Defining Your Reality

Want to play a game? What are the first three words you see?

If you’re on Facebook, you’ve probably seen this puzzling assortment of letters and words. The “game” is to look for the first three words you recognize, so if you haven’t played the game yet and would like to, take just a minute and look until you recognize three words.

Have you found them? According to the game going around, those three words define reality for you. What did you find? Not that it matters, but I found “creation,” “power,” and “family.” I considered how those words might define my reality, but I was a little disappointed. I looked back and found words like “love,” “gratitude,” and “purpose” that I might have preferred. I also found “breakthrough,” “miracles,” “health,” “alignment,” “selfcare,” “lessons,” “connection,” “money . . .” the longer I looked, the more options I found.

Are you satisfied with the first three words you saw?

As a game, it’s fun and a little provocative, but it made me stop and think about this question: If I could have any three words define my reality that I want, which three would I pick? How about you? “Love, grace, and mercy” come to my mind today, but maybe I’d pick three different words if I gave it even more thought.

Our reality isn’t really defined by words on a page, although if we believe something defines us, it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. On the other hand, today’s reality doesn’t have to be tomorrow’s reality. In fact, we can change our reality by changing our focus. What if we think hard about what we would like to become, and head in that direction?

“As he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

The Armstrong Clan’s 500th Anniversary Gathering

Have you ever noticed there is more to do in life than will ever be done? No amount of prayerful planning and meticulous organization can align all the opportunities in such a way that we can be hither and yon at the proper moment to squeeze every last drop out of our lives’ orangey goodness!

I cannot watch over my grandson’s surgery across the state and still provide for my grand children here in GR while my daughter-in-law cares for her father’s medical needs.

Armstrongs in the Poppy Fields of Belgium

I couldn’t host my son’s family, coming home from Belgium to America, and still fly to Scotland to attend the 500th reunion of the Armstrong Clan, now, could I?

Marius’s First Birthday Party

Indeed, I could not. However, we had a splendid reunion of our “Armstrong Clan” right here in GR while the world-wide Armstrong Clan’s 500th Celebration was occurring!

Brother Terry at Milnholm Cross, Scotland

And, although Alan and I had to miss it, Alan’s brother and his wife were able to attend. So—I wanted to share just a little bit about the event.

Perhaps the world’s most famous Armstrong is Neil, First Man on the moon, so the events of the clan centered around the Armstrongs’ 500th anniversary generally, but also the 50th anniversary of the lunar takeoff, which was July 16, 2019.

The Common Riding in Langholm, Scotland

For over 900 years, there has been a tradition of “common riding” (groups of riders [raiders, really]) on horses riding along the border between Scotland and England during the summer months. Happily, this has turned into a non-raiding riding event for fun and has become one of Europe’s biggest equestrian spectacles!

Gilnockie Tower in Hollows, near Canonbie, Scotland,
built by John Armstrong 500 years ago

What I didn’t really understand when I married Alan was that I’d married into a wild band of “reivers” (“from the old Scottish word “to steal”)! Back in their hay day, it was said that to survive to thirty was an accomplishment and that no one walked along the border . . . they ran for their lives!

Sign explaining the Milnholm Cross

(However, lest I think poorly of our esteemed Armstrong heritage, my grandmother was a Kerr, who is also on the list of wild border clans, along with Nixon, Elliot, Scott, and a host of others!)

John Armstrong Memorial

Terry and Eileen explored the area and shared much of what they learned with us. The last famous reiver of the Armstrong Clan was John Armstrong, who owned Gilnockie Tower and was a fearsome raider, although in July of 1530 he was executed by the forces of King James V in an attempt to bring peace to the borderlands between Scotland and England.

Fifty years ago, Ted and Judy Armstrong revived the Armstrong Clan Association, and since that time, Gilnockie Tower has been restored and become the focal point for Armstrongs from around the world who are interested in DNA and genealogical research into their past.

Gilnockie Tower Common Room

I don’t know if you’re an Armstrong or have any Armstrong blood, but it has been fascinating and fun to learn a little bit more about our family heritage, and I’m guessing you might enjoy exploring yours too, if you ever get any spare time!

Terry at John Armstrong’s Grave Site

Terry and Eileen (and their faithful dog, Maggie) are retired and are able to enjoy some leisure time traveling through Europe and exploring their history. Talk about keeping fit and being a lifelong learner!

They’ve spent several years adventuring, and I have to say, I lick my chops when I read of their travels and see the gorgeous places they’ve visited!

The Neil Armstrong Tea

Still, I am content, even if we didn’t make it to the moon and back for tea in July! God is good. Life is good. As my father used to say (quoting Aldous Huxley from Brave New World): “You pays your money and you takes your choice.” Are you happy with the choices you’re making? I hope so! If not, you are the only one who can change your choices!!

