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)
“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
“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)
“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
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)
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
Life has a way of transforming from contemplatively peaceful to potentially dangerous in a matter of seconds.
A narrowed section of roadway lies at the bottom of a long hill which I walk each morning. The shoulders on either side of the section are virtually nonexistent, the sides being bordered by large holes leading into and away from a drainage culvert.
As I neared the section this morning, I saw a car heading toward me about a 1/4 mile away. This was only the second car to interrupt my peacefulness, 30 minutes into my walk. I looked up the hill behind me to make sure all was clear, then crossed the road to give the approaching car more room. A few seconds later, the driver slowed, flashed her lights and waited for a car which had come over the hill behind me. No sooner had these two passed one another, when two more vehicles entered the picture, each approaching from opposite directions. The meeting was completed successfully but only due to both drivers slowing and cautiously approaching the narrowed section which I was trying to quickly navigate. I saw no more vehicles for several minutes after that.
In a matter of seconds, and for just a brief moment, at least 5 lives were thrown together in a circumstance that presented potential danger to all. None of them had purposely planned the encounter, but it happened. Probably few other than I felt endangered, but the risk to all was real.
Thankfully, everything turned out okay.
But the lesson remains. One never knows when the joy of a peace filled day can instantaneously transform into a potentially life-threatening happenstance.
“16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21) ESV
“Is it supposed to rain today? I hope not. I really need the work. We didn’t get to work much last week. And I have a payment coming up Saturday. I really need to get in some time.”
The middle-aged man, slightly younger than me, sat in his car waiting for his employer to arrive. I sat on the edge of a feed bunk, taking a break from my walk. Fencing (not the sport but installing wire boundaries for livestock) is his second job; his first is milking cows for a local dairyman. Both are laborious and physically taxing.
The conversation sounded so familiar. As we talked, I couldn’t help but go back to a time when I tried to make ends meet by picking up as many jobs as I could and by putting in as much time as my employers would allow when they were paying me by the hour. Preaching, working at a local retail building supply store, stocking drywall in newly constructed houses after business hours, harvesting tobacco, installing vinyl siding, and picking up handyman jobs here and there.
A couple of memories immediately popped into my mind. There was the Friday when one of my retail employers handed me my pay check at dinner and told me to go home because they were cutting my hours that week due to slow customer traffic. I remembered the bewilderment, disappointment, and resentment. I was only making minimum wage. I remembered thinking that the 5 hours saved was not going to make or break the business. Why would they do that to me? I stayed mad all weekend.
Then there was the memory of driving 20 miles to meet another employer before daylight on a fairly cold winter morning, only to be told there would be no work that day, and that I should go home. This was before the days of cell phones. He had told me the day before that if it snowed much, I should not come to work because we would not be able to install vinyl siding in snowy weather. Apparently, “much” is a relative term, depending upon your need. Yes, it had flurried, and there was a skiff of snow blowing across the road in front of me. But in my mind, because the ground was not covered and since I needed the money, it had not snowed much.
Yesterday’s conversation was refreshing. I left it with a high respect for my newly found acquaintance. In a day and age when so many conversations bemoan the majority of society’s poor work ethic and lack of desire to perform any type of sweat producing labor, it was good to talk to a man who wanted to work. In a day and age when entitlement, a feeling of irresponsibility to repay incurred debts, and dependency upon the generosity of others seems to be the prevailing philosophy, it was good to speak with a man who is willing to accept responsibility in repaying a debt he willingly agreed to accept.
“If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12) ESV
“We urge you . . .to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” (1 Thessalonians 4:
Before my heart surgery, I knew that I was becoming sluggish, both physically and mentally, but I attributed my sluggishness to my age. After all, I’ve never been this age before, and I really don’t know what energy level I am supposed to possess, nor how keen my thought processes should be.
So, though I congratulated myself for accomplishing small tasks that I once would have considered feats of minimal effort, I really thought that it was just an unpreventable, natural part of becoming older.
Before the surgery, the doctors and several people who had experienced bypass surgery told me that I would not realize just how bad I felt, or just how the clogged arteries were affecting me, until I experienced the results of free blood flow.
They were right.
Since my surgery, my energy level has increased exponentially, and my thought processes have become keener than they have been in the past 15 years or so.
That which I considered an unpreventable, incurable consequence of age was actually the result of restricted blood flow due to clogged arteries. And it could be reversed or cured.
Spiritually, as we become older and invest more and more time in the service of God, we can often become sluggish in our efforts and thinking. We may recognize our sluggishness, but we may consider it an unpreventable, natural part of becoming older. However, many times, it is the result of spiritually clogged arteries.
Several things can clog our spiritual arteries, especially when we hit middle-age.
Fear of not having financially accumulated and saved enough to provide for us in our “golden years” can cause us to want to focus more on money than on christian service.
Applying the worldly concept of retirement to our spiritual service can cause us to believe that just as we can leave our secular jobs to travel, or enjoy leisure, so we can minimalize our service to God so that we can fulfill all the dreams we have worked so hard to achieve.
