How Easily We Forget




Most people who know me would tell you that I have a good memory. I am well aware that my father had one until his death when he was 84 years old. I hope that I have those genetics and God’s blessing in this area. I am not referring to the memory I wanted to cultivate when I was a student, memory to pass an exam or respond well in a course discussion.


I want to have a good memory to stay in touch with the life I have lived and the people who have intersected it. Each of them has played a role that the Lord has used to shape my life whether he or she meant to do that. They have done so even if he or she was not “for” me.  Each of them has become a part of my story.


What is so key to me is how each was used to impact my relationship with the Lord. Sometimes it was positive in impact, but at other times the words or actions were negative. The Lord used both to draw me closer to Him. It’s that golden thread in my story that is really His story that I don’t want to forget.


It can be easy to believe we are either born with a good memory or we aren’t. But despite any genetic tendencies we have, we all can influence and cultivate our memory no matter what age we may be. Like most things, our memory improves with exercise. (Check out Dr. Daniel Amen’s recent book, Stones of Remembrance, for an example.)


What goes into our memory does so through a process called encoding. Educational research describes the process this way:


“Encoding is the crucial first step to creating a new memory. It allows the perceived item of interest to be converted into a construct that can be stored within the brain, and then recalled later from short-term or long-term memoryEncoding is a biological event beginning with perception through the senses.”


 When someone credits me with a good memory, what he or she experiences is in part my resolve to encode important people and events in ways that allows me to remember check-class-desk-7103more easily than forget. I use a variety of aids in my relationships in the hope of suceeding. One easy example is that when I am getting to know someone, I try to specifically recall unique things I learn through listening and observation that I associate with him or her. I invariably make a note in my calendar of dates that are significant to the person: birthday, anniversary, or a death of someone precious. I also pay attention to whether coffee or tea is ordered, the kind of music chosen on Pandora or Spotify, and sometimes the name of a pet. I don’t always succeed with my effort, but practice helps and so do association clues.


The crucial memory issue for us is what we maintain of what we know about God’s story. We learn it through many means, but one central one is through His Word. Those biblical stories and truths come to us through worship, sermons, classes, and interactions with other believers. What brings these all together in a powerful way is when we resolve to take time to read that Word ourselves and interface with it by putting ourselves in the story. These sensory pieces of encoding help us to ingest the Word in significant ways.


Over and over again we see how the people of God (from Genesis to Revelation) forgot who He was, what He was like, His goodness, and sovereignty. That can be easy for each of us when we face a crisis, walk through a long trial that seems to have no end, or bible-blur-book-267709experience deep disappointment in someone or something. It can be easy as well when we read the headlines or watch or listen to the news. Too often it appears the “bad guys” are winning and we wonder where God is in the midst. Has He forgotten what’s going on down here on earth?


Those things start to add up and if we add any disappointment in the church, our brothers and sisters in the Lord, or our ministry leaders those questions echo more loudly.


God would want us to call to mind the truth woven into every page of the Bible, every story whether the key character is a hero or a villain.


As I was reading in the book of Esther, putting myself in the Persian city of Susa where Jews were a minority and faced many threats, I wondered how I would face such threats. I looked at the descriptions of the city and its people. I also noticed how again the story of good versus evil played out over and over again. King Ahasuerus (also known as Xerxes) is no longer on the scene, but a brief review of the world and we can find many other godless leaders ruling and reigning.


Then I read the notes in the current Bible I am using and I was reminded of this key truth:


“When everything seems to be under the control of a godless despot; when God’s people, because of their own sin, have lost all memory of Him, of their true identity, and of their land, God is nevertheless at work to fulfill his promises of ultimate triumph over his enemies. The triumph of God’s kingdom is not dependent upon the faithfulness of God’s people. Even when they think that the only way to survive is to blend in or keep quiet. God is yet willing and able to deliver.


The Lord scoffs at the seemingly invincible power of political parties, great armies, or immense wealth. With ease He displays his manifold wisdom to the ‘rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.’ He is ruling sovereignly, accomplishing his purposes whether we see Him or not.”


We may not see Him, but let us not forget He is there. Let us seal in our memory the certainty of His truth and the victory He gives through His glory and power, His grace, mercy, and love.


In the Old Testament his people were to write his words down and wear them on their arms and heads to remember. That was not always effective. He came in the flesh so we would have the truth written and resident in our hearts, minds, and spirits.


Let us never forget.


What Cost Freedom



Today in the United States we pause to celebrate Memorial Day.


Most will celebrate it with picnics, boating, ball games, swimming, family, and friends. A few will pause for those remaining public celebrations to commemorate the day. Fewer still will visit the graves of those fallen for the sake of freedom or know when this commemoration began or the cost for those who gave us the freedom to celebrate it.


