How’s Your Drag Set?

In the late 1990s, Carol and I were visiting her mother and step-dad in Pagosa Springs, Colorado where they owned a cabin on Pagosa Lake. Charles and I had become life-long friends and we enjoy fishing together. (My mother-in-law has since graduated to heaven, and the cabin was sold.)

“You want to go fishing out on the lake?” Charles asked.

“Sure, I suppose so; but we always catch our limit of Rainbow trout from your dock. Why fish from a boat?”

Charles’ neighbor, Frank, had a trolling boat and took Charles fishing in it somewhat often. The limit from the boat was still the same, but Charles said they catch bigger ones out on the water.

Within the hour, the boat was ready, we had our poles, tackle-boxes, bait, nets, and Coca Cola, and we headed out for an adventure.

Frank told me, “Throw your line out in back of us.” I had a new pole called an “Ugly Stick” with a Shakespeare reel, and the yellow and green Rooster Lure flew about 100 feet. Frank’s next order was, “Now, just hold the pole perpendicular to the direction of your line and wait for the trout to visit you. When he hits, don’t point the pole in the trout’s direction; keep it pointed 90 degrees from him. Just reel him in steadily and let the flexing pole do the work.”

We were trolling slowly, and within three minutes I felt a tremendous yank and my pole doubled over. But just as quickly, it popped back straight.

Frank had fished Pagosa Lake for many years and caught his limit every time. He said, “I know what’s out here, and the way your pole bent over, that was a 20-incher. Reel in your line.” When I found the end of the line, the lure was gone.

“That critter broke your line.” Frank exclaimed. “How’s your drag set?”

I asked, “What’s drag?”

Perplexed, Frank asked, “You’ve fished northern New Mexico for ten years, and you don’t know what drag is?”

“No, but I always catch fish.”

Frank and Charles started laughing. No they weren’t mocking me; they just thought it was funny that a man in his 50s could fish for years and never know what drag was. I began laughing, too, and handed my Ugly Stick with a Shakespeare reel to Frank.

The drag is actually an apparatus made from a pair of friction plates inside the reel. The tension has to be set to release quickly to keep the line from snapping when the big ones yank on it. Then as we reel the critter in and the fish puts up too much of a squabble, the friction is overcome, allowing the reel to rotate backwards just enough to keep the line from breaking.

Frank explained drag, and showed me how to set it. He then set it for the trout we were after and said, “You’ll need to adjust it for stream-fishing back home.”

We proceeded to fish for an hour, and each of us and several friends caught our limit of three Rainbow trout. The two 17-inchers I caught put up a fuss and took a minute or two to bring in. And yes, the drag function worked properly. But an 18-incher put up a fight! Taking almost three minutes to reel it in, I was grateful that Frank set the tension for me. Back at the cabin, Carol cooked the big one like a salmon, and it was GOOD! The left-overs were made into trout-fish sandwiches which tasted much better than tuna-fish.

By the way, the little ones – eight to thirteen inchers – don’t pull hard enough to break the line, and I have never reset the drag.

Reminiscing on that recently reminded me of everyday life. Do you find that the pressures of life are too much, and you feel like snapping? Do you feel like giving up? How’s your emotional drag set?

Don’t trust your own wisdom, for you’ll be disappointed.  And don’t give up because help is just a prayer away. So trust in the Lord with your entire life. In everything you do, acknowledge the Lord, and He will guide you (Pro. 3:5-6). You are secure in God’s hands because He will help you set your emotional drag.

The Cracked Windshield

As we were driving near the Salton Sea in Southern California, a blinding sandstorm lightly sandblasted our windshield. Afterward, when the sunlight hit the windshield at the right angle, or if a car came toward us at a critical angle at night, it created a visual difficulty. But we could still see well enough to drive safely so we didn’t replace it.

But this is a different story.

In October of 2016, a truck about 300 feet ahead of us lofted a rock that landed on our windshield – right in front of Carol. In addition to startling Carol and eliciting a yelp from her, it created a crater in the windshield with five or six cracks radiating outward.

What could I do? There is no need to stop. No sense in getting aggravated, worried, or upset; and the truck driver didn’t do it intentionally. Change lanes if possible, continue on course and take care of it later. But be assured: if not repaired soon, the cracks will grow and the windshield will become what I call “spider-webbed”.

