Be not a witness against your neighbor without cause, and do not deceive with your lips.Do not say, “I will do to him as he has done to me; I will pay the man back for what he has done.” Prov 24:28-29
Vengeance is ultimately self-destructive. You cannot exact vengeance in kind, whether in traffic, in business, or in life, without becoming what you hate.
Be not a witness against your neighbor without cause, and do not deceive with your lips.Do not say, “I will do to him as he has done to me; I will pay the man back for what he has done.” Prov 24:28-29
When you have a blog, a lot of strangers find you. I am constantly surprised by some of the emails I receive from people who want to use this forum for their own purposes. I have always felt an obligation to my readers to be careful what I post, and most of the time I turn those requests down. Few of them are even spiritual in nature anyway, and that is what we are all about here. Practical, yes, but above all, spiritual.
However, I recently received a request that made me sit back and think. And think some more. While I still did not allow that person to post on my blog, I did see that his own website might be of some use to some of you who are dealing with issues so few of us really know how to help you with. I have been trying to figure out an easy way to post a recommendation ever since, one that will keep the recommendation before you every time you visit the blog.
And that made me think, "What else can I recommend that might be of use to the people who read this blog?"
A lot of social media is pointless, useless, negative, even divisive. I have yet to see an argument won regardless the evidence given. So why not, instead of being just another negative post, offer something helpful? That is what I will try to do.
On the left sidebar, look for the new page "Recommended Sites." You will find a list, with thumbnail sketches and links, of sites you might find helpful in your life or the life of someone you know and love. Please feel free to use them, and I would appreciate any feedback as well. If you know other sites I should consider for that page, please click on "Contact Dene" and send them on.
Please take a minute now to check them out.
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 1Thess 5:11
Most families have just returned from a road trip of some variety this past summer. You may not realize it, but this is a fairly recent development. We seem to think that the Declaration of Independence lists our inalienable rights as “life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and a thousand dollar (or more) family vacation every year.” When I was growing up we might have gone on two or three “vacations.” The rest of the time we visited family, and that involved nothing but visiting—the adults talking and the children playing together. Anywhere we might have gone while there was a free day trip—no admission fees—and lunch was usually a picnic we packed ourselves.
If it hadn’t been for discovering tent camping, my boys would not have had vacations either. In those days you could pitch a tent in a state park for $7.00 a night, and cook your own meals over the campfire instead of eating out. We also did our share of family visiting. Although you hate to view your family as a “free motel,” it was the only way we could see them at least once a year.
I like to think of this life as a road trip. Too many people consider it the destination and that will skew your perspective in a bad way. If you think this life is supposed to be the good part, you will sooner or later be severely disappointed.
As we go along the road a lot of things happen. We will be faced with decisions that are not easy to make, and which may turn out badly. Sometimes we are too easy on ourselves, making excuses and rationalizing. But other times we are entirely too hard on ourselves. If you look back on a decision you made years ago, and find yourself wishing you had done things differently, that doesn’t necessarily mean you were wrong then. Sometimes it simply means you were without experience, a little naïve, a lot ignorant.
Let’s put it this way. I live almost an hour north of Gainesville, Florida. If I leave for Atlanta at 8 AM, it’s no shame if I am not even to Macon by 10 AM. On the other hand, if I leave at 5 AM and haven’t even made Macon yet, something is wrong. I’ve been dawdling over gas pumps, stopping for snacks too many times, or wandering through tourist traps that have nothing to do with the trip itself. The question, then, is not where you are on the road, but when you left in the first place. You can’t expect yourself to know what to do in every situation of life when you haven’t even experienced much life. The decision you make today may be completely different than the one you made in the same situation twenty years ago, but twenty years ago if you did the best you could do with what you knew, you did well.
And what are we doing on our road trip? Are we wasting too much time at tourist traps? Life is full of distractions, things not necessarily wrong, but which may not help us on the trip at all, or may even do harm by skewing our perspective. It really isn’t important where you live and what kind of car you drive in this life. If you think it is, you’ve forgotten where you’re headed—the here and now has become your goal instead.
If you want to keep your mind on the goal, ignore the billboards life puts out for you and spend time with your atlas. Nothing helps me get through a long trip more than watching the towns go by and following them with my finger on the map. Every time I check the mileage we are a little further on, and soon, sooner than you might think, the destination is in sight. That’s why you started this trip in the first place—not for the World’s Largest Flea Market, or the Gigantic Book Sale, or even the Only Locally Owned Canning Facility and Orchard (with free samples).