Originally it was called Decoration Day and that is the name I recall when I was a young child. It’s purpose? To provide a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America.


It was born out of the United States Civil War and a desire to honor our dead. General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, proclaimed the day officially on May 5, 1868, and asked that the 30th of May 1868 be designated for the purpose of strewing the graves of those who had died in the defense of their country with flowers and flags.


Most of us would not recall that Memorial Day began with that bloodiest of all United States wars. The country would be torn in two with the Union of the North raising an army of 2,128,948 and the Confederacy of the South mustering a total of 1,082,119 troops. It was a war that would be fought in thousands of places from southern Pennsylvania to Texas, from New Mexico to Florida with the majority of the battles fought in Virginia and Tennessee.


Between April 12, 1861, when Fort Sumter, South Carolina, was fired upon until April 9, 1865, when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at the McLean House in Appomattox Court House, Virginia, 620,000 would die for the cause they believed in. They would die from combat, accident, starvation, and disease. Of that number, the three-day battle on the fields around Gettysburg, PA, in 1863, would see the largest number fall. A total of 51,000 would be dead by the end of the battle.


It can be easy to forget how significant the losses were during the Civil War. Yet, our love for freedom would stir the hearts of others to serve in battles far from our own coastline. In World War II 405,399 would give their lives following the brutal conditions faced during World War I when 116,516 would fall in battle.


Of course these would not be the only battles where men and women would give their lives for the cause of freedom. In Vietnam we would sacrifice 58,209 and in Korea we would lose 36, 516.



To establish this nation, 25,000 would die in the Revolutionary War. Another 20,000 would die in the War of 1812 and 13,283 in the Mexican War. The Spanish-American War would result in a loss of 2,446.


More recently 6,626 would be lost in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan with another 258 falling during the Gulf War.


How much do we value this freedom? How much do we take it for granted or use it to serve our own ends rather than for the good of our brothers and sisters?


When we speak of a fight for freedom, men and women, despite their fear or condition, held the value for liberty and the release of tyranny so foremost among their beliefs that they were willing to leave those they loved most to serve those they had never met.


IMG_1762As I took time to visit a small country cemetery in Ohio near where I live, I was struck as I always am by the number of American flags that had been placed on the graves of our veterans. This cemetery is adjacent to a church founded in the 1840’s.


In the oldest part of the cemetery where the gravestones are often not readable, I found flags adorning the graves of two Civil War veterans. One had died in 1865 and another in 1866. I read their names: James Turner and James Shaw. I wondered what they had seen in their time on the battlefield and if their deaths shortly after the war came as a result of wounds that never healed.



We can never repay the debt we owe to so many.


We can also never repay the debt we owe to the One who came to give us grace and freedom from sin, the One who suffered for us at great expense to purchase what we could not gain without His payment.


In the midst of all the fun and celebrating we may do this day, let us not forget to be thankful, to sober our hearts, to give thanks for so many who gave all they had for our sakes. Let us also thank God for His love beyond measure in what He sacrificed for us.


Freedom is never free.


Others will always want to take it from us, to enslave us. Let us remember to cherish it, not abuse it for our own selfish ends, or fail to recognize the responsibility we have to uphold and guard it as a result of the great cost paid to grant it.



Our Search for Heroes




The recent popularity of films highlighting the heyday of comic books gives one example of our fascination with heroes. Marvel and DC comics of yesteryear are exciting a whole new generation of fans. They are also re-igniting older fans who have a few of the classic comic books tucked away in a basement or attic.


We admire heroes and idealize their courage, achievements, or noble qualities. We cheer them on to defeat evil, dark forces, and more. Perhaps we are drawn to them because we want to believe there is someone who can rescue and defeat the ugly dark powers of this world.

armed-army-battle-894655Even though we may enjoy watching villains, most of us want to see them overcome. We need to believe they can be overcome. That gives us hope that the real-life villains can be overcome as well.


We are never more likely to search for heroes than when our own world seems lost in despair and hopelessness.


I wonder if that is what has brought about the upsurge in the popularity of the film versions of the classic comic books.


The “Golden Age”of comic books dates from the late 1930’s to 1950. Comic books were first published during this time and children everywhere developed an appetite for their characters: Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel, Captain America, and Wonder Woman.


Entertainment around radio programming introduced another kind of hero as well as adult-clouds-cowboy-225600westerns were aired and then began to appear in the earliest days of television. The scripts gave glimpses of what the writers’ impressions of the “Old West” were  where the “good guys” and the “bad guys” were starkly contrasted and evident even beyond their white or black hats.


