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Archive for June, 2015

Last week I was working in Tacoma, Washington.  The weather was dry and mostly sunny.  Consequently Mount Rainier was visible all week long.  Even though the mountain is more than 70 miles away it dominates the view.  At 14,411 feet, Mount Rainier is the tallest mountain in Washington and the fourth highest peak in the lower 48 states.

In the early morning the sun hitting the snow and glacier covered slopes produced a beautiful golden glow some 30 minutes or so before the actual sunrise in Tacoma.

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About 15 minutes before sunrise in Tacoma the sun has been glowing off Mount Rainier for at least 15 minutes.

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This shot makes me think of the “purple mountain’s majesty” from America the Beautiful.

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Even from almost sea level with buildings, trees, and man-made structure galore, Mount Rainier is still visible above the distractions.

 

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Another shot across the Tacoma marina.

Across the harbor from a different perspective, a city park across from the Old Tacoma City Hall.

Across the harbor from a different perspective, a city park across from the Old Tacoma City Hall.

I liked how the mountain was framed by the draw bridge in this shot taken from the Park across from the Old City Hall.

I liked how the mountain was framed by the draw bridge in this shot taken from the Park across from the Old City Hall.

Throughout the day the mountain stood majestic in the background.  At mid-day angle of the light hitting the mountain from the backside tended to mute the visible color if not the mountains stature.

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An early afternoon picture from the window in our training room.

In the afternoon and evening with the light striking the mountain from the west, the ice and snow fairly glittered with bright white brilliance.

Later in the afternoon with the sun in a more favorable position.

Later in the afternoon with the sun in a more favorable position.

I can't help but get a selfie with the Majestic Mountain.

I can’t help but get a selfie with the Majestic Mountain.

View from the Cliff House Restaurant across Commencement Bay from Tacoma.

View from the Cliff House Restaurant across Commencement Bay from Tacoma.

Even with a dreadful lack of snow this past season (I was told they got about 15% of normal) the top of the mountain is still blanketed in white.

Even with a dreadful lack of snow this past season (I was told they got about 15% of normal) the top of the mountain is still blanketed in white.

Finally as the sun set and the surrounding city and hills faded to grey, the last rays of light lit the mountain with soft pinks and shades or purple.

Even the hill between the mountain and my hotel can't hide the beautiful sunset on the mountain.

Even the hill between the mountain and my hotel can’t hide the beautiful sunset on the mountain.

View from my hotel room just after 9:00 pm.  The sun has set in the city, but the mountain glowed for another 10 - 15 minutes, gently fading into the night.

View from my hotel room just after 9:00 pm. The sun has set in the city, but the mountain glowed for another 10 – 15 minutes, gently fading into the night.

Whenever I was in a position to find the mountain, I would glance that way and be inspired.  I have no desire to summit the peak, but I will travel to the mountain the first chance I get to visit and get a much closer view.  I am drawn to it.  From one of the windows where we were meeting the mountain was framed in the distance.  When we took a break I would slip up to the window to take a glance.  It seems funny, but seeing the mountain in the distance gave me a sense of awe and wonder that just felt good.

Taking time to sense God’s presence is like sneaking a peak at that mountain.  In fact there are a number of parallels between that can be made between the awe inspiring views I observe and seeking God.

Like that mountain God is majestic.  He is the Lord God, Creator of heaven and earth.  He is the Ruler over all the earth.  All power, dominion and honor is due to Him.

The mountain did not move while I was there, but the view of the mountain was constantly changing in subtle ways.  In Hebrews 13:8 we read that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  God does not change.  However our knowledge and relationship with God undergoes a metamorphosis as we seek Him and follow His leading.

While I was blessed with sunny weather and clear views for five days, the locals told me that the mountain is usually shrouded in clouds.  One person even said that the mountain makes it’s own weather with sunny and clear often transformed to clouds and fog around the mountain.  Likewise, God is sometimes hidden from our view.  It is by faith that we “see” the Lord.  As I have shared in a number of stories in my blog, God is actively engaged in our lives and His intervention is often visible.  But there are also times when things happen that can cause us to wonder where God is.  The killing of nine people in a bible study in Charleston, SC a few days ago is one of those times.  Yet even when the clouds roll in and obliterate the view or when bad things happen to good people, it does not change the fact that the mountain and God are still there and they are not diminished.

