Thursday, August 18, 2022

Sylvia: A Not-So-Silly Squirrel Story

 Once upon a time, there was a cute little squirrel named Sylvia.  Sylvia was the youngest of twenty, and she lived with her family and dozens of other squirrel families in a stand of Blue Spruces known as Blue Point Ridge.  Being a squirrel in Blue Point Ridge was serious business.  Young squirrels were not encouraged to be curious and were warned to avoid distractions, and they were taught the squirrel code very early on: Squirrels were always to look out for one another and to take nut gathering with the utmost seriousness.  

 

Sylvia was not serious in the way the other squirrels were.  While the young squirrels would dash along the floor of the Ridge looking for nuts, Sylvia perched in a cozy spruce and gazed thoughtfully at the beautiful, symmetrical branches surrounding her.  Sometimes she would simply marvel at the beauty of the Ridge and ponder how it came to be.  And if a racoon or stray cat or dog encroached on their territory, the others would chatter their curses at the intruder while Sylvia wondered what had brought it so close.  Her siblings and friends found Sylvia to be downright annoying as they were always trying to find her as she wandered in the woods, and her parents and elder squirrels were always scolding her for her unserious ways. 

 

It was a short walk to squirrel school, but it was one that Sylvia enjoyed immensely.  The path led out of Blue Point Ridge for a bit, and Sylvia loved the open country, the bubbling creek, and the lush green valley just beyond.  But her classmates did not like that section of the route so much.  They would hop and chatter along their way, but when they left the secluded protection of the Ridge, the unfamiliar creek became an object of fear and they hurried past.

 

One drizzly Fall morning, Sylvia and the other young squirrels were trotting to school, and when they came in sight of the creek, her companions shrieked and sprinted the rest of the way to school as Sylvia stared.  The creek was shrouded in a glistening mist.  Sylvia crept toward the mysterious sight.  It wasn’t that she wasn’t afraid; but she was overwhelmed with curiosity.  As she stared into the mist, she thought she saw a shimmering figure in the mist, almost like a holograph.  When the figure disappeared, she shrugged her shoulders in bewilderment and followed her classmates to school.

 

At bedtime that evening, Sylvia told her story to her mother.  “Sylvia!” exclaimed her mother.  “Now you are being downright silly!  Please be a good little girl squirrel…. Please be serious!”  

 

It was a particularly rainy September and October, and the mist appeared more regularly over the creek. The little squirrel students developed the habit of dashing past the area as fast as they could go, arriving early and breathless at school.  Except Sylvia.  She developed the habit of inching closer to the creek and standing before the glistening figure in the creek mist.  She found it both frightening and irresistible.  After a few days, she found herself awed by the figure and started to bow her head in respect before continuing her journey to school.

 

And then one day, Sylvia made the mistake of mentioning her time with the mist figure to a few friends during noon playtime.  They stopped and stared at her almost in disbelief, and then burst into an avalanche of laughter.  “Sylvia is silly!”  “Sylvia is silly!” they chanted around the garden, and soon the entire school knew.  Her teachers became concerned, and the principal threatened to dismiss her.  When her parents confronted her, Sylvia could only explain what she saw and felt.  Her parents feared for her mental health and scolded her soundly: “Sylvia, stop this nonsense right now!  This is too silly!”  And they begged her to be a serious little squirrel.

 

Sylvia was very sad.  She knew she was not silly.  She knew there was more to the world than what the other squirrels could see.  She didn’t know who the figure was, but she did know she wanted to know.  It was so hard to not be able to talk to anyone about it, but she continued to linger by the creek on rainy days.

 

And then one day it happened.  A storm came upon the Blue Point Ridge one evening just as the young squirrels were settling in their nests.  Lightning lit up the sky above, and thunder drowned out the cries of terrified squirrels.  Suddenly the situation became life-threatening as a tree in the middle of the Ridge sustained a direct lightning hit and caught on fire; and then the fire started to spread with alarming speed.  Before long, the entire Ridge was ablaze and squirrel families were racing for their lives.  

