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Archive for the ‘Marriage’ Category

I wanted to finish posting pics from our anniversary get-away.  It was a fun way to celebrate 33 years of being married to a wonderful woman who is simply a beautiful person through and through.  Heading to a tropical paradise just as the grip of winter seems to finally be slipping seemed like a good idea and the following pics show off the beautiful island of Kauai where we visited for 2 days at the end of our vacation.

I experienced a downside to this though.  My work travels the next week took me to western New York where the temperature never got above 40 F and it snowed almost every day.  My blood had gotten used to the tropics so I think my suffering (and whining and complaining) were justified and I guess maybe a little amplified.  And my wonderful wife that enjoyed our get-away so much… yeah, all she could do was laugh when I would talk to her on the phone from NY.

Did I ever mention that 34 years ago I prayed for humility right before I met my wife….

Enjoy the pics.

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A recurring prayer for me goes something like this.  “Thank you Lord for all the blessings you’ve poured out on my family and on me.  I don’t deserve it, but I thank you for it.”  And then I wonder why I am so favored.  Now I need to put this in context before I go too far.  We have had our share of difficulties.  Perhaps not the tragedies some have experienced, but difficulties just the same – my wife’s shattered leg in 2012, my near heart attack in 2014, my job loss at the beginning of 2015, my broken shoulder in 2017 to name a few.  Yet, whatever direction I look, I see God’s goodness poured out… not just on me, but on so many people that I know.  He is indeed good… all the time.  And I wonder anew, “Lord why are you so good to me?”  Today as I have thought of this I think I have at least a little different perspective to share.

Being a father for 33 years, I know a daddy’s love for his children.  We just finished souvenir shopping for our four children and four grandchildren.  This is my wife’s time to lead and I dutifully follow.  As I watch and respond to her questions I realize she is seeking the perfect balance.  She wants to get them something they will enjoy, but that is also beneficial.  No to excess sugar and candy, yes to clothing that says laid-back Hawaii.  No to things with sharp edges or that can choke a little one, yes to cuddly and cute.  Since God is the perfect Father, He wants to give us gifts that achieve that perfect balance in our lives.  He knows our talents, our personality, our likes and dislikes.  He knows what is best for us.  His gifts are meant to draw us to himself since a deep and growing relationship with Him is what we are created for.  And just like giving gifts to our children warms my wife’s heart, I sense that God is also pleased when He is able to give us good gifts that bring us joy.  Oh, and when we recognize and give Him thanks, the mutual joy is amplified.

I believe the Father loves to hear us laugh and this is frequently one of the purposes of God’s blessings.  In some cases it may be the only reason.  But at other times God has multiple motives behind the gift given.

Being open to and responsive to the Lord’s leading in gift-receiving and gift-giving is an acquired wisdom.  God will bless us so that we can in turn bless others.  Giving of tithes and offerings is a tangible demonstration of finding our place in God’s economy of blessing.  Less formal but just as important is being open to the Holy Spirit’s leading to provide help for someone when the Lord prompts us to.  Our home group purchased a moped for a young woman in difficult circumstances recently and we know it was a God assignment.  Today we are excited to see what God is going to do through this simple act of passing His blessing on.

There is one other aspect that I believe the Lord wants us to understand about His blessing, but I hesitate for fear I will not be able to adequately explain.  It is that obedience brings blessing.  As we live life the way God desires us to live, we will experience His protection, His provision, and His favor.  The Holy Scriptures contain God’s blueprint for life.  Everything necessary to know how to enter a personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe is there.  However, it is spiritually discerned.  That means God Himself must be living within us by His Holy Spirit for us to read, understand, and apply the truth contained in the scriptures.  Sadly just knowing the scriptures isn’t enough.  The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day were thoroughly knowledgeable of the scriptures, yet they crucified the one the scriptures foretold.

There is a progression in this flow.  The first is to recognize that there is a Creator of all that is.  He has been called many things… El Sahddai, Elohim, The LORD God, Almighty God, but it is safe to call Him God.

