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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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I love spring.  The bursting forth of new life thrills my soul.  The awakening of the countryside from the drab greys and browns of winter to multi-colored flowers set against the backdrop of green simply makes me happy.

We recently experienced the birth of our 4th grandchild.  My wife helped with the delivery and today Lilah Joy is 7 days old. We actually have two grandchildren now who were born on Good Friday.  Jasper Leland was born on Good Friday 4 years ago.  As I held Lilah last night I couldn’t stop thinking about what a precious gift I held.  As she lay restfully sleeping in my arms she was totally at peace.

I was reminded that this is what God wants for each one of us… to rest in Him, to put our trust in Him, to be His child and be at peace.  Holding this precious child and considering the amazing love God has for us was both humbling and inspiring.  Roman 8:14-17 comes to mind.  We are His children and He wants to be known as our “Abba”, our Daddy.

It seems appropriate that for most of us Easter corresponds with spring.  Jesus’ resurrection marks the ultimate of new life.  There are a number of ways that Jesus coming to earth, His sacrificial death on the cross, and His resurrection changed the world forever.

There is salvation.  The price for our sin has been paid and we can enter into a right relationship with God as our Father through what Jesus did on our behalf.

There is freedom.  The power of sin is broken because of what Jesus did.  We can experience freedom from the dominating and destructive habits of our old self because of the cross and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit given to each one who accepts God’s gift of salvation.

Oh, and there is purpose.  We no longer are subject to the whims of a fickle nature.  We are called and equipped to live a life that has God-ordained purpose.

There is praise overflowing.  God gave us new life to live in Him and to live for Him.  Our lives are testaments to the one, wholly, and Holy Other.  God is worthy of our constant praise.  We do this best by living in close communion with Him and responding in prompt obedience to His nudges.

Yes, spring has sprung.  The tomb is empty.  And there is new life… radical…rich…full… abundant new life available to all who trust in and give their lives to Jesus – the lover of our souls.  Rejoice my friend.  He is ALIVE!  And so are we.  Death no longer has a hold on us.  Neither does sin, at least it doesn’t have to.  The only power sin has left is the power we give it.  Let sin no longer reign in your body, but live your life totally immersed in Jesus and His saving, cleansing, healing, delivering power.  Again I say REJOICE!

Be blessed today my friend as you bask in the new life Christ Jesus provides.

As a new grandpa’s prerogative, I included a few pics of our new grand-daughter who helped inspire today’s blog.

 

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It has been a hard week.  Last weekend a tragic car crash took the lives of four of my son’s friends – one a roommate, two other teammates with him on his college soccer team, the fourth a senior female tennis player who epitomized friendliness and zest for life.  I have watched and at times tried to help, but in the immediacy of the situation, words are of little comfort.  The past two days I have given my son space that he and I both needed.  He has been with friends comforting and being comforted.  I slipped up into the mountains and let the Lord minister to my soul.  I have four things I have had reinforced through this that I would like to share with you today.  I doubt any of these will be new to most of you, but they are foundational truths that will help us in the good times and the tough times.

The first truth the Lord spoke to me Wednesday night after attending two of the funerals.  Admittedly I was feeling sad for a different reason than you might suspect.  While I empathized with the parents to the extent that I could and I can relate with the students to a degree because of losses I have suffered, my sadness was that I had spent 12 hours “being there” for Sam and it didn’t seem like he needed me.  Even at the time I realized that my feelings were indicative of my own insecurity and, to a degree, selfishness.  I wanted to be needed.  As I sat there praying, I groaned, “Lord please help my son, please draw him close to you and comfort him.  And please help me to know what to do to help.”  And the Lord spoke to my spirit, “Who’s son is he?”  I was a little taken back by the firmness in the question, however I quickly realized my mistake.  As our children were growing up, we often prayed prayers of relinquishment over them.  We are given responsibility to train up our children, but we are only stewards for a short time.  They never cease to be God’s children.  And as they get older the relationship shifts such that we must… MUST… get out of God’s way.  He loves them more than we ever can.  Even our most faithful, most effective parenting falls short of our heavenly Father’s love for them.  I have to chuckle as I write this because there are times when prayers of relinquishment are easy… like when you have about pulled out every hair on your head and you are down to your last nerve…  But Sam and his friends were hurting and my desire was to wrap them in my arms and to take them to a safe and peaceful place… but that was NOT my role.  Needless to say, I prayed the prayer of relinquishment.  God is Sam’s heavenly Father.  I love Sam and I will be there for him, but he is God’s child and as such I can fully trust the Lord to provide for him.

