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One day, Rhea Zakich found she could not speak due to polyps. Life became challenging. To communicate with her family, she wrote her thoughts on cards. When she saw some of her words put down in print, it horrified her, and she threw it away before anyone could see it. The cards turned into a best-selling game called The Ungame. One card instructed, “share something you fear.” Her husband drew this card. His response, spoken to his boys, was poignant. “With your mother ill, I worry what will become of us. I don’t know if I could bring up you boys alone.” The day came when doctors removed the polyps, and speech returned. But the voiceless time left an imprint. She had learned to listen. One day her son came home shouting, “I hate my teacher! I’m never going back to school again!” Here is her response. Before my vocal-cord problems, I would have responded with my own outburst: “Of course you are, if I have to drag you there myself.” That afternoon I had to wait to see what would happen next. In a few moments, my angry son put his head in my lap and poured out his heart. He said, “Oh, Mom, I had to give a report, and I mispronounced a word. The teacher corrected me, and all the kids laughed. I was so embarrassed.” I wrapped my arms around him. He was quiet for a few minutes. Then suddenly, he sprang out of my arms. “I’m supposed to meet Jimmy at his house. Thanks, Mom.” Her mouth did not make a difference, but her ears did. Listening is challenging because it demands so much from us. We have to give complete attention and, if done well, we experience what others feel. It can be unpleasant. James knew that most of life’s problems come from one source—open mouths and closed ears. That’s why he reminds us: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” (James 1:19) Zakich found joy in the silence because her heart could hear the hurts. We are all better off to stop talking so much. Just listen and discover the difference it makes. -Robert G. Taylor-  

By |2020-11-30T11:11:27-06:00November 30th, 2020|Blog|

Write a Letter

At the dawn of the Great Depression, William Stidger sat with a group of friends in a restaurant. All anyone could talk about was the depression. People suffered. Joblessness ran rampant, and the wealthy jumped from rooftops in despair. In the group was a minister. “I don’t know what I’m going to do because, in two or three weeks, I have to preach a sermon on Thanksgiving Day. I want to say something affirmative. What can I say that’s affirmative in a period of world depression like this?” Stidger had an insight. “Why don’t you thank the people who have blessed your life and affirm them during this terrible time?” The preacher thought of a schoolteacher very dear to him. She had been his teacher of poetry and English literature. Years before, she instilled a great love of literature and verse in him. It bled through his writings and his preaching. So he sat down and wrote a letter to this woman, now up elderly. He received a return letter in the feeble scrawl of the aged. “My Dear Willy” began the letter. (Stidger says at that time, he was about 50 years of age and was bald, and no one had called him Willy for a long time.) “My Dear Willy: I can’t tell you how much your note meant to me. I am in my eighties, living alone in a small room, cooking my own meals, lonely, and like the last leaf of autumn lingering behind. You’ll be interested to know that I taught in school for more than fifty years, and yours is the first note of appreciation I ever received. It came on a blue, cold morning, and it cheered me as nothing has done in many years.” Stidger admitted to weeping over the note. He thought of a mentor, now retired, an old man who had recently faced his wife’s death and was all alone. So he sat down and wrote to the man. In two days, a reply came back. “My Dear Will: Your letter was so beautiful, so real, that as I sat reading it in my study, tears fell from my eyes, tears of gratitude. Before I realized what I was doing, I rose from my chair, and I called her name to share it with her, forgetting she was gone. You’ll never know how much your letter has warmed my spirit. I have been walking around in the glow of your letter all day long.” In the toughest of times, the antidote for depression and anxiety is thankfulness. That was what Paul counsels: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6) Think about the times we live in. It’s hard and has strained all. Perhaps, in this Thanksgiving season, a pen and paper might help. Take time and give thanks. Happy Thanksgiving. -Robert G. Taylor-    

By |2020-11-18T09:44:28-06:00November 17th, 2020|Blog|

The Scale

We live in anxious and fearful times. The virus which seemed under control seems not to rage out of control. There are times when life seems to cave in. Many feel stabbing grief, while others tremble. Some have suggested that the heart is a cup to be emptied of emotions. Yet, we cannot pour out the feelings and emotions are like stale coffee. Scott Swain suggests another image. The heart is a balance-beam scale, resembling the statue of Lady Justice. It weighs different ideas and positions to create equilibrium. Encouragement is a counterweight on the other end of the scale heavy with pain, grief, and anxiety. Swain says: I know your heart is (rightly) heavy with sorrow due to the loss of some good thing(s), that it is overwhelmed by present circumstances, that it is uncertain of what tomorrow may bring. However, let me offer you a counterweight, not to remove these emotions (the cup metaphor) but to place them in relation to a larger reality: the reality of God's sovereign goodness, attention, and purpose, which offer solid reasons for encouragement and hope in the midst of trial. The heart's weight remains, but something balances it out...the care of God and others. In tough times remember Joshua's dilemma. He had taken over from the revered Moses. New and challenging territory lay ahead. He had people unsuited for waging the coming battle. And yet, God told him: "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9) In tough times, balance your fear with faith. And while you are doing that, lay a heavier weight of encouragement on others who hurt. -Robert G. Taylor-    