Watch the road, use the map, avoid the tourist traps. Make the best decisions you can at every intersection. This is the only road trip you get. Don’t mess it up.
Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil. Proverbs 4:25-27
Self-control—a virtue our society no longer practices or teaches. Instead, we reward jerks and boors, and idolize intemperance. Prodigality and lavish lifestyles are our measure of success; striking back is our measure of character; throwing tantrums is our measure of strength. Mature behavior is seldom praised and never popular. (from Growing Toward Spiritual Maturity by Dene Ward)
God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2Tim 1:7
The past few years big black gnats have reached almost plague proportions. Generally they begin about May and before we know it we are swatting in the kitchen, under the lamps, and especially at the table. You look down and if you aren't quick enough, the one that lands in your soup drowns in it. If you talk too much, you swallow one, and you never, ever leave a piece of pie sitting out for longer than five seconds without covering it up. They breed in the garbage can, in the bathroom drains, and in the burn box. Every fruit fly trap holds forty bodies in one day's time, and still you swat.
So we replaced our defunct atomizer, the one that puffs out a spray of insecticide every 15 minutes from its place high on the book case—and noticed no difference whatsoever. Until we went south to babysit for three days. When we arrived back home, we trudged in, bodies weary from child love and heavy traffic, and came to a complete halt. The floor was covered in dead gnats. You couldn't walk through them without smashing them and tracking them everywhere. A broom and a dustpan garnered us a half cup of dead gnats. Now that is a load of bugs!
You can think you don't make a difference in this world. Your kind deeds to your neighbors, your level of patience in restaurants and doctors' offices and on the road, your invitations to worship or Bible study, your words of encouragement to a brother or sister in distress seem small and insignificant. But they are not. They add up and they will have an effect.
You may never know about it. I meet people all the time who, when discovering who my parents are, suddenly pour out their appreciation for things that I never knew about. I hear about their love, their generosity, their encouragement, their examples. I hear praise and gratitude for people I never really thought of as great heroes of faith, and why? Because I was watching them one puff at a time. I never saw the floor full of gnats that accrued after a lifetime of righteousness.
The same thing can be true of you. You may not be able to teach a Bible class that converts a dozen sinners in a month, much less a day. You may not have the time and money to give much more than a couple hours a week to serving, and that scattered about among a large bunch of needy folks. But you can puff out a kind word here and there, a card of encouragement every week or so, a visit or two every week, a meal for a sick family when needed, and a consistent example of faithfulness in your meetings with the assembly and your daily example of life.
So a half a cup of dead gnats is not exactly the metaphor you want to be remembered by, but consider this. Every dead gnat is a defeat for Satan; a bout with selfishness or an impatient lack of consideration or the distraction with the world that you have overcome by your faithfully pursuing righteousness in your life, one word or deed at a time, again and again and again. Satan tries to tell you that it won't matter, it's all too small to make a difference. Show him your dustpan and gloat in his face.
One puff at a time will get you, and maybe a few others with you, to Heaven.
The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. Titus 3:8
I have a hard time seeing cobwebs. Every so often, Keith will grab a broom, wrap an old rag around it and go around sweeping my ceilings, especially in the corners. He always ends up with a rag covered in lacy, pale gray webs that had hung from the white ceilings, hidden from my less than perfect vision.
A few weeks ago, after returning from a ten day trip that combined family visits with a speaking engagement, I was exercising on the porch steps and happened to look at the screen door. Maybe because I was concentrating on my repetitious step routine instead of simply going in and out, I saw a thick layer of cobwebs wrapped around the automatic door closer. I looked a little higher and more hung from the hinges. Yet a little higher and both corners were strung with white.
These were not small cobwebs. They were several inches in diameter and so thick the black metal door looked as if someone had splashed white paint on it. This is what I’m saying: they were easy to see and had been there quite awhile yet I had missed seeing them.
Here’s a question for you. If cobwebs were dangerous in some way, poisonous perhaps, which would be the most dangerous, the ones you can’t see, or the ones you can?
