Anti-Social Hummingbirds

“Hummingbirds are so cute” Carol said. We saw then flitting around the yard several times, and Carol suggested that we buy a feeder to give them a treat. At Wal-Mart we found two feeders: one for a dollar and one for six. We bought the cheaper one just to see if the critters would flock to our yard.

There are about 300 species of these aerial acrobats. They live only in the western hemisphere: twelve of which spend the summer in North America. They flap their wings from 50-200 times per second, fly up to 34 mph – even upside down, weigh up to three DSCN8828Bquarters of an ounce, average four to five inches long, have a heartbeat of 225 beats per minute at rest and up to 1,260 beats per minute in flight, and have an average lifespan of about four years.

We bought the feeder and a bag of Instant Hummingbird Nectar Concentrate. Filling the container with the red juice, we hung it on a pole just outside the dining room window so we could observe the poor little critters as they enjoyed our gift of life. At first one or two visited us, but then all activity stopped. Curious, I stepped outside to see if there was a problem with the feeder.

There wasn’t a problem with the hummingbird feeder, but with a hummingbird eater. TheDSCN8421B neighbor’s cat was waiting for breakfast to appear. But when he saw me, he sauntered off for less populated pastures.

Within minutes, a green ruby-throated hummer zoomed up. He came within six inches of the port, hovered as he looked around, nervously darted back and forth, seeing if anyone was going to attack him. He finally inserted his needle-like bill, had lunch, and zoomed to the nearest crepe-myrtle tree.

I thought he had tired himself out hovering while drinking and needed to rest. Wrong!

As Carol and I watched, two other hummers zoomed up, stopped in mid-air to see if it was safe, and approached the ports. The first critter came back at full-throttle and attacked the newcomers! Apparently, as the first visitor, this pugnacious little rascal had laid claim to my feeder.

I wanted to catch the little beast and take him miles away, but I learned that another one would just take his place. They are territorial, and it is definitely first-come-first-served. But upon reading about them, I found that they need to eat/drink more than their weight in nectar each day merely to stay alive. That alone explains why they are viciously protective of their find. It’s a fight for survival.

So, where we hoped to make life easier for these cute little creatures (that are relentlessly in search of food) by being nice to them, we were merely successful in creating a new battle-ground for them.

That reminds me of back in 1958 when my father asked me, “Would you like to see someone become angry by being nice to him?” I incredulously asked, “How can that happen?” Dad said, “Just watch.”

Relativity 15BHe called for two of my brothers. Dad gave one a dime, and the other a nickel. The one who received the nickel exclaimed, “That’s not fair! I should get a dime, too!” Dad asked, “What’s not fair about it? You both received a gift. You didn’t earn it and it is not part of your weekly allowance. It’s extra. Go spend it.” The one brother was unhappy and began fussing until Dad gave him another nickel – which was his plan anyway. Then Dad told me, “Don’t forget that lesson. It will come in handy sometime.”

It sure did. Throughout my adult life, I’ve worked to support and accrue benefits for my family. But some of our citizens are truly handicapped and cannot support themselves, so our elected leaders have made benefits available to them – and rightly so. But many others have seen “the feeder with the red juice” and zoomed up full throttle to claim and demand gifts that are not rightfully theirs.

But there is a better way to live.

If people could see who Jesus really is, see all that he offers to those of us who listen, and the minimal he asks from us in return, life would be much more meaningful. Matthew 6:33Bible says, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you [assure that you have] everything you need.” Living by that principle would greatly reduce stress and result in greater fulfillment in life. 

I’ll continue feeding the hummers, but I strongly admonish you readers: live to honor Jesus, and reap his rewards.

Life Viewed From A Higher Plane

Trip with Bill and Marilyn0003Several years ago, our son (Ron) and grandsons (Josiah and Joshua) flew from Oklahoma City to the Grand Canyon. For those of you who may be geographically-challenged, one way to reach the Grand Canyon is by driving about 80 miles north-northwest out of Flagstaff, Arizona.