Another similarity that struck me was how many of the locals seemed complacent to the awesome spectacle of the mountain on their door step.  From a practical point of view, I can understand that we can’t sit and gawk at the mountain all the time.  We have to get on with life, work, and the activities that enrich our lives.  But I think this is precisely where we can err.  When we become complacent about the majesty around us, particularly the Majestic One Who is our life-giver, our savior, and our sustainer, then we have truly diminished the life He has called us to live and enjoy.  God knows we need to eat and drink and work together, but He also knows that abundant life begins in our relationship with Him.  (Matt 6:25-33, John 10:10)  To neglect spending time in His presence, to overlook the majesty of Who He is, to fail to recognize His hand at work in our lives, is to live a life far below what He has called us to.  At it’s least bad, this is to fail to receive the blessing God wants to give us.  At it’s worst, this is an affront to the living Lord.

I don’t know about you, but for me, I will make it my aim to glory in the majesty of the Lord God, to dwell in His presence, and to make much of Who He is and what He has done for us.

Be blessed today and bless the ones God brings into your life today.

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I’ve heard it said that the first ability we need to cultivate in our relationship with God is availability.  Being ready and available to do what He says in His word and what the Holy Spirit nudges us to do is foundational to growing and thriving as a Jesus follower.  Last night I was reminded of that in a very powerful way.  I had a conversation with a gentleman I worked with briefly 15 or so years ago.  After not seeing Al since that time we meet again here in Washington where we happen to be working on a project together.  Over dinner he shared a bit of his faith story and it surprised me that I likely played an unknown role in his spiritual awakening.

Our faith conversation started when I mentioned that I had been in church all my life, but it wasn’t until I was 23 that I realized that God was interested in a real, living relationship and not just some dry, ritualistic participation in church.  He mentioned that his story was similar and his awakening to that fact began during his one of his visits to my plant in Calhoun, Tennessee around 2000 – 2001.  He said he was sitting in a meeting and he noticed Proverbs 3:5-6 written up in the corner of a blackboard in the conference room.

Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

He said he was at a point in his life that he was very successful.  He didn’t have any needs being unmet.  He described a life that many people long for – a happy marriage of almost 30 years, two great daughters, good health, a great job he enjoyed, financially sound – in short a life that he was satisfied with.  But something about that verse on the blackboard just poked at him.  I call it a Holy Nudge.  And it began a search.  From that moment he began to seek out what it meant to trust in the Lord with all your heart and to submit to Him.  Well what happened to him is what God promises to everyone who will seek Him with all their heart – He found that living, vibrant relationship with God that has molded and shaped his life since then.  He responded to God’s nudge in that small conference room and his life has been changed from a good life to a great life in union with His Heavenly Father.

My heart swelled because I remembered my days at that plant.  I worked there for 17 years.  One of the lessons I learned while there was the vital importance of responding to Gods’ holy nudges. I can vividly remember two holy nudges early in my time at Calhoun that shaped my faith walk and put me into a position to be used in my friend’s life… whether I knew it or not.  One was a failure on my part that God has redeemed.  The second is part of that redemption and directly impacted my friend, Al.

I had only been at the mill a couple months when I was asked to attend a four-day communication workshop being held at a nearby hotel.  The leader’s name was Sid.  Sid was a large, jovial guy who liked to ask probing questions.  He began the week by telling us that he had recently had a serious health scare as the doctors had told him that he had the big C – Cancer.  But just a week or so earlier he had gotten the all clear from the doctors – no more cancer,  he was fine.  Later that first day Sid had us perform an exercise of sharing our “lifeline” with the class.  We took 10 minutes to draw a chart that represented our life to the current date.  We were to identify 2 or 3 defining moments and share them in a succinct manner.  He shared his lifeline first and mentioned the low point of thinking he might die of cancer and then his line turned up when he was told he was cancer-free and that life was going great.  As I drew my life line it had a major positive step change when I met the Lord at age 23 and I spoke briefly about that.  I remember that Sid challenged me pretty strongly about my step change.  Thinking back I remember I felt intimidated by the force of his challenges and felt even a bit like I was being attacked for my faith.

