Monday, February 18, 2013

Garbage in - Garbage out

   It's odd how certain things tend to work out in time. Way back when I was still in high school, I took a computer programming class. Being somewhat of a class clown who was far more interested in getting a good laugh than furthering my education in any tangible way, I didn't learn much in the class.

   But during my time in that class, one simple lesson caught my attention and has remained with me ever since.

   There is a law in computer programming referred to as "Garbage in - Garbage out." It's really one of the simplest laws one could imagine, meaning exactly what it says. It's based upon the truth that if you put bad information into a program, you will always see bad information returned to you once it runs.

   While I'm not a computer programmer, I have seen this law at work literally thousands of times over the course of my life. Not in computers, but in people's lives. It's clear to me that no matter where you see this law applied, the results are always the same.

   I have known many people - and seen many more over the years - who have had some sort of "garbage" placed into their hearts and minds. I've experienced it myself. Sometimes I'm the one who invites it in, and other times it's someone else who insists upon this "garbage" being a part of my life.

   This can come from how we were raised, who we choose as our friends, who we enter into relationships with, you name it. It can come in the form of the television we watch, the music we listen to, etc.. Many times it comes to us from well-meaning people who really do care about us. Other times it comes from people who care more about control and manipulation than they do the well-being of those around them. They want us to act in a certain way, so they fill our minds with this "garbage" to confuse us to the point where we may not even trust in our own thoughts.

   In a recent study by the journal Pediatrics, researchers found that children who watched more educational television were generally more well-behaved than children who watched more violent programming. Somehow this became news to us. I saw it reported on my local news as if we'd all be shocked by this information...........Well, are you shocked? Or did you immediately think to yourself: "Yeah, that makes perfect sense to me?"

   It's evidence of the "Garbage in - Garbage out" law in application, and it's truth cannot be denied. What we feed our hearts and minds will always work it's way out through our thoughts and actions. It may do so in subtle ways, or in more obvious ways. But it will always show up somewhere.

   That is the truth behind why there are so many wildly successful self-help books on the market, and it's why we keep rushing to the bookstores in droves whenever an author we respect releases a new one. We always want to know the latest theory on how living or thinking differently can make us more successful, happier, thinner, calmer, wealthier, you name it. However we'd like to see our lives improve, there's a self-help book out there on the topic.

   And once we've bought these books, how many of them have actually led to a profound change in our lives? How many have we actually read through - applying the principles found within - and been left feeling more empowered for any length of time?

   And yet, with this enormous market for self-help books in this country, the greatest self-help book of all time is largely dismissed as irrelevant, out-dated, or even classified as fictional fantasy.

   Oddly enough, it is the best-seller of all time...............and by an enormous margin. No other book has ever, or will ever, come close. It's teachings, when rightly understood and applied, have literally changed the lives of those who have read it. It has helped countless people over centuries, releasing them from addictions, shame, guilt, horribly destructive lifestyles. It has played a key role in restoring broken relationships. It's kept people from making horrible decisions about their lives, and it's given them the ability to put previous horrible decisions behind them and move forward into very productive, joyful lives. It has taken people from being in a place of feeling no hope whatsoever to a place of having more hope in their future than they had ever experienced before reading it. In fact, if one were to truly study the instructions found in this book, they would not find one thing that would do anything other than to lead us into richer, deeper, more rewarding, joyful lives.

   All of that being said, if you quote from it in a public place, you will more than likely be classified as a quack. If you attempt to base your life upon it's teachings, you will more than likely be labeled as being someone who has completely lost touch with reality. You will have friends and family members who turn away from you, not because reading this book will cause you to do them harm, but simply because they don't believe in it's teachings.

   This book, if you haven't guessed it yet, is the bible. One of my favorite quotes from this book goes as follows;

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you." Philippians 4:8-9

   Those words were spoken by Jesus Himself, and over 2,000 years later, I submit that no self-help author in the history of mankind has written anything more applicable in today's world. If the law of "Garbage in - Garbage out" is an absolute truth, what should we expect to see happen in our lives if that garbage was replaced with gold?


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What's in a sign?

   As we make our way through our various travels, there are times when we all need a just little bit of help. Be it during a particularly troublesome time in our lives, times when we just seem to be going through the motions, or even when everythng appears to be going quite well for us, signs of various types can be very helpful and encouraging.
   While I was on the road, I paid close attention to the signs I came across. There was a very good reason for this. I was in completely unfamiliar territory during the vast majority of my travels. Simply seeing a road sign that confirmed I was still on the road I was supposed to be on allowed me to keep moving forward with no concerns that I might be heading in the wrong direction.
   There were other signs I also found encouraging. If I knew what city I was supposed to arrive at next, seeing signs that informed me I was getting closer to that city gave me even more confidence.
   There were signs that told me everything from how fast I should be traveling to where the next gas station was to what restaurants were available at the next stop. While I'll readily admit to taking the speed limit signs as more of a "suggestion" than anything else, I still tried to be fairly reasonable about it. Throughout my entire trip, I found all of the information I needed via these signs. They told me everything from where I was, where I was going, how fast I should be traveling, when I should speed up, when I should slow down, where there may be ice on the road, where I might expect some strong cross-winds, right down to even telling me what lane I should be in if I wanted to catch the right exit 2 miles down the road. The basic function of all of these signs was to get me where I wanted to go, and to get me there safely.

   Of course, my favorite signs of all were the signs that told me I had arrived at my destination. All of the other signs - as helpful as they may have been - paled by comparison. But without them, it would've been very difficult to get where I needed to be.

   In our daily lives, there are many times when we're not sure what our next move should be. This can be true no matter where we find ourselves. Be it during good times, bad times, or simply during our day to day lives, we always feel encouraged when we see a sign that ensures us we're on the right path.

