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Archive for the ‘Vision’ Category

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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There are almost always leftovers.  You know, the food at the end of the meal that you just don’t want to throw away so you wrap it up and put it in the refrigerator.  Sometimes it becomes lunch at a future date.  When I was a child we would occasionally slip it to the dog.  Usually it still ends up in the trash, just days or weeks later when we realize it’s been in the fridge for an undetermined amount of time and we are reasonably confident that what’s growing on it is not penicillin.

There is a phrase I’ve never heard.  “Why don’t you come have dinner with us?  We’re serving leftovers!”  You see while leftovers are convenient compared to the effort to create a nice, fresh meal, they aren’t what you serve when you want to serve your best.  No, if we are inviting guests we want to make a good impression.  We want to honor them with our best effort.

I realized something the other morning as I headed out to work here in Tacoma, Washington.  The sun was just rising behind the mountains in the east.  The dark, jagged silhouettes pointed upward into the multi-hued dawn of orange, pink, and various shades of blue.  It was an inspiring sight yet again.  As I got to my exit ramp, a spectacular view of Mount Rainier awaited and it struck me – God never serves me Leftovers.  His mercy and love is new every morning.

As I relished that thought I also realized that all too often I give Him my leftovers.  I have learned that first and foremost the Lord calls us to intimacy with Him.  He wants us to walk in close communion with Him.  It is because He loves us.  It is also because He knows that it is the best thing for us.  Yet too many times I come to Him at some later point in my day.  Time alone with God often gets relegated to a lesser spot on my TO DO list and He gets my Leftover time.  If we are not careful our giving can become just another bill rather than an opportunity to honor God with our first fruits.

I want to honor God – the lover of my soul, my redeemer, my Lord, and my friend.  That means I will not serve Him my leftovers, but rather He will get the best of what I am and what I possess.  He is worthy.

Now, a second thought closely followed.  When we give God our first fruits, He is able to do amazing things with what we have left.  When we tithe (that’s 10% off the top) God is able to accomplish more with the 90% we have in our hands, than we could ever accomplish with the original 100%.  I’ve seen this play out in my life and through the lives of others on a number of occasions.  Jesus said, “Give and it will be given unto you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.”  In other words when we give cheerfully from whatever container we give out of, when we look at our container after we have poured out, it will be packed full to overflowing.

But there is also giving of our time.  I am a morning person so I know my best is first thing in the morning.  When I give God my morning, somehow He fills my day with so much more – more joy, more effectiveness, more divine appointments, and seemingly more life.

The final thought this morning brings me back to food.  My wife is a great cook.  She is from Louisiana and one of her specialties is a Cajun dish called Jambalaya.  It is a spicy rice dish that includes a lot of different meats.  She served it for our home group recently and it was delicious.  Of course we had leftovers which I dutifully wrapped up and placed in the fridge.  Over the next few days I let Lisa know she didn’t have to cook because I had LEFTOVERS, Yeah!  Lisa’s Jambalaya, as good as it is when she first cooks it, is even more flavorful over the next few days as the spices fully saturate the rice.

For me, Lisa’s Jambalaya serves as a good picture of what God does for us.  When we give Him ourselves, our first fruits, the best we have to offer He receives it as our faith offering.  What we have left – our Leftovers if you will, become saturated with God’s favor to such an extent that they are better than the original.  And that, my friend is something I look forward to.

Psalm 34:8a – Taste and see that the LORD is good.

Have a blessed day.  And don’t forget to be a blessing.

 

 

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Getting ready for Home Group I noticed the kitchen window needed cleaning.  It was the last task I got to, but I still had plenty of time.  It was probably good that I didn’t rush through it or I may have missed the simple message I share today.

I began by cleaning the inside.  As I cleaned I easily saw the dirt specs on the outside.  I almost convinced myself to stop working on the inside because it seemed like all the specs were on the outside.  I didn’t stop, although I was probably not as meticulous in “finishing” the inside before moving to the outside.  Oddly, my rag was pretty dirty from cleaning the inside even though I perceived all the dirt to be outside.

