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I visited Agape Hope House in Nairobi, Kenya earlier this month. My thoughts and emotions ran the gambit that first day as we spent 6 or 7 hours with the children in the orphanage and then talked (and prayed) with Oliver and Maggie that day and over the next few days. My thoughts have turned back to Kenya and the children many times in the two weeks I have been home. Today, I hope to convey something of the raw… actually a better word is pure, emotion that God is stirring in me as I pray and ponder what I can do to help… how can I further God’s work in these children’s lives and in the lives of those God wants to use to join Maggie and Oliver, LJ and Danee, Coleman and Serving Orphans Worldwide, and me in ministering to “the least of these”.

 

The smiles belie a sad reality. Opportunity in Kenya is scarce. The path ahead for these children is not well trod. There are many obstacles in their path and the way is overgrown and hardly discernable. Yet smile they do. Because they are children they don’t comprehend how difficult the path ahead is.

  • These children have never slept in their own bed… and yet they smile.
  • These children have never had a birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese, or McDonalds, or the skating rink… and yet they smile.
  • These children have never bought a new piece of clothing or shoes… and yet they smile.
  • These children don’t have a clue what it is like to have your own room, your own bed, your own “stuff”… and yet they smile.
  • These children eat every meal in masse, attend class in masse, go to bed in masse, and generally get attention in masse. With individual attention given by so few to so many, rare is the child who knows the tender love and attention my children (and grandchildren) get on a regular basis… and yet they smile.
  • The mental picture of “Mom” and “Dad” for many of these children is sketchy… and yet they smile. (Thank God for Maggie and Oliver who pour into them as much as they humanly can and who bring some balance to the term Momma and Daddy.)
  • These children have never had anyone wash their clothes, make their beds, clean up their room… and yet they smile.
  • These children have never had a choice of what they would like to eat… and yet they smile.

But, because of Agape Hope House and a few faithful donors these children have hope and a window of opportunity that is greater than their peers living outside the compound walls. The path from where they are may have as many obstacles, but the education, the encouragement, the guidance, and the faith they gain at Agape Hope House equips them to navigate a path to a better life. Today there are those who have walked the path to a better, faith-filled life of adulthood from Agape Hope House. While still a challenging path, knowing that others have taken the path and been successful is in itself a great encouragement. Some of those who have grown into adults with the benefit of Agape Hope have returned to mentor, to support, and to help.

The love of Jesus and the children is the motivator for Oliver and Maggie. They have given their lives to the work. The ½ acre piece of ground with 19 buildings, 140 orphans the day I was there, and a school enrolment of 487 stands as a light in a dark and difficult environment. The contrasts on this day buffeted me. The time of play with the children was just plain fun. The talk with some of the children on how they came to be at Agape Hope tore at my heart. The shy smiles of some and the mugging for the camera by others made me laugh. Noticing the girl sitting alone after doing her laundry while all the others played made me wonder – “what’s her story?” And every time a child slipped their hand in mine or Coleman’s or one of the other adults the bitter sweetness of the moment stung and stirred.

If this touches you, stirs you, or simply makes you curious, please take a few moments to look up Serving Orphans Worldwide on the internet at soworldwide.org. Visit Agape Hope Children’s Home on their page to learn more about the work Oliver and Maggie are doing for children in Nairobi.  Finally please join us in prayer.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ‘ Matthew 25:31-40

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I recently traveled to Kenya to support some friends who are serving in an orphanage and school in Nairobi. It was an awesome trip and I was greatly encouraged by the Davis family’s faithfulness in serving the Lord and the dozens of young people under their charge. I told a friend last night that the trip was amazing, but somehow that word really isn’t sufficient. My wife and I travel for leisure a fair amount and seeing new places, experiencing new cultures, and making new friends is not a new experience for me. My common response is that a trip is “amazing”. This was so much more than that. It was inspiring. It was hard work. It was uplifting talking to LJ and Danee about the work. It was wonderful to hear from the Lord frequently and be able to obey with the encouragement and activity that He directed.

 

It weighed on my heart to see the poverty, filth, and lack of opportunity that is so much more prevalent than in the USA (or any of the places we travel to for fun). But as heavy as that was, the light of God’s goodness in the work being carried out stood out in stark, highly desirable contrast. There are many lessons that I have taken from the trip. Some were fully formed while I was there. Some are still being processed. Yesterday we hosted friends for our home group and the Lord brought a new consideration to light that I want to share today.

