Archive for the ‘Worship’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Christmas tree was filled with light and I can see an amazing lesson in it.  I am in a season that I hope never ends.  In fact I hope it is not a season, but the result of progress in being transformed.  It’s the transformation that we are all called to in Romans 12:1-2 ‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  I have been a Jesus follower for a long time.  I have experienced the clear leading of the Holy Spirit on various occasions and it always gives me great joy.  But all my previous experiences have been more like our typical Christmas tree with little points of light interspersed here and there.  The light was visible, but the tree was still the predominant feature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a blessed day my friend.

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Separation… The distance between us says a lot about our relationships.  It can be reflected in physical dimensions, but in reality it is the total sum of emotional, physical, and spiritual space between us that really matters.

I read a great book which I highly recommend called The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith.  Doctor Smith does an outstanding job of identifying the false narratives we may have about God and comparing them to the narratives Jesus gives us about God.  I’ve thought about this idea of separation and intimacy a lot over the past few months at least in part because of this book.

I love the story of the prodigal son.  At different times in my life I have identified with any and all of the three characters in the story – the wayward younger son, the dutiful older son, and the hopeful father.  In telling this story Jesus illustrates this theme of separation and restoration in a manner that brings out the physical, emotional, and ultimately spiritual distance that exists to be bridged.

‘Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ”’  Luke 15:11-32

Even while he was physically present in the home of his father, the younger son was emotionally and spiritually distant.  His heart was drawn toward foreign lands and taboo customs.  I feel certain his father knew this.  Yet rather than force the younger son to stay physically present he not only allowed him to go, he enabled him to physically leave.  I’d never really considered it before, but the father wasn’t obligated to give the younger son his inheritance.  In fact, there are two things striking here.  The inheritance is not due until the father dies.  And the inheritance for the younger children is usually meager.  The oldest son was due the bulk of the estate and the younger children were to be given a small inheritance – enough to start a life, but not half the farm.  Yet that’s what this father did.  In so doing he provided the younger son the means to put into effect the physical distance that matched the spiritual and emotional distance he had always had.  The father gave the son the means to do the very things he had taught his children all their life not to do.

In Jesus telling of the story, the older son doesn’t really show up much until the end.  I want to point out that the older son also had his fair share of distance to overcome.  At the end of the story when the younger son has come to his senses, when he has repented of his sin and recognized his self-imposed distance between himself and his father, we see rejoicing and reconciliation between youngest son and dad.  But the separation between father and oldest son then becomes evident.  I believe that this separation was predominantly spiritual up until this point.  In his pouting, the oldest son expresses anger emanating from a prideful spirit.  The distance that had likely remained mostly hidden was brought to light.

I’ve always been intrigued by why Jesus tagged this on at the end of the story, almost as a footnote.  I think the answer lies in this thought of the distance between us and God.  One of the paramount messages of Jesus was the elimination of the distance between God and His children.  Jesus was Emmanuel – God with us.  That was a radical thought back then, even as it still is for many today.  The entirety of “God with us” is a bigger truth than we can fully comprehend.  But in this story we see the father doing something radical… and painful.  I had never really seen it as what it had to be – the father’s extreme faith.  Toward the youngest son it was faith that when he hit bottom he would look up and realize that the distance he had put between himself and his father was something he didn’t want to exist any longer.  For the oldest son it was faith that he would understand that physical closeness was not the same as intimacy and that one day he would move into true intimacy with his father.

Our Father will do anything to eliminate the distance between us.  He wants intimacy with us and He is willing to suffer to see it accomplished.  For years I’ve marveled at the suffering Jesus endured at the cross.  As my faith matured and I became a dad, I also marveled at the suffering God the Father had to endure to send His Son to suffer on our behalf.  Today I realize that God feels the pain of separation with those He has called to be His children.  Yet He allows us to “walk away” because His greatest desire is for our complete reconciliation with Him.  To achieve this we have to see the distance for what it is – separation from the only Love that is truly healing… separation from the only Love that can completely reconcile… separation from the only Love that completes us…separation from intimacy with our Father Who is Love.

