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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

I visited Agape Hope House in Nairobi, Kenya earlier this month. My thoughts and emotions ran the gambit that first day as we spent 6 or 7 hours with the children in the orphanage and then talked (and prayed) with Oliver and Maggie that day and over the next few days. My thoughts have turned back to Kenya and the children many times in the two weeks I have been home. Today, I hope to convey something of the raw… actually a better word is pure, emotion that God is stirring in me as I pray and ponder what I can do to help… how can I further God’s work in these children’s lives and in the lives of those God wants to use to join Maggie and Oliver, LJ and Danee, Coleman and Serving Orphans Worldwide, and me in ministering to “the least of these”.

 

The smiles belie a sad reality. Opportunity in Kenya is scarce. The path ahead for these children is not well trod. There are many obstacles in their path and the way is overgrown and hardly discernable. Yet smile they do. Because they are children they don’t comprehend how difficult the path ahead is.

  • These children have never slept in their own bed… and yet they smile.
  • These children have never had a birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese, or McDonalds, or the skating rink… and yet they smile.
  • These children have never bought a new piece of clothing or shoes… and yet they smile.
  • These children don’t have a clue what it is like to have your own room, your own bed, your own “stuff”… and yet they smile.
  • These children eat every meal in masse, attend class in masse, go to bed in masse, and generally get attention in masse. With individual attention given by so few to so many, rare is the child who knows the tender love and attention my children (and grandchildren) get on a regular basis… and yet they smile.
  • The mental picture of “Mom” and “Dad” for many of these children is sketchy… and yet they smile. (Thank God for Maggie and Oliver who pour into them as much as they humanly can and who bring some balance to the term Momma and Daddy.)
  • These children have never had anyone wash their clothes, make their beds, clean up their room… and yet they smile.
  • These children have never had a choice of what they would like to eat… and yet they smile.

But, because of Agape Hope House and a few faithful donors these children have hope and a window of opportunity that is greater than their peers living outside the compound walls. The path from where they are may have as many obstacles, but the education, the encouragement, the guidance, and the faith they gain at Agape Hope House equips them to navigate a path to a better life. Today there are those who have walked the path to a better, faith-filled life of adulthood from Agape Hope House. While still a challenging path, knowing that others have taken the path and been successful is in itself a great encouragement. Some of those who have grown into adults with the benefit of Agape Hope have returned to mentor, to support, and to help.

The love of Jesus and the children is the motivator for Oliver and Maggie. They have given their lives to the work. The ½ acre piece of ground with 19 buildings, 140 orphans the day I was there, and a school enrolment of 487 stands as a light in a dark and difficult environment. The contrasts on this day buffeted me. The time of play with the children was just plain fun. The talk with some of the children on how they came to be at Agape Hope tore at my heart. The shy smiles of some and the mugging for the camera by others made me laugh. Noticing the girl sitting alone after doing her laundry while all the others played made me wonder – “what’s her story?” And every time a child slipped their hand in mine or Coleman’s or one of the other adults the bitter sweetness of the moment stung and stirred.

If this touches you, stirs you, or simply makes you curious, please take a few moments to look up Serving Orphans Worldwide on the internet at soworldwide.org. Visit Agape Hope Children’s Home on their page to learn more about the work Oliver and Maggie are doing for children in Nairobi.  Finally please join us in prayer.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ‘ Matthew 25:31-40

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I recently traveled to Kenya to support some friends who are serving in an orphanage and school in Nairobi. It was an awesome trip and I was greatly encouraged by the Davis family’s faithfulness in serving the Lord and the dozens of young people under their charge. I told a friend last night that the trip was amazing, but somehow that word really isn’t sufficient. My wife and I travel for leisure a fair amount and seeing new places, experiencing new cultures, and making new friends is not a new experience for me. My common response is that a trip is “amazing”. This was so much more than that. It was inspiring. It was hard work. It was uplifting talking to LJ and Danee about the work. It was wonderful to hear from the Lord frequently and be able to obey with the encouragement and activity that He directed.

 

It weighed on my heart to see the poverty, filth, and lack of opportunity that is so much more prevalent than in the USA (or any of the places we travel to for fun). But as heavy as that was, the light of God’s goodness in the work being carried out stood out in stark, highly desirable contrast. There are many lessons that I have taken from the trip. Some were fully formed while I was there. Some are still being processed. Yesterday we hosted friends for our home group and the Lord brought a new consideration to light that I want to share today.

