Gratitude, Day 9—The Internet


I know a lot of people now who bemoan the internet, who “fast” from the internet, who warn others about excessive screen time, and chastise users of the internet as shallow or contentious. Of course people can misuse any tool, so there can be people who have issues with using the internet. Major issues. Damaging issues.

But in truth, the internet is an incredible tool that has made the world accessible to anyone.

I remember the first time I realized I had an international follower for this blog. It shocked me! I could hardly wrap my mind around the idea that someone half a world away was reading what I was writing.

More than that, various preaching platforms have made their sermons available on the internet, so that hundreds of thousands of people are able to receive the kind of Bible instruction that would not have been available to them before the internet. Oh, sure, there were books, but these resources are free of charge and available to anyone with a smart phone, a tablet, or a computer. That’s incredible.

When I was younger, a group of Christians took seriously the idea that Christ will not return until there are believers from every tribe and tongue. Consequently they invested in Bible translation. But a new problem quickly emerged: literacy. It’s one thing for a person to have the Bible in their heart language, another for them to actually be able to read it. As a result, more missionaries focused on teaching reading. But then came the Jesus film in multiple languages, and audio platforms. Suddenly, technology was providing many different ways to provide the Bible and Bible instruction to people around the world.

Well, the internet is actually more of the same. It’s an awesome tool that brings people from all over the world together.

I’ve personally benefited from the internet. First, a site like Facebook developed that put me in touch with former students I thought I’d for certain lost track of once and for all. Then it also created writing communities, first through forums, then through blogs, team blogs, Facebook groups, and back to like-minded collections (some of which require a fee to join).

All of that came together when I had my stroke as a friend (a live, and in person friend) created a Go Fund Me account which allowed all these diverse people I know from various walks of life to learn about my situation and to contribute to my needs.

Every once in a while I marvel at the technological advances that have taken place in my lifetime. There are so many I couldn’t begin to enumerate them all. In a few cases, as with the VCR, I’ve seen advances both come and go!

All of them, like other parts of culture, have their advantages and disadvantages. And of course that makes perfect sense because we humans are a mixed bag. We are made in God’s image, which means we have great capacity for creativity and moral goodness. But we are also sinners, filled with selfishness and pride, using people and loving things instead of the other way around.

No wonder the internet has the capacity to be used for great good but also for great ill. It’s a device conceived of by humans, so we bring who we are to bear in the use of a device that is actually amoral. That has no goodness and no evil that is inherit to it. The internet simply is, and we use if in conjunction with our nature.

We can get in fights with strangers, and we can tear down people based on our prejudice, our hatred, our stubborn, willful heart.

Or we can speak with kindness and truth to people in walks of life that are far different from our own. Truly, the internet can be the source of great good, setting up sites where Christians can pray for someone afflicted with a serious illness, and for their family, giving encouragement and hope.

I haven’t even mentioned the wealth of information available on the internet. How many times have I been editing and stopped to research something for a client—did they get the name of that city right, was that weapon actually in existence when this story was to have taken place. I’ve checked manuscript formatting, I’ve researched agents and publishers. I’ve learned so much about writing from blogs put out by editors.

Should I mention videos and games? Yes, because of the internet we can also enjoy a wide variety of entertainment that was not available some twenty years ago. Yes, they can also require self-discipline, but books and movies and TV do as well.

Without a doubt, the internet has changed culture and changed life. Though I know some people use it for evil, I can only be thankful for it. Sure, one more thing to challenge our self-control, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to exercise that muscle.

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Published in: on November 13, 2018 at 5:18 pm  Comments (1)  
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Gratitude, Day 8—For The Written Word


At some point last week I thought one of my gratitude posts should be about reading. I mean, I love to read. It opens up the world, the past, God’s revelation. It’s perhaps the most awesome human experience ever. But I’m too late. My friend and fellow blogger InsanityBytes already grabbed that topic: “Grateful for Reading.”

Unlike IB, I can remember a time when I couldn’t read. My brother and sister could. So once, int the car one of my parents spelled out something, and I knew that only I was supposed to not receive this piece of information. That hurt! At other times, on Sunday mornings when we pulled out the best part of the morning paper—the funnies, also called the Comics—my brother would grab one section and my sister would grab the other. I remember that one day I pleaded with them to please let me have a section first, because after all, it took me much less time to look at the pictures than it did for them to read the whole thing. Well, that request got nowhere, so then I pleaded with them not to read, either. Yeah, that plan didn’t meet with success, either.

