Seeking a Stronger Witness

Dogs and Their Bones

Dixie and Daisy are my two rescue puppies.  They are sisters and spend every moment together.  One will not go outside without the other.  They eat and drink from the same bowls. And they usually sleep touching each other in some way.  But when it comes to bones, all bets are off!  In the pictures here, you can see them when they are posing on their best behavior and then, in the other shot, they are tussling over possession of a bone.  It’s not that they do not have two…they do.  The other one is also on the couch with them, just not visible in the picture.  But the presence of a second, just-as-good bone does not matter.  They each want the bone the other one has, so they usually wind up pushing and pulling all over the house until one of them claims sole possession of the bone in contention.

But do you know what happens then?  Let’s say that Dixie has taken control of the bone and settles in to chew.  Daisy will then go and find the other bone and will then hold it in her mouth and walk casually by Dixie with an air of, “Look what I have!”  That is all it takes.  Dixie will drop that hard-won bone and the chase is on, “roly-poly, pell-mell, tumble-bumble,”* all around the house! Another round of fighting over the bone her sister has been showing off.

Now, I am pretty sure that most of the fighting is good-natured and playful, even though it is accompanied by lots of growls and barks.  But I know if either of them was to lay those teeth on my arm, my “old-man” skin would be torn in an instant!  And sometimes, the fight seems to move from good-natured to highly-competitive.  Then someone wins and settles in with the bone to chew.

But do you know what happens then?  You guessed it.  Another cycle.  Another fight.  Another win.  And another chance to start all over again.  They both do it, because they both can’t stand to see the other have what they think they want!

Now remember…there are always TWO bones!  They could both have their own and chew to their hearts’ content.  But they do not. They would rather give up the good bone they have and take from their sister the bone they wish they had. 

Sound familiar?  Am I really describing the behavior of my dogs?  Or am I illustrating our humanness in all its envious glory?  Don’t we all act like Dixie and Daisy from time to time? 

We start by enjoying the blessings God has given us…home, family, job, whatever it might be.  We are even thankful for it as we know that God will and does take care of us!  But then we see what someone else has.  Those people have a better house.  Or maybe a nicer car.  Or a cooler job…a better-behaved kid…more attention at school or church…a newer outfit.  And in the instant we register that someone else has something better, newer, or different from us, we drop the satisfaction and contentment of God’s blessings and wonder why we can’t have something else!

I love the proverb of Solomon:  A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.”  (Proverbs 14:30)

Wouldn’t life be better if we lived in that peace?  Now, this certainly does not mean we should not work hard to do better or that it is wrong to be able to provide nice things for our families.  But that hard work and those nice things will never satisfy if they are gained by living with envy of others or with a spirit of discontent.  One thing will lead to another.  They cycle will repeat and the feeling of being blessed by God and content with His love and mercy will be lost somewhere along the way.

So, what do you have to be thankful for today?  Remembering our blessings is a great way to start living with contentment.  And when we focus on those blessings, we will be less likely to look around at what others have!

I doubt Dixie and Daisy will ever get that.  But, then…they are dogs.  We are children of the living God and live in the blessing of His love.  Let us be content and know we are blessed.

* My favorite quote from a book we read constantly to our sons: The Poky Little Puppy, by Jeanette Sebring Lowery.

Seeking a Stronger Witness

Crazy Socks!

A few years ago, I attended a Christian Writer’s Conference in North Carolina.  It was for people who are interested in writing and publishing in the Christian literary world…from devotional books to Christian fiction, Bible Study and theological works.  As a part of our conference, there was a professional photographer who came to do pictures for each of us that would be suitable for a book jacket or an online blog. While I did not come away from the conference with a contract to publish anything, I did come away with my profession writer’s pictures!   And during the photo shoot, the photographer LOVED my socks!  You can see them in the picture attached to this post because she insisted on taking a shot where I pulled up my pants legs to show them off. What you can’t see as readily is that they are old school “Batman” socks with the bubbles filled with words like “POW” and “BAM” and “WHAP.”  The fact is, I love to wear crazy socks.  My “Batman” socks have long since gone to the trash, but have been replaced with Hawaiian socks, Star Wars socks, Christmas socks, and some crazy argyles and paisleys. Most of the time, no matter if I am dressed formally or informally, I have on some crazy socks.

