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.

The Exploding Tire

While traveling along the interstate highways, you’ve you seen burned areas alongside the road. A few weeks ago in northern Oklahoma, we saw a roadside burn that covered over a square mile. Years ago a primary cause of highway fires was burning cigarettes tossed out the windows. Some drivers are still either stupid or ignorant and continue doing that; but currently fires are more often started by smoldering rubber from disintegrating truck tires. How does that happen?

IMG_2208.JPGThe interaction between the rotating tires and pavement generates a lot of friction, and friction generates heat. The faster the movement, the higher the heat. Rub your hands together and see what I mean. At 70 mph, truck tires (at an average diameter of 41 inches and inflated to 100 psi) rotate about 34,433 times each hour and can attain temperatures of 120 degrees F. This heat can raise the tire pressure to about 120 psi.

Sometimes the drivers or maintenance personnel fail to check the tires for proper inflation, and an underinflated tire will get much hotter. And if the truck is overloaded, the problem is compounded. If the heat and pressure get too high, chemical decomposition in the tire material takes place which weakens the tire structure and the resulting gasses increase the internal pressure.

Several other reasons a tire can get too hot are: excessive truck speed, very high road temperature, unequal pressures on tires mounted on double wheels, and over-heated brakes. The consequences can be dangerous; and whether the tire explodes or unravels, public safety becomes an issue.

The material from a tire that unravels and flies apart over several miles is already Semi-Truck-Tire-Blowout-300x200.jpgsmoldering. If the hot rubber lands off the road, the heat can ignite dried grass and weeds. The deteriorating tire also leaves a trail of debris on the highway which presents a safety hazard.

The other problem is when the tire ends its life in a violent explosion. The explosion and resultant shrapnel can cause serious and even fatal injuries.

Some time ago as we were heading west toward Amarillo on I-40, we were about to pass an 18-wheeler when we heard a sound that resembled an army tank firing a round. Simultaneously, a cloud of smoke and dust and a barrage of shattered tire erupted from the truck’s rear wheel-assembly.

In that event, I didn’t have time to think things through and plan my responses. Instead, I instantly reacted according to the training I had previously received. I instantly checked Isaacs-Flying-Debris-01.jpgthe rear-view mirror for traffic. No one was close. I then hit the brake and swerved across both lanes to avoid the larger pieces of tire that were hurtling through the air. Superheated rubber fragments set grass on fire and other shrapnel damaged our windshield. Having avoided the larger pieces, we received no dents in the car. It was all over in four seconds.

But the secondary problem – the grass fire – was also initiated. Have you seen signs that say “Don’t drive into smoke?” I hope you obey them because grass-fire smoke is dense and can reduce vision to less than ten feet. However, the fire was not our problem, but it did become a problem for those who came behind us.

Do you know that sometimes people have a “blow-out” in life? It may be losing a job, death of a loved one, a major health issue, drugs, alcohol, anger, or any of a hundred other things. And the “shrapnel” – some form of emotional upheaval or even pots, pans, and books flying through the air – appears to be aimed at those closest to the situation. We need to know how to avoid the shrapnel, and those who come behind need to know how to safely “drive through the smoke.” What do we do?

We need to remember that the explosion is not really meant for us, so don’t take the hit personally. But we can’t wait to “get trained” at the critical moment; we need to train ahead of time. Our primary manual for learning how to respond is the Bible, and ourBible form of response should be anchored in the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Your pastor and counsellor can help, but remember Proverbs 3:5-6 – “Trust the Lord with all your heart, and don’t depend on your own understanding. Remember the Lord in all you do, and he will give you success.” And please read 1 Corinthians 13. There are only 13 verses in that chapter, and they give priceless advice to help us overcome interpersonal difficulties.

Let the wisdom that comes from God’s word guide you. Only then can you safely maneuver through the explosions and resulting shrapnel of life.

Visit to the Smokey Mountains

In November of 2014, we drove to Tennessee to visit my 91-year-old Aunt Evelyn, and 95-year-old Uncle Bert for their 70th wedding anniversary. During that trip, we made a trek into a portion of the Smokey Mountains south of Knoxville, and that’s a spectacular part of God’s creation!

“The Smokies”, as they are often called, are a portion of the Appalachian Mountains which runs from Canada to Alabama. In the area of Lenoir, Sevier, Townsend, and Pigeon Forge, we saw beautiful scenery that far surpasses any televised armchair travelogue. (Pigeon Forge has been built up to be a lot like Branson, MO.)

Near Townsend, we took an excursion up the Foothills Parkway. Stopping at a turnoff to gawk at the beauty, we saw a red Toyota with a man inside watching us. As I approached him, he rolled down his window and asked, “How you folks doin?” And we formed a friendship.