I was probably a bit more demur the next two days of the workshop.  On Wednesday afternoon, Sid said he was shutting down the workshop 30 minutes early and he was opening up a bar tab for us so we could stay and chat.  It was at this point that I got a very clear Holy Nudge to stay and speak with Sid.  I remember it vividly because I argued with God a bit about it.  I rationalized that since I wasn’t a drinker, I would feel out of place.  I was working on a piece of furniture for the house and I reasoned that I could use the extra time to make good progress on my project.  Even though God was nudging, I was coming up with reasons NOT to do what He was asking.  I even remember telling myself that as hostile as Sid was, he probably was only going to belittle my faith some more.  To my chagrin, I have to tell you that I walked out and went home to my project.  I can tell you now that I felt bad about it as I wiped stain on the entertainment center.  I even paused more than once to pray for Sid.  But I felt the conviction of the Lord as I was substituting a “religious act” instead of following God’s Holy Nudge.

The next day was the last day of the workshop.  I think I may have even told the Lord that I would stay and speak with Sid after the class or something like that.  The day started fine, but just before lunch Sid told us that he wasn’t feeling very well and that he was going to end the class early.  He mentioned that he had experienced angina a few years before associated with a heart attack and that he was feeling angina this morning.  He was going to head over to the emergency room to get it checked out.  I remember I volunteered to drive him, but he had already made arrangements.  I headed home and I can honestly say I was really praying for Sid now.  But I also expected that everything would be fine since he was heading straight to the hospital.

At work the next day, Ben, the assistant plant manager swung by my office to see if I was okay.  I relayed to him that I had enjoyed the class, but that I was concerned about Sid since he had headed to the hospital.  Ben realized then that I had not heard the news.  Sid had a massive heart attack at the hospital that evening and did not survive.  I realized that I had been in a position to offer Sid God’s Words of Grace the evening before he died, but I had rationalized and walked away.  I was ashamed and saddened to my core.  I had grieved the Holy Spirit and I missed an opportunity to obey the One Who gave His all for me.

Thankfully, God’s grace and forgiveness extends to us even when we fail Him.  Over time His forgiveness brought restoration to my broken soul.  I knew I had sinned greatly.  I knew I directly disobeyed the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  But the same Holy Spirit reached out to me, lifted me up out of my sorrow and self-pity, and spoke life to me again.

It was probably a little less than a year later when I was asked to supervise a large team of maintenance personnel on a multi-day paper machine outage.  I was a 30 year old engineer who had never really worked on tools like a craftsman, and yet I was supposed to direct, coach, and support the efforts of about 2o maintenance technicians performing a dozen or more jobs.  The work was going over the weekend of Palm Sunday.  The first day was Saturday and honestly, that day is pretty much lost to my memory.  I vaguely remember feeling overwhelmed more than once with the large amount of demands that I struggled to keep up with.  As I drove in to the plant on Sunday morning I remember clearly speaking out my frustrations to the Lord.  I even said, “Lord, here it is Palm Sunday and I am heading to work and I won’t be able to make it to church.  That’s just not right.  I won’t even be able to have a real time of prayer since I’ll be so busy.”

The Lord spoke to my heart, “Pray with your Team.”

“What Lord?”

“Pray with your Team.”

Rationalizations rose up in my mind… “I barely  know these guys… Am I allowed to do something like this? … What will they think?”

But then I remembered Sid.  I remembered what disobedience felt like.  And I remembered that I had committed to the Lord after ignoring the Holy Nudge with Sid, that I would obey when He clearly asked me to do something in the future, no matter how crazy it might sound.  Well His voice was crystal clear this time.  So I gave the results to Him and I obeyed.

I didn’t have much time to think about it, I just did it.  I handled the normal safety topic and explanation of jobs the same as I had the day before, but as I ended I then shared briefly that my preference on a Sunday morning was to be in church rather than working in the mill.  Also since I believed God was present with His followers everywhere, including when they had to work at the mill on a Sunday we could take the time to acknowledge Him while at work.  I then let the men know that I would like to start our work day with a word of prayer and that it was fine if anyone didn’t share my belief.  They could stay while I prayed or head on out to the job.  Noone moved.  Then we prayed.  I felt the Spirit of the Lord take it from there.  I’m not sure exactly what I prayed, but I know I was being obedient and that God was pleased.