Since they are not birds, they flew in a single-engine low-wing airplane. Josiah was seventeen years old and was taking lessons to receive his pilot’s license; therefore, the owner of the plane (Josiah’s instructor) flew with them. The picture of Josiah in the yellow plane below is not the one he flew to the Grand Canyon.

When I asked Josiah about the flight, he said, “The flight to the Grand Canyon wasDSCN1723 wonderful! We flew in a Piper Turbo Arrow and the altimeter had a reading of about 10,000 feet for the majority of the flight. It was amazing how things appeared to be so small when we were in flight. Structures that are rather large on the ground seemed to have minimal noticeability from the air. The ground looked like a map that had been laid out beneath us, and we could see almost 100 miles in every direction.”

The Piper can fly at 19,000 feet if necessary, but it gets better fuel economy at 10,000. They took off in Oklahoma City which is already 1,200 feet above sea level, and flew to the Grand Canyon South rim which is 6,800 feet. So it appeared that they were losing altitude throughout the westward flight.

While a car will travel a mile in 51 seconds (at 70 mph), the Piper while flying about 185 mph (169 knots), will take 20 seconds to cover one mile. Several other comparisons: our car is dwarfed by the size of the 80-foot 18-wheelers, but those trucks look like ants from the plane; the country-sections (square mile plots of land) look like a checker-board; and there is a LOT LESS traffic at 10,000 feet altitude!

Put briefly: everything seems to be a lot smaller and life is much calmer when viewed from a higher plane. (Excuse the pun.)

Do you know that can be said about us while living in our every-day life here on the ground? Mothers with babies can get tied-up-in-knots as they try to balance home-making and tending to the needs of the family. Adults can get caught in the proverbial rat-race while trying to make a living and making ends meet. Administrators and managers can lose sight of the goal in the midst of financial and employee crises. Pastors and elders can lose their sensitivity to the Lord while attempting to counsel parishioners, balance the budget and building the church. And people can get totally dis-oriented and derailed in the midst of hurricanes, tornadoes, mudslides, earthquakes, and tsunamis. Life can become one grand maelstrom!

PICT1706But things are much calmer when we view our situations from a higher plane – from God’s perspective. Josiah said, “Flying in a plane presents a good comparison of what God sees when looking at our lives. As we need to trust our flight instruments, we also need to trust and obey with the understanding that He sees the big picture.”

Josiah is correct: in the midst of your personal storm – whatever it is – ask the Lord to help you rise above the problems and see the bigger picture. Joseph told his brothers in Genesis 50:19, “What you meant for evil, God used for good.”

Therefore, it is possible that the bad that seems to be happening to you might be allowed by God in order to bring something better into your life. But planned or not, if we trust God with our lives and obey Him, He can bring good out of every situation. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”

If your storm is a result of your own error or sin, repent; ask the Lord to forgive you and to help you to rectify the situation. Did you lose your job? Ask the Lord for direction. Is your marriage on the rocks? Don’t blame God or ask him to help you get a divorce; rather, ask the Lord for wisdom and guidance. Are your finances lacking? Ask the Lord for wisdom on how to live within your available income – then you can ask Him for guidance regarding increased income.earth

Ask the Lord to help you see life the way he sees it. Life is calmer from his vantage point because we can see from a wider perspective. God enables us to see the causes of our problems and how to resolve them; and there is a lot less frustration, less worry, and much more peace when we view life from a higher plane.

The Cat, Rabbit, and Hawk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Said What?

God said “Let us make man in our image.” And when I say “God,” I mean Jehovah, YHWH, the Creator, Jesus, the Supreme God in the Bible. So, if we’re made in His image, what does God look like? Has anyone seen Him?

Not lately, but Abraham might have, Moses saw God’s afterglow, and Adam conversed with God daily – for a while.

The Scriptures tell us: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; PICT0617male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). God is a spiritual being, and we are spiritual beings – inside human bodies. Mankind was the high point of God’s creative work here on earth. God created us as an entirely new species, quite different from animals. And to emphasize this distinction, God placed man over the animals. In Genesis 1:28 God told Adam, “Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Animals can’t do that.

