Monday, January 21, 2013

The Five People I'll Never Hire Again - Phil Cooke

Working with our team at Cooke Pictures, I’ve produced hundreds of film and video projects over the years, and in the process hired thousands of people. I’ve worked on every continent, and about 50 countries. After all that experience hiring and sometimes firing, these are the five types of people – on a film set or in the office – I will never hire again:
The Whiner – This is the guy who you just can’t please. He doesn’t like the hours, the food, or the other people on the crew. Trying to help him just invites a new list of things he isn’t happy about. A whiner is ultimately unhappy with himself, so there’s really nothing you can do to make him change. So make yourself happy and hire someone else.
The Debater – I had an actress once who debated (or argued) about everything – and not just stuff related to the project. She loved to discuss theology and issues surrounding the Bible. So all day long she would bring up issues like “Does God exist?” or “Can we believe the Bible?” All interesting subjects, but not on a film shoot under pressure! I’m trying to direct the crew, and she’s debating the virgin birth with the sound engineer. Honestly, she wore me (and everyone else) out. Hire people who are sensitive to what’s happening around them, and know how to be in the right moment at the appropriate time.
Mr. Negative - This guy was so negative that when he walked into a room, it actually felt like someone had walked out. Constantly finding fault, always trying to point out why my ideas wouldn’t work. I appreciate realistic feedback, not constantly negative feedback. While a Whiner reminds everyone how unhappy HE is, a Negative person points out what’s wrong with YOU and your ideas. I honestly think he was trying to help, but you can’t have that much negativity around you and survive. I’m happy to let him be a downer for someone else.
Chatty Cathy – Remember the “Chatty Cathy” doll? You pulled a string and she’d start talking. But sometimes she got stuck and wouldn’t stop. This was a woman who couldn’t keep her mouth shut – ever. In client meetings, she had an opinion about everything – even things she knew nothing about. I pulled her aside time after time, but she just wouldn’t learn. She didn’t respect authority, or the rules of civility. A serial interrupter, she alienated clients who could never get a word in. I had to let her go just so I could hear myself think.
His Way or No Way – I like my team to be creative and think for themselves, but this guy had to do everything his own way. With a team, you can hash things out, but you eventually need to come to a consensus and move forward together. Not this guy. He had to do it his way or no way. Nothing destroys unity like someone who will not play his or her part. I decided to let him be independent on his own, and I hired someone else.

Creating a great team is a delicate balance. But part of the secret is getting the right people together to begin with. Always be vigilant about bringing the right people to the table from the start. It makes it so much easier to do great work.

How about you? What are the type of people will you never work with again?

Sticks and Stones and Sore Jawbones

"The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:35-37).

Gossip is a great time-killer, for those who have it to kill. It is also a great people-killer. Oh, not outright. Sometimes it takes years for that titillating and scintillating bit of slander to take its toll. When the person finally dies of heartbreak, no one understands. Why should they? After all, who remembers the stone that was first thrown: the lie or innuendo that started the slow ripple and agonizing death of one's trust and love?

I have a friend whose marriage is a see-saw affair, and I was having rather uncharitable thoughts myself about a woman who acted my friend when with me, and then spoke with forked tongue when with other mutual friends of ours. One day Mary Fran and I delved into our subjects with our own forked tongues. Mary Fran is married to Chief Black Cloud, a nickname her sons gave their dad. Chief Black Cloud's fuse is quite short, and one of the older boys crowned his dad with that inglorious title after the boy left home and discovered that merrier hearts do exist in this vale of tears.

Mary Fran told me about her system to keep sanity and humor intact. Years before she had purchased three silly-looking but marriage-saving little statues, one with the word "Peace," another, "I Love You This Much" and the third one, "I'm Sorry." Depending on how much static was clogging the line of communication,  that is how many statues that landed on the bed that day. The "Goofies," as Mary Fran nicknamed them, have saved many an argumentable and lamentable day.

We discussed the red-flag words and phrases that cripple family relationships, in particular. These are, among many, "You never..." and "You always..." These are sure-fire losing combinations! These flags are waved when the white flag of reconciliation is most needed: when mommy is sagging from a 28-hour day with hyper and ventilating kids; when daddy arrives home from the job breathing fire at his boss's incompetence, etc. For ten inexplicable reasons rolled into the one of human nature, this is when we slap each other with the always and the nevers, the you-shoulds and I-woulds: the negatives that have others feeling stupid. One man I know asks his wife and children how it feels to be uncoordinated whenever they have their few minor mishaps. Perhaps this is supposed to keep them all on their toes! They had a perfect chance to get even when the man almost lost his thumb in a tractor accident, but charity won out.

Mary Fran said there are days when she wants to retaliate in kind, but decided it is best to be kind.  Years ago I read something that touched me deeply. The book was written by a Christian psychologist. He said it has been proven that the finest feeling follows the finest doing. It works for her. It should work for us all.

I am a fortunate owner of the American Edition of the works of Martin Luther. He had much to say on gossip and its terrible by-products. Luther pointed out that when we gossip we are doing Satan's chores for him. He related the incident, possibly fact but more probably fiction, of a couple so happily married that it was the talk of the town. The devil couldn't cause disharmony between them, but he finally hit upon the trick: he sent an old hag to the wife to tell her that her husband was having an affair with another woman and planned to kill her and that she would find a knife under his pillow. She then hurriedly went to the husband with the same terrible tale. Unfortunately for the wife, the husband found her knife first, and that was the end of the town's happiest marriage. There are several vital lessons here: poisonous tongues kill; Satan is behind the poisonous tongue; trust your partner; and, above all, check your sources.

Gossip is verbal interest in the failings of others rather than their feelings. Our own faults should keep us busy enough praying to a forgiving and forgetting Father and offering prayers of thanksgiving that He so willingly overlooks our own many malpractices of tongue. “He who scatters the seeds of dissension and strife reaps in his own soul the deadly fruits. The very act of looking for evil in others develops evil in those who look” (Anonymous). As we all eventually discover, church members are especially astute at weeding out others' grubby little sins. There is nothing like one's own righteousness to highlight the other person's lack of it. "They who are free from the grosser sins, and even bear the outward show of sanctity, will often exalt themselves by detracting others under the pretense of zeal, whilst their real motive is love of evil-speaking" (Calvin). In today’s English, that means I’m holier than you!

"True Christians will not exult in exposing the faults and deficiencies of others. They will turn away from vileness and deformity, to fix the mind upon that which is attractive and lovely. To the Christian every act of faultfinding, every word of censure or condemnation, is painful" (E.G. White). In his superb booklet, Bones in The Church, J.L. Tucker told of a dear old Black minister who preached from 2 Peter 2:1 where it says that in the last days "damnable heresies" will come in, only the preacher kept calling it "damnable heresays." After the service he was accosted by one of his more enlightened deacons who told him that the verse says "damnable heresies." The pastor, knowing more about the church than the deacon, retorted, "It isn't the heresies that are bothering this church, it's the heresays." Elder Tucker also warned the jawbone people about depriving the minister of his greatest value: his influence. The parents and children who attend church and then come home and dissect the sermon and the minister can undo in one afternoon what a minister has spent years in prayer, time and tears so he can bring a message of comfort and hope to his flock. The parents may wonder years later why their son or daughter left the church.

