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Archive for the ‘God Stories’ Category

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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I experienced one of those “ah ha” moments this weekend.  I was speaking with a new friend about God’s goodness and blessings.  We had taken turns sharing how God had, in His grace, provided healing and protection at different points in our life. It is good to take time to remember God’s faithfulness in the past because it is a helpful reminder that when we face a trial of any kind, that God, Who has been faithful before, will be faithful in the future.

My eyes were opened to a new perspective when she shared about praying for a woman for healing on multiple occasions.  The person was very vocal about her need.  She carried her pain and woundedness around constantly asking for prayer and comfort.  My friend had prayed for her and had even gathered a group together to pray for the woman.  After some time of praying though my friend sensed the Holy Spirit tell her that it was time to stop praying.  That the woman being prayed for didn’t really desire to be healed, but rather she wanted the attention and sympathy her illness brought her.

When she said that I suddenly realized what a big truth that is.  ‘When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. ‘  James 4:3  What pleased this woman more than receiving God’s healing was being the center of attention.  She had become comfortable in her condition and was satisfied with the sympathy of others.

The picture that came into my mind was of a person lifting their hands to God in supplication asking for a gift from Him, but their hands were full of tightly clenched “other stuff”.  Even if God offered to give what was requested they would have to release what they currently had to receive the gift from the Lord.  And many are not willing.

Lest you mistakenly think I am condescending in this, please know that the hands I am seeing are my own.  This is not simply a believer versus non-believer issue.  This is true of all gifts and all growth in faith.  As a believer I have grown by steps and stalls.  I can see that some of the stalls have been when I have tightly held onto a thing, a desire, a belief, that the Lord wanted me to lay down.  And the steps have been when in obedient trust I have released and lifted open hands to Him for whatever He has in store.  In some cases it was a blessing pure and simple.  In others it was a blessing disguised as a trial, but a blessing none-the-less.

For the person who does not yet know the Lord, the things they hold onto can cause them to miss out on the greatest gift of all, a relationship with the living Lord.  Holding onto pain from the past, unforgiveness toward someone, lifestyle choices contrary to God’s plan are all abundant life limiters.  The Lord is a good, good Father.  He is perfect in how He parents.  He is neither over-indulgent nor overly stern.  And like any good Father, He enjoys blessing His children.

Today, I encourage you to ask the Lord, “What is it I’m holding onto that I need to release?”  And then listen… and obey.  The second question is then totally appropriate.  “Lord, what do you want me to receive?”  The follow up to this question is a bit more open-ended.  He may answer that long requested prayer… or put a new desire in your heart… or simply bless you with His overwhelming peace.  Regardless, you can know that in releasing what’s in your hand, you make room for God’s “something better” in your life.  And that’s the path to the abundant life He desires each of us to experience.

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As Jesus followers we have access to the most powerful force in the universe.  Paul writes about it in his salutation to the church in Ephesus.

‘I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, ‘   Ephesians 1:18-20

My last post discussed how our emotions can lead us to believe a lie.  There is so much information being disseminated that is not accurate, whether intentionally or simply in error, that it is easy to absorb, believe, and emote based upon untruth.  Once we have believed a lie, especially when it has evoked strong emotion, it becomes easier to believe supporting lies and harder to discern the truth from the lie.

I do not believe it coincidental that the word in my quiet and prayer following that post was power.  Repeatedly yesterday the reality of God’s power was emphasized… beginning with God’s power demonstrated in raising Jesus from the dead, continuing with the power Jesus exhibited in healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead, and ministering to the humble and meek.  That power was then compared to our sun which provides our light, warmth, and sufficient energy to sustain life on this big, blue ball we call home even though it is over 93 million miles away.  While the sun in powerful, the One who created it had to be even more powerful to create it and all that is.

Finally, I saw the power of God in the ability to change a mind… to direct us onto the right course… to deliver the opioid-addict and bring them to health and wholeness… to turn a prodigal toward home… to open our eyes to the lies and half-truths we have embraced and to see and seek truth… to bring us ever closer to Him Who is the Lover of our souls.

That same power is continually available to us as Jesus’ followers.  We are encouraged to embrace that truth and to allow Him to guide us into how He wants to make that real in us and through us.  You are saved for a reason – to know Him and to make Him known.  The Holy Spirit living within the believer is the direct connection to God’s power.  In Jesus’ last recorded words before His ascension into heaven He said,  ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” ‘ Acts 1:8

I encourage you this morning to lean into Jesus more and more.  Trust in His power which saved you, sustains you, and guides you.  Read the Word and allow the truth of it to saturate your mind and spirit.  As you do so, you will become more aware and dependent upon His wisdom, His grace, and His strength to live the life He has called you to.  You will learn to discern His promptings and respond to them.  I have been fortunate to participate in miracles He has brought about.  My role was 1% of the work which was accomplished simply by being obedient to what I sensed the Holy Spirit wanted me to do.  It was God’s power that did the work – healing in some cases, deliverance in others, salvation at times. In every case God was glorified and people were blessed.