Maturing in faith and becoming a seasoned Christian will always include steps out of our comfort zone. In fact, growth as a believer will be an on-going series of steps that progressively move us from a place of comfort and ease into new territory that will often be a little scary and uncomfortable. But it is in stepping into the new that we learn to trust in Jesus’s presence and provision more than our own abilities and strength. I used to think that the word comfort meant ease and leisure. The actual root of the term comfort means “with strength”. Com = with, fort comes from the same root as fortress or fortification – a place of strength. When we are comforted, we are given strength to endure whatever difficulty, trial, or challenge we are encountering. Being comforted is a good thing. Being comfortable is in itself not a bad thing. However, as I have discussed in previous posts, there are times when the good can become an enemy of the best. And God wants the best for His children.

So what is the problem with being comfortable and why does God want us to move out of our comfort zone? The issue is not that God is a killjoy. Joy, comfort, and peace are great gifts He provides. But these are by-products not the end product. The end is a deepening relationship with Him and a greater intimacy with the lover of our soul. It is God’s desire that each one of us grow to know Him so well that we live in constant communion with Him. Prayer without ceasing is more than a pious platitude, it is an accurate description of the life God wants to lead us into. Which is where our personal comfort zone can become a hindrance rather than a good thing.

The Creator of the universe is without limits. His love is truly beyond our comprehension, but He wants us to experience it in ever greater amounts. To do so often means we must let go of our existing beliefs and understanding to experience the next greater level of His love. The same is true of His wisdom, His faithfulness, His mercy, His grace. Each time we let go of our current state of satisfaction and lean into a holy hunger for more of Him, we will experience a stretching and growth that reveals more of God’s nature, and by definition, will result in a degree of loss of the negatives of the world’s perspective. For me personally, this stretching often includes a letting go of self-reliance in some area to gain a greater God-reliance.

I saw this in Kenya. It was evident in my friends LJ and Danee. Masai Village-14It was also true in me. God’s specific word to LJ was “to prepare the land”. The orphanage had fallen into disrepair. Mismanagement had resulted in the loss of the license as a children’s home and much of the 14-acre compound was overgrown with brush and vegetation. The entire family responded to the call to prepare the land. Now for many of us, traveling overseas can be a daunting experience. That increases when the travel is to a third world country. Raise it another notch when we are placed next to the 2nd largest slum in the world. Kibera Children's Center-43Oh, for good measure, take the entire family with children ages 15, 14, 13, and 9 in tow. Kibera Children's Center-53I know very few people who would be able to be stretched that far. But the path the Lord has led Danee and LJ on has been a path of consistent next steps of trusting God as they go a little further out of their comfort zone, only to see Him provide exactly what was needed after each step.

While I was there, I witnessed LJ assuming the new role of overall Operations Manager for the entire compound. By his own admission, LJ is a country boy from rural South Carolina. He did not aspire to running an orphanage and school, but as I witnessed while I was there, LJ and Danee are faithfully doing whatever is required in leading, guiding, and serving the community. And the land itself is beginning to flourish. A ¾ acre vegetable garden is up and growing. Kibera Children's Center-91Soon it will be a major supplement to the food provisions for the 84 children getting their meals at LifeSpring. The livestock are multiplying. The third fluffle of rabbits are being nurtured and rabbit hutches were built while I was there.

 

Chickens roam the grounds during the day with baby chicks sticking close to mama hen for protection. Goats graze on grass where brambles once grew. To support the growing campus, LJ has hired widows and young men in desperate need of employment. The land is well on its way to being prepared.

LJ’s work as an instrument and controls technician prepared him for some of the work. I chuckle though because Google has come to the rescue many times as they encounter new situations they have never dealt with before. (Like letting me know that a group of baby bunnies is called a fluffle!) In one instance they were talking to one of the widows who had been hired to tend the garden. In Kenya all the schools are in English, so if you have had the benefit of attending school you are liable to speak decent English. This widow, who cares for her grandchild in the Kibera slum, knows zero English therefore she has never been to school. Kibera Children's Center-98Trying to communicate to her that LJ had bought four tin sheets to replace the plastic she was living under in Kibera was both humorous and deeply touching. Google translate had to translate into Swahili so the widow could understand that some men would be coming by to help her. Kenyans don’t cry. Stoic persistence to survive doesn’t leave room for expressing much emotion, but the emotion flickered on her face when she realized the act of kindness being done for her. Kibera Children's Center-93

LJ and Danee went to Kenya following the Lord’s clear leading. But following the Lord’s leading and knowing all that we are getting into are often two different things. In some cases, the Father will give us a degree of insight into what’s ahead. I think of Paul the apostle heading to Jerusalem where he would be arrested. God clearly told him to go to Jerusalem. And he was also clearly told that difficulty was ahead. But God gave Paul an assurance that walking this difficult path was God’s will and that God would be with him. Paul was called out of his comfort zone over and over again. In stepping into God’s call out of the comfort zone and into the unknown, Paul grew into the apostle God created him to be. Today the Church is blessed because of Paul’s faithfulness in living outside of his comfort zone since much of the New Testament was written by Paul.

