On The Other Hand

“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. … What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:18, 24)

Dr. Charles Stanley once used an illustration that has stuck with me through the years. I have cited it often in lessons I’ve taught and was reminded of it again last week when my morning devotion brought me to Romans chapters 7 and 8.

Hold your hands out in front of you, putting one in front of the other, focusing intently on the hand nearest you. Notice how the other hand subtly fades from view in your mind.

Now imagine that one hand represents your circumstances, while the other hand represents the promises of God. Do you see where I’m going with this?

In the midst of life’s inevitable difficulties, disappointments, pain, and struggles, we can easily allow life’s circumstances to cloud our view of God’s promises. When you find yourself in that situation, it is important to figuratively change the position of your hands, view your circumstances through the lens of God’s promises, and watch the gravity of those circumstances fade in comparison.

There may be no better Biblical example of that dynamic than that provided by Paul in chapters 7 and 8 of Romans.

In chapter 7, Paul’s focus turns to his personal struggles with sin, lamenting that “nothing good lives in me” – that while he desires to do good, he often finds himself doing otherwise. (verse 18-19) While all of us can relate to those internal battles with the flesh, other circumstances often capture our focus as well – such as the loss of a loved one, a life-threatening illness, or the loss of a job – to name just a few.

Any of those situations can lead us to cry out with Paul in verse 24, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” But notice how Paul’s focus abruptly turns to the promises of God, answering his own question in verse 25, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

In chapter 8, Paul then proceeds to enumerate five (one for each finger) of the most profound promises of God contained in all of Scripture:

  • “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1)
  • “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:16-17)
  • “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)
  • “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
  • “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)

I encourage you to highlight these five verses in your Bible. And the next time life’s inevitable circumstances start to divert your focus to the wrong hand, allow the Spirit of God to redirect your gaze to these uplifting, unchanging, and unbreakable promises on the other hand.

You’ll be glad you did.

“If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. If you look at God, you’ll be at rest.” – Corrie ten Boom

(All Scripture references taken from The New International Version, NIV)

A Mindful Resolution, Part II

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4 NIV)

In my last post, I revealed my one-word resolution for 2018 – mindfulness. In response to that post, many of you have offered your own. Each one was excellent and, if followed through, will no doubt bring us all closer to being the person God desires us to become in the new year.

Like “mindfulness”, so many of the words you selected for your one-word resolution can be applied in multiple areas of our lives. They include:

  • Worship
  • Discipline
  • Submission
  • Determined
  • Grateful
  • Share
  • Grace
  • Patience
  • Awareness
  • Discernment
  • Contemplative
  • Embrace
  • Forgiveness

Last time, I focused on my intention to be mindful of my time, both in terms of years I have ahead of me and the way I spend the hours available to me each day.

The second area in which I want to be more mindful in 2018 is my interactions with others. By nature, I am very much an introvert. When I met my wife thirty-five years ago, her first impression was that I was a “snob”.

People who have attended my classes and heard me go on and on about a passage of Scripture express amazement that I can talk so much in front of a class teaching and so little at the lunch table afterwards. The trick is that before I stand in front of a class, I have written down word-for-word everything I plan to say.

Extemporaneous may be in my vocabulary but it is not within my ability when it comes to speaking. I suppose that is why I gravitated to writing.

But to be the witness God has called me to be, I must be more mindful of and engaging with the people he places in my path – from the person waiting my table at the restaurant, to the cashier at the grocery store, to the strangers I encounter every day.

The potential impact of a single encounter with a stranger is exemplified by Jesus’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John Chapter 4. Though everyone in Sychar apparently avoided her, our Lord engaged her in a deep conversation that not only changed her life, but transformed her into a powerful witness, leading many Samaritans to faith in Christ as “the Savior of the world”. (John 4:42 NIV)

At the close of 2017 I encountered a perfect modern-day example of being mindful of others when I read Walking to Listen, the memoir of a young man named Andrew Forsthoefel. At the age of 23, having just graduated from college, Andrew left his home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania with a loaded backpack, a tape recorder, and a sign on his back which read “Walking to Listen” and began an 11-month walk across America.

I was fascinated by the number of people who welcomed Andrew into their homes and shared their stories and life philosophies with him. Inspired by his courage and his desire to engage with others so different from himself, I was reminded of the importance of personal engagement in a world that is growing increasingly insular.

At the close of the book, Andrew thanks everyone he met on his walk for “teaching me what I was asking to learn, showing me what I needed to see, and telling me what I was open to hear.” 

Those words truly resonate with me as I seek to be more mindful of others in 2018, and I would be delighted to hear any suggestions you may have that might help me achieve that goal.

You can learn more about Andrew and his incredible journey by <clicking here>.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” – Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

A Mindful Resolution

“Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death – they are like the new grass of the morning: In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered. … Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:5-6,12 NIV)

The close of every year typically involves reflection on the year just past and making adjustments as we look ahead. At my age, I have come to appreciate the futility of New Year’s resolutions, having broken so many of them through the years.

But our speaker at church Sunday issued a different sort of challenge for the new year. Rather than establishing a list of resolutions which normally are abandoned by March, he suggested we each adopt a one-word resolution for 2018. This is certainly not a new concept – it has become a fashionable trend in recent years.

The idea is to identify one word to focus on throughout the new year. A word that will help mold you into the person you want to become in 2018 and, more importantly, into the person God wants you to become – more like Christ.

Almost immediately, God planted one word in my mind. My word for 2018 is mindful.

As I ponder all the ways in which I need to be more mindful, three areas come to mind. The first one, and the focus of this post, is to be more mindful of my time in 2018, both in terms of years and in how I spend the hours in any given day.

