Peace in the Storm

Our daughter, Rebecca, called and said, “You need to hear this! You will laugh your socks off!” And she proceeded to relate the following scenario.

Adjacent to their driveway is a chain-link fence covered with vines. Birds annually build nests in the intertwining tendrils because they know they are safe in the leafy maze. Our granddaughters play all around the yard, including near the vines, but the birds know the girls are not a threat to the eggs and fledglings.

But there are historic menaces that lurk nearby – cats! So the parent birds are always diligently on the lookout for approaching prowlers to prevent them from invading the nest and having breakfast. Rebecca’s cat is named Lilly.

Lilly had eaten her Meow Mix breakfast, walked around the house, and sat down on the driveway near the fence. It was a warm sunny day with a light breeze, and Lilly was apparently enjoying life.

Suddenly, the parent bird came swooping out of the sky and feinted an attack on the seeming intruder! Lilly just sat there, didn’t budge or even flinch at the furious frenzied flyer, but continued gazing across the lawn.

After the scare tactics of pretending to dive bomb the cat didn’t produce the desired result, the bird flew up five or six feet then actually dive-bombed Lilly! After enduring the physical assaults several times, Lilly glanced over her shoulder, stood up and sauntered a few steps, then sat back down and steadfastly resumed her peaceful outlook on life. Lilly seemed to know that the three-ounce aviator wasn’t a real problem. I suppose the bird finally also realized that Lilly wasn’t a problem, and flew away.

After a minute or so when the cat stood up and ambled away, Rebecca said, “I have to call dad!” We shared a hearty laugh.

I told her that reminds me of Taffy – my 18-pound Maine Coon cat years ago – and the golden retrievers next door when we lived in New Mexico. Although separated by a five-foot chain-link fence, the retrievers wanted to kill Taffy and always “barked their heads off” every time they saw him.

One day I could hardly believe my eyes. I was harvesting beets from the garden when the pooches began barking – again. The fence began rattling and the barking became more agitated, so I looked up.

Taffy was walking directly toward them with eyes locked onto theirs. The retrievers were trying to push through the fence; the hair on their neck and back was standing straight up as they made all the noise their vocal chords could muster!

In the midst of the pandemonium, Taff walked directly toward the would-be killers to within two feet of the fence and made the customary 3-circle rotation. Amidst the cacophony, he then proceeded to lie down – and with head resting on paw, resumed looking directly at the barking dogs. The cat then very slowly opened his mouth and released one long disdaining HISS!

The dogs lost their minds! But Taff’s ears weren’t even laid back, for he was at peace in the midst of the storm.

Why didn’t Taffy and Lilly run for protection? How did Taff endure severe mental and audible abuse, and how did Lilly endure mental and physical abuse?

They both knew they were safe. That got me to thinking about the storms humans face.

A debilitating sickness and a diagnosis of a terminal disease are major storms. Loss of a job, a divorce, death of a close friend or family member, and personal rejection are storms.

Note: in order to keep our storms in perspective, remember that every day people around the world are being murdered because of their faith.

So, what storm are you facing right now?

Yes, these storms are real for the person in midst of them, but we don’t have to “lose our minds” or lose emotional stability. We also need to remember that we cannot face them alone. We need help. Friends and family are the primary human support system, but a deep, enduring faith in Jesus Christ and dependence on Him is our main support and protection.

We should not fear death, for it is the door to heaven for a Christian. And in the midst of the storm remember what Hebrews 13:5b says, “I [Jesus] will never leave you nor forsake you.” We need to trust Him. No matter the storm you are facing, you will not be overcome if you lock your eyes – your faith – onto Jesus Christ.

Living With Conviction

Did you read this report? “With conviction, the elderly pastor conned the former convict into surrendering after the ex-con attempted to con the pastor out his life savings. And with conviction the jury convicted the ex-con.”

Are you dizzy yet? When I read that news brief, it made my head spin. So, get a cup of coffee, and let’s look at the word Conviction. What does it mean?

It comes from Latin: convincere; which means: to conquer, to overcome decisively; to firmly persuade. Today the verb form is: to argue successively, persuade, convince or convict; and the noun is: conviction. So, a conviction is a firm belief that I hold on to. And many times, a conviction is not just an idea that I believe; it is often a value or set of values upon which I have based my life.

Therefore, convictions are the criteria by which I make important decisions, and are the foundation of my character. And when we act on convictions, society often changes.