Consider the era these all came on the scene. The world was mired in a deep economic depression in the 1930’s. Times were bleak for many people and more than a few despaired of any hope. By the end of the 1930’s the world was plunged into the beginning of WWII that would be center stage for much of the 1940’s. It’s little wonder that children of all ages were looking for heroes.


Before the age of comics and westerns during another dark time, it would be J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis that would use the shadows that lingered from the long years in IMG_2462 2the trenches during WWI to write their classic works: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and the Narnia stories.


With the world of today in so much turmoil, it is not surprising so many are looking for heroes to bring hope.


The challenge for many is how much the lines between good and evil have been blurred in most areas of society. That nudges us to search for fantasy heroes when it seems the world provides few and those we believe are heroes are exposed for their frailties and failures routinely.


A search for heroes should also bring us to the Bible where we see a “hall of fame” of heroes from Genesis to Revelation. Hebrews 11 is where we see so many highlighted whose names we recognize. This chapter reminds us that it seems man has looked for heroes from the beginning of time.


The mistake we make is to forget that most any hero we read about or create is 1280often quite fallible in character. If we look at biblical heroes, we wouldn’t need to go very far down a list to confirm that truth.


The heroes of the Bible became heroic not because of their abilities, advantages or skills, but rather for the eternal purposes of God in whom they placed their trust. Old Testament would quickly bring to mind David or Daniel to name just two.


There is only one hero throughout time or written history that passes all the tests and is without fallibility. His name is Jesus. He is the only one whose powers and character fulfill the definition of a hero. All others will ultimately disappoint us.  He is the champion.


“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”  Hebrews 1:1-4 (ESV)





The Subtlety of Discernment

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Dame’s Rocket


Along the roadsides in our area there are several beautiful flowers growing in abundance. They brighten my days as I travel up and down the roadways. They look inviting and I have been thinking of finding a time to stop and create a wildflower bouquet, but I really was interested in what their names were.


I knew exactly who would know.


I have a good friend whom I got to know when we were both tutoring in a local school some years ago. She was a biology major and had a keen eye and knowledge about nearly anything and everything in nature. I have fond memories of taking some hikes with her in nature areas near us, hearing her name nearly every tree, plant, and flower that we passed. Sadly, I don’t recall most of the names save one, Trillium, Ohio’s state wildflower, which brightens the woods and hillsides in the spring.


I connected with her to ask about these two lovely flowering plants I have seen such a plethora of. One had an abundance of purple, lavender and white blooms. I thought that one might be phlox. The other looked a bit like Queen Anne’s Lace, but the blooms were smaller and arranged differently on their stems.


Within a few minutes, she responded with the information, as I knew she would. The varieties of purple blooms were not phlox, but do look similar except for the number of petals on each flower. She told me that these known as Dame’s Rockets (hesperis matronalis) are what she called “invasive aliens”. They are a part of the mustard family.


The second flowering plant that looked like Queen Anne’s Lace was actually Poison Hemlock (conium maculatum), member of the parsley family.

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Poison Hemlock


Despite their lovely appearance, she warned me that the plant is toxic posing a health risk to anyone or anything that might have close contact with it. They are masters of disguise and appear like many other harmless plants. All parts of the plant are poisonous and should not be touched. They comprise the fourth most common cause of nationwide poisoning, more than 100,000 reports to poison control centers. Area farmers have great concern about the risk to livestock as the plants are multiplying rapidly.


I was so glad to learn the truth about both plants from someone with the knowledge and discernment to recognize each of them accurately for what they are. It reminded me of the parable of the wheat and tares in Matthew 13:24-30.


Many times it can be very difficult to discern whether something we see is good or harmful.


 It is very important for us to learn and know the difference in not only things like plants, berries, trees, and the like, but also to recognize other choices that are good or harmful as well.


What gets in the way of our discernment is not simply whether or not we see that as one of our giftings.


We have a lot of information and experiences coming into our knowledge base. Some of it is accurate. Some of it is true. But not all of it is true or accurate.


All of these data points are swirling in our thoughts and reactions creating a logjam that hinders our power of discernment.


All these unfiltered data points affect our ideas, judgments, and responses. Never is this truer than in my relationships with others.


 Added together, these can create mistrust, fear, and suspicion creating false judgments and discernment causing our hearts to be harsh and sometimes fill with criticism, resentment, and bitterness. They distort our perception.


Since our perceptions have great influence on us, this can be dangerous or even deadly for us. They hinder our capacity to love and without love and peace in our hearts our judgments on others will be harsh and most often false.


I love what Francis Frangipane says about discernment:


Discernment comes from abounding love. What is abounding love? It is love that leaps out from us toward others. It is motivated by long-term commitment; it is anointed by sacrificial charity. True discernment is rooted deeply in love.”


