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Aloha!

Throughout our stay in Hawaii we heard “Aloha!” both in greeting and as a goodbye.  Every tour guide we met referred to the importance of the word in conveying the Hawaiian sense of love, affection, peace, compassion, and mercy.  It was always said with a smile and, in many cases, with a hug or a kiss on the cheek.

We attended a Luau one night and the Chief spoke of the ancient roots of the word in the Polynesian language.  It seems the word is the combination of “Alo” which means to meet or stand face to face and the word “Ha” which carries the sense of breath or life or spirit.  So it has a sense of being in close connection with another and sharing the same breath or sharing life together.

As I heard this description my mind went to Jesus’ first appearance to His disciples after His resurrection.  It’s recorded in the 20th chapter of the book of John.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” ‘  John 20:19-22

Jesus is unique among all religious leaders.  In fact, Jesus would scoff at being called a religious leader.  Jesus spoke very plainly and clearly about Who He was.  He said He was God’s Son.  He said there was only one way to enter into a face to face relationship with God and that was through Him.  His disciples didn’t understand what He meant when He first told them, but with His resurrection, the truth began to become clear.  Jesus was God’s solution to man’s problem.  God is Holy and Perfect.  Sin cannot stand in God’s presence, yet His love desires to be joined with His children.  Therefore imperfect people cannot stand in God’s presence, but Jesus intervened on our behalf and in our place.  That’s what the cross was.  Jesus accepting the punishment for sin, for our sin, in our place so that we could be able to enter into a relationship with God.

I mentioned that Jesus was unique.  Others have made mighty proclamations.  But no others have been able to demonstrate their deity because they were mere men or women.  Only Jesus conquered death.  Only Jesus rose from the grave to be witnessed by hundreds after a very public and very real death.  Jesus proved Who He was by His resurrection. That proof is also supported by the transformed lives of thousands into millions who have experienced a personal relationship with the living Lord.  I am one of them.

Jesus may not be Hawaiian, but I believe He is probably okay with the definition of Aloha that the chief gave at our Luau.  I know He is calling people to come meet with Him face to face, to put their trust in Him, to turn from a life of trusting anything and everything else and to turn to Him.  Jesus is waiting.  He wants to breath His Spirit into His children.  Let today be the day you lean into Jesus and say “Yes”… you put your trust in Him and say “I’m Yours”… you step off the throne of your life and say, “My Lord and my God.”  If you speak Hawaiian, you just might hear Him say, “Aloha, my child.  I’ve been waiting for this moment since the day I first thought of you.  Receive My Spirit and enter my rest.”

Be blessed my friends and pass it on!

Note: These pictures are from our first full day in Oahu when we took the Ultimate Circle Tour of Oahu with our guide, Levent, and a van full of new friends like Sandra, Johnny, Fred, and Gail.  (Sorry we got separated at the end of the day like we did.  Hope you had a great wrap-up to your trip.)

Please feel free to view an download any pics that you like.  More to follow in the coming days.

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

Giving credit where it is due, PSD was in our “Tighten the Knot” Marriage series message by Brad Cooper.  Yet the importance of this resonates in me harkening back to a 5-year long lesson the Lord gave me on my most important role on this earth.  During those 5 years the Father continually brought me back to these verses in Ephesians.  ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. ‘  Ephesians 5:25-27  If you are married, your first human relationship is with your spouse.  Men, God has given you the responsibility to partner with Him in His sanctifying work in the woman you pledged to “cherish for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”  You made a commitment to your wife (and to God, if you missed that part) that you were in it for the long haul.  You have signed on the dotted line and the contract is not just valid in all 50 states, but in heaven as well as on earth.  But never fear, God has co-signed this contract with you so success is 100% assured, IF we do it His way.  (Another borrowed thought from Dr. Jimmy Evans in our Marriage series.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be blessed today my friend and be a blessing.

Introspection in context of an on-going conversation with our Creator God is an awesome thing. We were created on purpose by God for a purpose. We are not cosmic accidents. There are plenty of voices that strive to either convince us that we are purposeless accidents or, at the very least, distract us from what our true purpose is. But you and I are divinely created, eternal beings with a God-given purpose. Now many philosophers, poets, and apologists throughout history have contemplated this question. Depending upon their assumptions they differ greatly in their answers. Fortunately, Truth is not as relative as some would have us believe. If you determine to let Truth be your guide and actively engage a discussion with the Almighty, you will be given an answer to the question, “Why Am I Here?” That’s what I’d like to talk about today.

There are a couple life purpose statements that I have heard that I embrace. One is “To Know God and to Make Him Known.” That’s pretty high level, but it is true. Another that has been running around in my mind this morning is “To Do the Greatest Amount of Good To the Greatest Amount of People While I Have the Ability To Do So.” If we give definitions to the terms such as good being helping people to know Jesus and grow in their relationship with Him, then this is a pretty good one. As a Christ-follower, how I fulfill my purpose flows out of seeing what Jesus did and is currently doing, gaining His direction and empowerment, and then doing it.