   At some point in our lives, most of us have found ourselves in a place where we've called out to God, asking for some sort of a sign. If you're anything like me, you didn't want to see a simple sign such as "Stop here for gas," or "McDonalds - open 24 hours - next exit." No, if you're like me, you wanted to see a sign that said "Take this exit - you have arrived at your destination." While you'd find some comfort in knowing you're on the right path, that's not really what you were asking for. You really wanted to know if you were on the right path, how long you'd be there, what was coming in one mile, two miles, five miles, and what your destination would look like once you had arrived. You wanted the "BIG SIGN." The one that told you that you had arrived.

   We've all heard, and even spoken the words "Give us this day our daily bread." What do those words mean? Is it about food? No. It's about asking Him to give us what we need today, on a spiritual level, in order to get us to our tomorrow when we'll ask for this daily bread once again. That's really what our faith is all about. While He will sometimes give us the "BIG SIGN," more often than not, God will usually give us just enough of a sign for today. He'll give us what appears to be a very small sign, or instruction, which tells us simply "Do this today, and trust me with what will come tomorrow."

   God will never ask us for perfection. All He asks is that we turst Him with whatever small signs we've already been given. If we turn off on the wrong road, he'll always bring us back to where we belong if we ask Him to. But if we ever want to arrive at our desired destination, we need to keep moving forward and trust in the small signs we've already been given.

   What signs have you been given recently, small as they may appear, that you have yet to follow?   


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

GPS........more than just an electronic device.

   As many of you know, I recently enjoyed a road trip through the great American Southwest, stopping at 10 different locations in 13 different states over the course of 17 days. I was alone throughout this journey, which gave me ample time to reflect upon everything I had seen, as well as giving me the ability to go wherever my heart desired.
   The stops included in this journey were Birmingham, Alabama, where I saw first-hand the devastation of the horrific tornado outbreak they experienced last year. From there I drove through rural Mississippi, where I saw mile after mile of thick, dense wooded areas dotted by an occassional group of run down homes, the yards surrounding these homes filled with old junk cars, trailers, and various other debris.
   Once I had arrived in New Orleans, I was able to enjoy some of the best food and live music available to mankind. Of course, before I could do so, I had to drive past the many neighborhoods still completely devastated from Hurricane Katrina. The state and local governments have apparently given up on these neighborhoods, leaving them completely abandoned like modern-day ghost towns.
   From there I traveled to Houston and San Antonio, Texas. While there, I saw The Alamo - a landmark left for heroes of our nation's past who gave their lives for a cause they truly believed in. I saw the San Antonio Riverwalk, which is a beautifully constructed scenic walk following the banks of the San Antonio River.
   I then made my way through mile after mile of the mostly deserted US 10 highway that stretches from San Antonio, through El Paso to Mesa, Arizona. Throughout this entire portion of my journey, I was fascinated at how many square miles of this country are completely desolate, with only the occassional poverty-stricken town breaking up the barren landscape.
   From there I drove north, through mile after mile of desert dotted by the occassional mountain peak to Tucson, and from there, to the culture shock to my system that was Las Vegas. As I spent some time there, it became absolutely clear to me why they call this place "Sin City." It's not only a place that advertises various sins as being it's ultimate attraction, it's also the only place I've ever been where the end results of pursuing these sinful desires to their ultimate ends are so clearly illustrated. The poverty, homelessness and illness of those who have fallen victim to these lifestyles are everywhere you look once you get past the facade.
   After leaving Las Vegas, I witnessed some of the most beautiful God-made scenery I have ever seen. I watched the sun rise, and then set, over the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. From there, I drove north through eastern Utah, then straight west through northern Colorado. The beauty and magnificance of that entire drive cannot possibly be put into words.
   I then drove through the miles of cornfields that cover Nebraska and Iowa. While not very scenic, they're absolutely necessary to our lives here in the U.S..
   This journey was made possible due to a number of circumstances. I had the time, I had the financial resources due to a large refund I had received, and I had online hotel sites, GPS in my car, and Google maps. All of these things made it possible for me to plan my trip, knowing where I was going, where I was staying, and how long I'd be there.

So, why do I share all of this with you?

   Because our lives are very much like road trips, aren't they? We travel through our lives, having a general idea of where we think we're going. But life has it's share of surprises, doesn't it? We travel from point A to point B, thinking that these two points are the only significant points on the map of our lives. Sometimes we drive ourselves toward incredible, God-created beauty. Sometimes we drive ourselves toward man-made beauty. Sometimes we even find ourselves drawn to places where sin is the only tourist attraction. But in between these points, we're forced to spend more time than we'd like in the desert, in desolate areas, in poverty-stricken areas, in areas that we've apparently given up on.
   Many times, we find ourselves driving through mile after mile of flat farm land, wishing we were back on the mountaintop, watching the sun rise on a distant, beautiful horizon. We make a quick stop for a gas station hot dog, wishing we were still eating etouffee in New Orleans. But what we often fail to realize is that even in the midst of what seems like an endless desert, we're still making progress. As long as we're moving, we're still heading "somewhere."

   The only way we'll know if we'll eventually end up at our desired destination is if we stay on the path we've been given. On a road trip, we do this through maps and GPS.

   In life, we have our prayers, our bibles, our teachers, and above all, we have a God who genuinely wants to show us the most beautiful sunrises we've ever seen, and to do so from magnificent mountaintops we once thought we'd never be able to climb to. As difficult as it may be, sometimes we have to simply trust Him through the miles and miles of desert before we get there. But have no doubt, if we follow His path, we'll get there. And once we do, the miles of desert will be nothing more than a distant memory.