The Thing About Timing…

Jim lives in Pittsburgh and Sally lives in Chicago. Both Jim and Sally want to drive to St. Louis, which is 260 miles away from Chicago and 460 miles away from Pittsburgh. If Jim and Sally leave at the same time but Jim travels 60 miles per hour and Sally drives 30 miles per hour, who will reach St. Louis first?

Do you remember those old math problems that introduced scenarios like this one? I always hated these problems when I was in elementary school. I could’ve cared less who got there first. I just wanted to know what they were going to do once they got there! Do Jim and Sally know each other? Will they randomly meet? Why is Sally driving so slow? Does she have car problems? Is she one of those annoying drivers who stops up traffic on a two-lane highway because she’s preoccupied with talking on her phone?

But I digress. The purpose of the question was to get students to think about the logistics of timing. How do speed and distance interrelate? I’ll tell you this, though: everywhere I drive these days I’m still reminded of the importance of timing — especially when I traverse a busy parking lot.

If I hit my brake one time more than usual, I could either hit a car backing up or miss it! It’s all timing. When I put my truck into reverse and inch out of my own parking space, will there be a family walking out from beside the vehicle next to me? Will there be a car emerging into my field of view?

If you think about it, timing is essential to life on planet earth. It is timing that leads two people to the same place at the same time to meet. It is timing that leads to human conception and birth. It is timing that either leads us to places of safety or to an accident. (God’s providence plays a major role in all this, too, as He works through divine timing…)

Timing has been on the forefront of my mind over the past month as several personal and family incidents have rattled me. Last month I narrowly missed losing my life in a highway incident when an 18-wheeler suddenly stopped in front of me on the interstate in a rainstorm. I was pulling a 6,000-pound trailer and traveling 55 miles per hour when I threw on my brakes and watched in slow-motion horror as my weighty truck/trailer combo slid towards the back of the big rig. With a heavy trailer I needed three times the stopping distance and I didn’t have it. So I quickly glanced around me and instantly decided that hitting a highway sign would be better than getting sandwiched between my trailer and the truck. I also feared my trailer would flip, taking me with it down the highway embankment. By God’s grace and protection I managed to slide by the big rig and miss the sign. Had I not seen the trailer in front of me two one-hundredths of a second later than I did, I would have smashed into the back of the 18-wheeler and likely died a violent death. But I didn’t. Timing!

Last week my dad got into an auto accident in Houston. He was rear-ended by a speeding car and got sandwiched between that car and the vehicle in front of him. He’s all right, thank the Lord, but was shaken and sore. The thing is, he’s mad at himself because had he not delayed his trip by shopping at a few stores he wouldn’t have been in that particular accident.

I’m pretty bad at timing in other areas of my life. Take phone calls, for example. I can never seem to call someone when it is a good time to talk. Never! They are usually in the midst of something or on the phone with someone else. So I pretty much have given up on making unsolicited phone calls. Sorry, folks! I also have bad timing when it comes to connecting with people in-person.

Wanna have lunch this week? Oh, you’re busy? All week? Wanna get together for a beer and a burger? Oh really? Something every night this week? I see…

Timing is not my best friend! Unless I’m on the Interstate in a rainstorm, that is. Maybe people just wanna avoid me for some reason (begin the paranoia now…).

There are a lot of theological and spiritual aspects to timing, I’m sure, but right now my mind is transfixed on the experiential element and not the reasons why. I believe that God is sovereign and that He often changes timing to protect and/or benefit His children. He loves them, so why wouldn’t He?

Ah, yes, timing. It is the action of taking action, from the tiniest tap of a brake to a magnitude of avoiding a highway crash. God is there in the midst of it all and, for that, I am thankful. He has His own timing, too, you know? And it’s better than ours! Perfect, even. I’m even more thankful for that.

Be God’s!


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Foolish Lips Sink Ships

A gossip goes around revealing a secret,
but a trustworthy person keeps a confidence.
(Proverbs 11:13)

Last week I had the joy of visiting family down in South Louisiana. While we’re not all “Cajuns,” per se, I’ve found the culture and language in French Louisiana to be totally unique. There’s the fait-do-do and chicken and sausage gumbo; unique word spellings like “geaux” instead of “go” and “breaux” instead of “bro”; and accents that can be so thick a Western soul needs not one but two translators just to order lunch!

I exaggerate, of course. But not that much…

No matter what culture I embed myself in, whether it is the Spanish-Mexican New Mexico or the French-Southern Acadiana, I find the same verbal traits exhibited by people. Humans still act as fallen beings and conversations between people remain the same, despite the language or culture.