That started a pattern that has remained a part of my life.  I have had a number of leadership roles.  Not every meeting results in a Holy Nudge to pray with the group… but a surprising number have.  The Lord led me to start and lead a number of prayer groups and bible studies during lunch periods and before work as well.  As Al was telling me his story last night, I was moved to tears.  One of the other habits I got into was using the blackboards and dry erase boards during our lunch time bible studies and prayer times.  And sometimes I would get a Holy Nudge to leave a verse behind… just in case.

You almost never know how your obedience impacts someone else’s life.  Thank you Lord for giving me a glimpse of this one.

Obey immediately when He gives you a holy nudge and rejoice in being a partner in the Father’s work.

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What is the first thing you do in the morning when you wake up?  It’s  probably not what most of you just thought of.  The answer I am looking for is what you do as you are going to do the thing you likely thought of.  You walk through an open door.

Now one of the reasons this didn’t come to mind is because we do it all the time.  I think it is safe to say we pass through dozens of doors every day.  My father raised my brothers and I to be courteous of others and to be gentlemen.  (Truth in reporting, any shortcoming in this area is not due to a lack of effort on Dad’s part, but stubbornness on mine or my brother’s side.)   What did sink in is that doors represent an opportunity.  If I am walking with a group, I will quicken my pace as we approach a door so I can hold it open for others.  In particular, Dad taught me to hold a door open for ladies and children.  What to do for other men was never really clear in my mind…  As I ponder it a moment I have to chuckle as I think of the number of awkward moments as I would approach a door at the same time as another guy and we would both wave the other through.  As we would stand there pedestrian traffic would back up waiting for us to decide.  Many times we would decide to walk through at the same time and then it really got interesting as we now weren’t sure what to do.

A door is simply the access point from one area to another that a person can pass through.  In our home we have doors into the bedrooms.  As I slip out earlier than my wife on most mornings I ensure that the door is closed to minimize the noise that would disturb her sleep and to let the grandsons know not to go inside just yet.  One of the things we liked about our home before we bought it was the welcoming front door.  It is attractive and inviting.  However it also has a deadbolt and is sturdily built.  For friends and visitors our door is opening and welcoming.  But for intruders and persons of ill-intent the door is a barrier.

I can think of many other doors I’ve seen and passed through in my life.  For some of those there is a lot of emotion tied to them – job interviews, the doors of the church as I headed in to await my new bride at the altar, classroom doors at school for the first time, the office door of an unhappy boss, the door of a new shop, emergency room doors.  There are other doors I have not passed through and, for some I hope I never have to – the doors of a courtroom where I am a party to the litigation, into a jail cell, a police station, the door at a home for an employee who has been injured or worse on my watch.

Scott was my best friend in high school.  We did all the things best friends do; we argued some, we played a lot, we had each other’s back all the time, and we grew from boys to young men together.  My job out of college took me several states away and Scott and I didn’t get to connect as often, but when we did it was always great to catch up.  It’s funny, I remember reading Scott’s last letter a number of times… the handwriting was the same, his sense of humor still showed through, and my heart was warmed by the friendship we still shared even though we were hundreds of miles apart.  Shortly after Scott’s 40th birthday my wife called me at work. She had just gotten word that Scott had died in his sleep the night before.  I can honestly say that was one of the hardest blows I have ever suffered.  Scott knew about my faith and he had said he was happy for me, but we had not really taken the time to grow in our faith together.  I still miss my friend, but it is not a sense of gone forever since I am confident that we shared a faith in God and in the completed work of Jesus.

Two and a half weeks ago, I found out on Facebook that Scott’s mom, Liz, was very ill and in her final days.  My heart went out to her husband and her family.  Obviously I prayed for them and their comfort.  I also prayed for the easing of Liz’s pain.  But I also could not suppress a sense of joy as I prayed for Liz.  I can still picture her as the beautiful, young mother who always had a smile even as she foiled another one of Scott’s and my schemes.  I can hear the sweet southern lilt in her voice as she said, “Now boys you know that you’re not supposed to…”  As I prayed for Liz in the days leading up to her passing the recurring picture I had was of Liz approaching a large door.  I could feel the mixture of emotions as she was sad to be leaving her beloved husband, children, and grandchildren, but I could feel the excited anticipation of seeing Her Lord face to face and being reunited with her son, Scott.

I attended Liz’s funeral a week ago.  To me it was a perfect blend of sad farewell, celebration of a life well-lived, and the joy of graduation to something greater.  The memory of it lingers with me.

