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Archive for the ‘Vision’ Category

I love spring.  The bursting forth of new life thrills my soul.  The awakening of the countryside from the drab greys and browns of winter to multi-colored flowers set against the backdrop of green simply makes me happy.

We recently experienced the birth of our 4th grandchild.  My wife helped with the delivery and today Lilah Joy is 7 days old. We actually have two grandchildren now who were born on Good Friday.  Jasper Leland was born on Good Friday 4 years ago.  As I held Lilah last night I couldn’t stop thinking about what a precious gift I held.  As she lay restfully sleeping in my arms she was totally at peace.

I was reminded that this is what God wants for each one of us… to rest in Him, to put our trust in Him, to be His child and be at peace.  Holding this precious child and considering the amazing love God has for us was both humbling and inspiring.  Roman 8:14-17 comes to mind.  We are His children and He wants to be known as our “Abba”, our Daddy.

It seems appropriate that for most of us Easter corresponds with spring.  Jesus’ resurrection marks the ultimate of new life.  There are a number of ways that Jesus coming to earth, His sacrificial death on the cross, and His resurrection changed the world forever.

There is salvation.  The price for our sin has been paid and we can enter into a right relationship with God as our Father through what Jesus did on our behalf.

There is freedom.  The power of sin is broken because of what Jesus did.  We can experience freedom from the dominating and destructive habits of our old self because of the cross and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit given to each one who accepts God’s gift of salvation.

Oh, and there is purpose.  We no longer are subject to the whims of a fickle nature.  We are called and equipped to live a life that has God-ordained purpose.

There is praise overflowing.  God gave us new life to live in Him and to live for Him.  Our lives are testaments to the one, wholly, and Holy Other.  God is worthy of our constant praise.  We do this best by living in close communion with Him and responding in prompt obedience to His nudges.

Yes, spring has sprung.  The tomb is empty.  And there is new life… radical…rich…full… abundant new life available to all who trust in and give their lives to Jesus – the lover of our souls.  Rejoice my friend.  He is ALIVE!  And so are we.  Death no longer has a hold on us.  Neither does sin, at least it doesn’t have to.  The only power sin has left is the power we give it.  Let sin no longer reign in your body, but live your life totally immersed in Jesus and His saving, cleansing, healing, delivering power.  Again I say REJOICE!

Be blessed today my friend as you bask in the new life Christ Jesus provides.

As a new grandpa’s prerogative, I included a few pics of our new grand-daughter who helped inspire today’s blog.

 

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““The most important one,” answered Jesus,“ is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’”  Mark 12:29-30

Jesus was very clear here.  He was repeating the words from Deuteronomy.  I’ve read this dozens of times, but today the word ALL stuck out.  It was like they are being highlighted for emphasis.  Before I get to the weighty matter of what all means, let’s look at the four elements Jesus articulates.

Heart.  When I think of heart I think of passion.  I think of the thing or things that drive me, that compel me.  “The team with the most heart often wins.” It is more than emotion, but emotion is part of it.  Another analogy is if all our actions were a compass needle, our heart would be the point to which the compass needle consistently points.

Soul.  I struggle with distinguishing this from the other three, but I realize it is place where my will resides.  My soul is the center of my individuality and consciousness. 

Mind.  This is pretty easy, it is my cognitive, thinking self.  It is the part of me that processes data, assesses information, and makes decisions.  It is our intellect and the repository of all the data we have accumulated throughout our life.

Strength.  My strength is the resulting development of all my actions to date.  Much like a laborer muscled and toned from years of hard work, my strength is the capabilities I have now because of the life and actions I have taken.

So back to all.  Does Jesus really mean ALL?  And we are to LOVE with ALL.  If we love God with all then there won’t be anything left over for others – a spouse, children, parents or siblings, will there?  Well Jesus does say ALL and the heart, soul, mind, and strength pretty much encompasses everything about who we are.  How can this be?

It gets back to the reality that God is our creator.  He knows us better than we know ourselves.  He created us on purpose, for a purpose.  It is His desire for each person to fully fill their divinely ordained purpose.  But our purpose can only be found when we are immersed in Him and when we are filled by Him – through the in-dwelling Holy Spirit. 