A rattlesnake warns before he strikes. We don't bother to give warning; we strike in the act of rattling and tattling. As Christians who look forward to the joys of eternal life, it is imperative that we resolve our differences while bound to earth. Paul was most concerned about this, for in his day Christians faced outside forces and they needed moral and physical stamina that could not be wasted on family and church squabbles. Besides, what positive effect could gossip, envy and all the debris that collects from an unconverted heart have on those "unconverted" who, in many instances back then as well as now, acted more Christian than those who claimed to be such?

Paul, ever concerned about his dear flock, admonished his Corinthian faithful: "For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder" (2 Corinthians 12:20). One commentator lists eight specific evils of this church: strife, suspicion, spleen, selfishness, slander, scandal-mongering, super-egoism and sulkiness, and suggests that the serpent's hiss could still be heard at Corinth. Is it possible that the serpent's hiss is heard in our homes and churches? God forbid!

Dr. James T. Jeremiah of Cedarville College in Ohio gave an apt description of the backbiter: "It has been suggested that biting is not always done with the teeth. The tongue feels soft compared to your teeth, but it is twice as sharp. A backbiter is not a person who bites back, but one who bites behind your back." We need to be careful of all our words. "Words may be uttered hastily and hence may not reflect the real sentiments of the speaker. But those unpremeditated remarks, often so trifling as to be unworthy of notice, are viewed through Satan's magnifying glass, pondered, and repeated until molehills become mountains” (Anonymous). The following poem by Unknown should help us to reflect before we flex our vocal cords to shoot out words we mean or don't mean:

Remember, three things come not back;
The arrow spent upon its track.
It will not swerve, it will not stay
Its speed. It flies to wound or slay.

The spoken word so soon forgot by thee;
But it has perished not.
In other hearts 'tis living still,
And doing work for good or ill.

And the lost opportunity,
That cometh back no more to thee;
In vain thou weepest, in vain doest yearn;
These three will never more return.

In extensive reading on this abhorrent habit, it became clear that gossip is compensation for an inferiority complex. But it is so self-defeating. The sad outcome is the hopelessness engendered by the individual who, in an attempt to pull himself together by ripping others apart, only serves notice that he can't be trusted and soon finds loneliness an unwelcome companion. Then he vents what he feels is justified anger on those who no longer share because they don't wish to have any more chunks taken out of their reputations and motives.

I suppose one could say that of itself gossip is harmless, just as arsenic of itself can be used to kill weeds. Unfortunately, with gossip, in the detailing and retailing of it, we have the all-too-human tendency to add a pinch here and a cupful there. Gossip by its very nature must be subjective, for there is simply no way that we can know all the facts of a person's life. Even if we did, these facts would be colored by our own personal attitudes and experiences.

Most of us have played the childhood game of standing in a circle and passing along a statement of fact or fancy started by player number one. The final result always produced amusement and amazement by the time it got to player number fifteen or twenty. The game is funny, but the reality of gossip can range from mild reaction to vicious action.

Today I can laugh at an incident that happened years ago when I went grocery shopping with the then only three of my eventual five sons. While going about the business of getting groceries for my family, with the help of my three little ones, a woman came up to me and announced that I was pregnant. "I have my knowledge on good authority," to quote Mrs. Busybody. I wasted valuable time trying to convince her that to my apparently limited knowledge I was not; that perhaps her informant had omniscient powers that I thought only God possessed. When I was finally able to return to the more important matter of grocery shopping, I still had not convinced her. If this lady had been stuck with my issues to raise and educate, then she would have had ample excuse for such concern, but I hardly knew her. But at that time our town was rather small!

There are three areas in which we can judge our tendency to gossip, and three tests by which we can judge the seriousness of our gossip. In the areas we have:
1) things;
2) people; and
3) ideas.

Which one of these is most appealing to us? I believe this is the right order, too. In our thing-oriented society, we often find ourselves discussing the externals of life and ways to obtain and maintain them. If we choose people, it should be to talk with them, not at them or about them. If we talk about ideas, then we discuss ideals, certainly something to be commended in this day of deteriorating ideas and ideals both.

The three tests of gossip are:
1) is it true;
2) is it really necessary and constructive to the welfare of them and us to repeat this?  
3) is it done out of love.

If these three criteria -- and it must be all three -- can't be satisfied, then it is far better to bury the morsel six feet under our memories and leave the judging (which is what gossip is) to God, who long ago forgave and forgot.

One of my favorite Bible verses is 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." Surely saying the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong way is unrighteousness. And for some of us, when we have been so unrighteous as to do in a friend or even an enemy, it is so difficult for us to grasp the concept of total forgiveness. If we are so fortunate as to have finely attuned consciences, we feel that we have done the ultimate; perhaps committed the unpardonable sin because of the consequences to that person. In dealing with the temptation and even the unfortunate fact of hanging another rumor on the grapevine, this verse can help. God does forgive! I doubt there is a person reading this who has not regretted something said in anger, frustration, resentment, haste or whatever. There are varying degrees of results of our lack of discretion and sins of the tongue, too. We drop the pebble of hate, hostility, innuendo, jealousy or wounded pride, and the ripple effect reaches to the very gates of heaven – or hell -- itself.

Exactly where is the beginning of war, divorce, teenage rebellion, murder, suicide? Where do we find that feather of a word that has become a very sword? How grateful I am that God is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us of the sins of our tongues. But unfortunately, He cannot go around the world gathering up what our winds of words have scattered over the airwaves.

As regards our being the subject of gossip, the most charitable remark I ever heard from a victim was from the lips and heart of a precious old lady whose life was a very model of Christian love. She lived in a high-rise for senior citizens. One day she told me that she was the latest morsel in the jaws of the character assassins; why, neither she nor I understood. She decided it was because the folks had nothing better to do and, besides, "If they aren't talking about me, they'll be talking about someone else, so that's all right." Such compassion!

Unless we see the circumstances in another's life, we can cause that person immeasurable and irreparable injustice. For years I heard relatives criticize the wife of one of their own. The lady lived in another state, so I believed what was said about her. When she and her husband retired and we eventually got to know each other, I saw the side that apparently the rest of her family didn't take the time to investigate: a warm, gentle and kind lady with talents unrecognized and unappreciated except by her children. She was at our house one evening and made a cutting remark about herself. I told her that she had been listening too long to those who didn't even know her. It's wonderful how differently we feel when we get to know others, and to understand the sums of their sorrows and the divisions of their emotions. We give second thought before we express our objections to their abjections. And we are most fortunate if they grant us the same courtesy.

In his morning watch book, Prepare the Way, Joe Engelkemier tells of a discussion about electronic devices, and mention is made of the possibility of a device being developed by which men could catch up with all the words said in the past so that history could be heard again. Perhaps it is in the realm of possibility. Who would have thought 70 years ago that television would be so common (who would have thought 40 years ago that television would become so common!)? It's a sobering thought that every idle and nasty word we speak may be floating out there in space to accuse us. Besides, God's Word warns us that we will have to give an account of all our words, whether they are electronically frozen or not: "But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken" (Matthew 12:36). So we should pray, "Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips" (Psalm 141:3). Proverbs 18:21 warns us that "the tongue has the power of life and death..." If we are to be justified or condemned by our words (Matthew 12:37), then life and death are indeed in the power of our speech.

In the great book of James we learn, "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless" (James 1:26). The tongue is just another organ of the body devoid of a moral quality until we use it to express thought and feeling. Then it becomes the most powerful weapon we have as Christians. R. Simeon b. Gamaliel said to Tabbai his servant: 'Go and buy me good food in the market.' He went and bought him tongue. He said to him: 'Go and buy me bad food in the market.' He went and bought him tongue. Said he to him: 'What is this? When I told you to get good food you bought me tongue, and when I told you to get bad food you also bought me tongue!' He replied: 'Good comes from it and bad comes from it. When the tongue is good there is nothing better, and when it is bad there is nothing worse'" (Misrash Rabbah).


