Card argues that we have lost the ability to LAMENT, and I think he’s absolutely right. When you read the psalms, for example, you often come face to face with the honesty of someone struggling with the pain of a bad situation. But in most churches today, you would have a hard time finding anything that reflects that level of transparency.

Rather than avoiding hard or uncomfortable conversations, the author invites us to be honest enough with God to trust Him with our pain. I highly recommend this book, especially if you’re feeling angry or questioning about God, and some well-meaning friend has told you that “you shouldn’t feel that way.”

When Helping Hurts, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

If you only like reading books that agree with what you already think, you probably should stay away from this one, because it will challenge you. The authors tackle the very difficult subject of how should we as believers help others and what does that look like. The chapter on those who want the King without the Kingdom – or those who want the Kingdom without the King – is excellent. As someone who has been deeply involved in flood relief as well as neighborhood outreach ministries, this book really rattled my cage and made me think about the difference, to use the author’s words, between relief, rehabilitation, and development.

Life in the Slow Lane

I recently made a trip to East Texas and a good part of that time was spent driving on the freeway. At one point while I was on I-20, I came up behind some slow-moving traffic. I checked both mirrors and looked over my left shoulder. There was no one coming, so I pulled into the left lane and began to pass an 18-wheeler.

Suddenly my rear-view mirror was filled with the reflection of the massive grill of a large pickup – I mean, this guy was RIGHT ON my bumper. I was already going a few miles an hour over the speed limit to get around the truck that was now beside me, but I sped up as much as my little car could. I finished passing the truck and pulled back into the right lane, and the guy in the pickup roared past me, leading about three or four more cars behind him. I was going well over the speed limit by this point, and they were leaving me behind like I was standing still.

I certainly realize that there are emergencies in life, and there are times when speed is necessary, for a variety of reasons. And I’m aware that no one ever had a hit song, “Life in the Slow Lane.” Still, it seems to me that many of us would do well to take a breath and slow down a little bit from time to time.

I was in the ministry for a long time; I have also been a teacher and a neighborhood coordinator for a faith-based non-profit organization. I have done news and sports for radio and print, and if there’s one thing all those jobs have in common, it is that they all involve talking to folks and hearing their stories – building and developing relationships with other people. And the thing about relationships is, they take time. There is no substitute for this. It takes time to get to know someone, and to share stories. It takes time to sip a cup of coffee and look at pictures of family, or to share a glass of iced tea and talk baseball. Friendships and good relationships with neighbors and others develop slowly, gradually, over a long time, and they can’t be rushed. But they don’t happen by accident. Good relationships occur when someone is intentional about making them happen.

We understand this principle applies in many areas of life. When you plant a garden, you invest time and effort, and then (and only then) can you harvest your crop. When you cook a meal, it takes time to let flavor develop. But many of us have lost our understanding of this.

In a society where microwave popcorn takes too long, we’ve lost our appreciation for slowness. We have the world literally in the palm of our hands, and we can just Google whatever we want to know, for instant solutions. In our rush to get to work, to raise our kids, to juggle everything we have to do, we miss out on the joys of slowing down and savoring moments. Even in our leisure, we rush to get somewhere, so we can take it easy, forgetting that life is a journey, not a destination. So not only are we forgetting to “stop and smell the roses” – we’re not even noticing that there is a rosebush.

The good news is, things don’t have to stay that way. Summer is a great time to practice slowing down just a little. Invite a neighbor over to sit on your porch or your patio and get to know one another over something cold and wet. Fire up the grill and practice your outdoor cooking skills for your family and friends – you’ll discover it’s time well spent, and you may also discover that conversations are more enjoyable over a charcoal fire.

Or just slow down and take a moment for yourself and find some peace in the solitude.

It’s very common at graduations or weddings for parents to think about the baby that they brought home from hospital, seemingly only yesterday, but now that baby is grown up and moving out. The parents wonder, where did the time go? But by then, it’s too late to savor those moments. All you can do is cherish the moments to come.

It may take a little getting used to, and you can’t do it all the time, but there’s a lot to be said for occasionally pulling over and enjoying life in the slow lane.

2.9013

The “Losada Line” is the name of a principle of human interaction that has generated a huge amount of controversy in recent years. Also known as the “Positivity Ratio,” this idea says that all of us have many encounters with other people throughout our day, and that in order to maintain good mental and emotional health, we need at least 2.9013 positive, uplifting or encouraging interactions, to balance against one negative encounter.

