Lessons From the Flock – Stay Focused

What are they doing out there?”

I was pouring a cup of coffee – my first one of the day – and had my back to Carol.

“What are who doing out where?”

“You have to look and see.”

It was around 7:15 in the morning and I had already gone out to let the girls (chickens) out of the coop. As I prepared their mix of goodies, they followed me so closely that I nearly stumbled over them. Goldie and Elona pecked my britches as a sign to pick them up and love them a little – which I did. Then, as they began gobbling up the morning meal, I returned to the house where my coffee was waiting.

As I set my cup down, Carol reached for her camera to take a video of what was taking place. I began laughing. I had seen this many times previously but had never seen it from Carol’s viewpoint.

Goldie had entered the coop but left it within a few seconds. Whitey was walking toward the entrance of the coop. When Goldie walked out, Whitey entered, but quickly exited and stood at the entrance. Red Head was pacing a few feet away.

“Elona must be on the nest, Precious, and the other girls are waiting. No one will go in to make their deposit until Elona leaves the nest. And it looks like Whitey will be next.”

“That doesn’t make sense. Even if she’s on the nest, there are four more nests available. “Why don’t they use the other nests?”

I poured milk into my coffee to cool it and to give it a better flavor. I don’t like black coffee. I don’t like it hot, either.

“That’s human logic, Precious, but not necessarily bird logic. Remember when Goldie became a brooder and sat on twenty-three eggs?”

“Yes. All four birds laid the eggs in one nest.”

“They still do that quite often.”

“But Fred has been gone for eleven months now; do they think they can raise another flock?”

(Fred was the rooster.) “Who knows? I can figure out part of their thinking, but not all of it. All I can say is the girls seem to be waiting in line until it’s their turn to pay their dues.”

“You mean, lay their eggs. I didn’t know chickens could be so patient. Look!”

Elona walked out, and Whitey entered. Goldie moved up and stood at the entrance – Red Head continued pacing a few feet away. She would go last.

Putting her camera down, Carol finally said, “When it comes to eating, they will grab worms, cockroaches, moths, and other choice morsels from each other’s beaks; and Elona and Goldie fight each other vying for your attention. But when it comes to taking dust baths or laying eggs, they patiently wait in line? I don’t get it.”

“I don’t know if it is about patience; it might be a matter of being focused.”

The day before, Goldie and Red Head were chasing Elona all over the quarter-acre backyard trying to get the night-crawler away from her. Focused on that worm, they cornered Elona, and all three birds managed to eat a portion of that 7-inch fish-bait.

 The birds know how to be focused. God programmed that into them. As they meander around the yard, they are always on the alert for a bug – either flying or creeping. Sometimes one of them will half-run and half-fly all the way across the yard, leap or fly up several feet and grab a butterfly that is flying low. Now that’s being focused!

Is there something we can learn from our flock? Yes.

Not able to focus on eternal values, chickens are focused on what will keep them alive physically. But it’s supposed to be different with humans. What are you focused on? Fun? Personal gain? Entertainment? Vocational advancement? Vengeance? Disappointments? None of that will help you when you stop breathing. God built within us the ability to focus on eternal values.

Philippians 3:13b-14 says, “I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (NLT)”

The prize the Apostle Paul was focused on was eternal life with God which he gained by living for and honoring Jesus Christ while here on earth. We must fulfill our responsibilities on earth, but let’s stay focused on honoring our Heavenly Father by obeying our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Lessons From the Flock – Security

Two of my chickens don’t like to be picked up, but something was different today.

I prepared their mix of goodies which consists of whole-grained rolled-oats, dried meal worms, cut-up apples, bread bits, and scratch. Water and the 16% protein meal called Crumbles are available 24/7.

As I tossed the mix out for them, Elona and Baby wanted to be picked up. These two, and Goldie, are the ones who always want to be loved on. I picked up Baby, then Elona. But this time, Whitey and Red Head came up. That’s unusual because they are the more elusive ones.

As I held and talked with Elona – she was explaining life to me – Whitey stood at my feet.

“You want up, Whitey?” She took a step closer.

I put Elona down and scooped up Whitey. She cocked her head, looked at me from both sides of her head, and talked – but not freely as do Baby, Elona, and Goldie. They chatter with me, but Whitey merely said a few syllables. (I’m not joking.)

Then Goldie walked up and began pecking on my britches. That’s her signal to pick her up. Elona does that, too.