So I attacked the cleaning outside.  Once I was outside though, the dirt specs were suddenly not so obvious.  Oh, there was still grime to remove which I did.  Interestingly the more I cleaned the outside, the more obvious the remaining specs on the inside became.  After one final cleaning on the inside I was satisfied the windows were clean enough.  As I looked through I was surprised at how much clearer the view was.  While I was focused upon removing individual little specs, I had not realized how much cleaner the whole window had become.

That I could always see the dirt and grime on the opposite side of the glass better than what was on my side struck me as important.  Life is like that.  It is so easy to see someone else’s faults, but often we are blind to our own warped motivations and short-comings.  Jesus spoke on this in Matthew 7:1-5.  “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

When I cleaned the inside of the window, I didn’t realize how dirty it was.  However, after the first cleaning I was in a much better position to see and clean the outside.  And carrying the metaphor a little farther, when I put myself on the outside, akin to putting myself in another person’s shoes, I could see that there was still more cleaning necessary on the inside.

Jesus begins with an admonition about judging others.  Yet He ends by describing how we position ourselves to help others remove the stuff that hinders their vision.  These things that hinder are what the bible calls sin – ways we fall short of God’s plan for His children.  So there is a progression here.  We have sin in our lives.  We must deal with our sin first.  Then we are in a position to help our brother’s (that would mean other believers) deal with sin in their life.  And we are to do this without judgement.

Jesus specifically used the word brother meaning a person who shared the faith.  I believe this was intentional.  With the unbeliever, our focus should be upon introducing them to Jesus.  It is not to be about cleaning them up, getting sin out of their life.  It is pure and simple, to arrange for them to meet the One Who loves them more than us and Who can do exactly what they need.  With the believer though, we have a responsibility to encourage and strengthen one another in love.  Jesus helps in this, but He does so from within the believer.  We are simply to cooperate with Him in the work.  And it follows the progression mentioned above.

I hope this lesson I gleaned while I cleaned has given you a clearer view of God’s grace.

Lord, thank You for the work of Your Holy Spirit.  Thank You for salvation through Your Son – Jesus.  Thank You for the transformation that You are bringing about in us as we trust in You, as we read Your Word, as we obey Your commands, as we seek to know You better.  And thank You that we are joined together with other believers as Your Body, growing evermore into the people of God, fashioned for the good works You have prepared for us to walk in.  We love You Lord.  We pray in Jesus’ Name.

Be blessed and be a blessing today!

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God changed the trajectory of thousands of lives last week at Gauntlet X.  Over 4500 youth and 1300 volunteers descended upon Daytona Beach, Florida and we celebrated God’s great love in a most amazing way.  As of Thursday afternoon 1062 people had accepted Christ as their savior and 1529 had been baptized in a mass ocean baptism at sunrise Thursday morning.  But it didn’t stop there.  God continued to move on the bus rides home.  In some buses the open mic was used and as young people gave their testimony to what God had done, what He had delivered them from, what He had saved them from, then remaining hold-outs were drawn to accept Christ as their Lord.  I heard of two buses that had nine saved on one and ten saved on another.  Amazing!

This hits near to my heart on a number of fronts.  I came to faith at age 23 at a retreat so I can definitely relate to going away and coming back a changed person.  I then worked as a youth volunteer for about 10 years until my work demands and family obligations became too much and the youth work had to be set aside.  In a way it felt like slipping into something warm and familiar chatting with the young people, hearing the earnestness in their voices, answering questions that as an adult we don’t often spend a lot of time on, but as teenagers they seem all-important.