Additionally the picture of the Final Door remains.  They say that death is one of the two certainties in life.  It is inescapable.  For each one of us we will face that Final Door.  Do you know what is beyond that final door for you?  Do you have an understanding based upon first hand knowledge of someone who has been there and come back?  There is One who is an authority.  The bible says Jesus conquered death and the grave.  Over 500 people saw Him physically returned after He was crucified.  Many of these followers died martyr’s deaths refusing to give up on the truth of having seen Jesus alive after His crucifixion, burial, and resurrection.  His promise is life, eternal life, to all who would put their trust in Him.

I encourage you in the privacy of your own home, in your secret place to look into what I am telling you.  Pick up a bible and read what it says.  Begin in the gospels.  Ask God to show you truth.  Comment back to me if you would like to start a conversation.  God wants to enter into a relationship with you and He wants to give you a surety about what you will see on the other side of that Final Door.  Today, right now is a good time to nail that down.

If you already know Jesus and to you the Final Door is simply the passage to your final home, then rejoice with me in the grace God has given us tell someone today about the hope you have within you.

Take care and have a most blessed day.

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As I rose this morning I wondered if the storm that crashed in upon us at dusk last night would result in a glorious sunrise this morning.  I hurriedly got dressed as an excitement rose within me to commune with the Father and see what the morning light ushered in.  Surprisingly, my excitement only rose when I looked out the window and saw the fog.  Grabbing my bible and hot tea I headed outside.

This morning’s post requires a little background before I get to the good stuff.  I am in a new phase of my life.  At the beginning of this year after almost 32 years of constant employment and increasingly responsible positions within three different companies, I found myself unemployed.  The way the separation transpired left me with unanswered questions and a fair amount of emotional loose ends to work through.  I had the basis of a plan already formulated, but I had not done much work in setting the plan in motion when the separation arrived.  So even as I moved into a time of soul-searching I also moved into hurry-up mode to become an independent consultant in my field of expertise.  Today, five months later I have made more progress on the soul-searching side, but both are progressing.

Which brings me to the lesson in the fog.  Our church is currently going through a series called “Without a Doubt”.  We are looking at God’s faithfulness in life’s most trying times.  As Pastor P said several weeks ago every person is in one of three stages in life.  Either they are in a storm, they are coming out of a storm, or they are getting ready to enter a storm.  Last night’s storm dumped a lot of rain and that moisture created the fairly dense fog this morning.  Storms do that.  Their impact can linger even after the deluge has passed.

The fog after the rain.

The fog after the rain.

Enveloped by Fog.

Enveloped by Fog.

As I prayed this morning I realized that since I came to faith I don’t believe I have doubted God’s love.  I have experienced periods of uncertainty about what the results would be in a storm, uncertainty whether my response would be right and good, uncertainty whether I would stand in the God-honoring way I desire, but I haven’t been uncertain that God is or that He is sovereign.  Digging deeper though, I have been uncertain that God’s love would manifest itself in a way that I could bear.  It was not whether God loves or that He would be with me.  Those are unshakeable truths.  But I recognize in myself the weakness of thought and action that leaves me yearning for more of Christ and less of me.

At that moment I raised my hands and looked up into the grey mist all around and above and I praised the living Lord.  Immediately I thought of what was on the other side of that grey mist – a glorious sunshine that was bright, golden, and warm.  A light that is life giving.  A light that is always there.  A light that I am certain is there.

It dawned on me in that moment that God’s love is the same as the sun.  It is always there… it is life-giving… it is bright, golden, and warm.  My doubts and uncertainty are swallowed in the certainty of God’s love.  It is a redeeming love.  Even if I lose all, God’s love can and will redeem what is lost (See Job 42:10).  Even if the way is dark, God’s love is the light of dawn speeding toward us.  Even if my faith slips and my response misses the mark, God is faithful and just to forgive us and restore us because of His love.

I had two key take-aways from the message this weekend that apply in every storm and in the fog.  First, if the situation we are in is not good, then God’s not finished.  Second, in the times when I cannot see God’s hand, when I can’t understand what is going on, I can always, ALWAYS trust His heart.  Let the storm come.  Let the fog roll in.  Let the darkness settle upon us.  In all things and in every situation God is there, God is light, God is life and God is love!

