Traveling in the Darkness of Night or the Light of Day, Which Do You Prefer?

Over the past 13 years, my wife and I have made several 12-hour trips to Wisconsin to visit our daughter and her family. We traveled throughout the night this year for the first time. Traveling in the darkness made the drive somewhat pleasant and peaceful, but it also limited the potential for enjoyment of the experience.

The darkness produced peace and pleasantry in the fact that I felt somewhat alone for almost 12 hours. Since traffic was relatively light, I experienced very few frustrations from the usual interactions with other drivers. The darkness seemed to hide my identity and actions, so that the fear of detection and being stopped by law enforcement due to an infraction was minimal; this proved somewhat relaxing.

The experience was peaceful because I felt free to pretty much do what I wanted to do as I set my nose toward my goal. I did not feel hindered or restricted by others in fulfilling my plans for my travel.

However, traveling in the darkness limited the potential for enjoyment in that I could not clearly see anything outside of the beams of our vehicle’s headlights.  I could not view the awe-inspiring crop lands of Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. I was not prompted to curiously consider the lives of the inhabitants of the various homesteads which we passed. Although I did see the red marker lights that identified each of the gigantic windmills which dot the countryside in Illinois, I did not wonder at man’s ability to design and construct such engineering marvels because I could not see the actual structures; I would not have known what they were, had I not seen them before.

The darkness limited my potential for enjoyment in that it limited my ability to experience and appreciate the world outside of our vehicle. I could not see very far in front of me, behind me, or around me. The only means available to me to gauge our progress were the occasional road signs that our headlights happened to shine upon, and any instruments of measurement I might have utilized inside our vehicle.

Traveling in the darkness also increased my fear for the safety of myself and my family. Although I had taken as many precautions as possible to ensure a safe trip, machines can breakdown, driver error can happen, and falling weather can add to the chances of an accident occurring. The fear of having to deal with any of these on an interstate in the darkness of night is far more acute than having to deal with one of them in the light of day.

Spiritually, traveling throughout our lives in darkness may appear peaceful and pleasant. We may feel free and unrestricted. We may like to believe that the darkness hides our identity and actions from anyone to whom we are accountable, and thus we can do whatever we desire. We may enjoy the concept that we are alone; free to revel in our own thoughts and lusts.

But eventually many of us will realize that traveling through this world in spiritual darkness actually hinders our enjoyment of life.

We will realize that being trapped inside our own shallow existence limits our ability to appreciate the wonders of this world which God has provided for us. We will realize that being unable to see past the man-made illuminations of life produces needless fear and hinders our ability to understand the true meaning of life. We will realize that spiritual darkness cannot hide our actions from the one to whom we are all accountable.

That’s when traveling in the light becomes the preferred choice.

On our trip ,I enjoyed traveling in my own little world in the darkness of night. But the potential dangers and the discouraging limitations proved to negatively outweigh the enjoyment. From now on, should I have a choice, I will choose to travel in the light of day.

The reasons for spiritually choosing to travel in the light of God are just as compelling.

“19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:19-21) ESV

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“What’s That Smell?” (Or, The Case Of The Unidentifiable Odor)

“What’s that smell?” our 2 ½ years old granddaughter asked as I carried her out the door of the church building last Wednesday night.

We were visiting our family in Wisconsin. The church building sits at the edge of a grain field owned by a dairy farmer. The dairy farmer had recently cleaned out his manure pit and scattered the organic matter on the field surrounding the meeting house. A swift wind blew across the field, carrying the odor directly toward us.

I laughed, because the smell brought back memories of my years on our family farm. But then I became a little sad. It saddened me that our granddaughter had heretofore never experienced this acrid smell. The odor was a natural part of life when I grew up. By age 2 1/2, almost every child in our rural area could have identified it because almost every farm served as home to a small dairy operation. It saddened me to realize that my granddaughter will not know so many of the wonderful experiences I knew as a child.

Our world is rapidly changing. The rural landscape and the face of agriculture is swiftly becoming totally unlike that which so many of us have known and loved.

One of the brethren who exited the building with us remarked concerning the smell, “That’s Wisconsin!” Wisconsin is known as the dairy state. Much of the state has relied upon all aspects of the dairy industry for its economy. For the residents of the small villages and townships which dot the rural landscape, the pungent odor of cow manure is like the smell of fish on a wharf. It is life and a natural part of making a living. That too is changing. I couldn’t help but wonder how much longer, “That’s Wisconsin!” would make sense, even to its residents.

It saddened me to ponder these rapidly changing situations and to contemplate the lost memories for my granddaughter’s generation.

