Puzzle Pieces And Faith Are Not Meant To Be Forced Into Service.

The puzzle pictured above consists of a double layered wooden base which has animal shapes cut out of the top layer.  One quarter inch wooden pieces, carved to fit the cutouts, form the puzzle part of the toy. To complete the puzzle, a toddler must choose the matching piece for each hole, and then successfully align it to fit the void.

Our 2-year-old granddaughter likes to complete the puzzle. She has no problem choosing the correct pieces.  However, she does sometimes have difficulty aligning the pieces so that they fit the holes.  She will slide the pieces on the surface of the base, turning them several different ways.  The more difficulty she experiences in getting the pieces to fit, the less patience she has.  When this occurs, she will press more firmly and more firmly upon the uncooperating piece, trying to force it into the opening. Her pressured efforts make the task far more difficult.  Eventually, she will throw her hands up in frustration and quit.

Spiritually, we may look at life and christianity as being like this puzzle. Life forms the base. Our faith forms the pieces. When we feel a void in our lives, we try to choose the correct piece of our faith to fill that emptiness. We then try to manipulate the piece until it properly fits our lives. Often, this proves difficult.  So, we press more firmly upon the selected piece of faith, trying to position it to fill the void.  The more difficulty we experience, the more firmly we press, all the while trying to force our faith into our lives.

Frustration and failure often result.  Since the task appears so difficult, and the results seem so disappointing, many throw up their hands and quit.

In order to overcome this problem, we need to realize that placing our faith into our lives is not intended to be like a puzzle.  Jesus never taught us to try to fit bits and pieces of him into our lives whenever and wherever we feel a void.  He taught that serving him is to form the entirety of our lives. If we are going to faithfully be Christ’s disciples, we must be able to grasp this concept and successfully incorporate it into our philosophy. We must intermingle our lives and our faith until they are one; until they are so completely combined that we cannot experience one without the other.

Then and only then, will be able to say, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) ESV

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How Do You React To An Extreme Weather Forecast?

Just a few observations gleaned from experiencing “extreme” weather conditions over the years on the farm:

There are some things not even the most powerful human being or group of human beings can control. The weather is one. We can study its cause, look for trends, forecast its effect, and make feeble efforts to prepare for it, but we cannot control it.

Attitude goes a long way in determining the effect uncontrollable circumstances have upon us. We can control our own attitude, but that’s all we can control.  Attitudes can be contagious. So, if we have a negative attitude toward the uncontrollable, we need to be considerate with whom we share it. And if we are susceptible to developing negative attitudes, we need to be careful about who we allow to influence us.

Young people do not realize how young and inexperienced they really are. Middle aged people don’t realize how “yold” (Yes, this is a made-up word.) they really are; they don’t realize how much they should have already learned, but how little they apparently have. And old people do not realize how much their experiences have changed their ability to deal with “extreme” weather.  Every age group considers itself almost invincible, often making plans, starting projects, or heading down the highway without considering the “what ifs” that inevitably will occur.

Water is essential to a healthy life and can be enjoyed when consumed and used in the proper form and quantity. However, like most any essential element, water can be hazardous and/or fatal when a massive amount is consumed or when a major amount falls from the sky within just a short period of time.

Being able to semi-accurately forecast the future is advantageous, but it can also produce unnecessary fear and dread, especially when we cannot control the events being forecast.

Although written about God’s message to Joshua, Joshua 1:9 might very well apply to us today because we have received many similar promises:

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

“And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” (Psalm 9:10)

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A Clean Nose May Be The Secret To Enjoying Life.

When I was operating the dairy, there would be the occasional cow who would refuse the feed I placed in front of her.  Sometimes this was an indication of an illness or upset digestive system.  But sometimes, the refusal had nothing to do with health issues.

The problem revolved around a foul-smelling substance on the cow’s nose. She may have purposely placed her nose in the substance, or she may have gotten it accidently smeared on her muzzle when her head happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

The cow wanted to eat. She would sniff her feed and try to take a bite, but the pungent smell would weaken her appetite. The cow would then look at me as if asking me to give her a new portion.  I would try to help by sprinkling fresh feed into the trough.  But no matter how aromatic the feed, no matter how rambunctiously all the other cows devoured it, this cow could not eat because the foul-odor was present no matter where she placed her muzzle.

As to my helping her with the situation by cleaning her nose, that was generally improbable because most of my cows would not allow me to touch their heads in such a personal manner.  The only solution to the problem was for her to clean her own nose, and to keep it clean.

