Archive for March, 2016

It’s spring in the South so that means I am busy in the yard.  One task that was always low on my list of spring tasks was pruning the plants.  I wasn’t fond of loping off part of a living plant.  I also wasn’t very confident that I was doing it correctly.  Finally, I wasn’t sure it was all that important.  I mean plants in the wild don’t have somebody coming through and pruning them do they?  As I’ve grown in my gardening skills and lived a number of years, I’ve come to not just practice pruning because I have to, but to value it and even look forward to the opportunity to give the essential care that pruning provides.  And I’ve learned pruning isn’t just good for the plants in my yard.  Pruning is good for me too.

My introduction to pruning was as a young lad working the family garden with my Dad.  We often grew a number of tomato plants and Dad taught me that we had to pinch off the “suckers” in the crotches of the tomato branches.  It seems that as the plant grows it will focus it’s energy into making more and more branches and more leaves, but at the expense of producing fruit.  By removing the suckers we are encouraging the plant to produce the tomatoes it was made for.

That made sense so I have always pinched the suckers on my tomato plants, but I didn’t really see the connection with a lot of my other plants.  Later we had some roses and I noticed that the first year they looked very nice all season long.  The second year not so much.  As the third season rolled around I read about pruning my roses.  It said I could remove up to 1/3 of the plants growth in pruning and that I should focus upon sick, damaged, and dead wood.  Well I set out carefully making small snips here and there removing the material that fit that definition.  It was extremely time consuming.  I also got pricked more than once.  And after I had finished a rose bush it didn’t look much different than when I started.

My wife came out after I had finished about half the bushes and she asked what I was doing.  When I told her, she said, “Oh, I know how to prune roses, but that’s not how you do it.”  After I explained to her what I had read she responded in her usual, loving way, “Yeah, but that not how you do it.  Why don’t you go get the ones around the side of the house and I will finish these in the front.”  I was all for getting a little help.  As I walked around the house I wondered what was left to do.

I hadn’t finished the first of the rose bushes on the side of the house when Lisa came around the corner with hedge shears in her hand and said she was through.  Alarm bells went off as I noticed the crooked grin on her face and the way she said she was through.  As I rushed to the front I saw piles of rose bush clippings scattered everywhere and the roses I had labored over for over an hour had been reduced to just a few stems and leaves.  Horrified at how this mangled mess of roses now looked, I suddenly realized I had left my wife alone… with the hedge shears… by the defenseless roses on the side of the house.  I ran back just in time to see her finish massacring the last of the roses.  I was stunned.  She stood up with pieces of rose leaves in her hair and on her shirt, put her hand on her hip and asked, “Well, what do you think?”  “You’ve killed our roses,” was all I could say.

Four weeks later the roses were more beautiful than they had ever been.  I couldn’t believe it.  I learned a lesson that season.  Pruning can invigorate plants that look healthy and good, but have so much more to offer.

While my wife provided a practical lesson in the benefits of pruning, I realize that this is exactly what Jesus told us in John 15:1-2.  “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.  Jesus told us these same principles apply in our lives.  As I reflect back over my life, I can see so many ways in which I have been pruned.  I mentioned in my last post about losing my job a year ago.  That was a time of extreme pruning that I am now so thankful for.

A difference between people and plants is that we can be more active participants in the pruning process.  Lent, this season of anticipation as we approach Easter, is a wonderful time to ask the Father what might be appropriate to remove from our lives.  Some things that come to mind is any number of addictive behaviors, poor eating habits, or excessive social media.  Another area where God wants us to join Him in the pruning process might be in relationships.  A lesson I have learned is that not every person we meet is someone we should build a relationship with.  There are toxic relationships that we need to avoid or are not to remain in.  This type of pruning is often among the most difficult, but also the most beneficial for all involved.

When I mention this, it is important to realize that the person with whom we would have a toxic relationship with, can have a meaningful relationship with the person God chooses.  Our staying in a toxic relationship just might be the thing that prevents them and us, from moving forward in our lives.  Note, this is not about leaving a marriage, but rather any number of other relationships including dating, work, and other social interactions.  In marriage, it is important to realize that our priority relationship is with our spouse, so pruning will occur to build a stronger and healthier marriage.