How else are we different from critters? Mankind is capable of conscious, meditative, cognitivePICT0608 interaction. Evolutionist Julian Huxley noted that “Only humans possess true language, conceptual thought, art, humor, science and religion.” And only humans can record and direct the course of history. Humans can express themselves analytically. And it is obvious that only humans have the ability to communicate through complex, multi-lingual skills. All this sets mankind apart from the animal kingdom.

Marriage is another example of how we’re made in the image of God. Adam and Eve’s union was much more significant than two beings openly mating in the jungle like monkeys or dogs. Marriage was specifically one male with one female (a homosexual union goes against nature and against God’s plan. Romans 1:21-28). Marriage is a compassionate, loving, fruitful, spiritual and social union.

As humans who are made in the image and likeness of God, we reflect many attributes of our heavenly Father. These spiritual and moral attributes allow us to commune and fellowship with people and with God. Attributes like love, mercy, and justice are only three examples of Godly qualities available to mankind if we accept them. God created us to enjoy relationships so that we can spend time with Him, talk with Him, and fellowship with Him. This is not the nature of animals.

Some people say that mankind is no greater than the animal kingdom, and is why man should limit his population growth while protecting the animal species. I suppose they haven’t noticed several animal traits that civilized humanity does not endorse, such as: Some animals eat their own kind – but we do not condone cannibalism. Some animals kill and eat their offspring – but we do not condone infanticide or eating our babies. (Correction: humans do commit infanticide in the form of abortion. Even today, legislatures are debating whether or not doctors can kill babies who were born alive.) Animals do not care for the elderly – but because of Godly compassion, DSCN3768humans do care for the elderly. Animals do not have the intellectual,DSC02812.B emotional, and relational mentality, or the skill or ability to interact and build an enhanced society; but man has been to the moon and back. Instead, animals have continued their lives without change for the past recorded 6,000 years. When you hear or read some scientist say that 98% of our genes are shared with some animals, don’t get excited about it. They also say we share about 50% of our genes with bananas. So the statistics are meaningless.

Most importantly, only humans can experience faith. We alone, of all earthly creation, can worship and trust our Creator and enter into a relationship with Him. Humans have the ability to choose to worship God or not; to acknowledge Almighty God as sovereign or claim another personage (human, spirit – created, or imaginary – as either a sovereign or co-existent deity), tree, rock, or any other created thing as a god. Humans gather for the purpose of worshiping corporately. Animals cannot do any of this.

God is a communicator Who cares for us and guides those who listen to Him. He made us to help others in like manner. And He defeated sin and death for us through His death on the cross and subsequent resurrection so that we can be with Him and enjoy our relationship with Him forever.

What did God say? “Let us make man in our image.” And He did. If we purposely live for God and honor Him, we can be part of His eternal plan. You’ll be glad you did because the benefits will be out of this world!

Charlie Russell Museum in Great Falls, MT.

DSCN7601Carol and I are taking a prolonged trip around the country, and we have hundreds of new memories. I took her to see the 201-foot-long Roe River in Great Falls, Montana, and the Giant Springs that feeds the river. My brother, Paul, and I visited the river in June of 2016 and I was anxious to see it again. (Visit Paul’s web site at http://www.paullinzey.com)

Returning from the river and springs, Carol saw a sign and excitedly said, “Turn around!”

An obedient chauffeur, I turned around and found my way back to 400 13th Street North. I could hardly believe my eyes. I blurted out, “The Charlie Russell Museum? I didn’t know it was here! You want to go in?”

“I pointed it out to you, didn’t I?” (Good point.)

In Southern California I learned to know the artist as Charlie Russell, but perhaps most of you know him as C. M. Russell. Also known as “Kid” Russell, Charlie is perhaps the greatest painter and sculptor of Western America.

Charles Marion Russell was born in St. Louis, Missouri on March 19, 1864—a year before IMG_4181the American Civil War ended; and he apparently had the desire to sculpt and draw as a child. Through the stories of his grandmother (Lucy Bent Russell – her brothers were Charles and William Bent who founded Bent’s Fort in Colorado), Charlie became infatuated with The West, and when he was sixteen years old his parents allowed him to head west to work on a sheep ranch in Montana—often called Big Sky Country.