I have another distinct memory of not reading, too, but better are the ones of finally learning, finally being able to read. And then discovering the library and all the books available for free. Reading introduced me to new friends and old places. But reading was the key to education. Without reading I would have missed out on so much—math word problems, history, instructions on literally every assignment, science. We even had P.E. tests over the rules of the particular sports we played. At every turn, reading was a component in education.

Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

And now I’m a writer. So the idea of words on a page has expanded from me only being a recipient of information to being one who generates ideas for others to digest. Of course, I was doing that long before I became a writer. I mean, how many papers did I write in college? But one thing I learned back then, even when I would bemoan a professor assigning a ten-page paper or giving us an essay test: I always felt I learned more when I wrote out my thoughts. I remember them better, but I also understand them better. The writing somehow helps me to organize my thoughts better than any other way of interacting with material.

Of course, as a novelist who writes fantasy, I have a special place in my heart for creating worlds and characters that show what I think in a way that is perhaps more meaningful than simply coming out and stating the bald facts.

I may have learned that way of communicating from the Bible, because it’s a book filled with stories that illustrate. Yes, there are statements of truth, places the writers, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, simply declared what God wanted us all to know. But even more, there are people and places and events that show.

But that actually explains another reason I’m grateful for written communication. One of the best parts of Christianity is the written revelation, the unchangeable word of God, the word that is fixed in heaven, that endures forever. What God revealed four thousand years ago, for instance, is still true today. We have it in black and white. We don’t have to wonder what God might decide to do today as opposed to what He did yesterday.

I had a principal once who changed like that. School rules were not codified. They were in his head, and he could change his mind whenever he wanted. So you never wanted to ask him for money to purchase necessary equipment if he was in a bad mood. You never wanted to do something questionable because today it might be OK, but tomorrow you’d be busted for it.

God is not like that. He gave us His word so that we can know His thoughts. So when He said, Don’t commit murder as part of the Ten Commandments, that was a Law He adhered to in the book of James in the New Testament. He didn’t wave it or qualify it or reverse it. His word is dependable.

So I love written communication. It opens up the world, history, culture, an understanding of people. It allows me to express my thoughts and ideas and even to understand what I’m thinking more completely, and it enables me to enjoy God’s revelation. In His word He’s told us about His person, His plan, His purpose. I feel privileged to be invited in to know His thoughts in this way.

For sure, I’m so very grateful for written communication—both sides of it!

Top Photo by Tamás Mészáros from Pexels

Published in: on November 12, 2018 at 5:10 pm  Comments (1)  
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Gratitude, Day 7—For Veterans


I’m not a military person. And believe it or not—this is rare these days—I was raised as a pacifist. I had an uncle, for example who did not go into the service during World War II but chose to do an alternative service.

But as I’ve studied Scripture, I’ve concluded that pacifism applied to military service isn’t really something God teaches. I’m sure others disagree. Nevertheless, I’m at a point in my life that I realize how great the sacrifices are which our military personnel make. And their spouses and children, parents and extended family. So whether someone believes in the importance of a strong military or not, I think it’s right to honor those who have given their time and ability to the service of their nation.

These veterans need more than just a “thanks for your service.” It’s an easy line to give to a veteran, but it’s pretty shallow. I don’t have a better one.

What is better is friendship. I don’t know much about reaching out to someone who has lived with trauma, and is finally coming home, but it seems those who adjust the best have someone they trust and cam talk to. Someone who will be sure they don’t spend their birthday alone, that sort of thing. But more importantly, someone who will love them enough to listen, who will pray with them, who will open up the Bible and help them to gain God’s perspective. Because any veterans who have been in combat, and even those who haven’t, have seen an ugly side of life.

They need God’s perspective on what they’ve lived through.

The bottom line is this: where would the rest of us be without those who have served in the armed forces?

So as Veterans Day approaches here in the US, I want to thank God for given us brave people willing to sacrifice for all the rest of us, willing to defend our nation, our belief in democracy and free speech and freedom of religion. These are values that have shaped our country and spread to other places in the world. But they are not universal, and they do need to be defended.