I remember one working relationship that I had where God used pruning in an amazing way.  Early in my career I worked for Mr. R for about a year before I was promoted into another area.  Mr. R was a rather big personality.  He could be a schmoozer when he needed your help, but he was a rather cantankerous individual on many occasions.  Within a few years I was promoted again and now I had Mr. R working for me.  In my new role, the big personality that was merely a distraction when I worked with him, became a serious thorn in my side as a member of my team.  We worked together for about 6 years and there were so many times when he pushed me to my limits.  Interestingly, God wouldn’t let me stop loving this man even though he frustrated me to death.  I distinctly remember leaving a confrontation with him one day heading to my office as angry as I ever remember being.  I was going to begin official discipline.  But as I got to the stairwell, the Spirit of God overwhelmed me with love for this man, even while I was still stewing over his impertinence.  Prayer and serious pleading with God ensued.  Interestingly, it was not long after this that Mr. R retired.  A pruning occurred.  But that is not the end of the story.  While he was out of my life, the hours of prayer and sharing the faith had not been in vain.  Mr. R found himself in a serious life crisis a few years later and in the midst of this, he came to faith.  We renewed our relationship and I was blessed to find that God had worked a miracle in his life.  He was a new man.

Pruning is now one of the first chores I tackle each spring.  I realize it accomplishes more than I ever imagined.  And if I sense the Father pointing to areas in me that need pruning, I don’t pull back any longer.  I submit to His good work.  “Lord, you are the Master Gardener.  Accomplish Your good and perfect will in me.  Prune in the manner I need.  To You be the glory!”  

Be blessed today and be a blessing!


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I just stepped outside into a beautiful, crisp late winter morning in the South.  The birds are singing a joyful chorus as a red hued ribbon on the eastern horizon foretells a bright sunrise in the next half hour or so.  A few wisps of fog in the low spots provides a reminder of the rain yesterday.  I am able to linger a few minutes to soak it in and praise our heavenly Father for His great goodness towards us.  As I do so I realize again what a blessing it is that we have a good, good Father.  A loving Father who has a plan for us that He will bring to fruition, even if the path to blessing means we won’t always get what’s fair.

A little over 14 months ago I was fired from my leadership role in a fairly large manufacturing plant.  It wasn’t fair.  It took several days before the anger dissipated.  I knew the right thing to do – to trust the Lord, pray for those who spitefully use you, look to the future and not back, etc.  In fact I had encouraged others who had gone through similar situations with these words, but I hadn’t personally experienced anything quite this intense before.  The issue was not in believing that God was eventually going to bring good out of the situation.  The problem was the unbidden thoughts of all the time, effort and sacrifice I had put in to build a successfully performing team only to have it taken away without even an opportunity to state my case.  Before I knew it in the courtroom of my mind I had witnesses lined up, my case presented, and a clear verdict against the ones who had fired me because – IT WASN’T FAIR!

The funny thing is, every time that my mind would go through one of those cycles, the Holy Spirit would whisper to me.  “Are you going to trust Me?”  Fourteen months later, I am soooo thankful the Lord stuck with me and continued to encourage me to trust Him.  Because I did.  And each time I did it was a little longer before I would have another pity-party and the pity-party would be a little less intense and a little shorter.  Within a month or two it had become a habit that as soon as a thought along those lines would come, I would squash it with.  “I trust you, Lord!”  and I would often have a scripture come to mind to go with it.  “I thank you Lord that you are for me and not against me.”  “I thank you Lord that the plans you have for me are to prosper me and not to harm me.”  “Thank you Lord that you are my God who takes hold of my right hand and says to me, ‘Do not fear: I will help you”.

Let me add parenthetically, that I know, I was buoyed by the prayers of God’s people.  It is a wonderful mystery to me that I fully recognize to be true, God allows us to partner with Him through prayer to change things.  There were a lot of people praying for me.  Several of the folks that I had worked with kept in touch and let me know they were praying.  My family is filled with believers and they upheld me in prayer.  And God, in His marvelous, omniscient timing, had prompted me to start the process to getting much more involved in the Care Ministry at our church just before all this happened.  So that when I was fired, I was immersed in a group of loving, caring, praying people.