His name is DH Tipton. Pointing southeast, he said, “I come up here every week to look at the beauty of God’s nature. See that hill right over there ‘bout a mile off? I was born there 81 years ago. I’m the last from a large family, and by the time I was born my momma ran out of names. So she just called me ‘DH’, and that’s my name: DH Tipton. DH don’t stand for anything. You should’ve seen the looks on the faces of my friends in the Army Corps of Engineers when I told them ‘DH IS my name.’ And yep, I’m a native who was born over there, right near what is now called the Foothills Parkway.”

Quoting from the Blue Ridge Highlander, “The Foothills Parkway West is a 17-mile long section of the Parkway that travels along the backbone of the Chilhowee Mountain between Chilhowee Lake and the town of Townsend in Blount County.  From this vantage point you can view not only the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to the southeast, visitors can also enjoy views of the huge and grand valley lands of the Tennessee River Valley bordered by the long plateau of the Cumberland Mountains to the northwest.”

This mountain range is famous for its smoky haze that is actually a perpetual fog. DH said, “Anyone from California, New York, or any densely populated area thinks this haze is air pollution. But it’s not. It’s been here before man arrived. But now that I mentioned it, air pollution has been invading these parts. Visibility has been reduced by smog blowing in from both the Southeast and the Midwest.”

Over 9,000,000 people visit the Smoky Mountains National Park each year, which makes it the most visited park in the country. Clingmans Dome at 6,643 feet, is the highest peak in the Smokies. It’s the highest peak in Tennessee and the third highest in the Appalachian range. However, Mount Le Conte is an impressive sight: although it reaches an altitude of only 6,593 feet, it towers more than a mile over the town of Gatlinburg located at its base. That reminds me of Sandia Crest which towers a mile above Albuquerque, NM.

As we drove through the mountains, we would often “catch a glimpse” of a valley, waterfall, or steep mountainside in its pristine beauty. Schedules are a necessary part of life, but as we drove through this part of God’s creation, we decided to modify the schedule. We wanted to see more.

But time eventually ran out and we continued our trek. We drove to Sevierville and ate at the Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant. This restaurant has a far-reaching reputation, and we found out why: the service and the food are GOOD!

We were continually amazed at the magnificence of God during that trip through the Smokies. I know many folks who think that amoebas, salamanders, fish, dinosaurs, man, the earth, and the entire cosmos just happened to materialize out of some mythical and mysterious big bang. But when we stop and think about it both logically and scientifically, we know it’s impossible for stuff (atoms, molecules, stars, galaxies) to appear out of nothing. And it’s also impossible for rocks to morph into life.

The excellent fish dinner I ate at the Applewood Restaurant didn’t just happen to become a cooked meal and plop onto my plate. It took planning and work. Also, life didn’t just happen to exist: it took planning and work. God did both the planning and work. (The staff at the Applewood Restaurant cooked the fish.)

Visit the Smokies if you can, and check out the Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant in Sevierville, TN. You’ll enjoy the trip and the food.

Do You Plan Ahead?

Yesterday (as of this writing) Carol and I were driving from Rogers to Fayetteville (Arkansas). We took the Sunset Blvd. exit in Springdale, and were waiting for the green light. We were headed for Denny’s on the east side of the I-49 freeway. Three vehicles were in front of us. It was 8:35 am.

The light turned green. Two seconds later, I heard a loud “WHUMP!” Well, to you, it may have sounded like “CRASH!” or “CRASH and then WHUMP!”

As the dust settled, we saw what happened. The light turned red for the traffic on Sunset Blvd. (which is also highway 412), and two drivers made a mistake. The driver of a white pickup heading east on Sunset was in a hurry, and couldn’t stand the thought of waiting another four minutes for the next green light; so he hit the gas-peddle and ran the red light. The driver of the brown pickup who was ready to turn onto 412, assuming the green light meant “safe to go”, made a jack-rabbit start. The two pickups met in the intersection.

I couldn’t see the front end of the brown pickup, but he had broadsided the white pickup and pushed it across the intersection and over the curb on the south side of 412. The front end of the white pickup was mangled with both front tires broken off. Police were called. As I drove past him, the white pickup driver was holding his head in his hands with his elbows resting on the steering wheel. In my estimation, the truck was totaled, and the driver apparently felt miserable and stupid for running the red light – all to save four minutes.

Being in a reckless hurry, the driver lost an entire day – and his truck. His mistake also cost hundreds of other drivers much more than ten minutes in their schedule. And the other driver?

The brown pickup driver, assuming green was “safe to go”, took off without looking to see if it actually was safe. By the time he saw the white pickup, he had already hit it. If only he had hesitated and looked both ways, he would have been aware of what was happening and could have taken preventive action.

