LEARNING FROM HENRY FORD

Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone. [Colossians 4:5-6 (NLT)]

yellow-crowned night heronJust north of us are the winter estates of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. Along with their homes, gardens, and laboratory, is a museum. It was there that I first learned of the unlikely friendship between automobile pioneer Henry Ford and naturalist and essayist, John Burroughs. After Ford introduced his Model-T car in 1908, Burroughs, who was concerned about its effects on nature, called it a “demon on wheels” that would “seek out even the most secluded nook or corner of the forest and befoul it with noise and smoke.” Upset by the naturalist’s censure, Ford sent Burroughs a letter explaining his view that the automobile would connect people to the land and allow them to explore it rather than destroy and pollute it. Accompanying that letter was a new Model-T! “Out of that automobile grew a friendship,” Ford wrote in his memoirs.

The friendship lasted many years and Ford introduced Burroughs to Thomas Edison and tire manufacturer Harvey Firestone. In 1914, these four men, known as the “Vagabonds,” took their first of many camping trips and Burroughs learned first-hand how Ford’s “demon on wheels” made it possible to connect with the land. The Vagabonds called it camping but, being a famous author and titans of industry, they didn’t rough it. They were accompanied by a support staff that set up each man’s ten-foot-square tent (complete with cot and mattress), a customized truck with refrigerator and gas stove, personal attendants, film crew, a library, and a kitchen staff who prepared gourmet food. At night, Edison kept the campsite lit with lamps and a generator. While Ford demonstrated the auto’s ability to get man into the countryside, Burroughs taught him about the beauty of nature.

As fascinating as this tidbit of history is, this story of Ford and Burroughs also illustrates what good evangelism can look like. Granted, Ford was trying to sell cars rather than salvation, but there is much to learn from his method. Burroughs’ negative assessment of the car could easily have led to ill will, debate, and whatever was the early 20th century version of angry tweets. Instead, Ford simply showed Burroughs how it worked!

Christians aren’t superior, smarter, or more worthy than non-believers; we’re just blessed to have found a better way to navigate life through Jesus. Few of us are skilled apologists and most of the non-believers we meet aren’t interested in long theological arguments. Rather than reacting with an “I’m right and you’re wrong!” attitude, we can learn from Ford who extended the hand of friendship and found common ground with Burroughs in their love of the outdoors.

Ford started to “convert” Burroughs through exposure; perhaps we can do the same. Instead of giving a non-believer a car and taking him to the Everglades, we can present him with what authentic Christianity looks and sounds like in our actions and words. Rather than talking the talk, Ford showed Burroughs what it was like to drive a car into the wilderness. Rather than talking the talk about Jesus, Christians need to show non-believers what it’s like to walk as Jesus walked.

Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. [1 Corinthians 9:22-23 (NLT)]

And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. [1 Peter 3:15-16 (NLT)]

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STRONG MOTHERS – MOTHER’S DAY

So the Lord answers, “Can a woman forget her own baby and not love the child she bore? Even if a mother should forget her child, I will never forget you. Jerusalem, I can never forget you! I have written your name on the palms of my hands.” [Isaiah 49:15-16 (GNT)]

While walking in the park, we came across a female snapping turtle by the side of the trail. Normally an aggressive species, she was too busy laying some thirty eggs to snap at us. Two days later, we walked past the same spot only to find that her nest had been destroyed. The empty shells scattered along the trail told us a raccoon (or some other predator) had enjoyed a turtle omelet soon after mama turtle’s departure. At first, I felt sorry for this mother who’d labored so hard just two days earlier until I remembered that she’d never know about the loss and really didn’t care. After laying those eggs and covering the nest, she returned to the water and wouldn’t be back until the following year when she’d dig another hole and lay more eggs. If any of those eggs hatch (and only about 5% of snapper’s eggs ever do), Mama won’t be there to help the tiny (1”) hatchlings find their way to water or to protect them from any land predators. If they safely make it into the water, she won’t be around to defend them from fish, snakes, and other turtles looking for a quick meal. In fact, she might even enjoy one of her own young for dinner! Ms. Turtle doesn’t deserve any Mother’s Day cards!

