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Archive for the ‘Problems’ Category

Last Sunday as I entered the church auditorium, I greeted a couple and conversed with them for a moment. I complimented the lady on her coat, which was sorta of a yellowish-tan, not quite gold or orange color. So, I followed up my first comment with, “What would you call that color?” Without hesitation she responded, “I’d call it sunshine.” Her husband and I chuckled and I said, “That sounds like it should be the beginning of a poem.

Fast forward to Wednesday morning. I was driving my wife to a doctor’s appointment 1:15 minutes away. About a third of the way into the trip I told my wife about the conversation on Sunday. She said that was cheery. We both went back to our thoughts and the following poem began to come. I didn’t write anything down until we reached our destination. I had composed the 1st verse and two lines of the 2nd verse by the time we arrived.

“I’d call it sunshine”
Even though the day be drear
I’d look for joy
In the midst of trial and fear

Not pretend it’s fine
When hardships are all around
But peace with God
Is settling and profound

Can’t keep it in line
There is so much going on
God controls all
It’s trust and rest I must hone

I am His, He’s mine
Though life is full of trouble
Unchanging grace
And His Word are comforts double

This poem is not about pretending everything is OK when it is not. It is not an Optimist’s perspective. Instead, this is a reminder for those who know God to look at the unseen realities that God has revealed and living based on that. And it is a reminder for those who have not come to know God that there is a spiritual reality that they should consider and seek to know God.

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I have recently determined that there are several ways of asking why of God. “God, why is this happening to me?” is the simple question, but the intent behind asking reveals the heart and faith of the questioner.

“Why?” is frequently an accusation that God is being unfair to strap you with a particular problem or difficulty. You lose your job. “Why did this happen to me, God? I’m supposed to support my family, pay my bills, and pay my taxes. How am I supposed to fulfill my responsibilities.”

But “Why?” can be asked in a different way to mean “What do you want me to learn from this difficulty?” and “How will you get glory from this difficulty?” That is, “Why is this difficulty occurring to further Your kingdom and glory in me and those around me?” You lost your job. “Why did this happen, Lord? Were you trying to get my attention because I was doing something wrong, or are You trying to increase my faith, or do You have a better career in mind? Be glorified through Your provision for my family during this difficulty and in my reactions and trust in You. Bless my wife and children with provision and security. Bless those looking on with a sense of Your goodness to us.”

There is a third, mixed reaction to difficulty that involves asking “Why?”. I am reminded of the honest answer of the father in Mark 9:24, “I do believe, help my unbelief.” I can relate well to this response. I frequently respond initially with “Why…that’s not fair?” but then consider God’s goodness in times past and the Scriptures about His faithfulness and moderate my stance to “Why is this happening in this way for my instruction and Your glory?” In reality, it usually comes out in more colloquial language: “God, what are you up to?” or “What am I supposed to learn from this?” or “How do You get glory from this?”

I mark my progress in the faith largely by how quickly I move on to trust. And at times I am finding myself responding in faith immediately. Perhaps because of a sense of inability or defenselessness, I seem to respond in trust more immediately the more drastic the difficulty or disappointment. And that is the good in trials for us, learning to trust without accusations of “WHY?”

But lest you think I am saying that I have arrived, I also shrink back into discouragement and complaining all too often. A circumstance, a Scripture, my wife, a friend, or even a stranger communicate how blessed I am and how foolish ungratefulness is and I am set, sometimes hard, back onto the path of faith. May God patiently work His plan in me and through my circumstances, and I would append that request to say, may He do it gently because I am frail (“For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust,” encourages Psalm 103:14.).

I have been thinking about Job lately. Do you feel like Job whose friend, Eliphaz, encouraged him by saying, “For man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward.” (Job 5:7)? That’ll put pep in the step, not! I keep having to “humble [myself] under the mighty hand of God,… casting all [my] anxiety on Him, for He cares for [me]”.*

As I told my Sunday School class, “Resist temptation and replace it with something better.” Jesus is always better. Thanksgiving diverts my attention from temptation to Him. I’m preachin’ to myself. You can listen in if it gives you any help. Maybe I will even get to the place of saying with James, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

*I inserted personal pronouns in place of yourself, your, you.

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I may have broken a record yesterday, if such records could be accurately recorded.

In a 24 hour period of time, I lost a truck key, and locked a truck and car key in my truck.

Have you ever been so involved, so intense, so overwhelmed that you finally say, “I can’t do this anymore or something is going to give.” As they say, I have “been there and done that”.

Well, I had a single key in my pocket as I worked. All I can figure out is that it was drug out onto the ground when I pulled something else out of the pocket. It goes without saying that I looked and looked. It may show up yet. The person for whom I was working was not home and I couldn’t think of anyone else who could pick me up or who it would not tremendously inconvenience to do so. So, I walked home in the dark. The next morning I drove the car with my wife’s spare truck key and car key. I worked for awhile and then drove the truck to Lowes. I sat in the parking lot, making a list of what materials I needed. The list was more lengthy than I anticipated. I promptly slid off of the seat, locked and slammed the door, immediately remembering my keys, both truck and car, were on the seat. I’m down two truck keys at this point. During COVID, Public Safety and Sheriff’s Department will not open cars unless there is a child or a pet locked inside. I don’t blame them. I imagine they would need a full time Officer of the Door just to take care of this mishap. The one locksmith company I called “no longer has a professional in your area”. Then I remembered that I had once had a second spare key. I called my son, knowing it meant an hour of driving to and from and between. He was good-natured about it and only lightly razzed me about it. I couldn’t find the spare key at home. He did. Then he took me to the car to drive it home and then back to Lowes to fetch my truck.

So much for a highly profitable and efficient workday when you take a 2 1/2 hour lunch break to gain access to your vehicles. Actually, given the mental distraction of the events, it was amazing that it was that short of time. And yes, I have put into place several safeguards to prevent that from happening again, but it seems like that there are always situations that can overcome any pre-planning and preparation one may muster. Well, I didn’t go off. I just sighed and prayed, but I can’t say I laughed about it. Maybe I will later.