Wouldn't this old world be better
if the folks we meet would say,
I know something good about you
And then treat you just that way?

Wouldn't it be fine and dandy
If each handclasp were warm and true,
carried with it this assurance,
I know something good about you?

Wouldn't life be lots more happy
if the good that's in us all
Were the only thing about us
that folks would bother to recall?

Wouldn't life be lots more happy
if we praised the good we see?
For there's such a lot of goodness
in the worst of you and me!

Wouldn't it be nice to practice
that fine way of thinking, too.
You know something good about me;
I know something good about you!


Some of our good folk feel that it is necessary to be brutally frank. The truth must be told, at all costs! The cost may be too dear for them, finally. These well-meaning souls would profit from reading Proverbs 15:23: "... How good is a timely word!" I read of an elderly lady who had lived enough years to know the difference between the whole truth and nothing but, and that words fitly spoken should be spoken at a fit time. She gave this excellent advice to her grandchildren: "Always tell the truth, but don't always be telling it." For the sake of peace and harmony in the circles in which we go around, "There is a time to be silent and a time to speak..." (Ecclesiastes 3:7b). Those who preface and dot their sentences with "truth be told" may be applying a double-edged scissors to a good friendship.

In that jewel of God's love, Steps to Christ, we read about how Jesus treated others: "Jesus exercised the greatest tact, and thoughtful, kind attention, in His intercourse with the people. He was never rude, never needlessly spoke a severe word, never gave needless pain to a sensitive soul. He did not censure human weakness." In another Ellen G. White gem, Mount of Blessing, we read: "No one has ever been reclaimed from a wrong position by censure and reproach; but many have thus been driven from Christ and led to seal their hearts against conviction. A tender spirit, a gentle, winning deportment, may save the erring and hide a multitude of sins. The revelation of Christ in your own character will have a transforming power upon all with whom you come in contact."

"She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue" (Proverbs 31:26). Years ago I read a lament by a leading society matron on the death and burial of simple courtesy. "Why is everyone so aggressive?" she asked. Those appealing words "Please" and "Thank You" have been entombed along with the social discretion of minding one's own business. To have a kind and pleasing tongue is to have a golden gift. James tells us that every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17), so perhaps in our morning petitions we should request a tongue coated with gentleness, goodness and kindness. "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" (Matthew 5:7). That is what kindness is: mercy. "Kindness makes a man attractive" (Proverbs 19:22 TLB). "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone" (Colossians 4:6); "Words from a wise man's mouth are gracious ..." (Ecclesiastes 10:12); "The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary" (Isaiah 50:4); "May God who gives patience, steadiness, and encouragement help you to live in complete harmony with each other -- each with the attitude of Christ toward the other" (Romans 15:5 TLB).

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres" (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). These verses encapsulate our Christian experience of both doing and saying. If we love as it is presented here, then we surely love as God requires us to do. Love becomes an active quality as we pray for others rather than curse them. Love bears all things and, in so doing, learns faith as a living reality. Love bears the name and reputation of others, and therefore shields and protects others from embarrassment and criticism. Love is not suspicious or cynical and therefore gives others the benefit of the doubt. It is a proven fact that if we treat others with respect and the assumption that they will act according to our good expectations of them, they will indeed. Even civil law says people are innocent until proven guilty; the uncivil say people are guilty until proven innocent, but the Christian assumes that people are innocent, because the Christian sees Christ in others.

Let us now consider peace. Again, James gives us excellent advice: "Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness" (James 3:18). Jesus Himself told us, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called [children] of God" (Matthew 5:9). Peace is one of the grand gifts of the Holy Spirit: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22). We are commanded, "Be at peace with each other" (Mark 9:50); "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone" (Romans 12:18); "Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy" (Hebrews 12:14).

The wise men of the world tell us we should ventilate, but our wise God asks us to cooperate. We are admonished to "seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34:14b). Job knew the vexation of thoughtless words that overwhelmed rather than healed: "How long will you torment me and crush me with words?" (Job 19:2). And these were his friends! Instead of the contrition they so diligently sought from Job who they were so sure deserved all he got, they ended up having to swallow a large dose of bad-tasting submission for their troubles. Instead of soothing the poor man's soul with words of peace, they vexed him to pieces with needless and harmful platitudes, well-meaning such as they were. Certainly Job would have agreed with the provident counsel of 1 Corinthians 4:5: "Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God". And poor Job would have deeply appreciated the following suggestion: "Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow" (2 Corinthians 2:7). Job devoutly wished that his friends would have judged his innocence rather than his presumed guilt, of which they readily informed him. "The only thing that can be said of them justly is that they were poorly equipped for their ministry of consolation. They were 'too white'; and the 'flower of life is red.' They lacked most where the need was greatest. The world perishes not of dark but of cold. The soul in its deep distress seeks not light but warmth, not counsel but understanding. If they had ever suffered any themselves, it might have been different" (Exegesis on Job, Interpreter's Bible).

Jesus is called the Prince of Peace, and He is the chief cornerstone and foundation of a building fitly framed together with those who long to promote unity. One of the fairest verses in all the Bible is Ephesians 2:14: "For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility..." Words build walls of hostility, if we are not considerate and discriminating. It is so unfortunate that those who promote peace are so often called cowards, unrealistic and soft-hearted, when God calls these gentle souls His sons and daughters. That alone should motivate us to "seek peace and pursue it."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer says of those who keep the peace, "His disciples keep the peace by choosing to endure suffering themselves rather than inflict it on others. They maintain fellowship where others would break it off. They renounce all self-assertion, and quietly suffer in the face of hatred and wrong. In so doing they overcome evil with good, and establish the peace of God in the midst of a world of war and hate" (The Cost of Discipleship).

Martin Luther has much to say about our interpersonal relationships in his exegesis on the Sermon on the Mount. Luther was not a calm man so he no doubt had to deal with this in a vigorous way. Concerning Matthew 5:9 he states: "...The Lord here honors those who do their best to try to make peace, who try to settle ugly and involved issues, who endure squabbling and try to avoid and prevent war and bloodshed...he also gives help and counsel on the side of peace wherever he can..."

Luther's comment on those who gossip is less delicate: "These are really poisonous spiders that can suck out nothing but poison from a beautiful, lovely rose, ruining both the flower and the nectar, while a little bee sucks out nothing but honey, leaving the roses unharmed. That is the way people act. All they can notice about other people are the faults or impurities which they can denounce, but what is good about them they do not see. People have many virtues which the devil cannot destroy, yet he hides or disfigures them to make them invisible."

In Luther's exegesis on Matthew 5:43-48, he gives this good advice: "My reply to someone else's hate or envy, slander or persecution should not be more hatred and persecution, slander and curses, but rather my love and help, my blessings and my prayers. For a Christian is the kind of man who knows no hatred or hostility against anyone at all, whose heart is neither angry nor vindictive, but only loving, mild, and helpful."