That our service personnel are willing to put their lives on the line, to step up and do the work to defend what we all enjoy, means more than I can ever express. We are blessed to have brave Marines and infantry, seamen and airmen, the Coast Guard and all those special ops individuals. It really is amazing to think that so many people are willing to set aside a desire for fame or wealth or comfort or ease to step in and stand in the gap for the rest of us.

I am so very grateful for the veterans who have served our country.

Published in: on November 9, 2018 at 4:53 pm  Comments (4)  
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Gratitude, Day 6—Thanking God


Sunset on Fields near City

God is great
God is good
And we thank Him
For our food.

Amen!

I grew up “saying grace,” before meals. To this day I don’t know how that euphemism came about, and in our house, I’m not sure we used the term. I understood our prayer before each meal to be us offering thanks for the food.

By and large, however, it was a formality, though we didn’t use a formalized prayer. Despite the fact that there were lean years in my family, I was too little to realize how tight money was and how iffy our next meal could be. By the time I was in school, our “financially tight years” were behind us.

Consequently, not having known want, I didn’t have the overwhelming sense of gratitude that comes from receiving something you needed but had no means to acquire.

In other words, I mostly took my meals for granted. Not to the point of wasting food, certainly. My parents, especially my mother, saw to that. How could I, being so fortunate, throw away food that the poor children in China would be so happy to have. Didn’t I realize that they were starving and I was abundantly blessed?

Well, actually, I didn’t realize the abundance I enjoyed. Until I was seventeen. That year my family moved to Tanzania, East Africa, to a small town named Korogwe where there was a teacher-training college and a good road to Tanga. My dad, being a professor of education, took a position at the college, and I learned, among many other things, what abundance I had.

In Tanzania I saw most people walk barefoot or ride bicycles. Only the rich had cars. We had a car.

In Tanzania I saw men walk around with tee shirts so holey they barely had enough material to stay on their backs. I asked why people would bother to wear shirts like that which certainly had little function. Because, I was told, it was better to have a shirt, no matter how many holes or how big the holes, than to have no shirt at all. I didn’t own a single item of clothing with holes and I had many changes of clothes.

In Tanzania I saw children throw rocks and use sticks to knock unripe mangoes from a tree. They would rather have the unripened fruit than no fruit at all. I had the choice of whatever fruits and vegetables were in the market, all of which we could afford to buy.

In Tanzania ugali, made from cassava root, was the staple for most people’s diet. They pounded it into a flour and made a kind of thick mush they rolled into balls and dipped into broth. I enjoyed three meals a day, including a main meal of meat and vegetables, often with fresh, home-made rolls.

In Tanzania I saw sick children with runny noses a parent never wiped or distended bellies, some carrying bundles of sticks on their heads as they walked in the red dust of the African roadway. I had received a multitude of shots to keep away such diseases as typhoid and yellow fever, and I received a booster to protect me from the various forms of dysentery that plagued the African people.

In Tanzania I saw Masai children covered with flies, especially around their noses, eyes, and mouths, and they made no effort to brush off the insects, so used to their presence they had become. I slept under a mosquito netting and enjoyed a home with screens on the windows and on the doors. And still we had cans of bug spray and fly swatters.

There was more. That good road to Tanga, the second largest town in Tanzania at the time, which passed through Korogwe, made it possible to go to stores from time to time where we could buy some of the foods we would have considered staples in the US.

In Korogwe we enjoyed an abundant supply of water, no small feature in itself, but the water also made growing fruits and vegetables possible year round whereas in southern Tanzania, the dry season was very dry. People might find the only vegetable in their markets for months was cabbage.

I could go on. But the point isn’t to make a case for how poor Tanzania was or how much better Korogwe was than other parts of the country. The fact is, I could repeat a similar list for Guatemala where I spent three years or for Mexico where I spent a summer or for Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, even England and Japan where I’ve spent some short amount of time.

I could repeat the list for places here in the US, too.

But up until I was seventeen and spent that year in Tanzania, I didn’t realize I enjoyed abundance. I wore hand-me-down clothes and never owned a bike, though I wanted one desperately. My family drove used cars and bought furniture at Goodwill. We weren’t rich, but we had an abundance.

I think true thankfulness might not be possible until you realize what abundance you have. How many of us are thankful for our health . . . until we get sick? Or for our friends until they move away. Or for our jobs until we lose them.