Today, I can honestly say, I am in such a better place.  First and foremost, my walk with the Lord and the time with my wife is so much better.  The mountain of stress that I lived under (and that was killing me – literally.  See my blog about my heart issues.) was removed.  While I assumed in that transition time that I would see a little bit of a drop in my income before I started making a comparable salary, I was mistaken.  I didn’t come close to making a similar income.  But even so the stress never returned.  Amazingly, the stress of living on substantially less has never arisen.  It is another mystery, because we eliminated some expenses, but it really doesn’t add up to our lost income, but we still are having all our needs met.  God has consistently provided exactly what was needed.

Another very interesting point occurred about 3 months in.  The day I was fired, I called a friend who owns a consulting business doing what I do.  I had a sense I was supposed to work for his company.  And over time, we have developed a great working relationship and I am now getting fairly regular work consulting.  But the process of bringing me on took several months.  I went most of last year without paying work.  So I went through the process to get unemployment.

One thing I learned, is if anyone thinks it is easy to get unemployment, think again.  The process is pretty rigorous and includes a number of checks along the way to prevent milking the system.  I can see how dishonest people could still cheat, but it isn’t a cakewalk.  I had spent several hours getting set up and then, as I was ready to apply, the Lord whispered to me again, “Are you going to trust Me?”  I have learned that when the Holy Spirit gives us a check in our spirit about something, we should listen.  I had been pursuing the unemployment compensation because it was my right.  As several friends pointed out, it wasn’t really just a government handout, but something that I had been paying into for years so it was appropriate for me to get it.  But I realized the Lord was telling me “No” to getting the unemployment.  So I walked away from it and never drew unemployment.  It was just after that that I got my first week of consulting work.  Over the next few months I got about a week a month.  The last quarter I got 6 weeks of work.  As of this writing, I am looking at about 3 – 4 weeks per month for the next few months.

Now I have spent a lot of time talking about the financial side.  I was raised in a time and environment that emphasized my primary role was as provider to my family.  While there are a number of areas where losing your job hits you, the biggest for many will be the perceived failure as provider.  Losing my job took me to a place where the Lord was able to show me that I was not the ultimate provider for my family.  I have said this was true in the past and, in individual situations where circumstances dictated that I could not control of the outcome, I had submitted to God’s role as provider.  In this year long trial though, we have experienced His consistent supply of all our needs and even a majority of our wants.  It has been liberating in a way I had never really anticipated.

My life, and that of my wife and family, has been amazingly impacted for the good through my getting fired.  While it may not have been fair, it was definitely for the best.  It has strengthened my faith in ways that I could not imagine.  God, who I already knew and acknowledged as my Lord and Provider, has been able to demonstrate the absolute reality of His love and provision in tangible, practical ways for months now.  And He has clarified for me what our role is as His children.  We are to trust and obey.  Even if it means we don’t always get our way.  Even if it isn’t always fair.  When we put our whole faith and trust in the Lord, we will sometimes miss out on what’s fair to get what’s best.  And that my friend, is a pretty good deal.

Be blessed today and be a blessing to the people God puts in your life today.


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God is calling us ever upward.  Every moment of every day is an opportunity to grow closer in intimacy with the Lover of our souls.  God is Omni-present and He will condescend to meet us wherever we are when we cry out to Him, but His intention is not to leave us in the muck and mire that life can become.  Rather His desire is to restore us into right relationship with Himself and within His creation.  He wants to bring us closer to His heart and our eventual home.  That is His desire for each one of us.

As we grow in Him, we have the amazing privilege of being His partner in bringing about this growth in others.  That same love which he lavished upon us to bring us to repentance and faith, becomes resident in us as we grow closer to our Father in faith and obedience.  That love is the motivating force behind our faith response toward others.  God wants us to be His hands, His feet, and His mouthpiece to a lost, hurting, and dying world.  As caregivers of God’s love, there are a few “next steps” which align us with His working and will enable us to be His hands, His feet, and be faithful in speaking His Word.

Intimacy with the Father only comes as we dedicate time to be alone with Him.  I went to church regularly all my life prior to a conversion at age 23.  While this established a basic worldview that included God in it, it did not establish the intimate relationship with Him that came later when I made it my #1 purpose to know Him and to follow Him.  I encourage you to set aside specific time every day to seek God in prayer.  And when you pray, with a bible open, listen to what He says to you, where He takes you in His Word, and what He whispers into your soul.