Only One Life
(—Avis B. Christiansen and Merrill Dunlop)

“Only one life to offer
Jesus my Lord and King.
Only one tongue to praise Thee
And of Thy mercy sing (forever).
Only one heart’s devotion
Savior, O may it be
consecrated alone to Thy matchless glory,
Yielded fully to Thee.

“Only one life to offer
Take it dear Lord I pray.
Nothing from Thee withholding
Thy will I now obey.
Thou who hast freely given
Thine all in all for me
Claim this life for Thine own to be used My Savior
Ev’ry moment for Thee.”

And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (48): The Quiet Do-Gooder

Do you get overwhelmed by all the appeals for help you receive from organizations? How about the folks at the markets with placards asking for spare change? Fall is “the season” for fundraisers in Grand Rapids, and this past week, one of my friends experienced one company’s latest bright idea for pressuring people into donating: “Just text in your donation right now while you’re sitting at the table, and we’ll flash your name and amount up on the big screen!” Woah! Is this meant to create competition, extra glory for the donor, or shame for those who won’t or can’t give more (beyond the extremely expensive ticket price for the dinner)?

I would like to say, “Wait! We’re getting this all wrong!” I’ve been to fundraisers that are almost like auctions: “Who will give us $100? Just raise your hands! Now, who will give us $1,000? Who will give us $5,000?” I think the last bid was for $25,000 that night. We didn’t participate in the bidding war, but I did go home feeling a little shell-shocked.

Jesus taught us the “right” way to give: “When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:2-4).

Giving to the poor is commendable, but let’s give out of hearts that overflow with compassion, not to avoid the social stigma of feeling uncharitable! Giving can fill us with joy when done out of a pure heart for the right reasons, but otherwise, it just makes us resentful or proud. Dear Lord, don’t let our acts of charity go to the loudest, highest bidders or be governed by our desire for the praise of men, but rather let us give prayerfully, in response to the quiet promptings of your Holy Spirit. So simple. So obvious from scripture. So contrary to the way our world works!

Text for this meditation: Matthew 6:1-4 “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (47): Be “Perfect” . . . Is That Even Possible??

My father grew up going to church but rejected what he had learned as a child and became a self-proclaimed atheist for many years, so when I was a child, I never went to church or heard anything about Christianity. In fact, my mother wrote as a “cute saying” in my baby book that at some point I said, “I think I should know more about the Bible.”

After eagerly trusting Jesus as my Lord and Savior the first time I ever heard the good news that God loved me and Jesus died for me, I immediately shared the Good News with my parents. I don’t remember what they said, but my mother’s attitude was sort of a non-descript “That’s nice honey,” and my father’s was a condescending, “Well, you’ll soon grow out of it.”

I was much older before I got my courage up to ask them why they didn’t believe. My mother (who was at that time agnostic) said it was because she didn’t feel certain God was real. She was afraid he was perhaps just an abstract construct, so she was unwilling to trust lest she be disappointed or discover that she’d been deceived. My father, on the other hand, had a more definitive reason. He remembered reading Jesus’ command from Matthew 5:48, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” and—knowing that he could never be perfect—decided to give up before he ever started trying. Why ascribe to an impossible standard? Why undertake an impossible quest?

My husband’s parents both believed in God and felt that the Bible was true, but Alan’s father had an almost exactly similar stance to my father’s. He said he could never be perfect, and that if he were to say he was a Christian, then he would have to be perfect, and since that was impossible, he would always feel like a liar and a hypocrite.

Why did Jesus tell people to be perfect, since he knew good and well they couldn’t be? Was he trying to turn people away? Was he just setting us all up to feel like guilty losers who are nothing but failures? Was he suggesting that unless we attain perfection, we’ll never enter heaven?

NO! But, well yes (in a way)! Jesus spoke the truth, which is that in order to go to heaven, we must be perfect. Thankfully, Jesus is also the way: Although we can’t be perfect, he could, and he was. He fulfilled the Laws of God perfectly, but then he offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins. If we are willing to humbly admit that we aren’t perfect and never will be, and that we don’t deserve to go to heaven based on our ability to keep God’s perfect standards . . . if we are willing to admit that we are sinners (law-breakers of God’s perfect laws) BUT are also willing to accept the free gift that Jesus offers us—his death as the full payment for our sins—then we become children of God, joint-heirs with Jesus, and possessors of eternal life. When we accept Jesus as our savior and surrender our lives to Him, He becomes our Savior and Lord. The Holy Spirit indwells us and begins the good work of making us more and more like our Master, until someday—when we see Him face-to-face in heaven—we will at last become perfect, not because we are, but because He is, and He has made us like himself.

