Thursday, September 30, 2010

Satellites, Ticks, and Scripture from Thin Air

Technology outran my imagination a long time ago, and yet the USA put a man on the moon forty years ago. Does that timeframe swamp your brain with disbelief? It does mine.

I recently read an article by Dauna Coulter about how ticks are now tracked by satellite. Since ticks like “moist, heavily vegetated” areas, college students learned to use infrared images from the Terra satellite to find those areas most likely to have a heavy infestation of ticks.

The students followed up with a ground search by dragging white sheets through the detected dense foliage. They then counted and identified ticks. They found plenty. Because ticks can cause very serious Lyme Disease, this tracking information helps global health organizations, Boy and Girl Scouts campers, and other outdoorsmen.

Another mind boggling thing I’m seeing on magazines and such are codes that look similar to bar codes, but they aren’t price markers. On a recent visit to a church, I saw a barcode on the back of their Sunday a.m. worship guide. The instructions said to take a picture of the code with a smart phone (which requires a specific application for code reading). This particular code would lead the user to the scriptures used in the morning sermon.

On the back page of the current issue of “Christianity Today” an advertisement for Carol Kent’s new book, “Between a Rock and a Grace Place,” uses the same type code which leads to a download of her video about “Grace Place.”

Some churches now have electronic giving options for congregants, who can have funds withdrawn on a regular basis. This helps the church meet its budget during summer vacations and the flu season when their members are more likely to miss several Sundays in a row.

All of this technology reminiscing brings me to tell you about a tiny Bible our friend Eddie brought to us a few weeks ago. The Bible was attached to a key chain. It’s not a fake Bible; it’s the real thing in miniature. It’s less than an inch thick and a little over an inch tall. And while my aging eyes cannot read a word of the minuscule print, my trusty magnifying glass verifies its content. What technology did it take to complete placing 66 books in that compact form? A whole Bible much smaller than a teabag!

These thoughts bring me to the different modes of reading or hearing the Bible these days. I received a gift of the New Testament for my iPod and the program allows me to listen for 20 minutes each day and hear the entire New Testament in 40 days. The younger crowd “reads” the Bible through different means. Many do have versions of the Bible on their phones (Youversion), but at home they still have a favorite Bible where they actually turn paper pages. They, however, do like always having an electronic version with them all the time, even if it is in their iphone. Now that’s encouraging!

Over the years, I’ve listened to the Bible from cassette tapes, CDs, and watched DVDs, but now I have the whole Bible on a keychain and the New Testament on my iPod, both of those weighing less than a snack size candy bar. I don’t think God’s happy that his word is so at hand these days.

As I thought back over Bible stories, I saw how those could illuminate this topic. I asked myself, is it the method of receiving direction from God that’s important or the message?

Bible characters were guided and heard the word of God through many venues: God spoke to a wicked world through Noah and the ship he built on dry land. He enlisted a fire in a green bush to get Moses’ attention. God stopped the prophet Balamm when his donkey spoke to him. A huge fish supplied needed solitary confinement for Jonah. God’s voice in the night called little boy Samuel and he answered, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9). Earth’s splendor shouted intelligent design to the psalmist David.

Whether you hold a Bible in your hands or receive it through seemingly thin air, your life can still take in ancient words from God, still relevant, still able to guide you today. Now, that’s amazing!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

God's Shopping List

The dark, cobwebbed barn looked like a great place to find treasures. With permission from my husband’s grandmother I poked around in abandoned calf pens, behind crates, and opened a squeaky door to an old feed room.

Cautious in the darkened passageways, I watched for unfriendly spiders, and I heard scurrying things and wished for a flashlight to shine into the shadowed corners.

But curiosity had the best of me, and as my eyes adjusted to the barn’s dusky interior, I spotted a butter churn with dasher sitting near a slatted wall. When homogenized milk and butter wrapped in paper became the easier way to bring dairy products home, those conveniences had put the old churn out of work. I brought it out into the light of day. All it needed was a cleaning and it would shine.