Simple FieldNot having and then having, or having and then not having provides the contrast that wakes us up to abundance. Seeing others not have when we have can do the same thing. Or it can create a defensive, hording mentality—I never want to be without, like those people—in the same way that seeing others have when we do not, can create envy and greed.

All this to say, in our abundance, however great or small that may be, we have the opportunity to thank God for what He has given. Think about what Habakkuk said:

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. (3:17-18, emphasis added)

Even in want, there’s cause to exult in God. He remains the source of salvation, and that is God’s lavish provision for sinners who did not deserve His grace and mercy.

Thanks, and praise, and rejoicing are always the right response to God.

It certainly makes sense. If He is great, and He is, and if He is good, and He is, then why wouldn’t I give Him thanks?

This post originally appeared here in July, 2014.

Published in: on November 8, 2018 at 4:45 pm  Comments (2)  
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Gratitude, Day 5—Salvation


Well, duh, some Christians might say. I might say that too. I mean, salvation is not new to me. I’ve lived with it for most of my life. I’ve gone through the gamut: I’ve been unsure I was saved, so I prayed for salvation again, and again, and again; then I came to the place where I decided to take God at His word; until I questioned His goodness, heard His answer, and trusted in His wisdom, just trusted; to the point that now, things I don’t understand don’t disturb me . . . much. I’ve just recently started a note section for my daily Bible reading asking the question, Who Is A Christian?

All that to say, salvation is familiar and it would be easy for me to take it for granted. I’ve lived with it for so long—the ups and the downs, the doubts and the assurances.

But in the end, I realize, salvation is everything. Yes, it’s a gift from God. A free gift, based on His grace.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

But it’s also a gift I must receive. There are any number of pictures of receiving the gift of salvation. Jesus referred to Himself as living water, for instance, and said to the woman at the well,

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” (John 4:19)

Ask, give, receive. It’s all part of what Peter calls being born again:

for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God (1 Peter 1:23)

Jesus also painted that new birth picture when He met with Nicodemus:

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

Of course, another image Jesus used was that of a Father accepting His wayward son who returns and repents.

Throughout the New Testament there’s the association of Christ’s sacrifice with that of the pure and spotless lamb used in temple sacrifices. But Christ is portrayed as the sacrifice “once and for all.”

In thinking about why I’m thankful for salvation, these things come to mind:

I’m thankful salvation is free. It’s amazing to think that something so valuable is not something I have to pay for, that God actually chose to pay on my behalf.

I’m also thankful that it’s accessible by everyone. No one has to clean up before coming to God through His Son Jesus. He’ll take care of the sanctifying part, just as He has taken care of the justifying part.

Justifying simply means that I’ve been set right with God, so I actually have peace with Him. I’m thankful for that peace. I’m no longer God’s enemy. I’m not at war with Him. I recognize Him as the sovereign ruler He is.

The sanctifying part is me learning to get off the throne of my life and letting God be God. I don’t always want to.

Another thing I’m thankful for concerning salvation is the glorification that we who are saved will enjoy in the future. We’ll get better bodies—ones that won’t age or get sick; we’ll take our place in God’s kingdom as people who serve Him purely. I don’t know what all that will look like. Some speculate that we’ll have jobs in the New Earth that suit us. So I could possibly be a writer in the future, too.

The greatest thing about this glorification aspect of salvation is the hope it gives. So we Christians, when someone we love dies, we grieve, but we do so with hope. We will not be separated from each other forever. We will have a great reunion, first with God our Savior, and then with one another.

Pretty much salvation changes everything. That’s why Scripture talks about us being renewed, about us living in newness of life. Old things are passed away. All things are new. Definitely something I am thankful for.

Published in: on November 7, 2018 at 5:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Gratitude, Day 4—Play


I have a neighbor who has a young dog, about two years old now. Another neighbor just recently got a puppy, and those two hit it off. They love to run and chase and play tug of war and wrestle, and then run some more. I have to say, it’s really entertaining to watch.

I remember a time when I was young that our cat had a litter of kittens and as they grew, they loved to play with each other. We used to sit in the living room and just watch those kittens jump and chase each other and wrestle.

Recently I heard someone describing a cruise they went on and this person said a school of dolphins chased them. Well, not chased, I thought. But play? No doubt.

And then it dawned on me. Animals of all kinds play. Mostly their young, but even older pets can play. In other words, play is something God built into His creation.