Maturing in faith and becoming a seasoned Christian will always include steps out of our comfort zone. In fact, growth as a believer will be an on-going series of steps that progressively move us from a place of comfort and ease into new territory that will often be a little scary and uncomfortable. But it is in stepping into the new that we learn to trust in Jesus’s presence and provision more than our own abilities and strength. I used to think that the word comfort meant ease and leisure. The actual root of the term comfort means “with strength”. Com = with, fort comes from the same root as fortress or fortification – a place of strength. When we are comforted, we are given strength to endure whatever difficulty, trial, or challenge we are encountering. Being comforted is a good thing. Being comfortable is in itself not a bad thing. However, as I have discussed in previous posts, there are times when the good can become an enemy of the best. And God wants the best for His children.

So what is the problem with being comfortable and why does God want us to move out of our comfort zone? The issue is not that God is a killjoy. Joy, comfort, and peace are great gifts He provides. But these are by-products not the end product. The end is a deepening relationship with Him and a greater intimacy with the lover of our soul. It is God’s desire that each one of us grow to know Him so well that we live in constant communion with Him. Prayer without ceasing is more than a pious platitude, it is an accurate description of the life God wants to lead us into. Which is where our personal comfort zone can become a hindrance rather than a good thing.

The Creator of the universe is without limits. His love is truly beyond our comprehension, but He wants us to experience it in ever greater amounts. To do so often means we must let go of our existing beliefs and understanding to experience the next greater level of His love. The same is true of His wisdom, His faithfulness, His mercy, His grace. Each time we let go of our current state of satisfaction and lean into a holy hunger for more of Him, we will experience a stretching and growth that reveals more of God’s nature, and by definition, will result in a degree of loss of the negatives of the world’s perspective. For me personally, this stretching often includes a letting go of self-reliance in some area to gain a greater God-reliance.

I saw this in Kenya. It was evident in my friends LJ and Danee. Masai Village-14It was also true in me. God’s specific word to LJ was “to prepare the land”. The orphanage had fallen into disrepair. Mismanagement had resulted in the loss of the license as a children’s home and much of the 14-acre compound was overgrown with brush and vegetation. The entire family responded to the call to prepare the land. Now for many of us, traveling overseas can be a daunting experience. That increases when the travel is to a third world country. Raise it another notch when we are placed next to the 2nd largest slum in the world. Kibera Children's Center-43Oh, for good measure, take the entire family with children ages 15, 14, 13, and 9 in tow. Kibera Children's Center-53I know very few people who would be able to be stretched that far. But the path the Lord has led Danee and LJ on has been a path of consistent next steps of trusting God as they go a little further out of their comfort zone, only to see Him provide exactly what was needed after each step.

While I was there, I witnessed LJ assuming the new role of overall Operations Manager for the entire compound. By his own admission, LJ is a country boy from rural South Carolina. He did not aspire to running an orphanage and school, but as I witnessed while I was there, LJ and Danee are faithfully doing whatever is required in leading, guiding, and serving the community. And the land itself is beginning to flourish. A ¾ acre vegetable garden is up and growing. Kibera Children's Center-91Soon it will be a major supplement to the food provisions for the 84 children getting their meals at LifeSpring. The livestock are multiplying. The third fluffle of rabbits are being nurtured and rabbit hutches were built while I was there.

 

Chickens roam the grounds during the day with baby chicks sticking close to mama hen for protection. Goats graze on grass where brambles once grew. To support the growing campus, LJ has hired widows and young men in desperate need of employment. The land is well on its way to being prepared.

LJ’s work as an instrument and controls technician prepared him for some of the work. I chuckle though because Google has come to the rescue many times as they encounter new situations they have never dealt with before. (Like letting me know that a group of baby bunnies is called a fluffle!) In one instance they were talking to one of the widows who had been hired to tend the garden. In Kenya all the schools are in English, so if you have had the benefit of attending school you are liable to speak decent English. This widow, who cares for her grandchild in the Kibera slum, knows zero English therefore she has never been to school. Kibera Children's Center-98Trying to communicate to her that LJ had bought four tin sheets to replace the plastic she was living under in Kibera was both humorous and deeply touching. Google translate had to translate into Swahili so the widow could understand that some men would be coming by to help her. Kenyans don’t cry. Stoic persistence to survive doesn’t leave room for expressing much emotion, but the emotion flickered on her face when she realized the act of kindness being done for her. Kibera Children's Center-93