By |2020-11-09T11:48:40-06:00November 9th, 2020|Blog|

Live Longer

One of the cutting-edge topics of medicine is how people can live longer. The chances of reaching the century milestone have never been greater. So what’s the best way to live longer? Eat “Mediterranean?” Run three marathons a year? Sleep longer? It appears that standard answers don’t come close. The one that works best is the cheapest and simplest. Your mother knew it. When you contorted your face into a frown, she might say, “you don’t want your face to freeze like that, do you?” If you want to live longer, smile. In a 2010 study, researchers examined Major League baseball card photos from 1952. They found that the span of a player’s smile actually predicted his lifespan--unsmiling players lived 72.9 years on average. Those with wide grins outlasted their peers by 7 years. The sad truth (no pun intended) is many people don’t smile. Once grown, less than half the adult population smiles more than 20 times a day. It is children who experience joy who smile over 400 times per day. No wonder Solomon knew what it has taken us centuries to rediscover. “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22) For Christians, reasons multiply to smile. We love others, and God loves us. We have a destiny that eclipses this earth, and our lives have a grander purpose than grinding out the days. So, let me ask you. Are you smiling? Why not? -Robert G. Taylor-  

By |2020-11-02T08:03:56-06:00November 2nd, 2020|Blog|

Mirrors

Reflections inundate life. Some come in the form of mirrors. We look into them, and we only see what shows on the outside. As author Katy Kelleher observes: We act as though what we see in the mirror is complete — a self fully formed and rendered truly. But the mirror is only capable of showing what others see. Mirrors reinforce the idea that a person’s value lies on the outside of their body, that it’s possible to learn our value by examining (and altering) our appearance. Mirrors can convey the false idea that our appearance is more important than personality and character. The part that got my attention was, “the mirror only shows us what others see.” How tragic and how limiting is that view of life. Isn’t your life more than the extra pounds or the time-carved wrinkles? Are your bags under the eyes, or even the broad, bright smile? It is hard to avoid what mirrors show us. It’s even hard for God’s prophets. Samuel went king-shopping. In his eyes' picture-window, it showed kings galore. Strong. Energetic. Handsome. Yet God kept shaking his head. Finally, he has to turn Samuel’s head away from the images in the mirror. Instead, break the mirror, he says, and see what I see. “But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)  And with that, be thankful. God overlooks physical imperfections and sees into the heart, searching for compassion, faith, and love. No mirror shows you that. As much as we care for our appearance, we should care even more about our spirits. For, what does not show up in a mirror shows up in eternity. -Robert G. Taylor-  

By |2020-10-26T13:57:53-05:00October 26th, 2020|Blog|

Smarts

The problem was fundamental. Researchers assigned four students to build a structure using 20 pieces of spaghetti, 1 yard of tape, 1 yard of string, and a marshmallow. The only rule was the marshmallow had to end up on top. Two groups received this assignment--kindergarteners and business students from elite universities. The study’s leader made some assumptions. The more skilled and intelligent persons would do better. Dozens of trials later, the results were surprising. The kindergarteners built structures of 26 inches tall. The business studies 10-in structures were dwarfs by comparison. What did they discover? Life is not about the intelligence of the individuals but working together. Kindergarteners came together to do the work. That made the difference, not the IQ or educational level. We sometimes rely on “experts” to solve our problems. In the church, we read the “church growth gurus.” We pour over blog posts and books crammed with the right answers…that do not work. Instead, we need to return to the image God imprinted on his church. “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:11–12) The answer is not more PhDs giving ivory-tower solutions. It is for everyday Christians, fueled by faith, moving in unison. So, let’s be kindergarten kids who work together than smart people who don’t. -Robert G. Taylor-