By giving Him ALL of us, He is able to mold, shape, and transform us into exactly the person we are meant to be.  In some cases it is a transformation of sin habits.  At salvation the penalty for our sin is paid.  Jesus paid it on the cross and we said yes to receive it at our salvation.  We are washed clean by the blood of Jesus.  But the flesh still remembers the old habits.  Sanctification is the process of losing the old, bad habits and taking on new, good habits. 

A life verse for me is Psalm 37:4. “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  This verse makes perfect sense when it is aligned with Jesus admonition.  When God has our heart, soul, mind and strength, we cannot help but become aligned with His heart.  When our heart aligns with His heart it will desire what He desires.  When we desire what God desires, we become partners with Him is seeing these things come to be.  In some cases we will be moved to missions, moved to serve sacrificially, moved to go and do the things we have been prepared to do with the totality of our life experiences and under God’s anointing.  In all cases we will be moved to love more deeply and fully than we are able to without Him.

Another aspect of this is we will be moved to pray God’s prayers.  Intercession is a high and holy calling.  I’m not talking about reading through a list of names and asking God to bless family and friends.  Intercession which emanates from God’s heart to our heart is a burden to pray for specific people and needs even to the point of travail. God wants to partner with us, to pray through us.

There is one final element of Jesus’ saying that needs emphasizing.  The admonition begins with LOVE.  Love is a game changer.  We can serve.  We can honor.  We can follow.  But none of these meet the standard of loving God.  They each are manifestations of our love response, but love is deeper and richer than these alone.  Love is the deep-seated acknowledgment that God is the wholly complete other to Whom our devotion, desire, and passion is aimed.  1 John 4:16 says this.  “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.”

To love God with All that we are is to enter fully into the life we were created for.  Amazingly we find that our ability to love and do the things God calls us to do become the desires of our heart.  He takes our attempts to love, pray, serve, work and, through His Spirit, accomplishes His good and perfect plan in us and in those He leads us to.  As we walk the road of loving God with our All we will find that He reveals our All to be more than we knew or imagined.  But it is only in losing ourselves in Him that He is able to do this great and wonderful work in us.

Purpose today to love God with your all and bask in the joy of knowing He first loves us and He will live fully in us as we abandon ourselves into His love.

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As I sit here sipping my morning coffee, reading this morning’s devotion, and asking the Lord for wisdom, a mental picture appeared.  This passage is from Proverbs 3:11-20 in the New Living Translation.

“My child, don’t reject the lord ’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. For the lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding. For wisdom is more profitable than silver, and her wages are better than gold. Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. She offers you long life in her right hand, and riches and honor in her left. She will guide you down delightful paths; all her ways are satisfying. Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her; happy are those who hold her tightly. By wisdom the lord founded the earth; by understanding he created the heavens. By his knowledge the deep fountains of the earth burst forth, and the dew settles beneath the night sky.”

As I started praying I had my arms crossed, but somehow that didn’t feel right.  I relaxed, opened my arms, and held out my hands palms up.  As I did so I felt my spirit open up and I looked heavenward – expectant and ready.  I prayed, “Lord fill me with your wisdom.” and the image of my coffee cup came to mind and the thought that a covered cup cannot receive what is poured into it.

Wow, that stung a little.  How often do I let distractions, frustrations, and general busyness interfere with wisdom the Father wants to pour into me.  More often than I would care to admit.  There have been blessed times of God’s breaking through, but as I ponder this word I realize that I must be intentional to slow down, relax, and listen to what the Father wants to say, wants to show me, wants to pour into me.  I need to take the lid off and let Him pour.

Like a perfect cup of coffee wisdom feels good… smells good… tastes good.  Those who walk in wisdom from on high are a sweet, sweet savor in a world that has lost an appreciation for true wisdom.  It is the Father’s desire that His children walk in His wisdom.  That wisdom will stand out in a way that draws people to Him.  It is wisdom that embraces Jesus and cannot help but speak of His goodness and love.  It is wisdom that orders our lives in a different way – forsaking self and putting others first.  It is a wisdom that looks toward final outcomes and fulfillment of faith rather than how can I promote myself, meet my own desires, make myself happy.