The second truth is that we all have choices.  We gain wisdom from many different sources – our parents, teachers, coaches, pastors, friends.  It is vital that we take that wisdom and use it to make wise choices.  Our choices have consequences.  Good choices lead to more positive outcomes.  Poor choices, or not making a choice but just going with the flow, can lead to outcomes that are less desirable.  Professionally I am a Reliability Engineer.  One of the things that I have done a lot of is failure investigations.  In every significant failure there are a number of things that went wrong to result in the failure and negative outcome.  While we will never have absolute control over all the circumstances we find ourselves in, we do have an opportunity to make wise choices that reduce the risk of negative outcomes and increase the probability of good outcomes.

The third truth is relationships are paramount.  We can accumulate things, we can be successful in our professional life, we can even cultivate a good reputation, but the reason we are here is for the relationships we build and the lives we touch.  Jesus came to earth and became a man.  He lived a full live in his thirty years from infant to adulthood in relationship with others.  Living in meaningful relationship with others has certain key components, the chief among them is love.  Kyle, the roommate and best friend to one of the boys who passed away shared a brief vignette.  He described how passionate James was, not just about his sport, but about life.  One of the things James would do is he would always tell his friends, “I love you, man.”  And he would wait expectantly for his friend to acknowledge and respond.  It was a game of sorts, but at it’s heart was a young man who understood the importance of relationships.  Almost every Sunday James would take as many friends as he could back to his parent’s home to have Sunday dinner and hang out.  He knew the value of relationships.  And James’ investment in others has not gone in vain.  I got word of appreciation from James’ mother last night.  It seems this week was James’ younger brother’s birthday.  My son and some other boys went to their home and spent the day with Landon celebrating his birthday, making it memorable.  That’s what you do when you love, when you understand the value God puts on relationships.

Finally, the fourth truth is that this life is but a prelude.  This has been a theme that the Lord has hammered home for me for about seven years, but experiencing the end of the earthly life of four great young adults emphasizes anew the brevity of life.  Scripture tells us that this is not the end, but only the beginning.  Every one of us are created by God to exist forever.  The part of us that is spirit and soul will continue after our physical body has stopped working.  His desire is that we live with Him forever, but He has allowed us to make that choice.  Actually this point is a summation of all the previous points – real life is found in the perfect Father – God.  We all have choices with the most important choice being what are we going to do about Jesus.  And our relationship with Jesus followed by the myriad other relationships are the ultimate reason we are here.  Our relationships now give color and value to life on this side of the grave and, to a degree we can’t fully understand until we have crossed over, they impact life on the other side of the grave too.

The two young men whose funerals I attended this week had experienced salvation by trusting in Jesus earlier in their life.  Today they are experiencing REAL LIFE, a larger life than we can imagine.  As I hiked and experienced God’s refreshing over the past two days, I was repeatedly reminded that the best this life offers, – the most stunning sunrise, the most beautiful location we will ever see, the most touching moment of intimacy, the most exhilarating thrill we ever experience is but a foretaste of what God has in store for His children when they come home.

Pretty Place, Camp Greenville, SC, Oct 16, 2015 (47) Pretty Place, Camp Greenville, SC, Oct 16, 2015 (113) Pretty Place, Camp Greenville, SC, Oct 16, 2015 (129)

Thank you Father for the lives of James, Josh, Mills, and Sarah who my son and many others had the privilege of knowing and being friends with.  Bless and comfort their family and friends.  Please use their loss to touch many and to draw them closer to you.  Thank you for the manifestation of your great love in mercy and grace.  Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Fragrant Honeysuckle

Our Fragrant Honeysuckle

Climbing the pergola this honeysuckle looks and smells wonderful.