But then I began to realize that experiencing certain lifestyles and reminiscing about old memories are not the most important things one can pass down to his grandchildren. On this night, my granddaughter learned her most important lessons inside the church building, not outside it. Inside, she had been taught the importance of faith in God. Inside the building, she had been taught the importance of studying God’s word, of worship, and of prayer. Inside, she had experienced the value of a loving fellowship with people of like faith.

There are many wonderful lessons every grandparent needs to teach his/her grandchild; lessons about how to make a living, how to work with his hands, and how to appreciate the beauty of God’s creation. But the most important lessons a grandparent can pass down to his/her grandchildren are the lessons about faith, love for God’s Word, and love for God’s family. Christian faith has well served peoples of every generation for 2000 years, regardless of the most recent contemporary culture or lifestyle.

Christianity, in all its beauty and love, was applicable when nearly every farm served as home for a dairy operation. It is also applicable now, even in the face of a swiftly changing agriculture. And Christian faith will be just as applicable if in the future, one of my descendants never experiences that “sweet smelling” odor wafting on the wind, prompting him to ask, “What’s that smell?”

“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children.” (Deuteronomy 4:9)

“1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! 2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, 3 things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. 4 We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.” (Psalm 78:1-4)

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What’s Down There? Is It Truly The Water Of Life?

Some people claim the ability to “witch” (divine) water. This is the practice of using a forked stick or two wires to locate underground water sources. As they are divining, some diviners claim the ability to distinguish between an underground water line, gas line, and/or electric line.

I have never tried using a stick, but I have tried to locate water lines by loosely holding an “L” shaped wire in each hand while walking over the area where a line is supposed to be buried. Don’t ask me to explain the physics, but at certain points along my path, the wires will cross and then return to their straight-ahead positions.

The questions arise: Is this truly the water line that is 2 feet deep? Is it a stream of water that is 25 feet deep? Is it even water or some other form of magnetic material? (I have walked a path where a wire fence once ran for years and the wires remained crossed.)

As long as no one digs down to discover the truth, I can tell them it is anything I want, and they nor I will ever know the difference.

So it is with that which is preached from pulpits. As long as the message appears mysterious and almost superstitious, containing some truth, but leaving much of the truth buried inside the covers of the Bible, the “diviner” can proclaim anything he wishes, and the listeners will be no more the wiser.

It’s not until we, ourselves, dig down 2 feet, 25 feet, 200 feet into the Word of God that we can know for sure where to find the Water of Life.

“This book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. . .” (Joshua 1:8)

“With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:10-11)

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Did I Understand That Correctly? Wow! I’ve Never Heard That Before.

Being able to distinguish and understand every word of a song can make all the difference in your appreciation and valuation of the song.

For several years, I have not been able to clearly understand the words of music being broadcast through electronic speakers, regardless of the source of the broadcast; whether it was from an automobile stereo system, a home stereo system, or an electronic device. Part of the problem has been the necessary volume; needing the volume so high that it is uncomfortable for all others around me.

A few days ago, I bought a pair of cheap external speakers for my laptop.

And it has made all the difference in the world.

Now, when my wife is not home, I can adjust the volume to the point that I can not only hear the melody and catch the basic message of the verses, but I can actually distinguish and absorb every word of the lyrics. Many of my favorite songs of the past have taken on a whole new meaning and produced much stronger emotions than ever before. I’ve also come to realize that some of the lyrics I once “sang along with” contain words and messages that I have always found vulgar; I won’t be listening to or singing along with these tunes anymore.

Being able to comprehend and meditate upon the true meaning of some of the “golden oldies” has made a major difference in my appreciation, valuation and the content of my “playlist” of favorite songs.

Spiritually, clearly hearing and understanding the scriptures make all the difference in our appreciation and valuation of them.  Clearly hearing and understanding the scriptures make all the difference in our identification of right and wrong, righteousness and sinfulness, good and evil. Clearly hearing and understanding the scriptures make all the difference when we “test the spirits”, judge a message to determine if the messenger is a false teacher, or when we endeavor to speak the “sound doctrine” of the Bible.

“Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:17)

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into this world.” (1 John 4:1)

“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceits and understands nothing.” (1 Timothy 6:3-4a)

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“We Have a Cow Trying to Abort Her Calf.”

Several years ago, when we first moved back to the dairy farm, I told my wife that one of the cows was “trying to abort her calf.” I had heard this terminology used several times over my early years growing up on the farm to describe a cow enduring the pangs of prematurely giving birth to her calf due to pregnancy complications; the calf had mysteriously died inside her and needed to be expelled.

My daughter, who was 12 years old at the time and new to our farm terminology, mistook my meaning. She thought I was saying that the cow was intentionally trying to kill her baby by purposely putting forth an effort to induce a premature delivery. As she tried to wrestle with this concept, the question that most perplexed her was “Why? Why would any animal purposely do such a thing?” The concept of any mother of any species purposely trying to kill her offspring at any stage made no sense.