For example, last week I twice decided to eat out at a deli in Lafayette, my mother’s homeland. I was after a nice healthy salad but what I received both times was a lesson in what happens when a soul declines to restrain their tongue. I was just a spectator but here’s how the events went down…

Meal One: I had just sat down at an empty table with my laptop to do some work when I heard a loud female voice at the table next to me complaining. There was a partition between tables, so I couldn’t clearly see who the woman was complaining towards, but I could see that they were an older woman of some relation (friend, mentor, mother, etc.). The voice was coming from a young 20-something mother with two children at the table. The subject of her verbal gripes was the children’s father. Without knowing the home situation, the mother was vocally berating her husband/boyfriend (maybe ex) in front of her two young children. I knew they were his kids, too, because of some of the things she said about him.

I didn’t want to listen. But as I ate, I had no choice. No earplugs on me. A full restaurant of people. A woman who didn’t care who heard her voice.

He is this and he is that and he does this and he does that… the young woman was sharing secrets that even I blushed about. The poor older woman didn’t have time to respond to anything that was said, for the mother was on a verbal roll. She loudly shared bad things — mostly grips about his habits and some of his responses to her complaints — and she shared them not caring who was listening, above all her young children. One child was just a tiny baby, in a carrier, but the other child was able to talk and, I assume, listen.

I felt so sad for the child who could understand what his mother was saying about his father. What must this child be thinking about dad? What will mom do to destroy his notion of fatherhood?

Meal Two: Not learning my lesson, I sat down at the exact same deli table a few days later, again to enjoy a healthy salad and get in some laptop work. The restaurant was less crowded this time and my meal was rather peaceful until two middle aged women sat down at the table directly in front of me. How nice, I thought. Some friends are eating lunch together and visiting. Well, one of them was visiting. Well, one of them was talking. Well… poor friend! It was one of those one-sided conversations, you know? One person talks while the other one absorbs it…err… listens? Ha!

The subject made me shake my head, though. The talker was again loudly and carelessly berating someone not present! This time is was a young man of some relation. It seemed to be either a son or a son-in-law. He did this and he did that, she told her friend. And I think this and I think that about it… She was keen on sharing with her friend every foolish thing that the young man did! She seemed to reference a girlfriend or wife of the man, saying, she wanted to do this but he wouldn’t let her and he is keeping her from this or that. Always her opinion followed the release of insider information.

I couldn’t believe that the talker was sharing all this information about the young man and his lady friend (maybe her daughter?). I also couldn’t believe that the woman thought she had solved all of the problems the couple was having and the solution always involved getting the young man out of the way! Really? She despised this young man and she wanted her friend to know it.

The dictionary definition of gossip is, “Casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.” A gossiper is, “a person who likes talking about other people’s private lives.”

The biblical definition of gossip takes the dictionary one step farther, painting gossip as a close relative of slander. In the book of Proverbs, there is are several great descriptions of gossip and the righteous response to one who engages in the practice.

A gossip goes around revealing a secret,
but a trustworthy person keeps a confidence. (11:13)

The one who reveals secrets is a constant gossip;
avoid someone with a big mouth. (20:19)

Without wood, fire goes out;
without a gossip, conflict dies down. (26:20)

The Hebrew word for gossip is poteh, which is a homonym for patah — “to be naive; to be foolish.” Gossip is seen as folly of the lips and a sign that the gossiper has a serious lack of wisdom. You’ve heard that phrase, “Loose lips sink ships?” Well, in this case it is foolish lips that pierce the keel.

In Proverbs, a gossiper is akin to a secret informer (its use in 11:13), one who foolishly shares information that they absolutely should not. They cannot be trusted. Hey! If they are willing to share information about someone else with you, what do you think they will do with your information?

The New Testament word, psithurismos, is also expressive. It means, “a whispering, i.e. secret slandering.” The idea is that a person leans over to whisper a secret in another person’s ear. That secret? Something negative about someone. Slander and gossip are best pals. It’s hard to tell someone a secret about someone else without affecting their reputation in some way!

Gossip is dangerous, my friends. Secrets and speculations can ruin a person’s reputation in the eyes of others and, at the worst, can be flat out lies. I think of the young mother who was revealing secrets about her partner in front of their children. And of the older woman who was dissing a young man in front of her friend. Gossip and slander are among the traits of someone who is not following Jesus Christ. Of the wicked world, Paul writes,

They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents… (Romans 1:29-30)

Among believers, gossip and slander have no place. Paul told the Colossian believers,

“But now you must also put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self.” (Colossians 3:8-10)

I often have to guard my own lips so that they don’t reveal information about someone that I was entrusted to keep secret. It’s hard for me! If money burns a hole in one’s pocket, then surely secrets must burn a hole in one’s mouth! Whenever I have lunch with someone, my head sometimes keeps repeating… I know something, I know something, I know something... But trust and wisdom says, “Say nothing! Don’t even allude to or approach the general subject.”

