Rocks

ashland creek Suttonlee pixabayLithia Park is one of my favorite places in the whole world. It’s lush, tranquil and inviting. Deer run through now and then. Mothers spread blankets on the lawn for their napping babies. Couples walk hand-in-hand down shady paths. In the summer, a circle of small children sit on upturned Home Depot buckets, honing their skills on tiny violins to the delight of those fortunate enough to pass by. Perhaps best of all, Lithia Park is punctuated by Ashland Creek, which runs down the center of that 93 acre garden.

Ashland Creek is my favorite part of the park. It’s full of fallen trees and giant rocks, making the liquid landscape even more beautiful than it would be on its own. Those rocks disrupt the water’s surface and create little cascades, providing a natural music that calls out, “Relax! Enjoy!”

I wonder, though, did anyone ever decry those rocks for slowing the flow of the creek? Or perhaps, did someone point out the hazard those rocks can create as they become moss-covered and slippery?

We have rocks in our lives. We tend to call them stumbling blocks or obstacles. But, I wonder, do we always have to see those rocks as something negative? Maybe we weren’t meant to move so fast. Maybe a path that isn’t quite so smooth is more interesting, more beautiful by the end, and even more glorifying to our Lord. Maybe if we’d only relax a bit, we’d hear the music of trust created by our troubles.

Are you frustrated by the rocks in your life today? We’re called to be content. (Short Bible study included below.) So, I hope you’ll step back for a moment and slow down enough to see that the One allowing our rocks can use the slower pace, the disrupted path, to make something beautiful. Your money belongs to him. Your time and energy belong to him. Let him spend them in the way he sees fit. Relax a bit, and let the rocks make music!

Verses on Contentment

But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content” (Psalm 131:2).

The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble” (Proverbs 19:23).

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:12).

Be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5b-6).

Photo by  Suttonlee on pixabay

Steps to Happiness

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I skimmed a book last night, one that described a plan for greater happiness. It listed several steps the author felt were sure to increase inner joy. While I wasn’t too crazy about the godless slant, I found the suggestions interesting, because each one corresponded to instructions our Lord has given us:

The first step was to be still and learn to meditate. If you have any doubt that God wants us to learn to quiet our hearts and turn our thoughts to him, please take a look at last week’s blog. Do you spend any time just being silent each day, letting your body rest while your thoughts turn to the One who loves you most? If not, as the old commercial said, “Try it! You’ll like it!” Set a timer for 10 minutes and see how it goes.

Step two was to adopt an attitude of gratitude. Do a Bible Gateway search on the word “thank” in the NIV version, and you’ll get 133 responses. Here’s just one to consider today. “Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:13b-20). You can read about Steve’s very practical advice on giving thanks here. Of course, it’s not a bad idea to extend that attitude of gratitude to those around you as well.

Another word of advice was to slow down. I couldn’t agree more. We live in a hustle bustle, hurry-up-and-make-it-on-your-own world. But the Bible says our Lord wants to give us rest. (We can start by keeping the Sabbath.) He also asks us to wait on his timing. That lines up with the author’s chapter on patience. Slow down. Lighten up. Those have been hard lessons for me to learn. I’m still learning them, in fact, and have written about them several times including, here and here.

The author suggested that we need to learn to be better at giving and receiving. Surely the greatest key to a life of joy or happiness is the receiving of God’s grace. And how many other gifts does God have for those of us who are willing to receive them? Are we listening? Paying attention as our Lord speaks and leads us and offers to meet our every need? And then, of course, the Bible has plenty to say about giving to others with great cheer.

I’m blessed with a healthy dose of happiness. From birth? From upbringing? From a host of happy circumstances, or is that merely my happy perspective on things? I can’t tell you with any certainty. I do know that I agree with the title of this song by Ira Stanphill, “Happiness is to know the Savior,” and following our Lord’s advice in all the areas mentioned above certainly can’t hurt!

Estate Sale

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The sign on the door said, “Estate Sale. Doors will open at 9 a.m.” It was already 11:30. We walked in, not because there was a single stick of furniture on our buy list, but because we were curious. And because, unbeknownst to us, there was something we needed to learn.

You know how people are always saying, “You can’t take it with you?” Well, nothing drives that lesson home like taking a look at what got left behind.

Clearly someone had passed away The house was chock full. The stuff had to go. And go it did, for cheap. There wasn’t a whole lot left by 11:30. Fine china, seventy-two matched pieces for about $250, a wooden box of silver plated flatware for $35, T shirts for 50 cents, kitchen spices for a dime.

I bought a butter dish because it matched my grandmother’s set of Fostoria glassware, precious to me and carefully stored in our kitchen for use on special occasions. It cost me five bucks. I could have bought about ten cups and saucers in the same pattern for twenty.