Second is to search for Truth.  When we honestly and openly search for Truth, asking God to guide us to Truth we will run into Jesus.  There are numerous reasons this is true, but suffice today I’ll point out the one I know to be true and unassailable.  Jesus’ resurrection proves He was Who He said He was – God’s one and only Son, sent to redeem mankind through His sacrificial death on the cross.

Third, once we recognize Jesus for Who He says He is, it is only right to surrender our life to Him and take up the life He is calling us to.  It is a life of dying to poor life choices, bad decisions, and irresponsibility.  It is letting go of living according to your own agenda and morality and learning how to live a life that aligns with God’s game plan for life.  It is saying yes to Jesus in how we live.

Fourth is to ask Jesus to help us to know Him better and to live the life God desires us to live.  Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to help us live life the way God intends.  He never takes away our ability to choose whether to follow or not.  In fact He partners with us in the work of transformation, but He will do the heavy lifting if we simply turn to Him and ask for His help.

As we live a life of consistent obedience, God’s blessings will flow.  It is not that we are immune to difficulties, but knowing God and trusting Him provides a solid place to stand even when all around is shaking and unsettled.  And when we thank Him in the midst of the hard and difficult, when our suffering is wrapped in thanking God for being with us in the storm, we will know His peace and comfort, which is one of the greatest of His blessings to His children.

As I shared in an earlier post, my wife and I are celebrating our 33rd anniversary in Hawaii.  I am going to post a few more pics of our trip for those who are interested.  The week has contained a snapshot of life.  We’ve experienced a good bit of clouds, rain, and wind.  The conditions were not always ideal.  But through it all God has been with us, showing us His love and care.  We have thrilled with new adventures and quiet times together.  Today the sun broke through and it is gloriously beautiful.  It happened just in time for a morning helicopter ride… with the doors off and a sunset on Waikiki Beach.

Wherever you are in life, know that God loves you and He is for you.  If you are at one of those points of progression that I mention above and you would like to know more, please drop me a comment.  I would be happy to chat and pray.  It’s what I’m supposed to do.  In the meantime, enjoy the pics. and be blessed today.  And don’t forget to pass the blessing on!

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I have a problem that I must confess. I have wanderlust. Wikipedia defines wanderlust as the strong desire for or impulse to wander or travel and explore the world. It has become a passion of ours to see new places, meet new people, experience new cultures, and learn new things. This week my wife and I are on a getaway celebrating our 33rd anniversary. We are in Oahu, Hawaii at a hotel on Waikiki Beach. While most of our trips are planned out a year or more in advance, this one dropped into our schedule 2 months ago when a “deal” fell in our lap. Now wanderlust itself is neutral, not necessarily good or bad. Like any strong impulse though it has the potential of becoming an idol. And this morning a disquiet has settled upon me as I realize I must deal with this reality in my life.

The standard definition of idol is an image representing a deity or god. A little broader definition of idol that better captures the message conveyed in scripture is anything that takes the ultimate place of priority in our life other than the Lord God. When I look around I see many people giving the place of priority in their life to people, things, and experiences other than God. It is incredibly sad to see a child so doted upon by their parents that they begin to actually believe the world revolves around them. In this case the parents often make the child an idol reinforcing the natural self-centered tendency that most of us struggle with. Or the person who is obviously wealthy to the point they lack no material comfort, yet they continue the quest to acquire, have, and hold onto because stuff, or position, or power has become their god. Not only can I see this in others, but when I turn and look inside, I realize this tendency to elevate people, things, or experiences to an unhealthy level still resides in me.

I recognized the uneasiness stirring in me later in the day yesterday as we filled a second day with adventure. Meeting our photography tour guide at 5:20 am to begin a Sunrise Photography tour, we had the briefest of times for our devotional. From then on the day was busy. I laid my head down at 10:00 pm Hawaii time with thoughts of things done, things still to do, plans still to be made. Body exhausted, my mind was still busy, but sadly, God was not in my first thoughts. Honestly, I didn’t pause to really spend time talking and listening to Him much at all.