As the Lord opened my eyes to the reality of our growth as believers being tied to stepping out of our comfort zone, I realized all the saints in the Word were taken out of their comfort zone. Abraham left his family, his land, and ventured many long and difficult miles to a “promised” land. There was comfort in the land of Haran, but God’s call was to step out and follow Him. Mary was a young woman engaged to a kind carpenter, when an angel said you have been chosen but it will take you out of your comfort zone. Mary said “let it be done to me as you have said” and she stepped out of her comfort zone and into God’s plan for the salvation of humanity. Jesus was a good Jewish lad, well versed in the law, but God had a plan and a call upon His life. Jesus was unique. He was fully God, but at the same time fully human. Being fully human, He experienced a degree of comfort as a carpenter’s son, then apprentice, and finally working as a carpenter in His own right. But when God said step out of your comfort zone and into my call upon your life He did. Jesus ministered for three years outside of His comfort zone – forty days fasting in the desert, speaking to crowds that wanted signs and wonders, but not necessarily the all-in life with God He was espousing, doing battle with the persons of power and influence who chaffed at His familiarity with God, and finally suffering a painful and humiliating torture and execution at the hands of both Roman authorities and Jewish leaders. Jesus modeled a life of stretching our human boundaries of comfort in faithful response to God’s call to something better, something richer, to life in union with God and His unique plan for each person.

Friends I am deeply stirred that God has a call upon every person into a life that is beyond amazing. He has a call upon you. But it is a journey that will frequently take us out of our comfort zone. God will ask us to step in faith in Him and not in sight by using our own wisdom and strength. We will have to rely upon Him. We will be stretched. At times it won’t be “fun”. At times it will even be difficult. But as we listen and lean upon Him, He will be with us to bring about His good will in us and through us. And this is so much better than the “good” we might experience in the comfort zone. Because it is the best.

What burden or desire has the Lord put on your heart that gets shelved because it is outside your comfort zone?

Where do you see injustice, need, or sin that really pushes your buttons, but thus far you have done little beyond complain about it?

Do you have a passion for something the Word says to do, yet thus far you have not truly considered the possibility of you doing something just because?

Take a few moments and ask the Father to bring your next step into clear focus. Ask with a willingness to take the next step. Realize these will not usually be huge leaps out of the blue, but a gradual revelation where God draws you to a faith place that makes each progressive step a stretch, but doable with a little courage and trust in the One Who has provided for you in the past. For the Davis’ it was a few years walking out many progressive next steps into mission work. For me going over to help them was similar, taking about a year of progressive faith steps. Having been, my faith is stirred to help even more. Will I be more comfortable? Walking in God’s grace and lifted by His love, I reckon I have all the strength a person needs. So the answer has to be yes, but in a new way. When we walk His path, taking new steps into the unknown that He directs we will be comforted with His great comfort. And that is way better than just being comfortable.

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Introspection in context of an on-going conversation with our Creator God is an awesome thing. We were created on purpose by God for a purpose. We are not cosmic accidents. There are plenty of voices that strive to either convince us that we are purposeless accidents or, at the very least, distract us from what our true purpose is. But you and I are divinely created, eternal beings with a God-given purpose. Now many philosophers, poets, and apologists throughout history have contemplated this question. Depending upon their assumptions they differ greatly in their answers. Fortunately, Truth is not as relative as some would have us believe. If you determine to let Truth be your guide and actively engage a discussion with the Almighty, you will be given an answer to the question, “Why Am I Here?” That’s what I’d like to talk about today.

There are a couple life purpose statements that I have heard that I embrace. One is “To Know God and to Make Him Known.” That’s pretty high level, but it is true. Another that has been running around in my mind this morning is “To Do the Greatest Amount of Good To the Greatest Amount of People While I Have the Ability To Do So.” If we give definitions to the terms such as good being helping people to know Jesus and grow in their relationship with Him, then this is a pretty good one. As a Christ-follower, how I fulfill my purpose flows out of seeing what Jesus did and is currently doing, gaining His direction and empowerment, and then doing it.