On the other hand, unlike most reptiles, alligators are good mothers. While 90% of turtle nests are destroyed by predators, because Ms. Gator carefully covers her nest and guards her eggs, less than a third of alligator nests get raided. When the mother hears her babies start to hatch, she uncovers the nest and gently carries each hatchling to the water. Mama Gator continues to watch over her young for more than a year. If a youngster is threatened, he just calls for mom and she comes! Few predators are daring enough to approach the little guys knowing mom can’t be far away. While cold blooded, Ms. Gator is anything but cold to her young.

While I’m not sure they’ll appreciate the comparison, most of us were blessed with women in our lives who were more like an alligator than a turtle. But, for those who weren’t so blessed, God provided us with foster, step and adoptive mothers, along with aunts, mothers-in-law, teachers, neighbors, and mentors, all of whom watched over us. They were like the Muscovy duck I saw at the zoo. Muscovies typically lay a clutch of eight to sixteen eggs but this mother was watching over more than thirty little ones; apparently, she was running the equivalent of ducky foster care. I watched as she chased off a large softshell turtle as it swam near in search of a duckling lunch. The softshell is an aggressive hunter but, fortunately for the ducklings, he was no match for Ms. Duck. She kept an eye on that turtle as it circled around the young ones and fearlessly snapped at it whenever it dared approach the youngsters. She kept nudging the ducklings along the shore into a more protected area. No matter whose babies they were, she seemed determined that not a one of those little guys would be lost on her watch.

Let’s not make the mistake of thinking mothers only comfort and nurture. They’re as tough as mother alligators, muscovies, and even little mockingbirds. After giving a warning with their angry buzz, mockingbird moms will dive-bomb humans if they venture too close to the nest and bravely fend off crows, herons, hawks, and snakes. Mothers can be pretty tough when someone messes with their young! The only one who keeps a better eye on children is God!

Thank you God for the women you brought into our lives—women who not only comforted and encouraged us, taught us about love, and shared their faith with us, but also protected us when danger lurked. Thank you for those women who had eyes in the back of their heads, knew when we told a lie, stood up for us, taught us to stand up for ourselves, and cared enough to punish us when we misbehaved. Thank you for the women who watched over us, taught us how to navigate the murky waters of life, and kept us safe from harm.

You will be like a child that is nursed by its mother, carried in her arms, and treated with love. I will comfort you in Jerusalem, as a mother comforts her child. When you see this happen, you will be glad; it will make you strong and healthy. Then you will know that I, the Lord, help those who obey me, and I show my anger against my enemies. [Isaiah 66:12b-14 (GNT)]

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IMITATING CHRIST

Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires. [Romans 13:14 (NLT)]

rue anemoneBecause of the Jewish prohibitions about images, I understand why no pictures of Jesus were drawn by His followers. Nevertheless, any decent author gives a minimal word picture of his characters but the gospels’ writers give us nothing. With Melville’s description of Captain Ahab’s gray hair, scarred face, and whale-bone peg-leg, we know more about the fictional whale hunter’s looks than we do about the real Jesus! The most we know about His exterior is found in Isaiah’s prophecy: “There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him,” [53:2] which describes most of us! Adjectives are few and far between in Scripture but the Bible isn’t a novel and its words were God-breathed not writer created. If God wanted us to know about Jesus’s appearance, He would have told us. After all, if we knew what Jesus looked like, wouldn’t we focus more on His looks rather than His words? Rather than wanting to emulate His character, we’d probably want to match His features—after all, He was God!

When Paul told the Romans to “put on” or clothe themselves with Christ, he wasn’t speaking of robes, sandals, beard or haircut. He was speaking of spiritual clothing—to take off our “dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living.“ [13:12] While we know nothing of Jesus’ physical appearance, the New Testament writers gave us more than enough description of Jesus’ words and behavior to clearly picture the “shining armor of right living.” When we put on Christ, our minds and behavior transform so that our lives imitate His—so that, when people see us, they should see Him.

Below is an excerpt from the Epistle to Diognetus. While not part of the Christian canon, it is a valuable document. Written around 130 AD, the author calls himself Mathetes (meaning “disciple” in Greek) and claims to be a student of the apostles. Yesterday, I wrote of the misconceptions surrounding the early followers of Jesus. In Mathetes’ letter, he defends the doctrines of Christianity and describes Christian behavior to the “most excellent Diognetus.” In one chapter, Mathetes explains that, while Christians follow the ordinary customs of clothing, food and conduct, “they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life.” The lifestyle to which Jesus calls us has not changed since Mathetes’ time and yet, when reading his words, I wonder if anyone would describe today’s followers of Christ in the same way.