No wonder we humans like to play: board games and card games and video games. We like to horse around. We invent games like Mother May I or Kick The Can or Hide-and-Seek. We play games we turn into sports like skate boarding and skiing. We play because . . . we were made to love play.

I’ve wondered off and on if play is good. I mean, what does play accomplish for the kingdom of God? Aren’t we to be good stewards of our time?

Well, yes, we are. But “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” or something like that. Yeah, not from the Bible, I know. And I might be tempted to think play is something we should outgrow, except for those dolphins chasing the cruise ship. And the dogs frolicking in the snow. And kittens chasing rainbows. In other words, God gave the instinct to play.

Sure, just like anything else, we humans can misuse God’s gift. We can turn it into an idol. We can become addicted. We can spend time playing when we are supposed to be working or worshiping or serving.

But play when we don’t use it in the wrong way, is a great gift from God. It adds enjoyment and relaxation to our days. It takes our minds off problems and heartaches. It gives us opportunities to laugh and to celebrate and to make memories.

And like all God’s good gifts, He reveals something about Himself in them. God shows that He has a sense of humor, that He laughs. There are some verses in Scripture that back this up. Sarah, when she learned that in her old age she would give birth to a son, said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.”

In Proverbs, this: “A joyful heart is good medicine.”

God shows a sense of irony, too, which is actually a type of humor. Take the Apostle Paul, for example. He was bent on chasing down Christians and doing away with them one way or the other. But God, in a great ironic twist, says, No, no, no. I want you, the Christian hunter to be the greatest evangelist FOR Christ in the first century.

There are others. Haman, for example, showing up in the palace to ask the king if he can hang Mordecai, and the king calling Haman to him to ask what he should do for the man he wishes to honor . . . which turns out to be Mordecai! Ironic twist.

One thing I know for sure from the book of James:

Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praises.

Praises. Sort of like thanksgiving. So, how grateful I am to God that He has given us play, which leads to laughter and cheer.

If you’re like me, you get a kick out of watching animals play, so here’s a video you might enjoy.

Published in: on November 6, 2018 at 5:48 pm  Comments (5)  
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Gratitude, Day 3—The Kindness Of The Lord


As you may (or may not) remember, I am doing a series of Thanks posts, sort of in protest to the fact that Thanksgiving here in the US is being squeezed out amid the candy and costumes of Halloween and the presents and lights, carols, nativity scenes, and Santas of Christmas.

I actually love Thanksgiving. It’s a holiday that hasn’t been overly commercialized. It can’t be confused with any other holiday, the way Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans’ Day, and Flag Day can be confused with each other. But the greatest plus is that the origins of the holiday have a spiritual foundation. The Thanks in Thanksgiving, is directed to God. And that fact gives me a good reason to love this particular day above other celebrations.

So, today, I am particularly grateful for the kindness of the Lord. A particular verse from the Bible came to mind when I thought of God’s kindness:

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4-5)

Clearly, God’s kindness is connected to His work of salvation—something another verse of Scripture spells out:

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)

So, yes, God’s kindness and love save us, but a great part of the process is His kindness leading us to repentance.

Repentance?

Isn’t that connected to an awareness of our sin? I mean, how can someone repent if they don’t actually think there is something in their life for which they need to regret, to be remorseful about, to wish were different in regard to their actions and/or character? I mean, are people who can only see their strengths ever going to repent?

No.

And that’s actually the human condition. We want to think better of ourselves than we are, but when we can’t avoid the problems, we tend to blame others. It’s society’s fault. I didn’t get a good education. My parents didn’t love me the way I needed them to. It was the snake who deceived me. The wife You gave me tempted me.

All those things are true or might be. But that doesn’t change the facts: whatever the conditions, we gave in and sinned. We made the decision to do what we knew we should not do. We stand guilty. Condemned.

And it is the kindness of God that brings us to that point. Kindness. Because once we’re aware of our need to repent, we can repent. We don’t need to hide any more, to blame others, to carry the guilt.

God’s kindness brings us to the place where we can deal with sin once and for all. Not through works we do. But by accepting the washing, the cleansing, the being made new provided by God.