The Wednesday night service will remain etched in my mind forever.  After a simple, straight-forward message Pastor P gave an altar call.  It appeared like close to 300 responded.  We then began celebrating what God had done.  For 5 – 6 solid minutes the 6000 of us left shouted and clapped and praised the Lord.  And then the miracle began.  Even though the volume was tremendous and constant we heard a burst of shouting above the din.  Another person had stood to go forward.  A few seconds later another stood.  The clamor continued but as we watched every 5 – 15 seconds another person would rise and go forward.  This went on for another 30 minutes. It was the most amazing thing.  There was no prompting from the stage.  No impassioned pleas from Perry.  Just loud, heartfelt, sustained praise of the Most High God… and the Spirit of God moved.  We saw the manifestation of the verse, “The Lord inhabits the praises of His people.”  Someone kept track and said Perry preached for 41 minutes and the altar call then lasted for 52 minutes.  In reality the Holy Spirit continues to move from that event as many more have given their lives to Christ since then.

As I ponder the impact of what God has done and pray for my young friends who have crossed from death to life I am awed.  God has changed the trajectory of so many lives.  Lives that were headed down dead-ends are now turned and heading on the right road, the road of God’s choosing.  In some, self-loathing and destruction has been replaced with life and joy.  In others, a self-centered heart has been made new and is being shaped by the Spirit of God to be God-centered and Others-centered.  I am convinced the changes will be profound.  The ripples of this move of God will impact families, schools, churches (not everyone who comes is from our church), communities, our state, our nation, and the world.  There were four persons who traveled here from Israel to attend.  One, a young man named Israel, gave His life to Christ and became a completed Jew, one of the Jewish faith who now recognizes that Jesus is the Messiah his people have been waiting for all these years.  Halleluiah!!!

As I have prayed about the significance of what God has done, I am thoroughly convinced that this move of God is not a stand-alone, one time event.  It is fit into His plan of rebirth and renewal for His people around the world.  I find it hard to contain my enthusiasm for what God is doing and going to bring forth.  What politicians, governments, advocacy groups, and various well-meaning citizens have tried to do, God, by His Spirit moving in a receptive and obedient people will accomplish.  He may use some of those groups above, but true, lasting change comes from the Spirit of God moving in individual lives, united with other changed lives, becoming a move of God that transforms society.  I believe that course correction is underway.  Please join me in praying for God’s grace to be manifest in lives, families, churches, communities, our state, nation and around the world.

God is SO GOOD!

Be blessed today and be a blessing as the Father uses your love, your gifts, and your obedience to impact the world right where you live.

My new friends as we head to the first session on Monday night.

My new friends as we head to the first session on Monday night.

Over 6100 filled the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach experienced God's grace in a mighty way.

Over 6100 filled the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach experienced God’s grace in a mighty way.

My new friend, Jaylen, heading into the surf for his baptism.

My new friend, Jaylen, heading into the surf for his baptism.

1529 people publically declared their allegiance to Jesus Christ as their Lord in baptism.

1529 people publically declared their allegiance to Jesus Christ as their Lord in baptism.

For over 1500 baptisms it took over 2 hours to coordinate and baptize.  I hearkened back to the Day of Pentecost when 3000 were added to the Church in one day.

For 1500+ baptisms it took over 2 hours to coordinate and baptize. I hearkened back to the Day of Pentecost when 3000 were added to the Church in one day.

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As I rose this morning I wondered if the storm that crashed in upon us at dusk last night would result in a glorious sunrise this morning.  I hurriedly got dressed as an excitement rose within me to commune with the Father and see what the morning light ushered in.  Surprisingly, my excitement only rose when I looked out the window and saw the fog.  Grabbing my bible and hot tea I headed outside.

This morning’s post requires a little background before I get to the good stuff.  I am in a new phase of my life.  At the beginning of this year after almost 32 years of constant employment and increasingly responsible positions within three different companies, I found myself unemployed.  The way the separation transpired left me with unanswered questions and a fair amount of emotional loose ends to work through.  I had the basis of a plan already formulated, but I had not done much work in setting the plan in motion when the separation arrived.  So even as I moved into a time of soul-searching I also moved into hurry-up mode to become an independent consultant in my field of expertise.  Today, five months later I have made more progress on the soul-searching side, but both are progressing.