In the midst of Holy Week, my thoughts have repeatedly turned to Jesus and what His final week was like. Jesus had crystal clarity of His ultimate purpose. He was sent to redeem mankind. That purpose finds its fulfillment in His crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Everything we know about Jesus is aligned with His ultimate purpose. Jesus redemption of mankind is for all generations; therefore He selected a small group of ordinary folks to carry on His message after He returned to heaven. The lives He touched with His simple, yet extraordinary message attested to by the multitude of miracles He performed were further evidence of a reality beyond the mundane existence so many were experiencing. Where it is healthy and maturing, the Church today is faithfully continuing Jesus’ work of redemption.

So why am I here? Why are you here? Have you taken time to figure out your specific purpose? God has a purpose for you that is good. The ramifications of your purpose will resonate into eternity. That is true whether you find and walk in your divine purpose or not. You see, God is sovereign. He knows the length, breadth, and depth of our lives. If we chose to miss out on God’s call upon our lives, He is still weaves this into His plan of redemption. There are eternal consequences for us and many of those in our proximity, but God’s ultimate plan will march on to completion.

Yet, when we partner with God… when we become Jesus-followers committed to living life under the guidance of His Holy Spirit, we will be given God-ordained tasks every single day that further God’s revelation and fulfillment of our purpose. And our true purpose is always aligned with Jesus’ purpose – the redemption of mankind.

Take time to ask the Lord to give you a clear sense of your purpose today. Read the Word with eyes open to what the Spirit says to you about your next steps with Jesus. Understand that your life is to be lived in partnership with God. He knows what He is doing. He knows the role He has created you to fulfill. He will reveal it to you. At times He will lift you high and allow you to catch a glimpse of the bigger picture. Hint, this takes place when we are close to Jesus. At other times we may only see the small circle immediately around us and the view of our purpose narrows in to the faith we can muster to hold tightly to Jesus’ hand while the storm rages. Most days though, my purpose is simplified to living as close to Jesus as I possibly can and loving Him and the people He brings into my life that day the best I can.

Why am I here? It’s really simple. To point to Jesus in every way I can.

Blessings my friends. And let the Lord bless others through you.

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I wonder how many people in Jerusalem realized how special the approaching high Sabbath would be 2000 years ago?  The pivot point of all human history was days away and I suspect no one aside from Jesus really grasped the import of the times.

Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea come to mind as two persons that may have had an inkling, but I am certain they didn’t quite comprehend the plan God had in mind.  The hustle and bustle of the ceremonial season would have been a bit of a distraction to them or to any religious leader trying to discern the course of the itinerant preacher named Jesus.

The political intrigue of the religious leaders and the secular authorities would have kept the insiders guessing.  The young and zealous desiring freedom from Rome were a constant threat for bringing down the heavy heel of the Roman legions.  The Roman and Jewish leaders sought to walk a fine line between some autonomy for the people to continue their religious practices and the rule of Rome.  People were pawns to them and the game they played would have kept them clueless to the miracle of miracles that was drawing nigh.

It would seem the most likely to have some insight into what was about to unfold would have been the common folk who traveled with Jesus.  Jesus had told them on a number of occasions that He had to go to Jerusalem to die.  But they too were not able to put the pieces together in this week of preparation.  Some perceived Him to be the Messiah sent from God, but dying???

Even today, we risk overlooking the importance of what God is doing… here, now.  We have the benefit of 2000 years of history pointing to the validity of God’s marvelous plan.  We have written records that clearly demonstrate God moving, saving, recreating, releasing, and empowering the Church… common folk and noble alike.  All who turn to Him can be saved and given new life.  Jesus is alive and at work RIGHT NOW.

But we so easily miss the best because of all the rest.  Political intrigue… yep it’s still here and many are distracted by it.  Religious ceremony… check, we will have our “bells and smells” and Easter egg hunts, our new Easter clothes and church’s filled with CEOs.  (CEO = Christmas and Easter Only).   Sadly, even Jesus-followers sometimes struggle with perceiving how special this time is because of work or vacation (can anyone say “spring break”), or the pressures of life… each of which demand our attention.