God’s wisdom – the cross and all that Jesus has done and has promised to do, is described as foolishness to men, but it is the power of God unto Salvation for all who believe.  Thank you Lord for your wisdom.

I pray this day that you are able to take the lid off and let God pour into you His wisdom, power and love.  These are freely offered to any who would seek Him, who would chose Him and His way.  Take the lid off and receive.

Blessings to you today my friend.  And as you receive His blessings allow Him to pour His wisdom, power, and love through you unto others.

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We desperately need healing in our nation.  Historians, Statesmen, and even our Lord Jesus have pointed out that division precedes destruction.  A nation divided, like a house divided, shall soon fall.  A look back in history shows us that the greatest danger to a thriving nation is internal division and strife.  Ancient Rome was one of the greatest nations the world has known, controlling most of the civilized world of its day.  Civilization flourished and stretched its influence across Asia, Europe, and Africa.  But the soul of the nation became corrupt.  Division, strife, intrigue, assassination, and disunity weakened the resolve of the people.  Moral decay left a nation that had once been a nation of laws and nationalistic spirit a giant with a weakened will to fight.  When Rome fell, the Dark Ages ensued.

There are several touch points in our nation that should give us pause.  There is a radical element that has risen inciting protests, disobedience, violence, and even anarchy.  This has been highly publicized, perhaps even with a favorable slant in the media, to the point that the greater portion of the public has chosen sides.  Polarization has occurred and continues to do so as greater focus is given to the “protests” and little effort seems to be taking place to move in the direction of reconciliation.  This is madness.  At the very least it threatens our position in the world as a just and compassionate “leading nation”.  At the worst, and it is a plausible worst, it threatens our security as a nation founded “under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”.

I have been praying for our nation, asking God for healing and for guidance.  It has been my experience that God will guide our prayers when we offer them up in faith.  Last week as I was seeking the Lord’s face, I sensed that I needed to pray for empathy… for myself and for people across this land.  We need to gain a perspective of the issues we are arguing about from the other side’s point of view.  As I have done so, I have seen an interesting thing happen within my heart.  Instead of perceiving all the protestors in a totally negative light, I can begin to see them as human beings with real hurts, fears, and concerns… people a lot like me.  People who have not had the same life experiences as me, therefore they do not have the same worldview.  We live in the same pluralistic nation, but we see it differently.  The only way for us to coexist is for us to have a large degree of compassion for one another that isn’t predicated upon our belief system, our political views, our skin color, our gender… upon the differences between us.

Our differences do not have to divide us.  We have always had differences in this nation.  Our nation was founded as 13 distinct and highly autonomous colonies.  They had major differences.  Our constitution is indeed a marvelous document written to forge a single nation of these distinctly different states.  It leaves significant room for the different expression of beliefs and values of the people while establishing a foundation of law and joining us as a single nation.  And we have persevered as a nation for over 240 years, through good and bad times, with strong dissention and disunity on occasion, with a civil war and many periods of internal turmoil.  But we have remained one, united nation.  Not uniform, but united.  I take four things from this high-level view of our history.  1) There is an enemy, a spiritual enemy whose tool is strife and division, who wants this nation to fall.  2) There is a spiritual protector whose tool is love and compassion, who wants this nation to exist and succeed.  3) There has been, and I believe still is, a divine reason for this nation in the world.  4) It is incumbent upon followers of God to seek His guidance, wisdom, and help in healing this land and fulfilling the purpose for this nation.  2 Chronicles 7:14 are the key verse that we, the Church should be heeding.  “if my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

As the Church, as people who have been rescued by Jesus’ love, as people who once were enemies of God through our sin and disobedience, we should be taking the lead in seeking reconciliation and healing.  Our first step is prayer.  Our second step is empathy.  We need to open the dialogue with people with whom we disagree.  We need to hear their perspective.  We should work toward understanding why they believe what they believe.  And we should understand why we believe what we believe as well.  The Prayer of Saint Francis is a good model.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