I put Whitey down and scooped up Goldie, and she began telling me what she’s been doing lately. I then felt Red Head bump against me as she was looking for more worms. I put Goldie down and picked up Red Head.

She squirmed a bit but didn’t try to get away. However, she wouldn’t talk at all. Red Head merely looked at me as if to say, “Are you happy now that I let you pick me up?” When she looked at the ground and wiggled her legs, I put her down, and she continued her search for worms. I had an extra worm in my hands, so I said, “Red Head – you want this?”

Without hesitation she jumped up, and with outstretched neck grabbed it with her beak. At that movement, the others came running. They wanted it! Do you know the chicken’s philosophy of life? Here it is: If I have it, it’s mine. If you have it, it’s mine. And if I had it but you took it, it’s still mine!

So, I threw out another handful of dried meal worms; that generated another feeding-frenzy.

I often hold all five of the chickens – no more than three at a time, of course. I watch over my flock because (this may sound strange) I love them. I care for them and feed them very well. After losing the rooster (Fred) because I forgot to lock the coop, I always make sure they are safe and secure at night. They, in turn, come running to me every time I go out the back door. Again, as strange as it sounds, these babies love me – at least, as much as chickens know how to love.

Do you know that God loves us and wants to take care of us? But He does much more than I can do for my birds. I watch over my flock on a limited scale at best, but our Creator-Savior is a good shepherd and watches over His flock 24/7. He knows what’s happening with us every second of the day. He desires to “hold us” and care for us, and He goes out of His way to keep us safe and secure – if we let Him.

Amazingly, God is also limited in what He can do for us. What’s the limitation?

We are the limiting factor.

If my chickens wanted to, they could fly over the fence and escape my protective, nurturing care. They would be independent to roam freely. But they don’t. They stay with me, they trust me, they’re secure with me.

But many humans don’t have the wisdom my chickens have, and they run from God. Desiring independence, they “fly over the fence.” They fly from safety and into danger. They run from plenty, and into poverty. That’s not wise.

John 14:21 tells us that whoever loves the Lord – those who listen to and obey Him – are the ones to whom God the Father will reveal Himself.

If we run to God, and remain in His protective care, we can receive the “mix of goodies” that He wants to give us – in addition to His sustaining care available 24/7.

God loves you and desires to communicate with you. Study the Bible, learn to know Jesus, and find your security in and with Him. You may be surprised at the results.

Lessons From the Flock – Eggs

“We got six eggs from five chickens? How’d that happen?”

“Maybe it’s because my babies love me and want to stay in my good graces.”

 “Yeah, right!” Carol laughed. “But who gave the extra egg?”

I studied the eggs. Each bird colors her eggs differently although some are very close. “Goldie gives dark brown eggs; Elona’s and Red Head’s are lighter brown; Whitey and Baby give light brown eggs with a pink hue. That’s why, although Goldie was the brooder who sat on the eggs, I think Whitey was the biological mama. But Goldie gave us two eggs today.”

“So Goldie is trying to stay in your good graces? She’s also the one who has been giving us double-yolkers.”

Carol was right. Within the past three weeks Goldie gave us five double-yolkers.

Carol had another question: “Don’t forget that Goldie also gave us several tiny eggs with no yolks; that was strange! How do they make eggs, anyway?”

It was time to study.

As with women, hens enter the world with all the eggs they will ever have. Our birds started laying eggs at six months of age, although some chickens lay at five months. Here, briefly stated, is the process.

Light entering the eyes starts the activity. Light and heat are the stimulants which help chickens produce an egg on the average of every 25 to 26 hours. However, rather than delaying the egg several hours each day, our birds usually lay them between 8:00 and 10:00 every morning and skip a day periodically. Hens normally don’t lay eggs in the dark, so if the egg is ready to be laid at night, she will “hold it” until morning.

The oocytes (eggs in the ovary which become yolks) begin growing. Normally, one a day is released into the oviduct where fertilization can take place, but several may be traveling down the oviduct simultaneously – growing as they move. If a rooster is on the job, the yolk is fertilized early in the journey. The chick will grow on the outside of the yolk, and the yolk and albumin (egg-white) are the food for the developing chick. The birds need plenty of clean water in order to manufacture eggs.

