Singing Benefits Breathing

Have you been coughing or sneezing lately? Allergies take a toll on us, but a worse Polluted Airproblem involves difficulty in breathing. Several causes are asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, emphysema, and a big title called Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder, or COPD. You have probably seen the advertisements for numerous medications.

I’ve found four common causes of COPD. 1) Cigarette smoke is by far the most common reason people get COPD. But cigar and pipe smoke are also guilty. Secondhand smoke is considered a fifth cause, but it is still tobacco smoke. Therefore, I lump it in with the first cause. 2) Breathing chemical fumes, dust, contaminated city air, or toxic substances can cause COPD. 3) We read that about 3% of people with COPD are genetically inclined in their DNA: the code that tells your body how to work properly. This is called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, or ATT deficiency. The affected lungs lack a certain protein needed to protect them from damage which can lead to severe COPD. 4) Least common, asthma can also lead to COPD. If you don’t get medical treatment for asthma soon enough, it can eventually cause lifetime lung damage.

People with damaged or diseased lungs tend to take rapid and shallow breaths, but doctors tell us that this aggravates the problem. Instead: longer, slower, deeper breathing is more soothing, helps clear the lungs, and promotes relaxation; all of which retards lung tissue deterioration.

There are many treatments for breathing disorders and I don’t disparage any of them. However, there is a little-known treatment that costs nothing. It is called: SINGING. Okay, I like to sing. But read on.

I read the following in a health report: “In a third-floor room of a London hospital…a dozen people gathered to perform vocal exercises and sing songs. While the participants were drawn to the session by a fondness for music, they also had an ulterior motive for singing: to cope better with lung disease. The weekly group is led by a professional musician and is offered to people with respiratory problems including asthma, emphysema, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder. Doctors at London’s Royal Brompton Hospital started the program after reasoning that the kind of breathing used by singers might also help lung patients.”

Those of us who sing a lot, especially in choirs, know that singing requires better posture and teaches us to manage our breathing. Dr. Hopkinson said, “In a study comparing patients who went to the singing class versus those who attended a film discussion group, only the patients who sang reported feeling physically better afterwards, even if it couldn’t be measured objectively. Other experts agreed the singing therapy was an unusual but worthy approach.”

Dr. Norman Edelman, former chief medical officer of the American Lung Association, said, “Controlled breathing, like the kind you might learn in singing, is very important because people with COPD should try to take deep breaths and slowly synchronize each breath when they’re doing something like walking up stairs.”

Would singing help everyone with lung deficiencies? I don’t know, and many people don’t like to sing. Also, although they know that slow, deep breathing does help, many folks don’t remember to do their breathing exercises. But if they got into the habit of singing, the exercises would become routine. However, those with severe lung problems will find it difficult to sing.

I am not encouraging you to stop taking medication; I am merely encouraging you to add something that doesn’t cost anything. Additionally, singing is beneficial spiritually and emotionally. Psalm 9:1-2 says, “I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart. I will tell all the miracles You have done. I will be happy because of You; God Most High, I will sing praises to Your name.” and Proverbs 17:22 says, “A happy heart is like good medicine, but a broken spirit drains your strength.”

Many people in their 70s and 80s have agreed that singing helped them breathe easier. Diagnosed with severe emphysema in 2002, a man named John Cameron Turner said he tried various medicines with not much relief. He said, “I have damaged lungs, but singing helps me use as much of them as possible.”

So I encourage you to sing joyful songs with a wholesome message. You can even hum happy tunes. You have nothing to lose and much to gain.

Insufficient Power

In November of 2012, Carol and I were in Dulce (pronounced:  Dool-say), a small town on the Jicarilla (Hickareeya) Apache reservation in Northern New Mexico. On Friday afternoon, Carol was preparing lunch and I was preparing a sermon; but my computer was having difficulty conducting simple operations.
Then it informed me that the battery was exhausted and would shut down in ten minutes. It had been plugged in all day, so how could it be that tired?  Thinking that a restart might wake it up, I decided to shut it down manually; but I first saved my work and printed my sermon notes. Good decision! An unhappy surprise was awaiting me.

Upon restart, an information box appeared. It told me that the computer requires a 130-watt power supply to operate, but that I was using an insufficient 65-watt supply. I remember buying this travel transformer when I bought the computer, so how could it be the wrong one? Then the dreaded order appeared: “Restart using a 130-watt power supply.” Guess what? I had left my primary power supply at home 854 miles away.

