Why Do You Argue?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Was On Backwards

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

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

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

Back to my story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contagious Thinking

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

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

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

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

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

Attitudes and emotions are contagious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Like Watching Sex & Violence?

Have you heard the debate as to whether or not sex and violence on videos, theaters, and television are negatively affecting human behavior? The debate has been going on for years but is really a waste of time.

According to Advertising Age magazine, advertising spent in the US in 2017 reached approximately $205 billion. Now the question is: if watching a commercial does NOT affect our behavior, why are companies willing to fork out all that money? In case you haven’t figured it out yet, money talks!

Rightly or wrongly, money rules much of the world. So, if watching a commercial will motivate someone to buy specified merchandise, that in itself is proof positive that watching sex and violence affects our behavior. Please keep in mind that companies want to advertise on programs that people want to watch. And, as commercials motivate us to buy their products, watching sex and violence motivates us to “buy” their products. More on that in a minute.

Also, did you know that swearing or using profanity is linked to violent behavior? I read an article by Jennifer Welsh (October 17, 2011) which said;

By studying Midwestern youths, the study found that the more profanity they are exposed to through television and video games, the more accepting they are of swearing and the more likely they are to use profanity themselves. Those kids who swore more were also more likely to engage in physical aggression.”

“Profanity is kind of like a stepping stone,” said study researcher Sarah Coyne, of Brigham Young University. “When youth both hear and then try profanity out for themselves it can start a downward slide toward more aggressive behavior.”

The researchers found links between the amount of swearing in video games and television, and how often the students used profanity themselves. Participants who swore more often were more likely than other students to exhibit physical and relational violence.

Another study published online in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience reported that watching violence on television, theaters, or video games “desensitizes people, blunts their emotional responses, and potentially promotes aggressive attitudes and behavior.” Our society is proving that.

Dr Grafman, senior investigator at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health (Bethesda, USA), reported that the longer people watched sex and violence on videos, video games, television, and theaters, the more desensitized towards sex and violence they became.

The researchers also found that those who had the most exposure to violent media in their daily lives showed the greatest desensitization; and continued exposure to violent videos will make a person more accepting of violence and more likely to commit aggressive actions. It is obvious that playing violent or sexually graphic video games dynamically affects a person because the player is physically and emotionally involved; therefore, these video games are even more harmful than television or the theater.

Another series of studies conducted by C. A. Anderson and B. J. Bushman (2002) on over 130,000 participants around the world show that:

“Violent video games increase aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, physiological arousal (heart rate, blood pressure), and aggressive behavior. Violent games also decrease feelings of empathy for others. The effects occurred for males and females of all ages, regardless of what country they lived in. This review also sheds light on why violent video games increase aggression. Someone who has aggressive thoughts, feels angry inside, lacks empathy for others, and is highly aroused should be more likely to behave aggressively.”

We have a dynamic problem. We promote sex and violence because it sells products, but we then reap the results in the form of a depraved society. Our society enjoys watching exciting murders on the screen, but are horrified when we read that there were 17,284 known murders in the USA in 2017. We promote immoral sexual behavior because it sells products, but are aghast at the 135,755 known rapes in the USA in 2017.

Are you happy about all the hell that flourishes in the world today? If you are, keep watching and promoting that stuff. If you’re not happy with it, do something about it.

Our only proven alternative in cleaning up or rescuing our society is to return to faith in Jesus Christ, and promote good morals and healthy living as espoused in the Bible. There is no other way.

If we do not change the course of our society, we’ll only get worse.

Is Anyone Normal?

The study of psychiatric abnormality, the diagnosis of abnormality, and the medicating of those deemed not normal is a big business today. Two major prongs of study are that of autism and ADHD. Controversy overshadows each one because as humorist Patsy Clairmont said, “Normal is only a setting on a dryer.”

Let’s talk about normality and ADHD.

One report says, “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder of childhood. It affects about 3 – 5% of school aged children. ADHD is diagnosed much more often in boys than in girls.” The report says that the symptoms fall into three basic groups: inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

Did anything in that last paragraph catch your attention? Let me rephrase it. Inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity are more prevalent in boys than in girls. Surprise? No. Any parent in the past 6,000 years could tell us the same thing without a multimillion-dollar study. Boys are generally more restless, noisier, and have a harder time paying attention. That’s the nature of boys. So why is it called a disorder?