In the midst of Holy Week, my thoughts have repeatedly turned to Jesus and what His final week was like. Jesus had crystal clarity of His ultimate purpose. He was sent to redeem mankind. That purpose finds its fulfillment in His crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Everything we know about Jesus is aligned with His ultimate purpose. Jesus redemption of mankind is for all generations; therefore He selected a small group of ordinary folks to carry on His message after He returned to heaven. The lives He touched with His simple, yet extraordinary message attested to by the multitude of miracles He performed were further evidence of a reality beyond the mundane existence so many were experiencing. Where it is healthy and maturing, the Church today is faithfully continuing Jesus’ work of redemption.

So why am I here? Why are you here? Have you taken time to figure out your specific purpose? God has a purpose for you that is good. The ramifications of your purpose will resonate into eternity. That is true whether you find and walk in your divine purpose or not. You see, God is sovereign. He knows the length, breadth, and depth of our lives. If we chose to miss out on God’s call upon our lives, He is still weaves this into His plan of redemption. There are eternal consequences for us and many of those in our proximity, but God’s ultimate plan will march on to completion.

Yet, when we partner with God… when we become Jesus-followers committed to living life under the guidance of His Holy Spirit, we will be given God-ordained tasks every single day that further God’s revelation and fulfillment of our purpose. And our true purpose is always aligned with Jesus’ purpose – the redemption of mankind.

Take time to ask the Lord to give you a clear sense of your purpose today. Read the Word with eyes open to what the Spirit says to you about your next steps with Jesus. Understand that your life is to be lived in partnership with God. He knows what He is doing. He knows the role He has created you to fulfill. He will reveal it to you. At times He will lift you high and allow you to catch a glimpse of the bigger picture. Hint, this takes place when we are close to Jesus. At other times we may only see the small circle immediately around us and the view of our purpose narrows in to the faith we can muster to hold tightly to Jesus’ hand while the storm rages. Most days though, my purpose is simplified to living as close to Jesus as I possibly can and loving Him and the people He brings into my life that day the best I can.

Why am I here? It’s really simple. To point to Jesus in every way I can.

Blessings my friends. And let the Lord bless others through you.

Special

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.

Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 2

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

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

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

“It died you mean.” said the Firemaster.

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

“You are half right.  It did die.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She stated it simply.  “Respect.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Long enough.” she smiled slightly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The world noted the passing of Stephen Hawking yesterday.  Hawking was a renowned physicist.  He was also a very outspoken atheist whose godless beliefs were routinely touted as the height of intellectual honesty concerning origins of the universe and the fairy tales some people believe.  I did not personally know the man.  And I do not know if there is anything that I could have done to help him.  But I do feel a degree of sadness at his passing.  You see as intelligent as he was and despite all his accolades, he was dead wrong about the most important things concerning life and death.  Even more sad is the fact that his position upon the pedestal of worldly acclaim meant that his theories about God, or the non-existence of God, were viewed by many with the weight of truth.  But they were dead wrong.

Like Mr. Hawking, my belief system is the result of my life experiences, the things I’ve read, my observations of life and assumptions I have made related to those things.  A huge factor in our belief system is our frame of reference or the paradigm we establish.  Our paradigm influences how we receive and process all the information that comes our way.  The scientific mind seeks to have a truly open mind, to be impartial in observation and interpretation of the results.  Unfortunately it’s not possible to completely divorce ourselves from our paradigms.  Our paradigms therefore create in us blind-spots where we cannot see correctly.  We all have blind-spots.  The solution to blind-spots is to be aware we have them and then constantly strive to see things from multiple perspectives.

For a reminder, everyone has a worldview.  It is simply the combination of thoughts and beliefs that make up how we understand and view the world.  This in turn sets up our paradigm about how we interpret everything.  I recognize this to be true in me and therefore I have chosen to compartmentalize the information that makes up my worldview into three buckets.

The largest bucket is my “Things I Think” bucket which contains a lot of things I am reasonably sure are true and accurate.  This is also the information that, while I am fairly confident is true, I give my confidence about a 75%.  These are things I might joke about and debate on, but I won’t argue over.

The second bucket is my “Things I Believe” bucket.  This is a good bit more serious because I live my life in accordance to my understanding of the Things I Believe and the third bucket.  I would be hard-pressed to give up these beliefs, however, I do not hold these so rigid that I would fight for them.  I would argue my point and not concede without strong evidence contrary to my belief.  I do leave a little wiggle room for new information to adjust my belief though.  The opening is narrow and the bar for new information to become a paradigm-changing truth is pretty high, but I know my beliefs are not complete.  God has routinely revealed subtle errors in me, or more accurately, fuller understanding of things to me, that cause me to realize there is so much more I don’t know than I do.