I took the fussy computer – and the insufficient power supply – fifty-three miles to a computer shop in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. During the interrogation, it slowly dawned on me: the 65-watt transformer came with my previous computer! When I upgraded to my Dell Precision M6300, I didn’t think of purchasing an updated travel power supply, and had not needed a backup power supply again until this trip.

I had two options: either go home to retrieve the primary power supply, or … no. Driving a round trip of 1,708 miles in eighteen hours was impractical. Even if I could average 95.44 mph for the entire trip, the police wouldn’t approve. I had only one, real option: buy another one!

The store manager said she could have a new power supply in two weeks and my machine would be down-n-out until then. But after making an emotional appeal – and paying an extra $20 – the 130-watt power supply arrived in only five days. “Live and Learn” is what they say. But I was happy that I had printed my sermon notes!

Do you realize that we humans sometimes develop the same problem of exhausting our batteries? We often find ourselves with insufficient power to finish the job at hand. Sometimes we even start a job without the appropriate power. Perhaps we are either not plugged in, or maybe we are plugged into an improper power supply. Attempting to operate on low or inappropriate power often works for a while, but living that way can eventually generate a nasty little condition called burnout. Or even Failure!

There are various reasons for exhaustion or lack of power, but a major principle that my friend (Tom Whittlesey) and I learned decades ago addresses many of them. A simplified version is: “God’s work, done in God’s time, done God’s way, will never lack God’s provision.” Let’s break it down for easy understanding.

  1. A pastor in New Mexico decided to tear down a historic church edifice and build a modern one. He presented the idea to the church body and it was voted down. Nevertheless, he persuaded the board to approve it. He then overcame numerous roadblocks, and arduously accomplished the project. Half the people left the church, and the other half was saddled with an almost bankrupting million-dollar debt. The pastor had his monument but his anticipated feeling of accomplishment and elation never materialized. It wasn’t God’s work; and demoralized, he resigned within a year.
  2. William Booth was a pastor/evangelist with the Methodist Connexion in England. Ministering to thousands every week, he was stopped one day by a beggar who said, “Mr. Booth, if I believed what you say you believe, I’d do something about it.” During the next few weeks, Booth began to realize that it was God’s time to start a different kind of ministry. He resigned from the pastorate and in 1865 started what became the Salvation Army. It was God’s time.
  3. Years ago, the director of the YMCA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, had worried himself almost to a nervous breakdown. He was working about 85 hours a week while worrying about the myriads of problems that surrounded him. Depressed, he finally went for counsel.

The doctor said, “George, you’re going to ruin your health with worry unless you back off. You must turn all your worries over to God, and learn to trust your staff.”

After thinking it over, George took a long walk in the woods. Sitting down against a tree, he got out his pencil and paper, and wrote:

Dear God,

I hereby resign as Executive Director and General Manager of the Universe.

Love, George

“Wonder of Wonders,” George said later, “God accepted my resignation!” Within days his strength returned and he could think more clearly. And within a few months the YMCA operation improved dramatically. He learned to do things God’s way.

  1. God rewards and blesses those who cooperate with Him to the best of their abilities.

Living this way, we can experience a fulfilled, balanced life. We’ll get sufficient rest, eat properly, see life more clearly, and our batteries won’t run down.

God’s work, done in God’s time, done God’s way, will never lack God’s provision.

The Cat, Rabbit, and Hawk

DSCN8427“Carol, look in the back yard!” I called to my wife. A large cat was lying motionless on the lawn intently observing something. But why was it there? What was it looking at?

Many animals visit our yard: squirrels, rabbits, lizards, opossums, racoons, over thirty varieties of birds, and four varieties of snakes. At times we are visited by deer, turtles, the neighbor’s pets, and this stray cat. 

We’ve always been partial to cats and rabbits because they are soft and cuddly. Well, I DSCN8448was partial to rabbits until I planted our garden. The furry little creatures seem to have a taste for my beet greens, Carol’s pea plants, and our broccoli. As I was chasing one rabbit out of the garden, I hollered, “Have you ever heard of rabbit stew?” The leporid probably didn’t hear me as it darted through – yes, THROUGH – the chain link fencing. I didn’t know they could fit through the diagonal openings. From the next yard it stopped, turned around, and looked at me as if to say, “You can’t catch me!” only to run for its furry life as the neighbor’s barking dog took up the chase. Good dog!

In deference to Carol, I decided not to shoot the furry critters; but I also announced that I would no longer run out and chase them out of the organic grocery store. And in time the rabbits felt safe and became more lethargic as they regained emotional control of the yard. This brings us back to the motionless cat in the back yard.

