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Archive for the ‘Sustaining’ Category

Sometimes I’m not sure if I have already written a post or just thought about it. So, sometimes I go back into my own blog and search for a post. The post I actually wrote was about 29 years of heating with wood (Click on the following title to read “A Warm Habit“.). I am now heating in my 35th year. I have some unfinished writing I said I would write another day in “A Warm Habit”.

The first year I heated with wood was the second winter of our marriage. I used a wood stove borrowed from a friend. The next year my father bought me a small, cast iron, bolt together wood stove with a nice picture on both sides. It was sufficient for the small 3 room house we were renting. As hindsight now allows me to regret, I sold that stove the next year. I thought that I would not heat with wood again when my wife and I went for a year of Bible School in Chicago and lived in a 4 room house with central oil heat. The next  year we moved to Elizabethton, TN, and lived in the front half of a split house. Ironically, though we had just lived in Chicago, the first winter in Elizabethton was the coldest we ever had in a house. The landlord had a wood stove in the the crawl space with ductwork to supposedly heat both halves. It didn’t heat our half. Our first child was constantly wrapped up like he was outdoors. The next winter we lived in a house on Camp Ta-Pa-Win-Go. I paid a small rent and worked as maintenance man. We heated with the very nice installed wood stove. The next year we moved to the Horseshoe, a small gorge and bend in the Watauga River in that shape. The first year in that little house in the woods with the curtains that blew in the winter breeze, we heated with my friend’s wood stove again while he was building a house.

If you having been following this story, then you will realize that we had now been married 7 winters and heated with wood for five. It was again time to find a wood stove. I started checking the want ads of the local newspaper, because this was in the days before Ebay and Craigslist. I looked at several that were a combination of too small for heating a whole house and too expensive for my budget since I was was in the state of affairs referred to as under-employed at the time, doing odd jobs. I saw another stove advertised for $250 in Bristol, TN, about an hour and a half drive by the roads then available. The price seemed at the edge of my range and it was called a Fisher “Grandfather”, which I understood vaguely to mean it was a larger model stove. I grabbed a friend and we went that way. It was well after dark when we pulled up to the most curious house in the neighborhood. The house was obviously much older than any other in the neighborhood. It was a one story white clapboard house that had a large porch all across the front with disproportionately large white columns one might expect to see on a big house on the plantation. The address matched. The windows were unlit even as the neighborhood was poorly lit. A young couple came to the door. The stove was in the front living room which was almost empty except for the large, two door wood stove in front of the chimney. I sized it up while my friend made small talk. I began to engage with the man in order to try to haggle the price. He referred me to his wife, who he said was the owner of the stove before they were married. One of us made a comment about the interesting house. They began to explain that they had hoped to remodel this post-Civil War house and raise their family there. Instead, they were now going to be missionaries and had already cleared most of their furniture. I told the young woman that my budget was really tight and I intended to heat with wood as I had already been doing to save money. With what I thought to be almost tears in her eyes she explained how the stove was meaningful to her because of family connections and that she hated to part with it. She had already turned down several other people who had wanted the stove and finished her story by saying, “I just want to find a home for this stove with someone who will burn a sincere fire.” I assured her that based on the fact that I was already regularly heating with wood, cut and split all of my own wood, and had a growing family and a limited income, that I could most certainly “burn a sincere fire.” I felt as though I was swearing to always burn fires in this way. Based on my sincere testimony, the woman was convinced and allowed me to give her just $190 for a stove that probably cost $900 to $1000 new. But I was not scamming or playing; things were really that tight. The stove was very hard for us three young men to move, given its size and weight. We laid down boards and mostly scooted the stove across these boards to avoid scratching the hardwood floor and porch. We wrestled it onto the back of my 1970 F-100 with the rusted bed. For the next 30 winters thus far I have burnt the most sincere fires possible, keeping warm a wife and 5 children in three different houses in two states. I think that what most makes the fires in this stove sincere is the enjoyment I obtain from heating with wood and the reflection I have while starting fires. My wife encouraging me to get up and start a fire because it’s cold in the house probably doesn’t hurt any.