God is actually kind in so many other ways. He is kind to give us friends and family, jobs and meaningful activity, churches and Bibles, homes and entertainment. But His kindness is greatest when it leads us to Him. Because nothing is more important. Our lives in the here and now are, as James says, a vapor. The Psalmist and Isaiah talk about our lives being like a flower—here today, and tomorrow gone with the wind or the scorching sun.

But only the here and now part. The eternal part of our lives stretches out before us. Nothing could be more important than that we live that eternal part with God our Savior. So how kind of God to invest so much into directing us to repentance for our sin.

He could ignore our need for repentance and make sure that these brief moments are nothing but pleasure-filled. I mean, it isn’t comfortable to think about our sin, to admit that we are the ones responsible, that we have gone our own way and ended up in a mess of our own making. But God’s kindness won’t let us delude ourselves into thinking that we’re OK in spite of our sin.

He is too kind to let us live in that delusion. He’d rather lead us to repentance.

Photo by Valeria Boltneva from Pexels

Published in: on November 5, 2018 at 5:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Gratitude, Day 2—For The Beauty Of The Earth


As I said on Facebook today, the holiday that is getting squeezed out of existence is Thanksgiving. I want to keep the focus in November on what God has given, what I’m thankful for. So here’s the second installment in the Thankful series.

And today I’m mentioning something I think we can easily take for granted—the beauty of this home God has given us. I mean, all of it. Not the broken parts that sin has ruined, but the parts that allow us to see the beauty of God’s original design.

I’ll start with mountains because I love them so much. I don’t think there’s a better place in all the world than the land above timberline.

Maybe flatlanders don’t know that at a certain elevation, trees stop growing. That’s timberline. What does grow is grasses and wildflowers. But there’s also lots of rocks and glaciers and pools of icy blue or icy green water from melted snow. I’ve never, never seen anything so purely wild and beautiful.

But the ocean comes close. I love the ocean when there aren’t any people around. That’s usually in the winter or toward sunset.

And speaking of sunset, that’s another thing I am so grateful for—the colors of the sky. I love the oranges and pinks and yellows, but I also love the blue and whites and the black and dotted whites with the silver white peeking over the horizon. Yeah, I pretty much love the sky. Angry gray clouds are beautiful but so is misty fog.

But since I mentioned color, I’ll say, I’m really, really grateful for flowers and leaves that change colors. I mean, the wealth of color here is SoCal is off the chart. We have trees that blossom, bushes with flowers, and of course flowers themselves of every kind. Walking in SoCal is like walking in a rainbow.

So, yes, rainbows are certainly on the list of things for which I’m grateful. I mean, have you ever seen an ugly rainbow? Even a stubby piece of a rainbow is beautiful. The rainbows that come from the sun shining on the water spraying from a hose are beautiful. The prism rainbows flashing against a wall from a piece of jewelry are beautiful. Rainbows caught in the break of a wave, those are beautiful too.

But of course, saying rainbow makes me think of rain. I’m grateful for rain. So very grateful, and so longing to have a few days of much needed rain come our way. I don’t get to see it much any more except in pictures, but I also love snow. I mean, what renews the world better than a coat of new-fallen snow?

Obviously I’m not going into details about, say, the moon, or the beauty of the desert, which I rarely see, or any number of animals which are truly beautiful. The point is, I could put many, many more things on this list—things for which I’m grateful, and which illustrate just how beautiful this world is that God gave us to live in.

Above all, the beauty He created tells me a little about His own beauty. I’m grateful God showed us Himself through the beauty He created.

Published in: on November 2, 2018 at 5:01 pm  Comments (1)  
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Gratitude, Day 1—The Books Of The Bible I Used To Skip


A number of years ago, I began reading through the Bible from cover to cover. When I first started the process, I’d inevitably bog down when I got to certain parts that seemed . . . well, boring. I thought they weren’t relevant, didn’t give the spiritual nourishment I needed.

So one year I got the idea to skip the parts that were too hard, that I didn’t find engaging.

But since then, I’ve changed.

As it happens, the Bible is constructed in such a way that one passage builds upon another, and before I realized it, I was reading the hard passages and even taking notes and asking questions.

Specifically I’m referring to the books of Leviticus and Numbers. There were other passages—a portion of 1 Chronicles, for example—that dive into genealogies, and they were on my “To Be Avoided” list, too, but primarily, I dodged Leviticus and Numbers.

I’m not at all sorry I did because I’m convinced that decision kept me from quitting my reading plan, as I tried to work my way through the entire Bible.