Then there is the third and smallest bucket which is the “Things I Know” bucket.  While this bucket is not large, it contains the things that define the core of who I am.  If the things I believe are the lens I view everything in the world, then the things I know are the indestructible frame that holds it all together.  These are the things which I will die believing, the things I will die for.  These are absolute truths and they are not open to correction because they are the established as true on multiple levels and been verified as absolute.  One of them is that there is a God Whom we will all stand before in judgement.  Mr. Hawking knows that now.  No matter how firmly he believed there was no God while he walked this earth, he has learned he was wrong.

Here are the three primary reasons I know Mr. Hawking was wrong.  The first is the evidence of intelligent design in the universe.  It surprises me greatly that anyone who closely studies the universe in all it’s complexity AND order doesn’t see the absolutely essential need for a intelligent designer behind the design.  The odds of the things that have had to occur in the creation of all that is happening by random chance are truly insurmountable.  They are literally impossible.  And yet from a paradigm that says there cannot be a God, an otherwise intelligent human being, argues for something that is mathematically impossible.

Second is a two-fold answer – the deep and historically accurate information from the bible and the person of Jesus.  We have a book compiled over the course of some 2000 years by over 3 dozen different authors that uniformly holds together as a testament to a God that is real, active, and seeking to be known by humankind.  There are many things identified in this book as future-looking prophecies that have been fulfilled that the uniqueness and veracity of the book are beyond reproach.  The prophecies about God’s messiah such as the virgin birth, the birth in Bethlehem, Herod’s murder of the innocent children around Bethlehem, Jesus crucifixion… the list goes on with dozens of old testament prophecies that were exactly fulfilled by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that are, again, mathematically impossible to have happened by chance.  Yet there is an absolutely clear historical record that shows that these impossibilities occurred.

There is so much to say about Jesus, but for the sake of hopefully debunking the late Mr. Hawking’s biggest error, I would point to the resurrection as the hinge point.  For persons who hold an atheistic, agnostic, or even a religious world view other than Christianity, there is one event that Christianity either rises or falls on and that is the resurrection.  If it didn’t happen then we are fools, our religion is a lie, and our hope is in vain.  It truly is that simple.

However, if the resurrection is a true historical event, then God is validated as the God revealed in the bible and the Christian faith is upheld as true.  Furthermore atheists, agnostics, and any religion that does not have Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the world are wrong.  History, even recent history, is full of persons who have set out as committed atheists to disprove the resurrection and, after careful research, found the claims of Christianity and the veracity of the resurrection to be paradigm-shifting and life changing.  Two very good authors to research on this are Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel.

There is one, more personal reason I know Mr. Hawking is wrong.  It is because he denies the existence of a person he has never personally met.  He argues that a place doesn’t exist that he has never been (until now) nor ever researched.  The funny thing, he has to argue against people who have met God and people who have thoroughly researched (and a few who have been to and returned from) heaven.  I am one who has met God.  I have personally experienced a number of miracles in my life and the lives of people I know well.  Miracles that have no other explanation… a dream that sent me to the doctor to find and repair three blockages in my heart, nudges to pray for people out of the blue that turned out to be at exactly when an urgent need arose, healings of illnesses including cancer, divine peace in times of great difficulty.  I have literally a dozen or more verifiable instances of miracles that God brought about because His people prayed.  That is simply counting the ones I have been directly involved in.  Multiplying that by the millions of believers around the world who have stories of God’s direct intervention, and the body of evidence is overwhelming.

Yes, I am sad as I consider Mr. Hawking’s passing.  But it is not so much for him.  He had a lifetime to seek God, but he chose not to.  And God allowed him to chose an eternity of separation from all that is good.  God, Who is love, grants us the right to choose.  So my sadness is not really for Mr. Hawking, but for all the persons Mr. Hawking represents.  People who refuse to consider, “Is God real?”  People who fail to seek Him.  People who are gullible enough to be duped by the many half-truths, lies, and falsehoods that distract and lead away from knowledge of the One True God.

If you don’t know God, I suggest a couple simple steps.  Right where you are say this simple prayer.  “God, I don’t know if you are real or not.  But if you are, please reveal yourself to me.  Please show me who you are and what I am to do to get to know you.”  Pretty simple, right?  And thinking logically, there is nothing at risk if you do this and I am wrong and everything to gain if I am right.

That is the first thing.  The second thing is to get a bible, preferably a more recent translation like a New International Version or the New Living Translation and start reading in the gospels.  Actually you can get the free bible app, YouVersion, and read multiple translations.   I suggest beginning with John.  These are simple steps that, if God isn’t real you won’t be losing anything.  But if He is real (and I can assure you that He is, but you must realize that for yourself) He will open your mind to truth and lead you to people that will help you to know Him.

There are many things in life that being wrong about doesn’t really matter much.  This is not one of those things.  Not believing in God, not recognizing Jesus for Who the bible shows us He is, is not something you want to be wrong on.  It is appointed unto mankind to live one life and then die.  And after that to face judgement.  For those who have accepted Jesus sacrificial death on their behalf and submitted to His leadership, death is no longer the end, but rather the beginning of a larger life spent in the presence of God.