For me, clarity often comes in the morning and so it was today. It is a real issue and I am ready to deal with it. I slipped out on the balcony about 4:30 am, confessing my waywardness and ready to make changes. The Lord put in mind capturing my thoughts (hence you are reading them now) and to open the Word. As He often does a snippet of scripture was persistent in my mind… “Why are you so downcast, oh my soul?”

I looked it up and had to laugh. Psalm 42 is what I was looking for. I made bold the verses that made me laugh because we are in Hawaii, visiting waterfalls and swimming in the pounding surf. God can be very specific (or in this case Pacific) when He needs to be. At the end I will close with the Psalm since God fully deserves the final word.

You see, God wants us to enjoy good things. He loves people and wants us to love them fully… with His love. He has no problem with our use and enjoyment of things. He lovingly provides them for our benefit and use. And life is made rich by new and varied experiences. God works in these experiences to stretch and grow us. The issue is simply do we have God in the proper place in our lives or is He an after-thought?.. Or is He even considered at all? Are we living a life that makes knowing God and growing in that relationship with Him the pivot point of our life? Are we living in such a manner that others recognize that He is real by the way we live?

I see my disquiet for what it is, a gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit to check my priorities and be sure God was not lost in our enjoyment of this beautiful place. And so, Lord I do. You are my priority. I put my hope in You.

‘As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?”

My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.’ Psalm 42:1-11

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Giving credit where it is due, PSD was in our “Tighten the Knot” Marriage series message by Brad Cooper.  Yet the importance of this resonates in me harkening back to a 5-year long lesson the Lord gave me on my most important role on this earth.  During those 5 years the Father continually brought me back to these verses in Ephesians.  ‘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. ‘  Ephesians 5:25-27  If you are married, your first human relationship is with your spouse.  Men, God has given you the responsibility to partner with Him in His sanctifying work in the woman you pledged to “cherish for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”  You made a commitment to your wife (and to God, if you missed that part) that you were in it for the long haul.  You have signed on the dotted line and the contract is not just valid in all 50 states, but in heaven as well as on earth.  But never fear, God has co-signed this contract with you so success is 100% assured, IF we do it His way.  (Another borrowed thought from Dr. Jimmy Evans in our Marriage series.)

First, we must take a moment to define commit and love.  Both are verbs and despite the dilution both words have experienced in the modern day, they indicate two eternally powerful concepts that God uses to accomplish His divine purposes.  To Commit is to agree to with the full weight of your will to fulfill that which you have agreed to.  Love is to desire the very best for another and to do whatever is required to achieve it for them.  The term love is used in so many lesser ways today, but the picture of love is a soldier sacrificing his life for a another.  The Greek word for this type of love is Agape.  It is the love Jesus refers to when He tells the disciples to “Love one another”.  It is the love He demonstrated in dying on the cross for our sins.  Husbands, it is the love we are called to have for our wives and it is demonstrated in thought, word, and deed.

So, PSD… Pursue, Serve, Die.  There is a phase in boy – girl relationships that is intoxicating.  Dr. Gary Chapman refers to this as the “Falling in Love” stage of a relationship.  It is what causes two people, often very different people, to desire companionship, togetherness, and in the normal course of time, intimacy, while modifying or at least softening, a number of personal likes and dislikes.  In the Falling in love phase, faults become hidden, often with no effort, disagreeable traits meld into likeable quirks, and the object of our affection becomes the epitome of perfection.  This phase can last up to 2 years, but…. and this is important, it is not permanent.

It is critically important that we understand that the Falling in Love phase is not only not permanant, it was never meant to be.  The Falling in Love phase serves an important purpose to get us past ourselves and into the realm of risk, trust, sacrifice and eventually into true love.  I have watched some very good sports teams accomplish surprising results riding the wave of an emotional high, but unless there is something more than just emotion the success is not sustainable.  The same is true in marriage.  Falling in love is emotionally fueled.  It is important to get us to the point that we realize there is such value in the relationship that we begin to move into true Love.