 

The rain came, but not in time to save their homes.  Running blindly in the most familiar direction, the ragged groups of squirrel families came to the creek.  They stopped in their tracks as Sylvia walked forward, her eyes fixed on the figure in the mist.  Bowing before the figure, she was able to see the last thing she expected to see: a tiny bridge formed from debris that had collect in this shallow section of the creek.  She looked closely at the mist figure and was sure she saw a smile.  Sylvia turned and shouted, waving her arms in excitement.  “This way!  We can cross the creek here!”  She couldn’t see their faces, but their reluctance was clear by their lack of response. 

 

The fire raged behind them until eventually, the squirrel families had no choice but to try to cross the creek.  Sylvia kept waving her arms and shouted words of encouragement as the first few families took their first tentative steps across the makeshift bridge.  Before long, the entire group was across the bridge, safe from the fire, and scouting out the nearby forest for a satisfactory place to begin a new colony.

 

Once again, Sylvia lingered, glancing at the mist figure who remained.  She bowed and whispered, “Thank You!”  As she walked toward her new home, she cast one last glance at the figure.  She was sure He winked.

 

And from that time on, none of the squirrels called Sylvia silly.  She had earned a new nickname: “Spiritual Sylvia.”

 

Monday, August 1, 2022

Thought For The Day and A Lifetime

 "If I won't be myself, who will?"

                          Alfred Hitchcock

Thursday, July 21, 2022

The Power of Living Loved

 "Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within."

                                                                                                               James Baldwin

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

A Faithful Life

 "It is not important to succeed, but to do right.  The rest is up to God."

                                                                                      C.S. Lewis


Monday, July 4, 2022

The Wisdom of George Washington

 "Happiness depends more upon the internal frame of a person's own mind than on the externals in the world."       

                                                                                                         George Washington

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Thought For the Day--And a Lifetime

 "Let us temper our criticism with kindness.  None of us comes fully equipped."

                                                                                          Carl Sagan

Friday, July 1, 2022

Truth or Consequences

 July is the month when we celebrate our freedom in this country.  It is worth celebrating!  Scripture is clear that God hates oppression in any form, and so the political freedoms that we enjoy are a blessing from Him.  Discussions about freedom, though, often center around the issue of rights.  And while personal and corporate rights are a legitimate component of freedom, our Lord is much more concerned about the spiritual freedom that often entails the sacrifice of our rights for the good of others.  If we want real, eternal freedom, we must look beyond our rights to find the freedom that the Lord offers, the freedom that is the fruit of knowing the truth.

 

We live in a day where truth is personal and subject to change at any moment.  We, like Adam and Eve, cannot seem to resist looking to feel good about ourselves, by ourselves.  And so the concept of absolute truth that was once commonly if not universally accepted has taken a beating.

 

Truth can be challenging indeed.  A well-known line from the film A Few Good Men sums it up nicely: “You can’t handle the truth!”  We prefer our own custom-made truths that serve to keep us in our comfort zone and protect us from the need to grow. 

 

But there is a cost to such an approach.  We serve the Lord Jesus Christ, whose identity and nature are Truth.  If we serve lesser truths, we miss the opportunity to know our Lord, partake in His nature, and become who He has created us to be. Please consider this quote with me:

 

“The truth will set you free.  But not until it is finished with you.”

                                                                                    David Foster Wallace

 

This reference to Jesus’s words as recorded in John 8 bears significant thought.  In this section of John’s Gospel, Jesus is teaching about what it means to be one of His disciples.  The life of a disciple is one of knowing the truth, and then reaping the fruit of freedom that truth offers.  It is no small matter.  

 

One aspect of knowing the truth is knowing Jesus as the Truth.  We become enabled to know Truth as we pursue a personal faith relationship with Him.  In order to do this, though, we must put aside the selves that would prefer comfort and independence and find our identity in our Lord.  And then, as we develop this faith relationship with Christ, the indwelling Holy Spirit is able to do His work of sanctification.  The Bible tells us that the Spirit is a wind, blowing where it will; as it blows unpredictably within us, it will often expose lies that have been masquerading as truth.  If we can embrace the work of the Holy Spirit, He will be more and more able to make us whole: to bring the truths that we believe into alignment and harmony with our faith relationship with the Truth.