He became a cowboy; but no matter what you saw on television, being a cowboy was not all “Yippie-yi-yo, Get Along, Little Doggies.” It was a rough life, but Charlie stayed on and learned almost everything there was to know about the job. He often sketched scenes, painted, and made models of wildlife to pay for his room and board.

Gifted artists are not usually great businessmen, therefore, he had difficulty paying bills and keeping food in the pantry. But when Charlie married Nancy Cooper in 1896, she became his manager. When Charlie might have settled for $25 for a painting, Nancy knew the true value and sold it for several hundred dollars. With Nancy as his manager, Charles Russell entered the national limelight.

Charlie’s memory was amazing, but he frequently used props and models. Sometimes Nancy and another friend would dress up in Native American costumes to model for him. He would often create a quick reference sketch then join in the fun and dress up as well. His studio was filled with Native American and cowboy tools, jewelry, clothing, etc., which he used for reference.

Charles M. Russell died of congestive heart failure on October 24, 1926.

DSCN7986Arriving at the museum in Great Falls around 1:30 pm, time escaped us as we visited the gallery. The Charlie Russell Riders Sculpture Garden in the front of the museum is beautiful. But once inside the gallery, we were amazed with the paintings, sketches, sculptures, and carvings! Even the model stagecoach looked realistic.

Charlie was observant! Seeing what most others glossed over, Charlie saw the beauty in a galloping horse; sage brush in twilight; sunset over the rugged plains; and the fearsome look on the face of the Indian Chief sitting on his pinto without a saddle. He had a memory for detail that far surpassed most people: A gunfight at a saloon with rowdy cowboys riding their steeds on the boardwalks became a beautifully-detailed painting. And looking at another painting, I could almost feel the pain in the cowboy’s wrenched back as he tried to “break the bronco.”

The museum is very-well laid out as it reveals the evolution of Charlie’s life: professional as well as personal. We found high-quality gifts in the C. M. Russell Museum Store. The personnel are friendly, informative, and a joy to be with. I learned a lot as I spoke with them. In 2009 the Wall Street Journal called the museum “One of America’s premier Western art museums,” and I fully agree.

As we drove back to Dick’s RV Campground, I marveled at Charlie Russell’s abilities. DSCN7522B Dick's RV Great Falls, MTAlmighty God is a great and loving Creator. I believe that God gives everyone some creative ability or talent at birth, and it’s up to us to discover what it is and develop it. Charlie did.

I encourage you to visit the C. M. Russell Museum at 400 13th St. North, Great Falls, Montana. You’ll enjoy it.

What’s in Your Hand?

PICT0296One winter day in 1956 (I was 10 years old), Dad said, “Get me a pan of water so I can defrost the ice on the windshield.” It was a very cold day, so I decided to heat the water. After a few minutes, Dad called out, “Where are you?” I hollered, “I’m warming the water.” Whereupon Dad said, “Just give me what’s in your hand!”

In the late 1970s, Mark, a friend of ours who had been a missionary in Africa, drove up to Sheridan Christian Center in Tulsa where Billy Joe Daugherty was pastor and had a school in conjunction with the church. When Mark asked Billy Joe if he needed a class on the history of missions, Billy Joe said he had been praying about that for the past couple of months and asked Mark if he could prepare a course to teach it. Whereupon Mark help up his briefcase and said, “I spent all last year preparing it, and I have it right here in my hand.”

Did you know that God has given us certain natural abilities, has enabled us to learn skills, and has endowed us with gifts of the Spirit? God’s intention is for us to use these abilities, skills, and gifts to earn a living and take care of our families. But more importantly, God wants us to use those abilities, skills, and gifts to expand His Kingdom.

PICT1325Living a Christian life is adventuresome, and it demands taking risks. So let me ask you: “What’s in your hand?” That can mean three things – all related: What are you physically holding in your hand? What do you know how to do? What are you willing to do?