Thomas was a man of convictions. He saw a problem. He felt a conviction in his heart and mind about it. He prayed about it. Then, facing derision and opposition, he decided to do something about it.

Born in Glastonbury, England in 1845, Thomas was a dentist, a minister in the Wesleyan Methodist Connexion (which became the Wesleyan Methodist Episcopal Church), and disapproved of both slavery and alcohol.

Already understanding the detrimental results of alcoholism on society, Thomas became concerned about the use of alcohol (the sacramental wine) in Holy Communion. He objected to the use of alcohol anyway, had a pastoral concern for recovering alcoholics, and wanted children to partake in the sacrament of communion. As a communion steward in the church, Thomas Bramwell decided he had to do something about it.

He read about Ephraim Wales from Concord, Massachusetts who had finally achieved his goal of “developing the perfect sweet and palatable grape.” Ephraim named the grape after his hometown, Concord. Thomas also knew about Louis Pasteur’s process of retarding the spoilage of milk, called pasteurization, and applied that process to the Concord grape to prevent the fermentation process. After developing his unfermented communion alternative, he eventually convinced his church and many others to use the unfermented wine.

So, there you have it. A centuries-long practice of using alcoholic wine in communion was overturned in some churches by a prohibitionist. Today entire denominations decry any use of alcohol in any form, including in Holy Communion.

But society also changed in other areas due to this man’s convictions. His full name is Thomas Bramwell Welch, and he – with his son, Charles – had developed Welch’s Grape Juice. This achievement not only gave us unfermented wine, but marked the beginning of the processed fruit juice industry.

Let me add a few other tidbits of Welch trivia. In 1913 Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan served Welch’s Grape Juice at a state diplomatic event instead of the traditional fermented wine. In 1914 the Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, forbade wine on naval ships and [temporarily] substituted Welch’s Grape Juice.

In 1918 the Welch Company developed its first jam and called it Grapelade. The U.S. Army bought the first entire batch, and the G.I.s clamored for it when they returned to civilian life. In 1923 the world-famous Concord Grape Jelly was introduced, and as you see in this picture, it is still my all-time favorite jelly.

And in 1949, Welch became a pioneer in the frozen fruit juice industry by introducing Welch’s Frozen Grape Juice Concentrate. An added bonus is that in 2002, researchers reported the potential cancer-fighting benefit of the purple grape juice.

One man who had strong convictions changed society for the better. But a simple research can reveal thousands of others who, with conviction, changed our world: some for the better, and some for the worse.

How about you? Are you a person with convictions, or do you just float through life and let other people establish your political, religious, and personal ideology? Living with and acting on convictions will produce the foundation in life we need in order to determine our direction and set our goals in life. Living with convictions produce character and integrity.

Pray about it, and ask the Lord to help you establish and act on Godly convictions. You just might change the world.

Why Do You Argue?

Several years ago, a man walked up to me in front of a supermarket and asked, “Pastor Linzey, how many animals were on the Mayflower?”

I had no idea how many animals were on the hundred-foot long Mayflower, with one hundred and two passengers and a twenty-five to thirty-man crew.

Thinking it was a trick question, I said, “I don’t know, maybe a few dogs and….”

But before I could continue, he verbally exploded: “You are just as ignorant as the rest of those Christians – oh, I mean on Noah’s Ark. How many animals were on the ark?”

His attempt to embarrass me backfired. Maybe I should have ignored him and walked away. But I responded with, “The Bible doesn’t say how many animals were on the ark, but….”

Again, he cut me off. Hoping to malign my integrity, the young man blurted out, “I knew it! You are as ignorant as everyone else who says they are Christians! I have my doctorate and you Christians are ignorant!” He then victoriously stomped away. This young man was not inquiring for knowledge, insight, or help in any manner. Rather, he had an agenda to boost his own ego by publicly disparaging me in an argumentative manner.

I understood that young man’s problem, for in my ignorant youth, I enjoyed the same sport. I boosted my own ego by arguing with others in order to “prove” them wrong. It didn’t matter the subject – I knew how to wield words like swords, and I enjoyed verbal sparring. But as I grew older, and hopefully more mature, I learned the difference between argumentation and persuasion. I also realized how arrogant and foolish it is to argue with and degrade others. That’s when I asked the Lord to forgive me. I forgave that young man and prayed for him.

The immature form of arguing I am talking about is: to quarrel, squabble, bicker dispute, etc.; to exchange or express diverging or opposite views in a contrary, arrogant, heated, or angry manner. You win only by degrading your opponent.