Which brings me to the lesson in the fog.  Our church is currently going through a series called “Without a Doubt”.  We are looking at God’s faithfulness in life’s most trying times.  As Pastor P said several weeks ago every person is in one of three stages in life.  Either they are in a storm, they are coming out of a storm, or they are getting ready to enter a storm.  Last night’s storm dumped a lot of rain and that moisture created the fairly dense fog this morning.  Storms do that.  Their impact can linger even after the deluge has passed.

The fog after the rain.

The fog after the rain.

Enveloped by Fog.

Enveloped by Fog.

As I prayed this morning I realized that since I came to faith I don’t believe I have doubted God’s love.  I have experienced periods of uncertainty about what the results would be in a storm, uncertainty whether my response would be right and good, uncertainty whether I would stand in the God-honoring way I desire, but I haven’t been uncertain that God is or that He is sovereign.  Digging deeper though, I have been uncertain that God’s love would manifest itself in a way that I could bear.  It was not whether God loves or that He would be with me.  Those are unshakeable truths.  But I recognize in myself the weakness of thought and action that leaves me yearning for more of Christ and less of me.

At that moment I raised my hands and looked up into the grey mist all around and above and I praised the living Lord.  Immediately I thought of what was on the other side of that grey mist – a glorious sunshine that was bright, golden, and warm.  A light that is life giving.  A light that is always there.  A light that I am certain is there.

It dawned on me in that moment that God’s love is the same as the sun.  It is always there… it is life-giving… it is bright, golden, and warm.  My doubts and uncertainty are swallowed in the certainty of God’s love.  It is a redeeming love.  Even if I lose all, God’s love can and will redeem what is lost (See Job 42:10).  Even if the way is dark, God’s love is the light of dawn speeding toward us.  Even if my faith slips and my response misses the mark, God is faithful and just to forgive us and restore us because of His love.

I had two key take-aways from the message this weekend that apply in every storm and in the fog.  First, if the situation we are in is not good, then God’s not finished.  Second, in the times when I cannot see God’s hand, when I can’t understand what is going on, I can always, ALWAYS trust His heart.  Let the storm come.  Let the fog roll in.  Let the darkness settle upon us.  In all things and in every situation God is there, God is light, God is life and God is love!

As I finish this blog I look out the window and within the past five minutes the fog has lifted.  I think I will take that as I sign I got it right.

The fog has lifted!

The fog has lifted!

AWESOME!  He is SO GOOD!

Rejoice today my friend.  God’s love is precious and it is near.  Take hold of His hand today and let us rejoice!

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Two and a half years ago my wife and I felt prompted to make an addition to our home.  It seemed a little odd since we were facing an empty nest within 8 months as our youngest of four was about to graduate and head off to college.  As we continued to pray the nudge became a clarified vision and so we began the process.  The addition was to add a pool and a garage with an apartment over head.  We designed it, found a builder who worked wonderfully with us to get it done before the two weddings we had that year, and by Memorial Day we had a new swimming pool and pool house.  One of the most exciting aspects of the process for me was the opportunity to design and add the landscaping.

One of the coolest features we designed was a cedar pergola to connect the pool house with our home.  This turned out really nice creating a rather strong contrast of the red cedar against the grey-brown brick of the buildings.  Additionally it framed a small courtyard that needed the creative landscape touch.  One of the things I envisioned were vines climbing up the pergola and providing an additional degree of natural shading as well as seasonal color.  I found some plants that appeared like they would work and I added them into the plan.

Today, two years after completion of the project I regularly begin my day talking to the Lord on the pool house porch.  This morning I was struck by the wonderful fragrance that wafted in and around the little courtyard from one of the honeysuckles that we planted.  The plant has climbed the 12 feet to the top of the pergola and is covered in delicate pink blossoms.

As I breathed deeply I thought about how that little honeysuckle is like believers who grow into committed followers.  Two years ago the plant arrived in a pot that I easily held in the palm of my hand.  We were careful to plant it in good soil.  We amended the soil and added the appropriate fertilizer.  We also watered it whenever conditions warranted.  A regular task through the growing season has been the training of the plant.  You see honeysuckles spread broadly in their natural state.  They tend to be invasive and a nuisance.  We had in mind a vertical growth that looped up and over the pergola.  So on at least a weekly basis we have had to maneuver the branches into the correct direction.  Additionally we have pruned it removing dead and damaged growth as well as branches that weren’t heading in the right direction.