Here’s some background information.

The dashboard was created to prevent mud and horse excrement from “dashing” the legs of the driver and passengers. Dashboards on buggies were originally vertical or at an angle, but lower on the carriage.

Windscreens (early name for windshields) may also have had their beginnings on horse-drawn carriages or buggies. They were made of glass, were mounted on top of the dashboards, and provided protection for the upper body and face.

Since many early cars were manufactured without tops, the windscreen provided some protection from the wind as well as from stuff being splattered by horses and other vehicles. In the US, the windscreen became a shield from the wind as the vehicles began going faster; so it took on the name of windshield.

In a car, the “shelf” between the driver and the windshield kept the title of dashboard, and the windshield could be laid down on the dashboard on dry and non-windy days. But the glass broke easily, so improvements in glass quality and safety were needed.

A process called “tempering” was utilized to make a safer glass, but it was soon replaced by “safety-glass.” Safety-glass is a laminated glass that is made like a sandwich: two layers of tempered glass with a layer of plastic in between.

Today, the major components of windshields or windscreens are silica, soda ash, dolomite, limestone, and cullet. Often potassium oxide and aluminum oxide are added; but silica (sand) comprises well over 60% of the material.

Also, modern windshields can have more than two layers of tempered glass with layers of plastic (usually polyvinyl butyral or ethylene-vinyl acetate) in between. This allows the windshield to be considerably more flexible and more resilient to blows from rocks or other objects.

Because of the flexibility and lamination, when an object hits the windshield, potential damage is usually confined to the outer glass layer. It may still need to be repaired or replaced, but the lamination prevents the glass from shattering.

Back to the cracked windshield.

I called Safelite AutoGlass Company. They said if the break was smaller than a credit card and has three or fewer radiating cracks, the insurance companies will not provide a replacement. Well, the break with cracks was smaller than a card, but it had five or six radiating cracks that I call spider-legs – and they were growing. So we set up an appointment for the next day; and while we shopped at Sears, the car received a new windshield.

Wow! What a joy it is to see super-clearly as we drive throughout the California country-side – and on interstate highways.

Do you know that our spiritual vision can be damaged by bumps in life? Someone can purposely or inadvertently hurl a spiritual stone at us and crack our mental or spiritual “shield”. Then, without the badly-needed protection, we become vulnerable to other dangers. Our damaged vision robs us of wisdom, and our poor reactions make things worse.

What should we do? Safelite AutoGlass cannot help us here; but Almighty God can. Ephesians 6:16 says, “Above all, take the shield of faith which will protect you from all the fiery darts of the wicked.”

Place your faith in Jesus: in Almighty God. He will give you clear vision and help you make correct decisions in life.

So, enjoy life – both the rough and smooth parts – and stay clear of those who would throw things that could hurt you. But if you do get a crack in your shield, turn to God immediately for help. Jesus promised never to leave us or forsake us.

The Plestiodon

What do you think a plestiodon is? It sounds like it might be a giant dinosaur, and perhaps it’s the topic of the latest archeological find hidden deep in central Africa. Or maybe this giant skeleton was uncovered in a dinosaur graveyard in the hills of Morrison, Cripple Creek, or Cañon City – all in Colorado.

But, you don’t know what a plestiodon is? Neither did I until I looked it up.

It’s not a giant lizard or a dinosaur, and it’s not the focal point of archeology. It’s a little lizard with a bright blue tail. They are also called skinks, which derives from “Scinc” in the Scincidae family.

I saw this lizard one hot summer day when it crawled into the garage to cool off. The problem developed when it crawled onto one of the glue traps I use to reduce the spider, cricket, and beetle populations of the world.

I placed a few drops of WD-40® around its entrapped form. Then, using a twig, I gently lifted its body to allow the oil to dissolve the glue under it, and in a few minutes it was free. But its bright blue tail didn’t make it, and was left wiggling on the glue trap. I placed the reptile in the grass beside the garage. But before it waddled away, it turned and, not moving, looked directly at me for almost a minute. Maybe it was thanking me for saving its life? I don’t know … maybe.

When God designed this critter, He gave it a bright blue tail which can be released in danger. The blue attracts predators; and when they grab it for breakfast, the lizard sheds it and runs for cover. When the tail grows back, it is shorter, and is usually the same color as the rest of the body – but sometimes pink.

