All Roads of Life Lead to the Same Destination

A while back, I traveled a narrow, winding road that follows a flowing creek in a sparsely populated rural area. Remnants of old farmsteads remain along the creek bank; reminders of the work and effort which men and women of bygone days put forth as they tried to make a living for themselves and their families. Anytime I see these old houses and barns, I can’t help but think of the excitement of the first homesteaders. For them that land meant freedom, opportunity, and the possibility of realizing a dream.

One can’t help but wonder how many kids have lived in that house? How much fun did they have fishing in the creek or roaming the wooded hills behind the house? How much labor went into cutting the trees, building the log structures, constructing split rail fences, and clearing the land to make it tillable? What were their fears; indians, wolves, epidemics, floods, a long winter with short supplies? What were there joys; weddings, babies, the birth of livestock, baptisms?

That day, as I continued traveling the road, I invariably encountered several cemeteries. Some were small family lots surrounded by rusted iron picket-fences. They contained only two or three weathered granite headstones as markers for those buried within the enclosure. A couple of cemeteries contained a hundred or more stones which surrounded older church buildings.

Like the old farmsteads, each of these cemeteries, whether small or large, served as reminders of life, but more importantly of the inevitable destination of the living. No matter what our existence here is like, whether that of an adventurous pioneer, a poor sharecropper, an enterprising land owner, a wealthy entrepreneur, or a famous politician, we all are destined for the same fate.

Therefore, what matters most is how we use this life to prepare for the time when we leave it and we take our place in the ground along-side those who have traveled this road before us.

“O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!  (Psalm 39:4)

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”  (Psalm 90:12)

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“How’s Johnny Doing?”

“How’s Johnny doing?”

If you have ever had a close relative experience major health issues, no doubt you have been asked this question dozens of times by people who sincerely care about you and your loved one. The expression of concern is both needed and appreciated. It encourages you.

But it also places you in a difficult situation because it is impossible for you to accurately answer the question. When a major health issue is involved, no one knows for sure how the patient is doing; not the doctors, not the nurses, not the family members, not even the patient.

One’s health condition is a relative, subjective evaluation. Sure, some objective physical criteria have been established against which the medical staff might make a judgment call as to the wellbeing of a person’s body. Relatives and friends may judge his appearances as “better” or “good”. But “How’s Johnny doing?” involves so much more than physical measurements and indicators. One’s well-being involves his/her physical condition, his mental comprehension of the situation, his outlook concerning life, his emotional handling of the crisis, and his spiritual grounding.

When a person faces a major medical issue, her past experiences play a large part in how well she deals with the situation. Her sensitivity to pain and her ability to accurately evaluate and communicate the level of pain she is experiencing helps determine how well she is doing. The strength of her desire to return to “normal” plays a major role in her recovery. And there are many more issues that must be considered before one can accurately answer the question, “How is Janet doing?”; her desire to be independent or dependent upon others, her desire for attention, her outlook toward death, her ability to take one day at a time, etc.

Truthfully, “How’s Johnny (Janet) doing?” is a question that no one can answer. Not even the patient. Because there are so many subjective conditions involved as the patient tries to deal with a new and frightening chapter of life.

“Judge not that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1) seems to describe this same type situation when it comes to evaluating a person’s spiritual condition. No one can know another person’s spiritual condition; and sometimes the person himself cannot tell you how he is doing spiritually.

Yes, God has given some outward, visible markers that others can bear witness to in order to be able to evaluate whether or not a person has given his life to Jesus; namely confession of Jesus as the Son of God (Romans 10:9,10), baptism for the washing away of sins (Acts 22:16), demonstrating one’s repentance by a change of life (Colossians 3:1-17), and regularly worshiping God (Hebrews 10:19-25; 1 Corinthians 11:23-31).

But these outward, visible markers by themselves cannot be an accurate measure of one’s spiritual health. One’s spiritual health involves all of one’s being. It involves the purity of his heart, and the purity of the motivations for his outward responses. It involves how he deals with his past, how he evaluates his present, and how he anticipates his future. It involves how well he properly understands God’s promises concerning His provision for and protection of his children.

“How’s Janet doing?”

A nearly impossible question to answer, regardless if asked concerning one’s physical health or one’s spiritual well-being.

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“Follow Your Heart!” Unless It Tells You To Do Opposite Of What Is Expected.

“Follow your heart.”

My wife and I have reached a point in our relationship where the mutual exchanging of gifts isn’t necessary for our enjoyment of Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, and Valentine’s Days. We occasionally exchange gifts, but most years we “give” each other something of major expense at a random time during the year and we allow that to be our one-time annual material display of affection; it may be a shared vacation, a major household repair, or sometimes even a medical procedure. (This year, my wife gave me a quadruple bi-pass for our anniversary.)

Being this comfortable with one another is satisfying, but it can occasionally produce anxiety, especially when I don’t know what the rules are for an upcoming event. There is always that quandary of, “Is she expecting a gift this time? If so, how expensive a gift? Does she have a gift for me?”

A few days ago, I asked my wife straight out if she had a gift for me, and what the expectations are for this year’s Christmas. In female fashion, she avoided the question and left me hanging with a vague, “Maybe.”

Today, knowing the time is getting short, I again straightforwardly asked my wife what she expected.

She impishly grinned and then responded, “Follow your heart.”

What an answer. Yeah, I know what she means, and what I should do. Yeah, I know that I shouldn’t even have to ask the question to begin with; I should automatically have a gift purchased, wrapped, and hidden away regardless of her expectations. But most men don’t think that way. We deal in expectations.

“Follow your heart.” Three words a man hates to hear because he knows his heart will lead him in a different direction than his loved one expects.

Spiritually, many people believe “Follow your heart,” is God’s answer to the question, “What do you expect of me?”

It is true that we accept God’s saving grace by a faith which originates from our hearts. (Ephesians 2:8; Romans 10:9,10). But our hearts will not produce a proper faith if they are not trained by God’s word.

Many a murderer, assailant, or thief has followed his heart, committing acts of violence against others because his heart was not trained by God’s word. Many a religious zealot has committed acts of violence against others or practiced self-abusive asceticism in the name of Jesus as he followed a heart untrained in God’s word. Many a well-meaning, truth-seeking lost soul has fallen under the spell of a golden-tongued orator who falsely claimed God’s inspiration; the seeker, following his/her untrained heart, has entrusted all to the golden-tongued wolf parading in sheep’s clothing.

The Bible plainly teaches that the untrained heart is not a trustworthy guide when it comes to following God. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34). Our hearts will be controlled by whatever we value at the moment. Without God’s word as a guide, the heart will fickly be lead from one treasure to another. Indeed, the heart is a great follower, but a terrible leader.

However, when we allow God’s word to train our hearts, then we can follow the admonition, “Follow your heart,” because they will value that which God values. And the life they produce will be a life solidly grounded in truth and not one unstably built on maybes.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.” (Proverbs 3:5-7)

“So faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

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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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