Often, out of the mouth of innocence comes forth much wisdom. The concept of any parent intentionally trying to kill her/his offspring makes no sense, regardless of its stage of life. Especially when both the parent and baby are created in the image of God.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:6)

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13)

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“Did You Find Anything You Couldn’t Live Without?”

“Did you find anything you couldn’t live without?”

Someone jokingly asked this of an individual who had just returned to his group from meandering through a hodgepodge of booths at a local community festival. Vendors hawked clothing, honey, maple syrup, crafts, balloons, festival type food and drinks, and flea market merchandise. Various candidates seeking election to local offices gave away trinkets promoting their respective candidacy. Most visitors to the festival carried away some type of impulse purchase for which they had shelled out cash.

“Only this,” the individual replied with a matching intent for jocularity as he pulled a pocket-sized copy of the New Testament and Psalms from his jeans. “Someone was giving those away, and that’s the only thing I saw that I thought I needed or that I couldn’t live without.”

Unbeknownst to him and unintentionally on his part, the individual had taught a valuable lesson to the group. In his wanderings, he had perused the abundance of “stuff” with curiosity and intent. Sometimes he stopped to handle and more closely examine a finely made craft which caught his eye. He had shaken hands and conversed with some of the candidates which he knew. But throughout his wanderings, he had ignored the allurement of the trinkets of this world, and had only accepted a proffered copy of the Bread of Life. In his extemporaneous attempt at humor, he had spoken the truth about all of life.

“That’s the only thing I saw that I thought I couldn’t live without.”

“And he humbled you . . .that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3) ESV

“But he [Jesus cw] answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4) ESV

 

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“The Grass Is Always Greener On The Other Side Of The Fence”

“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”

Most everyone has heard this cliché before.

For many people, it produces an image of a man standing in his own lush, well-manicured yard, enviously peering over a fence at his neighbor’s lawn.

But for a livestock farmer, the image produced is one of cattle or horses on bent knees, awkwardly wedging their heads under a tight boundary fence trying to reach grass which they believe is tasty; the whole while, ignoring the lush pasture on which he has spent several hundreds of dollars for their benefit.

One of the more frustrating daily events for me as a dairyman occurred when I would feed the dry cows their morning grain ration; dry cows are those who are not producing milk because they are near their calving due date. The milk cows would stop their grazing to line the fence in envy.  They had already consumed their high-quality grain ration, a quantity that was twice or three times that which the dry cows were given. The milk cows had consumed the best quality hay and were grazing on the best quality pasture. All they were expected to do throughout the remainder of the day was to eat as much grass as they wanted, and to laze around.

But when the milk cows saw me pouring grain into the trough for the dry cows, they could not stand it. So, each morning, they would waste 30 minutes jealously peering over the fences and roadway which separated the two groups, vocally expressing their feelings of unfairness in hopes that I would give them some of the dry cows’ ration.

“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”

It means that no matter how good a person’s life is, he will always think that someone else’s life is better. No matter how much he has been blessed, he will believe that someone else has unfairly been blessed more than he. It means that no matter how good a person’s life is, he will never be happy because he can never see himself as having enough, nor can he be content.

“The grass is always greener on the other side.”

This is true for both livestock and people, for both farmer and city dweller.

“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6)

“But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” (1 Timothy 6:6-8)

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I Felt Unwelcome and Out of Place. That is the Reason I Do Not Go to Church.

“But I feel so unwelcome and out of place. I just don’t feel like I belong.”

Have you ever offered this as a reason for not “going to church”?

Many people have.

And yet, when one feels this way, he must ask himself if the feelings have been caused by a genuine unfriendliness expressed by the saints or if his feelings are the result of his own shyness and social awkwardness.

The picture above was taken on the outside of a church building. Inside were Christians who were talking, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company. I had been inside with them. I had enjoyed a time of worship and a time of camaraderie. But there came a point when I found myself needing to step outside to get away for a period of alone time. No one had said anything that hurt my feelings. No one had done anything to make me feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. In fact, all had welcomed me with opened arms.

But my personality drove me to step outside the doors; to isolate myself from the friendly, welcoming crowd inside.

At that moment, I could easily have left that assembly saying, “But I felt so out of place. I just didn’t feel like I belonged. I felt as if I was on the outside looking in.” And I would have been right about my feelings, but wrong should I have blamed the people who were enjoying each other’s company within.

“But I feel so unwelcome and out of place. I just don’t feel like I belong.”

Have you ever given this as a reason for not “going to church”?

If you have, maybe it’s time to reevaluate the situation and to give gathering with the family of God another try. That awkwardness you felt may have come from within rather than from the actions of those among who you sat the last time you were there.