True love is of divine origin. ‘And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. ‘  1 John 4:16  This love is not caught, but received and grown.  It involves the will more than the emotion (although the emotions are definitely engaged) and it takes time to mature.  Let me make no bones about it, I loved before I fully committed my life to the Lord 35 years ago, but only after that did I begin to realize the capacity to love that was now resident within me.  Now I admit I am far from loving to the full, but there are times when His loves breaks through to me, and even more wonderfully, when His love breaks through to others through me.  This is a fundamental calling for Christ-followers, to allow Jesus’ love to fill and overflow us.  But the exclamation point on that is for husbands… to love our wives as Christ loves the Church.

Going back to Falling in love, PSD tends to happen spontaneously during this phase.  Pursue, Serve, and Die happens naturally, but again it is largely emotion fueled.  Just because the emotion fades though, does not mean we should not abandon these.  In fact the maturing and deepening of love is the transition from emotional, almost-without- thought, pursuit, serving, and dying for our beloved, to the intentional, purposeful pursuit, serving, and dying for them.  Once the blinders are removed and we realize that our beloved isn’t perfect… and sometimes isn’t totally pleasant… and they sometimes do, or say something that hurts you… (Note, Honey, if you are reading this I’m speaking hypothetically in our case!)… then is the opportunity for PSD to begin morphing into true love.

As I sit on this balcony in a beautiful tropical location at 4:00 am celebrating our 33 years of marriage, I am able to reflect on marriage to a wonderful woman.  She has demonstrated a deep and abiding love to me and I have been truly blessed.  I realize that over these 33 years, I’ve sometimes gotten it right and made steps in growing that capacity to love.  I also admit, the old man… the self-centered man that I once was, has not completely died.  I see why Jesus said we have to die to ourselves daily, because the old man is a stubborn old coot that keeps trying to assert himself.  But, in our marriages we are afforded the marvelous opportunity to practice love that transforms.  I love my beloved more today that when we first fell in love.  We have weathered storms together, we’ve experienced many joys side by side, and with the Lord’s help we’ve grown much.  The old man has suffered greatly due to the purposeful following of the Lord’s leading to “Love my wife like He loved the Church”.  And the results are the best kind.  We both grow.  We both love better.  We become examples of a love that lasts.  Our lives and our marriage shows to any who wonder, what God can do through two people committed to Him and committed to love with His love.

Be blessed today my friend and be a blessing.

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Chapter 1

The Firemaster stood looking at the blackened pile of charcoal and half-burned wood.  Not a wisp of smoke emanated from the pile.  He knelt and held His hand close looking for warmth… for any sign of life.  His face, usually enigmatic, today reflected the sadness of the lifeless fire-ring.  With a stick He stirred the dead coals, periodically placing His hand close… testing…searching… looking for some sign that heat, even just a little heat remained.  If He could find it, then with it was hope.  And the Firemaster knew that hope is a powerful thing.

The man sat on the bench in the park quiet.  In the distance a couple runners jogged side-by-side, their breathless conversation garbled and mingled with the birdsong all around him.  But the man heard neither the birds or the runners.  Slumped forward, head in his hands, the man was lost in thought.  It seemed like just yesterday that He had been basking in the warmth of the fire.  It had given light to his surroundings, warmth to his body, and hope in his soul.  Yet, now it was gone.  The fire had died and he wasn’t sure exactly what or how it had happened…

The woman lay quietly in the bed.  The alarm had gone off over half an hour before.  She had silenced the alarm that had annoyed her but not awakened her.  She had been awake for hours… thinking, fighting off the sadness, trying to understand.  The fire, her greatest joy for such a long time, was now out.  It had died and just like the dark smokeless pile of fire remnants, her heart felt blackened and cold.  She started to cry again.

The Firemaster continued to stir.  A look of resolve in His countenance, the Firemaster knew that hope remained if He could find just one coal.  A fire, the type of fire that He builds and teaches His pupils to build, is not easily put out.  In fact many have weighed in and said His fire is the most powerful of forces.  Long-enduring, consuming chaff and stubble, His fire is able to refine, purify, and make strong.  Suddenly the tiniest of wisps arose out of the pile of dead coals.  It was just a single wisp, but the Firemaster’s trained eye caught it.  His hand immediately went out to find the subtle temperature difference.  It took only a few moments more for the Firemaster to find it.  A single coal.  As He lifted it to His face, the Firemaster gave a gentle blow on the coal.  The merest hint of color appeared in the coal, but it was enough.  The Firemaster’s eyes lit up.  Hope remained.