Through my work with our church’s care team and in our home group, I am praying for several folks who have prodigal children.  My heart aches for them because we too have experienced children who walk away from us and from the Father.  I suspect there are those who are reading this who’s feet may fit the shoes of someone in this story… the parent or one of the two children.  Know this, God is with you wherever you are even if you have turned your back on Him.  He loves you beyond your understanding.  He loves you with an everlasting love.  And He has done everything to make it possible for you to experience intimacy with Him and within the family of love He has called you to.  Simply turn to Him.  Call out to Him.  Ask Jesus to help you.  Ask Him to show you how to eliminate the distance between you and God.  You’ll be amazed.  The distance can be bridged in moment through a whispered, “Yes Lord.”

Be blessed today and be a blessing.

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The most difficult care conversations are those where people have lost hope.  Hope is an anchor.  Hope keeps us from being lost when the storms of life break over us and threaten to destroy us.  Persons who lose hope are vulnerable to multiple temptations that will only make bad situations worse.  The downward spiral that is hopelessness is difficult to break once the path is set.  This is when the life-giving words of Jesus are so important to hold on to.  Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26 NIV.

Yesterday we prayed with a man whose family has experienced two suicides within the course of a month.  This is the ultimate losing hope.  Two of my friends then shared nuggets of gold which I want to share with you today.  First Doug, a teacher for many years, mentioned an experiment that he has read about.  Laboratory mice were subjected to a stress test that measured the impact of hope.  The mice were placed in a tank filled with enough water that the mice were forced to swim.  For one group of mice the tank was then covered with a box that completely sealed off the light.  The average lifespan of the mice in the dark box was 3 minutes before they drowned.  The second group of mice were treated the same except for a small hole in the box which allowed a small amount of light to enter the box.  The average lifespan of these mice was 36 hours.  Such is the power of hope.

As Doug finished, Greg asked if we had a good definition of hope.  I think I said it was a belief that things would be better in the future.  Greg said hope is H.O.P.E – Holding On to Promises Eternal.  My definition could be true, but it could just as easily be the definition for wishful thinking.  In reality, that’s what a lot of people accept as hope.  But Greg’s definition is tied to something solid… something that has stood the test of time and proven true.

So, I want to share with you some of the Promises Eternal that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt to be true.

“I will never leave you or forsake you.”  God speaks this to several people in the bible.  He spoke it to me in Sept of 1983 in a small chapel at Camp Hartner in the piney woods of central Louisiana.  This is the first and foundational promise of my faith journey.  I pitched my anchor trusting it would hold fast in this promise.  It has for over 34 years.  I am certain it will hold into eternity.

“I know the plans I have for you.  Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans to give you a hope and future.”  Jeremiah 29:11.  The Lord kept this verse in my thoughts the entire week when I was told my job was eliminated in 2007.

‘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. ‘  Isaiah 41:10.  The Lord clearly gave me this verse as I was about to go to work one morning fully expecting to hear that my team was being downsized.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. ‘  Matthew 6:33.  In this simple admonition, Jesus gave the recipe for prioritizing life which ensures my needs are met.  While there have been a few times that my wants went unsatisfied, I’ve never missed anything of significant value.  One of the things I’ve learned about “wants” is they usually have a great big “I” in the middle of them and they don’t advance God’s purposes in my life or the life of those around me.  Yet with a few unfulfilled wants, there have been numerous times when God’s blessings have absolutely overflowed into my life and the lives of those I know and love.

‘Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”‘  Matthew 11:28-30.  I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve “limped home” to hear the Father whisper the words “Rest in Me.”  He has always carried the bulk of the load.  At times I’ve attempted to shoulder more than I was supposed to and forge on in my strength.  Yet in His gracious mercy, He has always been right there to step in as soon as I realize my error and lean into Him.

‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.’  Proverbs 3:5-6.  Again there have been times when I’ve gotten focused upon my plan, my work, my way that I’ve lost track of God’s call and purpose.  But He is faithful to His promise here and when I turn to Him fully committing my heart and ways to Him, He has always, ALWAYS been there to guide and direct me.