While watching recaps of all the celebrities who died in 2017, my attention was drawn to their ages at the time of death. I couldn’t help but notice how much closer those numbers are getting to my own age. In fact, too many of them were younger than me.

This year marks fifty years since I graduated from high school. As I received my diploma that night and contemplated the future, fifty years must have seemed like an eternity. Looking back, it’s difficult to comprehend how fast they have flown by.

Time has a way of revealing what truly matters in life. Ephesians 5:15-16 (NIV) says “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

Evil time bandits lurk around every corner, often masked as pleasing but addictive entertainment. Many of us are amusing ourselves to death and wasting precious opportunities to truly make a difference with the life God has granted us. And so, I intend to be more mindful of my time in 2018 and I trust that will be evident in the frequency and quality of my posts.

Speaking of time, I suppose I’ve taken enough of yours. I’ll save the rest of my thoughts on mindfulness for future posts.

Perhaps some of you are thinking of a word to focus on in 2018. I would love to hear them. Feel free to share in the comments below or on  social media.

“Time is very slow for those who wait. Very fast for those who are scared. Very long for those who lament. Very short for those who celebrate. But for those who love, time is eternal.” – William Shakespeare


It’s About Time

“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Ps.90:12)

Recently I have been noticing a lot of attention being given to a concept called imagemindfulness. There was a segment on “60 Minutes” regarding this topic and a very interesting “Ted Talk” that I watched online. Without getting into too much detail about this latest cultural catchphrase, the gist of mindfulness seems to be rooted in the need to make the best use of one’s time by staying focused on the present and separating the truly important from the trivial.

Being mindful is about being intentional with our time, rather than allowing our time to be overwhelmed with trivia or other people’s priorities. In this day of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and so many other distractions, it‘s easy to fall into the trap of letting the unimportant and trivial dictate the use of our time rather than consciously managing it for our greater benefit. If we’re not careful, life will just happen to us until one day we’ll wonder where it went.

While the term mindfulness might seem to be a new concept, the truth is that God’s Word has much to say about it. The Scripture verse that heads this article, Psalm 90:12, was actually a prayer of Moses. Prov. 21:29 says, “an upright man gives thought to his ways.” Rom. 12:2 commands us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. 2 Cor. 10:5 urges us to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. Paul says in Eph. 5:15-16, “Be very careful then, how you live – not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

Sports psychologists make their living largely by teaching their clients to “stay in the present”, forgetting the bad plays, the bad shots, the unforced errors, and focus instead on the next shot or the next play. Many of us could benefit by applying that advice to our lives. One of the things I most appreciated about my parents’ generation, The Greatest Generation, is that while they were shaped by their past, and often scarred by their past, they didn’t live in their past. They lived in the present while planning and creating a future – not just for themselves, but for future generations as well.

Practically speaking, for a Christian, mindfulness begins with Bible study and prayer. If you’re not setting aside time for that each day, then you will find yourself constantly walking in step with the world’s priorities rather than God’s. Prov. 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.”  Following this advice begins with prayer and Bible study.

J. Oswald Sanders, a noted Christian author, says “It is impossible for a believer, no matter what his experience, to keep right with God if he will not take the trouble to spend time with God. Spend plenty of time with him; let other things go, but don’t neglect Him.” In Col. 3:2, Paul commands us to “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” In light of the resurrection that we celebrated last Sunday, we are called to live in awareness that our citizenship is in heaven. (Phil. 3:20) The Bible counsels us to be ALIVEAlways Living In View of Eternity!

But while God reminds us to live with eternity in view, he also reminds us to enjoy each present moment as well. The abundant life Jesus promises does not just lie beyond the grave – it is for here and now. Many people miss that underlying message in the Book of Ecclesiastes, written by a man who received great wisdom from God. While Solomon decried much of the meaninglessness of so much of the lures of this life, he encourages us to enjoy ourselves as well, finding satisfaction in good food and drink, in our work (Eccl.2:24), taking time to laugh (Eccl.10:19) and to cherish our families. (Eccl.9:9)

A few months ago, I watched a movie titled “About Time”. It was about a man who discovers the family secret that upon reaching adulthood, he would receive the ability to travel back to previous times in his life. He soon learned some of the drawbacks of trying to change some of his most painful and regretful experiences as he came to realize that many of those difficulties and disappointments led to some of his greatest blessings and treasures.

But the greatest lesson he learned was by following the wise advice of his father, who advised him that when traveling back to previous moments in his life, to be careful not to change too much. He recommended that he live each day twice: the first time as we normally do, experiencing each day’s inherent unpredictability and stress, and the second time focusing on savoring the small joys and special moments that often occur without us realizing how special they are or how much we’ll miss them later.

When my brother was placed in home hospice care last September, this was how heimage lived out the last four months of his life, cherishing each moment he had left with his wife, daughter, and his two precious grandchildren. When I didn’t think he had any strength left to be able to climb up on his tractor, I was overjoyed one day to receive this photo of him with his grandson, Owen, taking him for one last ride with Pappaw!

Ronnie learned the secret voiced so well by that great philosopher Tim McGraw of living like he was dying. While he didn’t go sky diving or Rocky Mountain climbing, and he certainly didn’t go 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu, he did take the time to love deeper, speak sweeter, give forgiveness he’d been denying, to grow closer to his Lord, and to treat tomorrow as a gift. He discovered that there’s no present like the time!

Perhaps that’s the simple message of the concept of mindfulness – live like you were dying. After all, we all are, you know!

Speaking of time, I suppose I’ve taken enough of yours. So, until next time, may the grace, joy, and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. And may you number your days aright that you may gain a heart of wisdom.

“Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life.” (Ps.39:4)

Note: All Scripture references taken from the New International Version (NIV)