Trials By Fire

God brings men into deep waters, not to drown them, but to cleanse them. 


The Lodgepole Pine is a common sight in my old home state of Wyoming. The Lodgepole Pine has a lifespan of about a hundred years - after that, they just stop growing and begin to die. These trees then literally become lightning rods and many spectacular fires have taken place within these forests of pine trees. Now, you might be wondering why God created a species of tree that grow for only so many years and then die out to become little more than fuel for fire.

Oddly enough, the answer to this question reveals something great about God's intelligent design. It is when these trees burn that their cones open up and drop their seeds. In certain climates, these pine cones will not open up to anything short of a fire. The seeds then fall to the newly enriched soil, sprout, and then grow like there is no tomorrow. In a few years you have a fresh new stand of healthy, thriving Lodgepole Pines... and the cycle starts anew.

There is an important lesson to be learned from a tree that only becomes productive after it has been through the fire. People are like that, when you think about it. When conditions are perfect, we thrive and grow, Then one day, though the conditions remain perfect, we just stop growing - and then we start to die. Many people never recover from such perfect conditions. This, I believe, is why you see so few children of privilege succeed: They didn't struggle to get their wealth or position or status, so they die after a while. This shouldn't come as a surprise because very few people thrive without challenges for very long.

But, let a little adversity come into these same lives and something wonderful happens: They wake up! They struggle! They begin to live again! Only then do they start to produce those seeds that are capable of producing something great that will last for generations - long after they themselves have departed this world. So, if you are experiencing a bit of adversity, thank your loving Father - it is a great gift! Adversity will not kill you - in fact, it just may renew your entire life. Have you had any adversity of late... have you been through the fire? If so, will you wallow in your misfortune, or will you use this fantastic opportunity to begin anew?

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

II Corinthians 4:16-17, NIV


Training Up a Child

The best way to make children good is to make them happy.    


When I first looked at this quote, I was struck that something was out of place. After looking at it a while I realized that something was out of order. With no disrespect to Mr. Wilde, a more accurate statement would be: "The best way to make children happy is to make them good".

I know that this is true from 30 years of working with youth groups. When I first started I thought along the same lines as Mr. Wilde and tried to make all the youth gatherings as fun and exciting as possible. This worked for a while but after a period of time I noticed that the teens needed more and more excitement or they would become bored.

Then we tried something different. Our youth group began meeting one night each week during the summer to mow lawns for our widows at church. At first, the response was about what you might expect. The kids who were so used to being entertained were a bit put out about having to work instead of being entertained. Some shirked their work, while others simply chose not to show up at all.

But, as the summer moved along, an amazing transformation took place. When the kids saw how much their efforts were needed (and appreciated), they began to attack their work with a greater enthusiasm that soon turned to joy. The widows enjoyed the relief of a big burden and the entire church appreciated the fact that their kids were becoming servants. Many from within the community also took notice and responded in a very positive way. Some began to attend just to get their kids involved with this simple act of loving-kindness.

But the most impressive thing of all was that these young men and women became happy because they first began to do good.

Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart from it.   

Proverbs 22:6, KJV


Think of These Things

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely,  whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think of such things. 

Philippians 4:8, NIV

Try this - it really works! Instead of allowing yourself to focus on the negative things that the world seems to insist that we give our undivided attention to, think of the things that God wants you to think about.

Think about the truths that you know: That God is in heaven... that He has given us unlimited blessings... that, though we have sinned, Jesus has already paid the penalty for those sins... that someday, we will be in heaven - if we will only slow down enough to do God's things in God's ways.

Saturate your day with pleasant thoughts and consider the noble things that God has provided. Think about the decent people that God has placed in your life and the privilege that is yours for knowing them. Think about what is right, for a change, instead of everything that is wrong. This type of mindset will change your outlook on everything from the job to the team to the family to the nation to the church.

Then think about the lovely. This means it's okay to deeply appreciate the beauty that God has placed right in front of you each day - you can start with the sunrise in the morning and enjoy every bit of God's beauty right up to that sunset in the evening. 