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I could be talking about the underpinnings of society, but that seems to be going no where at the moment. So, I’ll just talk about a recent deck repair that I did.

Two of the posts had significant bows due to warping at a knot or knots. The first one pictured is the worst since a crack goes almost all the way through the two knots on either side. Gravity is persistent and will overcome any imbalance eventually. For that reason I hand pick all lumber when I am building a deck and take back boards that are not looking like they will go the distance. Nothing is permanent and decks can be expected to last 20 to 30 years depending on how often you stain it, the quality of the original boards, maintenance, and how it was designed.

Here is it close up. I should have shown the other side so you could see how serious the problem was to the structure of the post.

The other one looked as follows. If the grain at the top of the knot split to combine the two cracks, the post would not be far from gone.

The first step was to install a temporary support. A few posts from a previous job and my trusty persuasional tool (sledgehammer) served the purpose well. I hammered the temporary up to plumb, allowing you to see just how bowed the post was.

The next step was cutting the post off and rigging a way to pulled it out of the concrete slab. The slab was added after the house and deck were built, so they poured it around the posts. My car and truck jacks worked slowly but surely.

I was surprised how shallow the post was set. The aluminum plate, badly corroded, was sitting on gravel in the hole whereas these plates were usually used to set posts on concrete. There was not too much cracking of the concrete.

I filled the hole with concrete and inserted a “J” bolt that would later secure the bottom plate.

Two days later I installed the new posts. You can see in the background that I had not yet installed the second post.

A post whose bottom can dry out will last much longer.

Next I went around and clamped together joists which had warped and separated and screwed or bolted them together as needed. Some just looked ugly and others presented possible structural problems.

That does not look good from a structural standpoint. I had to jack up the left joist a bit to clamp and screw it together.

This one looks bad but is well supported so I don’t believe it caused a real problem.

However, real or perceived, I was tasked with fixing it.

My father would always say that there was nothing better than a nut and lock washer. I have a son and son-in-law, who are Materials Joining Engineers, who would likely differ. At any rate, I must not have quite learned the lesson. However, in my defense, I find that a flat washer crushed slightly into wood works quite well.

Decks And Such (https://facebook/decksandsuch), be the job small or large, fixes the prob lem (prob-><-lem -> problem) and gets the results.

I am pleased to thank God for the strength and experience to work in this way and the flow of work that has begun in 2021. When work slacked up in December, I became concerned, but it was all part of the plan. I had back problems soon afterwards that prevented me from working. As soon as that subsided, the work started coming again. We can depend on God to provide; we need to trust Him even when things get lean.

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We don’t enjoy harsh teachers, but we can learn from them nonetheless. “But it isn’t fair”, “such a teacher shouldn’t be allowed”, and “we must do everything in our power to rid the system of such teachers”. Unless of course the teacher has tenure with no intention of retiring any time soon.

Pain is just such a teacher. Now I’ve lost some of you. We want the fun, picture filled blog entries. But life has not been so fun lately, and that is not the goal of life anyway. So I decided to share a little of the less pleasant side of life, not for pity or running readers off, but because it is part of life and part of my life at present. And there are lessons to be learned from this less than favorite teacher.

I started having mild back pains about three weeks ago. I have had back problems all of my life and I think there is evidence of it being genetic since my three brothers have and father had back problems. I do exercises to keep my core strong and avoid extreme motions.* However, this time I didn’t do anything that I could have avoided to prevent the problem. I guess if I had been able to see the future and its ramifications, I could have worked around it, but I don’t have that ability. Sometimes it is just small things that trip us up.

Anyway, I have these down periods with back maintenance, but this was a perfect storm. The two most painful things were getting in and out of bed and putting shoes and socks on. Function and activity came to a standstill.

In the midst of this particular storm**, my attention was riveted by the frequent bolts of lightning running along my lower back. The teacher had my attention. When in pain, you pray more. Certainly a prime topic is relief, but I found myself praying for others I know who experience constant pain and wondering how they cope. And what of people who have reduced functionality because of pain? Couldn’t I be more compassionate and helpful? And the thought occurred to me several times that at my age, when a significant regression in health occurs, is this the downturn from which there will not be recovery or serious reduction in functionality? And if it is, what is my new focus? What would be my purpose? What new goals do I set? In short, I found this bout with pain highlighting (throwing a shadow on?) my mortality. Life is short and the end is coming, sooner perhaps rather than later. Don’t think so darkly you may say, but in the midst of the pain, lighter thoughts are hard to come by, and they may be no more than whistling in the wind anyway.

So here are the deeper and brighter, not lighter, thoughts that resulted from what I am going through. Life is good, because God is good. I have purpose and meaning because He has assigned those to me. Even if my body wears out or continues in pain, I can pray for others, for my family, the infirm, this sick nation, my lost friends, and my church. I have peace with God even in the midst of turmoil within and without. I am more content when I am thankful, even in the midst of difficulty. Even though I knew all of this beforehand, I know it at a deeper level now. I suspect the lessons are not done since the holidays (the second advent) have not come, but I will have to focus on these and like thoughts as soon as the next lesson starts rather than days into it.

That should make the teacher and lesson seem less harsh, even though still uninvited and unwanted.

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I should report that my back has shown some improvement in the last few days, though I don’t know what that means for work and play just now. I am privileged to be able to start again, but wary of the fact that physically that is not sustainable in the long-term. Life is full of ups and downs, but I don’t have to pin my hopes on the ups nor dread the downs. I belong to God.

*I hear some of you snickering (LD and BF, for instance).