They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

To sum up all in one word—what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world.  [Epistle to Diognetus – translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson]

Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. [Colossians 3:10 (NLT)]

Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. [Ephesians 4:24 (NLT)]

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IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. [1 Thessalonians 5: 18 (NLT)]

With his words, the Apostle Paul doesn’t give us any exceptions—we are to give thanks in all circumstance (rather than some or most and certainly not just in the ones we like)! Right now, however, I’m not feeling particularly thankful. In the span of a week’s time, two dear friends died—men that were like brothers to us. Distance and COVID meant that we couldn’t even grieve in person with their families. As I sit here tearfully, I realize that in the past eighteen months a dozen people who were important parts of our lives are no longer with us. Grief weighs heavy on my heart. When I consider my prayer list and the people on it who are struggling with the devastating aftereffects of a stroke or suffering from cancer, Parkinson’s, chronic pain, dementia, and heart failure, I realize that number will soon grow. I want to stomp my feet and shout at God that it’s not fair and ask Him how He expects me to give thanks!

As a Christian, I know I should be in a permanent state of thanksgiving for God’s grace in my salvation and I am thankful for that. It’s things like the suffering and loss in life that pose the problem for me. I should be reassured by the words of Romans 8:28 that, “We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” In theory, I know that even in the worst of circumstances, God can take a bad thing and make it work for a good purpose. I know He is in full control of all of life’s happenings and that He can put all of those horrible events together to achieve a beautiful God-designed purpose. Nevertheless, that knowledge is of little comfort to those who mourn. Finding comfort in Paul’s words is a great deal harder than repeating them.

That David could say he was “worn out from sobbing” and his vision was “blurred from grief,” [Psalm 6:7-6] tells me that neither grief nor calling out to God in sorrow means a loss of faith; sorrow is an unavoidable part of life. One thing that frequently keeps us from giving thanks in our grief is that pesky question of “why?” I’ve written enough about Job to know that I have no business asking why and that I’ll never know the answer. Yet, even knowing God’s reasons wouldn’t take away the sense of loss or make the grief disappear.

Where do we find the ability to give thanks? Perhaps by looking more closely at the Apostle’s words. Paul tells us to be thankful in everything not for everything. While there’s a fine line between the two, we don’t have to be thankful for things like heart attacks, strokes, car accidents, COVID, or cancer but we do need to have a grateful heart in the midst of those afflictions.

Giving thanks in all circumstances requires a change of heart. Without that change, we might stop crying, start smiling, and even laugh at times but something sour will begin growing in our hearts—bitterness, anger, resentment, or self-pity. Giving thanks is the only way out of the pit of grief; yet it seems impossible until I remember the simple truth that God is good. Regardless of the circumstances, He remains the same loving, wise, and good God that He always has been.

Pauls’ admonition to give thanks in all circumstances follows two other directives—to rejoice always and to pray continually. In prayer, I asked the Spirit for guidance, strength and peace and then listed the names of those for whom I mourn. Thinking of each one by name, I rejoiced in the privilege of having those beautiful people in my life—to have talked, worked, agreed, and disagreed with them—to have touched and been touched by them—to have both taught and learned from them—to have shared good times and bad, gain and loss, secrets, sorrow, and laughter with them—to have loved and been loved by them. As I thanked God for the blessing of bringing each and every one them into my life, I found that I am, indeed, thankful in even this circumstance!

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.… You are my God, and I will praise you! You are my God, and I will exalt you! Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.  [Psalm 118:1, 28-29 (NLT)]

And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. [Colossians 3:15 (NLT)]

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JUST DO IT (Part 3)

“Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?” Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” [Matthew 22:36-40 (MSG)]

IMG_2710awDecades ago, I found an interesting article in a parenting magazine having to do with negative and positive commands. Because our brains tend to best process the end of a sentence rather than its beginning, when a mother says, “Don’t tease your sister,” the child tends to hear “Tease your sister!” Moreover, telling children not to do something requires them to double process. First, they have to figure out what it is they’re not supposed to do and then they have to figure out what it is they’re supposed to do instead! While there are an infinite number of alternatives to not doing something, there is only one alternative when told what to do! Since vague instructions like “Behave!” leave a lot of gray area, a clear course of action should be given.