As He has so many times, God provided what I needed when I needed it. During those times when it seemed as though He didn’t, really He did, just not in the way or at the time that I expected or requested. He is good.

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Starting a sincere fire during the first snow of the season with wet wood drying by the wood box in the background.

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The sideboard of an old woodbox that my wife stenciled when we lived in the Horseshoe.

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Many the comment that comes from students the last few days for school. Many are gracious, wanting to end on a friendly note. It shows a measure of decency on the part of the majority of students. Others are harshly truthful and others contrived, far from truthful, out of some need to right a never done wrong. “I can’t wait until this class is over. Friends told me that I wouldn’t be able to wait to get out of here, but that I would miss you afterward. I don’t see that happening.” It seemed like a complement to me, if not from the student in front of me, then certainly from the ‘friends’. Dealing constantly with people is not easy business. It wears on the emotions, particularly if you care even a little bit. It doesn’t help that you always know that you have failed in some small way with every person you interact with, even though you know you did your best overall and intended the best for your students. It is for all of this difficulty in the midst of trying that the occasional word of genuine encouragement lifts the weary soul. At the end of the last assignment to be graded for one class there was the following statement: “Mr. __, I’m so glad you were my teacher! I learned alot from you! Science and life choices.” That is the way that I want to be remembered as a teacher- passionate about teaching Science and life. Many of my years of teaching have been stressful for reasons inside the class and out. This past year was not the worst for stress, but it did rank. At the same time it was a year of spiritual benefit in my own life and in opportunity to talk to students about eternal things. It sometimes amazes me how often students will bring up the subject of where we came from, or do I believe in God, or how do you solve life’s difficult problems, or what is the meaning of life. Some of the questions relate directly to the subject at hand and others seem random, though I am sure that the underlying thought process that brought them forward was not. I hope that I taught many students science and life this past year and that God will take what I offered for His glory and their good.

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The time of year to attend graduations, send cards and well wishes for the future, and give advice to the bright-faced graduates is upon us. I have no better advice for the graduate entering the workforce than that which I heard from the commencement speaker at my son’s graduation just over a year ago at LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas. The commencement speaker was former Secretary of the U.S. Mint, Edmund C. Moy. The seven points of advice that he gave are appropriate for the graduate or any Christian in the workplace who desires to live for God. Following is my interpretation of what he said.

Seek a mentor. Find someone who has been there and done that. The emphasis is on a spiritual mentor who can help you to navigate and balance the demands of working and stresses of interacting with people with your desire and need to grow spiritually and demonstrate God’s love to those around you. This mentoring relationship requires time and scheduling. Start right away seeking such a person you may trust in this role. At my stage in life I have offered and mentored younger employees and students.

Find or form a like-minded group with whom to pray and fellowship and witness. Certainly a church may fulfill this need but a sub-group within the organization of your employment is an added help to you and your colleagues. Seek out other Christians; there is strength in numbers. These groups change over time and my present one is outside my workplace.

Be trustworthy with the small things. As Jesus said, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? (Luke 16:10-12) Integrity matters. Certainly this is good workplace ethic, but even more to the point, how can you expect people to entrust to you to talk to them about eternal things, the Gospel, if you are not trustworthy with material things? Don’t shame Christ’s name for trivial pursuits.

Do good work; it praises God. Are you a team player? On time for work? Meet deadlines? Do quality work so that someone else does not have to come behind you and fix it? Stay positive and refrain from complaining? “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.” (I Corinthians 10:31-33). If you would live openly as a believer, then let your words be kind and truthful and your actions sound and pure. I will add that you should not pursue the easy way out by hiding your faith. It may show you don’t have any.

Make a “to be list” to become spiritually mature. “To do lists” are everyday business that we must do to complete each day’s tasks. God is most concerned with us coming to understand who we are in Christ, which will most profoundly affect what we do. Set goals for becoming more of who you are. This is not works religion. This is spiritual discipline.