Now, that’s not so hard, is it? Nobody told me I had to be perfect to become a Christian. All I heard was that God loved me and Jesus died to save me, and that’s all you need to hear. Believe in Jesus and surrender your life to him. He will receive you, give you eternal life, and the Holy Spirit will indwell you to comfort, guide, and teach you. Life is hard, but trusting Jesus is inestimably easier than trying to attain perfection without the aid of the one and only, truly holy, 100% good Higher Power, which is God himself!

Texts for today’s meditation: Matthew 5:48: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Also: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

P.S.—Thankfully, both my parents became believers in their eighties, and Alan’s mother became a believer in her sixties. I hope Alan’s father also became a believer, but I’ll have to wait until heaven to know for sure. At any rate, as long as you have life and mental faculties enough to choose Christ, it’s never too late. Hopefully, as we age, we’re better able to recognize our own lack of perfection and more willing to lean on God’s everlasting arms for help! He is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). My mother was never disappointed in Christ after she believed. Instead, she became peaceful about her impending death, which assured me that her future was secure. God is so merciful!!

Photo Credit for Painting: “Love Everlasting” by Yongsong Kim, permission granted by Foundation Arts, website: Havenlight.com

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (36): Blinding Ourselves

One of the most difficult passages in the entire Bible (at least to me) is found in Matthew 5:29 (ESV), “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” I take everything very literally and seriously, so for years I wrestled with these haunting questions: “Does God really want each of us to blind ourselves so that we aren’t tempted to sin? If so, does he really want everyone in the entire world to go around blind? How would we survive???”

Can you imagine living in a world where none of us could see anything? What if we all really did poke out our eyes? What if the sun set and never rose again in our vision? What if we had to live in a world that was completely devoid of light and sight?

I don’t intentionally seek out at evil images, but over the course of my life, I have certainly seen things that triggered offensive thoughts. “Well” (I reasoned within myself), “Jesus didn’t say to pluck out both our eyes, just our right eye, so maybe we’d all have one eye left.” But if you’ve ever injured one eye (as I have), you’ll know that without two eyes, we don’t have depth perception, which is crucial for driving and really essential for many types of work (power equipment; even threading a sewing needle) and play (catching a ball, etc.)

God created us with eyes to see, both for our protection and for our pleasure, but I think Jesus was absolutely sincere when he said that it would be better for us to lose something essential for optimal well being in the present in order to preserve ourselves from future disaster. Would you agree with that? That much definitely makes sense to me.

Here’s what I think Jesus was actually teaching us: “Do whatever you need to do in the way of restricting yourself in order to keep from tempting yourself with evil.”

If you think about it logically, our eyes are organs in our body which are not moral agents. The eye does not literally “cause us to sin.” The eye opens and shuts either as a reflex or in response to our brain sending the message to our eye. The eye is a servant to our mind and will. As Jesus taught in Mark 7:20-22, “That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,22 Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: 23 All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” So, it’s not literally our eyes that cause us to sin. Evil doesn’t start with the eye. Sin doesn’t originate in our literal, physical eye, nor can you eradicate sin by destroying your physical eyes. Temptation and sin come from deep within our heads and hearts.

Does that let us off the hook? Well, it keeps us from needing to literally gouge out our eye if we sin, but it doesn’t lessen the impact of what Jesus is teaching in any way. Allowing ourselves to look at (consider) anything that tempts us to sin is like gouging out our spiritual eyes! Sin will blind us and make it impossible to see truth. We will be stumbling around in the dark spiritually.

Slieve League: One of the Highest Sea Cliffs in Europe

This is far more deadly than stumbling around in the dark physically. So, we can either gouge out our eyes metaphorically by restricting ourselves from temptation, or (in effect) gouge out our spiritual eyes so that we are blind to sin and truth. If we choose the second option, Jesus warns that our whole body might be cast into hell! If you are indulging in evil, know that you are like a blind person walking toward the edge of a precipice with no wall to stop you (such as is true at Slieve League in Ireland). Even worse, spiritual blindness leads to the danger of being thrown into hell, which is infinitely worse than being physically blind and falling off a cliff.

Just an Itsy Bitsy Mouse

What’s not to love about a tiny mouse? Bright black eyes, pink ears and tail, tiny little paws. Soft and shy.

While they’re adorable when you find them out in the field, and it’s somewhat funny to find an old boot stuffed full of dog food that they’ve stolen from your pet’s dish,

it’s not adorable or funny when they confer with the mice of NIHM on how to colonize your screen house and start chewing holes in your home!

Therefore, we’ve had to resort to capturing them in live traps and taking them to a nearby reserve where we set them free to begin life anew in a vast park with ample supplies of all things mousely.