08-19-14bThis episode in the garage reminded me of another reptilian visit in New Mexico back in 1993. When it tried to hide, it reminded me that many people think they can hide from God, and I wrote a poem about it.

THE LIZARD

A young lizard came into my shop today;

Left to himself, I thought he’d go away.

But he just stood there looking at me,

Hoping beyond hope that him, I wouldn’t see.

 

Earlier that day it had been quite warm,

And to open the door would be the norm.

Then the rain began, and I love the sound.

It was then I saw my friend on the ground.

 

I looked in my shop, but no food was in sight

To give to my friend. But I understood his plight:

It was storming outside and he had discovered

A place of refuge. He knew he’d be covered.

 

I tried to catch him and take him outside,

But he was too smart and from me he did hide.

“You can’t catch me – you can’t reach under there!”

It was then that I heard my unspoken prayer.

 

“Lord, am I attempting to hide from You?”

And of course, He answered as if on cue:

“My kids seem to think since they can’t see Me

That I can’t see them; and think they are free.

 

“I want you to know that I see you today –

At work, at home, at church, and at play.

Go tell My Church that I see them, too.

But oh, how I desire to be in their view!

 

“If they keep withdrawing themselves from Me,

Whatever they think, they’ll never be free.

Like the lizard, if they don’t want to die,

They must trust in Me; and escape, not to try.”

 

I searched again to find my small friend.

Then I saw him – heading around the bend!

Using wisdom and stealth, I aimed him outside

Using my right foot as a peculiar guide.

 

“Lord, unlike this lizard, let me never hide;

Abiding in You may I always confide.

Self-sufficient, I never want to be,

But always believing, and trusting in Thee.

Believe it or not, that episode has stayed with me all these years, and has reminded me to07-29-15b.jpg always be transparent to God and to others. I will never hide my faith in Jesus, and I will never hide who I am in Christ. I want to safely rest in the palm of His hands.

As a Christian, my prayer is summarized in Psalm 19:14 – “Let my words and thoughts be acceptable to you, Lord.”

I pray that the church at large will also live by that Psalm.

Ability versus Availability

In mid-June several years ago, Carol and I were returning home after visiting Jeremy (our son) and his family in Perkins, Oklahoma. We were on highway 33 about halfway between Perkins and Tulsa when I suddenly stopped the car and turned around. Carol asked, “What are you doing?”

Pulling onto the shoulder on the north side of the road, I said, “Look.”

Carol incredulously exclaimed, “Oh no, a fire!”

I was already calling 9-1-1. When the operator asked about my specific location, I said, “I am on Oklahoma highway 33, east of the intersection of highway 48; but I don’t know how far.”

The operator said, “No problem: we’ve got you pegged. Stay there; a truck will be on the way.”

When Carol asked how they knew where we were, I said, “GPS on my cell phone.” (That’s another story.)

Fires generate their own weather-patterns and can produce fierce winds. That becomes a major factor in the growth of wild fires, and is why they need to be spotted and put out early. In the past several years, fires had ravaged that portion of the state.

It was after 10:00 pm, dark, and we had nothing with which to douse the fire; so we were merely a landmark, waiting for someone who could extinguish the growing blaze. About six minutes later, a fire-truck pulled up in back of us. The driver said, “Thank you for calling it in, and thank you for waiting for us. You are free to go now.” That was a hint to get out of his way.

Carol and I didn’t have the ability to quench the fire, but we were available to contact those who could do the job.

Ability versus availability.

Another time, in the summer in 1976 in the heat of the day, Carol, the kids, and I were heading south on Arizona highway 89. We were almost to the little town of Congress when we saw a small brushfire beside the road. We surmised that the fire was caused by a foolish person throwing a cigarette out the window. It was hot, and a lot of dried vegetation (fuel for the fire) covered the country-side.

Cell phones were not invented until the mid-1980s, and I didn’t have one until the mid-90s. With no way to call for help, 6-year-old Ron, 4-year-old Jeremy, and I used a cardboard box, dirt, and our 5-gallon container of water to extinguish the small-but-growing blaze. In that situation, we were available and had the ability to complete the task.

What is the common denominator in those two events? Availability.