A medical definition of disorder is: “A disturbance or derangement that affects the function of mind or body. Also, to disturb the normal physical or mental health of someone.”

Dear reader, if that is the proper medical definition, then I submit to you that boys do not have the disorder: rather boys are the disorder. (I am joking.)

Historically parents taught children to obey and to respect their elders. When they disobeyed or were overly disorderly, they were disciplined in some manner. And the human race trucked right along for thousands of years without having to drug any hyperactive or inattentive rascal. And hyperactive boys (okay: some girls, too) somehow managed to grow up into decent law-abiding citizens who, in turn, learned how to harness their own children’s energy. But a change was made in the 1950s.

Under the leadership of several medical doctors and psychiatrists – Dr. Benjamin Spock one of them – a new parental paradigm emerged. My over-simplified version is this: Allow the little ones to develop into their own person. Don’t attempt to mold them or their little psyches may be damaged in the process.

Well, the new parental paradigm evolved under the leadership of the evolving American Psychiatric Association, and in 1980 they coined the now popular term: ADHD. That seemed to be a wonderful solution, for parents were finally absolved from the responsibilities of teaching and disciplining their offspring.

Reacting to the fear of being abnormal, they can have their little blossoms drugged into submission. And now over 1,000,000 kids may be inappropriately diagnosed as having ADHD, with over 800,000 of them receiving behavioral medication. The behavioral modification drugging continues until the person learns to control himself. But drugs do not help in the long run. The absence of child-discipline and inappropriate methods of discipline are a major factor in crime today.

I agree with Dr. Dale Archer who said, “I’m not opposed to medication to treat those with severe symptoms, but does 1 out of every 12 kids really have ADHD?” He continues, “The National Institute of Mental Health has found that 26 percent of Americans (1 in 4) have a diagnosable psychiatric illness. The only word for that is ‘ludicrous.’”

I agree. Hyperactivity is not an abnormality, nor is it a disorder. It is simply human. We need to understand human nature; but in the process, teach children to obey and accept their responsibilities of living in society.

Hyperactivity is good and is one of the drivers of societal progress. We must help people understand that it is okay not to be normal. The CEOs of many companies have been diagnosed with ADHD, but that didn’t inhibit them from fulfilling their dreams. As Dr. Archer said, “Being different can make us exceptional.”

I recently took the ADHD test and was classified as “boarder-line ADHD.” But I found that the lowest possible rating (out of five steps) is “No ADHD likely.”

Did you understand that? That means the tests are rigged to make everyone at least suspect—thus, upping the disorder count. But that also means a mild ADHD diagnosis is normal. So, what’s the problem?

Folks, let’s train and discipline our children. Let’s teach them to be orderly and to obey. It presents greater long-term benefits than drugging them.

Death Is Not Final

I read an article many years ago titled: “Was Jesus the First Psychiatrist?” I think it’s worth reading. The author mentioned that there are “300 or so [mental] disorders” that plague mankind; and discusses what he sees as the similarity of Godly teachings and the teachings of psychiatry. 

Please remember that where all Scripture is correct (2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”), not all conclusions in the field of psychiatry and psychology are correct.

I thought long on the following statement: “People suffer to the extent that they are removed from the truth.”

That is partly true, and the reason it stuck in my mind is a conversation I had earlier with a very close friend in the southwest. His wife was nearing the end of her life, and Chuck was experiencing anger and frustration. When I mentioned that facing the truth promotes emotional healing, he blurted out, “I don’t want the truth! I want my wife to live!” I asked him if he wanted to face reality. He exclaimed “NO!”

I understood; his precious wife meant the world to him, and he didn’t want to lose her. Later, in deep depression, Chuck said several times regarding his wife’s condition, “It’s hopeless.”

Dr. Charles Allen (United Methodist minister, deceased) who received an honorary doctorate from John Brown University, and is author of “God’s Psychiatry” said, “When you say a situation or a person is hopeless, you are slamming the door in the face of God.” However, people must not give up on life, but neither should we demand what God is not giving.

Meditate on those statements.

Chuck had given me the freedom to talk bluntly with him. He knew that I loved him unconditionally, and I gave him the freedom to vent his frustrations at me without fear of reprisal or ill feelings. And I went to be with him when his wife left this life.

