Sole … Soul

The human sole is amazing! I know I’m a pastor, but I really am talking about the sole of your foot. When we visited South Africa, the village children were almost entirely shoeless. They ran down the rocky rugged roads of Umtata without injury. The sight of it made our team cringe. I could feel the rocks through the thick soles of my shoes, and I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like barefoot. Maybe like finding a forgotten Lego in the middle of the night. But studies have shown that our feet are extremely tough and adaptable. People who live shoeless have tougher soles that can stand extreme conditions and yet give the vital and detailed sensory feedback necessary for walking. Did you realize the sole of each foot has over 200,000 nerve endings and special fatty deposits that provide extremely resilient cushioning?
 

Even the bottoms of my prodigiously pampered pedestals are both amazingly rugged and incredibly responsive. They can manage small doses of rough cement without bleeding and hot black sand without blistering. And yet … I can feel the exact size and location of the tiniest particle lodged in my shoe.

I want a soul … like my sole. I want my inner man to be tough, flexible, resilient, responsive and sensitive. You don’t want to be a tenderfoot when it comes to your inner self. That was a term used among the early settlers to refer to person who was unaccustomed or unprepared to face hardship. A soul mature in faith will not be easily wounded or waylaid by the roughness of life … or people. A the same time you want your heart to remain sensitive to God and your fellow man. You want to be able to discern accurately the seriousness and size of anything that comes between your relationship with God and others. Neuropathy in the SOLE complicates walking greatly. Neuropathy of the SOUL damages your ability to walk God and those He puts in your life.

Here’s one passage that gives a great snapshot of the tough yet tender soul …

Colossians 1:9-12 We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

 
 


Reverse Engineered

Once upon a time when I was trying to make it as a professional photographer, I was sorely tempted to buy a Kiev 88. These Russian made cameras were making their way to the US markets even before the fall of the Iron Curtain. They were attractive to a young (broke) photographer because they were almost an exact copy of a Hasselblad at a tenth of the price. The Kiev was such a perfect piece of reverse engineering that that it was almost indistinguishable from its ritzier cousin. The main difference between the two cameras was quality control in production. Hasselblads were the favorite camera of the NASA space program because of their standard of excellence and dependability. The Kiev’s could be quality cameras … or junk. I decided not to take the gamble.

According to Dictionary.com, “Reverse engineering is the reproduction of another manufacturer’s product following detailed examination of its construction or composition.” …what Kiev did to Hasselblad. But here’s the definition from Wikipedia, “Reverse engineering … is the process by which a man-made object is deconstructed to reveal its designs, architecture or code.” I wonder if we could reverse engineer Satan. I don’t want to copy him … I want to deconstruct his activity to reveal its true design.

Why does the devil spend so much energy getting people to hate each other? I’m assuming you’ll agree that his campaign is doing quite well these days. But what is Satan’s beef with us anyway? Why does he constantly sow discord?

Satan’s destructive battle with humanity is totally aimed at God. He hates us because we are capable of loving and glorifying God and these are two things Satan cannot stand. By causing constant strife and hatred among men, Satan interferes with or utterly ruins our ability to love God. Here’s how I worked back to that hypothesis. It started with this passage,

If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:20-21

One verse prior states, “we love because He first love us.” Normally Christians emphasize that our love for our fellow man flows from God’s love for us. But the passage quoted also reveals the inverse. If you cannot love the flesh and blood human next to you … how can you love the unseen God? In other words, do not tell me about your fervent love for God … if your life is displaying hatred for your brother. The two are not compatible according to John.

Maybe the reason Satan is driving us … all of us toward polarization is because he knows that disrupting our love for our fellow man will, by necessity, destroy our intimacy with God.

This is the Bible’s dire prediction for the last days, 2 Timothy 3:1–5 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.

Don’t buy the devil’s junk!
 
 


Growing Like a Weed

Its large glossy leaves are deep green and deeply veined. They spread off in all directions from a singular reddish-brown stalk creating deep shade. When one of these plants first appeared in our yard, I thought it looked quite attractive. Our landlord however, pointed it out and said emphatically, “Whenever you see those cut them down.” He was right, Morinda Citrifolia is a beautiful … weed. It’s more commonly known in these parts as a Noni tree. It’s widely eaten in the east and some make great health claims for its fruit, but I don’t expect it has a lot of western fans. Consider this description from Wikipedia, “The fresh fruit’s strong, vomit-like odor has made it a famine food in most regions.”  In fact, two of its other names, both referring to its odor are “cheese fruit” and “vomit fruit.”

Now every plant has its purpose, but there are several reasons I put this one in the weed category:

  • It volunteers a little too readily not to be suspect
  • It will set up shop in neighborhoods where other plants wouldn’t
  • It pops up quicker than Dollar General stores in the South.