Within ten minutes, two police cars, a fire truck, and two ambulances were on the scene. One pickup was destroyed, another needed major surgery, two people were injured, and hundreds of other drivers were delayed.

All because one man wanted to save four minutes!

In our cross-country trips, Carol and I have seen hundreds of careless or reckless people driving foolishly. No matter what the speed limit (Carol and I stick closely to it), many folk drive ten to thirty mph over it. But what’s the big hurry?

Don’t people plan ahead anymore? My father taught me a very important principle: “It’s better to be an hour early than a minute late.” On the other hand, if I do run late, I don’t try to make up lost time as I drive. It’s better to be late than to risk anyone’s life – including my own.

Planning ahead is the key that would prevent most problems on the road; actually, it would prevent many problems in life. If I need to be somewhere at ten o’clock and it will take thirty minutes to get there, I allow an extra fifteen minutes for traffic delays, and leave no later than 9:15. If I’m going across country, I allow extra time in each phase of the trip so I’m not in a hurry. In our last trip to Tennessee, we hit a two-hour traffic tie-up; but we had included four extra hours in the schedule so we weren’t late.

We should plan ahead for every trip – including our final trip in life that starts at death. Have you made appropriate plans? Yes, insurance and estate planning are necessary; but have you planned to meet the Lord Jesus Christ? After all, that will be the most important trip of your eternal existence.

Don’t try to “run the red light” at the eternal intersection and expect to make it across safely. It won’t work. Prepare now by studying the road map – the Bible. Avoid the traffic delays in life – called sin. And call the Highway Patrol – the Holy Spirit – for advice. You must plan ahead in order to safely reach the destination – being with God forever in heaven.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

A Sword for the Lord, and for Gideon

What’s your favorite Bible story? Daniel dropping in to visit the Lions? Noah surfing the grandest of all tsunamis? David creating a giant headache? They are all-time favorites for most of the church, but have you considered the story of Gideon?

This story, found in chapters six through eight in the book of Judges, is the foundation for one of the great ministries in modern times.

While in Los Alamos, NM, I was invited to a dinner hosted by the local Gideon camp. Meeting at the Morning Glory Bakery, President John Elder, Randy Rowan, Charles Knoop, Kevin Albright and others were in attendance. I have known of the Gideons most of my life, and have known these men for several decades.

When I returned to Siloam Springs, Paul Kimball surprised Carol and me by inviting us to a Gideon camp dinner at the John Brown University. There were about fifty attending, including Marshall Orcutt, Paul Kimball, and Milton Lundberg.

The Gideon’s devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ, and their love and concern for people is unsurpassed. But why do they call themselves Gideons?

I can’t tell the whole story here, but look at several data points. The Angel of the Lord chose Gideon to do an impossible job. When Gideon destroyed the village idol as a result of the angelic visit, the townsfolk wanted to kill him. I laugh when reading what Joash, Gideon’s dad, said, “If Baal is a god, let him fight for himself. It’s his altar that has been pulled down.”

The Lord gave Gideon a fool-proof battle plan; and because Gideon obeyed, 300 men overcame more than 135,000 of the enemy. A few is an overwhelming majority if God is in it. Remember this: God is not impressed with our ability; God is not depressed with our inability; But God is blessed with our availability.

In 1899 three men – Samuel Hill, John Nicholson, and William Knight – banded together and formed an association. They decided to call themselves “Gideons”. They met for several years. The group grew, and they felt impressed to distribute Bibles. Then in 1908, Pastor E. R. Burkhalter, First Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky suggested in a Ministerial Union meeting that “Gideon Bibles be placed in all local hotels and that the Union be responsible for the funds.”

Quoting Paul Kimball, “The Gideons International serves as a missionary arm of the local church, distributing over 1,000,000 copies of Bibles and Life Books every 5 days. Every Scripture distributed is funded by contributions from churches and individuals, and from the Gideon Bible Card Program. 100% of these contributions go for the purchase and placement of Scriptures (Gideon dues cover overhead). Millions of people around the world have no access to Scriptures, but with the support of generous contributors, Gideons ensure that many of them have a copy of God’s Word for their very own.”

Randy Rowan said, “Many of the public high schools in the USA no longer allow the Gideons to come on campus and distribute scriptures; so the Life Book program was developed so Christian students can share the gospel with their peers. The Life Book is a gospel of John that has handwritten comments and questions in the margins that reflect the perspectives of four high school students (male and female of different ages) and one adult. In the back of the Life Book is a gospel presentation in the form of a series of questions followed by a section on problems commonly faced by teenagers, along with scriptural advice on how to address those problems. Any pastor or youth pastor may order up to 1,000 of these Life Books free of charge at www.thelifebook.com.”