Carol and I observed the cat’s posture and the direction it was facing. It was flat on the ground, ears laid back, eyes just above the grass-line – reminding us of a lion on the prowl. Then Carol asked, “Is that a dog in the garden?” I saw a brown animal, but from my vantage point of looking through the tomato bush, I couldn’t tell. Then, the brown thing moved.

 “It’s a … is it an … owl?” I asked incredulously? Then it raised its head, and with a three-foot wingspan it gracefully flew away. BW Hawk

 “It’s a big hawk!” Carol exclaimed. It was a beautiful, mature Broad-winged Hawk. These birds can see a rabbit from two miles away, but with our trees surrounding the yard, it must have been a mile straight up. And with a deathly-quiet diving velocity of almost 200 MPH, the unwary rabbit didn’t have a chance. Why did the Broad-wing leave without finishing its dinner?

Then the large cat stood up and … large cat? It was a normal-sized critter. What happened? The feline apparently had several things going through its cunning little mind: “I’ve never seen a bird that big! Is it edible? Make myself look as large as possible for protection. Proceed with caution!”

The critter flattened and made itself look as wide as possible and was inching its way toward the hawk; but the hawk finally saw the “large” cat approaching, got nervous, and flew for safety. The cat walked up to where the bird had been, saw the rabbit’s carcass, decided it wasn’t that hungry, then it also left the scene of the crime. That left just the lifeless intruder and me. At that point I wasn’t upset with the rabbit, and actually felt sorry for it.

As I buried it, I began thinking about the situations we humans get into. The hapless rabbit merely wanted a tasty salad, and ventured out into the open where it was unprotected. What is it that misguided humans want? People often venture into areas of life that God has declared off limits because they are dangerous physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Our conscience and the Holy Spirit try to keep us out of the “garden” but as we focus on the “beet greens, pea plants, and the broccoli” of life, we tune out the warnings and gradually become insensitive to the dangers accompanying our actions. Then judgment dscn0464appears “out of the blue,” like that Broad-winged Hawk after the rabbit. Then we ask, “How did I get caught?”

We have no excuse because Romans 2:15 tells us, “In their hearts they [people] know what is right and wrong, just as the law commands. And they show this by their consciences. Sometimes their thoughts tell them they did wrong, and sometimes their thoughts tell them they did right.

The rabbit let its guard down, lived carelessly, and died. Let’s not make that mistake: but obey Scripture, honor Jesus Christ and others, and live.

A Labor of Love

gene's info 120For over three years we were pastors of a church in Springer, New Mexico that was 200 miles from our home. Some routes went through winding mountainous roads and took longer. Living in the hills in northern New Mexico and driving the 6-8 hour trip to church and back every weekend – while working 50-60 hours a week at a national laboratory – we were late for church only twice. You may ask “Why did you accept that challenge?” That, and the results of our efforts, is another story for another time. Today’s story is about the trips; and of the eight possible routes to church, we found six that we took quite often.

In all our travels in over 52 years of marriage, we have had fun. Even when we made a wrong turn or were detoured due to highway work, we made a mini-vacation out of it. Last December, traveling from Missouri to home, we decided to take some roads we had never been on. We discovered only one problem: highway 221 turned into a gravel road. We laughed, turned around, and went another direction which took us through Eureka Springs; so we stopped and had dinner before resuming our trek. We make enjoyable memories out of potential irritations in life. But back to the story.

One Sunday morning, one of our deacons asked, “Pastor, what’s on your hands?” I told him I was bleeding. He said, “Blood isn’t that color. What’d you do?” Carol quickly said, “We went through Mora, and picked raspberries yesterday.”

mora, nmOne of our routes to Springer was through Espanola and up the canyon through which flowed the Rio Grande. At La Cienaga we turned east toward Sipapu then over the mountains and down into Mora. And that is where my hands turned red – or maybe, purple. Mora is well-known for its raspberry farm, and Carol had often asked me to stop and pick raspberries. Each time I said something like: “I’m going to be preaching and teaching, and berry-picking isn’t on my mind.” Although that was true, it was also a smoke-screen: I didn’t want to pick berries.

Now, for all you who have never picked blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, etc., let me tell you: I don’t enjoy that activity. We reach inside the foliage to find the berries, and these bushes have thorns containing toxin. Picking berries was both painful and made my arms itch for over a week. Now you might understand why I don’t like picking berries.