As I finish this blog I look out the window and within the past five minutes the fog has lifted.  I think I will take that as I sign I got it right.

The fog has lifted!

The fog has lifted!

AWESOME!  He is SO GOOD!

Rejoice today my friend.  God’s love is precious and it is near.  Take hold of His hand today and let us rejoice!

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I love my wife.  I realized I loved her fairly early in our relationship and it was with great joy that she said yes to my marriage proposal after we had been dating about 5 months.  During this time I have never not loved Lisa.  I wish I could say that she has always felt loved, but I know that at times she has not.  This realization has been one arrived at through a rather drawn-out season of learning.  The Lord kept bringing me back to Ephesians 5:25 until I finally learned and acted upon His prompting to take love to another level.  Here is my post with my friend as we walk through Proverbs.  This is from Friday’s reading in chapter 5.

Proverbs 5:18.  “May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.”
Lisa and I have been married for over 30 years.  Any couple that has been together for any time has had their share of difficulties.  We have had ours although in God’s grace, none have been too serious.  Probably our most persistent issue has been that we get too busy with our jobs, activities, and doing things for the kids that we forget to take time to nurture our marriage.  Make no mistake – the most important earthly relationship a married person has is the one with their spouse.
I went through a season beginning about 7 years ago that the message the Lord laid on my heart was Ephesians 5:25.  “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her…”   This went on for about 4 years.  During that time I repeatedly tried to “Band-Aid” an acceptable response.  I would take this prompting to mean that I needed to “do more” for Lisa, which I would do for a while, but I would soon drift back into busy-ness.  I would again notice the lack of passion and depth in our marriage and I would seek the Lord and He would point to the same verse.  Now I have sought to walk closely with the Lord for 32 years.  I know Him to be real.  He has actively guided me.  For the majority of the time prior to this, there were things He would bring to light that needed changing in me, sometimes it might take me a little while to get it right, but usually in short order He had brought about the change in me He desired and the next lesson would begin.  So for a single lesson to continue for 4 years was different and very humbling.  God had to eventually break me in a very painful and powerful manner.  You can read about it in depth in this blog in the post entitled “Broken Legs, Mended Hearts”.
Here are a few truths that I learned from that season that tie into this verse in Proverbs.
1) Our relationship with our wife is the best barometer of our relationship with God.  If we can’t get the relationship right with the most important human being who we can see, we will struggle with the relationship with the most important One who we happen to be unable to see yet.
2)  God knows the deep things that must be rooted out in our lives.  He loves us enough that He will do the work that needs to be done to get them out.
3)  The first step is not adding more “spiritual” things to our to-do list.  The first step is dying to self and allowing God to replace our wishes, wants, and desires with His desires.
There is an amazing thing that has happened since I reached a deeper place of dying to self and better serving Lisa.  God immediately put a fresh love for Lisa in my heart.  Before anything actually changed in our relationship, God was already making changes inside of me that would become the fertile ground that grew a renewed and deeper love between us.  In a practical way, my love began expressing itself in her love language again which is Quality Time.  My love language is Acts of Service which isn’t on Lisa’s love language radar at all, so all my work to try and show her love in my love language missed the mark.  As God worked in my heart I didn’t have to consciously think about how to show her love.  Since we have been through the Love Language training and recognize the truths of the Five Love Languages my brokenness now sought to effectively demonstrate itself to her.  However since our love had gotten stale and we both were so busy, we had forgotten the need to be intentional in this area.  Once I started truly dying to what I wanted, I became focused upon pleasing Lisa and our relationship has grown and blossomed.  It has been really great the past three years or so.
Oh, I almost forgot.  The fact that I was dying to my desires did not mean that my deepest desires now were totally neglected.  The good ones, the godly ones, the best ones now became the desire of my wife.  God began prompting Lisa to meet my needs at a much deeper level too.
There is a lot of godly wisdom in the verses of Proverbs 5, particularly about avoiding the temptations of the wayward or adulterous woman.  However I have found that if I focus upon doing the BEST thing, I don’t have to spend nearly as much time and effort on not doing all the wrong things.  Dying to self and loving your spouse in practical ways are two sides of the same coin.  Here’s to doing the BEST thing.
I hope you enjoy today’s reading.  Drop me a comment or ask a question if you would get a chance.  I’d love to interact with some of my readers.
Be blessed and be a blessing to someone today.