 

What I am proposing is not the easy thing to do.  It is counter to the current mood portrayed in images on our TV screens and computer monitors.  It is not aligned with the ever-increasing rhetoric I am seeing in social media.  But as I seek the Father’s heart, it seems to be aligned with what the Spirit is whispering to me… “Blessed are the peacemakers…”  “Love covers a multitude of sins…”  “You will know them by their love…”

Friends, please join me in praying for healing in our nation.  And follow that up by asking the Lord to provide opportunities to engage others in civil discussion.  Seek to understand their perspective.  And ask the Lord to help you understand, and when appropriate, articulate your point of view.  While the media may continue to highlight the strife, let us humbly and quietly seek the common ground, the healing, and uniting that I believe the Lord desires.  When we do, we will also see doors open for the Gospel to be shared and God will get the glory.

Be blessed today.  And be a blessing.

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Before launching into this study, I want to put it into context.  Sadly, the spiritual gifts can be a controversial topic within the Church.  There are two extremes we can take which, if we hold too tightly to, can cause us to miss the ultimate purpose of the spiritual gifts, which is to build up the Body of Christ and to draw unbelievers.  (See 1 Corinthians 14)

On one hand, we can de-spiritualize the gifts of the Spirit to the point that they are simply natural human traits and capabilities maximized.  In this view we take something that is manifestly a supernatural empowerment of the Holy Spirit and turn it into an ability that we train and build up purely through regular exercise.

On the other hand, we can over-spiritualize the gifts of the Spirit to the extent that every manifestation of the gifts must be connected to an ecstatic event.  We work ourselves up into such a spiritually-heightened state that we are finally ready for the Holy Spirit to fall on us and the mighty works of God can begin.

These extremes are not so much false as they are simply much too narrow to capture God’s purpose in giving the Gifts of the Spirit.  Additionally, these extremes fail to adequately capture the experience within the breadth of the Body today.  The Church and it’s 2 billion adherents experience God’s grace sufficient for life in a broad range of environments and circumstances.  God is continuing His work around the world drawing people to Himself out of every nation, tribe, and people group.  And He does this through His people being obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and responding to the Holy Spirit.  The work is a collaborative effort between the Spirit of God and the people of God yielded to the Holy Spirit.  Our yielded-ness leads to the Holy Spirit moving in us to accomplish great and mighty things.  Many times that manifests itself in the spiritual gifts.  That is what this study is about.

 

This blog is from the notes I pulled together for our home group study.  I used a few on-line resources (which I will note at different points in the paper) and copious hours reading and praying over the scriptures.  I have been overjoyed to find new insights in the Word as the Lord expanded my understanding of spiritual gifts, particularly with respect to the source and foundation of why He gives them.

For the study, I usually began with general questions to draw us into topic, followed by more directed questions related to the text we were studying.  It is my intent to leave this to aid others who might want to expand upon this for their own study.

A final disclaimer.  Many years ago I entered a bit of a longer fast seeking God’s direction in my life.  I was ready and willing to go into ministry if that’s what the Lord wanted.  At the end of those three days, the Lord spoke very clearly to me.  He said, “Son, I’ve not called you to be a preacher.  I’ve not called you to be a teacher.  I’ve called you to be a man of prayer.  You will preach and you will teach, but first and foremost, you are to be a man of prayer.”

That was around 25 years ago.  I have seen those words played out perfectly in the meantime.  As I share this with you, I do so with a sincere sense that the Lord has made this one of the times when I have been called upon to teach.  Recognizing that teaching is one of the gifts I scored a middle-of-the-pack score on (Spiritual Gifts survey which I will identify later in the study), I can rightly assume that whatever good comes from this is due to the Holy Spirit enlivening it in me and in the reader.  Fortunately, these are spiritual gifts and as such God is able to do abundantly, amazingly, above all we can ask or imagine.  I sit here confident and overflowing with thankfulness that this is true.