But one weekend my Precious wife was so desirous for those delicious, reddish-purple clumps ofraspberries juice, and she was so gentle in her running commentary about how delicious those berries would be in ice cream or made into a berry jam, that my mouth drooled and I just had to stop. When Carol excitedly asked, “Are we going to pick berries?” I said, “Yes. I don’t want to, so this will be a labor of love.”

“Yeah, right! You just want berries and ice cream!”

She was at least partly correct.

That time of year the berries were ripe, and many of them leaked their contents because they split or crushed easily as we picked them. But we left with five quarts, and Carol kept her word: they were GOOD over ice cream, over angel-food cake, in fruit salads, and made into jam. In the long run, I was glad I stopped. (But my hands did get stained with the juice, and I itched for a week.)

But do you know that someone else performed a labor of love that far surpassed anything I could dscn0464do ever for Carol? Where I merely paused on my trip and received a few scratches on my arms, Jesus deliberately left His home in heaven and came to earth to rescue mankind from an eternal separation from God the Father. Jesus didn’t have mere scratches on His arms; the soldiers made a wreath containing inch-long needle-sharp thorns and jammed it onto His head. Jesus purposely allowed Himself to be killed in a gruesome manner in order to reveal the depth of the pain we would suffer eternally without God.

But Jesus doesn’t want us to suffer, and because of Jesus’ labor of love, we can have a home with Him forever. (Romans 8:35-39)

The results of my labor lasted only several months; but the results of Jesus’ labor will never end. I hope you accept God’s Love through Jesus Christ, our Savior. (Luke 19:10, John 3:16)

Your Reality – My Reality

Critical Thinking 2“Your reality may be good for you, but I have my own reality.” Have you ever heard that? Have you ever said that?

Statements like that have made the rounds for decades, if not centuries; but the question is: Do we have our own realities? I think the answer is a qualified “yes.” Hold on now, and let me explain. My reasoning is simple: we all perceive, feel, and think differently. I experience things and situations differently than you do.

What is real to me (what is understandable, comprehensible, vivid, important, beautiful, unpleasant, detestable, etc.) may not be real to you. You may not have seen someone die, I have. Your favorite color may be yellow, mine is blue. You may enjoy the mountains while I enjoy the oceans. You might be moved by country-western and rock music while I listen to church hymns and John Philip Sousa marches. You may study art, music, and eating habits, while I study the Bible, science and history. What strongly impacts your emotions or mind may not appeal to me. And, of course, you and I have different family backgrounds, personal histories, and possibly different religious beliefs. Even my siblings (I am one of ten children) and I view life differently.

However, although you and I may have different realities in a temporal or philosophical sense, we must not confuse these differences with absolute reality or absolute truth. I remember when a philosophy instructor exclaimed, “There are no absolutes!” One student asked, “Is that absolutely correct?” How should the professor respond? Either “yes” or “no” would invalidate his primary statement. So rather than try to unsuccessfully pry himself out of that predicament, the professor merely changed the subject. The Prof didn’t realize that absolutes, or absolute laws, govern the universe, and that his statement was self-contradictory.

Normally when a person states, “I have my own reality,” the statement is based on relativismIMG_1797. That is the concept that all truth is relative to the individual, time, or place. However, relativism is a faulty philosophy that attempts to negate absolutism. Absolute means: complete; not limited by restrictions; unconditional; unrelated to and independent of anything else. Interestingly, after a short investigation we find absolute truth in math, history, the Bible, and in every-day life. Often, the denial of absolutism is not about life, but is aimed at the reality of God and the deity of Jesus Christ. And the one who claims his own reality actually claims to be the supreme ruler in his own life; but living for just twenty-four hours will prove that is false.

An example of the difference between a temporal reality and absolute reality is: A blind and deaf person may not know you exist. Therefore, you are not real to him, and you are not part of his reality. However, you do exist. But when you are brought into his presence where he is allowed to touch you and is “introduced” to you through a Braille or hand-manual message, you are incorporated into his reality. Absolute truth hasn’t changed; but his understanding, or his temporal reality, has changed.

In the same way, many folk do not know that God exists because they are “blind” to His existence. But they can be introduced to God and Jesus Christ through the “Braille” of Holy Scripture and Holy Spirit-directed lives. Many of us need a guide, such as a blind person needs a guide dog or as wagon trains on the Oregon Trail needed guides to get them across the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The guides we need today to help us understand absolute reality are pastors, teachers, and primarily the Holy Spirit. Temporal realities change all through our lives; but absolute reality never changes.

pict0377Another example of absolute reality: God knew you would be born and that you will live forever – somewhere; but it is your choice as to your eternal destination. Whether or not you believe in heaven or hell does not change the reality of either place: our personal belief neither establishes fact nor eradicates truth. Absolute truth stands on its own foundation.