A study of John 3:17 would profit us all: "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." Further on in the book of John we read of the woman who was taken in adultery (John 8:11).This passage about those who would condemn is particularly touching. The Pharisees, in the hardness of their hearts and laws, sought not only to condemn the woman but to entrap Jesus in the process. The cunning Pharisees came up against the greater wisdom and love of Jesus, though, and He turned their weapons against themselves. Jesus' mission was and is to heal, not to wound; to comfort, not to punish; to reveal the impartial heart of His Father, not to execute the harsh judgments of partial men. In His dealings with these hypocrites, Jesus carried the problem out of the judicial sphere directly into the hearts of the accusers themselves. In His gentle way of dealing with sin, He awakened gratitude and repentance in the sinner, and He restored her self-respect and her hope. Jesus neither censured nor reproached, but neither did He justify her sin, but quietly told her to go and sin no more.

Another striking feature of this passage is the way Jesus dealt with the accusers themselves. His own nature of compassion and courtesy ruled out His treating the Pharisees as they so rudely treated the woman. Rather than rebuke them with the strong words they deserved, He maintained a calm dignity and, in writing on the ground what so struck their consciences, He spared them public exposure of their own sinful actions and attitudes. We should pray that we would be as tender and as gracious with our accusers! As Jesus was kind to sinners, so He asks us to be gentle with the sensitive feelings of others, for He Himself was the most tenderhearted Man on earth. He asks that we have patience with those who would injure by word or deed, and to be silent as He was silent under provocation. True, this is not humanly possible, but with Christ, all things are possible and even necessary if we are to be spiritually healthy.

"But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:44,45). This is totally contrary to human nature, and yet it is the Christian ethic of personal relations. It becomes a willing love, literally. We must will to love those who do not or cannot love, for reasons that we don't understand. It is only Jesus Himself who can enable to us to conquer our tendency to strike out with angry and bitter words in the face of another's hate. This is the one thing that makes us most like Jesus: the love we bear for those who seem least deserving of it. It issues into the action of prayer for them and, as we pray for them, our own heart blooms with understanding for them and peace can again be restored to our hearts. If we must say words, then let them be of forgiveness and of God's love, and let us present that person to God as a friend. For those who seek revenge, this is the true revenge: agape love.

Abraham Lincoln, that grand peacemaker, shared these words for all ages, written from his own broken heart because of an uncivil war in which brother fought brother: "With malice toward none; with charity toward all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace." The peacemaker works alongside the Prince of Peace, and practices His presence always.

"Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman ..." (Psalm 15:1-3). Only those with the character of God will abide in His sanctuary. The only description that Jesus gives of Himself is found in Matthew 11:29: "I am gentle and humble in heart..." (NIV).Can we be and do no less, if we love our Lord?

We must be acceptable in walk, work and word. Cuts from a knife heal, but we have no guarantee that cuts from our tongue will heal. I know a lady who shared a sad secret with me one day. She said the only thing she remembers her mother saying to her when she was a child is that she wasn't worth the powder to blow her up. That lady is 54 years old and still struggles with that terrible putdown, even though she is an accomplished and intelligent person. How tragic! We should beg God's forgiveness every night for every cruel word we say, especially within the family circle. With prayer love covers, but the wounded person is on guard from then on. We don't purposely stay around those who wittingly or unwittingly do harm to us, and this is precisely what happens, for none of us is immunized against the devilish venom in and of the tongue.

We should eagerly pursue the Love that forgives and forgets and goes forward in spite of great and small injuries. I read of a lady who managed to bury a grievous injustice by mentally digging a grave and quickly lowering into it the thing which wounded her unto a certain death if she didn't do something with it. She then covered it with white roses and forget-me-nots and quickly walked away. Finally she was able to sleep that sweet sleep of peace, and came to the point in her life where she couldn't even remember what had caused her such anguish. Oh! that we, too, could accept that grace of God which enables us to bury the hurts in our lives.

William Perkins (1558-1602) wrote timeless advice: "Despise not thy neighbour, but think thyself as bad a sinner, and that the like defects may befall thee. If thou canst not excuse his doing, excuse his intent which may be good; or if the deed be evil, think it was done of ignorance; if thou canst no way excuse him, think some great temptation befell him, and that thou shouldst be worse if the like temptation befell thee; and give God thanks that the like as yet hath not befallen thee." As that other timeless adage goes, "There but for the grace of God go I." But if we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we have done as badly or worse than others.

Just as important as what we say is how we say it. If a parent, particularly, has a naturally stentorian voice, he or she will do the child a tremendous favor if the effort is made to cultivate a gentle and persuasive tone. There is a great difference between a command in a shattering yell, and a "Please, will you," said quietly and lovingly. In fact, "The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded.." (Ecclesiastes 9:17). This may seem a minor matter, but it is "the foxes -- the little foxes -- that spoil the vines" of love. Words especially can be sneaky foxes that come back to haunt us years later.

Our words must be measured and weighed ever so carefully in the balances and valences of life. It is sad enough to lose a heart-mate, whether spouse, child, relative or dear friend, through the expected vicissitudes of life, but to lose love's loyalty and concern because of an intemperate tantrum of the tongue is tragic indeed. And rattle-tattle is the midnight horror show. Pascal observed that if all persons knew what each said of the other, there would not be four friends in the world.

The book of Proverbs, a mini-course in our interpersonal relationships, warns that a brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city (Proverbs 18:19).Once the die is cast, there's no doing away with the spot. Like Lady Macbeth, we can curse it, rub it and scrub it, but to no avail. Only God's love and mercy can forgive it, cure it or, better yet, prevent it in the first place.

"The heart of fools is in their mouth; but the mouth of the wise is in their heart" (Thomas Adams).

"If, instead of a gem or even a flower, we could cast the gift of a lovely thought into the heart of a friend, that would be giving as the angels give" (George MacDonald).

"Wisdom hangs up the thermometer at the furnace mouth, and regulates the heart" (Spurgeon).

"A sharp tongue is the only edge tool that grows keener with constant use" (Washington Irving).

"For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full and mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness" (James 3:16-18).

Dear Father, I beg forgiveness for all the uncharitable thoughts, words, and deeds of my life. Loose my tongue only in Your praise -- never to hurt another heart. Give me insight to understand and to love. Let Your love make the difference so there will be no indifference to those in my life. Please, Lord, light my candle and enlighten my darkness. I thank You! Amen.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

100% - I did!

Elbert Hubbard, a very successful man, described a successful person as one who tries, not cries; who works, not dodges; who shoulders responsibilities, not evades them; who gets under the burden instead of standing off, looking on, and giving advice. Charles Kingsley said: "The men whom I have seen succeed best in life have always been cheerful and hopeful men, who went about their business with a smile on their faces, and took the changes and chances of this mortal life like men, facing rough and smooth alike as it came."

The following is a ladder of success:

0%-I won't;
   10%-I can't;
      20%-I don't know how;
         30%-I wish I could;
            40%-What is it?;
               50%-I think I might;
                  60%-I might;
                     70%-I think I can;
                        80%-I can;
                           90%-I will;
                              100%-I did.

Someone commented that success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Together that gives us the 100% of "I did." We moan that we have no talent and opportunities when it is perseverance and concentration we need.

"Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best" (Henry Van Dyke). The birds don't worry about which of them sings best, either; they just do what is natural for them. Instead of worrying about others' talents, let us thank God for our own and get on with using them, for what we don't use, we soon lose.

Go to the ant!

"Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest" (Proverbs 6:6-9).

The tiny ant teaches us many lessons:

1) It is self-motivated and highly industrialized. The ant doesn't need another to make sure it gets its work done.
2) It collects its food in the proper seasons; it is prudent.
3) It is fond of its young, and takes care of them.
4) It has foresight for others and shows kindness.
5) It works quietly without show and until the work is done. In this, it teaches us perseverance.
6) It works in cooperation and organization with others. In union there is indeed strength.
7) It keeps its home meticulously clean.
8) It knows its job and does it.
9) The ant has initiative, that wonderful virtue of resourcefulness that knows the how and when.