But there’s a better way to communicate an opposing viewpoint: persuasion. That is: inducement, convincing, encouragement; causing people to want to believe something without offending them.

Words are powerful force: everybody uses them, but not always properly, constructively, and effectively. Another problem arises because many people don’t realize their “audience” has tuned them out. There is a saying in the military: “The myth of communication is that it has taken place.”

When is the last time you thought you clearly understood what was said, but learned later that you missed it? The problem is two-sided: the speaker and the hearer. Sometimes what I thought I said to Carol was not what I verbalized – my error. Other times she misunderstood what I did say – her error. Those interactions can generate interesting discussions. Successful communication depends on clear purposes, careful attention to the message, how it is conveyed, and a thorough awareness of the audience.

I’ve had the privilege of learning from people like Zig Ziglar, Stephen Covey, and John Maxwell. They are true leaders who teach us how to see beyond our own short-sightedness.

Covey encourages us to search for a “win-win” solution. By seeking the benefit of others, we mature in our own character. Ziglar teaches that when we enable others to succeed, we also are enabled to “reach the top.” Maxwell teaches that we reach greatness as we endeavor to help others succeed.

Jason Jones, with Strata Leadership, LLC, said, “You don’t have to be a celebrity to be persuasive. People want to be persuaded by, and follow someone who is confident and resolute in their thought, vision, and direction.”

Over the years, I learned that to persuade others – rather than argue with them – we need to keep several things in mind. We need to know what we are talking about, look people in the eyes as we speak, smile, speak clearly and confidently but not forcefully, engage the other person in discussion, purposefully listen when they speak, find things in common to talk about, and use our body language to support what we say. To really understand, we need to “listen” with our eyes as well as with our ears.

One who knows how to persuade others is a powerful person, and Christ-centered persuasive people manifest that power with confidence baptized in true humility.

It Was On Backwards

We lived in the high country of northern New Mexico for many years. At 7,827 feet above sea level, we lived about a half mile higher than Denver. When folks who live near sea level take a trip up there and start chopping wood or do some other vigorous activity, they find out what it means to be out-of-breath. Why is that?

Sea level atmospheric pressure averages around 14.7 pounds per square inch, and water boils at 212 F. But the air pressure at 7,827 feet is around 11.1 psi, and water boils around 198 F. Okay, that’s not a big deal; but when we remember that the oxygen content in the atmosphere averages around 20.9%, a 3.6 psi drop in air pressure effectively reduces the available oxygen by 5%. Therefore, people need to breathe deeper or more often until their bodies acclimate to the altitude.

Conversely, when Carol and I moved to Siloam Springs (altitude of 1,132 feet, air pressure of 14.1 psi, with the boiling point around 210 F), we had a much easier time breathing.

Back to my story.

In New Mexico, we lived in the forest about thirty miles from town. Sometimes we had to remove a tree that had fallen across the road. Many of us carried chain saws in the back of our 4-wheel drive vehicles, so if the tree was too large to move by hand or truck, we would cut the tree to manageable chunks to clear the road.

Tornados, which are common in the flat country, are almost unheard of in the mountains of New Mexico. But one day a small twister touched down and took out about 183 trees that ranged in diameter from twelve inches to three feet (plus tons of saplings and underbrush), and it really cluttered up the road.

Seven or eight of us gathered around the mangled mess and got out our trusty chain saws. I was real proud of my saw. Our kids gave me a Sears-Best with a 20-inch bar, and I could hardly wait to show my friends what I could do with it.

I put gas and oil in it, checked the tension of the chain, put on my safety goggles and hearing protection, and pulled the cord.

RRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!! It started up like it knew what it was doing.

I eagerly stepped up to the nearest tree lying across the road and increased the power. RRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!! I was excited and ready to throw chips and sawdust all over the road. With the saw revved at full speed, I attacked the tree. But nothing happened.

I was perplexed because my prized saw didn’t cut anything. I tried it again with the same results: nothing. No one was watching, for they were busy clearing their own portion of the road, so I shut the saw down to analyze the problem.

Have you ever felt an agonizing and humiliating embarrassment flood your soul? I did right then. Again, I looked around to see who was watching. Everyone else was busy working, and I was glad.

I had the appropriate tool, gas was in the tank, and the engine ran smoothly. But I had the chain on backwards!

Completely aggravated at myself for my ignorance, I quietly put the saw back in my pickup and did what any hard-working “wanna-be mountain-man” would do: I helped move the logs the other guys were cutting.