 

As we persist in knowing the Truth in deeper and fuller ways and commit to the work of the Holy Spirit within us, then the truth will indeed make us free:  free from the penalty and power of sin; free from the opinions and expectations of others and our culture; free from lies that would bind us in self-imposed boxes.  It is, of course, a life-long process, but that only tells us that the time to start—or continue—is now.

 

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Thought For the Day

 God is God and we are not....

"Our preferences do not determine what's true."

                                                    Carl Sagan


Sunday, June 12, 2022

Living in a People-Pleasing World

 "Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else."

                                                                                                                  Judy Garland


For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

                                                                                                                  Ephesians 2:10

Friday, June 3, 2022

Grace and Peace

 There are difficult and challenging times for most of us.  In addition to the spiritual stresses that come with living in a world of unbelief and increasingly loud calls for tolerance and the disregard of universal truth in any form, people in all categories face physical, relational, and economic challenges.  Grace and peace are rare commodities, indeed.

 

But these circumstances are not new.  Believers in the early church lived in a world hostile to Christianity and characterized by disease and death, cruelty, and poverty.  And yet the Apostle Peter, in his second epistle, strikes a decidedly positive note:


            Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and Jesus

            our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything

            pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him

            who called us by His own glory and excellence.  For by these He has 

            granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them

            you may become packagers of the divine nature....(II Peter 1:2-4a)

 

Peter is, of course, no stranger to struggle and hardship.  The Gospels recount the calling and training of a very immature Peter to be the Apostle who establishes Christ’s church on earth after Jesus’s ascension and return to heaven.  Life was hard for those early apostles and disciples.  And a few verses later in Peter’s second epistle, he acknowledges that his own death is imminent.  

 

But Peter.  Just as Peter’s Master defied convention and expectation (But Jesus), so does Peter.  Despite the challenges of the times, Peter declares with confidence that grace and peace can be experienced—and multiplied!—as we cling to Christ and the knowledge of Him.  As we persevere in faith, we can experience the grace and peace of Christ not as we escape challenge but even in the midst of it.  And in doing so, we encounter the opportunity to partake in the nature of Christ Himself.

 

This statement takes my breath away.  A life of faith is not about gritting our teeth and white-knuckling it into heaven.  It is about living in the knowledge that while we will have tribulation, our Lord, Savior, and Master has overcome the world.  (John 16:33).  We can look for “our great High Priest who has passed through the heavens…. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”  We can find the core of our being in Him and know His grace and peace in the midst of trouble and sorrow.  This truth does not minimize or deny suffering: our suffering is so significant to God that Jesus came to redeem it.  But to borrow a phrase from the Apostle Paul, how much more will Jesus’s glorious grace and peace cover us as we suffer and experience sorrow.

 

May we take Peter’s exhortation to heart and look for the grace and peace of our Lord and encourage others with the knowledge of Christ as well.

 

Monday, May 16, 2022

The Joy of Christ

 Even as we head with great enthusiasm into Spring and Summer, I think it would be profitable to take a look back at the Easter holiday that we just celebrated.  Christmas and Easter are the historical bookends of the Christian faith, and it is vital that we live in their truths even as we go about our lives post-holiday.

 

Easter is a glorious celebration, but it absolutely depends upon Good Friday: If Jesus doesn’t die, He can’t be resurrected.  And Good Friday gives us plenty to think about.  Jesus—the Creator and Lover of the universe—is subjected to the most humiliating treatment and the most agonizing death.  Astonishingly, we mark it with Good Friday.  Not Bad Friday; nor Black Friday.  And it is good, very good, as far as we are concerned.  Jesus’s submission to this treatment and death pays our sin debt; that, along with His resurrection, opens for us a path to heaven to live in the company of the Holy Trinity for eternity.