God is the God of nature, and it's amazing how even the smallest creatures can teach us such great lessons. We human beings can learn diligence, how to recognize opportunities, and individual initiative from the ant. "As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me." (John 9:4).

Booker T. Washington's Up From Slavery

One of the most remarkable books I have had the privilege of reading, several times, is Booker T. Washington's Up From Slavery. Let's face it, we live in a land of abundance to the point of profligacy. I recall too many years ago our teachers telling us when we desperately wanted our trinket, "Offer it up for the less fortunate." They knew something we would learn as we matured: we soon weary of our trinkets. If someone said that today, we'd be carting him/her off to a padded white room.

What so fascinates me about Up From Slavery is Washington's philosophy of life that developed as he suffered his wretched life. He tells us, "My life had its beginning in the midst of the most miserable, desolate, and discouraging surroundings." There were no agencies to remove him from these terrible circumstances. But - it was because of his peculiar circumstances that he became a great man. This was his furnace of cleansing where he became a bar of gold. I suppose that is what so bothers me about what I call the "evolution of comfort" today. No one is to experience anything that bothers him/her. It is truly amazing what we will not endure.

I have no inside information on why one person is asked to scrape the bottom of the barrel looking for the scraps of life in his/her hell, while another person is the king of his/her particular hill. One thing I do know: the person who can rise above it all is the more fortunate of the two. In our insane quest for me-myself-and-I, we have lost the virtues of sacrifice and gratitude.

One of the outstanding attributes of Washington's character was his lack of resentment. Instead, he forged a betterness out of the chain of a bitterness that could have rendered him totally useless to his people and to his society. What a lesson for those of us who grumble over an anthill! If I had to choose which virtue I most admire in his life, it would be this one, for he had so very much over which to be bitter. When we think that our life is a lemon, read how Booker T. Washington made lemonade, and then served it to others.

"From the time that I can remember having any thoughts about anything, I recall that I had an intense longing to learn to read. I determined, when quite a small child, that, if I accomplished nothing else in life, I would in some way get enough education to enable me to read common books and newspapers." Washington understood that his road to true freedom was within himself. There is no excuse for not learning to read in this day of free education and libraries. We are not enslaved, folks! The only slavery is in our minds, and our lack of willingness to "be up and doing," as the adage goes. Another adage says, "You can take a horse to the water but you can't make him drink." You can take a child to a book, but that child must be motivated to want to read and to learn. The only obstacle to success today is me-myself-and-I.

This is an amazing biography about an amazing man. In our milieu of extreme comfort, this book helps us to understand that life is not always what we want it to be but, as Washington proved, we can help make it what it should be. There are certain heroes in my life that I wish I could have met, and Booker T. Washington is surely one of these. Please download the book and read it.

Granny Fogey again!

"I made a covenant with my eyes not to look upon a girl" (Job 31:1 TLB); "How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:9 NIV).
"Set a strong guard about thy outward senses: these are Satan's landing places, especially the eye and the ear" (W. Gurnall).

We live in an age of uninhibited sex. It's everywhere, for the taking and the giving. Lest we don't already know, God is the One who issued sexual standards: "God wants his people to keep the sexual side of their nature untainted from sin..." (Anonymous). Sexual sin catches up with us in physical diseases and guilt. Unfortunately one of the side effects, venereal disease, afflicts babies, also. We owe it to the unborn to keep them unborn if we are going to invite sexually-transmitted diseases. And let's not blame it on society, either, if we wind up on a death bed because of something we could have prevented by saying an emphatic "No!" 

I've noticed through the years that pornography has seeped into everything. The advertisements have been unclothing for years, under the guise of letting us know what the latest is in undies and fundies. We can make that covenant with our eyes, as did Job, but at some point we have to open our eyes to see where we're going, and there we are, the unveiling. 

By the way, there is a progression: pornography to rape, anger to murder, etc. Ted Bundy discovered this. Only hours before he was executed convicted serial killer Ted Bundy gave an interview to Dr. James Dobson. Bundy indicated that violent movies on cable could affect others in the same way printed sexually violent material had affected him: "There is loose in their towns and their communities people like me today, whose dangerous impulses are being fueled day in and day out by violence in the media in its various forms, particularly sexual violence. Let's come into the present now, because what I'm talking about happening 20 to 30 years ago in my formative stages, and what scares and appalls me, Dr. Dobson, when I see what's on cable TV, some of the movies coming to homes today (and of course now we have any video you want that can be rented). The stuff they wouldn't show in X-rated adult theaters 30 years can get into the home to children who may be unattended or unaware that they may be a Ted Bundy who has that vulnerability, that predisposition to be influenced by that kind of behavior, that kind of motive, that kind of violence. There are kids sitting out there, switching the TV dial around and they come upon these movies late at night. I don't know when they are on but they're on, and any kid can watch them. It's scary, when I think what would have happened to me. I am scary enough." I had a dear friend who scorned what Bundy said and who thought I was incredibly na├»ve, but why would he lie at that point in his life? 

It's a known fact that the promiscuous person winds up with diseases of both body and mind, that it is now literally a death sentence. It is not God who punishes us for our sins so much as it is our own willful sinning. God does not make our misery - we make it with our intentional disobedience. Our best strength and our most useful years are in our youth, so let's not waste them on sexual sin. What a tragedy is the shattered gift of life which often comes from fooling around. My dear young people, sowing wild oats reaps a terrible harvest! 

Lest you think Granny Fogey is foisting her version of morality on the world, Jesus warned us in Matthew 5: "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (V.28). Jesus cautioned us many times to guard our minds, for it is here the consequences are determined. And we are the keepers of our own minds and hearts, not mother, father, peers or society. We will stand before God in the judgment by ourselves. Mom and Dad will not be able to come to the rescue. 

Two important ways to guard against sexual immorality are self-control (one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22), and being faithful in marriage. Yes, I know, what antediluvian ideas! 

C.S. Lewis made the observation: "They'll tell you sex has become a mess because it was hushed up. But for the last twenty years it has not been hushed up....Yet it is still in a mess. If hushing it up had been the cause of the trouble, ventilation would have set it right. But it hasn't" (Christian Behavior 1944). Perhaps we should return to the days of hush! 

I realize this wonderful comment by Otway is outdated: "O woman, lovely woman! Nature made thee to temper man; we had been brutes without you. Angels are painted fair, to look like you; there is in you all that we believe of heaven--amazing brightness, purity, and truth, eternal joy, and everlasting love." Lovely: beautiful, graceful, refined, personable, undefaced, affectionate, tender, sympathetic, devoted, interesting, amiable. I will always believe that a young man is more attracted to Mr. Otway's woman. Surely this is the lady he will want to bear his children, if he cares about the future. 

In his book, Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, Charles R. Swindoll quotes Dr. Dobson: "First, men are primarily excited by visual stimulation. They are turned on by feminine nudity....Second (and much more important), men are not very discriminating in regard to the person living within an exciting body.... [The man] can become almost as excited over a photograph of an unknown nude model as he can in a face-to-face encounter with someone he loves....Women are much more discriminating in their sexual interests....She yields to the man who appeals to her emotionally as well as physically. Obviously, there are exceptions to these characteristic desires, but the fact remains: sex for men is a more physical thing; sex for women is a deeply emotional experience.” (From What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew about Women.) 