Let me make that a little easier for you. Those cobwebs that Keith gets down for me? Before he retired I might not have seen them, but I knew they were there—cobwebs always hang from the ceiling. When any special company was on the calendar, I always got the broom and brushed them down myself. I knew where to brush whether I could see them there or not. The cobwebs that hang all over the screen door as clear as day? Those I never see because I never look for them.
When we raised our boys we taught them several ways to avoid poisonous snakes. One was to stay away from places they could hide, like wood piles and thick brush. We also taught them to look for odd shapes and movement in the grass—the only way to see past their natural camouflage. But on a cold sunny day, those things won’t be in some dark place, they’ll be right out in the open, basking on a sun-warmed rock or lying in the sun-baked field. Which ones do you think are the hardest to see, simply because you aren’t looking for them?
Now think about the dangers in your spiritual life. Which temptations are the most perilous, the ones you know to look for or the ones you don’t bother to look for? Which of your faults are the most dangerous? The ones you are trying to work on, or the ones you refuse to see?
What’s the moral of the story? Always be looking. Don’t fool yourself with that psychological trick called denial. It won’t make the snakes disappear. It won’t make the poison less venomous. You have an enemy who isn’t stupid. He has great camouflage. Sometimes he looks like a friend, sometimes he looks like a blessing, sometimes he even looks like you.
Do a daily character exam. Look for the cobwebs in your soul. Look where you see them and where you don’t. Or get someone with better eyesight to do it for you, and then listen to them. “That’s just how I am,” may be the biggest lie anyone ever got you to believe. Blindness is not an excuse for sin.
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds, 2 Cor 11:13,14.
I married a firebug and raised two more. All the camping we have done, I am sure, was just an excuse to build and sit around campfires, and since we moved to the country we have had a fire pit from the beginning. Once the weather began to turn, we kept the hot dog and marshmallow industries in business almost single-handedly, sometimes with all the trimmings—chili, beans, slaw—other times with just a bag of chips on the side. After the boys went away to college, any weekend they came home, they expected a hot dog roast at least once. From October to April my grocery list always included those all-American sausages, “Nathan’s” hot dogs, of course.
Now that the boys are gone, Keith still likes to build a fire on cool nights. Our partially wooded property always produces enough deadfall to keep the fires going, and even here in Florida, the weather is cool enough to make a fire pleasant, rotating yourself like a rotisserie, warming each side in turn.
Keith will often throw a carefully collected and dried pile of Spanish moss on the flame. At first the fire appears smothered, but the heat gradually burns through, producing thick billows of gray smoke that seem almost tactile, finally burning clear and shooting sparks and cinders up toward the sky. We lean our heads on the lawn chair backs to see which will travel highest and glow longest before burning out in the cold blackness above the treetops.
Do you realize that is all an atheist believes life is? We are cinders in a bonfire. Some of us simply dissolve in the fire. Others rise on the updraft, some burning higher, larger, and longer than others, but burning out nonetheless, just like everyone else. How can they survive believing this is all there is to it? Some use that as an excuse to do whatever they want, regardless of who it hurts and the harm it causes. Even then, as they grow older and realize the brevity of life, the pointlessness of it all takes its toll. When a wicked man dies, his hope perishes; all he expected from his power comes to nothing, Prov 11:7.
But children of God know better. We are not just nameless cinders in the updraft of a brief blaze. We have not only an eternal existence to look forward to, but a purpose here as well. Very few of us will rise high enough and burn long enough for many to notice and fewer to remember, but we can all give warmth and light in a cold, dark world. Maybe working so hard that we dissolve in the flame without ever rising above it is the better end. How much warmth and light did you ever get out of a single spark anyway?
What are your plans for today? Are you so busy you get tired just thinking about it? And at what? Is it something that will warm someone’s heart and light their way? Even things that don’t seem likely can be made into an opportunity to do good. If they cannot, maybe we should think twice about doing them. We are all sparks in the fire, or else we are just trying to put it out.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on the stand, and it shines unto all who are in the house. Even so let your light shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven, Matt 5:14-16.
The older I get, the more I appreciate the quiet men in the pews, the ones who seldom speak up, whose opinions are usually kept to themselves or to just the one or two who make it a point to speak with them more than the customary, “How are you today?”