The man roused himself, resigned that he had lost something precious, perhaps the most precious thing he would ever know.  While he had hurled accusations and blame for the fire’s demise, the past few hours of introspection had cut through his excuses.  He was given responsibility to tend the fire and he hadn’t.  The Firemaster had taught him not only how to build the fire, but He had stressed the need for diligence in maintaining and caring for it.  Too many distractions, too little tending.

The woman pushed herself out of the bed.  Against everything she felt at that moment, she willed herself to get moving.  Showered and dressed, she still felt the heaviness of the loss, but at least she was up and moving.  Knowing that life would never be the same, she determined to put the thoughts of the fire out of her mind and get on with life.  While she may never again feel the warmth of that fire, she determined to learn from her mistakes and move on.  Mistakes… yes, she could now see her mistakes.  She too had learned the art of the fire from the Firemaster.  She knew that tending the fire was a team effort.  And she had lost sight of that at some point, just like she lost sight of tending the fire.  And now it was gone.

The Firemaster held the coal in a metal box.  Inside the box He put two other coals.  Periodically He would blow a soft breath across them and watch the glow increase.  A slight smile crossed His face.  He waited.

For the man, the days passed in a numb blur.  He continued work, he worked out, he read, but everything, from the taste of food to the perception of the weather was somehow less.  He worked hard to put the thoughts of the fire out of his mind.  But unbidden, the thoughts would come… laughter in the fire’s glow, tender moments shared over the hot coals, warmth from the fire that warded off the cold outside.  In desperation the man decided he had to find closure.  Perhaps, if he returned to where the fire was first lit, he could somehow put it to rest.  If he viewed the blackened pile maybe he could be done with this constant dull ache of loss and move on.

The woman put on her make-up each day and with it went the fake smile to cover up the pain that she had hoped would soon lessen.  Each day seemed so like the last… yet none felt like the days with the fire.  While time had passed, her memory was still keen of the times holding hands and sharing life in the fire’s light.  In fact, in some ways the memories today were stronger than in those final days when she had forgotten the fire and let it die.  How could she have lost sight of something so precious?  Finishing with her lipstick she decided that today she would visit their fire ring and, well… she wasn’t exactly sure, but it had been the beginning of something beautiful once.  Today she would visit to see if visiting could bring this to an end.  Then possibly, she would have a chance to truly move on and, perhaps start something new.

Chapter 2

The Firemaster saw the man coming when he was still far off.  The Firemaster knew this day would come the moment He found the coal that still had life.  The man came with purposeful step.  He was on a mission and the Firemaster could tell it in his step and the grim look of determination on his face.  Yet when the fire ring came into view the man’s step slowed and a look of pain crept across his visage.  The Firemaster allowed the man to stand on the edge of the fire ring a long time knowing that he needed this.  It was a long time coming, this final grieving and closure.

The Firemaster stepped up and spoke.  “It was a great fire.”

The man jumped, not having heard the Firemaster approach.  “Oh, Sir, I didn’t hear you.”  Recovering he said, “It was.  I am sorry that it went out.”

“It died you mean.” said the Firemaster.

“Yes, it died and went out,” said the man.  “I am sorry I didn’t heed your instructions and continue tending it.  It was precious to me… to us, but I lost sight of that.”

“You are half right.  It did die.”

“What do you mean half right?  Look at it.  There is nothing left, no life, no flame, no smoke.  It is dead and out,” declared the man, a note of frustration in his voice.

“It is dead, that is correct.  But death isn’t necessarily the end,” replied the Firemaster.  “The flame is the outward and visible part of the fire.  We look at that and say the fire is alive or dead.  But the fire is more than just the flame.”

“So your saying their was something left after the fire died?” asked the man with hope creeping into his voice.

“There was,” said the Firemaster holding out the box with the coals, “and there still is.”

Wonder filled the man’s eyes as he peered into the box and saw the coals.  “This is from OUR fire?”