And then, God would have us think on the admirable. When was the last time that you paused to admire anything? It's out there, you know, if we will just take our eyes off of the inconsequential long enough to contemplate the big things.

When you think about it, there are things of excellence and things worthy of praise just about everywhere you turn. It's true that there are ugly and unpleasant and evil and worthless things in this world, and sometimes they really do demand our attention. The trick to life is to think just long enough about the bad things to handle them and then get on... to those things that are right and pure and lovely and true and noble and excellent and praiseworthy, for it is these things that God has put us here for. It's something to think about, isn't it?

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 

Colossians 3:2, NIV


Thinking of Others and Being Mad

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.


In the final events recounted in the book of Jonah, after he has successfully convinced the people of Nineveh that they will be destroyed if they don't repent and turn back to God, we find the prophet on a hilltop overlooking that great city. Jonah is unhappy. Jonah is very, very unhappy. Why, you might wonder, would he be unhappy after saving over 120,000 people from sure and certain doom? It was because his vine died.

You see, Jonah was not pleased that God had spared these people - they were his enemies. So, he sat on top of the hill in hopes that God would change His mind and destroy the city anyway. While Jonah waited, he sat under a vine that provided him with comforting shade. But God allowed Jonah's vine to die and Jonah got mad. When God asked Jonah if he had any right to be mad, Jonah indicated that he did and that he was mad enough to die.

This is when God gave Jonah one of the key lessons of the entire book: Jonah was concerned about his own personal comfort, while God was concerned about the well-being of all people. Kind of hits home, doesn't it, when we are usually far more concerned about our aches and pains than we are of the starving masses and lost souls of the world.

I've been watching with interest and sadness as our politicians argue over whether they should spend a trillion dollars more than we have on hand (and charge it to our children and grandchildren) or if we should spend 1.2 trillion dollars more than we have (and charge it to our children and grandchildren). And as they argue over spending the income of future generations so that they can make their current constituents (us) comfortable now, they let everyone know how mad they are.

And they are mad, you know, they really are.

The problem is that we all seem to have forgotten what we are here for. Just as Jonah forgot that his purpose was to seek and save the lost, we sometimes forget that we are here to help others, not take away their money so we can spend it on our own wants.  We are not here to sit in comfort under our own personal shade trees, we are here to truly see how we might help others along the way. In short, we are here to serve, not to be served.

When we discover that, the world will change. Until then, we are just going to be mad.

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus...

Philippians 2:4-5, NIV


Think of the Good

Let's just think of the good.   Mama King

My wife's great-grandmother used this saying whenever the people close to her got too negative. It was not that she was unrealistic when it came to the downside of life, it was just that she had lived long enough to appreciate the good things and to dwell on what was right with the world, rather than what was wrong.

While this bit of advice was given by a woman born in the 1800's, it is every bit as pertinent for those of us living in the 21st century. It's true that times are bad now, but it is equally true that times are good. We do have our share of evil people doing evil deeds, but we also have plenty of good people doing good things. Think about the people that you are around the most: Isn't it true that the vast majority of these folks are good, not evil, and a blessing to be around, rather than a curse? So, why do we dwell so much on the bad?

It could be it's because we live in a world that is mostly negative, but I'm not so sure that explanation is sufficient. In fact, the older I become the more I realize that most people live in a world of their own choosing. We really can focus on the good instead of the bad, if we choose to do so. While it's true that bad things happen every day, it is also true that God has blessed us with many, many good things.

So, the next time you feel like complaining about the high cost of food, or housing, or medicine, why not instead take a moment in prayer to thank our Father for our good food, our warm houses and our good health? Instead of allowing yourself to become frustrated with the bad people you hear about on T.V., why not rather be thankful for the good family and friends that God has surrounded you with? Why not take a moment to be grateful for what you have, rather than be ungrateful for what you lack?

Why not take your focus off of the things that you think are making your life a hell on earth, and fix your eyes on the Heaven that awaits those who will serve God? Why don't we all, with humble gratitude, take a few quiet moments each day and... just think of the good? It will change your life!

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things.   Philippians 4:8, NIV