Nothing was sacred or honored or private. Cabinets were flung open, their contents strewn across countertops for viewing by potential customers. And as we walked from room to room, we talked about how someone might have to do this for our home someday. And I wondered how all my precious goods would look to a stream of strangers hunting for bargains. Sobering thoughts at first, but then quite freeing as I began to think about what is really important.

No, you can’t take it with you. And oddly, once you’re gone it doesn’t really look worth taking anyway. Matthew 6:19 teaches us about the relative worthlessness of all the things we strive to collect in this life, warning us us not to “store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.”

Instead, we’d better make sure we’re storing up our treasures in heaven the way the Good Book says, because everything else? It’s just stuff.

Fuzzy Failure, Part 2

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This bears repeating: God cares about the everyday details of our lives. While he wastes nothing, he rarely acts according to our frail and human understanding. We have to trust in his unlimited love and unparalleled wisdom.

Consider the muffins. In the late eighties, I produced and distributed Cornerstone Cottage Oat Bran Muffins, once available at half a dozen grocery stores in the Houston area, but no longer available anywhere at all. I poured time, sweat and money into a start-up business that ultimately cratered. It was, in this world’s eyes, a total failure, no two ways about it. My disappointment was so deep that I wondered if it would ever go away. Now, though, I am forever grateful for the benefits that came from starting that business and, ultimately, watching it die. It changed my perspective on how much time I should spend with my kids, helped my mom get into a different line of work, started my family on a healthier eating plan, and ultimately gave me the courage to start The H2O Project. So, was it really a failure, or was aiming for a bakery conglomerate just the way God got me going in the right direction?

The Bible tells us that we are God’s children. Loving parents don’t send their little ones out into the world alone, wishing them the best and looking forward to seeing them when they are grown. Why, then, would we expect our loving lord to say, in essence, “Go do your best. ‘Hope you don’t goof up too much. I’ll see you when you get to heaven.” When life isn’t turning out the way you’ve planned, remember that God loves you and has the situation well in hand. He will not waste your pain. Failure is a fuzzy thing. Don’t be too quick to claim it as your own.

Fuzzy Failure

Sailing circa 1960's copyI believe God cares about the everyday details of our lives. While he wastes nothing, he rarely acts according to our frail and human understanding. We have to trust in his unlimited love and unparalleled wisdom.

Consider the sailor. When I was a child, my dad built a sailboat. Sometimes I’d get to steer. Dad would sit me at the helm, point out a particular point on the horizon, and tell me to head there. It was my job to hold a steady course toward that goal until he decided it was time to tack (sailing lingo for change direction.) Seldom was that point on the horizon our final destination; it was simply a guideline to keep me on track. “Not getting there” wasn’t failure. It was part of the plan all along.

Part of the plan…We should put our best effort into the task at hand, while remembering this: We never know when our heavenly Dad is going to tell us it’s time to tack. We might as well seize uncertainty as part of the adventure, since being in control of our lives is, and always will be, a man-made illusion.

The Bible doesn’t have much to say about failure. It talks about courage failing and eyesight failing, and even about people willfully failing to follow God’s instructions, but it doesn’t talk about plans failing. This, in fact, is what it says about our plans:

Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil” (James 4:13-16).

More next week, but tell me this, do you live in fear that your plans will fail?

Black Bart

Black Bart

We live in a hurried, harried world. Nevertheless, there’s time each day to do all God wants us to do. There must be! God is not some heavenly prankster, waiting up in heaven to frustrate us. He gave us this day, and gave us one—and only one—day’s worth of tasks to complete before our 24 hours are spent. When our days are overfilled, were the ones who overfilled them.

We may have a lot we want to do, but life doesn’t give us everything we want, at least not right away. If our plates are too full, we need to ask God to show us where we’ve taken on too much, or where we’ve allowed something to get in the way of his best plan for us. Proverbs 16:9 says, “The mind of man plans his ways but the Lord directs his steps.” Not everything we have in mind to do may be in God’s plan for us right now. We have to make wise choices, couched in prayer, asking God to direct our steps. An inventory is in order, a close look at the way we’re spending our time. Are we being taken to the cleaners by time robbers?

Allow me to introduce you to Black Bart. (His innocent image is displayed at the beginning of this post.) Wikipedia describes him as “a gentleman bandit, and one of the most notorious stagecoach robbers to operate in and around Northern California and southern Oregon during the 1870’s and 1880’s.” Black Bart worked alone and drove Wells Fargo Agents crazy for almost a decade. I think he got away with highway robbery because he didn’t look threatening. He looked like some harmless old gent, so nobody was wary of him. By the time they realized he was a bad guy, it was too late. Time robbers can be the same way. They look innocent enough, but by the time we recognize them for what they are, they’ve already stolen countless hours.

What are some of your time robbers? How do you keep them at bay? I’ll tell you about some of mine in later posts, but I would love to hear about yours. In the meantime, be wary of those little thieves that eat away at your time. Every minute is precious!