“It is.  And as you can see, what was dead is now alive.”

“So what do I do?  Can it create a full fire once again?”

“Do you remember what I taught you?  Can you build a fire?” asked the Firemaster.  Then with a gaze steady he asked, “will you tend it as I taught you?”

The man couldn’t hold his gaze and dropped his eyes.  “I always assumed I could.  That seemed like the easiest part.  I always thought the real work went into starting and building the fire, yet it seems like we handled that without too much trouble.  It was only later that we realized that the blaze we had long enjoyed had gone out.  And then it was only too easy to look across the blackened pit and see what the other had done and not done to keep the fire going.”

A long silence ensued.  The Firemaster watched the man as he stared at the charcoal at his feet.  The hope he had recently felt seemed to have evaporated as quickly as water on hot coals.  He was now pensive and brooding.

The Firemaster watched, considering the man’s thoughtful silence a good sign.  “Building and keeping the fire is a team effort.  But you are 100% responsible for the fire.  You submit to one another, but it is your consistent sacrifice to be aware of and nurture both your partner and the fire that ensures it will never go out.  While you have many things that can occupy your life and mind, there is nothing more important than tending the fire with her.”

The Firemaster’s voice was low and gentle.  There was no accusation in it.  It was a simple summation of what He had taught the man.  Lessons given, but until now, not sufficiently heeded.

“So, you’re saying there is hope?”  He breathed out more as a wish than a question.

“You have the coals.  Why don’t you see for yourself.  Do you remember how to build a fire?”

A slight smile crossed the man’s face.  “Building the fire wasn’t the problem.  Keeping it going was our challenge.”

The Firemaster chuckled heartily, “No, you two built a raging fire at times.  Perhaps you might put as much energy into tending the fire the next time.”

The man was suddenly struck with a thought, “but will she come?”

The Firemaster noting the concern that crossed the man’s face said, “You can only control what you do.  It is of no use worrying about what others think and do.  You are to build a fire and tend it as you were taught.  To do that you need to prepare.  You do remember how to build a fire, don’t you?” a playful light coming to the Firemaster’s eyes.

“Yes, I do.  So I prepare even if she doesn’t return?”

“Son, I have given you the ability to build and tend a fire.  It is a very great gift.  It is my design that you and your partner build a fire together and that your fire burn brightly for as long as you both live.  In fact some fires continue even after.  Not everyone tends their fire though.  Some die and do go out.  I do not take away the privilege or the responsibility to build a fire even though one of you may no longer desire it.”

“You returned here today looking for something… closure perhaps… peace I suppose… maybe a new beginning.  They are all here.  They are tied to your faith that another fire is worth the risk and your courage to begin again.  I cannot promise you who you will build the fire with.  But I can tell you that you are called to build a fire.  And this coal will be your start.”

The man smiled at the Firemaster.  “I am ready, Sir.  I need to gather materials.  And I am going to be sure I have plenty of wood for tending it once it is started.  You said I was good at starting a fire a moment ago.  It’s been a long time since I had to start one, but I will take your word for it.  I suspect you are right.  I also hear your call, your challenge to tend it this time as if it was my sole responsibility.  This I will endeavor to do so.  Do you have any specific wisdom for me?”

“Indeed I do,” said the Firemaster breaking into a broad grin.  “I am always near.  I love to help with fire.  All anyone has to do is call to me and I will be there to help.  So do not forget that.  All you have to do is call and I will be there.”

Chapter 3

The man had just crested a hillside east of the fire ring when the woman appeared from a trail to the south.  She noticed the Firemaster from a distance and quickened her pace.  She was almost running as she got to Him and threw her arms around Him.  The Firemaster returned her embrace, whispering words of comfort as hot tears fell from the woman and onto His shoulder.

“There, there now daughter everything will be alright.  You are fine my child.  I am here with you and you need not worry.”

“Oh, Firemaster, I forgot your words of warning and I let the fire go out.  I failed you… I failed us.  Oh Firemaster it is all my fault,” she cried.