Do you sense the importance of what Jesus did this week 2000 years ago?  Do you sense the importance of what He is doing right now?  It is not my intent to beat you up from afar, but I do want you to consider what Jesus did and He is doing.  I encourage you to set aside time to just meet with Jesus this Holy Week and ask Him to help you see it with new eyes.  We are easily distracted, but this most special time is worth the effort to anticipate and experience with wonder.  God gave us the most precious gift in His Son, Jesus.  Jesus offers us salvation (and so much more) through the gift of His life.  He took our sin and exchanged it for His righteousness on the cross.  In this final week before He submitted Himself to the most excruciating of deaths, Jesus poured out such amazing wisdom.  Check out the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ last week.  Matthew 21 and following, Mark 11 and following, Luke 19:28 and following, and John 12:12 and following.

I have found that my blessing in Easter grows immeasurably when I allow Jesus to help me in Holy Week to see how special it really is.  My prayer is that you too will experience Jesus in a new a fresh way this Holy Week and into Easter.

Blessings upon you today my friend.

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After hitting the huge pothole the car drove terribly.  The steering wheel vibrated in my hands and the entire car had a constant shake.  Driving to the repair shop I was ready for the bad news.  The tires and car were fine.  The pothole had simply knocked my tires out of alignment.  Once they were aligned the vehicle ran as smooth as ever.

The project was a mess, behind schedule and over-budget.  The project manager called the entire team together.  Grievances were aired, apologies given and received, and goals were re-established.  Everyone exited the meeting with a clear sense of direction and purpose.  The project team was aligned and the project proceeded on time and on budget.

The plant was experiencing another motor failure.  But this time the maintenance team took a deeper look to determine the problem.  In the end root causes were addressed and the pump and motor were carefully aligned which resulted in the motor to running smoother and longer than ever before.

The young man in the prison cell was truly repentant of the things he had done.  He hadn’t meant to hurt anyone, but in the end his family and the person he had taken from had all suffered.  As he sat there he considered all he had lost, not the least of which was his freedom.  He had even said a prayer earlier in his life and said he wanted to be a Christian.  But his life was not reflective of the Christian life and he knew it.  He got down on his knees and prayed for forgiveness and asked God to help him live the life he wanted him to.  He began reading the Bible.  He began living the life described there.  When he was pressured, the tendency to return to old patterns of thought and action rose up.  But a whispered prayer, “Help me Jesus” and then thoughts of how would Jesus want him to respond came to mind.  The transformation took time.  But the more he aligned his life with what he read in the Bible, the more peace he felt and the easier it was to do the right thing.

In every case the improvement occurred when alignment was achieved.  One definition of alignment is for different parts to be in the correct relative position, i.e. the four tires of your car, the pump and motor in a coupled machine.  A second definition is the organization of systems or activities so that they match or fit well together.  The project team in the example above is a good example of this.  In the last example of the repentant man, both of these definitions are applicable.

Before we dive into what it means to be aligned with God and His plan for our life we need a little context.  There are essentially three phases in life and they are sequential.  They are the transgression phase, the transaction phase, and the transformation phase.  Sadly, some persons never leave the first one.  A significant number experience the first two phases, but either fail to realize the tremendous benefits of the third phase or they stall in the pursuit of it.  Blessed are the persons who experience all three, especially the ones who experience the first two early and live long in phase three.

The first phase is simply our life before recognizing our deep need of God’s grace.  Paul explains this succinctly in the book of Romans summing it up in Romans 3:22, ‘for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’  The second phase is the glorious doorway into a restored relationship with God by accepting Jesus’ sacrificial death on our behalf.  This is the primary theme of the New Testament.  In one of the very last of Jesus’ exhortations captured in the bible we read these words, ‘Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.’  Revelation 3:20.  Salvation through repentance of sin and accepting of Jesus as Lord and Savior is God’s desire for all people.

But this is where the fun begins.  God has a life full of joy, peace, exhilaration, adventure, literally fulfillment in the richest possible way, in mind for those who seek Him.  When we choose to follow Jesus and allow His Holy Spirit to guide us we are walking in that third phase – the transformation phase.

Lest I unintentionally mislead, the transformation phase is not all pleasure.  Old habits and thought patterns die hard.  Ways of living that are contrary to the life God has called His children to are culturally engrained into us.  We will find that transformation in us means we will swim against the current at times.  It means we will have to deny our natural inclination to satisfy our own desires before others.  And because we live in a broken world we will suffer simply because of that brokenness.

The key in the transformation phase is becoming aligned with God in His work.  I see three arenas where God is at work and we are to join Him.  He is doing a work in us.  He is doing a work in the lives of those directly touched by our life.  He is at work in the World.  Alignment with God in this work is a critical success factor in the results as well as the pace.

