A few years, a friend of mine was trying to discover God’s will for her life in a particular area. She asked me to pray that God would give her wisdom and direction. As we talked, I casually asked her, “So, are there any things you are doing in particular to discover his will for you?”
She said, “I’m praying but also just waiting. It seems like God is not answering me at all.”
A biosphere is a group of systems found in nature functioning together as one larger system. Just as the human body contains the circulatory, nervous, skeletal and digestive systems, the earth has geological systems, wind systems and water systems that make up the various parts of the biosphere. Since the earth is the original biosphere, Biosphere 2 was the name given to the attempt to replicate earth’s interlaced systems on a small scale.
“But right at the beginning there is something you should know, even if it breaks your heart. For all your long hours, and the physical effort, and the expense, and even your genuine affection for this creature you have come to love…if you leave the cage door open, it will walk out of the door…Because this is the way of all wildlife.” -Katherine McKeever on the keeping of falcons in Quality of Life
A few years ago, I went to an Eagle Scout ceremony for one of my former students. All his hard work and outdoor skills culminated in that high honor being conferred upon him. Since it was an Eagle Scout ceremony, another former student, who works for an organization that rescues birds of prey, brought a bald eagle as a special guest.
A few years ago, 2:30 a.m. on a Saturday found a couple of buddies and me standing in a hole in the middle of a field with shovels in our hands. The plan was to slow-cook some slabs of pork in the pit for a bar-b-que party that afternoon, but to be ready in time, we had to start early. We lit the fire, spread coals by the light of the moon and the glow of a lantern and placed the meat on the grate. A remote, digital thermometer probe was inserted into the largest piece of meat with an alarm set to sound when the pork reached the target internal temperature.
Over the last two months, I’ve thought back on some of my favorite stories and touchstone moments. It’s amazing to me how the right example or illustration sticks with you long after the lesson ends. Though it has been retold many times with each teller adding or omitting details and though the original tale is lost to history, this is how I heard it many years ago…
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. – Hebrews 10:22
A close walk with Jesus requires a true heart. The word “true” indicates that the heart is matched in both appearance and reality; it is undivided by the competing loyalties which stand against full devotion to God. We might regard the Pharisees in the New Testament as the poster children for a divided heart. Jesus characterized them by quoting from the prophet Isaiah: “These people draw near to me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8; Isaiah 29:13).
“Keep your milk cartons,” said my fifth-grade teacher one morning before lunch. “Don’t leave any milk in them. Don’t crush them. Don’t poke holes in them with your forks. Just bring them back to the room with you.” After rinsing the inside clean, labeling the side with my name on a piece of masking tape and cutting the top from the carton with my blunt-tipped scissors, my teacher took us outside.
Many people are tired during this season. There is potential weariness and potential frustration in any time of waiting. The regulations and standards have disrupted some moments of everyday life, and many states are resuming more normalized activities while others wait for orders to expire or change. Watching and listening to many of the voices in our society reminds me of the moments after a plane lands. Passengers leap to their feet, grab their bags and pack the aisles…only to wait. You can discover much about a person’s heart near the end of a long flight, and you can discover much about a person’s heart near the end of a long struggle. That is why endurance is so important.
“Following Jesus is about a relationship, not rules.”
That was the statement made to me years ago when I was teaching on obedience to Christ. When I spoke of humble surrender and spiritual discipline, the knee-jerk response of one person was to label my remarks as being legalistic because he “operated from a place of freedom.”
Centralia is a town in Eastern Pennsylvania. In the early 1900’s, millions of tons of coal were mined from the region leaving behind an extensive web of excavated mine shafts, some more than 500 feet below the surface. In May 1962, on the outskirts of town, a garbage fire was burning in one of the old strip mine pits. This fire ignited one of the exposed coal seams which, in turn, made its way to the network of mine shafts. Over time, it spread underground until the ground began to seep smoke and fissures opened in roadways.