You see, there is a part of me that does not want to be like everyone else.  The culture certainly dictates what we wear, what we like, what is “in” and what is no longer “cool.”  But sometimes, I just want a little of my uniqueness to shine through.  I believe that is how God made us.  While some have a little more non-conformity than others, I believe God has given something unique to each of us that He will use to further His kingdom.  The problem is, we get hung up on conformity and become afraid of our unique gift. 

Conformity has a way of making us feel like we have to “measure up” to the standards of the culture or the community or to some other metric and stepping out with our unique giftedness makes us afraid that we will be seen as different and wind up on the outside looking in.  So we play it safe…we do what everyone else does…or we do nothing at all…keeping our socks, and the gifts God has given us, under wraps.

But scripture tells us something different.  

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.(Psalm 139:14)

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  (Ephesians 2:10)

Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If they were all one part, where would the body be?(1 Corinthians 12:14-15, 19)

Each one of us has been given something with which to bring glory to Christ and to make Him known. We often hide that special something because we are afraid that since it might make us stand out in the crowd, we might fail publicly or look foolish or awkward.  The truth is, God gives us gifts, expecting we will use them.  If we do not ALL use what God has given us, as unique as it might be, the Body of Christ will be lesser for it.  

So…what is your uniqueness?  Are you a good teacher, a patient listener, a singer or musician?  Are you good with money or gifted at organizing things or keeping good records?  Can you build, mow, clean, or fix things?  Do you drive? Is party-planning second nature to you?  How about design and decoration?  Is your heart yearning to bring Jesus to others?  Remember…you have a unique gift.  God said so, and you definitely were not standing behind the door when God handed His gifts out.  And since you have been gifted uniquely, let it shine!  Hitch up your pants legs and let people see your crazy socks!

Seeking a Stronger Witness

A Common Foundation

When we took our youngest son to visit Southwestern University during his Sr. year in High School, I was not sure what to expect.  You see, we graduated from Southwestern in 1983 and I had been on campus only once since that time, and that was 25 years earlier.  As I walked the campus with Sam and his tour-mates, I noticed several things, some of which I had heard about but not ever seen.  The campus had changed from a driving campus to a walking campus and the streets we had driven were now closed to all but foot and bicycle traffic.  The Fraternity house I spent so much time in had been demolished and replaced.  The commons where I ate many awful meals was gone and the cafeteria had been moved to another building that, when I was a student, had served a completely different purpose.  As the tour guide regaled us with stories and traditions, I realized that many of the traditions that made my college years so rich with meaning had faded away and new “traditions” had taken their place.  In general, the campus looked the same, but really was not.

But its purpose remains steadfast.  Southwestern is a fine school with high academic standards and a close-knit atmosphere that prepares young college kids for the rigors of life in the adult world.  And the truth?  Where I saw what was no longer, and wistfully remembered things that would not be experienced by my youngest son, Sam saw something else.  He saw the future.  Where I remembered what was, he anticipated what would be.  And both of us had that experience from a common foundation that is the excellence of the school!

In Ezra, chapter 3, the people of Judah who were returning from exile in Babylon had a similar experience.  They were preparing to rebuild the Temple that had been destroyed when Jerusalem had fallen to Babylon.  Here is part of that story:

“When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord:

‘He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.’

And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.  But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy.”  (Ezra 3:10-12)

All of these people; young and old, long-timers and newcomers, were excited to be back in Jerusalem.  They were happy they could worship again as they wished and they were anticipating restoring the house of the Lord.  But some of them remembered the old times and knew that what was ahead of them was not going to be what had been behind them.  Still others had no appreciation of things gone by since they had not experienced them, and anticipated with joy what God had in store for the future.  Neither group was right.  Neither was wrong.  Both were building on the same foundation – “God’s steadfast love endures forever.”

