How to Make Yourself Look Good Now but Feel Bad Later

I must be getting old, I thought, as I slowed down my brisk pace to enjoy the shade of an enormous mango tree, I can’t remember being this tired the last time I did this trip.

It was the second day of slogging through sand, splashing across creeks, and plodding up and down rocky slopes on my way from the Canela village into the nearest town. I used to be able to walk sixty kilometres in two days without feeling this wiped out.

Jack and Jo in ceremonial paint and feather costume a month earlier.

I heard a dog bark nearby and thought, Probably from a small bush farm. Hmm, I wonder . . . I followed a well-worn path that led from the mango tree to some palm thatch farm buildings. Two teenage boys were drinking cafe com leite and invited me to have a mug. I happily sat down to enjoy a drink and a chat. After conversion for a while I asked, “Do you have a horse or mule I could borrow or rent from you for one day? I’m on my way into Barra do Corda and the last 15 kilometres are always the longest.”

“Sorry, we don’t. But we are also going into Barra, and we’re catching a ride with our uncle the last ten kilometres. He’s loading up a truckload of sand just five kilometres down the road, and will be leaving for town in an hour or so. Wait a bit here while we eat and get our stuff, and we’ll walk together.”

Great news!

“Thanks” I said, “but I’ll start walking now. You’re half my age, and I might slow you down if we walk together. I’ll see you down the road.”

Canela Village in 1990

As I tramped along, I thanked God for cutting a good two hours of walking off this 60 kilometre trip. My brief rest, and the coffee had done me good and I lengthened my stride. After a while I came to a 30 metre stretch of road with a long mud puddle along one side and damp ground along the other. Hmm, I thought, here’s a chance to impress those boys with my walking ability.

With that I switched into a leaping mode, lengthening my stride from 70 cm to well over a metre long. Reaching the dry area I turned around to look at my footprints. Oh yeah! Impressive! I said to myself, panting to get my breath back after my strenuous leaps, and walked on at a more sedate pace.

When I reached the truck, I rested in the shade as a half dozen teenage boys shoveled sand onto the dump truck. My two friends from up the road arrived just about the time it was full and we all climbed on. As the truck rumbled along they introduced me to the others. “I thought we’d catch up to him,” one of them said, “but even though we walked our fastest we couldn’t catch up. Then we came to a damp part in the road and saw why. You wouldn’t believe the huge strides he takes – twice as long as ours. No wonder he got here before us!”

Yes! I was looking good! As I smiled modestly at the admiring group, a small voice in my head said, Now would be a good time to tell them about your trick. I ignored it. I was enjoying their praise. Hey, it’s not often that I get praise for my physical prowess. I’ll take it any time, even when it’s not deserved. Besides, who cares? It’s just a little thing.

That night, however, my conscience replayed the incident, this time accompanied by Jesus’ words from Luke 16:10 “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities” (LB).

Oh boy! I had been seriously dishonest in a little thing. It was past. I couldn’t undo it. I would never be able to track down all those boys who had given me admiring looks and explain it was all a trick. I had made reputation more important than character. I should have focused on improving my character: who I really am, and let God deal with my reputation: what people think of me.

This lesson has stayed with me for life. Decades later, for instance, when I was a missions leader and public speaker, I remember being addressed or introduced frequently as Dr. Popjes. Oh, that sounds good in the ears of a high-school dropout! But Luke 16:10 is keeping me from being tempted to let that slide!

It would be great for my reputation, but bad for my character; make me look good at the time but feel bad later.

Canela village 2012, Google satellite image

By the way, if you have Google Earth on your computer, you can see the Canela village and some of the path I walked on 40 years ago. Search for Barra do Corda, Maranhao, Brazil, and scroll south about 60 kilometres to the Canela village site. Or go to these coordinates: W 45 degrees, 08’ 51.36” and S 6 degrees, 04’ 49.44”. You need to be at an eye level of 8-10 kilometres to see the village clearly. (I used to encourage myself by the fact that the walk from the Canela village to Barra do Corda is about the same distance as what Jesus walked from Jericho to Galilee.)

Why Things Go Wrong When Our Spouse is Away.

“Oh no!” I muttered as the engine suddenly quit and our car coasted to a stop by the side of the road to the airport. Jo turned to me with that “Not again!” look on her face. I checked the gauges, ran the starter, but the engine was dead.

“You’re not even gone and already my problems are starting!” Jo said, “Last time I was already half way home from taking you to the airport when the radiator hose burst!”

“I’m sorry, honey, but I’ve got to go. I’ll flag down a taxi, and when I get to the airport I’ll call for a tow truck. I’m so sorry it’s beginning already. I’ll pray for you.”