Spiritually, many ruin their attitudes and outlooks on life by sticking their noses where they don’t belong. These people may want to enjoy the blessings of life, but no matter where they turn, the foul smell of past experiences or of unwise probing into other people’s business rob them of the ability to appreciate the beauty that lies all around them.

Although friends or professionals may try to help these people overcome their distorted view of life, in the end, the person with the dirty nose is the only one who can clean it.

If life constantly smells distasteful to us no matter what environment we find ourselves in, chances are, the problem lies not with life, but with the hygiene of our own nose.

“All the days of the afflicted are evil, but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast.” (Proverbs 15:15) ESV

“But we urge you, brothers, . . .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 4:10-11) ESV

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Does Obedience Nullify The Grace Of God?

In John 9, a man who was born blind received a grace gift from Jesus.  Jesus made mud and put it on the man’s eyes. He then told the man to go to the pool of Siloam, and to wash in it.  In the words of the blind man, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.”

We need to note that Jesus required the man to do something to receive the grace gift.  He had to go.  Jesus specifically named the pool to which the man was to go; Siloam. The blind man went to that pool, and none other.  Jesus told the man to wash in the pool.  The blind man not only went to the pool, but he washed. This individual did what Jesus told him to do and he received his sight.

This blindman was required to exercise his faith in complete obedience before he received his sight.  Yet, his obedience never converted the gift to a wage.  It was a gift from the time Jesus made the mud to the time the man returned, seeing.

God gave the children of Israel the grace gift of manna.  Yet to receive the benefit of it, the children of Israel were required each day to gather just enough of it for that day.  The exception to the rule was Friday of each week.  On that day, they were to gather enough for two days because there would be no manna on the ground on the Sabbath. (Exodus 16:13-30)

Mouse over scripture reference to view entire scripture text.

When the children of Israel obeyed God, they received the blessing of the manna.  When they did not obey God, they received His rebuke.

These people were required to obey God to receive this gift from Him. Yet the manna never changed from being a gift into being a wage due to their obedience. (John 6:31-34)

The children of Israel received a grace gift from God when they were given the Promised Land.  Yet to receive the land, the people were required to demonstrate their faith by driving the native inhabitants from the land. (Numbers 33:50-56).  To keep the land, they were also required to faithfully obey God’s commands. (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

To receive and to continue to enjoy the grace gift of the Promised Land, the children of Israel had to allow their faith to cause them to obey God.  Yet, the Land of Canaan never changed from being a gift into being a wage due to the expectation of obedience.

We today are told by Jesus, Peter, and Paul that salvation (the forgiveness of sins), is a grace gift.  (Ephesians 2:1-10). These authorities have also told us that we receive this gift by demonstrating our faith in penitently being baptized (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; Romans 6:3-7). When our faith prompts us to be immersed, we call upon the name of the Lord, and receive the promised washing away of our sins. (Acts 22:16)

Yet, like the lame man’s sight, the manna from above, and the Promised Land, when our faith prompts us to obediently submit to God’s plan for our salvation, the gift remains a gift.  Our obedience does not convert salvation into a wage.  We simply receive the gift which God so graciously offers us.

Think on these things.

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If All The Photos Have Accurately Captured My Outward Image, I’ll Always Look Like A Toad Frog!

“If you have 100 photos taken and in all of them you pretty well look the same, whether you like it or not, that’s what you look like.”  I once overheard a professional photographer make this statement while discussing how some clients mourn that they never “take a good picture”.

Over the past few years, my looks have been captured in several photographs. To me, in about all of the pictures,  I look like a smiling toad frog. I once had hope that the kiss of a princess would change me into a handsome prince, but my princess, Sarah (Hebrew name meaning princess), has kissed me several times and so far, there’s been no change.

Guess it’s not a curse. It’s just the way I look.

I’m okay with that.  It’s not the crooked nose, uneven teeth, hearing aids setting at the top of my ears, knot on the side of my neck, or unmanageable hair that counts.  It’s the person I truly see in the photos that matters.

I see a child of God. And that’s enough.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:1-3) ESV

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If We Live In A Darkened House Where No Sunshine Can Invade It, Is It No Wonder We Can’t Enjoy The Blessings Of The Sun?

If we spend the vast majority of our time in a darkened house where the blackout curtains and shades are always pulled over the windows, we shouldn’t be surprised if we rarely realize that the world is actually a bright, sunshiny place. We shouldn’t be surprised that we have difficulty distinguishing night from day, nor should we be surprised that we rarely feel the energy rush which only a stroll in the sunshine can release.