Whether it’s thick-papered, glossy ads for various products, roadside signs or social media advertisements, products and services promise that we can become (or seem to be) more hip, smarter, of the socially elite, happier, and fulfilled. The question must be asked, “If ‘stuff’ can meet our deepest needs, why do we still want more?”
When Spanish conquistadors marched into Peru in the 1500’s, the land was ruled by the Incas. The Spaniards found Inca walls and foundations built of stones fitted together without the benefit of any mortar. Many of these walls still stand today. Some of the stones used in the construction weigh in at over 100 tons and took hours upon hours of painstaking labor to shape using smaller “hammer” stones to chip away the excess rock on the faces. The edges of a block were shaped so they would match exactly with the contours of an adjoining block. The stones were fitted so carefully that even now it is impossible to insert a razor blade between many of them.
I tend to collect stories. I’ll read or hear accounts that lodge somewhere in my mind, and they resurface at odd moments (those of you who have heard me preach for any length of time know this truth all too well). One of my favorites comes from Gary LaFerla’s book Finding Your Way. In WWII, Elgin Staples was aboard the USS Astoria when it was attacked in the battle for Savo Island in the Pacific. This is the story as LaFerla recounts it:
For many years, people held the basic idea that Earth, not the Sun, was at the center of our universe. Ptolemy, a Greek mathematician living in the 2nd century A.D., was the first person to offer a detailed explanation of this theory. His work was accepted as truth; after all, why wouldn’t Earth be the center of all things? This proposed arrangement of the universe is known as the Ptolemaic model: Earth was thought to be in the center, and every other thing (the Sun, the planets, the stars, etc.) moved in orbits around it.
My father raised bulls at times on our farm when I was young. One in particular hated being confined to a pen, or a pasture, or multiple pastures, for that matter. When he decided that it was time to take a little walk through the fence (and I do mean through the fence), he would do so and then casually stroll wherever he might want to go. Any barrier, whether perceived or real, was seen as a threat to his freedom and would be dealt with accordingly.
I know I have said it before, but this season has been revealing in many ways. Crisis has a way of showing what we depend upon, where our thoughts go in the midst of struggle and the underlining nature of our fears. After reading a truly great article yesterday (read it here), I was reminded how one thing is being revealed again and again: the lack of grace we often show each other. It surfaces in our world because it lurks within our hearts. We can talk a good talk about grace, mercy and forgiveness, but if we are not careful, gracelessness will creep into our lives and color everything we touch. If we allow the gospel of grace to work fully, it will enlighten every corner of our lives.
If you are like me, you have likely noticed how everyone has become “armchair epidemiologists” during this season. I have heard church leaders across the nation state that this crisis is “unprecedented,” but then in the next breath declare that they have the perfect response to these new difficulties. No one is a complete expert on this crisis, and the conflicting information and emotional debates will likely continue for years to come.
I am often asked for information on leadership. It’s a topic that I research, write about (click here) and speak on often.
With that in mind, these two articles have been the most helpful to me personally during this season:
Engaging in prayer is engaging in battle. Like any powerful weapon, to treat prayer carelessly only increases the danger of the given situation. I might think that I have done all I can because I have prayed, but if I am not praying with power, the words I utter on my knees may give a false sense of assurance that I have truly asked something from God in faith. Over the years, I have discovered some subtle ways that I can become careless with my prayers.
According to government statistics, authorities discover counterfeit American bills totaling between $70 million and $200 million every year. With home-production of illegal funds posing such a growing problem with the arrival of advanced copiers and better computer printers, the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing works to continually upgrade the security features of some of the most commonly-counterfeited bills, thus making it much harder for would-be crooks to produce “funny money.” Color-shifting inks, watermarks, raised impressions, micro-printing and security strips increase the uniqueness of American currency. According to the Secret Service, even the paper that bills are printed on cannot be produced legally by an individual. It is of a special composition pressed to a specific thickness and contains tiny red and blue silk fibers (you can see them if you look closely enough).