What do you know about dryers, Jesus? Any ideas?

Why is it that every time I leave, my wife has to cope by herself with things outside her area of competence like broken washing machines, dryers, and refrigerators? All of which were working fine while I was home. Why did the furnace fan start to squeal so horribly that cold winter night? “Is it something serious?” she worried. “Do I need to shut off the furnace?”

My daughters tell of similar coincidences. Not just with wrecked vehicles, conked out appliances and leaky roofs, but coping alone when kids get sick. It’s not easy for a young mother of two to decide alone at midnight if it’s okay to wait until the morning to see a doctor or to pack up the baby and take the feverish toddler to Emergency immediately. I’ve heard these types of stories many times, usually from wives, and sometimes from husbands left alone with their children.

Daddy! Baby crying!

Why is it that so many times when a spouse leaves on a business or ministry trip things start going wrong at home?

There is a sound theological reason for this phenomenon. We all know that God intends our life to be a growing experience. And just as an athlete develops her muscles by stressing them and working against resistance, so God develops our character and ability to cope by bringing adversity for us to deal with. If the athlete’s husband lifted the weights for her, she would grow no muscles.

A good spouse is a partner who takes full responsibility for certain areas of home life. Often the husband takes care of the mechanical stuff. When something breaks down, he prides himself in making sure it is fixed quickly and permanently. This eliminates several areas of stress the wife never has to deal with.

But when the husband is away, God suddenly has a wide-open opportunity to help the wife develop her ability to deal with adversity and learn to cope with situations she is not comfortable in. Similarly, when the wife is away, the husband suddenly has to be both father and mother to the kids. That’s when health problems and school situations he doesn’t know how to deal with pop up.

God has set the stage. Now it’s up to us. We can resent the intrusion. We can fret and worry. We can dash about wildly looking for someone to help. (I have done all these!) Or we can recognize God’s hand in the problem situation and immediately talk to Him.

I often pray first thing in the morning, “Lord, help me to remember that nothing is going to happen today that You and I together can’t handle.” This little prayer is on a plaque near my desk. It is based on James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (NIV) God knows how to deal with every problem we can possibly encounter. Ask him, and He will give us the wisdom we need to deal with it effectively.

God’s purpose for us is not to give us nice, comfortable lives. Instead, He intends for us to grow and mature in our relationship with Him. He wants to make us holy, to make us like Himself. And that will only happen as we learn to turn to God for help in every irritation, adversity and problem. Over and over again.

To Bribe or Not to Bribe, Is That the Question?

Why is it that good, well educated, and right living people, can have such strange ideas about cultures? It seems that we North Americans tend to consider anything in another culture wrong if it differs from our own in ways we don’t like.

Languages, being part of cultures, differ from country to country. We wouldn’t dream of criticizing Japanese for speaking their unique language. Nor would we expect to live and work in China without learning Mandarin. In the same way, a Canadian or American company that wants to work in Mexico would expect its people to learn Spanish and behave according to generally accepted Mexican customs.

So why this huge outcry recently about Walmart bribing its way to success in Mexico? Walmart built over a hundred stores in Mexico in a remarkably short time. The accusers pointed at funding trails that showed large amounts of money had been spent in getting the building permits. Their argument was, money plus building permits proves bribery.

That may be true within Canadian or American culture, but is not at all true in the cultures of many other countries. No one disputes that money changed hands. The question is, “Was this money given in order to get some official to do something illegal or unethical, or was it simply a culturally expected tip?”

This picture has nothing to do with the subject of this column other than show what Jo and I looked like about the time of the driver's license story.

When I was a first-term missionary, I remember getting dozens of documents ready so I could renew my Brazilian driver’s license. My folder had it all: police clearance statement, certificate of proficiency, physical and psychological tests, driver’s test successful completion record, passport with permanent residence visa, receipts for all licensing fees paid, etc. Each document was notarized and well within the application deadline.

As I walked away with my thick folder of documents to catch a bus to town, I met our neighbour, a veteran missionary.

“Pray for me,” I said, “I’m turning in my final documents to get my driver’s license renewed.”

“Okay, I will, I know what a hassle that can be. Are you sure you have every paper you need?” he asked, reaching for my folder. He paged through all my papers, gave back the folder, then pulled out his wallet.

“Here,” he said, “As he handed me a note of Brazilian money worth about five dollars. Put this into your passport. It helps to move things along.”

I took the money, put it into my passport and later that morning handed in my folder to the clerk behind the wicket. She slowly paged through all the papers, riffled through the passport, saw the money, kept on looking through the papers, then looked up and said, “Yes, everything is in order, you can come in tomorrow morning and pick up your license.”