 

But more astonishing still is that Jesus considered that long-ago Friday good.  The author of Hebrews teaches us that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him.  Our Lord and Savior wanted restored relationship with us so much that He paid for that joy with His dignity and His life.  And while Jesus’s death and resurrection have glorious eternal consequences, the events of Easter weekend are relevant to us in the moments of our lives in the here and now as we walk toward heaven.

 

Jesus challenged His disciples with these words: Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”  (Matthew 16:24).  If we apply Jesus’s future modeling to this passage, then we have some serious issues to consider.

 

Just as Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him, He invites us to view a life of faith as one of pursuing joy.  I am afraid that I, for one, too often settle for comfort, for peace, for happiness.  C.S. Lewis observes: “It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”  

 

So what does it look like to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus?  While most of us will not be asked to submit to execution for the kingdom of God, there are plenty of opportunities to practice the denial of self that enables us to follow Jesus and experience His joy.  Can we put aside our pride and apologize when we have done something hurtful, intentional or not?  Can we put our hurt in the Lord’s redemptive hands and forgive someone who has hurt us?  Can we offer kindness and patience to someone we really don’t like?  Can we put aside our plans when the Lord calls us to use our gifts in His service or move out of our comfort zone to minister to someone in need? 

 

It is important to be clear that choosing self-denial in random fashion will not generate the joy we are looking for.  It is the self-denial that we practice at His bidding that makes us able to follow Christ faithfully that brings His joy.  And the joy of Christ often comes at the cost of discomfort.  This concept is counterintuitive and difficult for us accept let alone welcome.  But if we remind ourselves that the willingness to be uncomfortable, and even to suffer, is a privilege that brings God glory and us the joy of heaven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, April 15, 2022

A Life of Faith in Uncertain Times

 "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."

                                                                                Martin Luther King, Jr.

Monday, April 11, 2022

Biblical Financial Advice

 "Money's meant to be spread around.  The more happiness it helps create, the more it's worth.  It's worthless as old cut-up paper if it just lies in a bank and grows there without ever having been used to help a body."

                                                                                                          Elvis Presley







 

Friday, April 8, 2022

A Study in Contrasts

 We have recently welcomed the vernal (spring) equinox of 2022.  This marks the point in our year when the sun crosses the northern hemisphere, when in the journey of the earth around the sun, the northern hemisphere receives direct sunlight.  The spring equinox represents the transition from winter to spring, a most welcome contrast.  Although seasonal transitions and contrasts are not universal on our planet, I do believe that the contrast of seasons shows us something about the way the Creator likes to do things.

 

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth; morning and evening; dry places and wet places.  Even the quickest perusal of creation floods our senses with contrast: mighty oak trees and delicate lilies; hot springs and cold glaciers; blue jays and cardinals; deserts and rain forests; lions and lambs.  

 

In His Word, God uses contrast to illustrate His truths and highlight our choices.  Moses challenged the Israelites to choose life as he set before them the blessing and the curse (Deuteronomy 11:26), life and death (Deuteronomy 30:15).  King Solomon’s Proverbs are characterized by the contrast between the upright and the wicked, the wise and the foolish, the Godly and the godless.  When the Apostle John introduces Jesus in the beginning of his Gospel, he describes Jesus as the Light that shines in the darkness (John 1:5).  The Apostle Paul uses contrast to teach the young believers in the churches under his care: We are justified by faith, not by works (Romans 3:27); believers are dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6); believers are to lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light (Romans 13:12); believers are to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit rather than manifest the deeds of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-23) and to lay aside falsehood and speak truth (Ephesians 4:25); believers are set their minds on things above and not on the things on the earth (Colossians 3:2); we are to remember that we are call to sanctification and not for the purpose of impurity (I Thessalonians 1:7).

 

As bond-servants of Christ and heirs to the kingdom of God, we have an opportunity in the here and now to be light in a dark world, to answer Christ’s call to be salt in a world that needs spiritual preservation.  And in doing so, God’s way of contrast is one of our potent strategies.  When we encounter anger, we can respond in peace; when we encounter impatience, we can offer patience; when we encounter discouragement and despair, we can offer the hope of the Gospel; when we encounter lies, we can communicate truth; when we encounter critical spirits and/or narrow minds, we can apply grace.  May the Holy Spirit guard and guide us as we offer ourselves to Him as He seeks to save the lost.