James 2:14-23 says, “Dear brothers and sisters, what’s the use of saying you have faith if you don’t prove it by your actions? That kind of faith can’t save anyone. Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, and you say, ‘Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well.’ but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, it isn’t enough just to have faith. Faith that isn’t manifested by good deeds is no faith at all; it is only words and is useless. This is foolishness. When will you ever learn that faith that does not result in good deeds is fruitless?”

In August of 2001, a family in New Mexico asked me if they could start a Bible Study. I was excited and I told them, “Sure; go ahead.” They said, “Pastor, we don’t know how. We were hoping you would start it for us.” I agreed to start it and teach it for 6 to 12 months. They agreed. I taught it for 8 or 9 months, and they took over. In their case, the desire to do something for God was what they had in their hands. Then at the right time, their willingness to carry on after I let it go was also in their hands.

The pastor should not try to do everything; he shouldn’t be a one-man-show. This is against God’s plan for the church. If the pastor tries to do too much by himself, he actually limits the growth of the church because he prevents his people from doing what God wants them to do. A pastor in Phoenix said his people are the tools he has in his hands, and his church has grown tremendously because he allows his people to use what God has put in their hands.

So Friends, what do you have in your hands? Is it a kind word to a broken-hearted person? Is it an offer to take someone to church? Can you teach someone a trade? Can you take a meal to a hurting person? Do you have the desire to study and teach? Can you give more financially to the Lord? Are you willing toDSCN6647 host a home fellowship group? Do you have ideas to help the church grow? Do you have the ability to develop those ideas? God needs every one of you to use your skills, expertise, and gifts to grow the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. God wants you to be available to help others.

When we do our part, God is free to do His part. He refuses to do our work for us, and we cannot do God’s work for Him; it will always be a team effort as we apply or use our faith.       What’s in your hand?

Life When the Power Goes Out

dscn3249In 2014 we were in Southern California visiting my Aunt Betty and the family as we celebrated her 91st birthday anniversary. We had an enjoyable time interacting with cousins whom we seldom see.

Aunt Betty had her sense of humor and her memory was good. When she asked if I remembered staying with her family when I was small, I surprised her with stories of several escapades with her sons Jim and Richard. Betty’s husband (Uncle Garnett) was already in heaven with my dad (Garnett’s older brother) and Aunt Betty still lived close to where my grandparents lived decades ago. When I related stories of my stay with the grandparents when I was seven, she addressed me by the name she gave me sixty-five years ago, and asked, “Little Blue-Gene, how do you remember all of that from so long ago?” I laughed and asked, “Aunt Betty, you are twenty-four years older than I am; how do YOU remember the past so well?” She laughed as we enjoyed the bantering, and she gave me an “Aunt Betty” hug.

My wife, Carol, spent time with my cousin Dave’s wife, Cheryl, and they shared some of theirdscn3268b views of Linzey family history. It was a full-house, and I enjoyed interacting with all the cousins. You know how it is at family reunions: since we don’t get together very often, we all try to catch-up on the latest. I even got many of their phone numbers on my cell phone. (Alas: the phone hiccupped and I lost most of them. I’ll eventually get them all back.) The cake was outstanding: beautiful, as well as tasty! The 91st birthday party was a wonderful event.

Suddenly, in the midst of the camaraderie, it happened! The lights began to flicker, got dim, then totally went out! Happy talking morphed into “What happened?” Laughter subsided. A touch of bewilderment set in. Several cousins lit candles and continued a different level of conversation while others got out the flashlights and checked the breaker-box. The breakers had not tripped. Some of the family became concerned about walking around in a darkened, crowded house because physical safety was now an issue. Basically, the big party was over.

dscn3272cThe mystery was growing until several of us looked outside, and VOILÀ! The power in the entire neighborhood was out. Taking it in good humor, Aunt Betty said, “Oh that happens whenever someone around here has a party. It was our turn this time.”

Some of the family decided to go home, but others of us stayed for a while because there is life when the power goes out. With candle light, we ate more cake, looked at more pictures, and told more stories. But gradually the energy level began fading and we all went home. That is not bad; it’s part of life. Carol and I eventually left with cousin Jim.

