Knowing What We Have

About a year or so after selling my house and moving to another state, I returned to my old neighborhood to visit my former neighbors. I noticed that a particular crabapple tree on my former property had been cut down. It was one of the few crabapple trees left in the neighborhood, as I recall. Of the nearly twenty trees in the yard, this was the one tree I looked forward to experiencing each year, as raking leaves is one of my least favorite activities. There were many trees I desired to cut down over the years, but the cost was prohibitive. This particular tree could easily be cut down with just a chainsaw and without hiring a professional, but I never considered removing it. I had sold the house when the tree was already full of leaves, so the new owner likely never got to see the beautiful pink blossoms that filled the tree in early Spring. He probably never smelled the sweet fragrance of those blossoms when the windows were open or while being outside. There were some spots on the tree where the bark was peeling, and it may have appeared the tree was dying, but that was not the case.

The owner of my former house had every right to do whatever he wanted with his tree, but I wonder if he knows what he had. It’s possible that the homeowner would still have cut down this tree even if he had the same experience with it that I did, but this made me think about how often we get rid of things without realizing what we really have. We view things as ordinary, not understanding their value. They may appear to be past their usefulness, but are still full of potential. Sometimes we don’t wait long enough for the true beauty to be seen. Sadly, sometimes we even treat people this way. We cut them off before they have a chance to blossom and display their beauty. That crabapple tree was the smallest tree on the lot, yet it stood out in many ways. For most of the year it was just an ordinary-looking tree, but for those few weeks in early Spring, it was something special. For me, that made it worth keeping. I’m reminded to be patient enough to see the value in the things and people God has placed around me.

Check Your Perspective

People are already telling us that this year is worse than 2020. If you look for negativity, you will certainly find it. 2020 most assuredly had its challenges, but I can make a list of numerous positive things that occurred for me personally last year. Yes, I had loss due to COVID-19, but also had family members who survived it. I am not minimizing anyone’s loss, rather I am expressing gratitude despite the circumstances. Do you view the glass as half full or half empty? Have you taken the time to recount your many blessings from this past year?

Superstitious people look for bad things to happen on Friday the 13th. Those same occurrences could happen the day before without notice. They expect something negative if a black cat crosses their path. After less than two weeks, some have already concluded that 2021 is going to be a bad year. Your perspective impacts how you live. Your thoughts impact your actions. Your words can determine your destiny. I, for one, choose to speak life regarding the remaining eleven months of 2021. I won’t have control over many things, but I can control my viewpoint. 2021 may turn out to be a bad year for me, but it won’t be because I determined beforehand that it will be bad by my attitude toward it. My expectation is for great things this year! What about you?

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The Blessing of Giving

A typical question after Christmas, especially for younger people, is “What did you get for Christmas?” People also often ask, “Did you have a good Christmas?” This typically means, “Did you get what you wanted?” One rarely hears, “What did you give for Christmas?” The answer to this question may appear as bragging or boasting, but not necessarily. Even if others don’t answer this question, we should answer it for ourselves. “What did I give for Christmas?” “Was I more focused on what I would get than what I would give?”

These are not just questions for Christmas. What are we giving to others each day? There are two types of people–givers and takers. Takers look for what they can get out of a relationship. They rarely bring anything to the table. Every taker is not standing on a corner with a cardboard sign. Some takers live in our households. Givers, on the other hand, are moved by the needs of others. They often give when they really can’t afford to. Givers understand the sacrifice that giving sometimes entails.

Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive, and He modeled this for us. It may not be money, but each of us has something to give. Perhaps it’s time, support, love, forgiveness or encouragement. We all know someone who needs help. Giving is a habit that we need to cultivate every day. One way to ensure a blessing is to give. What will you give this Christmas?