In 1908, The Gideons International placed the first Bible in a hotel room in Montana. Today, as of August of 2019, Gideons are organized in 200 countries around the world. Bibles and New Testaments are distributed by The Gideons International in 107 languages, and more than 2.3 billion Bibles and New Testaments have been placed through the Gideon ministry.

The Gideons are a few people doing an almost impossible task – attempting to distribute Scriptures to the entire world. The devil’s forces fight them but God gave them an excellent battle-plan. I encourage you, both reader and church, to support them financially. The Gideons pay the overhead themselves, so every dollar you give buys Scriptures – and saves lives.

May the Lord bless you as you support the Gideons International organization.

The Ultimate Gift

Carol and I seldom attend the theater. The reason is: even though some movie houses show good films periodically, they normally precede the film with previews of gross, explicit immorality and mindless violence that lodges in our minds. Since we live for Jesus Christ, we refuse to purposely fill our mind and spirit with anything that dishonors God.

But we do at times find a DVD that we like, and — skipping the previews — we watch them several times. One of those films is called The Ultimate Gift. Not specifically a Christian movie, it is a good one that Jim Stovall (the blind author of the book) built around twelve clearly defined Biblical principles he called gifts. I’ll tell you about these gifts here with brief commentary.

  1. As the economy fluctuates, some people lose their jobs. Many others think society owes them a living and don’t want to work. Yet many gainfully employed folk put out only minimal effort in their vocation. Misguided people don’t understand the GIFT OF WORK. This story helps us to understand the value of good, honest work.
  2. Related to #1 above, many people, poor and wealthy alike, do not understand the real purpose or value of money. Some use money as a tool to gain power and prestige while others use money as a status-symbol or to “buy” friends. But money, as any instrument in the bartering system, is supposed to be merely a medium of exchange which enables us to procure the necessities of life and to help others. Jim Stovall presents us with the GIFT OF UNDERSTANDING THE VALUE OF MONEY.
  3. True friendship is a gift. You’ve heard: to have a friend, you need to be a friend. It’s true. Acquaintances come and go, sometimes on a moment’s notice. But to develop a friendship requires an investment: not of money or of material gifts, but of our time. As we give of ourselves, we receive the GIFT OF A FRIEND.
  4. My grandfather’s most advanced educational diploma was received when he graduated from the third grade. Going no further in school, he nevertheless was a very wise and educated man who attained the top position of his vocation. Early in life he realized the value of learning, and he passed the GIFT OF LEARNING to his children and grandchildren. Although formal education is valuable and necessary, true learning is a product of personal initiative and integrity – which may or may not involve higher-education.
  5. I know some folk who can’t change a tire, read a map, or stay employed. The reason is they’ve never learned to value the GIFT OF PROBLEMS. At the first sign of a problem, they cry for help and they are rescued. But those who rescue them are only dooming the person to life-long failure. The truth is: we succeed in life by learning to overcome problems.
  6. This life can be a lonely journey without loving companionship. The GIFT OF FAMILY is what helps us through life. If you have no loving, personal family ties, develop close-knit family ties at church. Love others and you’ll be loved.
  7. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A joyful heart is good like a medicine; but sadness drains your strength.” The GIFT OF LAUGHTER helps us survive and thrive as we encounter life’s troubling times. Enjoying the lighter side of life – even in the middle of problems – enables us to perceive and apply solutions to the problems.
  8. Some folk say planning a vacation is as fun as taking the trip. There is truth to that proverb. The GIFT OF DREAMS is the mother of inventions, successes, fulfillment, and trips. Allowing ourselves to dream enables us to be creative; and that makes life fun.
  9. The GIFT OF GIVING is a highly under-rated virtue. While merely receiving may enhance our unbalanced sense of self-importance, receiving without giving produced the Dead Sea. As we become a giving person, we – again – release our creative spirit and can become much more beneficial to ourselves, to society, and to the kingdom of God.
  10. Man was created to be thankful. Without a grateful attitude, we shrivel up spiritually. The GIFT OF GRATITUDE opens doors for us, and enables us to fulfill our mission in life. Gratitude flows gently alongside laughter, dreaming, and giving to make us a happy, joyful person.
  11. Everyone needs to feel special in some way, and the GIFT OF A SPECIAL DAY can bring that about. Please, take time to relax, stop work, enjoy a special treat. Do something out of your day-to-day or weekly routine. Break out of the rut.
  12. The GIFT OF LOVE is priceless. Humanity lost the ability to truly love as we left the Garden of Eden. Therefore, Jesus came to earth to redeem us. He loved us and gave Himself on the cross so that we may receive the True Ultimate Gift – LOVE – upon which the other 11 gifts rest. Learn to love others, and help others in their time of need.

Jim Stovall wrote a good story and I watch it once a year. But the True Ultimate Gift is salvation through an active relationship with our Lord, Jesus Christ. That good news is found in the Bible, and I read that every day.