A solid knowledge of the Word of God is paramount to accurately discerning God’s voice and His instructions.  The Holy Spirit will never guide us contrary to His Word.  It would be nice if once we came to faith we always sought out God’s will and did it immediately.  However, while our debt is paid in full and we are justified through God’s amazing grace, the sanctification process of our lives becomes a life-long endeavor.  We are still in a battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Sanctification is our co-labor with God to bring every aspect of our being into consistent obedience to Him.  As we grow and we read the Word of God it becomes a living reservoir of truth within us.  That truth, when acted upon in faith, becomes a rock-solid wall of defense against the enemy and a stairway in taking our next steps closer to God.

The final next step is a broad one.  It is putting into practice all that God shows us in our intimacy with Him and through reading the Word.  Obviously plugging into a vibrant church is essential.  We are a part of Christ’s body, the Church.  God gave His Son to die for the Church.  The Church is the bride of Christ and as such it is most precious to God.  Giving of our time, talents, and resources to the Church is an act of faith and good stewardship.

In the book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Lion, Aslan, is representative of Christ.  He is good, kind, wise, and in the climactic moment He purchases the redemption of all through His willing self-sacrifice.  However before this happens there is a conversation that is telling between Mr. and Mrs. Beaver and Lucy.  The children are new to Narnia, drawn into this magical land of perpetual winter and talking animals through a mysterious wardrobe.  The children have heard of this great Lion-King Aslan, but they have not yet met him.

Mrs. Beaver said, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver, “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?  Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.  He’s the King, I tell you.”

As we grow in Him, the Lord will call us out of our comfort zone, out of where we feel safe, and into deeper faith.  He is alive and His desire is for His life to be made manifest more fully in His people.

The following are some practical steps to being effective care-givers.

  1. Pray in the days leading up to the care-giving opportunity.
  2. During the service, pray for the response.  For me the worship at the beginning of the service is a wonderful time and place to offer up prayers for the message, the messenger, and those the Lord desires to reach with the message.
  3. If you are in the atrium as the service ends and no one directly approaches you, ask the Lord to show you if there is someone who needs care and prayer, but is hesitant to ask for it.
  4. Approach anyone you feel the Holy Spirit nudging you toward and simply ask if you can help.  There are several different ways to phrase it,  “Hi, my name is ____.  Can I help you?”  “Would you like to speak with someone?”  “Would you like to talk to someone about today’s message?” “That message really spoke to me.  What did you get out of the message?”
  5. Listen in anticipation of God providing specific direction as you move into a care-giving situation.
  6. When you are with a person who is sharing their need listen to them intently, while also being open to the Holy Spirit to give you insight.
  7. If you are the second in a conversation, be in prayer for both the guest and the primary.  Be specific in your prayer asking the Lord to give clarity of the need and wisdom in the care response to the need.
  8. The care and how it is given will vary dependent upon every situation.  It should always be delivered in love and usually with abundant gentleness.
  9. One of the requests we make in prayer is for clarity on recommended next steps.  While confession, repentance, and encouragement are all important activities that take place in the Care Room, pointing the person(s) toward their next step is crucial.
  10. Weigh what you believe you are to share with someone against the Word of God.
  11. Share what you have been given to share.  Be concise.  Do not belabor the recommendations, but speak as clearly as possible.
  12. Request help if you are in a conversation that gets too deep for you.  Stay in the conversation, but if it is a subject that you do not feel equipped to address then give another caregiver the lead and you become the second, praying as described above.
  13. Pray with the guest as the Lord leads.
  14. Fill out the card and re-emphasize the next step captured on the card.
  15. Follow up.  This includes contacting them and praying for them.  For many you will only have a week or two of follow-up contact, but be open to the Lord leading you into a bit longer of a season of care.  I had two extended seasons of Care last year and they were absolutely amazing.
  16. If you are in the Care room and you do not get a conversation, understand that your role this day may be to give prayer support to those who are in conversations.  Look around the room and listen / look for the Holy Spirit to prompt you to pray for a particular person or a particular care conversation.

As we step out in faith, whether it is to stand during an invitation time, or to reach out to someone we sense is hurting, God is present with us to accomplish His work.  While it isn’t always safe and we may misinterpret God’s leading in a few instances, being willing to be obedient is how we take our next steps.  And God knows and honors that obedience with spiritual growth.