 He also indicates that such false discernment has coldness to it that might on the surface appear to be packaged as love (cold love), but really comes from criticism.


So, how can we discern rightly?


First and foremost, we must seek the Lord, quieting our hearts so we can truly listen and focus on what He is saying to us. This is foundational to wise discernment and righteous judgments. It is also hard to accomplish. We can be so impatient and want to respond, defend, react, set right, or fix.


Secondly, we need to keep in mind that how we perceive life is always based on the condition of our hearts. If our hearts are not right, we must not assume we have accurate discernment with, toward, or about anyone.


When I wanted to learn about two plants, what they were and if they were good, I did not assume I knew. I went to someone who did.


Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.   Proverbs 3:5-6










Charles Causey talks about “force multipliers”in his new book, Words and Deeds. What does he mean by those?  Here is his definition:  “an attribute that significantly increases the effectiveness of the group to accomplish its mission.”  These are also operational for an individual to use even though a partner who walks alongside and holds us accountable can be invaluable. I like this term and its meaning as we look at how we lay better hold on integrity so that our lives more resemble Christ, our words and actions match.


Causey identifies six of these and his list is so excellent, I will use these to identity tools to grow us toward greater integrity.


First is prayer.  It’s obvious, right? Even so, it is not always the first thing that comes to mind despite its power capacity to move mountains. It starts with using what we learn in the mirror of God’s Word and then talking to Him about those very things. It requires us to trust Him and believe in the truth of what we read in His Word, that He will forgive us what we confess and grant us grace. Too often we hesitate to bring what we discover about ourselves to Him. We get comfortable with it because it has been a part of us for a long time and we also get lazy.


If we want to develop Christ-like integrity, our first stop will need to be prayer and humbly acknowledging we cannot create integrity or speak it into existence. He will need to shape us and bring that quality into being.


6360892-Mahatma-Gandhi-Quote-The-weak-can-never-forgive-Forgiveness-is-theSecond is forgiveness. When we hold onto hurts and offenses we have with someone else, we cannot walk in integrity. If we have not forgiven and go the outward pretense that all is well we operate in hypocrisy rather than integrity.  Forgiveness means we act as well as confess. That very necessary component speaks to integrity as action and words intersect.


Third is listening. Listening appears to be a lost art. Everyone is distracted by something whether internal thoughts or the device in his or her hand. How often do we see someone who appears to be involved in meeting with someone and yet there is little eye contact and more murmurs of “umhum” than real dialogue. Last week I was walking on a trail with a friend and we observed others walking alone or with friends while communicating with cell phones instead of enjoying the person with them or the beautiful spring day.


If we say we care about someone and do not listen to him or her, we are deceived. If we do not listen to them, how can we know them or even respond truthfully to what we quote_1hear. If we do not listen, we effectively communicate that we really do not care no matter what our words were. Listening is a gift that we give and becomes evidence that we care when we have said already in words: “you matter to me.”


Fourth is promptness.  I confess right now that this is not my strong suite and one I am working on daily. We all can have legitimate reasons why we are sometimes late; but if it is a pattern in our lives because we have tried to squeeze in one other thing or appointment, didn’t allow for construction or other delays, or never keep track of the clock we need to be honest about what that says. Promptness shows respect and means we have put someone else first.


When I was working as a clinical counselor, one person I met with spoke often about her difficulty feeling valuable or important to anyone. As we explored where that belief came from, we discovered it started (in part) when her father was always late when he came to visit her after her parents divorced.


Fifth is resiliency. Resiliency isn’t ignoring things that happen to us, we only have it when we face our pain, emotions, failures, and disappointments and move through them to the mercy and grace the Lord has waiting for us. Forgiveness helps us develop more of this quality and leads to the strength and toughness we need to be a person of integrity. It 28da9450bf3699472c6ac8f1697643fb-kindness-matters-kindness-quotesalso results in greater empathy in our relationships as we can identify with and walk with others to encourage them to face life honestly. But we don’t magically create resiliency either. Only the Lord can be our source.


Once again, Paul speaks to this. We find his direction in Romans 5:1-5:


“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”


Character equals integrity.


Kindness is the last multiplier. Kindness as a multiplier means being generous, patient, warmhearted, helpful or thoughtful without expecting anything in return. It is a quality too seldom talked about as a clear indicator of love and a boost to our integrity.


Charles Causey’s words say it best:


“Kindness is a huge integrity force multiplier. It allows people to see a man more interested in others than he is in himself. Kindness is sometimes overlooked by those writing about love. However, kindness should be considered love’s DNA, or love’s volcanic core.”


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