‘Delight yourself also in the Lord , And He shall give you the desires of your heart.’ Psalms 37:4.  I’ve learned that deepening my relationship with the Lord – delighting in Him, has been the greatest blessing of life.  At times I can clearly see how martyrs and the persecuted saints through the ages have been able to worship God even in the face of intense personal pain and suffering.  He gives eyes to see things unseen.  He causes our hearts to know of things eternal.  He changes our heart so that His desires become our desires.  He accomplishes those things that will bring about His glory and our joy.

I meant to keep this to a short post, but I have failed again.  Please forgive me.  While I am just getting warmed up, I know it is time to sign off for today.  Before I do, I would be remiss not to emphasize, these are your promises too.  God loves with an overwhelming love.  He has written His love story for you as well as for me.  Every promise of God is true and you can rely on them.  Wherever you are in life, you can pitch your anchor into God’s Promises Eternal and that anchor will hold.  Jesus gave His life for you and He gives His promises to you.  That my friend is HOPE.  That my friend is for you.

Blessings to you today.

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Brad said it 10 days ago yet it is still bouncing around in my head.  “The Kingdom advances at the speed of sacrifice.”  We are revisiting our core values and the 4th is Having a Kingdom Mentality.  Very briefly, this means we fix our eyes on Jesus and seek to live each day from the understanding that we are members of God’s kingdom.  Living from this perspective changes the way we approach many situations.  Instead of worldly wisdom, we seek to apply biblical wisdom to the challenges of the day.  Living from the knowledge that the God of the universe is actively engaged in the redemption of life on this green planet alters how we think, how we act, what we say – essential everything is flavored by this new perspective.  A key principle is that love and sacrifice are pillars in the Kingdom of God.  The following story from the gospel of John portrays this beautifully.

‘Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. ‘  John 13:1-20

Jesus demonstrated His love for us in numerous ways.  Washing the feet of visitors was one of the lowest of servant roles in Jesus’ day, yet Jesus didn’t hesitate to minister to the disciples in this manner and then called them to follow His example.  But this wasn’t the first or the last time Jesus would model sacrifice.

On the cross Jesus fulfilled the righteous requirement of the law paying the penalty for sin… for all sin… for your sin and my sin, so that we might enter into relationship with the Father.  His sacrifice is the watershed in all world history.  Everything is changed because of His sacrifice.  Yet, He calls us to partner with Him in the redemption  of the world.  The good news of Jesus’ love and sacrifice hasn’t reached everyone.  There are those who have not heard it because of their physical location.  There are those who haven’t heard it because of local beliefs and false religion’s hostility to the gospel.  And there are those who have not heard because the message is not compellingly delivered.

There is nothing wrong with the gospel.  But at times we fail to deliver the message from a true kingdom mentality.  Have we been on our knees in prayer interceding for our friends before we share the gospel?  Do we allow God’s principles to guide our actions causing us to live differently enough that people notice and are attracted by God’s grace showing through us?  Do we allow the Holy Spirit to guide our actions such that when we are nudged to step out of our comfort zone we promptly respond even if we may look a little foolish?  Are we willing to sacrifice when all the clamor around us says indulge, enjoy, treat yourself?

Let’s journey together this Lent and look at what this kingdom mentality looks and feels like.  I have been nudged to sacrifice a bit of sleep for the next 40 or so days to share some thoughts on the matter.  Please join me and share your thoughts.

Love and peace to you this Ash Wednesday, 2018.  May the Lord bless you with the richness of His grace.


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I expected colder temps as I set out for the mountains at 4 am.  What I failed to expect was that the calm where I lived would be replaced by 15 – 20 mph winds.  Fortunately I dressed warm and for the most part I was comfortable.  The hike from 5500 feet to 6000 feet also kept the blood pumping which meant for the first hour I was relatively comfortable.