 

Key Chapters Discussing Spiritual Gifts

Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4

 

List of Spiritual Gift Possibilities in Key Bible Passages (italics indicates a gift repeated in other places in scripture)

Romans 12

exhortation, giving, leadership, mercy, prophecy, service, teaching

1 Corinthians 12

administration, apostle, discernment, faith, healings, helps – service, knowledge, miracles, prophecy, teaching, tongues, interpretation of tongues. wisdom

Ephesians 4

apostle, evangelism, pastor, prophecy, teaching  

Misc. Passages  (the following are implied as gifts in other scriptures)

celibacy, hospitality, martyrdom, missionary, voluntary poverty

 

OTHER GIFTS FROM THE LORD

Salvation, Church, Family, The conveniences He provides.

 

 

Lesson One

(Select two or three of these questions for ice-breakers to lead into today’s discussion)

What is your favorite gift-giving event?  What makes it your favorite?

What is one gift you have received that you value above all others?

What is a particularly memorable gift you have received?  What made it so memorable?

Any stories of gift-giving gone wrong?

What is the purpose behind giving and receiving gifts?

How about with spiritual gifts?

Have you given a gift and had it received poorly?  How did you feel? 

Have you ever received a gift poorly?

 

What are gifts? 

Transfer of an item from one who has or possesses the means to have something to one who does not currently have.

Transfer of ownership of something.

Freely released into the ownership of the other.

To be a true gift, there needs to be a recognition that the thing received is desirous and good.

For a gift to be good it must be “unwrapped”, appreciated, and used.

Gifts most often come from ones who care for us and want us to experience good things and to be happy.

Some gifts are given to us to help us be more functional and to accomplish specific tasks.

 

Is there timing associated with gifts?

Times of gift giving – Birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Anniversaries, Graduations, Baby Showers, Weddings

Some gifts have an “expiration”, i.e. like a bouquet of cut flowers, a new car.  Some gifts have a lifetime legacy – a deed of land, a wedding ring, a poem written in honor of another.

Some gift-givers are extremely generous and continue to give and give and give.

 

 

Some gift receivers are very appreciative.  Some gift receivers are never satisfied.

Receiving with thankfulness and true appreciation engenders greater goodwill between the giver and receiver.

Receiving gifts with dissatisfaction or grumbling or without thankfulness damages the relationship between the giver and the receiver.

 

Romans 12

To be read in context of the whole chapter.

What is the first gift offered in chapter 12?  Verse 1 – our bodies as living sacrifices.

How is this sacrifice received?  We don’t determine this, but Paul tells us when we set ourselves apart unto God it is “holy and pleasing to God”.  He also affirms that this giving of ourselves is our true and proper worship.

What are the “personal” reciprocal gifts that we receive if we continue to give ourselves to the Lord? (verse 2)

Transformation, a renewed mind, clarity in knowing God’s will.

What are the “communal” gifts that we receive if we continue to give ourselves to the Lord? (verses 6-8)

Part of the body of Christ, prophesy, serving, teaching, encouragement, generosity, leadership, mercy / care-giving.

Are there any pre-requisites to receiving these communal gifts?  (verse 3)

Humility (do not think more highly of yourself than you ought), sober judgment, faith

Take time to make the distinction of the supernatural element of these gifts if they flow from sacrificial living leading to transformed people with renewed minds, living together in humble faith while exercising sober judgment about themselves.

 

What is the outcome of this gift giving, particularly when it entails all members of the body of Christ exercising their communal gifts? (verses 9-21)

Sincere love one to another.

A true rejection of what is evil with an active passion to fight against it.

A passionate embrace of what is good.

Devotion one to another… hugs and warm affection manifested, expressing genuine love.  Lives intertwined and supportive.

Honoring one another – accomplishments celebrated, faithfulness recognized, high-fives all around.

The zeal of the Lord present and richly manifested in lives devoted to Him, to one another, and to whatever work He has called us to at that time.

Joy even when circumstances are not exactly what we would want because hope is so rich and tangible.

Patience even when we are in the midst of affliction.  (I picture the body, particularly those with the gift of care-giving, rallying around the one suffering the greatest.)