Without our presence and alertness in each of those situations, both fires might have caused great physical damage and possible bodily harm.

No, I’m not bragging; merely explaining the concept of availability. The idea is: no matter what you know or what you think you know, your knowledge cannot benefit anyone unless you are available to apply it.

“Available” means: Present and ready for use; at hand; accessible.

What about you? Are you available to mankind and to God? Although an unlikely candidate, Abraham Lincoln was available. God, Himself, doesn’t need our skills and abilities, but He does give us the privilege of exercising our gifts and abilities—what He gave us or enabled us to learn—to fulfill our portion of His plan: thus, growing His kingdom and helping mankind. You may be a computer technician, auto mechanic, writer, pastor, secretary, lawyer, politician, policeman, or fireman. Whatever your vocation, God calls each of us to work as though He (God) is our supervisor. He then helps us to be alert to situations, such as the fires, and directs us as to our part in putting them out.

Psalm 147:10-11 says, “His pleasure is not in strong horses, nor his delight in brave soldiers; but he takes pleasure in those who honor him, in those who trust in his constant love” (GNT).

The psalmist tells us that God does not rejoice in our strength and ability, but He finds pleasure in our attitude. Are we available to Him and mankind, or are we stuck on our own desires? It is our attitude that determines whether or not we are available.

I am not inferring that you need to accept every offer that comes your way. You need to pray about all that. But we can take a hint from Jesus’ parable of The Good Samaritan. Are you available to help? Are you available to put out various “fires” (physical, emotional, relational, etc.) that you encounter?

Pray about it. It is great to be part of God’s team.

What Problems Do You Have?

It was almost summer in 1985 when I became a supervisor at Rockwell International in Tulsa, Oklahoma. My crew built portions of the Air Force B-1B supersonic strategic bomber. If you spell the number “1” in the basic model number “B-1”, you have “B-one”, and therefore, it was often called “the Bone”.

My senior supervisor, whom I will call George, walked through the building twice a week with an entourage of managers and advisors to conduct his “stand-up” meetings. The purpose was to have a ten-minute meeting with each department to help solve any production problems. But George was normally on the attack and was hard to please.

On my second day on the job, the group came up to me and George asked – actually demanded – “What problems do you have?”

I responded, “I have no problems, sir.”

“Oh yes you do!” And George barked out a list of about nine items that needed tending. “What are you going to do about these?”

Smiling, I said, “Well, sir, this is my second day on the job, and this is the first time I’ve heard about them; so they are still no problem to me. They are opportunities to improve our production line, and I’ll have answers for you by this time next week. Thank you, sir, for coming by.”

Stunned because no one ever spoke to him like that, George glared at me, looked around at the rest who were trying to wipe the smile off their faces, turned back to me, and demanded, “You better!” And he stomped off.

I spent the remainder of the day researching the situation. Five items on the list were resolved the next day, and I developed a plan to address the other four.

Two days later at our next standup meeting, George asked/demanded, “What problems do you have?”

Smiling, I said, “I have no problems, sir. But here is what I did about your list from two days ago.” I read him the progress I had made, and the plan to continue on the other items. I then asked, “Sir, do you have any other opportunities for me to tend?”

Looking around at his entourage to make sure they weren’t smiling, he read a new list and asked, “When will you have these taken care of?”

“I’ll have an answer for that question next Tuesday. Thank you for dropping by.”

The first several months George hated me, but that wasn’t my problem. I was doing my job to the best of my ability, and my dad taught me that giving in to intimidation never solved anything. But neither do I attempt to intimidate others. George eventually began looking forward to our meetings because he was learning how to interact with people. He also learned that intimidation hurt the company rather than help it.

For my part, I don’t see obstacles or hindrances as a problem. Rather, I see these situations as opportunities to help people, or to increase over all operational efficiency in some way or other.

One day I finally had a serious production issue and needed time to take care of it. Seeing George walking down the aisle,  I walked up to him and asked, “Sir, can you bypass me in tomorrow’s meeting?” I explained the situation, my plan for tending it, and told him it would take a week to resolve.

George said quietly, “I trust you. I know you’ll handle it well. See you next week.”