At about the half-way point, the albumin begins to accumulate. The mass is then wrapped in a membrane which holds things together for the calcite shell. Chickens need calcium to create the shells. About four days a week, I crush three or four of their own dried shells and mix it with their feed. (Our chickens don’t prefer oyster shells.)

The membrane, containing the yolk and albumin, sits in a calcium-rich fluid at the end of the oviduct where the calcite settles or is deposited all around the membrane. It takes over twenty hours for the shell to form. One end of the egg is more pointed, and the other is gently rounded; and normally, the rounded end comes out first.

If the egg is brown, the pigment is the last step of the process because the brown coloring is only on the surface; but green eggs are green throughout the shell.

I mentioned that Goldie gave us several yolk-less eggs. Those are called “no-yolkers” or “wind-eggs.” That happened after she gave us several double-yolkers where two yolks traveled close together and were caught in the same shell. The double-yolkers were the size of goose-eggs, but the wind-eggs were the size of half my thumb. (The wind-egg whites are as good to eat as are the whites in normal eggs.)

All five birds lay the eggs in the same nest – one at a time, of course. And it’s fun hearing each one “sing” as she ascends the ramp to deposit her gift.

Remember Carol’s question? She wanted to know how we got six eggs from five birds in one day. I had the answer: Goldie had an egg ready to lay sometime during the night but held it until daylight. By then, the next egg was almost ready. When she laid it a couple of hours later, we had six eggs for the day.

As I was preparing this article, I began laughing. “What’s up?” Carol asked.

“I’m laughing at the concept of Evolution. There is absolutely no way that birds – with their built-in egg-manufacturing process – could have evolved from a non-bird life-form. It is, also, impossible for any life-form to self-generate from dissolved rocks. Life, including vegetation, requires the engineering genius of our Creator: Almighty God.”

“Okay. And I suppose your research also answers another question.”

“Which one?”

“Which came first: the chicken or the egg?”

“You are smart! And we understand from the scientific viewpoint that, indeed, the chicken came first.”

I Try to Protect My Flock

In 2017 we were visited by a small flock of chickens. This blog, and the blogs for the next three weeks are about those memories.

I evicted the raccoon, ground hog, and opossum from the premises. Then I repaired the 8’x10’ barns to prevent predators from hiding close to the coop and put up new fencing to keep predators out of the chicken yard. The chickens and squirrels get along together, and the chickens love to eat little worms, frogs, and every kind of moving bug they can catch. Bugs are happy meals for happy chickens. (Yes! They do eat small frogs.)

Every night I latch the doors to the coop and latch the gate to the chicken yard. I feed the four hens and one rooster well, keeping food and water available 24-hours a day, and I give them scratch, table scraps, and other goodies every day. I try to protect my flock.

Carol and I decided to let the hens hatch a batch of chicks. All four hens took turns laying the eggs in one nest. I suppose the hens drew straws and Goldie was chosen to be the Momma. Twenty-three eggs fit inside the nest, so we began gathering the rest.

In New Mexico, we raised chickens and turkeys from 1973-1978. Buying the chicks at 3-days old, we didn’t hatch our own, therefore, this would be the first time we hatched … uh … let our hen hatch them, and we had a lot to learn.

I forgot that the mama hen turns the eggs several times a day. Thinking that one of the hens laid an egg on top of the 23, I took it and put it in the refrigerator. (We wash all the eggs we collect.) Four days later, Carol and I were negatively surprised when I cracked that egg to cook it, and dropped a fully-developed chicken as big as the first two digits on my baby finger into the pan. It had previously died in the fridge.

One night I got home late and forgot to secure the coop. The next morning, I found chicken feathers all over the yard, but no rooster. Fred (the rooster) apparently had fought the predator to protect his harem, and gave his life for them. But in the fracas, Fred also mortally wounded the opossum, and I found the opossum’s carcass in the corner of the yard. However, something else (coyote?) had jumped the fence and took Fred’s carcass.

Never again will I forget to secure the coop.

After Goldie sat on the nest for three weeks, the eggs began hatching. Eleven hatched, but one died. I called the remaining babies “Our ten chicklets.” I made sure I closed and latched the coop, but there was something else I didn’t know: the other hens would hurt or kill the babies.

Making the fatal mistake of allowing the hens to be in the same coop with the babies, the next morning I found eight dead chicklets. It was my fault, and I felt terrible. Even worse, while Goldie was trying to protect her young’uns, the other three hens attacked her. That broke our hearts, and I resolved to keep the hens away from Goldie and her remaining babies until they were older. Goldie recovered, but a week later, one of the chicklets died.