Excited, I explored other dark corners and found a few chipped enamel basins, a galvanized wash tub, and a paint splattered wash bench and added them to the churn sitting outdoors. Back into the treasure den I went. Eyes once again adjusted, I spied a child’s trunk and two paint encrusted chairs. I hauled them out and stacked them next to my stash. They only needed to be brought out into the light, cleaned up, and made useful again.

I’d rummaged in every nook when a shaft of sunshine highlighted something leaning against a wall, covered with an old burlap bag. When I lifted the cloth, thousands of dust motes took wing. I found a beautifully framed large mirror, the last treasure I found in the barn that day and the only one still in use in my home.

The pottery churn sits on my back porch reminding me of my easier life. The trunk vacations in my daughter’s home. The two chairs, masquerading under multi-layers and multi-colors, were later dipped in a vat of stripping solvent. Two lovely oak chairs emerged. Their golden sheen restored, they now sit in our family room near our barley twist breakfast table awaiting coffee for two – useful once again. The wash tub filled with Miracle-Gro potting soil holds three patio tomato plants in a small garden area just off our kitchen.

But the mirror is the most used item from my barn snooping. The age-flecked mirror was discarded, the frame sanded and refurbished, and a new mirror installed. Because of its age, Victorian women with frilled collars up to their chins must have preened in front of it. Where it hangs in my home, I’ve seen grandmothers and granddaughters glance at themselves as they pass by.

Mirrors may be ones’ best friend and worst enemy. They don’t lie. So, if we walk by one smugly saying to ourselves, “Lookin’ good!” then we probably spiffed up quite nicely -- at least on that day. How many mirrors do most people own? Count yours. I just took a walk through my house and garage (auto too) and counted mirrors. Are you ready? I have an even dozen. Something about that number sets off an alarm.

Men and women often pretty up the outside. We groom our hair, select complementary clothes, and do our best to stay healthy. But today, I’m particularly thinking about what’s on the inside. Apostle Paul said “we have this treasure in jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7). That’s how he described the light of Jesus in human bodies.

In the ancient world, gold or other precious metals were melted and poured in a simple clay pot and then the vessel could be broken and the expensive metal retrieved when needed. Or a clay jar could hold oil and fire and offer light.

Any of us, whether beautiful or high mileage, looks a whole lot better when Jesus shines through us. Sometimes God presented his message through the humble and poor -- a young virgin, a carpenter, or a fisherman. But he also chose people of influence such as Paul and Nicodemus because they were willing to repent of selfish desires and inherit a healing light – for themselves and to shine out to others.

God has a treasure and he’s looking for a place to put it. What’s on his shopping list? He’s looking for jars of clay that he can remake into lamps.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Gray Dead Ends

This past week, I went on a road trip with my husband, David, and then I reflected on the sights that impressed me. We first saw an older church building painted white but it had a new roof. And – TA DA – the roof was bright red tin. I don’t know who got to pick the color but it was impressive and symbolic.

Soon after that sighting, we waited to meet a Monday-morning work crew at the crossroads of “nowhere” and “nothing” high in the Texas Panhandle. The crew turned out to be one man, three hours late to the job. We spent the pleasant breezy morning sitting outside our truck watching lyrics come to life “where the deer and the antelope play.”

After unloading our truck, we left for Roswell, New Mexico and crossed several mountainous plateaus where we saw giant windmills generating power to the valleys below. When we reached prairie lands again, an abandoned stone church, stone dormitory, and stone well drew our attention.

Down the road a few miles, we drove by a 20 square foot neglected cemetery. What used to be a picket fence had weathered gray, any original paint wind blasted from the uprights. Totally filling the tiny area, grayish headstones hosted moss encrusted epitaphs. A NO VACANCY sign would have fit.

When any of us travel new roads, unfamiliar sights draw our interest. For those of us who have read the Bible and heard sermons for years, sometimes a familiar scripture may lose its punch. But it only seems that way. With a bit more exploration and a fresh motive, familiar scriptures can change colors – from dull gray, they can become vibrant again.

For a few days, I considered these words, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Originally these words were spoken by God and delivered in a letter to exiles living in Babylon, people carried away to a foreign country against their will.