Your reality? My reality? We need to align our temporal realities with the time-tested truths of absolute reality as found in the Bible, and prepare ourselves to meet the author of absolute truth: Almighty God.

Slow Down and Live

Some years ago, I was sitting at my typewriter – actually at my computer – looking out the window. It was cold with a light breeze blowing. The clouds, which are usually water vapor, looked more like swirling snow ready to grace our countryside. My snow shovel was ready, my boots were at the door, and Carol could have hot coffee or hot chocolate ready within five minutes if I needed to leave my comfort zone to clear the sidewalk and driveway.

We lived in a community of 3,000 people in the hills of northern New Mexico at 7,825 feet above sea level. (For comparison, Albuquerque, NM is about 5,000 feet in altitude.)  

A winter storm would often drop two to three feet of snow at a time, sometimes up to five feet,PICT0181 and we would be temporarily locked in the house. That was great for the skiers, and it made the landscape look more beautiful than words can tell. And if there was no wind while the snow was falling, the big fluffy snowflakes absorbed all the background noise which created a living Winter Rockwell Painting. Beautiful!

If the snow was less than two feet deep, my 4-wheel drive vehicle with good tires would get me anywhere I wanted to go. But if it was deeper than two feet, we just stayed home. Carol would get out the coffee or hot chocolate; maybe bake several dozen cookies. We would start a fire in the fireplace, make sure the cat and dogs were warm if they weren’t playfully romping out the in the field; and Carol and I would do what we enjoyed doing best: Spend Time With Each Other.

With our schedules jammed and our lives so full of activity, being snowed-in gave us time to tell each other what we meant to say several days or weeks previously. We had time to actually LISTEN to each other.

PICT1265With critters in front of the fireplace, a table nearby with a puzzle or a scrabble game on it, steam rising from two cups of hot chocolate or coffee, a big window across the room with snow gently falling outside–we have another Rockwell Painting. Periodically I would go out and clear the walks and uncover the car before the snow got too deep.

Carol and I understand the value, and the need, to spend time together; so at times we still declare a “snow-day” and stay home. Years ago, we decided to slow down and live. Slowing down can actually make our lives fuller and richer. Not fuller with more things to do or richer with more money in the bank; but fuller and richer with what really counts in life.

Since we don’t have a guarantee that we will be alive on earth tomorrow, why not invest our time and our lives into people now? After all, material possessions can give satisfaction for a little while, but healthy, wholesome interaction with family and friends can last a lifetime–and beyond.

It’s called making memories together, and it’s more enjoyable than watching a football game.

When family members or friends that we love leave this life, we will miss them. We will be sad, and tears can flow. But if we invest our lives into them while they are here, we will have those memories to hold on to, and those memories will help sustain us in our sorrow.

More importantly, we should invest our time studying the Bible and learning to know Jesus. First Thessalonians 4:13-14, which applies to those who live for the Lord, says “But we do not want you to be uninformed about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. (NRSV)” What a promise! Therefore, even in sorrow we can experience joy.PICT0192B

Well, it didn’t snow that day, but my boots and the shovel were ready just in case it did. 

Oh, Carol just told me that lunch is ready. I think I’ll turn off the computer and spend time with her. Maybe we’ll play scrabble. We like that game. As of this writing, we are tied at 368 wins.

Seven Helpful Habits

From 1994 to 2005 I was an operations officer in the Nuclear Physics division at the Los Alamos7 Habits National Laboratory. One of my responsibilities was to assure that our staff’s training was up-to-date. One day I read about a seminar titled, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.” That intrigued me, and I attended the seminar to see if I should recommend it to our staff. I’m glad I did, and it was my privilege to meet and talk with the speaker, Dr. Stephen R. Covey. Dr. Covey condensed his seminar into a book titled by the same name: “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” (He passed away in July of 2012. America misses him, but his teaching will go on. And yes: I recommended this course to our staff.)

Covey taught that developing good habits presents more long-term benefits than trying to build a good image – corporate or personal. He said:

“The difference between the two approaches is similar to the difference between cramming for an exam and taking care of a farm. ‘Cramming’ is an image-based approach that nets temporary results, whereas taking care of a farm requires continuous, daily attention that will provide long-term dividends.”