The amazing thing is that God has turned around my attitude toward those books. I realized it some years ago when I felt a sense of sadness that I was finished with Leviticus. When did that happen? And how?

God did His work, is what happened. How? By the power of His Spirit and the incisive word that cuts to the heart. I don’t honestly remember when I decided to keep going when I finished Exodus.

To be honest, there are big parts of that book that are not your edge-of-the-seat fare, either. It’s there that God gave the specifics of the tabernacle—its construction and furnishings—as well as the Ten Commandments and a variety of other laws.

Leviticus, then, sort of slides right in behind, carrying on where Exodus left off. The thing is, the more familiar I become with the rest of the Bible, the more these books of law and records make sense to me, and the more they help me understand other parts of the Bible. Cyclical, I know.

Not that I don’t also have questions about them. I do. Questions and observations.

Here’s one note, for instance, across from Exodus 21:16—“He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.”My note:

By this law, Joseph’s brothers would have been put to death.

Joseph’s brothers—the patriarchs after whom the twelve tribes were named. Their sin against Joseph was of the nature that would have cost them their lives under the Law. Instead, they were forgiven and given places of prominence among the nation of Israel for all time. Who could do that but a God of grace?!

Or how about this note next to Leviticus 17:11-12—“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, ‘No person among you may eat blood, nor may any alien who sojourns among you eat blood.’ ” My notes:

How radical was Jesus’s statement “This is my blood . . . drink this . . . ” ! The blood is the life, so Jesus’s blood spilled for sinners was His life spent for the atonement of sinners. And the cup of the Lord’s supper? His life in us symbolized by our drinking of the cup.

These notes were compiled over at least three different readings of the passage. Each time something new about the verses came clear and one thought built on another.

Or how about Numbers 7. It’s 89 verses long, but most of it is repetition, enumerating the dedication offerings for the altar. Each day for twelve days a leader of one of the twelve tribes brought the exact same offering, and these are listed throughout the chapter, one after the other. All twelve of them:

On the [__ numbered] day it was [name of tribal leader] the son of [tribal leader’s father], leader of the sons of [name of tribe]; his offering was one silver dish whose weight was one hundred and thirty shekels, one silver bowl of seventy shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; one gold pan of ten shekels, full of incense; one bull, one ram, one male lamb one year old, for a burnt offering; one male goat for a sin offering; and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, five male lambs one year old. This was the offering of [tribal leader] the son of [tribal leader’s father].

I don’t know why God repeated those lines twelve times, inserting, of course the different tribal names and their respective leaders and their fathers. But what I’ve noticed is that the margins of my Bible are covered with notes here (mostly questions). This was a passage I once skipped, then skimmed, then tried to memorize, then began to ask questions about and notice details.

For instance, the order in which the tribes presented their sacrifice is not the same as the order of birth of the patriarchs or their listing by the name of their mother (the two most common ways they are listed throughout the first five books of the Bible). Instead, they’d been grouped in companies, three tribes to a group, each under the leadership of one particular tribe. By the order of these companies they were to camp and by the order of these companies they were to travel. It is this order, then, that they presented their sacrifices.

Significant? In thinking about the dynamics of the nation, it’s interesting and informative, especially in relation to its division into two kingdoms later on.

Back to the sacrifices: part included flour or incense offered in 12 bowls, 12 pans, and 12 dishes. Only the pans holding the incense were to be made of gold. The others were silver. Is there a reason for that? Was the incense a particularly important part of the worship or was it a practical matter—the blend of burning spices would have tarnished silver?

I don’t know, but it’s interesting to note that in Revelation the prayers of the saints are referred to as incense.

When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (Rev. 5:8)

All this to say, there are all kinds of interesting connections, some literal and some symbolic, that I am beginning to see, especially in the New Testament, as a result of reading Leviticus and Numbers. I understand the book of Hebrews better, for instance, and a number of things that the gospels chronicle make more sense.

I have to mention this one: one of the laws in Leviticus was that a person with an “issue of blood” would be unclean—i.e. not able to join in the worship ceremonies and feasts. Furthermore, anyone that person touched would also be unclean.

So in the New Testament when the woman with the “issue of blood” touched the edge of Jesus’s clothing, she didn’t want to touch Him to cause Him to become unclean. He, on the other hand, didn’t rebuke her, but had compassion on her because her suffering had been much deeper than the physical. She’d been ostracized and separated from worship for all those years. And still she believed.