Consider public service. The private sector is good, but we need honest, hardworking, honorable, high-order thinking individuals in the public sphere as well. Your skill set is needed to set things right.

Many resumes have a zig-zag path. That’s OK: God is behind it. God is sovereign in His providential care and direction. Rather than get frustrated and ask why, pray harder instead, and enjoy the ride. My personal route has certainly been circuitous. God is good.

May the truth and application of this advice assist you as you enter the workforce, college, or the military.

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Few things that I really need
Many that I want
Separating them indeed
Seems to be a taunt

This exercise brings freedom
I don't have to grasp
Holding both these in tandem
Frays nerves like a rasp

Now I am not a Buddhist
Wants I don't deny
More likely increases the list
Better not to try

But wants don't have to control me
I can walk away
He has met my needs, I'm free
In peace each new day

Out of breath and lost my way
Cling for my supply
Gratification delay
He will soon reply

(Luke 10:40-42; Matthew 6:25-34)

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The book of Daniel and the character Daniel have been my favorite since seriously reading the Bible as a pre-teen. By God’s grace he, along with his three friends, overcame the temptations of this world and exhibited God’s character to amazed, pagan, hostile, and adoring onlookers. As I was studying the first chapter recently to teach it, the scene struck me a different and modern way. What I write below will sound ‘tongue in cheek’ but my intent is to convey how relevant this story is.

When Dan arrived on campus with his three buds Hank, Mish, and Azar they were tied in knots with anticipation. As Freshmen they thought themselves royalty but they were just another set of pretty faces with some brains thrown in, pretty much like all the other neophytes with persuasive scholarship from the Founder of BU. This same Founder and President was also the  biggest donor to the university and had influence at every level and insisted that the Dean of Men put these new recruits through their paces in liberal arts coursework with a major in Chaldean Studies. The President had deep pockets and provided the Dean with everything to make the college experience compelling. It was a real party school with all the best food and wine provided by the school. But Deep Pockets expected a payback in studies and potential service in the future, so everybody had to hit the books hard in the accelerated 3-year course. To complete the whole college experience, the Dean of Men even assigned each of the freshman in the fraternity and floor name, kinda Baby. U’s version of Greek life. So the guys became Belt, Shad, Messy, and Abed. There were certain things in the frat house where guys  were expected to go all in. One was eating the party food. But these boys had been cut from a different cloth, raised by fathers and mothers who taught them to be respectful and honor God in all that they did (I Corinthians 10:31). Dan petitioned the Dean to forego the party food for what the fraternity brothers called ‘rabbit food’ and water. The Dean was not so sure about this scheme, fearing that Sugar Daddy might give him the axe. But Dan kept his wits about him and requested a little use of the scientific method to test how the new eateries would fare. The Dean agreed, and after a 10-day free trial he was sold and kept bringing on the veggies and spring water. The boys were relieved and set about studying hard. In fact when the Dean presented them to the President on Founder’s Day, they were top of their class with exponential growth ahead of the other frat bro.’s. They had studied the deeper meaning of life itself and were rewarded with careers serving in the President’s office, Dan even seeing many changes in administration through the subsequent years.

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I have always struggled to get a handle on the essential essence of integrity. It is far more than honesty and deeper than mere examples. While studying Daniel 6 I was struck with new force by Daniel’s faithfulness, trustworthiness, moral uprightness, whole and undivided spirit that resulted in him being the same in public as he was in private. That is to say, Daniel exhibited godly integrity. What is the source of integrity and what does it produce? As I searched for answers in the passage and on the internet I came across an interesting statement by  Larry Sternberg that says,

“In common conversation the word “integrity” is most often associated with honesty. But that’s a very narrow understanding of the concept. In addition to honesty, integrity is about being whole and unimpaired. We can speak about the integrity of a roof or a ship’s hull. When a structure can remain unimpaired in the face of pressure, assaults or stressors, that structure has strong integrity.