Faithful intercession and prayer that moves mountains, breaks chains, heals wounds, and accomplishes God’s purpose, in God’s way, in God’s perfect timing.

Greed is gone as the body supports and shares with one another freely, especially those with the gift of generosity.  A point here – those with this gift also often have the uncanny ability to make money.  I think this may be either an aspect of the gift of generosity or simply a manifestation of the law of reciprocity where Jesus said, “Give and it will be given to you.”

Kindness, a supernatural love for and active reaching out to those who do not share our belief or faith.  In fact, it is a love for those who actively work against us.

Empathy manifested in every life situation.

Unity and harmony that is genuine and from the heart.  This absolutely transcends social status, education, age, race – and any other potential source of division.

The rejection of evil to the point that we do not respond in kind, but rather we are motivated by love and our response is what life within the body of Christ would approve of and support.

Peaceful living, with the full recognition that those not in the body might not live in peace nor want to allow us to do so.  Yet we seek peace.

Our response to evil’s attack is to seek to do good while trusting in God to be our shield, our shelter, and our defender.

 

Prior to this study I have always tended to read the bible with a strong awareness of the textual divisions that editors have inserted.  Romans 12 includes three different divisions… verses 1-2 are under the heading “A Living Sacrifice”, verses 3-8 are “Humble Service in the Body of Christ”, and verses 9-21 are “Love in Action”.  While these textual divisions are often helpful, they can also cause us to overlook some important connections the author may have had in mind.  Reading this chapter without those divisions leads us to see a flow that I believe Paul meant for the reader to grasp.

Before we focus on chapter 12, let’s take one step back and place this chapter into context of the entire letter to the Romans.  Romans is written to a part of the church Paul has not yet personally visited.  In this letter Paul provides a succinct explanation of the love and grace of God manifested through the sacrificial life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Through these early chapters we can trace God’s plan of salvation as Paul describes the ultimate gift of God giving His Son… of Jesus giving His life for us.  Paul paints with words God giving over and above anything we could deserve or even imagine comes through.

When we hit chapter 8 we see this new “life in the Spirit” which is available to all who are followers of Jesus.  This too is a magnanimous gift from a gracious and loving Father.  By the time we reach chapter 12 we have had the point driven home again and again – God has given us such a stunning abundance of grace and goodness.  This is the first “giving”.

In chapter 12 we then see giving taking place in three rapid bursts.  The first is in verses 1-2 where we give ourselves to God.  This is a call to total abandonment.  Paul has used old testament imagery throughout the previous chapters so when he speaks of a living sacrifice here, he is tying it to the old testament understanding of sacrifice being a complete giving over.  The only difference is as “living” sacrifices we get the honor of repeatedly deciding to completely give ourselves over to God.

The second giving is God giving spiritual gifts for the edification and building up of the Body.  I will speak about it more later, but I want to clearly state it here – the primary purpose of the spiritual gifts is the building up of the Body of Christ, but building up of the individual believer happens at the same time.  God is the ultimate multi-tasker.  In dispersing His gifts, He accomplishes many things as the Body, and the individual, receives and responds.

Then comes the third giving which is the one I had always missed.  That is the Body of Christ becoming a radiant, shining example of God’s goodness, grace, and love to the world that does not yet know Him.  We become God’s gift to the lost and unbelieving.  Through this, people are drawn to look to Him, to consider the claims of the Church, and to come to faith.

 

In conclusion to this week’s lesson, we see that God initiates the giving through giving Jesus as our savior.  We respond by giving ourselves to Him as our Lord.  He then continues giving by working transformation in us and by giving spiritual gifts to the Church.  The final giving is the Church being given to the world as a manifestly beautiful and attractive “Bride of Christ”.  This final giving includes an invitation to all who have not yet accepted Christ to join the fellowship of believers by receiving God’s initial gift of His Son – Jesus.

In our next lesson, we will investigate the ultimate source of God’s gift giving – His amazing love.

 

Until next time, may the God of all good gifts pour His Spirit out upon you, filling you with His wisdom, His truth, and His love.  In Jesus Name.  Amen.