 

Monday, April 4, 2022

The Challenge and Cost of Change

 "We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty."                                                                                                        

                                                                                                         Maya Angelou

Sunday, March 6, 2022

An Observation in Regard to Political Discourse

 "It is at least more unusual nowadays to find a man that can hold his tongue than to find one who cannot."

                                                                                             Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

A Thought For Right Now

You cannot do kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will too late.

                                                                                          Ralph Waldo Emerson 




 

 

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Seeing Image-Bearers of God

 If human beings are perceived as potentials rather than problems, as possessing strengths instead of weaknesses, as unlimited rather than dull and unresponsive, then they thrive and grow to their capabilities.                                                                                   

                                                                                                Barbara Bush

Monday, February 14, 2022

Encouragement on Valentine's Day

 True love is inexhaustible; the more you give, the more you have.

                                                                 Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Thoughts For Growth

 "It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are."

                                                                                E.E. Cummings

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

A Challenging Thought For Challenging Times

 "Very often, a change of self is needed more than a change of scene.”

                                                                        A.C. Benson

Monday, February 7, 2022

The Pursuit of Joy

 

            "How much good inside a day?

            Depends how good you live 'em

            How much love inside a friend?

            Depends how much you give 'em.


                            "How Many, How Much"

                            A Light in the Attic

                                        Shel Silverstein 

 

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Growth vs. The Pursuit Of Normal: Thought For The Day

 "Normal is a myth."

            Willliam Paul Young

             The Shack

Friday, February 4, 2022

Growth Thought For The Day

 "Faith does not grow in the house of certainty."

                                                  William Paul Young

                                                  The Shack

Thursday, February 3, 2022

The Glorious Irony of God-Love

 If you were challenged to identify the single most dominant theme in the Bible—both Old and New Testaments—you would be hard-pressed to make a better choice than love.  The Old Testament describes for us a loving God faithfully looking after His wayward people.  King David proclaims the Lord’s faithfulness over and over in his Psalms.  And then in the New Testament, Jesus teaches us about the love between the Father and the Son, exhorts His disciples to love one another as He has loved them, and demonstrates God’s love by dying for fallen mankind.  The Apostle John exhorts believers time and again to love one another.

 

Most Christians have heard sermons teaching and preaching about the agape love of God: a love that is unmerited, unconditional, faithful, and long-suffering.  Agape love is a sacrificial love that seeks the best for another: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).  

 

The month of February inevitably brings the topic of love to our minds, and it is a good thing to be reminded that we are invited into a personal relationship with the loving Creator and Lord of the universe and exhorted to love others as He loves us.  And with this comes the wonderful irony of God-love: even as it is intrinsically self-sacrificing and other-serving, practicing agape love is the most selfish thing we can do: It is as good for us as it is for those we love!  

 

In my counseling practice, I often remind clients of God’s economy: He does not endorse the good of one at the expense of another; rather, the Lord has ordered His creation as an expression and manifestation of His nature: desiring good for all, at all times.  And so it is entirely consistent that Love Himself would create us to be blessed as we love.  As science has begun to look at the links between spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical well-being, we have discovered that being “in love” boosts our immune systems; loving acts of kindness increase our “feel-good” hormones; spiritual connection with God and others provides a sense of connectedness and security as well as boosting our immune system.  But above and beyond this, exercising our God-love muscles enables us to partake in the very nature of our Lord and participate in His eternal kingdom’s work.

 

To be sure, attempting to exercise agape love for self-serving reasons would miss the point and the benefits of exercising such love.  But as we consider the reminder to love, may we also remember that our Lord calls us to love others because He loves us as much as He loves others.

 

Thursday, January 20, 2022

A Perspective on Personal Growth

 "If it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you."

                                                         Fred DeVito

Saturday, January 1, 2022

A Thought For 2022

 "Success is sometimes the outcome of a whole string of failures."

                                                                       Vincent van Gogh