Alan and I have started making little dates out of our evening adventures, but—despite transporting them to new and improved surroundings—I always feel a little sad in case we’re separating parents and children (or whatnot), and so I make up stories about how this mouse is actually the husband, who is going to build a new nest in preparation for his beloved wife . . .

who will be arriving just in time for dinner tomorrow. In fact, over the past few months, Alan has caught myriad mice and chipmunks between his 6 live traps laden with peanut butter and bird seed . . . an apparently irresistible combination!

I have such a mother’s heart for little creatures that it’s hard to relocate them, but I’m thankful that Alan has a father’s heart to protect our home from intruders, even little ones, because they are actually quite destructive and dirty.

Remembering Song of Solomon 2:15 has helped me reconcile myself to the fact that “we ain’t in heaven yet,” and if we don’t protect ourselves from invasion, the consequences can be severe. “Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.”

We do have lots of tender grapes growing now, and possibly a fox or two in our woods, but even more importantly, I think there is a spiritual message for us in this passage.

Mice aren’t bad, and chipmunks aren’t bad. Neither are mosquitoes, spiders, flies, ants, or stinkbugs. But, if they invade our homes, then they are out of place and need to be captured and removed!

It’s easy to imagine the parallels in our lives and families, isn’t it? Got anything in your life that isn’t “bad” in and of itself, but will erode and damage your home if you don’t remove it? Maybe you can start having some nightly dates with your spouse to “catch” those sneaky little foxes and get rid of them! Don’t be sentimental. Be severe!! Protect yourself and your loved ones!

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.Do ye look on things after the outward appearance?” (2 Corinthians 10:3-7).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (34): The Sweet Relief of Reconciliation

Matthew 5:23-24 “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” This is the first less-than-imperative “command” of Christ that I’m going to tackle. While meditating through the gospels last year, I found 33 such teachings and wondered if these “If-then” declarations should be included as commands, since technically they are “conditional” rather than “imperative” statements. So, do we “have” to obey them? Only if the first part of the statement is true: If we want to give something to the Lord, then God wants us to be reconciled to anyone who has something against us first.

Do you want to give something to the Lord? I do. My life. My heart. My thoughts. My actions. I want my life to be a gift to God that makes him happy. Do you feel that way? If so, then God says the first gift we can give him is this: We should seek forgiveness for how we’ve hurt our loved ones and reconcile with them. God loves each of us so much that he identifies with each person’s pain. He doesn’t want any of his children left out or left behind! “Trinity” comes from two words meaning “tri-unity.” God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are often defined by their being three in one. “Three-way UNITY!”

In Jesus’ high priestly prayer, recorded in John 17:21-23, he prays: “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us . . that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one.” God wants us to live in love and unity with one another even more than he wants us to give him any other type of gift!

Wow! This says something profound about how highly God values unity and how deeply he desires it. Jesus prayed to his father for unity in the Church. Reconciliation is a precious gift that we can give him. No where does Jesus command us to give God anything! Did you know that? Although the word “give” is mentioned 1392 times in the Bible (KJV), in the New Testament it isn’t until Judgment Day that we are told, “Fear God, and give glory to him” (Revelation 14:7).

The vast majority of times giving is mentioned, it is in the context of God giving to us, and our giving to other people. It’s like the runoff of rain on our roof. God showers us—our home—with blessings, and the runoff waters the gardens of loved ones—friends and neighbors—all around us. We live in a vast spiritual ecosystem of clouds, rain, runoff, streams, lakes, oceans, transpiration and evaporation, only it’s not literal water that our spirits crave, but receiving and giving love and forgiveness.

How do we seek forgiveness and reconciliation? I think we can start by asking God to show us how we’ve hurt the other person (which we may never fully comprehend) and to help us understand how they feel. We need to repent—to be genuinely sorry—so sorry that we will go way out of our way to make sure we don’t do the same thing again—and then to seek their forgiveness.

What if they won’t forgive us? “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle” (Proverbs 18:19). I have seen this dynamic over and over again! Even if the offender repents, the offended person is often unwilling to forgive, because to forgive means the offended person has to absorb the pain and suffering caused by the offender, while the offender “gets off scott free.” Many people choose to hold a grudge and refuse to forgive, but this is not the way of Christ, who prayed for those who crucified him, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). I think it is only through a deep experience of God’s forgiveness and love for us that we are able to truly forgive those who have hurt us. This is the way of Christ . . . and the way of the cross.

If you have sincerely repented and tried to reconcile, but without success, don’t despair. Just as we persevere in prayers for our loved ones to trust Christ as their savior, so we need to persevere in prayer for those we’ve offended to find the grace to forgive us. There is sweet relief in reconciliation, and that is our calling, so don’t give up, but don’t let disunity discourage you from faith. Keep your faith in God. Keep looking up and find your joy in him! Remember that someday He will bring unity and peace to earth. In the meantime, we can “seek peace and pursue it” (1 Peter 3:11, ESV), and we can practice: “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18).

All things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).