There are parallels with the growth and training of this little plant and followers of Jesus.  The start of our life in Christ is a very delicate time.  If the enemy can’t stop us from hearing and responding to Jesus’ call to save us, he will double down to keep us from growing in our faith.  He hates all Christians, but if he can prevent us from becoming effective, then at least he doesn’t have to worry about us working in tandem with God to expand the kingdom.  During this period of vulnerability it is crucial that new believers be properly connected to a vibrant body of believers who will ensure they are fed, nurtured, and encouraged.

A major challenge for new believers is the process of sanctification that we begin when we say YES to Jesus call upon our lives.  Salvation is God’s gift given the moment we say yes to Him.  Our new life in Christ begins then.  It would be wonderful if all bad habits and sin tendencies were immediately removed at that time too, but it doesn’t work that way.  My personal experience is that some of my sin tendencies disappeared immediately.  Some did not.  1 Thessalonians 4 talks about living to please God which we do as we sanctify ourselves from the old habits and sins.  In a very close comparison this is like the pruning that takes place on that little honeysuckle we planted.  Unhealthy branches and branches that aren’t going the right way have to be removed.  The same is true in our lives.  And these things take action on the part of the new believer usually in alignment with the body of believers they are connected to.

Time is also a similarity between our honeysuckle and the believer.  I have seen a few new believers “flame out.”  In every case they jumped forward with great enthusiasm and vigor, but they wilted within a relatively short time frame.  They had not taken the time to grow, to develop the roots of faith needed to withstand persecution and the various attacks of the enemy.  Jesus talks about this in the parable of the sower see Matthew 13:1 – 23, but especially verses 20 & 21.  As I mentioned before the early stage of plant growth is a very vulnerable time.  The roots must develop depth to be able to withstand a dry spell.

I have a lot of perennials that I have planted.  One of the worst things you can do for a perennial is water it too often.  This results in shallow roots with no depth.  If you then leave for a week or two and there is no rain you are liable to return to dead plants.  This is one of the reasons that the Lord doesn’t just make life all fun and games.  We must experience times of difficulty, challenge, and dryness to cause us to persevere, stretch ourselves, and grow our faith.

Finally I mentioned the wonderful fragrance coming from the honeysuckle.  In the old testament the burning of incense was a prescribed act of worship.  Symbolically we view the drifting up of the incense smoke and fragrance as representative of our prayers and offerings rising to God.  As we spend time in the Word of God, the Bible; as we sit under good, solid teaching; as we apply ourselves to serving others; as we seek to hear and obey God, we will grow in our faith.  It may be all small steps, but they are steps none-the-less.  We begin to take on the mind of Christ more and more.  We are like that honeysuckle stretching, reaching, and growing.  And in our season to blossom, we will burst forth in fragrant, beautiful bloom.  Our devotion and love of the Father will manifest itself in the flower and fruit of a life established and growing in Him.

Let me finish the story about why God gave us the vision to expand.  About the time we finished building, my sister’s house sold essentially out of the blue.  They looked around for some place to live, but that wasn’t working out.  Again that nudge from the Lord convinced us to offer up our home.  The day after our youngest son moved into College, my sister and her family moved in with us.  The extra room made it work fine.  And then 8 months later, our oldest son who had moved away for what seemed like a good job opportunity, realized closer to family was important.  So their family of 4 moved in with us.  So when the vision was given we wondered why soon-to-be empty nesters would be adding on rather than downsizing.  We didn’t know, but we clearly sensed the Lord’s leading so we obeyed.  And because we did we have been blessed to grow so much closer to our grandsons, son, and daughter-in-law as well as my sister, brother-in-law, nieces, and nephew.  I’m convinced that despite the challenges that three families living together will invariably bring, we have all grown through this experience.  And I believe that part of that sweet fragrance is the love and service we have given to one another these past two years.