But isn’t it interesting how fear can creep into our minds when we are in the dark? Also interesting is how folk respond differently to the same power-outage. Some people might withdraw in fear and have difficulty reaching out to others; some leave the darkness for a lighter environment; yet others reach for the flashlight and help others find their way.

But there are other ways our “power” goes out. Sometimes life is going smoothly—we have a good-paying job, the grown children love us, our retirement income is covering our needs, we are in good health, etc.—and we have sufficient energy to get through and enjoy life. But suddenly, darkness descends and tries to suffocate us like a wet shroud: a family member dies, we develop cancer, the stock market plunges, or some other catastrophe thrusts us into the darkness of life. What should we do?

We can withdraw in fear and avoid others; we can fill our life with noise and activity toimg_1578 overshadow, or drown out our emptiness and hurt; or we can reach for the true source of light: Jesus Christ, the Light of the world (John 8:12). This light, Jesus, can expel all darkness and restore power and life if we turn to Him. Jesus said, “I’ll never leave you nor forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5)” There is still life when the power goes out; so share God’s light and life with others who are in the dark. 

An added benefit is: Jesus also supplies more power in life. You can trust Him.

Valentine’s Day

image00771I remember Valentine’s Day in 1965. Valentine’s Day was on Sunday that year, and Carol and I were attending SCC (Southern California College: now VUSC – Vanguard University of Southern California). I remember thinking: “If Carol accepts my invitation to the Valentine Banquet, I’ll know that she is the girl I will marry.” So, nervously, I asked her.

Laugh if you want. I am chuckling now as I write because I was somewhat immature at the time, and I was overcome with “puppy-love.” (Yes friends, she accepted.) I know that isn’t the way to1966 wedding decide whom to marry, but we DID get married a year and a half later — August 22, 1966 — and 52+ years later, we are still in love.

Someone asked Carol several years ago, “What’s it like being married to the same person for all those years?” Carol responded: “Oh, he’s not the same person I married. He’s changed.” She is right. Through time we all change — hopefully for the better. For one thing, my puppy-love grew into a true, full-fledged love for Carol. Maybe not fully-mature even now, but definitely going in that direction. I have learned (and am still learning) to love her with the love of Jesus Christ; and His love supersedes or surpasses any love humans think they have. But how do husbands and wives keep their love and devotion vibrant through the problem-laden decades?

Bishop Valentinus, or Saint Valentine as he is remembered, gave us a hint by manifesting a two-fold love: An undying, obedient, irrevocable love for God, and a deep, loyal commitment to people. And that’s what Carol and I have applied in our marriage through the years.

dscn7495Carol explains it this way: “Marriage is made in heaven. But it comes in a kit that must be assembled here on earth.” She also says, “Marriage is like a pyramid: God is at the top, with husband and wife at the bottom corners. When husband and wife focus on each other, they tend to repel each other. But if they both focus on God and grow toward Him, they inevitably grow closer together. And growing toward God helps us to become more like Him. Therefore, we find ourselves loving each other more with the pure love of God. That’s why God should be at the center of every marriage.”

That reminds me of a song written in Pasadena, California by Frederick Lehman; but the lyrics are based on a Jewish poem titled “Haddamut” written in Aramaic in 1050 AD by Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai, a cantor in Worms, Germany. The words to the chorus are: “Oh Love of God, how rich and pure! How measureless and strong! It shall forevermore endure the saints and angel’s song.”

Another supporting factor in keeping your love going strong is to let your spouse be your very best friend. That way, NO one can ever come between you! Carol has been my best friend for these 52 years, and she will never be deposed from that position as long as we both shall live.

Our friends Gary and Carol Kroah, formerly Associate Pastors of the Siloam Spring (Arkansas) Assembly of God Church say, “To start out, it’s not hard to love someone who is lovable. But our love for one another has endured through the years because of our mutual commitment to Jesus Christ and to one another. The closer we have been to Him, the closer we are to each other. Our determination to care for one another has motivated us to stay together, and love with unconditional love.”