I recalled that advice when writing about the 615 Old Testament mitzvoth. 365 of those laws were negative commands, one for every day of the year, and that’s a whole lot of “don’ts” and “shalt nots” to remember. Any reading of the Old Testament tells us the Israelites weren’t any more successful in obeying them than were my children when I told them not to do something.

Perhaps those psychologists were familiar with the Bible and the way Jesus put a positive spin on things when he summed up the law in the one word—love—and the two commands—love God and love your neighbor. Two direct laws, stated in a positive way, with no need to split hairs because there are no exceptions. Love—it’s what we do and the power of the Holy Spirit is how we do it

For years, I misunderstood Jesus’ words in Matthew 11 about taking on his yoke. Always anxious to unload my burdens and get some rest, I was happy to dump my problems on Him. This verse, however, isn’t about the burdens of our troubles and fears; it is about the burden of the law laid upon the Jews by the scribes and Pharisees. When following a set of laws is considered the path to salvation, it does, indeed, become a heavy burden. In contrast, Jesus’ yoke is easy because his teaching equips us to live our lives in God’s will. The yoke of discipleship is a light one; it is simply walking with Jesus and allowing him to teach us moment by moment how to live His way. Even though my initial interpretation was incorrect, that verse continues to give me comfort. If love leads my actions, I don’t have to worry about doing the wrong thing. Instead, when led by love, I become the right person—the person God wants me to be.

Don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other. When you love others, you complete what the law has been after all along. The law code—don’t sleep with another person’s spouse, don’t take someone’s life, don’t take what isn’t yours, don’t always be wanting what you don’t have, and any other “don’t” you can think of—finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love. [Romans 13:8-10 (MSG)]

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ACT YOUR WAY INTO IT

I’m giving you a new commandment, and it’s this: love one another! Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another. [John 13:34 (NTE)]

As the thunder echoed across the lake, my mother-in-law and I looked out the window and watched the lightning flash, the wind rage at the trees, and the rain pour down. Summer thunderstorms at the lake were an impressive sight and, while viewing it from the safety of the cottage, my mother-in-law confided that she used to be terrified of thunderstorms. She told of the panic she experienced as a child whenever the thunder boomed, lightening flashed, and rain pelted the roof and windows of her house. Even as an adult, she’d flinch at every crack of thunder and cower in a corner during storms. Once she became a mother, however, her behavior changed when she saw that her fear was infectious. Not wanting her boys to catch her unfounded terror, she decided to put on a brave face for the youngsters and soon discovered that, by acting unafraid, she’d actually become unafraid. Instead of feeling her way into a behavior, she’d behaved her way into a feeling!

Jesus told us we are to love one another but, let’s face it, there are an awful lot of people out there who are unlovable—people we don’t even like so we really don’t want to love them. We certainly don’t feel like forgiving them, bearing their burdens or praying for them. Given a choice, we’ll even go out of the way to avoid them. Jesus, however, didn’t make an exception for the disagreeable difficult ones and certainly not for the ones who don’t look, talk, think, or act like us! With the story of the Good Samaritan, He made it clear that everyone—even our sworn enemy—is our neighbor and someone we must love!

Although that storm and our conversation took place many years ago, whenever I question how I can possibly love certain people, I remember it—how by acting brave, my mother-in-law worked her way into feeling brave. If she’d waited until she felt brave before acting fearless, she would have been afraid of storms until her dying day. She couldn’t force her feelings, but she could force her actions!

Is it hypocritical to act with love when we don’t feel love for the person? Acting with kindness and consideration, however, is not comparable to toadying up to someone or fawning over and flattering someone falsely. When we act with love, we’re not trying to curry someone’s favor; we’re obeying the Lord. When we act with love toward our neighbor, we are doing it for God. We can’t always muster up affection for someone but Christian love isn’t a feeling of affection; it is merely a wish for the other person’s good.

As followers of Christ, even when we don’t feel love, we can act with love because we love God! The Apostle John tells us that “anyone who loves God should love their brother or sister,” and they’re all our brothers and sisters! Love for God and love for our brothers and sisters are inseparable—we truly can’t love the One without loving all the others!

Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. [C.S. Lewis]

We love, because he first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” but hates their brother or sister, that person is a liar. Someone who doesn’t love a brother or sister whom they have seen, how can they love God, whom they haven’t seen? This is the command we have from him: anyone who loves God should love their brother or sister too. [1 John 4:19-21 (NTE)]

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