And ‘taking care of the farm’ is the phrase he used for developing good habits for living.

The first three habits deal with the Personal Level. Individuals develop Independence by adherence to these habits.

Habit One focuses on taking control of life: Be Proactive. Don’t create or accept excuses for failure or lack of progress. Blaming or accusing doesn’t help anyone. And stop being overly concerned about things over which you have no control, but respond properly to situations. Covey called this: “response-ability”.

Habit Two is the development of a Personal Mission Statement: Begin with the End in Mind. Leisure time? Travel? More efficient teamwork? More effective sermons? Quicker meals? Whatever it is, define it. Whether you are a husband, wife, business owner, student, pastor, etc., develop goals to define your direction. This can be difficult; but once accomplished it will help you develop more effective leadership qualities needed in your personal or business life. It makes life easier and more enjoyable.

Habit Three is the essence of personal time management: Put First Things First. Separate tasks or projects under “urgent” – “important” – “necessary” – “desired.” This takes insight, planning, preparation, and promotes efficiency. It also greatly reduces time spent in crisis-management. That, in itself, is rewarding.

The next three habits deal with the Interpersonal Level. This section is more complex because practice of these habits leads to valuable Interdependence, which leads to personal and corporate maturity.

Habit Four is the philosophy that creates more productive, long-lasting relationships: Think Win/Win. We do not have to step on someone in order to succeed (except for sports games: one team must win). We need to fix in our mind that in order to truly get ahead we must depend on and help others. No one ever succeeds by himself. We must ignore our competitive instinct and help others succeed. The Win/Win concept requires courage and trust, but pays big dividends.

Habit Five is the skill that allows Win-Win to work: “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.” This concept made a long-lasting impression on me. Learning to actively understand someone else and his/her point of view is mandatory in order to effectively communicate our thoughts. If the other person realizes that I am concerned about him, he will be open to hear from me and perhaps willing to help me.

Habit Six is Synergize. Often (but not always) a corporate concept produces a better solution than our individual ideas. And this is actually the fruit of Habits four and five.

And Habit Seven is Sharpen the Saw. Our skills and methods are never perfect. Therefore, we need to continually hone or refine them.

PrinciplesThe information I gained at the seminar, and in reading the book, did not guarantee quick fixes to any personal, interpersonal or business problems. But I was supplied with tools to improve my communication skills, my outlook on life, and reduce unnecessary friction.

I also recommend two other books: “The Leader In Me” and “Principle-Centered Leadership.” To learn more about the “7 Habits” and other Covey books, contact Franklin Covey Co., Debra Lund, 801-244-4474; Debra.Lund@FranklinCovey.com.

A BLESSED CHRISTMAS

Said the shepherd boy to the little lamb, “Do you see what I see?”

Way up in the sky little lamb, “Do you see what I see?”

A star, a star, shining in the night, it will bring us beauty and light.

It will bring us beauty and light.

    DSCN4172Thinking about that song brought many thoughts to my mind.  Allow me to share them with you.

     The shepherds, watching their flocks out in the field, looked up into the cool fall sky. Suddenly, one of the shepherds jumped up and cried out, “Look! Do you see what I see?” The others quickly looked – and in Luke 2:10-12 the lead angel made the announcement as the other shepherds shielded their eyes from the bright light:

“Do not be afraid. I am bringing you good news that will be a great joy to all the people. Today your Savior was born in the town of David. He is Christ, the Lord. This is how you will know him: You will find a new-born baby wrapped in white cloth, lying in a manger.”DSCN0574

     The shepherds, following the heavenly directions, quickly went to the cave or animal stall where Joseph and Mary were. When they saw the new-born baby who was declared by the angels to be God, one of the shepherds slowly knelt down, and incredulously asked, “Do you see what I see?” And their lives were changed forever!

     Anna, the 84-year old prophetess, was in the temple when Joseph and Mary brought Jesus in to be circumcised and blessed. When Anna saw the 8-day old Baby in Mary’s arms, she said gently and worshipfully, “Do you see what I see? I thank you, O Great Jehovah, for allowing my eyes to see the salvation of Israel.” She then prayed over baby Jesus, and began telling everyone what she saw: “People listen. This Little One is the Messiah for whom we all have been waiting. Let’s Worship the King!” And her life was changed forever!