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Two and a half years ago my wife and I felt prompted to make an addition to our home.  It seemed a little odd since we were facing an empty nest within 8 months as our youngest of four was about to graduate and head off to college.  As we continued to pray the nudge became a clarified vision and so we began the process.  The addition was to add a pool and a garage with an apartment over head.  We designed it, found a builder who worked wonderfully with us to get it done before the two weddings we had that year, and by Memorial Day we had a new swimming pool and pool house.  One of the most exciting aspects of the process for me was the opportunity to design and add the landscaping.

One of the coolest features we designed was a cedar pergola to connect the pool house with our home.  This turned out really nice creating a rather strong contrast of the red cedar against the grey-brown brick of the buildings.  Additionally it framed a small courtyard that needed the creative landscape touch.  One of the things I envisioned were vines climbing up the pergola and providing an additional degree of natural shading as well as seasonal color.  I found some plants that appeared like they would work and I added them into the plan.

Today, two years after completion of the project I regularly begin my day talking to the Lord on the pool house porch.  This morning I was struck by the wonderful fragrance that wafted in and around the little courtyard from one of the honeysuckles that we planted.  The plant has climbed the 12 feet to the top of the pergola and is covered in delicate pink blossoms.

As I breathed deeply I thought about how that little honeysuckle is like believers who grow into committed followers.  Two years ago the plant arrived in a pot that I easily held in the palm of my hand.  We were careful to plant it in good soil.  We amended the soil and added the appropriate fertilizer.  We also watered it whenever conditions warranted.  A regular task through the growing season has been the training of the plant.  You see honeysuckles spread broadly in their natural state.  They tend to be invasive and a nuisance.  We had in mind a vertical growth that looped up and over the pergola.  So on at least a weekly basis we have had to maneuver the branches into the correct direction.  Additionally we have pruned it removing dead and damaged growth as well as branches that weren’t heading in the right direction.

There are parallels with the growth and training of this little plant and followers of Jesus.  The start of our life in Christ is a very delicate time.  If the enemy can’t stop us from hearing and responding to Jesus’ call to save us, he will double down to keep us from growing in our faith.  He hates all Christians, but if he can prevent us from becoming effective, then at least he doesn’t have to worry about us working in tandem with God to expand the kingdom.  During this period of vulnerability it is crucial that new believers be properly connected to a vibrant body of believers who will ensure they are fed, nurtured, and encouraged.

A major challenge for new believers is the process of sanctification that we begin when we say YES to Jesus call upon our lives.  Salvation is God’s gift given the moment we say yes to Him.  Our new life in Christ begins then.  It would be wonderful if all bad habits and sin tendencies were immediately removed at that time too, but it doesn’t work that way.  My personal experience is that some of my sin tendencies disappeared immediately.  Some did not.  1 Thessalonians 4 talks about living to please God which we do as we sanctify ourselves from the old habits and sins.  In a very close comparison this is like the pruning that takes place on that little honeysuckle we planted.  Unhealthy branches and branches that aren’t going the right way have to be removed.  The same is true in our lives.  And these things take action on the part of the new believer usually in alignment with the body of believers they are connected to.

Time is also a similarity between our honeysuckle and the believer.  I have seen a few new believers “flame out.”  In every case they jumped forward with great enthusiasm and vigor, but they wilted within a relatively short time frame.  They had not taken the time to grow, to develop the roots of faith needed to withstand persecution and the various attacks of the enemy.  Jesus talks about this in the parable of the sower see Matthew 13:1 – 23, but especially verses 20 & 21.  As I mentioned before the early stage of plant growth is a very vulnerable time.  The roots must develop depth to be able to withstand a dry spell.

I have a lot of perennials that I have planted.  One of the worst things you can do for a perennial is water it too often.  This results in shallow roots with no depth.  If you then leave for a week or two and there is no rain you are liable to return to dead plants.  This is one of the reasons that the Lord doesn’t just make life all fun and games.  We must experience times of difficulty, challenge, and dryness to cause us to persevere, stretch ourselves, and grow our faith.