So today, I’m especially grateful for the books of Leviticus and Numbers and for the way God makes His word come alive. He is a faithful God.

Much of this post is a revised version of one that appeared here in September, 2014.

Do The Good Go To Hell? – A Story


Once upon a time, during a particularly difficult economic down turn, the president of the land of Make Believe decided to use his own money to help his people.

“I’ll build an industrial plant,” he told his economic adviser, “a huge complex, big enough to employ anyone who needs work. First we’ll hire people to do the construction. All kinds of people. No experience necessary. What they don’t know, we’ll train them to do.”

His adviser consulted with the necessary PR personnel and soon word spread: anyone who wanted a job could begin to report to the designated location, effective immediately.

People came slowly at first, hardly believing the president really meant what he said, and some stayed away, convinced the offer was a sham, or worse—a trick to bilk the people of the little they still had.

Eventually, however, as those first folk went home tired each night after a full day of hard labor, gold coins clinking in their pockets, more and more people decided to sign on for a job too.

One day, a nicely dressed young man named Warren Wingate showed up at the application center.

“Would you like to apply for a job?” the receptionist asked him.

“Oh, no, no. I don’t need a job,” Warren said. “In fact, I’m here to help out.”

“Help out? In what way?”

“I have money, lots of money, more than I can ever spend in my lifetime. I want to give it away.”

“To everyone?”

“Well, I could do that, but the amount would be so small, it might not make much of a difference.”

“So you plan to divide your wealth with just a few people? How will you decide which will receive your gift and which won’t?”

“I’ll figure something out—maybe based on need. You know, the poorest of the poor.”

So Warren set up a table and sat with his checkbook open. Whenever a poor man with a torn shirt or holes in his shoes came to the application center, Warren called him over, wrote a check, and sent him home.

“Warren,” the receptionist said, “you should be sending those poor people in to sign up for their job.”

“They don’t need it any more. I gave them enough to last a lifetime.”

“You don’t know that. What happens if inflation rises or our currency is devalued? These people need jobs. It’s the only way they can have a secure future.”

“That’s certainly a narrow-minded perspective. Look at me. I invested wisely, and I’m wealthy beyond measure. I don’t need a job, and in fact I can help shoulder the burden for all these other folk.”

With that Warren passed out checks to the next one hundred people who showed up at the application center, regardless of need. Each person was so happy, they shook Warren’s hand, said how grateful they were, how much they owed him, and headed back home.

The next day, all the people with checks hurried out to the bank. But instead of open doors and a lighted building, the shades were drawn and the doors were locked.

“What’s this about?” one person asked.

“Haven’t you heard?” a man on his way to work said. “The bank closed its doors yesterday. Those checks you have aren’t going to buy your groceries.”

“But Mr. Wingate said he had more than enough money for us all.”

“I’m sure he thought he had plenty. But he’s not buying groceries either, not unless he has some gold. And the only place I know where you can get gold is from the president. You all should come with me and put in your job application. They’re taking anyone willing to work.”

As the worker hurried toward the plant, a few folk trailed after him though most stayed in front of the bank.

“It’s a misunderstanding,” one man said. “They’ll open the bank in an hour or so, you’ll see.”

When those who went with the worker arrived at the application center, who did they see but Warren Wingate, handing out more checks to the poor.

One of those who had just left the bank, stepped forward. “What are you doing, Mr. Wingate? The bank is closed, and we can’t cash the checks you gave us.”

“Well, isn’t that sad. Would you like another? I can make this one for a good deal more if you like.”

“That won’t help. We need to buy groceries for our families and we need money, not a check we can’t cash. You need money, too. They say the only place to get any is here at the president’s industrial complex, so we’re going to apply for a job. You should too.”

“Me?” Warren said. “Why would I need a job? I have plenty of money. Take a look at my last bank statement.”

“But the bank is closed.”

“I’ll simply show this statement at the grocery story. I’m sure they’ll give me the food I need. You can show them your checks too. They’re bound to give you the food once they see how rich you are.”

– – –

So what do you think? Did the kind man giving out checks to the poor get the food he needed?

This story is an edited version of one first published here in October, 2010.

Published in: on October 16, 2018 at 5:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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