The remaining chicklet is nearly full-size now, and she has a name: Baby. So, we have Red Head, Whitey, Elona, Goldie, and Baby. Now the hens don’t attack Baby; it’s just the regular “pecking-order” that takes place.

As I’ve been thinking about all this, the Church came to mind. Too often, if someone’s theology differs from ours, they are labeled or branded as in error. Regardless of theology, if they tend to differ in other seemingly important areas, the church often tends to shun them or separate from them. We sometimes “kill” them socially by damaging their reputation. And if we allow our emotions to control us, we can even insult Jesus by splitting His Church. This ought not to be!

People who are made in the image of God should not act like animals. I Peter 4:8 informs us that we should look for ways to love and protect God’s flock.

Neither you nor I are perfect, so learn to accept others as they are. Love and honor God by loving and protecting His flock. Remember: you need their friendship as much as they need yours.

I’ll tell you more about the flock in the next three weeks.

Legislating Morality?

Some time ago, a friend and I were talking about our nation’s problems and how they could be solved. His position was that new laws need to be created for every new situation, and I said multitudinous comprehensive laws were already in place – but needed to be enforced.

When the discussion turned to morality, Henry became agitated and blurted out, “You can’t legislate morality!”

Surprised, I asked what he meant.

“Outlawing alcohol – you know, prohibition – in the 1920s didn’t work; outlawing gambling didn’t work; and outlawing prostitution, drugs, and other activities won’t work; so we need to change the laws. Those things should be legalized so the government can collect taxes on it all. You just can’t legislate morals!”

But the young man had no idea what he just said. It takes legislation to make something either legal or illegal, and our government has legislated morals since our nation’s founding.

Morals is defined as: relating to or concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct; the distinction between right and wrong; concerned with the judgment of right or wrong human action and character.

By the way, most verdicts that judges or juries give are comments on legislated morality. Who or what made the distinction between right and wrong? Let’s look into it.

What about taking a life? Homicide has commonly been called 1st, 2nd, or 3rd degree murder, and it’s against the law in the US to murder someone. What about theft? On the books we have petit larceny, then four degrees of grand larceny: also, against the law. What about lying? Perjury is spelled out in the US Code, Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 79, § 1621. You guessed it: illegal.

Nevertheless, lying is prevalent in our society – especially in government and the mass media. However, some rename it and call it disinformation.

Here are several disinformational methods:

Telling a big lie openly, then retracting it quietly. Giving erroneous reports as fact. In a valid report, omitting data needed to make a proper and correct evaluation. Quoting others out of context to give an erroneous viewpoint. Over-publicizing a news item in order to ignore or cover up something more important. Denigrating the integrity of one who is telling the truth. In all situations, disinformation is a means of hiding truth.

Let’s see now: morals is the distinction between right and wrong. And we just identified three moral activities which we have outlawed by legislation. Murder, stealing, and lying are also prohibited in the 6th, 8th, and 9th of the 10 Commandments (Exodus 34); so our government does agree with Scripture – sometimes.

Obviously, we can and do legislate morals; so the question is: what morals do we choose to legislate? The answer: many! We legislate (make law) many good, honorable ideas; but we also approve anti-Biblical and anti-American laws that nullify constitutional rights.

Ravi Zacharias, on his radio program titled Let My People Think, said, “The non-Christian world politicizes morality while they moralize politics.” He is correct. Some of our politicians favor good morality and truth while others outright disdain truth. What baffles me is that sometimes our leaders and judges listen to a small minority on the fringe of society and make or break laws that override the desires and morals of the voting majority. What kind of democracy is that?

We also have a built-in dichotomy in our government. Some well-known government officials can commit crimes and lie about it, and we overlook it; while other well-known officials commit crimes and lie about it, and are prosecuted. Yet other officials are prosecuted when there is no evidence for prosecution. The morality of the issue seems to depend on what side of the political fence the official is on. They moralize politics.

However, if it’s a hate crime, that is bad! Amazingly, that is a double-legislation of morals.

Friends, we legislate morals all the time. But we have a problem. Often we’re outlawing wholesome, healthy core values, while approving anti-Biblical values and morals. This goes against our national heritage and weakens our nation: both spiritually and politically.