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I rose early to catch the sunrise over the San Francisco Bay.  I had scouted out our route for the West Coast trip with a specific goal of catching sunrises and sunsets as often as possible.  Mornings are particularly meaningful to me as I like to rise early and spend the first of my day communing with our Father.

While I had identified Mount Tamalpais as an appropriate viewing location, I incorrectly assumed I could drive to the top on the service road.  I finally found a place to park and began my trek up the mountain with the pre-dawn light much further advanced than I had hoped.  Fortunately I broke into an open area where I could see the bay moments before the sun crested the horizon.  Since I had not made it to the top of the mountain, I was not able to capture the actual sunrise, but the view of the bay, the city, and the fog alternately edging in and then out of the Golden Gate narrows was beautiful to behold.

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As I prayed and snapped pictures, a series of images rolled through my spirit prompting progressive waves of prayer for the people in the Bay area.  The first was the fact that where I stood, and for that matter much of the California coast, sits on or adjacent to one of the most active fault lines on the planet.  The opposing forces of the two tectonic plates generates tremendous stress which is periodically relieved in earthquakes both small and great.  Usually these plates move 1 – 2 inches per year in opposite directions.  In the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 the pent up energy was released in a massive jolt that resulted in 20 feet of movement over a one minute time span.   It was interesting because the prayer that flowed forth was that the people would be prepared for the sudden disaster that was coming.

San Francisco just after sunrise viewed from the side of Mt Tamalpais

San Francisco just after sunrise viewed from the side of Mt Tamalpais

The fog rolling in from the Pacific into the Golden Gate Strait

The fog rolling in from the Pacific into the Golden Gate Strait

In short order the picture changed and I saw multitudes choosing any and every way to express themselves – to accommodate their passions, lusts, and appetite except in seeking intimacy with God the Father.  This broke my heart and I grieved for a time, praying in the Spirit for God to move to open eyes and hearts and minds to the reality of Who He is.

It was not long before this vision began to merge with the first of the devastation that a massive earthquake would bring.  I pondered this, again asking the Lord to pray through me.  I began to think about God’s justice, an aspect of His nature that when viewed apart from His love may seem harsh and demanding.  At different times throughout history God’s justice has resulted in judgement falling upon people, nations, and tribes.  Some versions of the bible refer to this as the wrath of God.  I must admit, at this point the vision was uncomfortable and the prayer was labored and not fun.  I have learned that not everything God calls me to do will be fun.  But if, in obedient submission to the leading of the Holy Spirit, I do what I sense the Lord wants me to do, it will turn out good.  It always has.  I believe it always will.

As this heavy prayer burden began to lift, I continued to periodically snap the shutter on my camera.  Suddenly I heard the familiar noise of hummingbird hums all around me.  Immediately in front of me a hummingbird landed and sat there as if to say, “take my picture”.  I hesitated momentarily since I almost never catch a hummingbird perched for more than a few seconds.  After 5 seconds I realized, he wasn’t flying off.  It took me several more seconds to get properly positioned while the little fella patiently waited for me to get set.  Finally I was set and I snapped about a dozen pictures before he decided he was famous enough.  As soon as I finished the shots the Lord brought to my mind Jesus’ words to his disciples about the Father’s care in feeding the birds.  In Matthew 6:26 and Luke 12:24 Jesus tells us the Father’s compassion goes so far as to provide food for the little birds.  In Luke 12:24b Jesus climactic words are: “And how much more valuable you are than birds!” 

Hummingbird Posing for Pics

Hummingbird Posing for Pics

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Mr Hummingbird thinks his profile shows off his beautiful beak better.

H moves behind me thinking the lighting is a little more flattering.

He moves behind me thinking the lighting is a little more flattering.

At that moment I got just a glimpse of the marriage in God’s character of His absolute justice and His overwhelming love.  I can’t say I truly understand it, but He demonstrated it to me that morning on Mount Tamalpais in a way that I can say I know it is real.  Sin will be judged and punished completely.  All sin.  Love will conquer.  It will triumph completely and eternally.