The New Normal

Typically, whatever we experience growing up in our family of origin, we consider to be normal. It is often not until we are exposed to something different that we realize that everyone doesn’t live this way. For example, in our household growing up, my family wore bathrobes around the house, sometimes even if we were fully dressed underneath. I had a friend or two who would visit who thought that was strange, but I never questioned the practice before then. Likewise, I thought it strange when I visited friends’ homes where the common practice was for family members to walk around the house in their underwear. That was something I had not been exposed to. I remember one time having to wait at the front door while my friend’s dad put his pants on before I could go inside. I learned that what was normal for me was viewed as odd to some of my friends—and vice versa.

Usually what is normal becomes acceptable. Little children who swear and use profanity are generally exposed to that type of language in their homes. They don’t see anything wrong with their behavior because it is what they know. Sadly, sometimes abuse is even accepted because it is the only thing that a child knows. They don’t understand that being beaten or molested is not acceptable by most standards. It is all they’ve ever known. Fortunately, this principle also applies to positive behaviors. If a child is constantly told she is loved and receives hugs and kisses regularly, those things become acceptable. Anything less is unacceptable to her, and she behaves accordingly.

The media are bombarding us with programming, stories, music and images to suggest to us that certain lifestyles are normal. Those of us who are old enough to have known a different era of media programming can see the vast shift that has taken place. Unfortunately, there is a generation of young people who only know this “new normal”. This is their only frame of reference, so they see nothing wrong or abnormal about it.

Prayer in schools or saluting the American flag was normal to several past generations, but is not normal today. The church building was at one time the gathering place and civic center for certain communities. There is now a generation that rarely attends church. At one time, it was normal to believe in God. Now, having belief in God often means a person is labeled unintelligent.

(Excerpted from The Silencing of the Sheep. Read the complete chapter titled, “The New Normal” for more.)

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Taxes and Death: Not the Only Sure Things

As we approach the April 15th IRS tax filing deadline, I am reminded of the famous quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin. “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

I believe, however, that there are other certainties in life other than the two mentioned by Franklin. One that comes to mind is change.

Change is certain. Circumstances change. Seasons change. People change. There’s no doubt that our world is not the same place it was just a few decades ago.

I’m keenly aware of change due to the aging process. Activities that once came easily for me, can now be more of a burden. I notice the effects of time when I look in the mirror every morning.

We often resist change because we tend to fear the unknown. There will always be uncertainty and even unanswered questions. Jesus told his followers before He left them to return to His Father, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” (Acts 1:7 NIV). However, He assured them of God’s presence and power. His followers would be equipped to make the adjustment to His physical absence.

Change is often necessary. Without it we cannot grow. One of the keys to our success in life is how we adapt to change. With God’s help, we can navigate the often turbulent waters of change as we journey toward our destination.

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One Side of the Story

In our current world, we are bombarded with information. However, too often we proceed with only one half of the story. Social media, and media in general, can provide us with snippets of a situation, but may not always convey the full story. People can have an agenda, and it may not always be pure. Just because it’s on cable news, or the Internet does not mean it’s true. We even spread the information without verifying its validity. What we hear initially often makes total sense or is completely believable. But when we hear the other side, we often say to ourselves, “I hadn’t thought of it that way.”  What we thought was correct turned out to be completely false.

The wisest king, Solomon, tells us:
The first one to plead his cause seems right,
Until his neighbor comes and examines him.
~Proverbs 18:17 (NKJV)

The more we hear the same message, the more it is reinforced–no matter how untrue it may be. We tend to only listen to the side that aligns with our preset beliefs. We “block” those with differing views. People discourage us from listening to the opposite perspective, but the truth can stand scrutiny. We need to be open to discussion, even if we ultimately disagree.

The person with a different worldview than mine is not always wrong, just as I am not always right. It would do us all good to exercise critical thinking when processing what we read, hear and see. Wait to draw a conclusion until we have examined all the available facts. Think about how we feel when misinformation is communicated about us. Let’s not be guilty of jumping to the wrong conclusions before we’ve heard the other side.

It’s All About Perspective

This weekend we set our clocks ahead one hour as we begin Daylight Saving Time (DST) 2018. Already, I’ve heard people complaining about the fact that they are going to lose an hour of sleep on Sunday night. Some people tend to dwell on the negative, rather than seeing the benefits. The positives include more daylight to enjoy and accomplish daily tasks, and potential lower energy costs with the decreased need for artificial lighting. The tiredness should wear off in a few days, and then we’re left with eight months to enjoy more daylight. As one who lives in Ohio, I welcome the additional sunlight after a long day of working.