I have bundles of respect for counselors, the amazing men and women who hear all kinds of secrets in private trust. They know things. But they have to keep those secrets locked in private compartments of their head. Trust is a hard thing to gain but an easy thing to lose!  And if you cannot trust your pastor, counselor, small group leader or best friend, who can you trust? If they serve in Jesus’ name, what does that say about Jesus? Can you trust Him?

Beware of gossip, my friends. Avoid it at all costs! Don’t talk publicly about the private lives of others. Use wisdom and earn trust.



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The Steadfast Love of the Lord

Has it really been several weeks since I last blogged? Oh my. October has been a busy month for me (and my family), with preparation for the oncoming winter here in New Mexico, my sister Jennifer’s wedding in California (I just got back on Friday), and now I’m packing and cleaning up before leaving this week for some time with family and friends in Dallas/Fort Worth.

But while I’m chowing down on a ham sub at Subway I thought I would chime in with a thought on my mind today.

Have you ever had a song or bible verse randomly pop into your head? It happens to me all the time. Well, maybe it isn’t as random as we think! The Lord Jesus said that one of the ministries of the Holy Spirit would be to remind His disciples of the things that He has said (John 14:26). But today I was reminded of a verse in the Old Testament, a proclamation of the prophet Jeremiah. But it was the old church song, “The Steadfast Love of the Lord” that came to my mind.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
His mercies never will come to an end.
They are new every morning! New every morning!
Great is Your faithfulness, O God! Great is Your faithfulness!” (from Lam 3:22-23)

The actual bible passage goes,

“The Lord ʼs loyal kindness never ceases; his compassions never end.
They are fresh every morning; your faithfulness is abundant!
“My portion is the Lord,” I have said to myself, so I will put my hope in him.
The Lord is good to those who trust in him, to the one who seeks him.
It is good to wait patiently for deliverance from the Lord.”
(Lamentations 3:22-26 NET)

I love this proclamation of Jeremiah! Its cultural and historical setting makes it even more amazing.

The prophet lived during a most tumultuous time in Israel’s history. His God-given task was to proclaim the oracles (messages) of God to the king of the Southern Kingdom of Israel, called Judah, during the 6th Century B.C. He was an eyewitness to Babylon’s great destruction of Jerusalem in 586 and the great desolation and hopelessness that followed. He passed the warnings of God to the evil kings of Judah and was rejected over and over again. His was a fruitless ministry. (BTW… Jeremiah is one of the Bible’s characters to be solidly confirmed by archaeology to have existed. Even his scribe, Baruch, has been verified. Several of his kings have also been verified.)

Lamentations takes place after Jerusalem was sacked by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. Jeremiah was left behind while much of Judah’s elite and able-bodied was taken into exile. Not everyone went east, however. Those who stayed in Israel were subjected to cruelties unimaginable by their Babylonian occupiers. In Lamentations, the prophet poetically captures the grief of Jerusalem as it sees its citizens murdered on the streets, its women going hungry enough to resort to sickening means of food, and its walls and beautiful places demolished, burned and plundered.

What strikes me most about Jeremiah’s great proclamation of the steadfast love (loyal kindness) of the Lord is that it comes in the midst of his darkest hour! Rock bottom. End of his rope. He is depressed beyond depression and he talks of the Lord’s love? How can he do that?! His compassions never end? NEVER END??? Where are they now?

I’ve found it so easy to look at my circumstances and forget who God is and what He has promised to do for those who love Him. He has promised that all things will work for the good of those who love Him, even bad circumstances (Rom 8:28-29). If you believe in Jesus, you are now a son or daughter of God. A beloved son or daughter. God dearly loves you and will see that whatever circumstance in which you find yourself can lead you to become stronger in faith, surer in hope, and deeper in love. But growth only happens if you allow God, through the Holy Spirit, to work in your life through your dark times!

God’s character does not change with your circumstances. He is loyal in his love for you, kind to you, and always willing to provide you relief during your times of distress.

Jeremiah says, “My portion is in the Lord,” and therefore so is his hope. There is no hope of a change in our circumstances apart from God. He alone is sovereign and powerful enough to rearrange time and space. After all… He made both!

So knowing His love for you, knowing His power, and knowing that you have an open channel to talk to Him through prayer… why would you lose hope?

One thing that came to my mind and heart today when I thought of the song, “The Steadfast Love of the Lord” was the certainty of God’s love. His love is steadfast… loyal… kind… compassionate… to those who are called by His name (a.k.a. those who believe in Jesus and are now His adopted sons and daughters).

The idea of God as the taskmaster who pauses His finger above the “Smite” button on his celestial keyboard, just waiting for you to mess up is a horrible, awful, terribly false one! He loves you! And that love renews every morning before you even wake up.