We, who suppose that we “judge righteous judgment,” are, like the Pharisees, just as bad as anyone else about the things we claim to detest, in this case, judging. If a brother seldom speaks in Bible class, he didn’t study his lesson, right? Or his heart isn’t in his worship. If I stop at another congregation when I am out of town and the singing isn’t loud, and the prayers have a lot of common phrases in them, and the preaching isn’t dynamic, then they are the worst excuse for a church I’ve ever seen. So much for “righteous judgment.”
The more I study the scriptures, the more I see quiet people living lives that would be considered normal in their day and time. I don’t mean they would not have been different in their words and actions than the godless pagan they might live next to—I mean great deeds and feats of faith and bravery were not their claim to fame. They simply lived to and with their God every day, making choices based upon their belief in Him, talking about His promises in casual conversation, assuming as a given that their hope was not baseless.
When was the last time any one of us had to choose between death and serving God? I know some places where that may be the case, but no one in this country has faced that trial, and I am the first to thank God for that and pray that it continue. Does that make me a sorry excuse for a Christian? Maybe that’s why so many think they must raise a ruckus about everything—they have to show their “faith” in some sort of blatant manner, instead of being satisfied—and grateful—that they can live a life of steady devotion day after day after routine day. Sometimes that quiet steadiness takes a lot more strength, and certainly more endurance, than one quick flash in the pan act of courage.
So here’s to the ordinary Christian. He loves his wife “as his own body,” serves her faithfully, even when the years have diminished her outward beauty and increased her outward girth.
He trains his children, not just about God, but about being a man. He teaches them how to work, how to play, and how to survive in an unfriendly world. He shows them patience and mercy, the traits His Heavenly Father showed him.
He works for his employer “as unto the Lord,” giving the boss no need to worry about his stealing either the business’s supplies or time--a day’s work for a day’s pay, and the willingness to throw in some unremunerated extra time and effort simply because it’s needed.
He sees to the good of his neighbors, offering a helping hand, the loan of equipment, the gift of sharing good things that have come his way. He shows them the Lord he serves in the way he treats them.
He handles the trials of life, not as if they make him special and deserving, but as if they happen to all, knowing he deserves even worse for his part in the sin that contaminated the world. He never allows them to affect his faith in God or his desire to serve that God. He simply keeps on going, like that famous bunny.
And so he may not talk a lot. He may not jump up and down and raise his hands high in the air. He may not be caught shedding a tear during a song or a prayer. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t mean every word of what he sings or prays, or have deep feelings of love and gratitude, and shame on anyone who judges otherwise. Jacob worshipped, leaning on his staff, we are told in Heb 11:21. What? No hallelujahs? I wonder how some today might have judged that.
In fact, a whole church full of such men might not rise to the ideal for some who need outward show to “get anything out of” the worship. What makes them think they are better than another who can motivate himself with his own quiet, inward thoughts? Isn’t it a good thing, that Someone Else is doing the judging?
As to that “ordinary Christian,” he isn’t really very ordinary at all.
…for man looks on the outward appearance, but Jehovah looks on the heart,
1 Sam 16:7.
Silas came to visit a few weeks ago all by himself. Granddad had carefully planned the play time, and on the first afternoon, as the thermometer hit 95, and the sun beat down mercilessly, he grabbed the garden hose and I knew immediately what was up.
Keith was always a hands-on Dad, more hands on than the boys wanted in some cases, but also in the fun times. He played with them from the time they were born, carefully moderating his strength when they were small, but never moderating the little boy inside that never quite left him. One of my favorite pictures came when he knocked on the door one rainy day, and there the three of them stood, streaked with mud, having played in the soft warm rain throwing mud balls until you could only tell which was which by their relative size.
So now it was four year old Silas’s turn, his baptism by mud, so to speak, as Keith filled up the low spot in front of the sour orange and the herb bed, dammed by a berm so the water would back up and have time to soak into the ground before rushing on down the hill to the run just off the east side of the property. As soon as the spot was a couple inches deep, Keith called him in to splash around. Even that took awhile, but finally Silas waded in and started jumping up and down, squealing with delight as the water splashed up around him, and especially when it splashed on Granddad.
Then came the magic moment. Keith reached down into the black mud, scraped up a handful, and flung it carefully onto Silas’s back. Talk about indignant! He scrambled up the slope to the carport where I sat in the breeze of a fan, drinking iced tea and watching the fun. “Granddad threw mud on me,” he complained as he spun in a circle trying to see the damage behind him.