Managers are people who are tasked with the responsibilities of getting the job done, moving the product to market, improving working conditions, hiring the right people for the job at hand, assuring that the company earns a profit, and so forth. Managers are people who need friends just as everyone else does; but sometimes they get so wrapped up in the complexities of the job that they forget to see their people as helpers and friends.

Therefore, the workers need to remember that the managers are not the enemy. If a boss or manager comes across heavy-handed, don’t retaliate or fight back. Relax and try to understand what’s happening. By your attitude, actions, and words, you can help improve relationships; therefore, improving the company. Make the boss’s job easier. Managers and workers are both needed for the success of the organization.

Not only that, your appropriate attitude, actions, and words just might set the stage for your promotion. Think about it.

The Sparrow Hawk

Some years ago Tom and Shirley Whittlesey were visiting us in the hills of Northern New Mexico. Our house was situated on a half-acre with 78 pine trees throughout the yard, and eight acres of meadow and forest were next door. We were at 7,830 feet altitude and it was a cool autumn day with no clouds in the blue sky. A light breeze was blowing which caused the pine trees to gently sway, polka-doting the ground as they dropped their pine cones. As we sat on our deck, Carol brought out iced tea and sandwiches as we discussed whatever came to our minds. We’ve known the Whittleseys–who now live in Tulsa–since October of 1970, and they are life-long friends. Correction: they are eternity-long friends.

Suddenly, we were startled by what sounded like a baseball bat whacking a ball, but no one was within a mile of us. We wheeled around to see what had happened. About fifty feet into the meadow, we saw a flurry of feathers floating downward and a small bird hit the ground. A hawk with a red tail zipped down to where the bird had fallen. It picked up a lifeless sparrow with its needle-sharp talons and flew away.

We all chuckled when Tom said, “That’s the first time I saw a sparrow hawk catch breakfast on the wing.”

I had heard of sparrow hawks for decades but never knew much about them, and I certainly had never seen one in action! This was particularly interesting because killing its prey by impact is not its normal way of catching breakfast.

The sparrow hawk is an American kestrel in the Falco sparverius group. The word “falcon” means hawk. The early ornithologists thought these raptors fed primarily on sparrows, therefore the nickname of sparrow hawk. By the way, the term “raptor” is derived from the Latin word “rapere” which means “to seize or take by force.”

The Bald Eagle is America’s most famous raptor, and is also called a sea eagle because in the wild it feeds mainly on fish.

All raptors, hawks, eagles, vultures, or any other term that may apply, are opportunistic birds of prey. That is, except for the vulture, those birds are characterized by keen vision. While flying, they can detect prey more than a mile away. Vultures, including the California Condor, depend mainly on their sense of smell to locate food. Many hawks can spot a tiny mouse from more than a mile away. Or in the case of fishers, the birds have polaroid vision and can spot fish below the surface of the water even through the reflection of the sunlight on the water.

In Pagosa Springs, Colorado, I saw a Bald Eagle swoop down and grab a fish, but was almost pulled under water. After a brief struggle, it managed to lift off with a sixteen-inch rainbow trout in its iron grasp. Struggling to gain altitude, it managed to fly a hundred yards to a tree. Then, after resting for a few minutes, while almost dropping its catch, it finally began eating its fresh trout dinner.

These birds survive by stealth. Out of sight of their prey, they sit on a tree limb, glide on updrafts, or hover on their own power until they see dinner appear. Then depending on the bird, they dive anywhere from 45 to over 200 mph to grab their hapless victim. And once the victim is in the grasp of the talons, it is normally the end of the line for it.

Do you know that humans are often trapped like that?

Throughout human history, devious people have waited patiently for their hapless victims to come along, then they pounce on them using various kinds of weapons. These evil people want our money, our property, our identification, and our reputation. They use scams, casinos, pyramid schemes, loan shark offices, guns, online threats, and even steal information at ATM machines. Concerning casinos, one man said that as long as you’re willing to expose yourself to the money-losing game, the casino operators need only sit back and wait. And with increasing availability of casinos across the U.S., they don’t need to wait long.

You may have worked hard to acquire your financial status, but human vultures or hawks want your hard-earned cash. If you’re intelligent, you’ll remain vigilant and stay out of their grasp, and you’ll stay out of the casinos. Psalm 111:10 says, “Reverence for the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.”

So honor God in all you do, and use Godly wisdom to avoid the sparrow hawks who are after you.

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.