Every week, I can find several new Noni plants around the yard. They grow out of a crack, the side of a dead stump, in shallow soil … almost anywhere. And here’s the real sign of a weed … they grow incredibly fast. If left alone they are taller than me in a month. There’s a reason we have a saying, “He’s growing like a weed.” Weeds grow in shallow and depleted soil, without cultivation and more rapidly than other plants in the same area. So, Noni is on my weed list.

Why is it that the things we want in our yards need encouragement and cultivation, while those plants we count as nuisances are almost impossible to eradicate? Why is that true for our hearts … for our souls … for our character? As I think through my life almost everything productive and pleasant is there because of training, discipline and perseverance. What grows easily, what comes naturally are qualities that choke out more noble intentions. At onset, these life weeds appear relaxing, entertaining, beautiful, but they tend ultimately toward disorder, disillusionment and disharmony. Don’t settle for what naturally sprouts from a shallow and depleted heart. Cultivate a life of useful fruit for Christ and the world. Listen to the encouragement of Paul,

Since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. Colossians 1:9–12
 
 
 


Lay It Down

The project is 98% done. Regular sheetrock was never intended for outdoor use. So that’s gone and there’s a gleaming white, water-resistant PVC ceiling on the porch. Had I ever installed the product before? No, but what’s that got to do with trying? Thankfully, it came out surprisingly good … but the process reminded me that I am prone to a bad work habit.

Replacing a ceiling requires a ladder and certain set of tools. You can either find a way to keep what you need nearby … or make a hundred extra trips up and down those rungs. So, picture me perched atop the ladder, squeezing a cordless drill between my knees, a pencil over one ear, a sharpie over the other, a box-cutter and a tape measure in one hand, a carpenter’s square and a piece of ceiling material in the other. Add to that montage of other accessories precariously balanced on top of the ladder’s last rung. The bad habit I revisited? Hanging on to too many tools.

I don’t see it coming. I am just trying to be efficient. But suddenly, I’m holding on to so many things I can’t work … or my labor is seriously impaired. Sometimes it even gets dangerous, like one job when I snatched to rescue my falling drill and almost punched the wood bit all the way through the palm of my hand…that left a scar.

When Sue’s around, she sees it happening before I do. She is a helpful wife and a great assistant. She’ll ask, “Would you like me to hold that?” “Would you like to set something down?” Here is the odd and embarrassing truth. Although I realize she’s right … I feel an instant surge of obstinacy. “NO! You’re talking to one of the greatest circus performers of all time. Juggling fifteen sharp objects while balancing on a 3 by 12-inch platform high above the earth … that’s what I was born for baby!” It just gets ridiculous. I might as well make the trips or take the help when it’s offered … because sooner or later, gravity wins. Let’s take a break from the story for some sanity …

Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. Psalm 55:22

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28–30

It may not be physical tools, but most of us are carrying too much. It is exhausting, unproductive … and sometimes downright dangerous. When the God of the universe says, “Can I hold that for you?” Swallow your pride, trust His promises and … lay it down!

 
 


Flatten the Curve

Okay … they weren’t talking about me. I’ve always had a famine-resistant body and this whole Covid thing has not helped. Less movement, more comfort-food cravings, and a general sense of fatigue … all things widely reported during the lockdowns. “Widely” reported … oops maybe a poor choice of words. 

The fatigue thing is real. There’s been more days than usual when I’ve just had to muscle through the necessary activities. Days when I told Sue “I’m tired of sitting still and to tired not to.” It made me feel a little better when I came across a host of articles discussing “Quarantine Fatigue.” Evidently, coping with long-term uncertainty and disrupted life patterns is mentally exhausting. So, maybe we can cut ourselves a little bit of slack. But somethings got to give and … I’m hoping it won’t be my buttons.

The main cause for weight gain is no mystery. You are taking in more calories than you are burning. Either reduce in-take or expend more energy. We all know that we should be exercising. That’s why the global sports equipment market is currently valued at approximately 126-billion USD. You might want to invest in the market rather than the equipment. You know there’s going to be a spike from people trying to shed their Covid-curves. If you still want to buy a treadmill, I can personally recommend a model that is perfect for … drying sweaters.

Our physical bodies need nourishment … and exercise. If our lifestyle is a mix of carbs, calories and couch … it’s going to show. I wonder if there’s a correlation spiritually. Scripture routinely compares God’s Word to spiritual food. “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God,” Jesus quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. A Christian that neglects the Word of God will be anemic and weak in faith.  “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” Romans 10:17. I don’t think it’s possible to over emphasize the importance of imbibing God’s Word. You can’t spiritually overeat … unless you do nothing with what you take in. According to James, if you listen to the word, but don’t do what it says, it is a type of self-deception. James 1:22 If you’re feeling spiritually weighted down and lethargic, maybe it’s time to act on the truth you’ve received. God’s Word is intended to fuel your life and change the world.

Jesus said, “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The person our Master described as “foolish” was not one who failed to listen to his teachings … but one who listened and then failed to “put them into practice.” Matthew 7:24–27