Morals – right versus wrong – is both a Biblical and political issue. Galatians 6:7 says, “Don’t be misled. You can’t ignore or mock God and get away with it.” Therefore, if we don’t revert to using Scripture for our legislative standard as we formerly did, our national problems will become more profound than they are now. It’s time to wake up and turn back to God.

What Do You Want in Life?

Matthew 13:44-46 is our starting point for this topic. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field. Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!” (NLT)

Have you ever wanted something so badly that you would do almost anything to get it?

Little Joe grew up in Pennsylvania near a coal mining town. He was skinny, not very tall, and didn’t look like he could take the pounding that high school football players take; so the coach put him on the sideline.

But Joe wanted to be a football quarterback.

He practiced for hours every night after school throwing and catching the ball. His dad became his personal coach and created difficult practice sessions for him. Joe strenuously pushed himself, and his skills exceled. The coach noticed Joe’s improvement and asked him to play on the starting team, and they won the state championship several years straight.

At graduation, a Notre Dame university scout recruited him, and Joe took the Fighting Irish to several national championships. After graduating from Notre Dame, the San Francisco 49ers hired Joe Montana, and the rest is Football History.

Here’s another story.

All his life, Harry wanted to be an actor, but at every interview he was told he would make a good blue-collar worker.

However, he hired out as an apprentice carpenter and brick layer. He eventually learned the carpentry trade so well that he formed his own company, began designing houses, and hired his own workers. But he never gave up his dream, and he practiced acting in front of the mirror … in the woods … in the houses he built. He never quit.

One day when a movie director hired Harrison to design a new house, the director said, “Haven’t you interviewed for one of my films?” When Harrison answered “yes,” Mr. Lucas said, “Please come for another interview in the morning.”

So Harry, Harrison Ford, interviewed and became Hans Solo in STAR WARS!

What did Joe Montana and Harrison Ford have in common? They had a goal. They set their minds to accomplish that goal. And they made it.

What do you want in life? When I was asked that question as a teenager, I refined the question. “The more appropriate question for me is, what does God want me to do.”

When we enter God’s family, He gives us several gifts (I Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4) and asks us to put them to good use; and those gifts are the tools we need to accomplish what God has asked us to do.

If you know what Gifts God has given you, and you know what God has asked you to do, have you set your mind to accomplish it? If not, why not?

Romans 12:2 says, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (NLT).

Here are six others who set their will to obey the Lord.

The Apostle Peter broke tradition to offer the Gospel to the Roman rulers.

The Apostle Paul took the Gospel to the entire gentile world and wrote much of the New Testament.

Martin Luther rediscovered the truth that we are saved by Grace: not by anything we can do.

John and Charles Wesley took the Gospel all through England and eastern America. They wrote over 500 hymns, and many are in our hymnals today.

Charles Finney was a lawyer. When he discovered that most of our laws were based on the Holy Bible, he studied it to increase his wisdom in court. Becoming a Christian, he devoted his life to preaching. Soon, the Holy Spirit generated true revival in many towns and businesses that Mr. Finney entered.

God wants persistent, unwavering, confident people in His church. He wants people who will remain loyal and obedient to Him no matter what opposition, storms, or blessings come our way. You can be one of those people.

Are you willing to cooperate with God? If so, what do you willing to do? What do you want in life? Ask the Lord to guide you, and He will.

The Head-Banger

Have you ever found yourself banging your head against a wall? How’d it feel? Did it help the situation? A friend of mine in New Mexico got so upset one day that he broke the sheet rock wall in his house with his head. After recovering from the concussion, he paid someone to repair the wall; but the situation he reacted to didn’t change because HE didn’t change.

Several weeks ago, Carol and I were finishing breakfast when I heard the unmistakable sound of someone banging its head against a solid object. This guy wasn’t upset or angry. He was hungry and looking for food. He was pounding away on the branch making bits of bark fly as he was gathering ants and other bugs with his long, barbed tongue.

It was a woodpecker.

I’m not an ornithologist, but this bird looked like a large Pileated Woodpecker. These guys can grow to almost 20 inches long, have a wingspan up to 29 inches, and weigh up to 12 ounces. It was drumming on one of our branches, grabbing nourishment with its tongue, and apparently taking it to someone in a nest because it made eight or nine trips to a distant tree while we were watching. I read that some woodpeckers have up to 9-inch tongues, but the Pileated Woodpecker’s tongue is only about 4 inches long.