By |2020-10-19T11:38:51-05:00October 19th, 2020|Blog|

The Voice

If you watch great movies, you heard “the voice.” In 1982, Steven Spielberg made a film that captured the imagination of audiences. He told the story of a being from the universe who crashed on earth. With the help of some kids, this strange creature got home. The movie was E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. But what about the voice, the one of E.T. himself? Spielberg could not find the right voice until he went to a store. It was there he heard it. A woman talked to the shop assistant, and Spielberg knew it was what he had searched for. He walked up to the woman named Welsh, handed her his card, and invited her for an audition. Mrs. Welsh used to be a speech trainer. But decades of cigarette smoking left her with a cracked and croaky voice. So it was that an unknown American housewife, Pat Welsh became a footnote in an award-winning movie. God can’t use us, we say. We have flaws. Others, with more talent, are better. So we slink into the shadows. But God is looking for a voice for his message. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7) God wants his message, not the speaker, to stand out. So he looks for a voice that has flaws and faults. That way, God’s grace, and glory get seen through the cracks. Never disdain who you are. It is God who is looking for the right voice so use yours for God’s purposes. -Robert G. Taylor-

By |2020-10-13T11:52:50-05:00October 13th, 2020|Blog|

The Knot

Humanity loves to feel in control of the world. We plumb ocean depths and soar to the heavens. But this over-confidence causes us grief. In the 4th century B.C., the ancient Phrygians were without a king. The oracle decreed that the next man who arrived in the town on an oxcart would be king. A peasant farmer named Gordias entered and was named king of the city. In his honor, Gordias' son tied an oxcart to a post with an intricate knot. As one historian described it, "it was several knots all so tightly entangled that it was impossible to see how any of them were tied.' Then Alexander the Great arrived. He had conquered the region. The same oracle that years before had proclaimed the king's identity said that the man who would untie the knot would become the ruler of all Asia. Alexander had his eye on the prize and knew nothing could stop him. But the twisted knot defied his abilities. Finally, in anger, he drew his sword and cut the knot. We all face our "Gordian knot," those things in life that confuse and confute, something impossible to untie. Yet, we can manage our own lives and make our own decisions. And we find ourselves in worse condition from our lack of knowledge. Isaiah observed, amid terrible suffering, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8–9) God knows the things that perplex us most. He can untie the knots the drive humans to distraction. When life overwhelms, remember we are tied with Gordian's knot. The only one who can untie it is someone with greater wisdom than ourselves. -Robert G. Taylor-

By |2020-10-05T13:47:37-05:00October 5th, 2020|Blog|

Flight to Nowhere

Would you get on a plane that took off bound for nowhere? A flight like that sold out in 10 minutes. Qantas Airlines offered the ticket for a cost of between almost $600 to $3000 per seat. The 7-hour flight would cruise at 30,000 feet, allowing a long-range sightseeing tour of the area before returning to Sydney. While it seems outlandish to board a plane without a specific destination, it is worse to have a life headed nowhere. On Athens’ Aeropagus, Paul faced the Stoics and Epicureans. The philosophers had developed strategies for life’s difficulties. But life had but one destination. The grave. So, it was shocking and perplexing when Paul finished his dissertation with: “For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising Him from the dead.”” (Acts 17:31) Paul's statement caused an uproar. It told them life headed to a particular destination,…an eternity. Modern man is like the philosophers or the travelers on the airliner. They are sightseers to life, but it will be over. The gospel tells of the destination and the way to get there. Don’t buy a ticket to nowhere. Go where God wants you to go. -Robert G. Taylor-

By |2020-09-28T09:53:10-05:00September 28th, 2020|Blog|

Answered Prayer

We talk a lot about answered prayers. But sometimes we don’t consider that God answers prayers before they form. A missionary in the Congo had a desperate situation. In her hands was a premature newborn. But her mother died in childbirth. The baby was suffering. They tried to rig an incubator only to find a broken hot water bottle. The children at the orphanage prayed for the baby and her newly-orphaned sister. One of the girls responded, “Dear God, please send a hot water bottle today. Tomorrow will be too late. And dear Lord, send a doll for her sister so she won’t feel so lonely.” The next day a box arrived from an unidentified source. The children watched as the box opened its lid. In it were clothes, and under the clothes, a new hot water bottle. That sent the girl who had offered the prayer into a frantic search into the bottom of the box.  At the bottom was a doll. Jesus reminds us of something we forget. “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:8) Our prayers come to a God who already knows the need before words can be crafted. The faith to pray must include the faith to believe God can give even when our prayers are lacking. Believe in a loving God. He gives more than we can ask or even know to ask. A baby is alive because of God’s grace, while prayers started to form. Answered prayer comes in mysterious ways. -Robert G. Taylor-

By |2020-09-21T11:35:50-05:00September 21st, 2020|Blog|
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