Wherever you are in your faith walk, God has next steps for you which are for your good and His glory.  He will not leave or abandon you, but rather He is right there with you encouraging you to take that next step.  I don’t know exactly what your next step is, but I know God is cheering you on, whispering words of peace, hope, and guidance.  Let today be the day you take that next step in faith.  Let today be the day you take hold of the power Paul said is available.  Let today be the day you experience joy in a new and exhilarating way.  Seize the day my friend by saying yes to Jesus and stepping out in faith.

If you are interested in watching some excellent sermons, our church broadcasts the services on Sunday and they are also saved and accessible free online.  Just go to newspring.cc/sermons.  We are in a series on the Holy Spirit right now which is very balanced and biblically accurate.  Check it out.

With the benediction today, I think I will do a throw-back to the 1970’s and say:

“More power to you!”

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During this season of Lent, the 40 days preceding Easter, I have undertaken to write 5 posts a week.  I have been blogging for about 7 years now.  The posts have definitely ebbed and flowed.  It’s exciting when I am inspired to write and share God-stories with you or wisdom that I sense the Holy Spirit bubbling up within my spirit.  There have been times though when I purposed to write and it has been like trying to draw water from a dry well.  I notice I have 35 drafts that were blog post starts that have not made it.  Setting the expectation of writing 5 posts a week is the type of challenge that has, at times, caused me to encounter the dry well.  That is what happens when we operate in our own strength.  But this season is turning out to be something different… something richer, an altogether new and exciting experience.  I believe I understand why and it’s today’s topic.

This morning as I awoke I immediately entered into prayer and meditation about what the Lord would have me share.  Okay, truth be told, my first alarm at 4:30 woke me and I started praying and meditating, but staying in the bed also meant the second alarm at 5 is what actually got me fully awake and out of bed.  One of the things I have been praying for is greater understanding on why the Lord has me in this wonderful season of clarity for hearing His voice and sensing His leading.  It seems He gave me at least some insight this morning.

During this morning’s prayer I had this visual image that was very pleasant.  Over the years we’ve bought Christmas decorations during the post season sales.  It turns out we have about 1.3 miles of white Christmas lights.  The visual image began with the site of our typical Christmas tree with two or three strands of lights on it.  It’s pretty with lot’s of ornaments made by family members and little points of light interspersed about.  You can clearly see the tree, the ornaments, and little glowing spots.  But then the image changed.  Suddenly the tree was wrapped with the entire 1.3 mile strand of Christmas lights and we had an entirely different situation.  You could barely see the tree because the light emanating from it, but the shape was there.  The little lights that had highlighted the bobbles on the tree previously now were illuminating the entire room with a bright and joyful light.  Everything was richly aglow with light coming from the light-filled tree.  That’s when the Holy Spirit spoke this morning and said, “Be Filled!”

That short phrase rang familiar and I looked it up.  In Ephesians Paul is giving exhortations to the Church and the phrase shows up.  ‘Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. ‘  Ephesians 5:18-20

That Christmas tree was filled with light and I can see an amazing lesson in it.  I am in a season that I hope never ends.  In fact I hope it is not a season, but the result of progress in being transformed.  It’s the transformation that we are all called to in Romans 12:1-2 ‘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.”  I have been a Jesus follower for a long time.  I have experienced the clear leading of the Holy Spirit on various occasions and it always gives me great joy.  But all my previous experiences have been more like our typical Christmas tree with little points of light interspersed here and there.  The light was visible, but the tree was still the predominant feature.

But lately, I have been sensing the Lord’s hand upon me, guiding me with a greater frequency and clarity than I have ever experienced.  Continuing the metaphor, additional strands of light are being wrapped around me and more light is shining through.  Halleluia!

At this point a little insight into what’s been happening inside of me may be informative in your walk with the Lord and desire to Be Filled.  As I mentioned earlier I have been a Jesus follower for a long time.  I have tried to be faithful in every area.  I would have seasons of additional focused attention in reading the Word, prayer, loving my wife and family sacrificially, etc.  But I have always been a busy person too.  I have worked in stressful jobs, long hours, lots of responsibilities.  And I’ve tended to be as busy as my work life allowed outside of work… youth leader at church, scoutmaster, soccer coach and active parent, small group leader, etc.