These birds are members of the Picidae family, and peck like a jackhammer at about 20 hits per second! Compare that to a good machine-gun that fires 1,000 bullets per minute, which is16 per second.

The International Ornithological Congress says 236 species of woodpeckers make up the Picidae family world-wide, but only 23 species inhabit the United States.

How do woodpeckers survive the banging without getting headaches or concussions? God provided them with amazing safety features.

The beak consists of three-layers. The tough outer cover is called rhamphotheca made of scales from keratin, a middle layer of porous bone, and an inner fibrous layer made of mineralized collagen. Its structure absorbs and distributes much of the impact throughout the body which reduces the strain on the brain.

The skull is made of sponge-like bone, and liquid surrounds the brain. Both skull and liquid absorb a lot of the rapid-fire shock, and a safety belt called the hyoid bone that wraps around the brain keeps the brain from rattling. While pounding the tree, a thick nictitating membrane covers the eyes, protecting them from flying shrapnel. Also, the slitted nose is protected with special feathers.

Many of these critters are antisocial and don’t mix well with others. In this sense, “Birds of a feather flock together” doesn’t always hold true. Most are territorial and are jealous of their turf.

I read that wild woodpeckers live from 4 to 12 years, but under ideal conditions they might live 25 to 30 years.

The most famous woodpecker in America is the cartoon Woody Woodpecker that was created by Ben Hardaway in 1940. I always liked that cartoon. Hardaway styled Woody as a combination of several birds, including the Pileated Woodpecker.

Thinking back on my friend in New Mexico, he wasn’t created like a woodpecker, so he shouldn’t have physically banged his head. And he discovered that becoming a head-banger doesn’t do any good.

What about figuratively banging our heads? Normally, that means we are frustrated, angry, or worried. However, if we get upset, it blocks the creativity we need for correcting the situation. Rather than demanding that the situation change, we need to change our method of responding.

Storms of all sizes and types are an integral part of life. But as devastating as the storm may be, it is our reaction that exacerbates the problem. Getting upset and banging our heads only makes things worse.

So what should we do?

Because we have a difficult time changing our circumstances, we need to learn how to change ourselves. Romans 12:2 tells us don’t act like the world but ask God to help us change the way we think. Then we will learn to know God’s will for us. Interestingly, when we change the way we think and act, our circumstances often change.

Psalms and Proverbs provide the principles for handling almost any situation that life can present. You may scoff at that; but when you recognize and admit your need for help, God will be waiting for you. We don’t need to be a head-banger; leave that option for the woodpeckers.

Simple Writing is Smart Writing

When I was in high school trying to write reports and term papers, I had a difficult time. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get anything to sound right. Asking dad for advice, he looked at my futile attempts and said, “You’re trying to sound smart.”

“Huh?”

“You’re trying to empress your teachers. Quit it, and make it sound like yourself. Do the research, know what you’re writing about, but make it sound like yourself.” He then taught me a lesson I never forgot.

The most widely read magazine at the time, Reader’s Digest, was written on the 8th-grade level. Although enjoyed by professionals and academics, it was read and understood by 10-year-old kids. “You do need to increase your vocabulary. That’s a fact. But don’t try to impress anyone. Just convey information in a meaningful way.” Dad was right, of course.

That made life much easier for me. And as I write this today, I am reminded of a humorous conversation between my brother-in-law, Paul Anderson, and a scientist in Los Alamos, NM. Paul is an expert auto mechanic and understands everyday life quite well.

The scientist drove up to Paul’s shop one day and said, “Mr. Anderson, There seems to be a protrusion in one of my tires that allowed the air to escape.”

Paul responded, “Oh, you mean you got a flat?”

Upon which the man replied, “Yes, I guess you could say that.”

Whether we are writing or speaking, we should use concepts, syllables, and phrases that convey our thoughts in a meaningful manner to the listener and reader. That’s called proper communication.

The rule of thumb is to say things simply. If people have to ask you what you meant, you may have miscommunicated, or you simply need to explain in more detail. When I teach, tell stories, preach, or write, I communicate in such a way that children as well as scientists can understand me.

New writers, as I was back in high school, tend to use long words and complicated writing styles. That works if the writer needs an extra 150 words to fulfill the writing assignment. But if the writer understands what he/she is writing about, fewer words give space for more content. Here’s a case in point.