Later that day Chuck expressed his appreciation for my helping him to face reality, and said, “A load has been lifted from my shoulders; thank you for helping me accept the truth.” And that reflects another statement from Dr. Allen: “The mind is like the body. It can be wounded. Sorrow is a wound. It cuts deeply; but sorrow can be a clean wound and can heal unless something gets into the wound, such as bitterness, self-pity, or resentment.”

Bitterness, self-pity, and resentment oppose faith in God. I continued working with Chuck: a loving, passionate man with a tendency toward depression.

People must reawaken what they were born with: the God-given, inexplicable, ultimately undefeatable capacity to move in the direction of their own interests, abilities, beliefs and dreams. That’s why the image of Christ is such a powerful one.

It’s not wrong to ask the Lord to heal someone. In fact, it’s healthy and necessary to have a living, vital relationship with Jehovah-Raphah – the Lord who heals. Doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists help, but God alone can ultimately heal the body and mind.

We must all remember that until Jesus returns, physical death is part of life; and for the Christian, death must not be feared for it is the door to heaven. Psalm 90:10 tells us that our lifespan will be an average of 70-80 years although individual lifetimes vary. My father lived to be eighty-nine, his father lived to ninety-nine, and my mother left this life at the age of 97. But until Jesus returns, we all will leave this life. 

Chuck was facing the reality of his wife’s immanent departure. Was the situation truly hopeless? The answer was a resounding “No.” Death is not the end of the story. Those who trust God with their lives will be given eternal life. 

Chuck’s wife left this earth, but accepting the truth had set him free. Was there sorrow? Yes, but not as others sorrow. 1 Thessalonians 4:13–14 says, “Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about those Christians who have died so you will not be sad, as others who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and that he rose again. So, because of him, God will raise with Jesus those who have died.”

Chuck will see his wife again.

WisdomBuilt® Marriages

And God said, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make him a helpmate.” (Genesis 2:18)

Years ago, that perplexed me because, since God is all-knowing, He knew that man would need a helper, a friend, a companion. So, why the comment? I think it was because God wanted Adam to realize that he (Adam) needed a companion. God allowed Adam to explore the world, look at and name the animals, prepare his own meals, etc. – all the while with no human to talk to.” Being alone is no fun.

Making another man for Adam, or giving him animals for companionship, would still leave Adam incomplete, and could never fulfill God’s plan on earth. So, God made a woman for Adam, and harmony reigned throughout the Garden. God and Adam communed every evening, Adam and Eve communed every day, and relationships were complete in all directions.

I know the jokes and stories about Adam’s problems starting when Eve arrived on the scene, but ignore them. Romans 5:14 explicitly informs us that Adam caused the problem. A major consequence was broken and disjointed relationships have plagued mankind – therefore, marriage – ever since. But how can we restore marriage to God’s design?

My wife, Carol, says, “Marriage is made in heaven, but it comes in a kit that must be put together on earth.” She is correct.

Louis and Leah Houston of Siloam Springs, Arkansas told me before Louis passed away, “Our 58-year marriage is based on several factors. We started out as friends, and it developed into love. We share the same basic faith. We highly respect each other, and are always ready to help each other. And we discuss major decisions because a dual-perspective gives greater depth-perception.”

These are excellent pointers on how to develop wholesome, proper communications; and, therefore, how to develop a wholesome, fulfilling marriage.

Watching portions of the Olympics some time ago, I was amazed at the skill exhibited by the figure-skaters. Their performance was a beautiful expression of the art of skating. Several fell, but they got up and finished the presentation. How could they execute their art with such masterful technique and style? They studied and practiced. Falling didn’t deter them – they kept at it. That’s the method we use in mastering any art form, including the art of marriage.

Marriage is fundamentally based on observation and communication, and is an art that must be learned. One concept found in Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1989) is Key #5 which says, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” That’s a Biblical principle that instructs us to put others first.

Another concept from Ken Boges & Ron Braund (Understanding How Others Misunderstand, Moody Publishers, 1995) is that people think and see differently. Therefore, in order to respond to others in a loving way, they said, “We need some basic facts about [their] perception, motivation, needs, and values.” Observation and communication are the keys.

My Brother, Dr. Paul Linzey, and his wife, Dr. Linda Linzey, have been hosting marriage seminars for years. Paul wrote the book WisdomBuilt Biblical Principles of Marriage (EA Books Publishing, 2019) that goes along with the seminars. These seminars are based on Building People – Building Relationships. Paul joyfully says, “Stay Together – Stay Happy!”