How about us?  Many of us, thinking about past friends and triumphs will inevitably mourn the passing of what was.  Still others among us will embrace the future with joy and anticipation.  Just remember – the past never truly dies…it simply strengthens our stance on the foundation.   And the future cannot happen without the witness of the past…for we cannot be going TO somewhere if we are not first FROM somewhere.  Together we bear witness to the foundation we share in Christ Jesus.

The very next verse from what I quoted above says,

No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.” (Ezra 3:13)

Sounds about right, doesn’t it?  We celebrate our past and jump without reservation into an unknown future.  We weep, we laugh…we mourn and we wait expectantly to see what God has in store.  All of us.  With a sure foundation in Christ Jesus.

“He is good; his love towards us endures forever.”

Seeking a Stronger Witness

Ice Cream Foot

I saw a video this past week.  As I saw it posted a number of times, you might have seen it, too.

In this video is a baby (I’m guessing boy, because I can’t see a baby girl doing this) sitting in his car seat.  He appears to be a year or so old and is barefoot.  In his left hand is an ice cream that has been licked down to almost the lip of the cone.  The baby is enjoying the ice cream, but in an unusual way.  That is the funny part of the video.

He takes his right foot into his right hand (remember, the feet are bare!), rubs it across the surface of the ice cream and then pulls his foot to his lips, licking the ice cream off, then repeating the repast.  At one point it appears he gets some between his little toes, and proceeds to suck them into his mouth to enjoy the sweet treat.

Now, watching this video I had several thoughts.  First, I wondered about the kid’s neurosensory ability, as it seems the cold ice cream would not be comfortable on the tender skin of a baby’s foot.

Second, I thought like a dad.  Who would allow their child to do such a thing?  After all, heaven only knows where that foot has been.  Further, if we don’t nip this thing in the bud right now, the time might come when he is sitting at the first meeting of his future in-laws when they serve ice cream for dessert.  You can imagine what might happen then!

Finally, I wondered what strange and alien thought process led this young innocent to the notion that his foot was either the easiest or most efficient way to eat an ice cream cone.  But after a few moments of that thought I shifted back into dad mode and remembered that there is no understanding why kids do many of the things they do.

I shared the video and my thoughts with a friend and he said something that stunned me.  He suggested a reason for this incomprehensible behavior that never occurred to me.  He said, “Maybe he doesn’t like how cold the ice cream feels in his mouth, so he uses his foot because by the time the treat gets to his mouth it is warmed enough to enjoy.”  Then he told me that his grandson eats ice cream with his fingers for the same reason.  Wow.  In a weird and twisted way, that makes perfect sense.

Here is the thing.  I know people and I am sure you do too, who do and say things we find strange, distasteful and, in our opinion, just plain wrong.  What do we normally do when we encounter such individuals?  Do we seek to understand them?  Do we give them the benefit of the doubt and look past the differences to forge deeper and more lasting relationships?  Sadly, we usually do not.  When people are different from us, especially if they do something we don’t like, we usually distance ourselves from them, preferring to seek out the company of people more like us…people with whom we agree…people who don’t offend us with their actions or words.

In the 14th chapter of Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, the apostle writes these words:

“You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.  It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.  Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.  (Romans 14:10-13)

You see, it is not for us to judge others.  We have our own issues and should focus on what we will have to account for rather than what we think of others.  We cannot fully know why people think or act the way they do until we know them better.  And maybe, with seeking to know them, we might find that they make more sense than we originally thought, and our understanding of them can unite us on a deeper level…a level of common faith in Christ that can and should unite us all. 

After all, if we let ice cream on a foot keep us apart, we might miss the rich intimacy that comes from sharing together in the love of Christ that is for us all.  So…let us love one another, seek to understand and serve one another, bringing honor and glory to God who has redeemed each of us by His love.