Be blessed my friend and be a blessing to someone today.

Our Fragrant Honeysuckle

Our Fragrant Honeysuckle

Climbing the pergola this honeysuckle looks and smells wonderful.

Climbing the pergola this honeysuckle looks and smells wonderful.

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This morning as my wife and I finished our devotion we moved into prayer for friends and family who are going through serious challenges.  In particular we prayed for couples who are striving to reconcile their marriages after betrayal and hurt.

A picture that came to mind as we were praying is that of a deep wound that must heal from the inside out.  I spoke with a friend recently who has suffered a very serious injury losing the ends of three fingers.  The doctors are leaving one of the wounds open so that it will heal properly – from the inside out.  Coming back to the picture that came to mind as we were praying, I believe that this was a word the Lord gave of what has to happen in these couples we know although it is true of anyone who has suffered deep hurt.  The emotional wound has to have time to heal.  Words and superficial actions will not bring the healing that we truly need to be made whole.

In a marriage a demonstrated commitment is essential for this healing.  Practical steps in this are striving to know and understand our spouse better and better, seeking to understand and speak our spouse’s love language, putting our spouse and their needs before our own, and walking in the character trifecta of openness, honesty, and integrity.  These same truths apply to other relationships as well, but marriage is indeed a common relationship crucible for many of us.  Sadly, for many marriages the refining fire beneath the crucible doesn’t have to get too hot before the majority of what we have built our life upon becomes ash.  Yet through this God is able to build something truly valuable with the little that is left and adding His all-sufficiency.

You see I know this from personal experience.  My wife and I celebrated 30 years of marriage last month.  As I look back I can honestly say that over those 30 years we have had 29+ years of very good to amazingly great love and life together.  But there have been times…  A little over three years ago our relationship had become quite strained.  My job had me on the road 70% of the time.  Lisa was focusing more and more on her career and when I came home looking to be pampered a little bit (okay maybe I was looking for a lot of pampering) Lisa was about used up from all the extra she was having to do.  Our communication suffered and frankly the love was a rather dim ember at that time.  Even the close friendship that we have always shared was being severely tested.  At Christmas we had booked a condo in Orlando assuming Sammy’s soccer team would be playing soccer between Christmas and New Years as they had done for four years previously.  Surprise, they decided not to play in that tournament and yet I had the condo rented.  The short story is it was not the relaxing time to refresh and rejuvenate that I had hoped for.  In fact we now refer to it as the “vacation from hell.” That is not a direct reflection on Orlando necessarily, but more on our heart condition at the time.

Driving back from that vacation I was secretly looking forward to work and being be back out on the road.  I had scheduled to be gone for the first seven weeks of 2012.  Six days later we were racing to the emergency room with Lisa’s left leg just above the ankle sitting at a grotesque angle.  It was a compound, open fracture of both bones a little above the ankle.  A week in the hospital, three surgeries, 12 weeks with no weight on the ankle and multiple PT sessions later Lisa is able to walk and generally has regained most of her mobility.  In a previous post I have written about our walk through this time.  It’s a particularly moving read called “Broken Legs, Mended Hearts.”

I allude to this story today because one of the residuals from this is a serious scar around Lisa’s leg where the tissue was so seriously damaged.  Two things the doctor later told us that we look to as a testament of God’s grace.  First when he first saw Lisa’s leg he estimated he had a 50/50 chance of saving it.  Yet her healing progressed very well.  In fact he seemed very pleased and even a little surprised at how well she recovered.  Second at her one year check up he fully released her telling her to listen to her leg and let pain and discomfort tell her how much to do.  (Oh he did forbid her from swinging on rope swings too.)  But he also said, that a break as bad as hers 50 years earlier often proved fatal.  The bones were shattered into so many small pieces and the wound was a terrible thing.