There are three primary ways we need to align with God in this transformation.  The first is to read the Word of God and allow God to use it to transform our thought patterns.  ‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.’  Romans 12:1-2.  These two verses must be read together.  The transforming of our mind is not simply a mental exercise.  We are to act upon this new way of thinking.  We are to cease conforming to the old way of thinking and the ways and patterns of the world.  The bible is the Word of God.  It is the stable place we can always turn to for the clear picture of God and His desire for His children.

The second alignment is with the Holy Spirit.  At the transaction, we not only had our sins forgiven, we were given a very great help to live the life of faith.  God placed His Holy Spirit in us to be our guide and counselor.  Jesus talked about this in his final meeting with the disciples before His crucifixion.  ‘And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.’  John 14:16-17,26.

The Holy Spirit is God living in the believer.  Yet He does not overwhelm us.  He is gentle and seeks to lead us into truth and into obedience to the Father.  As we align ourselves with the Holy Spirit’s leading, we will learn to discern His voice.  Obedience brings greater clarity the next time the Holy Spirit speaks.  Learning to tune our hearts to the Holy Spirit also means the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil are muted.  They don’t necessarily go completely away, but the more we lean in and listen to the Holy Spirit, the less frequent and less vocal these temptations are.  The converse is also true.  The less we listen and follow the Holy Spirit, the louder and more frequent the voices of the world, the flesh, and the devil become.

The final alignment with God’s transformation is submission to Godly leadership.  The Church is a big deal to God.  It is so important that it is referred to as the bride of Christ.  Through the Church, God’s transformation of the world is taking place.  The Lord has raised up leaders who have specific responsibilities to fulfill.  As I ponder this, it occurs to me that everyone has a leadership role in God’s economy.  The difference may be in scale, but not necessarily in importance.  The mother of a young child is leading that child and that is vitally important.  As is the pastor of a mega church.  Yet every leader is also a follower of someone else.  Asking the Lord to guide you to a bible-believing church and then aligning with the leaders has placed there is a vital step.

These three alignments work together to create a firm foundation for transformation in me, in the persons around me, and in the world.  Not unlike a stool with three legs, these support us whether we are sitting at rest or standing to reach higher than we can normally reach.  Take away any one of the three and the stool no longer works.

We are created to live in intimacy with God, the lover of our souls.  This life carries with it great blessings, not the least of which is the process of being changed into the whole, beautiful person God had in mind when He created us.  While this process continues our entire life, we facilitate this transformation by aligning ourselves with the Word of God, His Holy Spirit, and Godly leaders.

Feel free to join me in this prayer.

Lord Jesus, we want to live the transformed life you created us for.  We say yes to the work you are doing in us… in our family and friends… and in the world around us.  I offer myself to you anew today.  Take the broken pieces of my life and put them together in the way you know they need to go.  Take the supple pieces of my life and shape them to the form you have in mind.  Reveal the pieces of my life that need to go and then help me to leave them for good.  And whatever is good in me please use for your glory, the world’s good, and my joy.  In Jesus name.

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I was surprised.  We’ve been married for almost 33 years and attended a half dozen marriage retreats and conferences.  We have a strong marriage that has effectively navigated a number of major challenges, always coming through stronger on the other side.  So when we attended the XO Marriage Conference this past weekend, I wasn’t expecting to hear anything new.  I expected to be reminded of biblical truths about marriage that I needed to emphasize and I hoped to be an encouragement to others.   The Lord fulfilled these expectations and, as usual, He went above and beyond.

My “Ah ha” learning was the inclusion of verse 21 in the pre-eminent scriptural description of marriage.  From Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we read.

‘Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.’  Ephesians 5:21-33

The divisions in the bible are a fairly modern literary inclusion designed to aid in reading, marking, and discussing the bible.  They were not in the original manuscripts.  As such, later editors of the bible inserted the chapters, verses, and the topical breaks.  These are meant to help us compartmentalize our thoughts and better remember what we read.  There is an unintended consequence with this though.  In few instances these breaks may cause us to overlook an intended point.  Verse 21 is such a case.  The majority of translations tag verse 21 with the preceding verses and insert a break between verse 21 and 22.  The verses following are referred to as “Instructions for Christian Marriage” or something similar.  While still true and supportive of Christian marriage, these verses benefit greatly from the foundation that verse 21 – “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” provides.

In the past when I read these verses I have seen the two admonitions – wives submit / respect your husbands and husbands love your wives sacrificially.  But undergirding the marriage instructions with this verse to submit to one another literally ties the whole together.

Marriage was God’s idea.  It was ordained from the beginning.