One of my favorite Bible verses is Isaiah 32:8 NIV: "The noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands". Pornography is not noble or profound. We seem to have lost our dignity and our shame. We can't even blush anymore! "Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?" (Matthew 9:4). Can you imagine Jesus looking at pornography, whether magazines, TV or videos? If we can't have Jesus sitting beside us when we read or view anything, then we should not be viewing it! 

"O Lord, how profound are your thoughts!" (Psalm 92:5). God wants us to have the mind of Christ, which is indeed profound; "Beware lest there be a wicked thought in your heart" (Deuteronomy 15:9); "Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths" (Isaiah 59:7); "They came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed..., sitting and clothed and in his right mind" (Mark 5:15) Notice the juxtaposition of clothed and in his right mind!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Removing those i-o-u's!

Years ago I taught the Book of Proverbs to our young people in church. One of our lessons was on contentment, which is in such short supply in these days of overabundance and our entitlement mentality.

One of the best descriptions of contentment I've come across is this one: "Contentment is not satisfaction. It is the grateful, faithful, fruitful use of what we have, little or much. It is to take the cup of Providence, and call upon the name of the Lord. What the cup contains is its contents. To get all there is in the cup is the act and art of contentment. Not to drink because one has but half a cup, or because one does not like its flavor, or because some one else has silver to one's own glass, is to lose the contents; and is the penalty, if not the meaning of discontent. No one is discontented who employs and enjoys to the utmost what he has. It is high philosophy to say, we can have just what we like, if we like what we have; but this much at least can be done, and this is contentment,--to have the most and best in life, by making the most and best of what we have" (Maltbie Babcock).

So we're having a really bad day, or so we feel. Ah, we feel!  Over the years I've discovered that thought is a powerful weapon against our feelings. When I'm having a self-pity party (and we're lying if we say that we never feel sorry for ourselves), I bring my maddened heart to a halt and ask, how could this be worse? I mentally drag out my credit-debit sheet (see my devotion, "Life's Credit-Debit Sheet"), and discover that the blessings so far outweigh whatever is happening at the moment, that I thank God for all the graces in my life and get on with the current duty.

An example - a quite frivolous one, I admit: one day I was hurrying around trying to get organized and back to the hospital where my husband was recovering from surgery, and I noticed the house was getting hot (you folks in Michigan must be laughing). Our air conditioning - gone! We live in Florida, and how grateful I am to be here but, when it is hot, it is HOT. We need air conditioning like you folks up north need heat. So - thank You, Father, that it's not the middle of August; thank You, Father, that we have fans; thank You, Father, that we have so much to thank You for! That took care of the temporary discontent over the air conditioning. Call it God-conditioning.

"What a grand power is the power of thought! And what a grand being is man when he uses it aright; because, after all, it is the use made of it that is the important thing. Character comes out of thought; or rather thought comes out of character. The particular thoughts are like the blossoms on the trees; they tell of what kind it is. 'As a man thinketh in his heart, so he is'" (Sir Walter Raleigh).

Now let's see about those IOUs in our life. I truly believe these are a huge source of dissatisfaction. What we think folks owe us is tantamount to moral blackmail. Entitlements make up a large part of the federal budget, and I do believe that we start to think, well, "they" owe me - that ubiquitous "they". After all, I pay taxes! The problem is, WE are the taxes, and eventually this payout runs out. The pie is no longer there to divvy up.... Think about it - please!

As for relatives and friends, what really do they OWE us? I know the Bible says WE owe THEM love and faithfulness and forgiveness. I'm still looking for what they owe us....

Elijah and his dunghill

1 Kings 19 is one of the most remarkable chapters in the Bible. For the depressed and lonely it is a necessary chapter, for it encourages a view of God as a Presence who loves in spite of what we do and what we are. It is a display of God's power, as well, and is similar to the rebuke God gave to Job when Job questioned and murmured (although given similar circumstances, how well would we have endured?). God answered Job out of the whirlwind (Job 38:1) as he sat on the dunghill with his friends, and He answered Elijah in the still small voice on Mount Horeb, as Elijah peeked out from the cave in which he sought to hide from the world in which he was so disappointed (1 Kings 19:12).

Even in discouragement God meets us where we are, whether we have unwillingly and unwittingly landed on the heap of the rubbish and wreckage of life or we are hiding in a cave, away from what we perceive to be an inhumane humanity. He knows whether we need the whirlwind or the soft breeze to get us back on His track. God knows that we damage our compass of life now and then with the heat of our passions and the cold of our indifference. Our "sense of instrumentation" becomes faulty and we head in the direction of a living death. We need to regain the sense of "mission and submission."

It is interesting that Elijah, Moses and Jonah all requested that they be allowed to die. Listen to Jonah: "Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live" (Jonah 4:3); Moses: "If this is how you [Lord] are going to treat me, put me to death right now" (Numbers 11:15); Elijah: "I have had enough, Lord, take my life; I am no better than my ancestors" (1 Kings 19:4c). Job's troubles drove him to cursing the day he was born: "May the day of my birth perish..." (Job 3:3a). His existence which was a joy before has now become his intolerable burden. It is good for us to know that God's greatest heroes had their moments of despair--and that there are some prayers God does not answer the way we would like.

It is also good to know that one of God's great heroes, Paul, said, "It is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this...I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith..." (Philippians 1:24,25). Paul wanted Paradise where the weary find rest, the sad find joy, the lonely find kindred spirits, the fearful find safe harbor, and the doubting Thomases and Thomasenas find assurance and reassurance.

But earthly claims checked Paul's desire, and check ours, also. He wanted to dissolve but instead resolved against his own wishes. Paul obviously had no fear of dying, but his eye and heart were single to the glory of God and that meant staying in his earthly vessel for a while longer. In 2 Corinthians 4:16, Paul says, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day." We are "treasures in jars of clay."

Paul also pleaded with God through earnest and prolonged prayer that an irritation be removed from his life. Paul did not take a fatalistic attitude about pain and suffering; he knew it was all right to ask God for its removal. "Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take [the thorn] away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness'" (2 Corinthians 12:8,9). So it is not wrong for us to plead with God to remove a sorrow or an annoyance from our life. Indeed, as our Friend, He expects us to ask Him so that we may receive. In the meantime, "I [Jesus] have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers [and sisters]" (Luke 22:32). His grace is His prayer for us. And there is a condition which Paul understood, as well: after we are strengthened, we then are to encourage and inspire others: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God" (2 Corinthians 1:3,4).

Jesus asked His Father to be spared the cup when He knelt in agony in the Garden. He had told his disciples, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me" (Matthew 26:38). He wanted company in His agony. He asks them later, "Could you...not keep watch with me for one hour?" (v.40). What a loving rebuke! Yes, Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, was acquainted with grief. He even prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will" (v.39).

Jesus prayed to be spared death but He willingly died. It appears that His prayer was not answered and yet it was, for Jesus fulfilled His mission. God did not answer the prayers of Moses, Elijah, Jonah or Job, for their missions were not yet fulfilled. All prayers were and are answered because strength was and is given to meet the trials; finally, God's will was and is done in all our lives. What we wish does not determine God's will, whether we wish the release of death or the pleasures of life. It is God who determines the courses and discourses of our lives.