But God’s instruction to the exiles is often overlooked: Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat the produce. Find wives and husbands for your sons and daughters. Increase in number. Do not decrease. God also said for them to “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it because when it prospers you prosper” (29:7).

A message does resound to us from God’s letter to those exiles. When we’re banished to a place in life and it looks like we’ll be there awhile, we’re still to put our days to good use. Whining about wanting to be in better place does not change our literal or figurative addresses. Longing for the good old days or longing for better days ahead only makes us miserable in today.

I love that God encouraged those long ago exiles to pray for the actual place they resided even though captivity wasn’t their first choice of residence. If we can learn to pray where we land, then life becomes much more bearable. Of late, I’ve corresponded with a prison inmate introduced to me through my brother who works with Christians Against Substance Abuse (CASA, taught in some of the Texas Prison System).

“Brandon” said in a recent letter that he spends his days “addressing breaking the cycle, changing my life through the power of the Holy Spirit yielding daily to him. ‘Not my will but thy will be done.’”

Inmate “Brandon” gets it. He’s confessed that his actions have landed him where he is, but he wants to spend his days productively. His church is prison, but he’s covered by the red blood of the Lamb. Not even iron bars can withstand the wind beneath his wings -- the Holy Spirit.

At some time, life will generally land us somewhere unfavorable. But God reminded those long ago captives that no place has to be a dead end neglected cemetery. Wherever you are, honor God. Pray on the spot for the spot you’re in, and then leave the prospering up to God.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Tomorrow, Tomorrow

Most people take care of day-to-day chores through household members. “Only Robinson Crusoe had everything done by Friday.” While many of us procrastinate about household chores, business, and relationships, I can find no reference to God as a procrastinator, one who shuns the work at hand. The psalmist says, “As for God, his way is perfect” (18:10).

One habit that hinders personal progress is procrastination, defined as putting off a task until tomorrow, usually something that is dreaded. But living life on the last minute hand of the clock contributes to frazzled moments. It seems like about once a year, I find the need to write about procrastination, reminding myself of its pitfalls.

What if God grew too lazy to send rain? Has God ever been too distracted by earth’s occupants and forgot to power the sunrise? As occupants, we’re the best and worst reality show ever. But even our shenanigans don’t divert God from his daily work. He has proved himself dependable—not a procrastinator.

People who wait until tomorrow tend to break promises to themselves and others. How many times have I said, “Tomorrow I’ll eat less, wash the car, or balance the checkbook.” But when dawn arrived, excuses marched in with the dust motes.

Life Coaches say the number one reason for avoiding a chore is that the task remains dreaded. Cleaning out the garage, mowing the yard, restoring a friendship—all are more beneficial if done timely. But delays of weeks can bring on avoidable disasters. An admitted procrastinator said, “If it weren't for the last minute, I wouldn't get anything done.”

Sometimes because of other essential work, we delay things that can wait. I just finished another manuscript and sent it on to my publisher, so I’ve spent the last week, going through stacks of paper and filing those away. I’m re-shelving reference books that I needed at hand. I’m now ready to pull out my Weed Eater and chew away tall grasses near sidewalks.

But I identified several chores that I habitually put off. I don’t mind hard work, but there are some tasks I like better than others. I like baking cookies better than scrubbing the showers. What chores do you tend to put off until the twelfth of never? What’s to be done about them? What can motivate us to accomplish in a timely manner what needs to be done? The wise man of scripture said, “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done” (Ecclesiastes 11:4). I think that’s what I’ve been doing – waiting for a better time—when I have more energy, more time, more money.

The most helpful suggestions I’ve found is to break tasks into small manageable segments. Then spend 15 minutes (not last minutes) to work heartily on that project. Through seven days of 15 minute segments, bit by bit, stacks of paper dwindle. Unkempt corners are de-cluttered. Those snippets of time spent on put-off projects equals a job well done. When a long delayed chore is finished, give yourself a pat on the back. The completion of one task can energize you to tackle another overdue job.