Back in 2004 as I began writing Bible Question & Answer articles for a New Mexico newspaper, Ralph the editor told me I had a limit of 250 words per article; and 250 words included the question. I asked, “How can I fully answer a Bible question with approximately 225 words?”

Ralph responded, “Anyone who understands what he believes can respond in 225-250 words.”

That was possibly some of the best writing mentoring I ever received! And I worked at it.

After six months Ralph said, “You’re doing very well, and I’m upping your limit to 350 words. Keep avoiding excessive words while filling the added space with content.”

Ralph then suggested that I select up to 65 of those articles and format them into a book. Following that advice resulted in my first book titled Insights on Faith & History. It has been updated and published in a second edition called Reflections on Faith & History. (See my blog for last week.)

Quoting from a Princeton University Report: “Write as simply and plainly as possible and it’s more likely you’ll be thought of as intelligent.”

Combining the advice from Dad, Ralph, and Princeton – and applying it – changed my life.

Keep in mind that writing doesn’t necessarily mean writing books. People write and mail letters to friends. We also write emails, texts, tweets, and a lot more. But depressingly, a lot of that is very poorly written.

So, if any of you want to increase your writing skills, there are several options. Here are only three. 1. Find a writer’s club and join it. 2. Sit down and write something you’re interested in and ask a friend to critique it for you. Accept his or her advice and rewrite it. Ask others to critique it next time. Learn from them. 3. Go to the internet and simply type in: Help in writing better. You’ll get a lot of good advice.

Remember: Simple Writing is Smart Writing. Have a great day, and Happy Writing.

Death Valley

When we reached California to visit our son and his family, Ron asked, “How was the trip?”

“It was a tough trip. I went through the valley of death just to see you.”

“Really, Dad? So you, a 74-year-old Californian, finally visited Death Valley National Park. Was it worth the time?”

“For a Californian, definitely, YES. But I think for a US Citizen, the answer is still, Yes.”

After Carol and I drove through Bryce and Zion National Parks on May 10 and 11, our next visit was to Death Valley.

There are three basic routes to visit the Valley: the Fast Route, Scenic Route, and the Explorer Route. Any of the three are worth the time spent, although I think the Scenic Route is the most rewarding.

Situated in the northern Mojave Desert, Death Valley is an intriguing part of our Country. Here’s an interesting travel trivia tid-bit. The highest point in the Continental United States (that excludes Alaska and Hawaii) is Mount Whitney. The lowest point in the US is Bad Water. Are you ready? These two geological points are only 88 miles apart. Mount Whitney reaches 14,494 feet above sea level in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, and Bad Water is in Death Valley at 282 feet below sea level.

The Valley is also the hottest spot in the Western Hemisphere. When we visited it on May 12, 2021, the temperature was 110 degrees F. A year earlier on August 16, the temp reached 130 F. The highest air temperature ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere was in Death Valley on July 10, 1913. It was 134 degrees F. But there’s more. The hottest surface temperature ever recorded on earth was in Death Valley on July 15, 1972. That was 201 degrees F, and some folks fried eggs on the ground. I hope they didn’t eat them.

The Valley is called a “graben” which is a block of land between two mountain ranges that has dropped, probably due to earthquakes. Over 5,000 years ago, the Valley held a 100-mile-long lake which was about 600 feet deep.

Have you ever heard of climate change? Long before industries developed and before we contaminated the atmosphere, several thousand years before the Pilgrims came to America, climate change was already well-developed, and Death Valley Lake, along with thousands of others, dried up.

The area turned to desert and most of the water evaporated which left an abundance of crystalized material; the primary one was borax. Borax was mined heavily from 1883-1907. Have you ever heard of Boraxo, or 20 Mule-Team Borax? It came from Death Valley, and the Pacific Coast Borax Company sponsored radio and television shows called Death Valley Days. The radio program ran from 1930-1945, and the television show ran from 1952-1975. Ronald Reagan was the narrator of the television show from 1964-1965.

Several geological faults intersect in the Valley, and the Amargosa River runs into it but disappears in the sand. And, if you’re wondering, it snowed once in January of 1922.

The Valley is home to the Native American Timbisha tribe, formerly called Panamint Shoshone. They called the area “tumpisa” which means “rock paint” because red ochre paint is made from the clay found there.