At length her tears subsided and she regained control of her emotions.  His words of comfort were seeping into her, giving her peace and solidity that she hadn’t felt in a long time.

She gently pushed herself back and took a step back so she could look at Him.  “I forgot your teaching Firemaster.  You taught us to tend the fire well.  You even said to beware, that it was easy to assume the fire would continue unabated once we got it started, but that it needed attention and tending.  You warned us that the fire could and would die if we were not careful.”  Another sniffle rose as she said this and the tears threatened to flow again.

“Indeed my child.  I did say that, but what else did I say?  What did I say about the flames dying and the coals?”

The woman was struck with a memory.  “Yes, you did say that the flames were wont to flicker and die, but that we were not to lose hope.  I had forgotten that.  You said that the fire was still in the coals.”

Her eyes brightened momentarily. Then she looked at the fire ring and noticed how dead, cold, and bleak it was.  He countenance fell.  “I have waited too long,” she said.

“Have you?” asked the Firemaster as He pulled the metal box with the coal in it out and held it before her.

Surprise and a questioning look quickly crossed her eyes.  “Is that….?”

“It is your coal, my dear.  You still have hope because a coal yet lives.”

The woman gasped.  Hope, the one thing she kept reaching for yet never quite able to reach was now held in the little box right in front of her.  She looked in, blew on the coals and saw the intensity of the glow increase.  She squealed with delight.

“It is.  I can begin again,”  she whispered.  The faint stirrings of something more… a precursor of joy perhaps, began in her.  She gave voice to her next thought, “I failed in tending this fire.  I don’t want to fail again.  I forgot the most important lesson in tending the fire.”

“And what was that?” asked the Firemaster.  It was like she was a youth again learning the lessons of life and fire building.

She stated it simply.  “Respect.”

“Very good,” replied the Firemaster.  “And what does that really mean?  Is is ‘Yes, sir’ and ‘No sir’ or something else?”

The woman chuckled at the memory evoked.  He had asked her exactly the same thing in her training.  “Well, true fire-building as you taught us is a team activity.  You have given us roles in our relationships. Successful fire-building, and especially fire tending, are hugely dependent upon these roles. My role is to respect my partner and show him how much I respect him by the way I submit.”

She had not thought this clear-minded in a while.  Serious now, she went on.  “You taught us that we are both 100% responsible for the fire.  And we are to submit to one another like we submit to You.  But that mutual submission has these roles that allow us to work in harmony.  It is far beyond simple courtesy, so no, it is not a yes, sir and no, sir sort of thing.  It is more affirming and more genuine than that.”

“Well done… well done, daughter.  I don’t know that you said it nearly that well, or heartfelt, in your training.”

She smiled a rueful smile, “I hadn’t had the lesson punctuated by my fire going out.”

“Yes, there is that, isn’t there,” He replied.  “Well, as you see, there are still embers.  I know it has been a long time, but do you still remember how to build a fire?”

The woman smiled again, more fully now as the stirrings within were definitely beginning to feel like joy.  “I think I can figure it out.  But, he is gone.  I don’t really know that I want to build a fire again if…”  She let the thought hang.

“Daughter, do not worry about when and who and how.  You have been taught the art of fire-building.  It is the highest calling for all my students.  Prepare and when it is time, you will once again build a fire.  I will hold this coal for you.  Now go and prepare.  You will once again know the joy of a shared fire.”

The woman couldn’t help herself.  She quickly threw her arms around the Firemaster and placed a kiss on His cheek.  Slightly embarrassed by her own spontaneity, she drew back with a grin, “Um, sorry, I guess I got a little carried away.”

The Firemaster laughed full and throaty.  “Daughter, Daddies never tire when their children show affection.  Be off with you now and gather what you need.  There is a fire to build.”

With His encouragement ringing in her eyes she turned a skipped off to prepare for a fire.

Chapter 4

It was much later in the day when the woman returned.  She had found two bags and inside were materials for tinder and kindling.  She sat them on the ground beside the Firemaster who was now seated on a log as a stool.

“I remember that we did not have enough fuel for the long haul, so I have spotted some bigger branches that I am going back to get.  I will be back shortly,” she said.