In other words, most people need to be praised, patted on the back and encouraged about three times as much as they need to hear bad news, criticism or condemnation. One application might be that bosses should spend three times as much time praising their people as they do criticizing them, in order to have a company that runs more smoothly and employees that are more productive. At least, that’s the theory.

Now, this so-called “Losada Line” is VERY controversial. A large number of researchers and social scientists have criticized the study that produced that report and raised serious questions about the validity of its research and conclusions. And some of those criticisms seem to be well-founded.

Which, in my opinion, does not take away from the basic truth that people need encouragement and a kind word.

All of us have friends who can always make us feel better, even during difficult situations. We have probably had the experience of going to the hospital to visit a sick friend, and that person ends up cheering US up. The ability to inspire, to motivate, and to encourage others is a precious gift.

Now granted, too much positivity can occasionally lead to distortions. Sometimes we need a kick in the butt, rather than a pat on the back. If you’re at the doctor’s office, you want your physician to give you truthful answers, not “happy talk” that ignores serious problems. But the truth is, most of us have more than enough bad news in our lives, so sometimes we need to be intentional about seeking out words of encouragement.

It’s not ignoring the truth to want to surround ourselves with companions who can offer words of hope and joy. It’s not sticking our heads in the sand to choose to focus on the good around us, to see a glass as half-full rather than half-empty. It is not weakness to want to hear from friends who can offer encouragement and inspiration when we are down. And it’s not foolish or naïve to try and be more positive and encouraging in our dealings with others. It sounds cliched and even out of date to say, but we can start by counting – and giving thanks for – our blessings.

Haskell has been blessed lately to have several new leaders come join our community. We need to celebrate these folks and look for ways to support and encourage them! Their fresh ideas and new ways of looking at things may be just what we need to overcome some of the challenges we face.

I am reminded of a letter that outgoing President George H.W. Bush wrote to incoming President Bill Clinton, in January 1993. You may recall what a brutal, bruising campaign year that 1992 had been – and yet, in his letter to the guy that beat him, Mr. Bush said,

Dear Bill,

When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.

I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.

There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.

You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.

Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.

Good luck –

George

So, if I may paraphrase President Bush, our new community leaders’ successes will be Haskell’s successes. Let us do all we can to encourage them in their endeavors.

One of my very favorite Bible verses is Proverbs 11:25 – “A generous person will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” So let us strive to be generous in our attitudes and dealings with others – to be people who are refreshing to know. My prayer is that we can all learn to be the kind of community member, the kind of family member, the kind of friend, who can offer a word of encouragement and hope to those around us.

And to do that, at least 2.9013 times more often than we criticize.

Everyday Heroes

They are all around us, and we see them every day, even if we don’t always recognize them for who they are.

Everyday Heroes.

Surely you have seen these people. You might even be one yourself. If so, thank you. Who are they?

They are the firefighters who run INTO burning buildings, when everyone else is running out. They are the police officers who run TOWARDS the sound of gunfire. They are the nurses who help patients with unpleasant symptoms, especially when those patients can’t help themselves.

They are the teachers who buy school supplies out of their own pockets and offer encouraging words to struggling students. They are the pastors who quietly sit with families that have gotten bad news. They are the linemen who climb utility poles in the cold and wet, so the rest of us can stay warm and dry.

They often go unsung, unnoticed and unappreciated. They watch as our society cheers athletes, rock stars, actors – people most of us will never interact with or personally know. But our everyday heroes hear no cheering crowds, and nobody is paying them much attention. And yet, every day, day after day, they quietly go about their business of helping other people, being a friend, making a difference.

They are Mr. Holland. They are George Bailey.

Surely you have known such people. A Sunday School teacher. A little league coach. A Scout leader. They are the folks who get involved in other people’s lives in a positive way and make a difference. They’re not flashy, and they’re not celebrated. But they’re remembered as the people who care.

And here’s the good news: we can all be in that category, if we’re willing to take a moment, to offer a kind word or a shoulder, or a sympathetic ear. I was a pastor for a long time, and I’m convinced that when tragedy strikes, people don’t remember very many of the things that other people say. But they remember who was there.

You can be a hero today. Somewhere around you right now, a kid needs a mentor. A neighbor needs a friend. A co-worker needs someone to talk to. The Experienced Citizens Center could use some more drivers to deliver meals. You can do that. We all can – the question is, will we? Jesus said that if all we do is offer a cup of cold water in His name, we would certainly be rewarded in His Kingdom.

It’s not too late to put this on your list of things to do for 2021. Be a more caring person. Give a damn. Get involved. Make a difference.