Laziness underwrites procrastination. “Tomorrow is the only day that appeals to a lazy man,” said Jimmy Lyons. One of the seven deadly sins, slothfulness becomes fatal to spiritual progress too. We become distracted and worn down by so many things in the world that prayer, solitude, and Bible reading get shoved to the end of our lists. When we move them there, then they have become unessential in our minds.

Attentiveness to daily tasks and spiritual feedings acknowledges God, our constant caregiver. Industry honors the Creator and keeps one in tune with the fine ways he provides for us. The God who changes seasons on time, who regulates the tides, who keeps his creation in place through gravity can assist anyone with the problem of procrastination.

“Warning: dates on calendar are closer than you think.” Don’t hesitate. Today ask your timely Father for help.

(Click here for royalty free clip art)

Friday, September 03, 2010

Not Just a Number

Before I ever reached the IRS office, a clerk met me outside in the hall and handed me a slip of paper numbered 59, and I was told, “Go farther down the hall and wait in that room.” When I first walked into “that” room containing only chairs and people seated in them, the dry erase board note stated that number 35 was the last person waited upon. Good. This shouldn’t take too long.

Every quarter hour another clerk or the officer on duty came into the room, calling out sequential numbers, about five of them. People holding slips of paper with corresponding numbers were told to form a line. When my turn finally came, I felt like a kindergarten IRS detainee.

Our instructions were, “Line up by number.” They led us into another hall. “Now stand here until I call you to proceed to another door.” I didn’t actually go to kindergarten (didn’t have it in Arkansas), but I learned to follow elementary rules anyway. Obedient, I stood alongside the wall. I did fidget. Twist. Turn. Shuffle my feet. Slump against the wall. But I also smiled a lot at the man with the star shaped badge and pistol lashed to his belt. It seems making a payment at the IRS office these days is serious business. He was on the side of law-abiding folk—wanted him to know I was one.

When I was at the head of the line, the officer said, “Next,” so I stepped to the door he pointed toward. Once there, I assumed I’d be taking care of business and leaving. I assumed a clerk would take my timely payment, stamp my receipt “PAID,” and I’d be free for one more year.


When I stepped into the next room, I quickly learned that I was only in line to get another number. My new number: 485. Yep. I was sliding backward, not inching forward. They were serving number 511 and number 463. After no more than 30 minutes the red digital sign flashed 485 and assigned me to cubicle number 4. I trotted, (I didn’t run in the hall) toward the clerk in the number four cubbyhole. Within ten minutes, I made my payment to a friendly woman named Jewell, and she stamped my receipt and I skipped out of the IRS office.

I don’t know about you, but being reduced to a number even for two hours undermines the ego. I understand the logic of identification by number instead of by name. Numbers can vary enough to give us singular identity, while 30 other people might possess your same given name, especially if it is a more common moniker. In government tracking, I understand why all John Smiths need numbers.

But I like being a person with a real name best. And I love knowing that God knows his followers by name. In the Old Testament, when God wanted to send a message through the child Samuel, God called him in the night saying, “Samuel! Samuel!” (1 Samuel 3:10). God didn’t say “Number 2,003! Number 2003!” When God wanted to speak with the virgin who would carry and bear the Christ child, the angel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary” (Luke 1:30).

We can rest assured that we are more than numbers to God. In fact the psalmist David asked God to favor him as “the apple of your eye.” Jesus said he is our good shepherd and he knows us by name. He said our relationship is so intimate that we know him by the sound of his voice (John 10:1-18). When our shepherd calls, he doesn’t whistle or yell “Hey, you!”

“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (v. 3), and we follow him because we “know his voice” (4).

But shepherds do have an accounting system. And Jesus referred to that when he told a story about a shepherd who had a flock numbering 100. When he tallied up his precious flock, he found one missing. He left the ninety-nine and went to search “in the open country” for the one sheep. And when he found that one, “he joyfully puts it on his shoulders” and goes home. Then the shepherd had a party. He called his friends and neighbors together and said, “Rejoice with me. I have found my lost sheep” (Luke 15 6).

We can be happy too, because individually we are the apple of his eye. And he’ll always leave the safe flock to go in search of you if you ever wander off. In God’s flock you have a name and a number. You are always number one!

(photo from Free