Unconditional Love—growing toward God—growing closer together. It sounds like Bishop Valentine’s two-fold love: an undying, obedient, irrevocable love for God, and a deep, loyal commitment to people.

You’ve probably figured out that I like the Valentine’s Day celebration, but I do not subscribe to the superficiality ascribed by the world. Using the celebration as an enhancement in courting and marriage is fine, but don’t use it for defrauding someone or for sexual immorality.  A person who truly loves someone will act honorably toward that person. Acting selfishly or dishonorably is devoid of true love. Read 2 Samuel 13.DSCN0185

Jesus exhibited the purest love by sacrificially giving Himself in order that we may receive eternal life. (John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son [Jesus], that whosover believes on Him will not perish [eternally] but have everlasting life”. Respond to Jesus. Receive His love, and live. Happy Valentine’s Day.

A Labor of Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was at least partly correct.

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

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

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

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

Guided by GPS

navigation-system-147970I’ll never forget the first time I asked to be guided by a GPS gizmo. Ron, our oldest son, and his family were with Carol and me as we were traveling. It was night time, and we were looking for the motel. Ron said, “I’ll look it up on my cell phone.” That was a bother for my wife who had been my navigator all of our married life.

Carol said, “I can find it on the map like I’ve always done.” But I wanted to try out a new scientific gadget for the first time.

“Okay, Ron-ole-boy; find the motel.” So he programmed in the address, and we drove up to the side gate of an army base. As I turned the car around, Carol said, “I can find the right street by using the map.” But I wanted to try the GPS.

Ron reprogrammed and we drove around town, only to find a different gate to that army base. By this time Carol was a little irritated.

Ron reprogrammed once more, and we found the main gate … to that same army base. So I drove up to the soldier and asked him for assistance. He directed us to a 7-11 store. There, the clerk informed us that there were four (yes: 4) streets in town with that name, and the primary street was on the army base.

Have you ever been stabbed with a visual “I Told You So!”? Carol found that motel for us, but the “weather” remained cool for a while. (She forgave me the next day.)

GPS programming improved dramatically in the ensuing decade, and it seems that a great many folk have a GPS unit of some sort. I heard on the news that presently, there may be 10 billion cell phones with GPS apps installed. But what is GPS?

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a satellite-based navigation system consisting ofearth a network of at least 24 satellites placed into orbit by the U.S. Department of Defense. GPS was originally intended for military applications, but in the 1980s, the government made the system available for civilian use.

These satellites circle the earth twice a day transmitting signals to earth. Receivers triangulate this information to calculate our precise location. The more satellites that are involved, the more accurate the results, and GPS units today are very accurate. Carol even likes using them now.

It’s fun watching the little blue dot (we call it the Blue Bug) moving across the screen of the cell phone as we drive across country. Carol often says, “The Blue Bug is staying with us.” But at times she will say, “The Bug is getting lost.” That’s when I make a correction and get back on the right street.

However, since the GPS units know our location, they also know our altitude. They enable precise operation for our interactive maps and our compass apps. The little gizmo can tell us where the restaurants, motels, and gas stations are, and can even tell us the temperature outside – all within seconds.

When we take pictures with our cell phones, the built-in GPS units record when and where they were taken. And when we cross a time zone, Carol and I always have a contest: whose phone changes time first?

Some folk worry that these technological advancements are a way for the government to keep track of us. That is correct. But they are also a great help to us. Many vehicles are equipped with OnStar which has helped a great many folk. OnStar located my car several years ago after it had been stolen.

But another GPS is available to those of us who honor Almighty God. I call this GPS “God’s Protective Service”.

Bible.docxAs I live by Godly principles that are found in the Bible, as I live for the Lord, as I as I honor God in every way that I know how, the Holy Spirit guides me. He knows where I am every second of the day, and knows what kind of difficulties I am facing. He sees what lies ahead of me, and gives me precise directions. If I am about to make a wrong decision, God sends a signal to get me back on track – if I’m listening.

Have fun with the GPS gizmos; but tune in to Almighty God for both temporal and eternal directions.