     The Wise Men spent much time studying the sky. They were the scientists of their day and were advisors to their king. They were probably from Persia, which would include DSCN0309Iran and Iraq today. One night, one of the astronomers suddenly called to his colleagues, “Look! Do you see what I see?” The others gathered around and were amazed at the startling message unfolding in the sky, for it told them that a new King was born in Israel. Because of the writings left by Daniel back around 560 BC, they had been expecting it, and within six months, they left on a caravan for the Promised Land. Finding the house and kneeling down in front of Mary who was holding the child who was nearly a year old, the noblemen worshipfully said:  

   Here, most highly honored King, exalted by God in the heavens. We give you Gold: a treasure which does not tarnish or rust, it is a gift to royalty and conveys our life-long worship to you.

   We give you Frankincense: an aromatic treasure which we hope conveys the aroma of our love and adoration of You to the exalted God in the heavens.

   And we give you Myrrh: to make Your life on earth sweet.

And their lives were changed forever!

     Do you see what happened? Whenever people encounter the Living God, their lives are changed! And when someone’s life is truly changed, that person will change the world around them.

     As the shepherds went back to their flocks, they told everyone they met about the new Messiah for months to come because their lives had been changed. And they changed their world as they spread the Good News.

     At eighty-four, you know that she told people about the new Messiah for the rest of her life because her life had been changed. And she changed her world as she told folk who came to the Temple to worship.

     And the Wise men made an international impact, for they changed their world whichPICT0057 was the Middle-East. They told people in the trade caravans, the scientific community, kings and nobility about the new King.  That’s because their lives had been changed.

     Has your life been changed? Do you tell people about Jesus our Savior, or are you afraid of offending someone? God is calling you to change your world by being a faithful witness about what you have both seen and heard. Go ahead – people need to hear the Good News.

     Have you seen what I have seen?

The Purpose of Miracles

What is a miracle? Several years ago, a man told me, “If you can explain it, it wasn’t a Question Markmiracle!” I found that rather humorous; but because the man was serious I didn’t want to insult him by laughing. However, that is not a criterion for miracles.

I find two basic types of miracles, with several variations of the theme. 1) Supernatural: God works above, against, or outside the laws of nature. 2) Natural: God uses natural phenomena or natural laws; but inexplicable timing is the key element.

The Veritas Bible commentary says,

Miracle may be defined as that which takes place by Divine power outside the ordinary course of nature. Miracles are not an end in themselves but are intended to show either the truth of what is taught or the presence of God in the person who teaches. The object of Christ’s miracles was to prove His Divinity so that men might come to salvation.

I agree. The purpose of miracles is to glorify God, although mankind does benefit from them.   Let’s address the supernatural element first; and I want to start by saying that LIFE is a miracle.

The first miracle I find in Scripture is creation. A long-standing scientific principle says, “Matter can be neither created nor destroyed; but can merely change state.” That is: change from solid, to liquid, to gas, and (temporarily) to plasma. You and I create things out of stuff that exists. That is fabricating, but isn’t a miracle. God, Who exists outside time and space, created stuff out of nothing. That’s a miracle.

So, if matter cannot be created, but it exists – and matter cannot spontaneously appear from nothing – we know there is a God Who has always existed outside time and space. God is the great “I AM” – the eternal, self-existent One; the first cause of all things. (Remember that phrase because nothing can happen without a cause. That is also a scientific principle.)

Another above- or outside-nature miracle is raising the dead to life. Stated very simply: PICT0122man can neither create life nor restore life; but God – Who is outside time and space – can. Physical healings are sometimes miraculous. And, of course, one of the greatest miracles is exemplified in our eternal salvation. Looking at a baby reveals the miraculous power – and love – of God. But (don’t think I’m beingIMG_1439 funny here), watching an egg hatch also reveals the miraculous power of God. Think about it: man cannot instill or create life.

Now, for miracles in the natural realm.

An example (inexplicable timing) of the second type of miracle is found in Joshua 3:14-17 where the Jordan River stopped flowing at flood-time for the Israelites to cross over. DSCN4904Verse 16 says, “the water above that point began backing up a great distance away at a town called Adam, which is near Zarethan. And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until the riverbed was dry. Then all the people crossed over near the town of Jericho. (NLT)”

A supernaturally-timed land-slide temporarily blocked the river’s flow. When the nervous priests reluctantly, yet obediently, stepped into the flooded Jordan River, they didn’t know the water level was about to recede. Then, after more than a million people with all their animals crossed over, the temporary earthen dam gave way and a tsunami of water, rocks, and mud came crashing down the Jordan River. God caused the heavy landslide at the right time which blocked and contained the water until the right time. The timing was miraculous.