Shining Rock in the Pisgah National Forest was created as one of the original federal Wilderness Areas when that designation was established in 1964.  The high mountain range consists of a concentrated number of mountain peaks in western North Carolina with several over 5000 feet and three, including Black Balsam Knob, over 6000 feet in elevation.  Surrounded by thickly forested mountains slopes the closest town, Brevard, NC is some 20+ miles south.

As I emerged from my car near the trailhead I was stunned by the vast number of stars visible this far from manmade lights other than those I had just turned off.  Since the moon had set, the stars had the stage all to themselves, and what a performance they gave.  For the second time in two weeks I caught the glimpse of a shooting star as it’s long and invisible existence came to a brief, yet fiery end colliding with the earth’s atmosphere.  The wind was howling as I entered the 200 meters of trail running through the strip of fir trees just off the service road.  I prayed a prayer of thanks for the folks who had laid white rock on the trail through the trees.  It would have been very easy to lose the trail without it.

Breaking through the trees, the expansive view opened to the first hints of light on the horizon.  An hour before the official sunrise, I had time to soak in the immensity and grandeur of the night.  Even without the moon, the stars were bright enough to give a sense of shape and flow to the land.  The dark shape of the mountain rising to my left and the swaying form of the trees I had emerged from falling off to my right were silhouetted against millions of stars.  Toward the eastern horizon the hint of color slowly grew with one bright star shining above the brightest point.

“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.

They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.”

Psalm 19:1-4a

Creation speaks if we listen.  It is not loud or demanding, but more of a gentle whisper… most of the time.  The message is one of beauty, power, and majesty.  From the top of a cold, windy mountain bald far from civilization I knew the creator’s presence not as in an artist’s work created and left behind, but in a world that He Himself fills and sustains.  God – the Almighty, was there on the mountain and my spirit soared to embrace His loving presence.

Another thought came.  When I look at creation, I realize the utter emptiness of an atheistic point of view.  The belief that all of this – the sun, the moon, the stars, earth and the exact combination of so many variables necessary to sustain life, just happened in a cosmic accident, is far too hard to believe.  That all of this came from nothing is the definition of foolishness.  I don’t make light of the fact that there is much we do not know about life and the universe.  There are mysteries that we mere mortals do not and may not ever know.  But evidence and logic make an indisputable case of an intelligent designer and creator.

As the sun rose I realized that winter had come to the high places.  The trees were all bare and the grass-covered bald was colored in various browns and greys.  As a lover of light and color, the view through the photographer’s lens was much closer to bleak winter than the festive fall I had hoped to capture.

I hiked to the top of Black Balsam Knob.  By this time I had been out in the wind for a couple hours.  Being stationary while trying to snap long exposure shots, the chill had seeped through my gloves.  The fleece-lined jeans were doing their job and my son’s borrowed yarmulke had my head toasty, but I realized my fingers were numbingly cold.  The intensity of the wind made it a challenge to get my fingers warm.  Frost-bite was suddenly a concern.  I looked for shelter, but the trees were about a mile back down the trail over the open mountain ridge.  I had selected the rock out-cropping I was standing by to serve as a foreground element in a few shots.  I suddenly remembered David and Elijah taking refuge in the cleft of a rock.  Sliding down the lee side of the rock from the wind I found immediate relief.  As an added bonus the morning sun was now hitting me without the wind stealing it’s warmth.

Sitting beside the rock I was aware of warmth emanating from within as well as from outside.  The physical rock behind which I sheltered brought to mind the Rock Who is my forever shelter – Jesus Christ.  I had felt His presence the entire time on the mountain, but as the winds swept over and around the rock, I thought of the challenging times of my life when He walked me through.  Sometimes He had to carry me.  Always, His strength was able to supply what I lacked.  With a smile on my face I rested in the relative warmth of the sun and the eternal warmth of the Son.

I did manage to find some color at the lower elevations.  The following shots are some of my favorites of the day.

At mid-afternoon I found myself standing on Caesar’s Head overlooking the Blue Ridge escarpment falling off into the South Carolina piedmont.  A couple hawks and then buzzards flew by, but I did not see any of the Peregrine Falcons I had hoped for.  It was fine though because the view, like so many this day, inspired yet another thought, this time from Isaiah.