May God bless you richly today and as you seek to grow in His love and grace.

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Intimacy with God grows as we are obedient. When we discern His voice, confirm it with the Word, recognize the affirmation in our spirit, and do what He says, we take a step in maturity.  Much of what He asks of us will either align with loving Him with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength or loving our neighbors as ourselves.

I once thought this meant a lot of hard work – hours scouring the Word, knees raw from prolonged prayer, exhaustion from tackling every opportunity of service to others. In my exuberance I was the energizer bunny Christian rushing here and there doing everything that I imagined a good follower of Jesus might do.  There were many spiritual high points and I am confident that along the way the Father has taken my offering and used it in furthering His purpose.  But I also see I have sometimes bowled over people, stepped on toes and generally left a wake of damage that I did not intend.

So if hard work was not sufficient to ensure godly growth, what are we to do?  The answer is that we begin by focusing less on doing, at least at first, and we seek to be who God created us and saved us to be – His beloved child.  Like an infant, our growth is a process that is best measured in gradual milestones.  The first step in a child’s development is the recognition and bonding of the child to the parent.  Developing the connection and deepening the familial bond is our first priority.  While this will last our entire life, it is our most important task when we first begin to follow Jesus.  In the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians we learn that Paul, one of the most learned of men, headed into the wilderness of Arabia for an extended period immediately after his conversion before launching into full time ministry.  We do well to emulate his progression of seeking God’s face and guidance before jumping into “doing” for the Lord.

In time the child begins to communicate.  Again their primary source of communication is with their parents. Long before the child can begin to verbalize their own thoughts into words, their parents are talking to them, singing to them, reading to them. Our Father God is doing the same with us.  He loves us and He communicates that love in myriad ways.  This past weekend as I finally decided to rise from a particularly restless night, the Lord whispered in my spirit, “Come let me kiss you.” As I slipped into the front room of our house and the warm rays of the early dawn struck my face, I knew my Father was kissing me, His presence overwhelmed me, and it was good beyond description.  As I sit on this plane between two passengers absorbed in their own world, I can still feel the Father’s touch.  I know He is with me.  I know He loves me.  Oh, I am a fortunate and blessed man!

As I basked in the Father’s touch He spoke to me many things. Some were very personal and I don’t need to share those now except to say, He knows us intimately and He will speak to us intimately as we choose to make Him our Lord and the center of our being.  The one thing that He spoke that I recognized as for this blog was His call to obedience.

Continuing the metaphor of a child to parent, as we continue to grow in the Lord, we will be given increasing responsibility.  God will continue to pour into us His life, His light, His wisdom, and His heart.  As these become established in us, His vision and His call arise. There is a universal aspect of His call – reach the lost, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, encourage the down-hearted.  But in our growing intimacy He will be specific with us: the co-worker that the Lord brings to mind repeatedly, the message that powerfully reminds us of a particular need that we can meet, the phone call that comes when you are praying, “Lord use me.”

Response to the universal call is a good thing.  Response to our specific call is the best thing.  As I write this a picture comes to mind.  The Grinch provides an excellent illustration.  He had stolen every single bit the outward manifestation of Christmas from the Who’s.  Yet when he heard the Who’s still singing their joyful Christmas songs, he recognized the reason we celebrate is so much bigger than the gifts and food.   It is the reason for the season – Jesus.  His undersized heart grew 3X at that moment and he responded in abundant measure.  This same thing happens to us.  When, in our intimacy with the Father, He speaks and we enthusiastically receive and respond, our heart grows.  We are blessed as much or perhaps even more than those God has prompted us to love.

Today I encourage you to go deep with God.  Let His love embrace you.  Listen to His whispered words of love and let them wrap around you and fill you.  As you snuggle into His embrace, listen for your next step.  His call is a life in Him and with Him.  As you grow He will give you ”kingdom tasks” to accomplish IN HIM.  He is the King as well as our Father.  As such we are princes and princesses of the kingdom, living and working under our Father’s authority.  That is our blessed privilege.  Our growth and our Father’s favor are the fruit of our obedience.

Have a blessed day my friend as you live in intimacy with the Lord and walk in faithful obedience.

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