As we finished our prayer time and I shared the picture that I had used in praying for our friends, Lisa thought of her leg and pointed to her scar.  And she said that deep wounds can leave bad scars.  She was mostly right, but I don’t see her scar as bad.  To some it may not be pretty, but to me it reminds me of Gods abundant grace.  Lisa lived.  Lisa kept her leg and she has most of her mobility.  Our marriage was healed because when Lisa broke her leg, God broke my heart.  Our oldest daughter who had been estranged from us for a time not only came rushing back to be with her mama, she gave her life to the living God.  She will live with God in His kingdom and the catalyst for her final step to this decision was Lisa’s broken leg.

One final thought.  I went for a run after we finished our devotion.  I love to run and I had stopped for a couple of months, so it was exhilarating to get back out there.  But I don’t run for the sake of running.  I run so I can talk with the Lord.  He did not disappoint.  I pick up small rocks as mementos of the places we’ve travelled.  (Lisa is wrapping up a business meetings here in Myrtle Beach as I write this post.)  You may agree with Lisa and think it’s a little weird, but I have found a few other persons who share this weirdness.  Anyway I am on the return leg of this long run and I have picked up a couple good rock candidates for my collection when I feel the Lord speak to me to stop and look for a rock.  Now I like fossil rocks or intricate design rocks or even pretty rocks – something that stands out.  So as I stand by this puddle I am thinking, “Are you going to show me a gold nugget or something Lord?”  And I started looking for something special.  But the Lord said, “Look in the muck and mire.  Look for the dirty and overlooked.  Get the rock that looks the least appealing.”  So I looked and sure enough there was a little, ugly black rock.  I picked it up and as I evaluated it I decided it is a possibly a small piece of shell encased in a little bit of asphalt.  I thought, “Wow, no gold nugget here.”  To which the Holy Spirit immediately replied, “Everything can be redeemed!”  My mind went to the description of the heavenly city described in Revelation of the streets of gold and I realized that streets of gold will have an underlayment that support them and keep them strong, flat, and beautiful.  An underlayment that can include little pieces of shell encrusted in small chunks of asphalt.

Friend, I do not believe you are reading this by accident.  I feel that the Lord has a message of hope for the world that He will get out through as many means as possible.  This message is meant for you and perhaps a loved one or friend.  God loves you, He can bring about the deep healing that is needed, scars aren’t always bad, and everything can be redeemed.  That about sums it up for this morning.

Have a blessed day.  And be a blessing to someone God puts in your path or on your heart today.

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Recently I heard some guys reminiscing about our high school days and one of them commented with a sigh, “Those were the best of times.”  I’ve pondered that a good bit since then wondering is that true in any sense of the phrase.  While this becomes a reality for some this absolutely does not have to be true.  One of our slogans at church is “The Best is Yet to Come.”  I believe that.  Not because I am locked into a positive-thinking mindset.  (Although I do see this is better than a negative-thinking mindset.)  But because God’s Word promises this.  Also I have seen what happens to people who are fixated upon the past.  They usually have a wreck in their immediate future.  It’s like trying to drive while constantly looking in the rear view mirror.  It doesn’t work for very long before you are piled up into a tree.

Sadly for some, perhaps many, the high school days are the high point of life.  The freedoms most of us enjoy during high school are significant and growing.  The responsibilities most of us have are generally much less than what we will encounter a little later in life.  Finally, there’s the “small pond” effect.  You do not have to be really big to be the biggest fish in the pond.  In a similar manner, in high school it is easier to be the “star” because of the small population.  I experienced that.  In high school I had my accolades, but when I got to college I disappeared into the mass of humanity just trying to figure things out.  Until I connected with a small group that helped give me an identity, I was invisible.