“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”

Isaiah 40:28-31

It’s fitting that the last act of this trip was to make two new friends with whom I shared not only the view off the mountain, but a faith in the Lord.  As we stood there and chatted, we realized that we had been inspired by the view in a very similar manner – with wonder and praise for the Creator of such beauty.  We were standing on a different rock outcropping than my Black Balsam Knob, but since rock was a common thread running through this day, I enjoyed the thought that my two new friends and I were knit together as family because of our common faith in the Rock.  And that Rock’s name is Jesus.

I hope you enjoy the pics.  But even more I hope you are encouraged by the truths the Lord has given to us… to you every bit as much as to me.

“Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.”

Psalm 62:8

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:37-39

Be blessed today and be a blessing!

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We were fortunate to be in the center of the eclipse that crossed the USA this week.  It was surreal seeing the clouds on the northwest horizon suddenly go dark while clouds all around were still brightly lit.  Within a few seconds the light went dim as if a dimmer switch dialed down our celestial light just short of the “off” position.  As I slowly spun around, the “sunrise” visible on all 360 degrees of the horizon was beautiful.  The corona flared from behind the sun while pearls of light trickled through lunar valleys 250,000 miles away.  One hundred a fifty-three seconds after it started, the diamond ring appeared and our eclipse glasses had to go back on.  It was an amazing, and for most of us once-in-a-lifetime, experience.

Since I am in a sling I wasn’t able to do much photography during the eclipse.  However, I found several really good pics on the website BoredPanda.com.  I am attaching ones that I particularly enjoyed.  I hope you enjoy them too.

The hype for the eclipse was tremendous here in the USA, and particularly for those of us  in the “zone of totality”.  The eclipse became a cultural event crossing the US from coast to coast.  It was a nice respite from controversial matters, if only for a day.  One commentator in Oregon even made mention that for some the eclipse was a “spiritual” event.  While I don’t subscribe to the stars dictating things of the spirit, there is precedent of the Lord using the stars and other celestial bodies to point us toward truths that He wants to emphasize.  Here are some truths that yesterday’s eclipse brought to mind.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5
https://www.bible.com/bible/59/JHN.1.5   The sun is hidden from view during an eclipse, but is never put out; likewise, Jesus is the one and only Light of the World.  His enemies try myriad ways to diminish or divert His light, but they cannot.  The light of the sun was darkened for a time, but it was never put out.  All we had to do was wait and trust in the light we couldn’t quite see and shortly the light again shown brightly upon us.

“The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.” Psalms 19:1-6 https://www.bible.com/bible/59/PSA.19.1-6

The ancients thousands of years ago saw the same sun, moon, and stars we do.  They stood in awe of the marvels in the heavens and realized that the intricacy and order in the universe point to the existence of a creative hand.  The second law of thermodynamics states that all things progress from order to chaos without the input of energy.  There had to be an intelligent designer- creator to achieve the tremendous complexity and perfect inter-relationships we see in creation.

“”Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”  Matthew 24:29-31  https://www.bible.com/bible/59/MAT.24.29-31

There is a day coming when Christ will return.  By His resurrection, Jesus has conquered death, hell, and the grave.  Yet God has chosen to allow life on earth to continue until a set time, a time of His design.  Until then every person has the opportunity to draw close to God or to turn away from Him.  There is a climax to time on this earth and one set of heralds of this end are amazing signs in the heavens.  One of these signs sounds like an eclipse that is witnessed by multitudes.

Those who follow Jesus, who have traded their broken sinful lives for His, will rejoice at His appearing.  Those who have chosen to follow anything other than a relationship with Jesus will be dismayed.  They will mourn, for they have chosen not just the lesser thing, but the wrong thing.

My prayer as I close is that you will be lifted and encouraged by the pics to consider the awesome Creator Who provides such amazing sights.  And as great as His creative genius is, His all encompassing love is even greater.  I encourage you to seek Him while He may be found.

Be blessed and be a blessing today.

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