At this my prayer turned into praise for the great love He has for us.  God’s love reaches to the people in the San Francisco Bay area.  He wants people to turn to Him, to reach for Him, to turn away from their sin and receive His gracious love in the form of His mercy.  Jesus truly paid the price in our place.

My final thought from the mountain was that God still loves the sinner who chooses not to turn to Him.  Judgement comes, but not because God didn’t extend mercy, but rather because the one never turned to God and let go of their life.

I have come to know God as intensely personal and relational in the most wonderful of ways.  He comforts me in my sorrow.  He joins me in my celebration.  He whispers guidance when I am confused and uncertain.  He envelopes me with His peace at just the right time.  I believe that His heart is grieved by each one who fades from this life without accepting the finished work wrought by Jesus’ death on the cross.

Those final moments on the mountain were bittersweet.  I know God’s love is real and it still extends to the people living under the shadow of death.  He is calling out.  He burdens His children who do know Him to intercede, to love, and to reach out to those who don’t know Him.  Some will experience His love in direct response to our obedience and participation with God in His redeeming love.  Others will not turn, will not accept, will not receive the love the Lord extends.

Love and Justice.  Our God is a consuming fire in the purest and fullest sense.  The fire of His love drove Him to send Jesus to take our place in judgement.  And for those who fail to heed, fail to turn, fail to receive, there is a consuming fire of His absolute justice to be faced.

An interesting footnote in history.  Most of the people killed in the 1906 earthquake were killed by the fires spawned by the earthquake rather than the earthquake itself.

Be blessed my friend and let the Holy Spirit intercede and move through you today.

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Wild flowers from "seeds you planted"

Wild flowers from “seeds you planted”

20160518_193744I enjoy yardening.  That’s 3 parts lawn work, 2 parts gardening, mixed with equal but liberal amounts of dirt, sweat, rain, and sunshine.  The other day my wife was making me proud mowing the grass while I shoveled mulch onto the flower beds.  When she finished she walked over and commented on a group of wispy yellow flowers growing in one of the beds.  I looked and it suddenly struck me, these were flowers that had come back from last year’s wild flower patch.  During the late winter when I made my first weeding round, I had almost pulled them up, but hesitated when I saw how they were bunched in the same place I had planted wildflowers last spring.  This afternoon was the first time I had thoughtfully returned to those plants (9 straight weeks on the road will do that to you).  Obviously I was delighted.

As I pondered the flowers the thought stuck me, “these are from seeds you planted.”    In the wonder of that moment I realized that this was a nudge from the Lord.  I serve on the Care Team at our Church.  Dozens of volunteers meet with and minister to dozens of people every Sunday listening, loving, and caring for persons who need to know someone cares and especially that God cares.  Having been in a number of those conversations, I am intensely aware of how dependent I am on the Lord to provide the wisdom and Godly counsel that people need.  I can comfortably do the ‘listen, empathize, and love on people’ part.  It is how the Father has wired me and trained me.  But I don’t want to speak words that simply parrot clichés or worldly wisdom.  The practice of being quick to listen, quick to love, and slow to speak has proven to be an apt approach in care-giving for me.  For when I listen and love, the Holy Spirit either brings nuggets of wisdom from His Word OR He brings another person into the conversation who has that word.  In some cases the words of guidance I give are few, but the prayer that I am able to confidently offer is 0ften my primary contribution.

As I watched the flowers wave in the afternoon breeze I had a mental picture of the lives that the Lord touches through faithful care-giving.  While our care team has a specific time and place where we join in God’s work each Sunday, the reality is we have these opportunities throughout our week.  On some occasions we get to see the great work God does in a person, marriage, or family.  In other instances our follow up is limited to just a few contacts.  However, when we are faithful we can rest assured God is continuing the work.

The final scene of that mental picture is a truly glorious one.  As we stand there in heaven surrounded by the host of the redeemed, the Lord leans over and says to us, “these are from seeds you planted.”

And our joy knows no bounds.

Be blessed today my friend.  And be a blessing.

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