As she disappeared down the trail to the west, the man appeared out of the woods to the north of the clearing where the ring was located.  He had a pack on his back with wood and materials sticking out the top.  He was also dragging a large tree branch.  While he was making slow progress, it was obvious that he was pleased with his work.  He smiled at the Firemaster and shouted a greeting as he approached.

A broad smile on his face, he was sweaty, dirty, and happy.  The prospect of building a fire in the gathering dark was pleasing to him.  As he neared the Firemaster, he noticed the other fire material lying close by.

“Did you do some work or am I to assume you have another pupil hard at work?” the man asked.

“I have lot’s of pupils, young man.  And as far as work, it’s a rather loaded question.  I guess my work is measured by the impact of the lives I teach.  Little impact, then I guess I work little.  Big impact, then I guess I work more.  What are your thoughts on the matter?  Did I do some work… with you?”

The man’s broad smile faded a bit, but the humor hadn’t completely left him.  “Well, I guess your teaching was actually quite good, so yes, I would say you worked. And You are still working.  As far as the results…”

He was thoughtful before he finished.  “The fire we had was the best thing that I have ever experienced.  It was all that I had hoped for and more.  We laughed, cried, kissed, and fought, but we made and tended the fire well for a long time.  It hurts like hell that it has died.  But I am so thankful that it has not gone out completely.  Firemaster, I would that we could build a fire again, but even if we can’t, I want to start a fire again.  I want the warmth and light and life that we experienced to be possible again.”

The Firemaster’s look was deep and thoughtful.  He took a few moments before replying, like He was weighing an important matter before rendering a final decision.

The man noticed it was noticeably darker when He finally spoke.  It appeared as though the decision had been made and filed away.  “What did you get for building the fire?”

“I searched as you taught us to, Firemaster.  I found downed branches from of the fruit trees you said were most desirous.  I found gentleness, peace, a whole downed tree of self-control.  You don’t see much of that tree in the city anymore.  I got some patience and kindness limbs too.  This big branch here is from a goodness tree. Oh, and look,” he said as he pulled something out of the side pocket of the backpack.  “I have these twigs from the love shrubs growing on the hillside on the other side of the valley.”

The Firemaster smiled broadly, as much at the man’s enthusiasm as at his cache of fire making materials.  “You have done very well, my son.  I think you have enough to start laying in the fire bed.”  With a twinkle in His eye He said, “why don’t you turn around and get started?”

The man was a little surprised.  He had some material, but he assumed he would need to have more based upon recent experience of running short.  And he was also without a partner.  But the Firemaster was the expert.  His fires never went out.

The man turned and across the fire ring he saw her and it took his breath away.  “How long have you been here?” he asked in surprise and with the slightest hint of irritation.

“Long enough.” she smiled slightly.

“Long enough to hear me pour my heart out to the Firemaster?”

“Long enough to know that I was wrong to walk away and not search for a warm coal,” her tone respectful and just a bit pensive.

His irritation at being overheard was long gone and the surprise was quickly becoming wonder as he said, “Well, I meant it… if you heard what I said.”

“I heard,” she said.  “And I want you to know much I regret that I let the fire go out.”

“It didn’t go out,” he said as he took tentative steps toward her.  “It died because I didn’t tend it like I should.  It is not your fault.  It was mine.  And I want you to know that I am sorry.”

She came to him and they embraced, tentative at first, but with more intensity as whispered apologies and forgivenesses were spoken.  When they finally separated they both wiped away tears of joy and happiness.

“Well, it sounded like you had almost all the materials you needed for the fire except joy and faithfulness,” she said.  “It just so happens that is what I found in abundance as well as branches and twigs of love, peace, and kindness.”

He laughed.  “I guess we are just about ready.  Let’s build the fire bed and then we can get the coal… OUR coal, to start the fire.”

Turning toward the log stool they started to ask the Firemaster a question but He was gone.  They looked all around but didn’t see Him anywhere.  All that was visible was a little metal box sitting on the log.  And by the glow of it, they were about to have a fire.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be blessed today and be a blessing!

 

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

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

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