**See “Midst the Storm”.

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I frequently hear in election cycles these days a repeated phrase that sounds something like the following: “This is the most important election of our life-time.” I think the purpose of the statement in its various forms is to stir certain emotions and resolves toward rushing to the polling place and casting a vote to stop this madness. But like the 100th artillery shell to fall near your trench, you become numb to the effects of these dire predictions. Either the effects of this election will end life as you know it, or it won’t, and there is little to be done about it. We are “election shell-shocked”. That does not mean that there is less danger because we are insensitive to the falling declarations of disaster, but only that we can no longer respond to it as such. But the situation is grave for the continuance of our free society and it causes me to think about the first verse of a hymn:

“Once to every man and nation,
comes the moment to decide,
in the strife of truth with falsehood,
for the good or evil side;
some great cause, some great decision,
offering each the bloom or blight,
and the choice goes by forever,
‘twixt that darkness and that light.” (1)

“One salient point of this hymn is the burden that it places, not only upon the individual man, but upon nations as well to obey God and to honor His Law. If decisions to obey God are made in the hearts of the people of a nation, that nation will also follow in like obedience to that Law. If we find that our beloved nation today has gone from following God to following after the world, it is because our ministers and churches have failed to call her citizens to repentance. When we begin to see national laws that forbid sin to be repealed, and those laws converted to the side of evil, then we shall know the extreme danger of our national condition. There is only one great decision – to follow God!” (2)

Take note about the conclusion to this quote about the hymn. It does not say panic and run off doing some Herculean task. It says “follow God”. That is a daily, in the trenches, persistent, long-term repentance. It matters not what shells of destruction fall around you. You continue about your duties to your ruler. Live a life different from the world that pushes and pulls others, even a society toward God.

Furthermore, though the hymn verse is grave, the situation is not yet so grave as the hymn talks about. Later verses speak of “by the light of burning martyrs” (3) and “Tho’ her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong”. So, I think that in reality there are many choices on the road to hell, not just one great decision. There comes a time certainly when God says enough is enough. When the Israelites turned away from entering the Promised Land (Numbers 13 and 14) and God made them wonder in the wilderness for 38 more years until “your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness”, (Numbers 14:32) there was a “Once to every man and nation.” But this judgment had been building, for God says in His first response after Moses pleads that God not immediately destroy them, that “none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it.” (Numbers 14:22-23) Did you see it? Not once but ten times they spurned God. As He says in Hebrews 3:16-19: “For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.” It was not merely a single act of rebellion but a condition of unbelief revealed through continued rebellion over time.

So, where are we as a nation? At the time of this writing, purposefully so, this is prior to the election. I do not know the outcome or the ramifications of that outcome. Regardless of the outcome, repentance, trust in God, and perseverance in right living are far more important than what the result of this election will be. God may again be gracious to us and prolong our prosperity, or He may gives us what we deserve, and our demise will be swift, but we must turn to God for the good of our nation, our neighbors, our family, our posterity, and our world.

What is the hope for a nation over whom destruction has been declared? In the case of Israel, it was God’s mercy for the children, for He says, “But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness.” (14:31-32) God may yet be entreated by a repentant people, just as He was by Nineveh (Jonah 3:10).

May God give us “a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.” (Deuteronomy 29:4 says He had not yet done so for Israel.)

1. Hymn: “Once to Every Man and Nation” by James Russell Lowell in 1845

2. http://www.faithfulcenturion.org/AOCBlog/Hymns/Hymn%20519%20-%20Once%20to%20Every%20Man%20and%20Nation.pdf#:~:text=%E2%80%9COnce%20to%20every%20man%20and%20nation%2C%20comes%20the,by%20forever%2C%20%27twixt%20that%20darkness%20and%20that%20light.

3. Surely this is a reference to Nero using Christians as torches in his garden, though many others were burnt at the stake over the centuries.

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“The uncontested absurdities of today are the accepted slogans of tomorrow. They come to be accepted by degrees, by precedent, by implication, by erosion, by default, by dent of constant pressure on one side and constant retreat on the other- until the day when they are suddenly declared to be the country’s official ideology.” Ayn Rand

Wow! You want to have a worthwhile history/social studies lesson? Have students write a short interpretation of this and the following quote: “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” Adolf Hitler.* Then have them discuss the following proposition: Propaganda and ignorance are happy partners that ravage the land.

It occurs to me that by quoting these two individuals, I could be wholly dismissed by anyone who knows their philosophies. Many Empiricists and Naturalists would applaud Ayn Rand for clear-headed objectivity, but she dismissed faith and religion out of hand. So much for logic and fair-mindedness. Her nearsightedness blinded her to evidences of God. We all have blind spots. I wholeheartedly disagree with her perspective in order to point out that we may learn truth from many people in many places, even opponents, if we are open to it. Her quote here is apropos to our present situation. We have a phrase yelled at us, proclaimed and assumed to be true, day after day, scouring away any right or level-headed thinking by demand and insinuation. So it’s true, right?

And the Third Reich demonstrated that persistent and horrendous lies will be taken as truth. It need not even be believable at first, nor crafty, nor partially true, only persistently and passionately told. We are experiencing these repetitions in several arenas at this time. 

The question is, “Will we allow the lies to drown out the truth by our deafening silence?” All of the loud protestations of lies as truth are the propaganda. Silence is the willful ignorance that partners with it to promote destruction of our freedoms. And yet silence is the passive willfulness.

Our ignorance runs deeper and more active: “‘They bend their tongue like their bow; lies and not truth prevail in the land; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know Me,’ declares the Lord.” Isaiah 9:3 We repeat lies by meme and manifest, little caring that our “causes” promote evil.

Go to the source of truth (John 17:17, Psalm 119:60) and ask the Author of Truth (Psalm 86:15) to strain out all of the man-made lies that have seemed as truth to you.

Lord, have mercy on us, and draw Your people and many lost people to Yourself. Cause us to stand for truth as surely as men of valor in battle and saints in the fire. Thank You for the God-ordained institutions of the family, church, and government that give us order, peace, and joy. Strengthen us to defend them against subtle and outspoken lies that seek to destroy Your gifts to us.