LJ and Danee went to Kenya following the Lord’s clear leading. But following the Lord’s leading and knowing all that we are getting into are often two different things. In some cases, the Father will give us a degree of insight into what’s ahead. I think of Paul the apostle heading to Jerusalem where he would be arrested. God clearly told him to go to Jerusalem. And he was also clearly told that difficulty was ahead. But God gave Paul an assurance that walking this difficult path was God’s will and that God would be with him. Paul was called out of his comfort zone over and over again. In stepping into God’s call out of the comfort zone and into the unknown, Paul grew into the apostle God created him to be. Today the Church is blessed because of Paul’s faithfulness in living outside of his comfort zone since much of the New Testament was written by Paul.

As the Lord opened my eyes to the reality of our growth as believers being tied to stepping out of our comfort zone, I realized all the saints in the Word were taken out of their comfort zone. Abraham left his family, his land, and ventured many long and difficult miles to a “promised” land. There was comfort in the land of Haran, but God’s call was to step out and follow Him. Mary was a young woman engaged to a kind carpenter, when an angel said you have been chosen but it will take you out of your comfort zone. Mary said “let it be done to me as you have said” and she stepped out of her comfort zone and into God’s plan for the salvation of humanity. Jesus was a good Jewish lad, well versed in the law, but God had a plan and a call upon His life. Jesus was unique. He was fully God, but at the same time fully human. Being fully human, He experienced a degree of comfort as a carpenter’s son, then apprentice, and finally working as a carpenter in His own right. But when God said step out of your comfort zone and into my call upon your life He did. Jesus ministered for three years outside of His comfort zone – forty days fasting in the desert, speaking to crowds that wanted signs and wonders, but not necessarily the all-in life with God He was espousing, doing battle with the persons of power and influence who chaffed at His familiarity with God, and finally suffering a painful and humiliating torture and execution at the hands of both Roman authorities and Jewish leaders. Jesus modeled a life of stretching our human boundaries of comfort in faithful response to God’s call to something better, something richer, to life in union with God and His unique plan for each person.

Friends I am deeply stirred that God has a call upon every person into a life that is beyond amazing. He has a call upon you. But it is a journey that will frequently take us out of our comfort zone. God will ask us to step in faith in Him and not in sight by using our own wisdom and strength. We will have to rely upon Him. We will be stretched. At times it won’t be “fun”. At times it will even be difficult. But as we listen and lean upon Him, He will be with us to bring about His good will in us and through us. And this is so much better than the “good” we might experience in the comfort zone. Because it is the best.

What burden or desire has the Lord put on your heart that gets shelved because it is outside your comfort zone?

Where do you see injustice, need, or sin that really pushes your buttons, but thus far you have done little beyond complain about it?

Do you have a passion for something the Word says to do, yet thus far you have not truly considered the possibility of you doing something just because?

Take a few moments and ask the Father to bring your next step into clear focus. Ask with a willingness to take the next step. Realize these will not usually be huge leaps out of the blue, but a gradual revelation where God draws you to a faith place that makes each progressive step a stretch, but doable with a little courage and trust in the One Who has provided for you in the past. For the Davis’ it was a few years walking out many progressive next steps into mission work. For me going over to help them was similar, taking about a year of progressive faith steps. Having been, my faith is stirred to help even more. Will I be more comfortable? Walking in God’s grace and lifted by His love, I reckon I have all the strength a person needs. So the answer has to be yes, but in a new way. When we walk His path, taking new steps into the unknown that He directs we will be comforted with His great comfort. And that is way better than just being comfortable.

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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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There are many things in life that I have a hard time understanding.  The scale of the universe…time into eternity…what my wife is thinking.  (OK, actually I know what my wife is thinking a fair amount of the time, such as “what was he thinking?”, but most other times I am clueless.)  Of all the deep thoughts that fit into the category of head-scratching realities, the fact that Jesus died for me and for you is at the top of the list.  “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:8 NIV.  This is truly mind-boggling.  But the wonder of it does not diminish the simple fact – it is true.