It’s amazing the difference a single raised shade can make on the outlook of a person’s spirit.  Through an uncovered window, one can view life happening all about him. The magical rays of the sun can change a gloom-filled habitation into a house of hope and enjoyment.

A spiritual house continuously filled with the antics of politicians and the rhetoric of the news media will be a darkened house. A life continuously surrounded by drama expressing the frustrations of real or perceived injustices can’t help but be a house where the shades cover the windows. A christian who cannot discern nor incorporate the practical applications of the Bible into his everyday life will find himself dwelling in a spiritual house which appears gloomy and depressing.

But a life which is saturated with the truths and applications of God word will energize a person’s soul to the point that he can experience the joy Jesus came to give him.

To begin brightening your house, think on these verses:

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11) ESV

 “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24) ESV

 “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17) ESV

 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8) ESV

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If The Sun Remains The Same, Why Is It Cold One Day And Warm The Next?

These are the kind of days that causes one to ask, “If the same sun shines with the same brightness and the same radiant heat upon the same spot on the earth, why is the temperature on that spot 15 degrees one day and 53 degrees the next?  Or better yet, why can that location experience the extremes of 100 degrees and 3 degrees within just a few months?”

The primary answer for the latter question is distance and angle. During the summer, Three Springs, KY is much closer to the sun and more fully faces the sun than it does during the winter.

However, distance and angle cannot fully account for the disparity of temperatures.  A couple of weeks ago, the high temperatures in our area were in the 50’s. At that time, we were farther from the sun and faced it more at an angle than we do today.  Today, we are just coming out of a weeklong, sub-freezing cold spell.  Yet during that cold spell we were closer to the sun than the week before.

The explanation as to how the same location on the earth can experience such an extreme disparity of temperatures in such a short time lies in the variation of conditions found within the atmosphere which stands between the location and the warming sun. Floating particles in the atmosphere may block the sun’s rays and widely distribute its heat one day, but they may allow the sun’s warmth to more directly reach the earth the next day. Atmospheric pressures and rapid air movement evaporate moisture from the ground at various speeds thus contributing to the disparity in temperatures.

The sun’s ability to heat the earth does not change. The change in the earth’s location and direction, plus the variation of atmospheric conditions account for the variance in temperatures for any given location on the earth.

Spiritually, we have all known individuals who have been warmed by the love of God during a major portion of their lives, and then for some reason, they become cold to the very thought that there is a God, let alone that He loves us. Perhaps we have experienced such a change in our own lives.

This causes us to ask, “Why?  Why can the same God shining on the same hearts with the same brightness and warmth produce love, awe, and respectful fear at one point in life, but then seemingly produce distain, disbelief, and contempt just a short time later?”

A major portion of the answer is distance and angle.  Most of the time, the closer we are to God, the more His presence warms our hearts.  Most of the time, the more fully we face him, the more likely we are to appreciate the love He radiates upon us.  When we turn away from God and begin walking away from Him, we become cold to the idea that He is the source of our existence and blessings.

However, distance and angle are not the only causes for the variations in spiritual temperature which we may experience.

Many times, the circumstances, pressures, and rapid lifestyle which surround us produce spiritual chilliness within us.  Friends, education, jobs, hobbies, relationships, desires, all serve to block the warmth of God’s love and to disseminate it so that we may cease to feel the warmth or even quit believing it exists.  Sometimes pressures and our rapid lifestyles simply drain us of all the faith and love we feel for God, and we begin to ask, “Where is that warmth in which I once joyously worshipped?”

God’s ability and desire to produce comforting warmth in our lives does not change. When we alter our distance and angle in relationship to God, His warming love does not change, but we cease to feel it.  When we experience the many pressures and circumstances that come with living in this world, we may very well be drained of any sensation we once cherished when we were touched by the rays of the true Sun.

“But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.” (Malachi 4:2)


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What Difference Would It Have Made If Daddy And Mama Had Reared Us Just 1 Mile Away From Our Old Homestead?

I was born and reared in Metcalfe County, Kentucky near a small community called Center.  The settlement was at one time called Lafayette, but the name was changed to Center because it is centrally located between four county seats; Edmonton (Metcalfe County), Glasgow (Barren County), Munfordville (Hart County), and Greensburg, (Green County).  From my childhood home, one could find himself standing in any of the other three counties by walking 1- 2 miles as the crow flies in the correct direction.

Today, as I traveled home from Glasgow, I couldn’t help but wonder what my life would have been like had my parents or their ancestors decided to live just 2 miles from the family farmstead. Had I been raised in Barren, Hart, or Green Counties, what would have been different about my current life?