In the same way, life can be a series of setbacks. But often those setbacks are only temporary, and lead to something much better. We may feel groggy the next morning, but eventually, we look back and are thankful for what we’ve gained from the experience. Instead of focusing on the losses, let’s concentrate on maximizing the time we have to accomplish something great. The right perspective can change your outlook for the future!

Continuing the Celebration (Joy For the New Year)

Happy New Year! We are well on our way into 2018. A new year often brings new beginnings and new opportunities. However, an opportunity is only as good as your ability to take advantage of it. Maybe 2017 was not a good year for you. You may have faced many difficulties and challenges. You said to yourself, “Things have got to get better this year.” Every year at this time you believe that this will be “your year”. You’ve been waiting a long time for dreams and promises to come to fruition. The reality is that sometimes it’s difficult to be optimistic while we wait. Circumstances have a way of affecting our joy. Maybe something has already occurred in the first few weeks of 2018 to sap you of the joy and enthusiasm you started out with on January 1.

I want to encourage you to continue the celebration you started several weeks ago. Remember the optimism and expectancy you had when the year first began. Make a choice to keep the party going despite whatever hardship you may be currently enduring. We may not be able to control our circumstances, but we can control our responses to them. If we can step back for a moment and look beyond our circumstances to our loving heavenly Father, we can rest in the fact that He knows what is best for us.

If you ask, God will give you direction. I have to admit; sometimes the answer doesn’t make sense. It may seem like you’ve been given foolish instructions, but trust Him. Take a risk. Exercise faith. It is possible for your joy to be restored. You can have joy for the new year and beyond. You’ll soon have a reserve from which you can share joy with others. You will quickly discover that joy is contagious! Let’s keep the celebration going!

Happy Columbus Day?

Today is designated as the Columbus Day holiday in much of the U.S. However, it has become politically incorrect to celebrate Columbus Day these days. Revisionist historians have transformed Christopher Columbus from a brave explorer and proud historical figure into one of the world’s greatest villains. For 500 years, we believed one set of facts about Columbus. He is now credited with singlehandedly decimating the Native American population and forcing them to embrace Christianity. Even the sources that seek to restate Columbus’ place in history differ on the facts.

Columbus has become a poster child for why people should reject Christianity. Columbus certainly had his flaws, but we need to be careful of what the mainstream media tell us to believe. There is often an agenda behind the stories presented. The same people would have us believe, for example, that Margaret Sanger is a hero who should be celebrated. They try to refute the authenticity of Jesus, Himself and what He taught. There is information available with a different perspective on these figures that you may not have considered. It may require a little research, but it’s there.

Some have renamed this day Indigenous Peoples’ Day. While it is proper to celebrate the indigenous people groups of the world, we must be careful that we are not buying into the subtle deception that permeates our information sources. Where are you learning your history? Who’s influencing your children and grandchildren? Just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s true. It is important to evaluate the context of the quotes cited to prove a point, and determine what information or quotations have been omitted. There’s more at stake here than Christopher Columbus’ legacy.

Forgiveness: A Key to Recovery

I believe one of the keys to recovering from failure is experiencing forgiveness from those we have hurt. Unfortunately this is not always possible. Those individuals we have offended may be unwilling to forgive. They may no longer be alive. One can still, however, experience God’s forgiveness. It only requires repentance and confession on our part.

One must also be willing to be on the giving end of forgiveness. We should forgive others just as we have been forgiven by God. We cannot afford to fall into the trap of bitterness. Extending forgiveness is not so much for the person who has wronged us, as it is for ourselves. Many times the person that we are holding hostage with our unforgiveness is not even aware or affected by it. We are the ones who are being eaten up on the inside by our resentment. We lose sleep, experience health issues, or become agitated when we think about what that person has done to us. We need to release that person and trust God to make things right.