“And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” (Luke 6:31)

“Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:40)

“I considered my ways and turned my feet to your testimonies.” (Psalm 119:59

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Littering the Social Media Highways of Life With Something More precious Than Gold.

One day a few years back I was on my way up to my parents’ house, and I met a van being driven by some strangers to our community.  While they were still a good ways off, I saw one of the occupants toss something out the rider’s side window into the roadside ditch in front of my brother’s house.  My first thought was, “How rude to litter, but especially to throw out one’s garbage in front of another person’s home.”  It turned out that they were casting the same thing in front of everyone’s house; it was a plastic shopping bag containing the new phone directory.  Now for some, (those who rely on technology or those who do not own a phone), this would be considered garbage. Their copies may easily have been tossed into the trash.  However, for many of us, this old-fashioned paperback volume is a valued source of needed information.  I generally keep a copy at my computer desk as a resource for researching phone numbers, addresses, names of businesses, zip codes, and future calendar dates.

Spiritually, for some, when another person casts out references to scriptures and biblical ideals, it is as if the person is littering the highways of life; or perhaps a more currently applicable analogy would be littering the personal social media newsfeeds of life.  Many of these individuals consider it rude for someone to purposely, publicly scatter such archaic information onto the social media highway, because not everyone believes the Bible to be a source of useful information.  However, for others, specific references to scripture and biblical principles are a valuable asset, a source of much needed strength and encouragement which they look forward to receiving on a regular basis.

The strangers in the van had been commissioned to deliver the copies of that year’s phone directory to everyone living on our road. Although the method that was chosen is a rarely used method in our community, they accomplished their goal. To some they delivered trash, to others a treasure.

Many feel divinely commissioned to deliver the Word of God to as many people as they possibly can using whatever means and methods are available. To some, the Words are trash, to others, they are a treasure. But to the commissioned, the casting forth is the accomplishment of their assignment.

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:19,20) ESV

“Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” (2 Corinthians 5:11a)

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Scars Can Rob Of Us Of The Joy Of Life Or They Can Be A Source Of Renewal And Strength.

Scars.

Most all our bodies are marked by them. Most all of us wish they weren’t.

We generally view scars to be blemishes to the body’s beauty and purity.

They are signs that one’s body has been harmed. It may have been due to a freak accident. It may have been due to abuse; either self-inflicted or inflicted by others. It may have been due to the harmful consequences of an unwise decision. It may have been due to a life-saving or life-giving surgery. It may have been due to an intentional effort to try to improve the looks of the body. But scars are signs that one’s flesh has been openly wounded in some fashion.

The events that scar the physical body usually scar the emotions and soul as well.

Each time we experience the tenderness or numbness of a scar, we are reminded of the way things were before we were wounded. Each time we glimpse a blemish, our mind relives the events which opened the wound. Each time we relive those events, we reflect upon their impact upon our character, our personality, our emotional stability, our interaction with others, and our spiritual beliefs.

Scars produce a variety of reflections and emotions. Some bring back pleasant memories of carefree childhood days; a time when our mama was always there to fix any wound we received while playing. Some remind us of the joy we felt when we heard our baby’s first cry. Some help us to be thankful that we didn’t suffer the full consequences of our stupid youthful actions. Some give us relief that the doctors were able to perform preventive surgery before a major health issue occurred.

But many scars produce negative reflections and emotions. Each time we feel them, we cringe in fear once again. Each time we see them, our mind begins to reel over and over, out of control, as if we were in that somersaulting vehicle once more. Each time we wash them, we hear the abusive words that accompanied the abusive blows which opened the wounds.

Many of us spend much of our lives trying to deal with the events which have scarred our body, soul, and spirit. We want so much to put these events behind us. We desire to not be afraid, or bitter, or resentful, or filled with hate. Though we wish they had never happened and we wonder why they did occur, we realize that the events cannot be undone.

So, how do we deal with life’s scars?

The simplest answer is to say, “Give your life to Jesus, and let him take care of your burden.” But that is a simple statement summarizing a complex process.

Jesus is the answer to life’s problems, but he does not erase the past, nor does he create completely smooth sailing for the future. Jesus does not create a pain free life for his servants.  Instead, he helps them deal with the pain they encounter through love, forgiveness, selflessness, and hope. Jesus exemplifies each of these and then enables his followers to practice them. The problems and memories do not fade away, because the scars are always there. But as we grow in Christ, the events that caused the scars take on a different meaning. And the feelings we have toward those who may have inflicted the wounds transform from bitter hatred to forgiving love.

Scars can rob us of all joy in life or they can provide a continuous opportunity to add more joy to each breath we take. The difference between the two is attitude. Experiencing Jesus’ love can help transform our pain into healing.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” – Jesus (Luke 23:34) ESV

“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” – Stephen (Acts 7:60) ESV

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5) ESV

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