‘The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone… So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.’ Genesis 2:18,21-25

Marriage is one of God’s pre-eminent ideas.  It’s a crucible in which some of God’s best work is done.  A crucible is a bowl used by chemists specially designed to take very high heat.  Into the crucible the chemist places different materials.  Sometimes the elements are crushed, sometimes stirred , often heat is used as well.  In the end the materials are mixed together and something new is created.  In the best scenario, the two materials, which prior to mixing had little clear purpose, combine to form something altogether different and new.  It may be a compound that serves as a new medicine able to save lives or a fragrance that sweetly perfumes a room or a food ingredient that enlivens and pleases the taste buds.  The good outcome is only possible because of time spent in the crucible and the melding that takes place there.

When a man and a woman enter marriage they slip into the crucible together.  In most cases they do so because they have “fallen in love”.  They usually enter with a host of ideas and expectations about marriage.  Some of these may be met.  Some may be discussed and compromises achieved.  But many will remain unmet.  The falling in love phase is not a permanent state for most.  In fact unless the falling in love phase is replaced with Agape love, the intimate feelings will fade, sometimes quite rapidly.  This in itself is a type of heat applied to the marriage.  There are of course numerous other ways crushing, stirring and heat is applied to the marriage – financial strain, medical issues, differences in parenting, not to mention that marriage is the joining of two different people who each carry around their own set of emotional, mental, and spiritual baggage.

Unlike two chemicals that have no choice but to remain in the crucible, people can leave.  They can physically leave or they can emotionally leave, i.e. remote in one hand, beer in the other.  Either way, the potential good the crucible can bring is thwarted because we leave.  Another alternative is to resist and fight.  We do not see the good that can come so we resist the heat and the mixing, the coming together that the crucible can bring about.  Coming back to Ephesians 5:21 when we submit to one another we allow the crucible time to do its work, to blend us into something new, something better than the sum of just two individuals living under the same roof.  As we read in Genesis above – the two become one.

We celebrate 33 years of marriage next month.  We have been blessed with four wonderful children and four grandchildren thus far.  We are part of an awesome church and a great home group of friends that are truly part of our family now.  But we have been in the crucible for more than just one heating.  I know I have at times resisted the lesson in the heat.  Crucible times are not usually pleasant.  But, God, Who is rich in mercy, has always brought us through.  And what has come out of the crucible has been better and stronger than what went in.  Learning to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ is the foundation for living through crucible times.  And there are blessings in store for those who do.

Be blessed and let the God of all grace use you to bless someone who needs it today.

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I woke this morning with a couple mental pictures from the past week rumbling through my mind.  The first was of tweets bashing people who were praying for the victims and families of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.  The second was of another similarly minded person who, after mocking 2nd amendment supporters and those who would pray, screaming, “Do SOMETHING!”  This is truly a gut-wrenching situation because I grieve for those who have suffered and I desire healing and unity in our nation.   There are good things that can be done, but true sustainable results will not be found in a knee-jerk reactions.  All the facts must be accurately shared and a civil discussion needs to be had.  Then I think we can begin to separate ideas that will work from those that are extreme and foolish.

But overarching all this is the real crux of the issue.  When we remove God and personal accountability from the equation we are doomed to poor results.  I was reminded of a journal entry a few weeks back that helps me put this into perspective.  I hope it blesses you.

 

Be Still

 

12-1-17   ‘The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”   Exodus 14:14

 

This verse resonates within my spirit today.  For about a week the Lord has been stirring in me the call, the necessity of His followers to understand how to effectively win in the spiritual war we find ourselves.  In the natural realm we see the conflict manifested between national interests. We see it between political parties.  We see it in families torn by conflict.  We see it between generations, races, socio-economic classes.  But the root cause is Satan’s rebellion against the Lord God.  From Satan’s view point we are pawns in the war.  We are the battleground where he wants to create as much damage as possible.  Why?  Because he knows the Lord values each and every person.  When Satan is able to inflict pain on people, he believes he is striking God, who has become his enemy.

 

God, loves with an everlasting love.  He is patient and it is His desire for people to choose to respond to His love, to seek to enter into a love relationship with Him.  God’s plan for each person is to know and to grow into the fully redeemed and renewed person we were created to be.  It hearkens back to the garden where Adam and Eve walked with God.  That intimacy is God’s desire for us.

 

But to get there, we must pass through this life and the spiritual conflict that it entails.  Today’s verse speaks to a truth that we believers can rest in.  Let’s unpack it a little.