Every morning! New love, new grace (Romans 5:20-21). To you. To me. Great is the faithfulness of God to us!

Be God’s!

— John

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October Breeze

Cinnamon and sage, straw men on display
Warm apple pie begs my feelings sway.
Pinecone and apple; the leaves try to grapple
with the truth they soon must drift away

And two lovers are holding hands beneath a maple tree;
The lonely cast a watchful eye and dream of what might be.

Cocoa and amber, a hay ride and campfire,
Pedestrians in disguise for candy glee
The harvest moon is shining, the pumpkins are smiling
And autumn fruit is ripe on the tree

And the lovers snuggle closer, keeping warm beneath the tree;
The lonely gaze up at the sky and dream of what might be.

Daylight fades faster as soon comes November,
But for now I bask in the cool October breeze

And the lovers have said goodnight to that old maple tree;
The lonely close their weary eyes and dream of what might be.

(“October Breeze” by yours truly)

Fall has become my favorite time of year, replacing the snows of winter and the longer days of summer. Yes autumn is the best time of year. As for spring… does “Ah-choo!” ring a bell? Yeah. Spring ain’t my friend.

What do I enjoy most about the autumn? I really enjoy:

  1. 271541205_6a5302f305_oThe imagery. Halloween stuff aside, I like the hay bales and pumpkins, and the colors of brown, cranberry, sage and orange. I like the friendly scarecrows (an oxymoron, I know) and the colorful leaves. I really like the Thanksgiving decorations and the “bless this house” and “in all things give thanks” messages.
  2. tree leaves blownThe first cold front of fall. I’ll never forget the thrill of opening my front windows in North Texas as a most pleasant chill filled the air, brought by the wind to replace the humidity and heat of a summer that wouldn’t seem to end. That first cold front of fall is like a cleansing of the atmosphere, a rebirth of sorts. And it fills my spirit with energy.
  3. xmas_tree-01Christmas decorations!!!!!! OK, I know I’m a wee bit crazy about the holidays but seeing this year’s decorations line up on store shelves fills me with the Christmas spirit. The arrival of fall signals the final countdown to Christmas and that really excites me. Let the four-month celebration begin!!!!!!!

As this fall sets in, I find myself in the mountains of South-Central New Mexico, where it is unseasonably warm but the locals tell me it will be one brutal winter ahead. “Fourteen feet of snow!” they warn. “You won’t be able to leave your house for days! Better have enough firewood…” Just to prove the point, one neighbor keeps passing in front of my property with trailer load after trailer load of firewood.

Of course, other locals say those locals are blowing smoke and trying to scare a Texan into leaving, which I will gladly do at the first sign of a fourteen-foot snow drift….

A few weekends ago we had the Golden Aspen Bike Rally here in Ruidoso, when hundreds of leather-clad biker dudes and babes invaded the tourist areas and hotels. The rally is supposed to coincide with a natural autumn event here during which the aspen trees up on the higher mountains turn a brilliant shade of yellow before losing their leaves. I got to witness it two years ago here and, to even greater effect, near Santa Fe, and it was really cool. But this year the aspens are delaying their big show. It’s just too warm, I guess.

“Proof!” my neighbor, Mac, told me. “Proof! Fourteen feet of snow, I tell ya. And that’s on a good day!” Mac thinks the later that it is warm, the colder the winter will be. I’ll have to talk to the National Weather Service about that…

However, another neighbor, Vince, told me, “See all of those those does (female deer)? Have you noticed how many of them have little babies right now?” “Yeah, I’ve noticed,” I replied. “Little ones are all over the place.”

“Well, that just shows that even the deer don’t think this is going to be a bad winter. They’d never drop their fawns this late in the season. They know something we don’t know. Always trust Mother Nature.”

Vince is a Native American and, I assume, a man of the land. Roger, on the other hand, is a man of science. Conspiracy science.

Roger, who is my neighbor down the street and the apparent new owner of a 300-foot-tall pile of firewood, dropped by my place the other day. “You ready for winter?” he asked me. I walked over to his truck in my shorts and t-shirt, suntan lotion and wide-brimmed hat, and replied, “I guess so! I’m leaving.”

Roger is a big proponent of the “El Nina” theory of mass winter extinction. Or snowfall. Or cold weather. Or… well, he believes in it. The warm water effect in the Pacific Ocean is believed by many to be the upcoming cause of a bitterly cold winter in the western United States. Whenever I talk to Roger, I seem to have dreams of tropical beaches and suntans… go figure.

But first there is the fall, a season of cinnamon and sage, of pumpkins smiling and hayrides, of candy-craving children and cool October breezes. I hope your fall is a really good one!

I’m getting out of Dodge before the snowpocalypse hits…

— John

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