Now, more than ever, we need all the heroes we can get.

When I’m 64

I was still a kid back in the 60s when the Beatles released their album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” One song on that album has recently become very personal to me – Paul McCartney’s “When I’m 64.” Assuming God lets me live a few more days, I will soon be turning 64.

I realize that that age may be in the rear-view mirror for lots of folks, but I’ve never turned 64 before, and in some ways, it’s quite a shock. I was just a kid when I first heard that song, and I couldn’t imagine how it would feel to actually BE that age. Turning 64 seemed so far away back then, and being that age seemed, you know, OLD!

Or so I thought at the time.

Looking back on the 50-plus years since the song’s release, I realize how far we have come as a society, and yet, how many things are still the same.

  • We have landed on the moon but still face numerous problems here at home.
  • We can get on the Internet, but often can’t find the specific information we need.
  • We have lots of “friends” on social media, but few meaningful relationships.
  • Most of us carry cell phones, but we still have a hard time with genuine communication.
  • Medicine has perfected cures for many diseases, but we have been hit hard by new ones.

Still, in spite of these difficulties, I am not discouraged. Nowhere are we promised that life will be easy, or that we will somehow be exempt from difficulties.

The legend about the song is that it was one of the first ones that Paul ever wrote, and that he was only 16 when he first composed it, trying to imagine growing old with someone he loved. That is one thing that I really like about the song: it values personal relationships as being the key to a happy life. Consider these verses –

You’ll be older too,
And if you say the word,
I could stay with you.

I could be handy, mending a fuse,
When your lights have gone.
You can knit a sweater by the fireside –
Sunday mornings go for a ride.
Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more?

Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four.

Give me your answer, fill in a form,
Mine for evermore

Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four.

God has blessed me with a wonderful wife, and we’ve had many great years together, and raised four terrific kids. He has given me some really great friends and allowed me to be a pastor and to work in several other fulfilling and interesting occupations, including this one. And above all that, He has shown Himself to be faithful at all times.

And so, as I approach my 64th birthday – and however many more God chooses to bless me with – I will say with the psalmist of old, “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; His love endures forever.”

Overcoming Fear

What is the most negative, most destructive, most harmful emotion? There certainly is no shortage of possibilities – anger, hatred, pride, just to name a few – but in my opinion, the worst of all has to be fear.

Have you noticed how many television commercials make their appeal by trying to make you afraid? A majority of money management and investment ads fall into this category. They’re trying to stoke your fears of outliving your money, or not being able to “keep up your lifestyle,” or some other vague concept to threaten you and make you afraid.

Elected officials give fiery speeches that pump up our fears and appeal to our lowest natures. Some gun owners point to “being afraid” as their number one reason for buying weapons – and especially buying multiple weapons. And, I’m sorry to say, most national news networks seem to exist, not to keep us informed, but for the purpose of stoking our fears and inflating our anxieties.

We live in a society that seems to be drowning in fear – fear of running out of money, fear of burglars, fear of disasters, fear of “others.” We are afraid of dying, and afraid of living too long. We are afraid of the government and afraid of each other.

Fear is destroying the very fabric of our society.

We need to realize this type of paralyzing, crippling fear is not new. In fact, one of the most frequently quoted phrases in the Bible is, “Do not fear” – by some counts, that phrase appears 365 times in the scripture. And it’s clear from the Holy Word that while fear may be common and understandable, it doesn’t have to rule our lives. Consider –

God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Tim. 1:7)

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isa. 41:10)

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, … (Psa. 91:1-5)

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psa. 27:1)

It’s natural and normal – even healthy – to have a certain level of fear about the unknown, about new situations, or unfamiliar circumstances, but we cannot let that fear paralyze us into inaction. When we are making a decision about something, we need to evaluate that choice, consider the pros and cons, seek the counsel of wise friends – then decide! We must not let the fear make the choice for us.

I am not against planning or preparation; certainly not. But we need to realize that we cannot always be ready for every possible situation. That does NOT mean we should be afraid; it DOES mean that we must recognize our own limitations, and our dependence on our Heavenly Father.

God told Joshua, “Be strong and courageous” (Josh. 1:9). That is still good advice for us today for overcoming fear. Strength and courage!

Praising Him in the Hall

Last summer, while I was living with my dad in Southeast Texas, I had the privilege of preaching every week for my friends at the West Orange Christian Church. There was a poster in a hallway in their building that said, “While you’re waiting for God to open a door, praise Him in the Hall.”