“So throw some on him!” I said encouragingly.
He was aghast. “But it’s dirty,” he argued.
“That’s the fun,” I told him, and he slowly walked back to the puddle, glancing over his shoulder at me with a skeptical look.
Granddad met him with another handful of mud, this time on the chest. “Arghh!” he protested and scrambled away, but this time not to me. I was obviously not on his side in this one.
“Here,” Keith said, and stood, chest bare and arms out wide. “Throw some on me.”
Once again, Silas yelled, “No,” but it wasn’t long till he finally picked up a handful of mud on his own. Keith stood there with a grin, waiting as Silas walked up to him. But the little guy couldn’t stand it. Just as he got within a four-year-old’s throwing range, he turned and threw the mud into the puddle instead. Immediately, Keith picked up a handful and threw it on him. Silas ran around in circles, but never left the area this time. In a flash he had another fistful, but once again threw it in the puddle.
Finally, Keith sat down in the mud. “See? I’m already muddy now. It’s okay to throw it on me.”
It still took another five minutes, but finally Silas got into the spirit of the thing and threw a generous handful at Keith. I am not sure how much reached skin, but he was as thrilled as if he had dumped a bucketful on him.
For the next thirty minutes the mud was flying. They both wound up with mud caked on their shorts, dripping from clumps on their shoulders, bellies, backs, and even their heads. I doubt Silas had ever been that dirty in his entire life, and he thoroughly enjoyed it.
I could do a lot with this one. I could talk about hands-on fathering. I could talk about shucking your dignity so you can play with your child, about shedding that authoritative image so he will know you love him enough not just to correct him, but to enjoy being with him--on his level, not yours. That’s easy, so I will let you take care of that one.
How about this? Did you notice how hard it was for Silas to actually start throwing the mud? Even though he was assured it was all right, even though he was encouraged to have fun that normally was not allowed, it still took a long time for him to give in, but give in he did. Why do we think we can hold up against far more powerful forces than that when we place our souls in harm’s way?
The world will tell you it’s all right. The world will tell you it’s fun. The world will say, “Look at me. See? I’m doing just fine, and so will you.” If you think you won’t give in, you probably have an inflated opinion of your spiritual strength. The truly strong person would have never been there to begin with.
So take it from a little boy who had the time of his life in a mud fight. You will give in too, only your fight will end up with a dirt that can’t be washed away with a hose, and you may enjoy it too much to ever leave the mud puddle behind.
You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen, 2 Peter 3:17-18.
Whenever we whiz past workers on the interstate, I cringe, especially if they are not standing behind the "protection" of those concrete barriers. What if one of them slipped and fell? What if a couple of them were engaging in horseplay and a little shove propelled one into traffic? What if… My imagination can run overtime with those things, I'm afraid, but even if I were not to blame, I would feel terrible if he fell in front of my car.
I know that is so because when I was a child, one of my parents' friends accidentally killed a child who was riding his bike around his neighborhood. No, it was not the man's fault. The boy was not watching where he was going and simply whizzed out into the middle of the street. Maybe, as an inexperienced child, he thought a car could stop on a dime. I don't know, but he was killed instantly.
Our friend was a wreck. Witnesses stood by him and he was cleared of all culpability, but he still had a hard time with it. Over and over he kept thinking, "I killed an innocent child," and the word "accident" made no difference to him whatsoever.
I would feel the same way, and I believe you would, too. Being responsible for the death of anyone at all, much less an innocent, would be a terrible burden to bear. Would there be anything we wouldn't do for that family to try to make amends?
Yet we are all guilty of killing an innocent person. Every one of us who has sinned even one sin—if that were possible—has murdered the Son of God. Does it haunt you the way killing that child haunted our friend? Would you do anything to make amends?
And the worst of it is this—for us it wasn't even an accident. And in the words of the old hymn, every time we sin, we "crucify him once again." If it made us feel as bad as it ought to, maybe we wouldn't have such a difficult time with temptation. If we truly felt horrible about it, we might just be able to overcome.
Something to think about this morning.
For as touching those who were once enlightened and tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come, and then fell away, it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. (Heb 6:4-6)
Dene Ward has taught the Bible for more than forty years, spoken at women’s retreats and lectureships, and has written both devotional books and class materials. She lives in Lake Butler, Florida, with her husband Keith.