On February 11, 1933, President Herbert Hoover declared the area as Death Valley National Monument, but in 1994 it was renamed Death Valley National Park. Located in California and Nevada, it’s the largest national park in the 48 states, and has almost 1,000 miles of roads in it. Dress with loose-fitting clothing and take plenty of water with you during your visit.

But why is it called Death Valley?

In the 1849 California Gold Rush, about 300,000 adventurers went to find their fame and fortune. A group of 13 were just a few who entered the Valley but didn’t understand the dry heat of the deep desert and didn’t take enough water. They were found dead, and people called it a valley of death.

Do you know that millions of people around the world today are searching through an emotional and spiritual valley of death for fame, self-worth, or mere acceptance, while others are seeking wealth, power, and prestige? That craving will never be satisfied outside a relationship with Jesus Christ. Fulfillment in this life, and joy throughout eternity is found only in Jesus.

Visit Death Valley but live for Christ. The treasure you seek can be discovered by reading the treasure-map, the Bible.

G. W. Carver and J.H. Pickle, Jr.

Have you heard of these men? Both are scientists … well, J. H. is still a scientist, but G. W. was a scientist until he passed away in 1943.

David Pickle called me last week and said he had a book for me, so I drove over to get it. It was so interesting that it didn’t take me very long to finish reading it. The book was compiled and written by Dave’s brother, John H. Pickle, Jr., and it’s an amazing account of his father’s interaction with the outstanding scientist, George Washington Carver! The title of the book is, One of His Boys.

Quoting from the back of the book, “George Washington Carver is today remembered in part for the many products he derived from the peanut, a crop he urged on Southern Farmers to replace cotton and avoid soil exhaustion and the boll weevil. Less known are the multitude of college students Carver took under his wing over the years in relationships that were cherished by and valuable to the scientist. One of His Boys is the story of the mentorship of Johnnie Pickle, one young man inspired to follow in Carver’s footsteps after witnessing firsthand the Wizard of Tuskegee’s wisdom.”

Johnnie Pickle had the privilege of meeting the African American scientist in 1932. Because of this “chance encounter” Johnnie was inspired to become a scientist. Johnnie’s son, John Jr. also followed in Carver’s and Johnnie’s footsteps, and [quoting the book] “spent thirty years developing products for farmers to use. He is now retired and continues to promote good science.”

Dr. John H. Pickle, Jr., spoke about their father’s long-time interaction with Carver. The presentation was at the George Washington Carver National Monument on Saturday, September 11, 2021. I attended and enjoyed the presentation as well as enjoyed meeting Dr. John Pickle.

Carver was the most prominent black scientist in the early 1900s. Two of the things he is famous for were crop-rotation and creating over 300 uses for the peanut. I found it quite interesting that, until 1870, peanuts grown in America were primarily used as a garden crop, and its primary large-scale purpose was hog food until around 1932.

Here’s a bit of peanut trivia.

President Thomas Jefferson was a botanist and grew peanuts. The peanut was nutrition for soldiers during the Civil War. Known as goober peas, the Southerners pronounced them gooba peas because the word from Africa was, nguba.

Enter George Washington Carver, the Wizard from Tuskegee.

Quoting Carver: “All my life, I have risen regularly at four in the morning to go into the woods and talk with God. That’s where He reveals His secrets to me. When everybody else is asleep, I hear God best and learn my plan.”

One morning, George asked God why He made the peanut.

Quoting Carver: “He told me, separate the peanut into water, fats, oils, gums, resins, sugars, starches, and amino acids. Then recombine these under My three laws of compatibility, temperature, and pressure. Then you will know why I made the peanut.”

Eight of these discoveries are flour, paste, insulation, paper, wood stains, shaving cream, tires, and skin lotion.

That heavenly advice helped Carver discover over 300 uses for the peanut, and that changed the South, changed ethnic relations, and changed the agriculture industry.

I laughed when I learned that Carver didn’t merely “talk to God.” He “conversed with God.” That’s exactly what prayer is supposed to be – a conversation with God. Carver said, “God speaks to us every hour, if we will only TUNE IN.”

God is alive, and He wants to communicate with us. If I do all the talking, I’ll get no answers. I know what my problems and needs are, at least I think I know, but God really knows them. If I merely recite to God what He already knows, I’m not learning anything.

But if I listen, I can hear God giving me helpful information – as He gave Carver information. God communicates with me often, and wants to converse with you, too. Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep know My voice.”

God listens, then responds to us. Do you listen to God?

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