Good advice.

For the past several months, I have been looking for a ministry job. You’d think it wouldn’t be that hard – after all, I keep hearing about a nationwide shortage of pastors. And I’m not hard to please. All I want is the opportunity to work with a local church, preach and teach the scripture every week, and make a living to support myself and my family.

Unfortunately, whether it’s because of my “advanced” age – I’ll be 62 in a few months – or because I don’t neatly “fit in” to a traditional denomination, or some other reason, I’m not hearing anything back from the numerous applications and resumes that I’m sending out. And I’m talking a LOT of applications. It’s very discouraging. And certainly, very depressing.

Meanwhile, I still like to eat, and I still have bills to pay, so I’ve had to go back to a career that I thought I had left in my past – retail sales. I’m working at the Mall of Abilene, at J.C. Penney’s. I like Penney’s, and I especially like the heritage of the store’s history. When Mr. James Cash Penney first opened his store in Kemmerer, Wyoming, it was part of a chain known as the “Golden Rule Store.” It’s good work, I like serving customers, and I’m enjoying getting to know my co-workers. As one of the oldest “sales associates” on the floor, I’m finding that my background and experience in sales give me a different perspective on the meaning of “customer service.” And I’m enjoying that, too.

Make no mistake: I still want to return to a full-time job as a minister, to be part of the team at a missions organization, or to do some other kind of work specifically for the Kingdom of God. At the same time, I don’t want to make the mistake of thinking that I’ll serve God “later,” or to fail to see the ways I can serve Him, and others, now.

The Bible class I get to teach at our church remains a rewarding, fulfilling part of every week, as does the Sunday night Bible study I share with several good friends. And the opportunities to witness and minister at my everyday job are becoming more and more precious to me.

Whether it’s a kind word, a listening ear, or a Christian example, I’m rediscovering lots of ways to live out my faith in the “secular” workplace. So while I am more than ready for God to open the right door for a full-time ministry position, He is teaching me, by His grace, to praise Him in the hall.

Overcoming Fear

Here’s a question for you: what is the most negative, most destructive, most harmful emotion? There certainly is no shortage of candidates to consider – anger, hatred, pride, just to name a few – but in my opinion, the worst of all has to be fear.

For example, have you noticed how many television commercials make their appeal by trying to stoke your fear? A majority of money management and investment ads fall into this category. They’re trying to make you afraid of outliving your money, or not being able to “keep up your lifestyle,” or some other vague concept to threaten you and make you afraid.

Insurance companies excel at this, promising to protect you from “mayhem,” and the fear that arises from the unknown and unexpected. We enjoy spending time on social media, but then are horrified to discover that personal information has been shared without our permission. Our elected officials give lengthy speeches that pump up our fears and appeal to our basest natures. A recent study by a major university found that an overwhelming majority of gun owners point to “being afraid” as their number one reason for buying weapons – and especially buying multiple weapons.

Last summer’s hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, and mudslides affected millions of us, and made us realize how helpless we are to prevent natural disasters, and how susceptible we are to becoming a victim. And fear grows.

We are living in a society that is drowning in fear – fear of running out of money, fear of burglars, fear of disasters, fear of “others.” We are afraid of dying, and afraid of living too long. We are afraid of the government, afraid of corporations, and afraid of each other.

It’s my opinion that this fear is destroying the very fabric of our society.

We need to realize this type of paralyzing, crippling fear is not new. In fact, one of the most frequently quoted phrases in the Bible is, “Do not fear” – by some counts, that phrase appears 365 times in the scripture. And it’s clear from the Holy Word that while fear may be common and understandable, it doesn’t have to rule our lives. Consider –

  • For God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Tim. 1:7)
  • Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isa. 41:10)
  • He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, … (Psa. 91:1-5)
  • The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psa. 27:1)
  • When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me? (Psa. 56:3-4)
  • I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

God wants to walk in peace, not fear. So how can we do that?

Recognize fear when it appears. It’s natural and normal – even healthy – to have a certain level of fear about the unknown, about new situations, or other unfamiliar circumstances, but we can’t let that fear paralyze us into inaction. When we are making a decision about something, we need to evaluate that choice, consider the pros and cons, seek the counsel of wise friends – then decide! We must not let the fear make the choice for us.

Pray. In Philippians 4:6, Paul says “Don’t be anxious about anything; instead, in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”. We need to cultivate our relationship with God so that we can stay in touch with Him about every situation of our lives.