While I am ready to move on to the wonderful promises the Lord for His children, I’m reminded that there are many variations on the theme “those were the best of times”.  The marriage that started strong and somehow lost its way and ended… the promising career that crashed… the health and vitality that drained away in sickness and ill-health…  the era of raising a family that gives way to scattered family in distant reaches with infrequent contact.  The reality is life changes and it ebbs and flows over time.  Not every experience is a mountain top.  And every mountain top does not have to be big and dramatic.  Our two year old grandson loves his grandpa.  At the moment we get to see him a lot.  When he hears me come in he charges to me with his arms raised and a big grin to give me a hug.  I realize I am very fortunate that I get small “Best of Times” reminders like that pretty often right now.  Don’t miss this though.  I could miss them.  If I did not respond with the same warmth and love that Jasper shows to me, I am pretty sure I would lose this wonderful gift.

There is a reason I recognize this small “Best of Times” gift.  I know my Father loves me and He wants the best for me.  Actually He wants the best for every one of His children.  In fact His offer of adoption is available to everyone and He wants to shower us all with His love.  Some of His love and grace already falls upon those who have not yet come to Him.  The country we live in enjoys freedoms and prosperity perhaps greater than any country ever has.  And it goes back to the grand experiment of our founding fathers who built this nation upon Judeo-Christian beliefs.  If we have eyes to see, if we take time to really see, we can perceive many ways that small blessings come our way.  Why is this important?  If you are in a valley time, and they happen to all of us, you are not meant to remain there.  An important step in getting out of the valley is to keep looking up, keep seeking a way up, keep praying for a path up.  God wants us to go forward, to come on up.  If we get stuck wallowing in regret, self-pity, and blaming, we look down and back rather than forward and upward.   God’s desire is to bring us through the valley to even higher ground than we were on before.  The world, the flesh, and the devil conspire to keep us stuck in the valley.  Choose the higher ground and keep striving.

Fortunately God has given us a guidebook, the Bible, which has numerous passages that affirm this desire for us to keep progressing unto more Best of Times.  Jeremiah 29:11 was written to the Jewish exiles in Babylon, but the Lord also had it written for us.  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  The prophet Isaiah was also God’s mouthpiece to the Jews 2700 years ago and to us today.  In one of the valleys that the Lord brought me through, Isaiah 41:10 became a life verse.  “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  If we keep our focus looking back or looking at what we have lost we will miss the good things that God has ahead of us.  How do I know God has good things ahead?  Well I take Jesus at His word.  In John 10:10 He tells us, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they (that is His followers) may have life, and have it to the full.”  Another translation says it “that they may have abundant life.”  Either way it fits my description of the “Best of Times”.

The final reason I am certain that as good as it gets here it still falls short of what the future holds, is because this is not my home.  Our final destination is with God in heaven.  Now I won’t claim to know what it is totally like, but occasionally I believe the Lord has given me hints.  On the gorgeous late spring day when everything conspires to be absolutely beautiful, the Lord whispers, “It’s better than this.”  When I have gotten to some breath-taking vista and I am admiring the view thinking how absolutely amazing it is, I hear Him say, “This is just a foretaste…”  When my heart is light and bubbly because of the love one of my children or wife has blessed me with, I sense the Lord say, “I love you more than this.”  WOW!

I am thrilled to be on this journey of life.  The hope, anticipation, and excitement of what lies ahead is truly bubbling inside me at this very moment.  I look out the window to the grey threatening sky of an unusually brisk spring morning and my heart is thrilled because there are sunny days, beautiful vistas, and a heavenly home filled with God’s unfathomable love ahead.  Truly the Best is Yet to Come!

I pray that wherever you are, whatever you are going through, that the Father will give you a foretaste of the “Best is Yet to Come” He has in store for you.  I know of some family and friends who are walking through challenging times.  I pray that you will be encouraged as God provides tangible support to you through this time.  For others who may be in the doldrums, which constitute a fair amount of our life, I encourage you to see and enjoy the little glimpses of the “The Best” He puts in your path.  Be encouraged.  He has no forgotten you or forsaken you.

Final thought.  The way Jasper responds to me and to his daddy is a picture of how we can respond to our heavenly Father if we want to bless Him.  My heart soars when this little guy comes running to me with joy on his face just wanting to be in my arms.  I think our heavenly Father’s heart desires the same from us.

Have a wonderful day.  Be blessed and be a blessing!

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