The past few years as our children have reached adulthood and begun families of their own, my wife an I have found ourselves with a little margin in our lives.  We’ve added a bit of travel to our lives which has been fun.  But last year’s trip was interrupted when I broke my shoulder.  If you have read that story it a pretty good one and it is informative to the point I’m making.  With the broken shoulder I was not making any income.  I work for myself and I don’t have supplemental insurance.  So we could have been in a financial difficulty.  But all through that season of being out of work the Lord kept telling me, “Trust Me.”  “Rest in Me.”  “Relax and Lean into Me.”  All words of encouragement for me to let go of my striving and busyness.  So I did.  I used the down time to read more, both the bible and great teaching books.  I also was able to serve more.  It has been such a blessing to get to know my care pastor at church better.  And I’ve definitely prayed more.

Breaking my shoulder provided an opportunity.  It was the prompting of the Lord, definitely subtle at first but growing stronger every day, to pick up different spiritual disciplines that got me to a stronger place.  There are “okay” things I could do that I find I am doing less.  I have not completely cut out activities like going to ball games or watching a good show on TV.  But those things have diminished greatly and anything questionable has been dropped completely.  I travel a lot for my work and since November I have been back on the road a lot.  But the TV doesn’t come on.  I’m now drawn to pray, read the Word or an edifying book, or work-out (which includes prayer and meditation).  It seems to me that with each time I am faced with a choice of doing something okay, I am pausing to see if there is something else the Lord would have me do.  If there is, I am tending to do it.  And each time I respond following that leading to do the thing I sense the Lord directing me to, there is greater clarity the next time the Holy Spirit prompts me to do something.

Before I head to the close today, I need to tell you about the other scripture the Lord brought to mind right after He said, “Be Filled.”  Since I knew the topic was “Be Filled” I threw off the sheets and popped out of bed.  But as soon as my feet hit the floor I thought of the widow of Zarephath.  Here’s her story.

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.” “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.” Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord , the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’ ” She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah. ‘  1 Kings 17:8-16

As long as the woman continued to use the oil and serve the Lord and the ones He brought to her, the jar of oil was filled.  When we follow the Lord’s lead, when we minister when and where He guides us, we will be filled.  There is also something important about what I shared in my life over the past several months.  When I have the opportunity to use my time in different ways, I ask for His guidance and then follow it.  I have been engaged in spiritually edifying activities more, but not to the exclusion of family, friends and other things.  (A topic for a future post will explain how in my past I engaged in activities that should have been spiritually edifying, but I did so in a more legalistic manner without proper regard for family, friends, and the leading of the Holy Spirit.  They tended to fill my head with knowledge, but my spirit was unfruitful.)

This week has been as eventful in a positive way as most recently.  There was a great meeting with the Group’s pastor at church.  You expect those to go well, but there is a qualitative difference between a good meeting and a spirit-led meeting.  It was a spirit-led meeting.  Then I had to drive 200 miles to a plant for work.  I stopped to get gas and a coffee since it was an early morning drive.  As I got back in my truck, the Lord said, go tell the cashier, “It’s All Good.”  Yes, I questioned Him a couple times on that one.  I almost turned the key to back out.  Just thinking about going in I began to feel self-conscious.  But I remembered I had promised the Lord many years ago after I rationalized away a very clear prompting of the Lord that had a tragic end, that I would always obey Him if He clearly asked me to do something, no matter how uncomfortable it might be.  So I went back in .

Wouldn’t you know it, there was now a long line.  Rather than shouting from the door, “Yo cashier lady, God said to tell you, “It’s All Good'”, I decided to buy two bottles of water I didn’t need.  When I got in line, it was obvious she was having a problem doing some task for a customer.  Another cashier came to the adjacent register and started taking customers.  Now I was worried that I wouldn’t get to the right cashier.  I knew who the word was for and I knew what I was to say.  I had no idea how she would respond (although I hoped it would be with an indrawn breath and wide eyes of wonder).  The line kept moving to the new cashier and my cashier kept having problems.  Finally it looked like she was about to finish with her customer, but now I had a new problem.  There was a person in front of me in line.  If she finished, he was going to her and I would have to go to the cashier-who-is-not-the-right-one.  “Lord if you want me to give her this message, please let me go to her.”  It was a photo-finish.  The other cashier ripped off the receipt for the customer and said, “Who’s next” just a moment before my cashier looked up to see me standing in her queue.