Several of the chapter titles are: On the Same Team, Heaven on Earth, Sex & Sensuality, and Now You’re Talkin’.

On page 85, Paul says, “Do you feel safe with each other? Do you feel safe confiding in each other? … Some couples live with the fear that their words will be used against them, so they’re always walking on egg shells. Friends, that’s no way to live as a couple.”

We need to learn to implement God’s design for marriage, and on page 161, Paul says, “…WisdomBuilt Biblical Principles of Marriage will foster a climate and a context for creating unity, emotional safety, and peace. You can establish an atmosphere of love that is noticeable to everyone who enters your home.”

So whether we are engaged and considering marriage, or are celebrating our 70th anniversary, we all need to work at improving our communication skills; therefore, improving our marriage or prospective marriage. As we redefine our roles, marriage will take on a renewed, satisfying, and completed meaning. Remember: our spouse is God’s gift to us.

With God’s help, be the best partner that you can be; that will enhance the prospect of your spouse being the best he/she can be.

(WisdomBuilt® is the Mentoring Ministry of Dr. Paul Linzey. Look up www.paullinzey.com. You can order WisdomBuilt Biblical Principles of Marriage on Amazon.com.) I highly recommend the book.

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.

Differences of Memory

“That’s not what you said before! Your memory is really getting bad, and you are always changing your story!” The disagreement had turned into a personal attack – again.

When I heard that account of the wife becoming angry at the husband’s supposed lapse of memory, I cringed. My immediate thought was, So what if he doesn’t have perfect memory? None of us do. And, why did the wife act like a tiger on the attack? Is it conceivable that her anger is a defense mechanism for her possible memory lapse?

That particular misunderstanding was regarding Scripture in John 11: Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick, and requested that He (Jesus) come and heal Lazarus; but Jesus waited two more days before going to Bethany. When Jesus arrived, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Jesus commanded, “Lazarus, come forth!” Some people think Jesus specified “Lazarus” so that all the other dead would not come out of their own graves.

Back to the fuss mentioned above: the wife thought the husband previously said there were others buried in the tomb with Lazarus, where the husband thought he merely mentioned the potential of other people rising from the dead. But again, so what? Does a lapse of memory – on either side – justify an attack on someone’s integrity? I don’t think so.

What is memory anyway? (Note: this article is not about Alzheimer’s.)

Memory is the process in which information is encoded, stored, and retrieved. Encoding takes place while information is received from visual, electrical, chemical, and physical stimuli. Storage, the second stage, includes maintaining information over periods of time. The third stage is the retrieval of information for conscious consideration. Some retrieval attempts may be effortless, while other attempts are difficult due to the type of information we have stored, and life’s experiences we have encountered since storing that information.

“The hippocampus, an extension of the cerebral cortex, plays a big role in storing memories, but it’s also important in recalling them.” says Ulrike Schmidt, a Head Research Coordinator, RG Leader, Managing Senior Psychiatrist at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich. Schmidt continued: “And a damaged hippocampus causes weird things to happen in the mind.”

Also, a lack of sleep often impedes memory storage; and you can’t recall what wasn’t stored.

However, as people age, a certain amount of brain atrophy – including the hippocampus – is normal. Early symptoms of hippocampal atrophy can include difficulty recalling the recent past, and can produce disorientation.

Our memories are also subject to contamination and distortion. Lawyers often fool us with suggestive questions, and false memories can easily be manufactured. And even though a woman named Jill Price became famous and inaccurately labeled as “The woman who couldn’t forget,” it has been proven that photographic memory and total recall is not 100% accurate. We all have faulty memory – some of us more than others.

Example: if five people witness an accident, we would have five differing testimonies – and all five would most-likely be at least partially correct. Nevertheless, some folk, such as Jill Price, do have excellent memory about things she continually reviews.

So, what is the key?

There is no one key. Proper nutrition, proper sleep, and especially paying attention to what you are experiencing are foundational. Your brain is where memory is stored, so take care of your brain; but that demands proper care for your entire body. The schools, training, mental disciplines, games, etc. are secondary.