In our fears and griefs of life, and the seeming unfairness of what others do, we run away just as quickly as Elijah from Jezebel and Jonah from Nineveh and Moses from Egypt. We, too, would like to shed the skin, the lien--the terrible obligation--of our life. We, too, feel that we are no better than our predecessors; in fact, we may be making a huge mess of life. "But I said, 'I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing...'" (Isaiah 49:4). When Keats was dying, he said, "I have written my name on water." Later, Keats' name was written on marble. Christ Himself would be perceived as a total failure on earth--and Christ's name is written on hearts and for eternity.

The good news is that God is there in the whirlwind of tragedy and failure and He's in the still small voice of conscience, too. He knows our frame, that we are made of dust and fragile hearts; He redeems our life and crowns us with His love and compassion. Praise the Lord, O my soul! (Psalm 103).

Some have condemned Elijah for running away from Jezebel and for requesting that God take his life. But there is another side--certainly a more humane view--of what Elijah experienced. Elijah's fire on Carmel became a more gentle breeze on Mount Horeb and he learned treasured lessons there, alone and friendless (so he thought) that he could not learn in the heat of the so-called victory over the false prophets of Baal. Even Elijah had to learn that great lesson we all must learn: "Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord" (Psalm 27:14).

Sometimes, like Elijah, we have to be put in a cave to get out of a "cave mood," as one author calls it. "There he went into a cave and spent the night" (1 Kings 19:9). Elijah was shut into his littleness so he might understand the largeness that God was about to show him. God was processing Elijah for a greater work. "He [God] brought me into a spacious place" (Psalm 18:19a).

There is a dichotomy here with Elijah: he fled to save his life and then asks that it be taken away. We are all dichotomous leaves waving with the winds of what we perceive to be misfortune when it might be the breath of the Lord trying to bring breadth to our life. It was so with Elijah as he swayed with the strong squall of Jezebel's threats. Moses, too, struck for God's cause but not in God's way: "One day [Moses] watched [his own people] at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew...He killed the Egyptian..." (Exodus 2:11,12). God sent Moses into the desert to prepare his heart and body and mind for the more spacious place of saving his people. There are times when we have to be "caved in" to gather strength and to learn valuable lessons so we may be worthy to do God's work within the greater plan which He has for us.

But what about the discouragement and physical exhaustion we experience as human beings? Does God really understand how frail we are? Yes! When we fail and fall, He lifts us to even greater heights of work for Him. "The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down" (Psalm 145:14). Our Lord's life on earth was spent in putting down the lofty and lifting the lowly. "But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first" (Matthew 19:30). If we think we are last in fame and fortune, we need to remind ourselves that it is the meek who God calls His children. And when we are bowed down with infirmities of mind and body, He reaches down to raise us from a living death.

From sinking sand He lifted me,
With tender hand He lifted me;
From shades of night to plains of light,
O praise His name, He lifted me.
(Hymn, He Lifted Me, Charles H. Gabriel, 1856-1932).

"So he [Jesus] went to her, took her hand and helped her up" (Mark 1:31). He does no less for all his helpless children. But Jesus came and touched them. 'Get up,' he said, 'Don't be afraid'" (Matthew 17:7). "People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them" (Luke 18:15). "For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again" (Proverbs 24:16). Seven times; seventy times seven times; whenever we fall! The secret is in getting up again. What a great comfort this verse is to the discouraged who grope for strength and find they do not even have the strength to gather strength. "Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6). "For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Philippians 2:14). The good man's fall is an event; the bent of the good man's life is goodness. This was so with Elijah. It was so with Peter, too. One look from our Lord and we weep bitterly over our fall from His grace and graciousness (Matthew 26:75).

"The eternal God is your refuge (not a cave!), and underneath are the everlasting arms" (Deuteronomy 33:27). Underneath our sorrow are arms that lift us to the shore of serenity. "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" (Mark 4:38). He said to their storm as He says to our chaos, "Quiet! Be still!" (v.39). "Then the wind died and it was completely calm" (v.39b). "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

"I have made you and I will carry you" (Isaiah 46:4). Because He created us, He will carry us! What a sublime thought this is to the brokenhearted. "`For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'" (Jeremiah 29:11). It isn't God's plan for us to be defeated and to run away. He will even carry us to the designated place He has for us, but if we are running in the wrong direction, we will run by ourselves.

"So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?'" (Hebrews 13:6); "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31); "I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done" (Psalm 118:17). People are often in danger: Joseph in the pit, Moses in the ark of bulrushes, Job on the dunghill, David's narrow escapes from Saul, Paul who was let down in the basket, and Jesus who "hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds" (John 8:59) for His time had not yet come. "But they were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus" (Luke 6:11); "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first...But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: 'They hated me without reason'" (John 15:18,25). They hated without reason, only with emotion that is prejudiced. Jezebel hated Elijah because of emotion, and Elijah ran away from this unreasonable woman.

The extraordinary message of 1 Kings 19 is that it is God's ordinary way of caring for us. Lest we think God is neglecting us, let us remember that He gives provisions and not visions when we are in distress. He uses the common means, rest and food: "Then he [Elijah] lay down under the tree and fell asleep ("I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety" Psalm 4:8). "All at once an angel touched him and said, 'Get up and eat'" (1 Kings 19:5). In the depths of despair we are to rest and then, bidden by God Himself, we are to get up and to eat. He asks us to do our part. We must not let the seeming facts of what is happening in our life to eclipse our faith and obscure our vision of God and so keep us from going to Him as He comes to us.

"The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, 'Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you'" (1 Kings 19:7). Not once but twice he is bidden to arise from his lethargy of body and spirit and eat for strength so he might continue on his journey. God does not give up on us! "So [Elijah] got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled..." (1 Kings 19:8). God prepared a table in the wilderness for His beloved Elijah who thought he had failed God. What a glorious lesson! Surely He prepares a table for us in our wilderness and provides for us a satisfying Bread of Life. We are to feed on Him that we may have the strength to live in and for Him.

The spirit is willing, but the body is weak" (Mark 14:38b). Christ Jesus could say this to His beloved disciples who slept through His lonely hour because He, too, knew rejection and sorrow and hunger and weariness to the extreme degree. God understands that we are not willfully weak. On the one hand, we have sins of infirmity; on the other, we have infirmities that are not sins: fatigue, natural consequences of growing older, hunger, thirst, environment and heredity. This does not excuse us from overcoming, but it helps to know that God empathizes with us because "He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows" (Isaiah 53:4). "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express" (Romans 8:26).

It is after we are strengthened that He deals with the immediate problem: "What are you doing here, Elijah?" (1 Kings 19:9b); "But the Lord God called to the man, 'Where are you?'" (Genesis 3:9); "Then the Lord said to Cain, 'Where is your brother Abel?'" (Genesis 4:9). God asks us, too, why are we where we are and what are we doing with our lives. We are our brothers' and sisters' keepers, and this means being responsible and acting responsibly: both a willing and a doing.

Elijah ran away from his responsibilities. Adam and Eve ran away from responsibility for their actions. Elijah's circumstances did not add up to reasons to run away and neither do ours, much as we long to do so at times. "I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13).

Only God knows our quiet and pervasive influence in the lives of those with whom we endure, and that is what it is at times in our lives. If we are not where God wants us to be, then God calls us by name and lets us know through that still, small and effective voice of conscience: silent because no sound is audible ("He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets" Isaiah 42:2); small because it is simple and not portentous; effective because it is God who speaks: it is the Divine Whisper of Mind to mind.