*probably originating from Joseph Goebbels

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Experience is supposed to make us wiser and more prudent. Sometimes we heed lessons learned and sometime we don’t. It began with a seemingly innocent change of plans: “Oh, I can’t go overnight. We’ll just have to figure it out.” Next up was not taking a map. Then there was the part where I should have asked what the actual plans were. The trails are not well maintenanced, that is, cleared, so they can be hard to find. A new trail had been cut that was not on the map I had nor had I seen it, so we wasted some time going the wrong way. About 1/3 through the trip leg cramps ensued which caused us to change our route to avoid uphills that increased the cramps and pain, which then resulted in perhaps an extra 5 miles of hiking. We attempted to traverse a trail in the dark we had never been on. The trail passed through a field. In retrospect there were probably two exits, maybe more, from that field. After too much walking, we ended up on a road and knew where we were, which was about five miles from our vehicle. So we called in a rescue from an in-law. The final result of these multiple missteps was an estimated 25 miles in rough terrain, having left the house at 8 AM and returned at midnight.

On the up side, it was a beautiful day with cooler than usual June temperatures, partly cloudy and mostly tree covered to shield us from all day sun exposure. The river was cold and relaxing. The conversation was pleasant. We succeeded in hiking the length of the Gorge from Cabin Trail all the way to the lake and seeing several trails we’d not been on before. I took some good pictures and felt the beauty of God’s Creation. The stars shone brightly as we awaited the pick-up. My son asked me at one point how I could still be talking about plants. I had a two part response: 1) That’s just who I am, and 2) When you are hurting and in too deep, it’s best to focus your mind away from the difficulty onto more pleasant thoughts.

A few examples of Providential** assistance included finding a laminated map propped up against a tree at a campsite, a clean water source along the way, and an answer to prayer for assistance. I had told my son earlier in the day that I had prayed in the form of a daydream that a person would be standing in the river, fishing, who knew where to cross and would be willing to point out where the trail was on the other side. In actuality, the answer came in the form of two people who were camping and were just stepping out of the river after swimming. The man walked about a 1/4 mile up the river to show us where to cross and gave a detailed and accurate description of the turns to get on the trail we desired. The end of his description was as follows: “I don’t know what happens after the field because I haven’t gone any further.” (Reference earlier sentence about the two exits from the field for a small chuckle.)

Am I wiser for the experience? In one respect, no. I knew all of those things to do and had regularly done them in times past, except when I didn’t. In another respect, yes. For hopefully a long time, and perhaps permanently, I will ask questions of preparedness of my self and others before attempting something more than moderate. And, the moderate can become the strenuous, so take heed there, too. Now, a few of you are thinking how foolish the whole adventure was. I suspect you don’t have much adventure in your life. Some are saying, what’s the big deal since no one was hurt. Your adventures will likely be short-lived. The balance is to take calculated risks. That involves foresight, preparedness, physical and mental vigor, and a willingness to ask for help. I resolve to be better prepared next time rather than just stay home.

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Father-Son Outing

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Ferns have such a feel of richness

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Never seen Galax so profusely blooming as on this trip

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Mountain Laurel

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Steep, poorly marked trails

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Do you see the fisherman?

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Sourwood sprouts and Table Mountain Pinecone

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Steep terrain and sharp meanders

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The reason the trail doesn’t always follow the river bank

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Raccoon Tracks

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Hawksbill

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1 3/4 liter was not enough

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Wild Ginger (Asarum sp?)

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Refreshing

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Chimneys

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Japanese Meadowsweet. What is it doing here?

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Solomon Seal with seed pods

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???

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Fire Pink

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???

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Indian Pipe

*Last lines of “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost

**Answer to prayer is a Providential assistance, too, but is more direct, so I classify it differently from common grace (Matthew 5:45). God oversees all things in our lives.

 

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If ever I could hope that one of my blog entries would go viral, this would be the one!

What is the way forward in this time of crisis for our country? Is is sociological, psychological, judicial, political, philosophical? There is a Facebook post shared among some that is a Venn Diagram having four circles representing perspectives on our present troubles (You can see it here). Simply put, it says that a person may reasonably hold that murder, looting, and corruption are wrong and that lawful protests are legitimate responses. When my friend posted the diagram, I had an immediate two-fold reaction. Firstly, I agreed with the diagram. Secondly, I felt like it was incomplete and needed a fifth circle. I assumed at the time that the fifth circle would be a part of a five-circle Venn struggling to overlap in the middle. Later it occurred to me that the fifth circle should surround the other four, being both foundational and all encompassing. 

Circle Five: Until and unless we repent and forgive none of these other ideas or steps we may take will matter.

We will continue to deteriorate as a society. Fomenting elements will continue to stir up the crowds. Unreasoning anger will continue to prevail. Corruption will proceed unchecked and at length increase in various levels of government and in the streets. Fear and hatred will increase.

America, repent! Lord, begin with me. Cause me to love my fellow created beings regardless of culture, color, creed, or craft. Cause us to see our eternal and daily need of a savior, the Savior, Jesus, because we are full of hatred, selfishness, apathy, and unbelief. 

America, forgive! Lord, begin with me. Enable me to extend forgiveness to those who have wronged me. Change us so that we do not suspect every neighbor of ill toward us, but desire and work for their good.

Church, pray! Lord, begin with me. Give me a persistent spirit of intercession for our nation and the Church. We are in dire and perilous times. If we don’t see it, it is because our enemy is not visible. The spiritual forces are stirring up trouble and trying to destroy our freedoms and blessings. God is calling on us to arise and call on Him for help. He will not continue to tolerate our evil and refusal to acknowledge Him. 

God be merciful to us. Pour out the knowledge of Yourself and Your ways upon Your Church who is slack in their piety at best. Extend mercy in salvation to a lost nation which is satisfied in their self-righteous refusal to acknowledge their sin and need of You. We need a revival of the Church and renewal of our nation. May You be merciful to give us repentance and forgiveness.

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The following blog entry was written several months ago, but the mental state of the time, the ambivalence about publishing it, the time constraints to finishing it, and the arrival of better emotions and thoughts prevented me from publishing it until now. Now it is time and it will add some balance and veracity to my blog by telling more about who I am. People enjoy a good story, but how about a melancholy tome? It may be instructive to those who don’t struggle with this problem and encouraging to those who do.

