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Archive for the ‘Worship’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“More power to you!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I wonder how many people in Jerusalem realized how special the approaching high Sabbath would be 2000 years ago?  The pivot point of all human history was days away and I suspect no one aside from Jesus really grasped the import of the times.

Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea come to mind as two persons that may have had an inkling, but I am certain they didn’t quite comprehend the plan God had in mind.  The hustle and bustle of the ceremonial season would have been a bit of a distraction to them or to any religious leader trying to discern the course of the itinerant preacher named Jesus.

The political intrigue of the religious leaders and the secular authorities would have kept the insiders guessing.  The young and zealous desiring freedom from Rome were a constant threat for bringing down the heavy heel of the Roman legions.  The Roman and Jewish leaders sought to walk a fine line between some autonomy for the people to continue their religious practices and the rule of Rome.  People were pawns to them and the game they played would have kept them clueless to the miracle of miracles that was drawing nigh.

It would seem the most likely to have some insight into what was about to unfold would have been the common folk who traveled with Jesus.  Jesus had told them on a number of occasions that He had to go to Jerusalem to die.  But they too were not able to put the pieces together in this week of preparation.  Some perceived Him to be the Messiah sent from God, but dying???

Even today, we risk overlooking the importance of what God is doing… here, now.  We have the benefit of 2000 years of history pointing to the validity of God’s marvelous plan.  We have written records that clearly demonstrate God moving, saving, recreating, releasing, and empowering the Church… common folk and noble alike.  All who turn to Him can be saved and given new life.  Jesus is alive and at work RIGHT NOW.

But we so easily miss the best because of all the rest.  Political intrigue… yep it’s still here and many are distracted by it.  Religious ceremony… check, we will have our “bells and smells” and Easter egg hunts, our new Easter clothes and church’s filled with CEOs.  (CEO = Christmas and Easter Only).   Sadly, even Jesus-followers sometimes struggle with perceiving how special this time is because of work or vacation (can anyone say “spring break”), or the pressures of life… each of which demand our attention.

Do you sense the importance of what Jesus did this week 2000 years ago?  Do you sense the importance of what He is doing right now?  It is not my intent to beat you up from afar, but I do want you to consider what Jesus did and He is doing.  I encourage you to set aside time to just meet with Jesus this Holy Week and ask Him to help you see it with new eyes.  We are easily distracted, but this most special time is worth the effort to anticipate and experience with wonder.  God gave us the most precious gift in His Son, Jesus.  Jesus offers us salvation (and so much more) through the gift of His life.  He took our sin and exchanged it for His righteousness on the cross.  In this final week before He submitted Himself to the most excruciating of deaths, Jesus poured out such amazing wisdom.  Check out the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ last week.  Matthew 21 and following, Mark 11 and following, Luke 19:28 and following, and John 12:12 and following.

I have found that my blessing in Easter grows immeasurably when I allow Jesus to help me in Holy Week to see how special it really is.  My prayer is that you too will experience Jesus in a new a fresh way this Holy Week and into Easter.

Blessings upon you today my friend.

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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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