“Why are you here and not at your post of duty?" Why are we elsewhere? "Why do you go about so much, changing your ways?" (Jeremiah 2:36). God wants us to stay at the post of purpose and service. We may have to tie ourselves to it when the storm and earthquake come, but how good if we can say with Paul at life's end, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7). If the post crushes our heart and we feel at times that someone has driven a stake into it, then let us remember that God chooses not to work in the earthquake but in our heartbreak, and we may take heart--and His heart--in this thought.

"The Lord said, 'Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by'" (1 Kings 19:11a). After we are refreshed and have strength enough to get up, then we must go up: ascend the mountain to holiness of thought. God cannot feed a mind that is supine. There is a meeting of minds on the mountain. This is where we hear the Divine Whisper. The mountain is a spiritual retreat and this is where God sent Elijah and where He sends us. "Leave your cave of despondency, and come up to Me so I can give you a new song and a new trust--and a new thrust!" He says, "Come up to Me that I may give you rest of mind...but you must have the will to meet My will. As long as you make no effort, then I cannot make it for you."

How ironic that two men who requested death did not die but were translated! How fortunate for us that God does not answer every prayer! We ask amiss. If we ask contrary to God's will and for our ease of responsibility, then He in wisdom does not grant our request. But He will answer according to what is finally best for us.

From Broken Glass to a New Mosaic

"You take wheat to cast into the Earth's bosom; your wheat may be mixed with chaff, chopped straw, barn-sweepings, dust and all imaginable rubbish. No matter; you cast it into the kind, just Earth. She grows the wheat-the whole rubbish she silently absorbs, shrouds it in, says nothing of the rubbish. The yellow wheat is growing there; the good Earth is silent about all the rest" (Thomas Carlyle).

What a grand thought! Another wonderful concept: God takes our broken glass and makes a new mosaic for us. There is a story of a town during World War II that was bombed and its lone church reduced to rubble. The survivors in the town decided to use the broken glass from the former beautiful mosaics and make a new design from the shattered pieces. They had to put together their own shattered lives, too. They put their griefs into God's bosom and prayed that their lives would be whole again. Oh, how it touches my heart to envision our compassionate Father holding our shattered minds and hearts to His own; absorbing the anguish at the foot of His cross, for this is where all sorrow finds its way.

These past months we have witnessed so much broken glass, what I call the potsherds of life. First there was the shocking news of the 17-year-old boy, the grandson of friends of ours, who died after what he thought was an innocent night of fun, including drugs and alcohol (oh, young people, take care - this dear young man was the light of so many lives, and now it is snuffed out for one night of carelessness!); then the email from my beloved daughter-in-law in California that her sister was dying of malignant melanoma (she was beautiful, only 45 years old - she leaves a husband who adored her, and two teenaged children); and in the past few days the death of the recently-retired president of our local university, only 66 years old, he went in for a routine operation for a routine disease, and was gone in a matter of days. He had just retired from the university a few months before to spend time with his family and community, a beautiful soul who gave and gave and gave. I am so heartbroken! Nothing, dear friends, NOTHING is routine, is it?

Live today as if it will be your last. I pray it won't be, but we do not know. Look at your family with new eyes and a renewed heart. Don't hesitate to tell them that you love them; that they are your mosaic, the jewels that make your life sparkle!

The Bill of No-Rights

The following has been attributed to State Representative Mitchell Kaye from GA.

"We the sensible people of the United States, in an attempt to help everyone get along, restore some semblance of justice, avoid more riots, keep our nation safe, promote positive behavior, and secure the blessings of debt free liberty to ourselves and our great-great-great-grandchildren, hereby try one more time to ordain and establish some common sense guidelines for the terminally whiny, guilt ridden, delusional, and other liberal bed-wetters.

We hold these truths to be self evident: that a whole lot of people are confused by the Bill of Rights and are so dim they require a Bill of NO Rights."

ARTICLE I: You do not have the right to a new car, big screen TV, or any other form of wealth. More power to you if you can legally acquire them, but no one is guaranteeing anything.

ARTICLE II: You do not have the right to never be offended. This country is based on freedom, and that means freedom for everyone -- not just you! You may leave the room, turn the channel, express a different opinion, etc.; but the world is full of idiots, and probably always will be.

ARTICLE III: You do not have the right to be free from harm. If you stick a screwdriver in your eye, learn to be more careful, do not expect the tool manufacturer to make you and all your relatives independently wealthy.

ARTICLE IV: You do not have the right to free food and housing. Americans are the most charitable people to be found, and will gladly help anyone in need, but we are quickly growing weary of subsidizing generation after generation of professional couch potatoes who achieve nothing more than the creation of another generation of professional couch potatoes.

ARTICLE V: You do not have the right to free health care. That would be nice, but from the looks of public housing, we're just not interested in public health care.

ARTICLE VI: You do not have the right to physically harm other people. If you kidnap, rape, intentionally maim, or kill someone, don't be surprised if the rest of us want to see you fry in the electric chair.

ARTICLE VII: You do not have the right to the possessions of others. If you rob, cheat, or coerce away the goods or services of other citizens, don't be surprised if the rest of us get together and lock you away in a place where you still won't have the right to a big screen color TV or a life of leisure.

ARTICLE VIII: You do not have the right to a job. All of us sure want you to have a job, and will gladly help you along in hard times, but we expect you to take advantage of the opportunities of education and vocational training laid before you to make yourself useful.

ARTICLE IX: You do not have the right to happiness. Being an American means that you have the right to PURSUE happiness, which by the way, is a lot easier if you are unencumbered by an over abundance of idiotic laws created by those of you who were confused by the Bill of Rights.

ARTICLE X: This is an English speaking country. We don't care where you are from, English is our language. Learn it or go back to wherever you came from.


ARTICLE XI: You do not have the right to change our country's history or heritage. This country was founded on the belief in one true God. And yet, you are given the freedom to believe in any religion, any faith, or no faith at all; with no fear of persecution. The phrase IN GOD WE TRUST is part of our heritage and history, and if you are uncomfortable with it, TOUGH!!!!

Eager to Find Fault
"The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely. . ."
Luke 6:7 (Mark 3:2)
". . .He was being carefully watched"
Luke 14:1
"They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said. . ."
Luke 20:20b.

For they were eager to find some charge to bring against him" Luke 6:7 TLB. They were eager. What a way to spend one's time and enthusiasm! The Pharisees appointed themselves vigilantes over the Anointed One. They were ever on the watch for an apparent breach of their conventional rules. The Pharisee watches and sees that which most don't bother to notice. He is cunning and diligent, and doesn't let pass what is a breaking of his law. Never would it dawn on him that he himself is breaking the Sabbath and every other day's law of kindness by his cherishing of such hostility.

And to think that the Pharisee used the cloak of hospitality for his peculiar brand of hostility (Luke 14:1)! To add to the viciousness of it, he laid a trap to ensnare Jesus: "There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy." (V.2) The miracle here was no more spectacular than others Jesus had performed; what is unusual here is the contrast of the ever-present graciousness of Jesus and the surly vindictiveness of these keepers of the all-important Law. In Matthew 23 Jesus pronounced one of several woes: "Woe to you, teachers of the law. . .woe. . .woe. . .woe. . . You give a tenth of your spices. . .But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness" (Matthew 23:23).

The wonder of this story is that Jesus accepted the invitation for He knew their hearts. But "He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" Matthew 5:45. He loves the Pharisee, too, which means He loves us.
Pat Nordman 
The Pharisee watches and sees that which most don't bother to notice. He is cunning and diligent, and doesn't let pass what is a breaking of his law.