I have been struggling with a touch of depression lately. I purposefully state it that way because it is nothing compared to times past. It will be passing, which I can say with confidence because I know how to get help and from Whom. But is it depression or could it be, particularly since I say passing, discouragement? Or might it be desperation? Now I could refer to the dictionary and sort these out, but I am going to give a personal, experience based definition, which may not ring true for you, or better yet, may ring all too true and give you encouragement and tools for dealing with them or it, as the case may be.* These definitions will by no means be totally devoid of knowledge gained from study.

In my experience, depression is an emotional background noise or foreground roar that is hard to define in terms of its source, and harder still to get rid of. Many people excuse it as a chemical imbalance that is not of the person’s doing. I believe that chemical imbalance is a problem for some people, but even then there are ways out, most of which don’t involve drugs in the long-term.** It is not helpful to dwell on the depression itself, but it is profitable to study your own modus operandi during depression for the purpose of recognizing when there is an onset. You are experiencing one of my quirks of depression by reading this passage. When I am depressed, I get very wordy, verbose, articulate, long-winded, redundant. That is most likely the source at present of my long sentences. Another way I deal with depression is to become very silent, but because I have learned to attack it, I now do the opposite and become verbal. Oh, that is the reason for quirk #1. And here is a help for you, dear friend, if you suffer with depression. Talk yourself out of it, not by any random droning of your voice, but by declaring out loud truth. The form it takes in me most often is singing hymns. So, I knew that I was dealing with mild depression this morning because I felt compelled to sing. The odd thing about my singing is that I can be loud and enthusiastic and crying, either inside or literally, all at the same time. I don’t know if the crying is repentance, thankfulness, remorse, release, or sadness, but I do know that if I sing long enough the cloud dissipates. That occasionally is too much for my wife because she is a stroke victim and the continual sound and language overloads her aphasic processing. If it is a hymn that I know well, whistling works so that I can think about other things or tasks simultaneously, but whistling is particularly problematic for my wife.

Desperation is more easily recognized and pinpointed. I was desperate yesterday because I had so much paperwork to do and a sense that it would never end. Perhaps that was part of what brought on today. Planning ways to lessen the load, spread it out, or see light at the end of the tunnel are ways I usually deal with that short-term irritant. Finding the purpose in the mundane and repetitive and distasteful makes it more palatable. Procrastinating is something we have all done to avoid what we don’t like to do, but it is counterproductive because it just prolongs the mental desperation. Desperation, then, usually comes from a fear, be it fear of purposelessness or fear of harm by whatever traumatic or long-term means (e.g. old age for example).

Discouragement can be short-term or long-term and its source obvious or not. Unfulfilled goals and dreams are the source of most of my discouragement. Inability to do something at a higher level of my own making or meeting someone else’s expectations can weigh heavily on me at times but do not usually cause discouragement. I guess that I understand that despite my attempts to be exceptional in various areas of my life, I am just a “common Joe” with perhaps a little better than average ability. I am profoundly limited in some areas. Failure or rejection are high on the list of what brings discouragement to many people.

In all of these areas, particularly depression, I have several coping mechanisms that are my go to’s. I have already listed 1) identifying when I am depressed by things I do and think when depressed and 2) singing my way out of that mode. For me, and these must be specific for you individually, I 3) rock in a rocking chair and think, 4) write to organize my thoughts and identify how I am feeling, 5) talk it out to others***, 6) walk, 7) do anything active, particularly climb, run, bike, or hike, 8) experience nature, contemplating God’s goodness, and 9) organize and propound truth on any subject, though theological and scientific areas are my most common subjects. What is your coping mechanism? Don’t know? Try one of mine. Experiment with things that are true and good (Philippians 4:8). Make them edifying pursuits, not destructive ones like drugs, alcohol, binge eating, binge videos or computer time, or pornography or illicit sex. Look for a way out, not a way further in.

I have purposely separated my last help for depression, desperation, and discouragement: 10) Spend time in prayer specifically about the source of your feelings, or about the emotion itself in the absence of knowledge of the source. To not just be talking to yourself, several things must be true: 1) You must be a believer in Jesus as your Savior, 2) You should be seeking to be repentant of sin, and 3) You should seek to discover what expectation you have that has not been given you by God and give it up to Him. Frequently either #2 or #3 is the source of the depression. If #1 is true, then you have power given to you by God to repent of sin (I John 1:9) and overcome temptation (I Corinthians 10:13). 4) Persist in prayer until you get past distraction, temptation, doubt, and waiting. Your circumstances may not change, as God sees fit, but your peace and joy can return in the midst of the sorrow.

Life is a journey with a destination rather than a destination only. Therefore, be patient with yourself. Conversely, don’t let yourself off the hook in the sense of ‘oh, everybody does it’. Instead, seek to make progress. Growing requires effort, but in the same way as you can not pull yourself up by your boot straps, you need an outside force, the power of God, to make real and lasting progress. May God enable you with His power to grow and may you find those coping mechanisms that work for you to ease your pain by pointing you to truth.

*Long sentences are so fun to attempt, because they are so easy to get wrong, particularly concerning commas, and therefore challenging. I think mine are right.

**How could I be so unfeeling and arrogant as to suppose I can make declarations about others people’s difficulties? Well, not only because I have studied this issue, but because I have personal experience with serious, dare I say, clinical depression, I am speaking up. You may need drugs to steady the boat, but they are a poor way to propel it forward.

***Thank you for your patience, friends.

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This poem is quite simple

Similar to a pimple

Which has really a short life

Full of passion and much strife

 

It causes a stir and pain

May nearly drive you insane

But soon will come to a head

Then burst, forgotten and dead

 

But note how it leaves a scar

The complexion ever mar

Cover it to make it small

Or accept me warts and all

 

Best to never have begun

From quarrels and strife you run

Better bring kindness and truth

Than discord and be uncouth

The first two verses of this poem came to me one day when I was considering strife and its ill effects. I knew generally where I wanted to go with it, but could not see how. Just this morning when I brought it up from my drafts file, the way forward began to dawn upon me. In one sense I might like to have developed the kindness and truth way of doing things more. On the other hand, the first and third lines preclude such a tome, and the short version seems to have punch.