The desire to sow a few “wild oats” before we become physically unable to do so can often lead us to engage in immorality, intemperance, unwise stewardship, and unbridled rebellion.
Apathy disguised as contentment can lull us into refusing to promote or allow the church to actively grow. We convince ourselves that all change is bad. We try to convince others that the way we have always done things is the right way. We cherish tradition, routine, and the memories of the good old days. Thus, we find it difficult to embrace the use of new technology, new methods of evangelism, new programs of benevolence, or new ways of teaching Bible classes.
The desire to believe that we are not unique and that our sluggish outlook reflects the attitude of the whole congregation can cause us to hold back those who are younger or who do not have clogged arteries. We believe that because we no longer feel like having frequent fellowship gatherings, no one wants to. We believe that because we do not think a proposed activity will be successful or beneficial, no one is in favor of it.
Clogged spiritual articles can affect us in many ways. And they fool us into thinking that our sluggishness or distorted thinking is a natural part of our age.
But like physically restricted blood flow, our spiritual blood flow can be restored.
We can begin by turning our focus away from the things of this world and turning it to things that are above. (Colossians 3:1-4). We can help it by focusing on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. (Hebrews 12:1-3) Our spiritual blood flow will continue to improve if we come to understand the true value of the church. (Ephesians 3:10).
We can continue to clear our spiritual arteries by learning the difference between true contentment and being set in our ways. (Philippians 4:10-13)
We can also increase our spiritual blood flow by realizing that the concept of spiritual “retirement” cannot be found within the scriptures.
“16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
We have always called the three acre plot covered by trees located at the east side of the family farm, “the woods”. It’s not big enough to be called a forest; a forest is a large wooded area so densely populated that one could become lost. To some, I’m sure our 3 acres would be considered nothing more than a thicket. But to us, it will always be “the woods.”
The trees that populate the woods vary in species, size, shape, and age. Hardwoods make up most of the vegetation; red oaks, post oaks, white oaks, pin oaks, hickories, and more. Several red cedars give the underbrush a year-round green hue. In recent years, a specie of tree which we always called an “island tree” because it reminded us of the coconut trees on “Gilligan’s Island” has forged its way more deeply into the woods. And there is one stray peach tree which has sprung up from a randomly discarded seed.
From Spring to late Fall, the foliage of this hodgepodge of trees provides a beautiful canopy for the wildlife which seeks refuge beneath its shade. In the Spring, redbuds and dogwoods blossom and fill the air with a sweet aroma. Turkeys roost high in the branches of the hardwoods at night. During the Summer the varying shades of greenery ripple in the wind allowing the occasional warming sunray to reach the ground below. And in the Fall, acorns, hickory nuts, and walnuts provide much needed sustenance for the deer and squirrels which scurry beneath the trees.
Several of the trees which are growing in the woods possess potential monetary value. Throughout the years, professional loggers have asked me to consider selling the boundary of logs. A few times, I have considered the offers from the loggers.
But each time, when I have weighed the cost of losing its beauty, the cost of losing the wildlife habitat, the cost of cleaning up the residual laps and stumps, and the cost of reseeding the acreage in grass to protect it from erosion, I have decided to leave it as it is.
I’ve also considered trying to “weed out” some of the “undesirable” trees; the “island trees”, the cedars, and some of the deformed hardwoods. But this too seems to be counter-productive. If they were transmitting diseases to the other species, I would clear them out. But since they are in no way detrimental to the other trees, removing these “undesirables” would diminish the beauty of the woods and it would make it less wildlife friendly.
In the end everything which has naturally sprang up within the woods has made it what it is today.
As we apply this to our lives, the many people who surround us form our own little “woods”. Some resemble us in race, creed, color, and belief, and some do not. Some are hardwoods in that they stand firm in their system of beliefs and lifestyle which they have developed over many years. Some are bloomers in that they occasionally seem to bring beauty and sweetness into our lives. Some are evergreens in that they always seem to be energetically alive and growing no matter what season of life they are in. Some are fruit bearing. And some are so unique that we don’t really even know how to describe them.
But they all make up our woods.
There are times when we are tempted to sell off or clear out the woods of our life. To sell off the relationships which we believe are holding us back economically or professionally. To clear out the people who are different than we are. To clear out the people who may be considered undesirable by our peers or by society. To clear out the people who are unique or odd.
It’s not that these people have an evil or negative influence on our lives. It’s just that we don’t want them around or we believe that we can economically benefit from their removal.
Before we do such, we need to take time to truly evaluate every person’s worth to our lives. We need to make sure that we consider our value to their lives. We need to make sure that we take the time to count the cost of losing the blessing of knowing these people.
Many times, when we take the time to carefully consider the situation, we will realize that each person in the vast hodgepodge of people which surrounds us plays an important role in making us who we are.
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people. . .this is good, and is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself up as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:1-6)