True to her word, my license was ready and I was good to go. When I paid back my missionary friend I asked him, “So what was that money for?”

“A tip,” he replied, “officials, like taxi drivers and waiters are not well paid and they expect a tip.”

“So it wasn’t a bribe?”

“No, of course not. As Christians we do not bribe, it breeds corruption and is wrong.”

“So what is the difference between a bribe and a tip?” I asked, still feeling slightly guilty.

“Very simple. A bribe is payment to an official so he will do something illegal, unethical, or immoral. For instance, when someone has failed his proficiency test he may offer to pay the inspector to pass him anyway. That is a bribe. Whereas what you did was give the clerk the culturally expected tip so she would do her job. It is no different from giving a tip to a barber or a baggage handler. You were not asking her to do anything wrong, you simply let her know you appreciated her work on your behalf.

Knowing the culture is so vital. When Jo and I were Bible translators, we needed to understand not only the language and the culture of the Canela people, but also the culture of Palestine in Jesus’ day and of Greece, Turkey and Italy in the time that the apostle Paul wrote his letters. As North American businesses like Walmart spread around the globe, and as millions of people from every culture in the world come to North America, we need to recognize that all cultures differ from each other, all have some good aspects and bad ones. Just because it is different from our culture doesn’t mean it is bad. Besides, no culture is perfect. No, not even our own.

Some societies value time and money, others are strong on relationships. Some promote fierce individual independence, others value interdependence. Some degrade women, others honor the elderly, yet another exploits children.

All cultures differ from each other just as individual human beings differ. The bottom line is, in the same way that no individual measures up to God’s standard of behaviour, no culture is faultless. We all, individuals as well as cultures, need God to redeem us and give us new life.

Do Men Have Feelings?

Last month I posted three columns about men without friends. Scores of readers responded, especially to the last one, Six Things a Man Must Do to Get What Every Man Needs, But Few Get. Here’s a follow up column that describes a helpful tool.

Scientists call us homo sapiens, wise, rational, thinking beings. I, like other men, am always thinking. What’s more, I can tell you exactly what I am thinking about, Ask me and I will tell you instantly. It could be about the next speech or writing project, or people I want to see, or problems I am analysing, or combining old ideas to make new ones, or relationships around me, or, or, or.

If, on the other hand, you ask me how I am feeling emotionally, the answer will come much more slowly. Since I am a writer and speaker I force myself to feel, to relive incidents in the past, to feel physically and emotionally the things that are going on around me. As a communicator I can’t afford to “stuff” my feelings, ignore or discount them. Even so I have to work hard to get in touch with my feelings and describe them. Other men, who are not natural communicators find it even harder to describe their emotional state.

We have been wisely taught to make decisions based on our convictions, not on how we are feeling at the moment. Excellent advice for decision making! Unfortunately, men tend to ignore feelings not just when making choices, but in all areas of life. We men are quick to share what we do and what we are thinking in our minds, but very slow to share what we feel in our hearts.

Even Christian men find it hard to share their feelings in spite of this being a very biblical thing to do. Here’s God saying to David, “So David, how are you doing?” What if David had replied as millions of men do, “Just fine, thanks”? There would have been no book of Psalms. Note that David didn’t just tell God how he felt, he wrote it down for others to read. We men desperately need to understand our own feelings and share them with someone else.

One of my readers told me about a game he and his brother were playing via email that forced them to get in touch with their feelings and share them with each other.

Here’s how it is played: A man picks someone he would like to know better and with whom he is willing to share his feelings. He writes this guy an email that goes something like this:

“Hi Joe, I would like to play a game with you that will help us to get to know each other better. I already know what you do and even some of what you think, and you know those things about me. I know your actions and your mind, but I don’t know your heart and you probably don’t know mine.

“I will start the game in this email by writing a one or two word description of an emotion that I currently feel or have felt in the past 24 hours, followed by a 20 to 50 word explanation of why I feel this way. You read my email and the next day you respond by writing a one or two word emotion and a short explanation of why you feel that way.

“You do NOT comment on my feeling, you do NOT commiserate with me or validate or anything. Just read my feeling and write your own. When I get your email, the next day I reply with something I am feeling. We keep on taking turns daily for a month, trying not to repeat any emotion. At the end of the month we will probably understand our own feelings better, as well as know each other’s heart. We obviously keep this correspondence confidential! Here is my start:

(A personal example from Jack) “JP- UNEASY: Will men reject this as being too touchy-feely and unsubscribe? What response, if any, will there will be to this column? Will anyone understand how important it is to connect with our own feelings and share them with another? Will anyone start this with a friend?”