How many times have you discovered that a good plan wouldn’t work simply because you did something backwards? Many Christians I know complain about their lack of finances, but they squander their money at the casinos. Other folks make disastrous or poor decisions because they didn’t pray about them or seek counsel. These folks aren’t thinking properly.

But do you realize that God never gets things backwards? His plans are perfectly laid out. When something goes awry, it is us – you and me – who mess up. Proverbs 3:5-6 exhorts us: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek God’s will in all you do, and he will direct your paths.” Proverbs 4:7(a) says, “Getting wisdom is the most important thing you can do.” And wisdom comes from God.

God’s plans are perfect. Listen to Him; trust and obey Him. God is omniscient and He’ll never lead you astray.

When I returned home, I reinstalled the chain. A month later, I did successfully clear the road of a fallen tree. And if I ever get tempted to look down on someone who made a mistake, God reminds me of when I had the chain on backwards.

Contagious Thinking

The flu is contagious. The measles, mumps, and smallpox are contagious. A large number of diseases are contagious and people are scared. Many are afraid of going shopping, going to the dentist, even afraid of going to the hospital because – well, let’s face it: that’s where folk with contagious diseases go.

Some folk are afraid of having their children vaccinated, and others are afraid of NOT having them vaccinated – both for very good reasons. And we find dispensers of hand-wipes almost everywhere to help stop the spread of the invisible, evil horde.

We go to great lengths to warn people of the latest epidemic. We talk about it on television, radio, and on all the social media. We even warn people about what MIGHT be coming around the bend, even though sometimes it doesn’t happen.

That reminds me of the counselor who told his worried patient, “90% of all the things you worry about never happen.” To which the patient replied, “Good! Now, what can I do to eliminate the other 10%?”

We need to be alert to all kinds of dangers that are lurking out there, and we need to help others because we are our brother’s keeper. But viruses and bugs are not the only disease we catch out in the public. Often the more pervasive problem is our attitudes, and they are easier to catch than the flu.

Attitudes and emotions are contagious.

I remember being in a planning meeting at a science lab, and we had a difficult obstacle to overcome. We were in a deep discussion on how to solve the problem, but the key individual, Matt, was missing due to a scheduling conflict. Each time an idea was presented, one dour experienced member of the team explained why it wouldn’t work. After about forty-five minutes, the entire team was feeling dismal because of the failure syndrome that pervaded the room. The team mindset had been poisoned because it “caught” this man’s negative attitude.

But Matt finally arrived and asked for an update. After he heard each rejected proposal, he laughed and said, “Well, I’m glad I finally got here. You have in your hands the answer to the problem.” He then happily explained how two of the proposals would work. When the dour man spoke up, Matt explained how his rebuttals didn’t apply to this situation.

This man had not been contaminated with the prevailing negative attitude, and that freed his God-given creativity to recognize the value of the ideas that had been presented.

We don’t need to be caught as creatures of our negative culture. Rather, with a positive attitude we should create an atmosphere in which others can be set free to rise to their God-given potential.

A complainer can destroy the company’s vision and torpedo the goal. Negative attitudes can undermine the morale of the team and hide or destroy the available talent and creativity. Negative emotions are destroyers of progress.

But positive attitudes and emotions are just as contagious. We don’t have to be a Pollyanna to cheer up the room, and we don’t have to have an ever-ready smile to make people happy. But we can ask the Lord to help us see past our problems and see things from God’s perspective. We create our immediate environment by what we believe, how we think, and how we act.

We have a choice as to whether we will inflict emotional and spiritual damage, or bring emotional and spiritual healing to others.

What we believe affects how we think. How we think affects how we act. How we act affects what we accomplish. It also affects how others around us think.

I believe God wants us to represent Him as much as we know how. Some years ago, my friend, Terry Langham, and I were operations officers in a scientific laboratory. The scientists and workers there thought the atmosphere was “all business.” But it felt to us somewhat gloomy. After praying about it, but without telling anyone else, we decided to change our culture.

Our phone calls and e-mails started with “Good morning.” In the calls and e-mails, we often asked what we could do for them. We stopped by people’s offices periodically to assure that we were effectively communicating with them.

After several years, the division leader told us, “You’ve changed our atmosphere. The entire division is a kinder and more cheerful place to work. Thank you.”

Our thinking and attitudes are definitely contagious. How are you affecting your community?