The truth I see behind my verse comes from Proverbs:

17:14 “The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so abandon the quarrel before it breaks out.”

3:3 “Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.”

26:17 “Like one who takes a dog by the ears is he who passes by and meddles with strife not belonging to him.”

15:18 “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, But the slow to anger calms a dispute.”

See also Proverbs 6:14,19; 10:12, 13:10, 16:28, 17:1,19; 18:6,18; 20:3, 22:10, 26:21, 28:25, 29:22, 30:33. Evidently, avoiding strife and those who promote it is a valuable consideration and pursuit.

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On the wall of the classroom in bold, beautiful font were the empowering words:

“turn your cants into cans and your dreams into plans”

After correcting the grammar*, my next thought was the proverb, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) Can’s and plans are good, and godly ambition is a worthwhile pursuit, but whether you are a believer or not, your life is held in God’s hands (Daniel 5:23) and He is sovereign in all of your life. So heed the advice given in James 4:15: “Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” Good may come of your efforts, but difficulties may also come of them and both good and ill will come anyway (Job 5:7). Don’t be discouraged by it. Yield to God and learn from it and prosper in it. I have had a measure of trouble, not so great as many others nor so slight as some others, and I have not always been patient, but trials are a constant and consistent teacher. I hope the following poem may encourage and strengthen you rather than drag you down.

In this life and on this path
There is strife and sometimes wrath
Difficulties small and great
But nothing ever left to fate

We have dreams and we make plans
Some have even help and fans
All of your ambitions dear
Wait for God’s directions clear

Paying forward, looking back
Outward viewing, keep on track
In your life reflect on how
Before His will you may bow

The when difficulties come
More than an unhappy sum
Of trials and loss and joys ban
They are part of His good plan

 

*I was first drawn to the visual aesthetics of the display, but almost immediately questioned in my mind why such a poorly constructed phrase would be on the wall of an English classroom. I considered that our students don’t know grammar because we don’t know or model grammar. We are all caught up in texting language, which is understandable for texting but deadly to the language and good communication. If you ignore the contractions, which should not be in formal writing (I use them in this blog to increase the conversational tone of my writing.), then the wall display should have read more along the following lines: “Turn your can’t’s into can’s and your dreams into plans.” The subject is understood because this sentence is a command, but students need to have this modeled along with punctuation.

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If desperate times call for desperate measures, then tremendous provision calls for tremendous thanksgiving. Our youngest grandchild was born just over a year ago with heart problems. He had major heart surgery about 9 months later. Though small, he is now growing and happy with good skin color. It is amazing that he is alive and progressing. His father decided that in the light of God’s gracious provision of his child’s safety and health and the many people who showed concern, helped out, and prayed that a birthday party might not be enough. Instead, he decided to invite anyone who had been even distantly involved to come for a half day celebration of his son’s life and God’s goodness. 50 people responded that they would come. In the time my wife were able to be there, from 1-5:30 PM, the people came and went at a steady but reasonable pace for meet and greet. Good conversations, good food, and many stories of God’s goodness abounded.

After a year of multiple hospital stays, procedures, tests, and surgery, it is good to see the little man at home, content, and growing. God is good even when things are hard, but we celebrate His goodness when He is gracious to care for us with such largesse. His all sufficient grace is good and praiseworthy and full of joy.

In retrospect, I wish that I had taken pictures of the many people who came, but my few good pictures are of my own family gathered to encourage and give thanks. Also, notice that the little guy is almost always serious. He will go to anyone, probably because he is used to being held by nurses, but he takes a serious look at whoever picks him up.

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First Arrival Greeting

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Mama Talk

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Very Involved Sister

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A Few Moments Together

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Close Siblings (He smiles more often with his sister than any other time.)

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A Story and An Inquiry

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Intense Little Video (Uncle Time)

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With Uncle and Aunt

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With Those Swingin’ Uncles

Gift from a Pilot

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Odd picture: It must be blurred because I was shaky. Her face must be in focus because her movement matched my shakiness. That gives it a cool sense of motion.

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Healthy and Happy

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Mamaw Loves Those Grandchildren

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I am a self described “Jack of All Trades, Master of None”. How does one become part of this nation? My observation has been that there are generally two paths to “Jack”. 1) Be very smart and well studied and carefully try many things, having the resources to continue and succeed. 2) Be very desperate (or needy), having few resources, particularly money, imprudent to the dangers of failure, fail alot, learn from experience, and at last succeed. I am of the latter tribe. In the first tribe are those who have confidence that it will work because of their circumstances. In the second tribe are those who against all odds need it to work or “it ain’t happenin'”.

There is, perhaps, a third tribe, but they are small. They are masters of many trades, but those guys retire early to make YouTube videos with over a million subscribers.

My modest car had a modest oil leak, the kind you might ignore because you only need add a half a quart of oil between oil changes, unless you were at highway speeds for extended times (ring blow by likely as not due to mileage above 200K). I wanted to stop the leak because it was dripping on the exhaust manifold, burning, and smelling. That meant that my wife and I could not open the windows on a cool evening or dash through the mountains because the fumes made us feel sick. It also meant that the leak was hard to find because there was very little evidence.

My son who is training to be a mechanic found the leak that I could not. It turns out that the Rocker Arm Cover Gasket includes rings around the spark plugs. The leak was covered and the oil came out elsewhere in small amounts where it was burnt. Oh, what small problems cause such consternation.

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A fun drive, decent to low power, dependable, hoping for another 50 to 100K.
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Simpler approach than most modern compact car engines.
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Clean engine for 207,000 miles!
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The offending tale-tale indicator of leakage

Over the years I have had many successes at mechanicing, carpentering, plumbing (oh, I hate that one), electricianing, tree felling, and the like. I ask lots of questions of people who know how, proceed carefully, beg, borrow, or buy tools as I can, and get help when I get stuck. I have also failed at times, needing costly bailout. But the need of this tribe member not to fail has compelled me to many paths, however so circuitous, to multiple successes. Because of properties of my personality (flaws?) I am not sure I would want to be so provided for that I had not learned all of these neat skills (unless it avoided plumbing, scraping paint, or completing a project after multiple nights after midnight). Therefore, I am thankful to God for the many, many times He has enabled me to provide for my family by a frugal rework of equipment I already possess. I could learn another way of just “Honey, call the plumber,” but that is not the path God has most usually called me to and I am content. I hope this present fix is just works at length.