When it comes to a person, integrity involves the ability to remain true to one’s values in the face of pressure, assaults or stressors. We know little about the strength of a person’s integrity when life is easy. What if it will cost you your job? What if you’ll lose some friends? What if you’ll go to jail? What if you’ll get beat up — or worse? We only learn about the strength of a person’s integrity when things get tough, when adhering to those values involves a high cost.” (reference

Though not stated directly, the take away I gained from this short article was ‘Integrity produces courage and courage reveals integrity.’

And even though the wicked can be ‘true to himself’ (a phrase I’ve heard a number of times), it is godly integrity that is admirable. It is unselfish and gives glory to God, its source. It frustrates the wicked as with the satraps (provincial governors) and counselors who envied Daniel, but impresses those who see its purity and simplicity as with Darius the king. Daniel is not called upon to state his refusal to obey the edict as his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were in chapter 3: “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18) He does state his innocence after the fact: “My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.” (Daniel 6:22) Daniel’s unstated trust in God points to God’s trustworthiness. So Darius gives glory to God because he recognizes the miracle that God did for Daniel:

“I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.

“For he is the living God
    and he endures forever;
his kingdom will not be destroyed,
    his dominion will never end.
27 He rescues and he saves;
    he performs signs and wonders
    in the heavens and on the earth.
He has rescued Daniel
    from the power of the lions.” (Daniel 6:26-27)

Darius also recognizes that Daniel’s integrity points to God: “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?…The king was overjoyed.” (Daniel 6:20,23)

And this has long been my desire, that I would have the integrity of Daniel and that my life would point to God. I have not been so faithful as Daniel but God has been faithful to work wondrously in my life so that I pursue the goal of integrity each day so that I might give glory to Him and hear one day, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21)

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Yeah, man, my life motto, “Life is Good”, “livin’ the dream!” Good vibes, positive outlook, need plenty of that, right? Not so fast. What about when you are sick and you just lost your job and the dog got run over and taxes went up and there is another war and…you get the idea. So, does that mean life is bad then? Is that what I’m saying? Let’s take a closer look. If the phrase, “Life is Good” was the end of the thought, it has limited utility to help us along in life perhaps, but as used in our society at this time it has modifying thought that follows. This implied extension of the thought is also explicitly stated in places like the “Life is Good” Facebook page. It goes something like this: Life is good because I’m doing what I like and liking what I do. The implication is a totally self focused or humanist view of life and it doesn’t work on several levels. First of all, you can’t always do what you want to. Secondly, in a more narrow sense, if doing what you want to do refers to your vocation, it is an economic impossibility for everyone to have the job of their dreams. And as just pointed out, many times life is hard. The idea may well turn into life is good for some subset of the population for whom everything is falling into place, but that must surely imply that I don’t care what happens to the other half or I think they just need to get their life together, think positive, and make it happen. Or maybe we are being urged to follow blind optimism: Let’s pretend life is good and that will somehow make it better. All of these possibilities seem a bit depressing unless you happen to be riding the wave, and even then it probably won’t last.

Rather than just burst your bubble and leave you hanging, I would like to suggest a more meaningful and purposeful phrase and explain why it is not just wishful thinking: “Life is good because God is good.” Stated this way the fact that life is also at times hard is not ignored or denied. God is working blessings deeper and more lasting. In the midst of hardship God is training us to trust Him (Proverbs 3:5-6,12) and look for what is honorable, pure, and good (Philippians 4:8). He is building, reserving, and guaranteeing future blessings (1 Corinthians 2:9) that outweigh these present difficulties (Romans 8:18). Through His gifts of goodness to us and as we praise Him we are given value, comfort, and provision (Psalm 34). Our lives are filled with meaning (Romans 8:28) and purpose (Psalm 67:7); He is given glory (John 15:8). These reasons that life is good will seem foolish to those who do not know Him (1 Corinthians 1:18), but I invite you to find the peace, joy, and purpose in serving God through the knowledge of His Son, Jesus (Psalm 34:8; Colossians 1:9-13), for He is the way to God (John 14:6). “Life is good because God is good”, which means that all of life is life gained from God and lived unto God (2 Peter 1:2-4), to His glory and for our benefit.

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