Living peacefully, primarily internally, is especially important. Jesus Christ is interested in how we live because our understanding – including wisdom – determines how we mature as individuals, and how we grow in our relationship with others. A good memory aids in this endeavor. Galatians 5:22-23 briefly lists the fruit of the Spirit. They are: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

So, control yourself, be gentle, and stop disputing or arguing. Instead, learn to discuss, but don’t be pushy or aggressive. In non-critical issues, it’s better if you don’t demand that you are right and the other is wrong. Admit that no one’s memory – yours included – is perfect, and admit that not all erroneous memories are reason for conflict. Kindly agree to disagree and preserve your relationship.

However, go ahead and work to improve your memory. And when there is a difference of memory regarding a non-critical issue, let it go. Rise above the situation; allow the other person freedom of expression. Isn’t that what you want? Who knows: it may very-well be that you both are partly correct – therefore, partly incorrect.

Don’t lock-up; lighten up. As you release tension, you create the mental and spiritual environment that makes it easier to recall the truth of the matter. Sadly, the couple mentioned above hasn’t figured that out yet. But you can if you try, and ask the Lord to help you.

A Little Humor Goes a Long Way

Fred told me about a negative interaction between him and his wife, Jacquie. The 6-month-old baby threw a temper tantrum so Fred tapped the baby on the thigh with two fingers and firmly let him know that the screaming was not allowed. The baby, still crying, at least stopped screaming. So far – so good.

Jacqie thought her husband was cruel and started scolding him in front of the baby. Fred told her to hush, turned her toward the door, and ordered her out of the room. Bad move!

Jacquie, now in a rage, turned and began pushing Fred. She had shoes on, but he was wearing socks without shoes and the floor was shiny hardwood. Losing traction and beginning to fall, he managed to somehow hop toward the bed. But Jacquie was still pushing and Fred realized that as they fell she might hit her head on the steel bed frame. Fall, they did! But he held onto her and managed to land both of them on the mattress. Good move!

Fred was breathing heavily, grateful that they were both safe. Jacquie was also breathingPICT0008 heavily – still in a rage! That’s when Fred whimsically said, “Now I know why we should never come between a mother bear and her cubs.”

Jacquie chuckled … Fred laughed … and they both burst out laughing which lasted for several minutes. The humor had broken the tension, and helped them to think through the situation in a more relaxed atmosphere. Excellent recovery!

He apologized, she forgave, the baby survived, and Fred & Jacquie are still happily married. Henry Ward Beecher said (paraphrased), “A marriage without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs – it’s jolted by every pebble in the road.”

Doctors and psychiatrists tell us that we should have five good belly-laughs a day. Why?

To start off, Proverbs 17:22 (NCV) tells us, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.” Laughter is a strong and powerful force that has positive effects on the body. It improves breathing, lowers blood pressure, strengthens the immune system, relaxes muscles, releases stress, and reduces pain. This God-ordained medicine needs no prescription, is free, and has been available forever. Voltaire said, “The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.” Laughter reduces pain by increasing the body’s natural painkiller: endorphins. In hospitals, doctors use humor therapy after surgeries to enhance the healing process and improve health.

PICT0409Having a sense of humor releases our native creativity and helps us to properly interpret events that happen to us. The way we perceive events determines whether we feel challenged, happy, threatened, puzzled, joyful, etc. Tense situations are where you need to laugh the most. Humor helps us to overlook the aggravating trivia that tend to grow out of proportion and block our vision.

Laughter is contagious and connects us with others; if you bring more laughter into your life, you can most likely help others around you to laugh more. Instead of complaining about life’s frustrations, try to laugh about them. My father used to say, “If someone’s got to be upset, it doesn’t have to be me.”

And yes: my wife, children, and I laugh a lot.

Our cardiovascular and respiratory systems benefit more from twenty seconds of laughter than from three minutes of exercise on a rowing machine. Through laughter, muscles release tension and neurochemicals are released into the bloodstream, creating the same feelings the long-distance joggers experience as “runner’s high.” Also, ten minutes of laughter helps people sleep more soundly.

Bob Hope said that laughter is an “instant vacation.” Jay Leno said, “You can’t stay mad at somebody who makes you laugh.” And I remember another comedian saying, “If you can find humor in anything, you can survive it.”

Studies reveal that individuals who have a strong sense of humor are less likely to experience burnout and depression; and they will most likely have a more fulfilled life in general – including a long-lasting marriage where they can enjoy their 50th wedding anniversary.

So lighten up. Stop taking yourself so seriously. Rather than focusing on what you want out of life, think about helping lighten someone else’s burden. And laugh with them.