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It is very possible that you do not know what you fear most because you have not confronted that situation yet. There is also depth of fear and extent of fear, by which I mean absolutely horrifying as opposed to what you most guard against because it is constantly in your thoughts consciously or subconsciously. 

Evidently, I speak of the latter when I say what I most fear. I most fear being publicly humiliated for being incompetent and unprepared. I say evidently because occasionally I have dreams about just such things. I tend to have two kinds of dreams, those that may or may not seem significant, based on my emotional state after I awaken, but that I can’t remember any detail about, and those dreams that are very clear in every detail and seem to be communicating something profound to me or about me.

This morning was an occurrence of the latter. I am a science teacher. For some, what seems to me, a silly reason, I always have a few moments of first-year teacher nervousness about the first day of class (a tale tale indication of my greatest fear?). Now in terms of the school year, the dream I am about to relate to you is a mid-summer nights’ dream, making it all the more curious that it should happen, since school should be the last thing on my mind.

I was in a old school building that was very well remodeled. It was between classes of the last period of the day on the first day of class. I was required to rove to a different class this period, which when I have been required to do is the most bothersome thing to me, probably because it always involves some level of not being prepared for class when it begins. On the way there students in the bathroom were involved in some unknown rowdiness which my appearance and stern voice immediately dissipated. This further delayed my arrival to class. The students began filing out of the bathroom. I recognized most of them and many of them went into the classroom that I was entering. As we entered the tardy bell rang. The room was large with the classroom set-up at one end. Students were already in their desks. I knew all of the students, having had most of them the previous semester and others the year before. All of the students had attempted, out of a social habit that I have observed that makes them feel more comfortable, to sit in their previously assigned seats. Everything was in order except for one desk missing on the front row, so that a student assigned last year to that desk was sitting on the floor where the desk would have been. As I walked to the front of the room all faces turned toward me and the immediate thought came to me, “Why are these students here? I have had them all, most of them last semester, and they all passed (didn’t they?)?” I came to the desk, seeing that it was very neatly organized with every office supply gadget you could want and organizers for many colorful highlighters and markers. As I surveyed this wonder and the fact that there was not one piece of my papers, syllabus or otherwise, on the desk, the thought occurred to me, is this Earth and Environmental Science class that I have exclusively taught the last few years or the Chemistry class that I was told I might be teaching? If I ask the students which it is they will know that I am unprepared, not because I don’t know the subject, but because I have no materials to hand out and no lesson prepared. If it is Earth Science, I’ve done it so many times recently that I can totally wing it, but if it is Chemistry, as likely these “repeating” students imply, I’m clueless where to begin even though my head is filled with Chemistry facts. I stood overlooking the smiling faces in front of me, students who had likely taken Chemistry because they liked me as a teacher before, waiting for a spark of inspiration.

The dream ended by me awakening, lying flat on my back in the pleasant morning light and coolness, wondering what I would do next, and wondering why such dreams persist in my consciousness. Evidently, I fear being humiliated publicly for being incompetent and unprepared. Given that fact, should I share this dream?

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With what are you struggling? Struggling with temptation is a matter of replacing it with something good and godly. I find that Romans 6:11 helps me to focus in times of temptation. Philippians 4:8 helps it to be less of a problem in the first place and less burdensome when happening. But what if the struggle is not a temptation but concerning a desire that you have thought to be a godly ambition? You pursue it, but thus far, to no avail. Patience and acquiescence to God’s will are certainly needed, but as platitudes they do not answer questions about how to proceed. So, here is how I am struggling:

My senses all say no
As do comments and circumstances
Whence comes this great desire
When all else says there are thin chances

To prayer I did devote
This ambition of which I now speak
Much counsel, plans I wrote
And God’s will in this matter I seek

How do I now proceed?
Exercise patience and longer wait?
More scrutiny it need?
Oh my mind and emotional state?

Is it time to give up?
To admit it was not in God’s will?
Accept this empty cup
As good providence rather than ill?

This I know above all
God is good and His will is the best
May stumble but not fall
Be bewildered but finally blest

I will continue on
Trusting God and in His guidance rest
Listening I will hone
Find His direction and pass the test

 

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Why Me? There are generally two ways to answer that question.

Why me? Why is this happening to me? What did I do wrong?

         Or…

Why me? What is God trying to teach me? How is He using these circumstances to guide me?

On a very pleasant, sunny afternoon my wife and I were preparing to go for a walk on our local Greenway. We were talking and enjoying conversation and she was understanding well. You see, she is a stroke victim and most days communication is poor and ponderous. We went to the car, talking away as we went. I distinctly remember enjoying the moment.

I pulled out of the driveway, looking both ways. In my blind spot a car had pulled up on the opposite curb. I looked in my rear side mirror and reacted just soon enough to dent his passenger door no more than about four inches. Two inches less and a toilet plunger would have fixed the problem, but the main beam was damaged and irrepairable. It was an expensive mistake.

Now two months later I was at the body shop paying for the repair. I had planned other business nearby. When I came out of the shop, my truck would not start. After a half hour cleaning the battery cable, I was underway, too late to do the other business I thought so important.

Why had all of this happened? Why was I prevented and redirected? What chain of events is God orchestrating for His glory and my benefit through these less than pleasant events?

I may never know, but I do know that the Scripture says, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) I lived a good portion of my life frustrated by annoying sidetracks and roadblocks, but I have come to understand what the Psalmist means when he says, “It is vain to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; for He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.” (Psalm 127:2) I want to end my days trusting God, as the Psalmist says, “The Lord also will be a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble; and those who know Your name will put their trust in You. For You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.” (Psalm 9:9-10)

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As I have mentioned several times recently, and as anyone in my area will attest, there have been more than usual number of days with gray skies and fewer of sunshine than normally. On just such a day yesterday, I began to consider.