 

I heard a story a few years back that gave me a new perspective on this.  It seems a little girl, 7 years old, was dying of a rare blood disorder.  The doctors had done what they could with medicine, but the prognosis was grim.  In a final effort to save the little girl’s life they offered a new treatment option that had shown promise.  If they found a perfect blood match they could perform a special blood transfusion and potentially cure the little girl.

The parents said yes and the search of databases begin.  The parents plus aunts, uncles, and all extended family members were tested but no match was found.  When the results returned the father looked at his wife and asked, “What about Billy?”  The mother, heart-broken, dropped her head, hoping not to have this question posed.  With a deep sigh, she said, “we can ask him.”

The results of the test showed a perfect match.  The news was bittersweet to the parents as they knew what they were asking of Billy would mean some pain and discomfort for their little boy, but it was their final option.  They called their 5-year old son into the room with the doctor and asked him.

“Billy, Annie is very sick.  The doctors have said she won’t live much longer without special help.  You see her blood is where the sickness is and she needs new blood.”

Billy listened wide-eyed, tears forming and flowing as he thought about his big sister not being there anymore.

“But Billy,” said the Dad, “There is hope.  You see there is a person who was a perfect match to Annie.  A person who can give her blood that can make her sickness go away.”

Hope leapt into Billy’s eyes.  “Really, Daddy?  That makes me happy.  But Daddy, why do you and Mommy still look so sad?”

“Honey, you are the perfect match and it would mean you would have to undergo a procedure to give your blood to Annie,” the Mother said choking back tears.  “But it means your sister will be able to live.”

At this Billy became quiet, his little brow furrowed.  Shortly he asked one question.  “You mean if I give my blood, Annie can live and play, and make you smile Mommy.”

“That’s right honey.  You’re the only one who can do it.”

A troubled look crossed Billy’s face for a moment, but then he brightened as if a pleasing thought crossed his mind.  “OK Momma.  If it will make you happy.  I will do it.”

The medical personnel quickly began making the arrangements.  Billy was given a few minutes alone with his parents.  His Dad knelt down and gave him a big hug and told him what a brave young man he was.  Billy’s smile was sad, but it was evident he wanted to be brave and please his Daddy.  Momma held his hand and looked him in the eye and said, “Billy, this is the most loving thing you can ever do for your sister.  I am so thankful for you, son.”  While a tear ran down her face, she was also giving Billy a smile.  Billy leaned into his Momma’s hug.

“That’s a happy tear, right Momma?  Like you told me last year when Aunt Sally got married.  I wondered why you were crying and smiling and laughing all at the same time, but you said they were happy tears.”

“That’s right dear.  That’s a happy tear, because my little boy is going to help save my little girl’s life.”

Soon the nurse came and took Billy away to prep him.  He cried a little as he looked back at Momma and Daddy, but he tried to smile so they could be happy tears.

In the transfusion lab, Annie, pale and listless, was wheeled in and connected to the blood transfer machine.  Two nurses bustled about checking vitals on machine and patient, making sure the procedure had the highest possible chance for success.

A little later Billy was wheeled in, his clothes replaced with a hospital gown, a pic line already inserted in his arm ready to begin the blood draw.  Because he was so young, a parent, Momma, was allowed in the room.  Billy’s face was tense, something significantly out of place on one so young.  When he saw Momma he relaxed a little.  Then he saw his sister Annie lying on the gurney on the other side of the machines.  His look became determined.  “This is going to help Annie, right Momma?”

“Yes dear, Annie is going to be able to recover because of what you are doing.”

“Then I’m happy Momma.  I’m glad this will help Sissy.”

A few minutes later a nurse bent down to let them know the procedure was about to start.  Billy bravely squeezed Momma’s hand a little tighter.

“OK” he said as he looked into Momma’s eyes.  The machine was switched on, and a quiet whirring began.  Within just a few minutes Annie’s color began to change as her blood was removed, cleansed and then mixed with Billy’s healthy blood.  Billy broke his gaze from Momma just long enough to look at Annie and to see the change.  He turned back to Momma.

A tear was now running down his cheek.  “How much longer Momma?”

“Not much longer,” she said as she too had turned to notice the change in Annie.  Hope was growing in Momma and Billy could see it.

“Will it hurt Momma?”

“I’m sorry dear, does the pic line hurt.”

“No Momma.  I mean when all my blood is gone and I’m dead.  Will it hurt?”