Stay positive. One of the most important techniques for battling fear is to fill our minds with positive and encouraging thoughts. Please don’t misunderstand: I am not suggesting any strategy that ignores reality. But as believers we must be filling our hearts and minds with the teaching of the Scriptures, the encouragement of Christian music, and the help of the Holy Spirit and godly friends, so that we are not vulnerable to falling into fear and despair. Remember that the first time God appears to Joshua after the death of Moses, three times in that conversation, God tells Joshua, “Be strong and courageous!” (Joshua 1:6-9).

Plan well but realize… Nothing I am saying here should be interpreted as if I am against planning or preparation. By all means, we should plan and be as ready as humanly possible. We should try and anticipate possibilities and be as prepared as possible for any situation. But at the same time, we must remember that we are not in charge, that sometimes situations and circumstances come that no one could have expected or prepared for. I say this as a survivor of Hurricane Harvey. In those situations when our planning fails, let us not fall into fear, but let us know that our God is still bigger than our circumstances, that it has not taken HIM by surprise, and that He is with us, through everything.

Let us, then, have full confidence that we do not need to be anxious, that we can face each day and every situation knowing that He is with us, and that we need not fear. Strength and courage!

Remembering a Very Special Trip

Today – February 10 – is the anniversary of a day that is very special to me, part of a very special trip that I was blessed to take, nine years ago in February. (If you would like to read the details about the trip, and the miraculous way God worked it so that I COULD go, see “Visiting Israel,” from this blog for Feb. 18, 2013.)

February 10 was my favorite day in Israel.  We started out driving up to the top of the traditional site where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount.  It was very cloud and misting rain that day, but this picture shows the side of the mountain sloping down to the Sea of Galilee below.

Then it was on to the coastline itself, to the area where it’s believed that Jesus cooked breakfast for the disciples after His resurrection  (John 21), and then He and Peter went for a walk along the beach – “Feed my sheep.”

We went to Jesus’ adopted hometown of Capernaum next.  Words cannot really describe how special this part of the trip was for me.  We know about more miracles per square foot that took place there, than any other place In Israel.  The synagogue leader’s daughter, and the woman with the issue of blood.  The centurion’s servant, and the paralyzed man whose friends lowered him down through the roof.  Peter’s mother-in-law, and a miraculous catch of fish.  And on, and on, and on – yet most of the people did not believe.  (This picture shows Pastor David leading us in our morning devo, in a little park just outside the ruins of the synagogue there.)

Something very special and personal happened to me while we were in Capernaum. (This picture shows me standing in the synagogue there.) I began to think about all that Jesus did there, and all the stories from the Gospels – inviting Peter and the others to become “fishers of men,” visiting Matthew’s tax collecting booth, teaching in the synagogue, and more.

Capernaum is not a very big place – the entire village would easily fit on the campus of ACU – and all the spots where these things happened were just yards from where I was standing.  Here’s the weird part: it was almost as if I could see the faces of all the Sunday School teachers that I had when I was a kid, and I could almost hearing them telling me those stories again.  And here I was, standing in the midst of where all those things happened.

I had never felt the Spirit of Jesus more keenly than I did in that moment.

After lunch in Tiberias, we went to the museum of “The Jesus Boat” – a truly stunning archeological discovery of a wooden fishing boat from the time of Christ, very typical of the kind of boats Jesus and the disciples would have used. I won’t go into how they discovered and preserved this boat, but it’s a fascinating story.

From there, we walked down to the lake (AKA, the Sea of Galilee), and boarded a small motorized boat of our own, for a ride out on that famous body of water. (We call it the Sea of Galilee, but it’s actually a freshwater lake.)

Brenton Dowdy began leading us in worship, but in just a matter of moments, the weather changed from a sunny, pretty, spring-like afternoon, to a cold, windy, rainy day!

Remember those stories in the gospels about storms coming up suddenly? Well, God let us see one in action. (That’s rain you’re looking at in the picture – and a few whitecaps!)

Finally, with the day winding down, we drove south to where the lake empties into the Jordan River. There, many of us chose to be baptized in the Jordan. It was cold and still raining, but it was a very special, sacred moment, and the perfect close to a wonderful day.

For my part, I still hope to return to Israel some day, maybe even to lead a group over there. It is no exaggeration to say that the things we saw, and the experience of being there, continue to shape and inform every sermon I preach and every lesson I write. I thank God for the opportunity to go, and I still pray blessings over the anonymous friend (or friends) who made it possible for me to go.

“I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.’ Our feet are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem… Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” (Psalm 122:1, 2, 6.)