 

This verse is what Moses told the nation of Israel as they stood at the edge of the Red Sea.  The Egyptians had gotten over their mourning about the death of the all first born, the 10th plague brought upon Egypt due to the Pharaoh’s refusal to obey God.  They got over their mourning only to rise up in wrath toward the Israelites who appeared to be wandering aimlessly in the desert.  They mounted their war chariots and stormed out after the Israelites ready to conquer and enslave them again.

 

What a powerful picture of what Satan desires to do to believers.  When we come to faith, we are sealed as God’s children forever.  The Holy Spirit is given to us at our conversion and we are marked as God’s children.  As His children we are Satan’s enemies.  And because Satan cannot reach God directly, he seeks to hurt His children.  Like Pharaoh, Satan wants to punish and enslave us again. 

 

Prior to our conversion we garnered little of Satan’s direct interest.  After our conversion we become objects of his wrath.  Part of the reason is because he targets us as God’s children, therefore his enemies. But also because as God’s children we become the instruments of God’s grace in the world.  We are direct threats to Satan’s hopes and plans.  He wants to rule the world, but believers are God’s representatives who stand against his plan.  Our very presence is a reminder to Satan that his days are numbered, his rule is not total, and his end is certain.

 

He will attack and he is a dirty fighter.  Yet, God is omniscient.  He knows all things including Satan’s plans and desires.  As God’s children, we are called to maturity.  Part of our calling as mature men and women of God is that we participate in the battle.  Evangelism, Intercession, Service, Worship – all our acts of faith are edifying to the body of Christ and militant acts against Satan’s end goal.  Satan wages war against the Church, but he is constrained to those persons he can manipulate.  ISIS, Terrorists, corrupt politicians, elitists, and the anarchist mob are all people ultimately serving the devil’s purpose.  But none of their maneuverings are hidden from God.

 

Through the Holy Spirit the Church is fully equipped for the battle.  But… and this is probably why I am being stirred as I am, it is our responsibility to listen and submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit.  This is both an individual and a corporate responsibility. 

 

Which brings me back to “unarmed” Israel on the sea shore facing the menace of an angry, fully armed enemy army.  In the natural things did not look good for Israel. I am sure many of the people were near panic state.  They had been wandering so the question of where they were going and the clarity of leadership would have been a logical question.  But they had been called by God to this point.  The Lord had demonstrated His power through progressive plagues upon Egypt and protection for Israel.  Even as the battle heated up, God’s care for Israel became more visible and real. And there was the pillar of fire which even now was restraining the Egyptian army. 

 

So, when Moses gave the word, ‘The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”  The people needed only to look at God’s provision thus far and project that onto the current situation.  His faithfulness is not variable, He is always faithful and true.  Even when we are not, God remains faithful.  He loves us and it is His desire and plan that we be conformed to the image of His Son.  When we lose faith, He is ready and willing to pick us up, dust us off, and wrap His love around us anew to reassure us that He is for us and not against us.

 

In this situation the people responded in faith and God unveiled a plan that was as amazing as it was miraculous.  God held the Egyptians at bay and then opened the sea for the Israelites to pass through.  When the Israelites were through He released the sea and the Egyptians were finally destroyed.

 

Let’s go back to the “be still” part the Israelites were called to.  In my minds eye I see the strong wind coming and lifting the waters, but I also see this as taking some time.  The Lord dries up the sea bed.  Yes, He could miraculously in an instant, but again I see this as taking some time.  All the while, the Egyptians are just on the other side of the pillar of fire (night) or cloud (day) trying to figure out how to get to the Israelites.  I suspect their shouts and war cries were heard by the Israelites.  Throughout this time the Israelites had to be still and wait. 

 

This reminds me of Ephesians 6:10-17 where believer’s are encouraged to STAND.  God is the One Who fights for us.  We are to do what we know to do – pray, give, worship, serve, but ultimately when the battle comes, it is God who fights for us.

 

At exactly the right time the ground is dry in the sea bed and the Israelites stream in, through, and out of the Red Sea.  All make it through unscathed.  The Egyptians now are at a fever pitch.  They charge in vowing to destroy Israel in their anger.  But God’s plan is to bring an end to the Egypt phase of their growth and begin the desert phase.  The water crashes down and the Egyptian army is no more.

 

“Be still and know that I am God.”  In every battle there will come a time when we are to simply stand still and know God is in control.  “The battle is mine,” says the Lord God of Hosts.  “I will never leave you or forsake you,” says the Lover of our souls.  “You are my precious child.  I love you with an everlasting love.”

 

Be blessed my friend.  And let God bless through you as you seek to love and serve the LORD.

 

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