Momma gasped.  Billy had misunderstood.  He didn’t realize he was only giving a little of his blood to mix with his Sissy’s blood.  He thought he was giving it all…

 

‘You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ Romans 5:6-8

Jesus held no illusions when He came to earth.  He came on a rescue mission.  There were no other options.  It was His blood that was going to save the day.

But unlike Billy, Jesus was shedding all His blood for ALL mankind.  Every person who has ever lived, was alive then, or was to live in the future were being given an antidote to the terminal illness of sin.

He was also different from Billy, He didn’t just think He was going to die, He knew He was going to die.  He knew not only pain and suffering were in His path, but humiliation and, sadly, rejection.  Yet He bravely faced it.

‘In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!’  Philippians 2:5-8

Jesus was God, who became a man, who walked this earth for 30+ years, and at the culmination of His earthly life, He paid the penalty for sin for everyone – for you and for me.  And then He put an exclamation mark on this selfless act by rising from the dead three days later and ascending into heaven.  He sits there today at the right hand of God the Father.  But He isn’t grim-faced.  No, He has a warm and inviting smile and His arms are outstretched toward us, beckoning with His nail-pierced hands.

“Come to me.  Come home.  Lay down your striving and join me.  We have much to talk about.  And in the time you have left on earth there are things to do, things that only you and I can do.  Come home to me and let’s talk.  I love you and I desire to live with you and to put my Holy Spirit inside you to help you from now on.”

Say yes to Jesus, my friend.  You will never be the same.

Blessings upon you.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be blessed today and be a blessing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. ‘  Isaiah 41:10.  The Lord clearly gave me this verse as I was about to go to work one morning fully expecting to hear that my team was being downsized.

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings to you today.

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As I looked out my window at the rain-splashed tarmac a heaviness strove to lay hold of my soul.  Gray thoughts swirled through my mind –

  • “it’s cold, damp, and nasty outside and this is just the beginning”…
  • “winter’s coming and outside fun is gone for several months”…
  • “I have too much to do and too little time to do it”…
  • “this country is heading in a dangerous direction and I don’t know why people don’t see it”…
  • “this election isn’t going to provide a leader to unite and heal this country”…

A whispered prayer – “Lord help me to see differently.”

Suddenly my thoughts shifted.  Even though the plane had not yet moved my mind went to the ascent we were about to make.  In my mind’s eye I could see the gray giving way to the white of clouds all around.  That white growing gradually brighter until suddenly we burst through into brilliant sunshine.  And my spirit soared.

I know the sun is always there – clouds or not.  Yet there are times when what I see overwhelms and dominates what I know.  More importantly, my mind can then make projections from what I see to build a future that carries me away from what I know.  Worry, anxious thoughts, discouragement, and depression are waypoints on the road my thoughts will wander if I forget what I know.

Jesus is every bit as real as the sun.  In fact Malachi prophetically speaks of Jesus as “the sun of righteousness who will rise with healing in His wings”.  Simply stated that is what I experienced in a small way that morning.

Interestingly my flight was a rather short one so we did not get to a high enough altitude to fully break through to sunshine on that leg.  I watched for it with eager anticipation but the brilliant break-through was not achieved.  But it was not an issue.  I remembered the sun and I was content to wait.

As I sat on my next flight I engaged my seat mate in some light conversation.  He was amenable and so began a 90 minute conversation starting with work but ranging far and wide from family to travel to the election (I usually don’t go there) to church and faith.  And it was wonderful.  I thoroughly enjoyed making a new friend… so much so that I hardly noticed the weather outside.

After landing I grabbed my bags knowing I had a fairly tight schedule, but I felt the Lord’s nudge to linger for a final word with my friend.  As two new friends it would be normal to part with a firm handshake and a word of encouragement.  But as two newly found brothers in Christ we had the opportunity to go to our heavenly Father with a word of prayer and thanksgiving before parting.

As I then hustled to my car I stepped out the front door of the airport into glorious sunshine… and my heart soared with gratitude anew.  It may have taken a little longer than I first thought, but the sun is always there on the other side of the clouds.  Faith reminds us it’s there.  Patience and perseverance help us get to where we can see it.   And thanksgiving is our right response when we arrive.

Thank you Lord for your loving-kindness to us and to all mankind.  Please use me, use us, to point to you, to reflect your grace in a manner that others can see and receive.  Be glorified in us today.  In Jesus Name!

 

 

 

 

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