Snow on the mountain
Wind in the trees
Frost on the pasture
Chilled by degrees

Gray sky overcast
Sun seldom guest
Trees in dark profile
Season of rest

All is damp and cold
The days are short
Food scarce for creatures
Few birds report

In this bleak season
Emotions wane
Foreboding reason
Given to pain

Now the time for faith
Let the truth ring
After these dark days
Then will come Spring

Even wintertime
Has its beauty
Seek out what is good
Fulfill duty

Embrace these gray days
Count it all joy
Draws you to Jesus
And sins destroy

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There is so much stirring in my heart and mind.

Before prayer time the pastor read about the two houses, one built on the rock and the other on sand. Having a good foundation in God and in His Word is important. But pastor pointed out that the foundation in no way determined what was thrown at the house. Both houses experienced severe storms. Christians and devoted Christians do not get an easier life. In fact, “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” ( II Timothy 3:12) The house cemented to God lasts.

My class’s Sunday School lesson was on David and Goliath. I liked the fact that the lesson emphasized that this was not a boy fighting a giant, but a young man described as a “valiant warrior” (I Samuel 16:18). Nonetheless, any thought of him defeating this giant on his own was beyond anyone’s imagination. All of the army of Israel fled from his presence and were terrified. When David told Saul that he had defeated the lion and the bear, he was insistent that “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (I Samuel 17:37) The rest of Israel was afraid while David trusted God. My concluding point was that “You overcome giants like [I had the students fill in the blank and then I added only a few more] fear, bullies, my worst subject in school, pain, disease, conflict with family or friends or enemies, death, the devil, my sinfulness, embarrassment, weakness by trusting in God.”

Then my pastor preached on prayer in the book of Acts. He surveyed the occurrences of prayer and their results. If my notes record correctly, he numbered 19 instances of prayer. There were many kinds of prayer: worship, praise, petition, devoted, focussed, decision, pleading, requests, commissioning, singing, committing, exhorting, meditating, seeking, fasting. These prayers had many results: divine guidance, many saved, miracles, healings, provision, rescue, preaching, Holy Spirit empowerment, conflict and its resolution, persecution, rebuke, dead raised, blind given sight, understanding, discernment, calling missionaries, elders chosen and confirmed, church planted, priests saved, testifying, praise, earthquake, jailer saved, commitment, strengthening of the church, supplied. Then the pastor asked, “Will you give yourself to prayer?” He concluded by saying, “A life of prayer doesn’t mean that we do nothing, but that we do nothing apart from prayer.”

The devotion and lesson and sermon reminded me of a thought I had many times before about the work of a Christian. “The only true work of a Christian should be prayer; all else is rest.” I don’t mean by this that muscles and sweat and planning and thought aren’t involved in many activities for the kingdom of God. Rather, we plead and travail and petition and worship and fast and cling to God in prayer and then go out confidently to the battle to meet the giants, expectantly and confidently looking for how God will work. The upshot of this day of thought on God and His ways is that I have much work to do. I would describe my prayer life as sporadic. I do fervently pray even when things are going well, but I get distracted by many pursuits and cares rather than resting in God from a position of having requested His power in prayer. Will you come along with me to renewed commitment to prayer? Ourselves, our families, our churches, our communities and businesses, our nation, and our world need prayer.

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I don’t take stock in premonitions, but I may have had one the other day. Whether I did or didn’t did not enable me to influence or change the outcome in any way. After doing some yard work, I was walking around my backyard enjoying the sunshine, which we haven’t had much of lately, and looking up at the tree branches to see how much more work would be raining down. I saw the large Virginia Pine behind my shed that overhung it. I paused and thought, ‘I wished that I had taken that down (about 16 years ago now) before I built that shed. It is going to fall on that shed one of these days soon.’ I had not taken it down because it was probably on my neighbors side of the line.

We had a wholly unexpected ice storm on Saturday morning, November 24th. My son called me to tell me what happened, because my wife and I were still away visiting relatives for Thanksgiving. ‘A large branch broke out of the oak tree next to house, but it missed everything. It didn’t even hit the gutter.’ I think that was his warm-up sentence. ‘You know the big pine tree behind the shed? It broke off and landed on the shed. It didn’t put a hole in the roof or break the rafters.’ What he didn’t tell me was that there was an ice storm. What he did not know, nor did I, was that the tree had a rotten trunk. There was no external evidence of it.

So, I had planned to finish my wood splitting this week for the season. Instead, I get to take down a ‘widow maker’ lying on my shed. I cut a four foot section hanging beyond the back of the shed. I was concerned that it would drop, knocking my ladder out from under me. So when the gap in the cut began to open up as I sawed down through the log, I stopped and climbed down. Then I retrieved a pole with a hook on the end and pulled the log down. Sure enough, it knocked the ladder aside. I had not moved the ladder, because I thought I might have to climb back up and saw a little more.

I finished today’s session at dark by clearing as many branches as I could reach. Sawing over your head is tiring. At the ground you have to choose the branches to cut that will not cause the tree to flip over or slide off of the roof while you are under it.

The next step will involve easing it down a cut at a time followed by one last knocking a block out to bring it down.

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The One That Missed

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It’s giving me a headache

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This can’t be good

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That is so much weight

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The rotten, splintered base

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That looks like a tedious job

I worked on it two more hours this evening before dark. It slid down a few inches at a time, perhaps three feet in all. I took all of the branches but two that now support in on the ground. The next step I have planned is to tie a rope to the large end and pull it off the shed with my truck. That way I will be well out of the way when it comes down. There is no way without a bucket truck to take it down without a little further damage. Oh well, I’m impressed that it didn’t collapse the roof, and I am thankful that nothing hit the house.

 

 

 

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Overflows from the Heart

"But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart…" Matthew 15:18

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Pointing to the One who made, saved, and sustains