Finally I mentioned the wonderful fragrance coming from the honeysuckle.  In the old testament the burning of incense was a prescribed act of worship.  Symbolically we view the drifting up of the incense smoke and fragrance as representative of our prayers and offerings rising to God.  As we spend time in the Word of God, the Bible; as we sit under good, solid teaching; as we apply ourselves to serving others; as we seek to hear and obey God, we will grow in our faith.  It may be all small steps, but they are steps none-the-less.  We begin to take on the mind of Christ more and more.  We are like that honeysuckle stretching, reaching, and growing.  And in our season to blossom, we will burst forth in fragrant, beautiful bloom.  Our devotion and love of the Father will manifest itself in the flower and fruit of a life established and growing in Him.

Let me finish the story about why God gave us the vision to expand.  About the time we finished building, my sister’s house sold essentially out of the blue.  They looked around for some place to live, but that wasn’t working out.  Again that nudge from the Lord convinced us to offer up our home.  The day after our youngest son moved into College, my sister and her family moved in with us.  The extra room made it work fine.  And then 8 months later, our oldest son who had moved away for what seemed like a good job opportunity, realized closer to family was important.  So their family of 4 moved in with us.  So when the vision was given we wondered why soon-to-be empty nesters would be adding on rather than downsizing.  We didn’t know, but we clearly sensed the Lord’s leading so we obeyed.  And because we did we have been blessed to grow so much closer to our grandsons, son, and daughter-in-law as well as my sister, brother-in-law, nieces, and nephew.  I’m convinced that despite the challenges that three families living together will invariably bring, we have all grown through this experience.  And I believe that part of that sweet fragrance is the love and service we have given to one another these past two years.

Be blessed my friend and be a blessing to someone today.

Our Fragrant Honeysuckle

Our Fragrant Honeysuckle

Climbing the pergola this honeysuckle looks and smells wonderful.

Climbing the pergola this honeysuckle looks and smells wonderful.

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I have a friend who agreed to walk through Proverbs with me over the month of June.  We are going to each read a chapter a day and then share our thoughts about one verse from the chapter that impressed us.  Here are thoughts from Proverbs, Chapter 1 on June 1.

Chase’s choice – Proverbs 1:7  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
      “The fear of the Lord” here to me is submission to the Lord, an open heart and mind to him. My bible states when we fear something, we either run from it or submit to it. I agree, my salvation was very similar to this as a lot of people’s may have been the same way.
      Once we have the fear of the Lord, it is a healthy fear as the fear we have of electricity or parents.  It is a healthy fear or respect which causes you to act appropriately. But while seeking wisdom the fear or submission unto the Lord is the controlling principle of wisdom.  This principle should not be abandoned and a person cannot just fully focus on the idea that we must just acquire wisdom alone. I believe that is where the fools despising wisdom comes in.  They do not begin with that respect or appropriate fear.
My choice – Proverbs 1:5 “let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.”  and Proverbs 1:33 “but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.”
On proverbs 1:7 you made a wise choice.  I always picture God’s awesome majesty, holiness, and righteousness when I consider “the fear of the Lord”.  Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”.  That being the case, we all have reason to fear the judgment that we correctly deserve.  The hope of favor with God can then begin to make us desire to walk right and submit.  When we combine His majesty, holiness, and righteousness with His love, mercy, and grace – we have the awesome combination that causes us to joyously submit.
My verse was verse 5, “let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.”  The last verse, verse 33, also echoes the theme.  In verse 33 it is wisdom itself speaking saying, “but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.”  Verse 5 tells us what we are to do.  Verse 33 tells us what the results will be.  Wisdom is the correct and consistent application of knowledge.  I have met many very intelligent people who weren’t really very wise.  They struggled with making the correct application of the vast knowledge they possessed.  I love knowledge, but I have learned that I would rather be wise than just smart.
The common thread in these two verses is listening.  It’s funny, but I spent a lot of my younger married years listening to experts about things, but I spent the majority of my time with my wife and family telling rather than listening.  The Lord has shown me that my wife and even my children can be excellent dispensers of truth and wisdom.  That doesn’t take away from trying to learn from experts, but it means that I should not overlook or despise the sources of wisdom the Lord will use close to me.
One more thought that you may have also heard.  God gave us two ears versus only one mouth.  Wisdom is using this reminder that we are to listen twice as much as we are to talk.  I haven’t studied it so thoroughly as to say if it is exactly 67% listening to 33% talking, but I know the general rule is true.
Be blessed today and be a blessing.

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