The Bible records about 37 miracles performed by Jesus, and He said in John 14:13, “If you ask for anything in my name, I will do it for you so that the Father’s glory will be shown through the Son.”

THAT is the purpose of miracles: that the Father’s glory will be manifested, and that His purposes will be fulfilled on earth and in heaven.

Miracles are not for our self-aggrandizement or to puff up our reputation. They are not even primarily for our benefit. This is where many in the Church make their mistake: they focus on the miracle or on what they think they did through “their word” or by “their faith.” We must face the fact that, although man does benefit from them, miracles are for the purpose of exalting God.

Jesus said in Luke 10:20, “Don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered as citizens of heaven.”

So, don’t brag about your faith or your prayers. Learn to align yourself with God. Pray, act, and speak in concert with God’s will, in Jesus’ name, and allow God to receive the credit. He’ll bless you for it.Bible.docx

Just remember: The Bible lets us know that the purpose of miracles is to glorify God.

God’s Amazing Grace

Have you read and thought about the words to John Newton’s famous hymn “Amazing Grace”?

Let me refresh your memory with the first verse:

     Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!

     I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see.Boy

As a teenager I told my dad, a Navy Chaplain, “I can’t sing the song because I am not a wretch.” But my father, a wise man, said, “The man who wrote that song was speaking about himself. You need to read about him. But before you do, look up the word.” So I did.

“Wretch” is traced to the Old English “wrecca” which means “banished person.” It also means “a despicable, worthless, contemptible, or vile person.”

Well, that didn’t apply to me as a thirteen-year-old boy. The worst thing I ever did was lie to my parents and fight with my siblings. Maybe I talked back to my parents, and cheated on a test. Oh whatever – but I decided that I was NOT a wretch!

When dad asked me what I found out, I gave my report about how bad I was NOT. Granting that I was overall a good boy, dad asked me a strange question: “Are you in the same category as Jesus – one who has never sinned?”

“Of course I have sinned,” I said. “But I’m still not a wretch!” What was dad getting at anyway? Had I done something really bad that I had forgotten about? I didn’t think so. Well, I did shoot at cars with my Red Rider B-B gun one time; but the B-Bs never even came close to the cars which were a quarter-mile away. And I’m sure dad never knew about that.

Dad had turned to James 2:10 in the New Testament and read: “And the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as the person who has broken all of God’s laws.” He then asked me what it meant. All I did was to repeat the verse because it was self-explanatory.

“So,” dad asked, “are you any better than John Newton?”

Rev. John Newton was born July 24, 1725 and died December 21, 1807. In his later years, he was an Anglican minister, hymn-writer, and supported the English abolition of slavery. So, what’s the deal about a wretch? There’s more to the story.

The son of a British shipmaster, the Royal Navy captured John – a common way of drafting men into the military, sometimes called “shanghaied.” Somewhat of a rebel, he was flogged and sold into slavery. He referred to himself as “a servant of slaves in West Africa.” But he was eventually set free; and, although having been a victim of slavery, he became a slave trader.

ShipAlthough it was totally demeaning, barbaric, and inhuman to the captured Africans, it was a lucrative endeavor. Not only that, it was a joint-effort: black Africans were capturing neighboring black Africans and selling the ones they didn’t kill to the white slave-traders.

Newton married a Christian, and made a confession of faith in Christ, but continued in the evil, inhumane business of treating human beings worse than he treated his dog.

When offered a better position, Newton quit the slave trade and grew in his understanding of the evil nature of slavery. By the late 1760s Newton’s conscience was gnawing at him in such a way that he finally realized the wretchedness of his malevolent, cruel involvement, and how much he had offended God.

God had revealed His “Amazing Grace” to Newton, and the song was written in 1773. InCross 1788, thirty-four years after Newton left slavery, he wrote a pamphlet titled “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade.” He described the hellish conditions of the slave ships, and said, “It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.” He joined William Wilberforce, and in 1807 they led the charge of ending the slave trade in England.

Dad was waiting for my response. I said, “According to James 2:10, since I have sinned in other areas, I am no better than a slave trader, a murderer, or anything else. I guess without Christ I did fit the ‘wretch’ category.”

Dad said, “Good boy. That is the correct conclusion.”

I now could sing the song. But it took me many years to fully understand the true wretchedness of a person without Christ. And I also understand, decades later, that if I fail to live for the Lord in the best way I know how, I would still be a wretch. 

Want about you? Have you thought about it?