We would have known and developed close relationships with a totally different set of neighbors, so my childhood friends would have been totally different.  I would have gone to a different school system, so I would have probably never met my wife. Receiving a different degree of secondary education at the hands of different teachers may have prompted me to choose a different direction in my collegiate education and vocation.  My family and I may have easily gone to a different congregation of the Lord’s church so that my faith and christian attitudes may have developed differently.

The list could go on, but the point is, just a small change in my childhood life could have made all the difference in the choices I have made throughout my life which have determined much of who I am.

We need to remember this principle when it comes to trying to help others handle and overcome problems within their lives.  These people may have been reared relatively close to us.  Their racial, social, ethnic, economic, religious, and familial environment may have appeared to have been like ours in most every way.  But, throughout the years, just a small, seemingly insignificant difference between our situation and theirs may have made a vast difference between our respective viewpoints of life.

Trying to understand these small differences could easily be the key to succeeding in our desire to help one another.

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so also you must forgive. And above all these, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:12-14) ESV

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Extra! Extra! Robot Vacuum Illustrates Life!

We received a robot vacuum cleaner for Christmas. It was a thoughtful gift and neat gadget.  The robot automatically vacuums our floor at a preset time each day.  It works its way around furniture, lamps, and cabinets. For the most part, it has no problems.

However, the vacuum does have difficulty working its way out from under the two bar stools we have at our kitchen counter.  It has no difficulty entering the space underneath the stools.  It just cannot seem to find its way back out.  For several moments, the machine’s sensors cause it to seemingly fear to completely exit its relatively unprotected environment. The vacuum cannot sense that it can easily fit through any of the three openings between the bar stools’ legs.

We are often like this robot.  We find ourselves in situations which we wish we could exit. These may be addictions, relationships, or trying circumstances. We look around us, and the exit-way appears wide enough, but when we try to leave, there always seems to be something blocking our way. The obstructions may appear neither large nor numerous, but they still effectively persuade us to remain within the unwanted circumstances.

Peter used the example of God rescuing Lot from Sodom and Gomorrah to illustrate that God can rescue us from seemingly inescapable trials and circumstances. (2 Peter 2:6-10)

David, the Psalmist, sang that the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:15-22)

God has promised, that he will never let us be tempted beyond our ability; he will always provide a way of escape so that we can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:12-13).

The escape hatch will always be there, and we must never give up looking for it.

Then, once we find it, we must always be willing to take it.

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What Kind Of Footprint Are You Leaving In The Snow Of Life?

The mystery and magic of a fresh, undisturbed blanket of snow produces varying emotions within most of us.

As I stepped out onto our frozen deck in the predawn darkness, I couldn’t help but marvel at the unusual clarity which met my eyes. The rays of the surrounding security lights were intensified so that it almost appeared as if the sun were already peeping over the horizon.  That unusual brightness and the quiet solitude caused me to stop to relish the peacefulness of the moment.

The snow barely covered the grass. Winding ripples etched their way along the surface of the pure thin layer of frozen flakes.  These and the occasional telltale drift revealed the intensity of the cold wind which had blown throughout the night.  Knowing what could have been made me thankful that we did not receive a major amount of snow.

As I looked out upon the pure white, undisturbed blanket, a desire to leave tracks within it whelmed up.  In my younger days, I would not have hesitated to head out over the lawn and through the fields in playful fashion.  But I didn’t today.  I had other business.

I backed my truck out onto the covered road, secretly wanting to be the first to travel it.  I wanted to be the trailblazer who broke the pathway for all others.  I wasn’t.  There were signs of at least one other vehicle and an Amish horse and buggy which had traveled the pavement before me. Still, I could veer out of those established tracks, widening the pathway, and making my own marks on the morning.

In life, most all of us want to leave tracks which will tell others that we were here.

Sometimes we want to be a trailblazer, going where no one else has gone.  Sometimes we want to widen an established pathway, making the traveling easier for those who follow us. Sometimes we want to leave tracks beside a loved one’s footsteps, indicating that we walked hand-in-hand with her. Sometimes we simply want to leave a distinguishable footprint in the snow of life so that we can remind ourselves that we are important.  And then other times, we want to leave those unique footprints so that others can recall memories of our time together.

As we travel this life, striving to leave our footprints, may we always remember the Psalmist’s words:

“1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord!

2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart,

3 who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways!

4 You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.

5 Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!

6 Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.

7 I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules.

8 I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me!

(Psalm 119:1-8)ESV

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