I handed her the two bottles of water and said, “I was in here earlier, but when I got in my truck the Lord told me to come in and tell you, (slightly dramatic pause here) “It’s All Good.”  At that moment I kind of wished the Lord had given me something a little more eloquent or definitive, but that’s exactly what He said to say.  So I said it.  Well I didn’t get the wide eyes and gasp of wonder.  But I did get enough.  She looked at me and we made eye contact.  You know how in so many instances people look at you with the dull, unseeing eyes.  Well she really saw me and a little smile crossed her mouth and into her eyes.  I walked out thankful that I had given her the word the Lord told me to give her.  I don’t know what it was about but as I drove away, I was praising Him and praying that His words would resonate in her and that they would accomplish exactly what He knew they were to accomplish.

As I’m typing this I realize those words are pretty good words for me… and for us.  So I close today telling you what the Lord told that middle-aged, seemingly harassed cashier, “It’s All Good!”

Indeed, with the Lord it is all good and VERY GOOD!

Have a blessed day my friend.

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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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Jesus talked about the kingdom of God a lot.  I was told He mentions the Kingdom of God 84 times in the Gospels.  At the very start of His ministry He proclaims in Mark 1:15 “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Mark 1:15 ESV   https://www.bible.com/bible/59/MRK.1.15.ESV  The Kingdom of God was not a future event Jesus was calling people to prepare for eventually.  The Kingdom of God was a present reality He was calling them to join now.  He is still calling people to join the Kingdom and to partake of the benefits and responsibilities of kingdom citizenship.

Some may ask, if God is good and His Kingdom is present now, then why do we still have school shootings, and wars, and conspiracies, and child molesters and on and on.  Two primary reasons come to mind.  The first is God is patient and desires everyone to have an opportunity to hear and respond to the Gospel.  Jesus died so that all may enter into the Kingdom of God.  But entrance into the Kingdom is not automatic.

The Kingdom of God is unique.  God the Father is the King and like all Kingdoms He reigns supreme.  I have studied a bit of history the past few years and one of the realizations that I came away with is just how long civilization has existed with monarchies as the primary form of government.  And under good, benevolent kings life flourished.  God is the ultimate in good and benevolent.  His people are not simply subjects to be ruled, but when we enter His kingdom we become His children.  We are heirs with Christ Jesus becoming daughters and sons of the Lord God.  Unique to God’s family, we enter through a dual process.  In a natural family you are either born into it or you can be adopted into it.  But for God’s family we are both born into it and we are adopted into it.

‘Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” ‘  John 3:1-8
https://www.bible.com/bible/59/JHN.3.1-8

‘For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. ‘  Romans 8:15-17  https://www.bible.com/bible/59/ROM.8.15-17

Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God with His life, death, and resurrection.  The Kingdom of God is a present reality.  But as mentioned in the second paragraph, why are there still bad things that happen?  So God’s mercy is one reason.  God’s plan is the second reason.

There is war in the heavenly realms.  Satan was once an angelic being of high status.  Unfortunately he desired higher status still and pride brought about his downfall.  Since that time he has lead a rebellion against the Lord God.  Humanity is the battlefield.  Mankind is God’s crowning creation.  We are specifically created to be able to choose to love.  That is God’s plan and our purpose.  Satan strives to thwart that.  God will not “make” us love Him because then it wouldn’t truly be love.  And thus we have the reason the Kingdom of God is not fully revealed.  God desires for the Kingdom to be revealed through His children living in such a selfless, loving, sacrificial way that those who are not yet His children will question, will wonder, will be drawn to Him.  He desires that those who don’t yet know Him will become seekers of the Truth behind a people who are manifestly different than the rest.

Being a Jesus-follower for many years now, I can see the Kingdom of God all around me.  But I know it remains obscured to many.  God has called me, along with every born-again child of God, to live in and display the reality of the Kingdom of God right now.  It is not something far off, but here and now.

I thought about today’s post a good bit yesterday as I had a 3-hr drive late in the evening.  I had the title and I had thought about a lot of different things to share about the Kingdom of God, but as I neared my destination, I whispered a prayer, “Lord, give me the words you want me to share.” and I knew He would provide.  As I dreamed last night I met my best friend from high school, Scott.  He was playing in a band.  He had either a clarinet or some other marching band type instrument in his hand.  We haven’t seen each other in quite some time so we hugged and celebrated getting to see each other.  He was preparing for a parade.  I laugh because he told me he was playing three different instruments now.  It was great to see Scott and my heart was full from the visit.  You see, my friend Scott passed away over 17 years ago.  He was an athlete and as far as I know he never played any musical instruments.  But in the presence of the King, he has learned new ways to celebrate and make a joyful sound.

Yes, the Kingdom of God is here right now and it is bigger and better than we realize.

Be blessed my friends.

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