Climbing the pergola this honeysuckle looks and smells wonderful.

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John the Apostle is refered to several times as the “disciple Jesus loved”. John was probably a relatively young teenager during Jesus’ ministry and the fondness that Jesus showed him was one of the reasons the nickname stuck. I’ve noticed a family in the scripture who may earn a similar moniker – the siblings Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. They are mentioned several times as hosts for Jesus and they play a prominent role in one of Jesus’ most amazing demonstrations of His deity and God’s power. Nearing the end of His time on earth Jesus raises His good friend Lazarus after He has been dead for four days. Let’s take a look at this family a little closer.

We first read of Martha and Mary in Luke 10:35 when Jesus stops by and teaches in their home.  Martha, the frantic hostess, is busy bustling around making all manner of preparations for the gathered crowd while sister Mary sits at Jesus’s feet soaking up His teaching.  Martha is gently rebuked as she requests Jesus to tell her sister to join her in the preparations for the men.  Instead Jesus tells Martha to relax and that Mary has chosen the most important thing… sitting at Jesus feet and hearing the words of life that He is sharing. 

The second time we meet this family is in John 11 when the brother Lazarus dies.  The beginning of this particular story always intrigues me.  Jesus is informed that Lazarus is ill and near to death and yet He waits 2 more days before leaving.  As many of the persons around Him knew, Jesus had healed so many sick persons that undoubtedly He could heal a sick Lazarus.  Yet Jesus waited.  Now if it was anyone but Jesus I would be tempted to say He hesitated  trying to figure out what to do.  But Jesus didn’t hesitate.  He is always right on time.  He is never late nor is He ever too early.  By waiting Jesus arrives after Lazarus has been dead for 4 days.  In this story we see how deeply Jesus is moved by the emotions He has for this family.  His love for them shows as He weeps with Martha and Mary over their loss even though He knows He will soon raise Lazarus and restore him to his family.  Hopefully I will get a chance to unpack this story more at a later date since it is so rich and full of messages for us.  Today I have something else to share.

The last time we see this family distinctly is in John 12.  It is only 6 days before Jesus’ crucifixion although no one but Jesus is aware of His imminent passion.  Jesus is in the home with the family again in Bethany which is 2 miles from Jerusalem.  While He is reclining at the table Mary takes a very expensive jar of nard, a perfume with which she anoints Jesus’ feet.  She then wipes His feet with her hair.  This creates  a stir.  Some are indignant because the value of the nard could be used to feed the poor.  I am sure others are simply shocked by the unadulterated display of love and submission Mary made.  At the very least I would say the situation is awkward and uncomfortable for the majority.  Yet Jesus again steps in to Mary’s defense.  He sees the deeper meaning in what she is doing.  Without realizing why, Mary has responded to the prompting within and has anointed Jesus for burial.

While these are three specific times we see Jesus with this family, I am sure there are plenty of other times they shared time together.  The closeness we see between the Lord and Lazarus, Mary, and Martha is a picture of what the Lord desires for every family.  The Lord loves them as unique people and He relates to them right where they are.  The only rebuke He gives this family is the gently given rebuke to Martha when she asks the Lord to scold Mary for not helping her.  (Boy does that one hit me square between the eyes.)   Jesus’ love for each one is clear in the emotions He demonstrates and the time He spends with them.

It is my firm belief that Jesus’ plan of redemption flows through the family.  Even before the Church, God values family.  When He transforms a life through His love and the power of His Holy Spirit, the first people God will touch is our family.  If there are broken and damaged relationships then God, who has called us to be ministers of reconciliation, will guide us to share His love in tangible ways to heal those relationships.  If there are estranged members of the family then God will put in us the desire to pray and seek out those that are lost.  Where there is stress and worry, the Lord will ask us to minister His peace.  Where there is doubt we are to consistently trust and allow Him to build faith within us that is visible to our family. 

A quick word of warning from my experience and that of others.  There are plenty of wrong ways to go about convincing others of truth.  Jesus never bullied people.  A living faith is not based upon a forced conversion.  The Holy Spirit is a gentlemen and He does not force people against their will.  However the Holy Spirit is God and He knows us intimately.  Because He loves us and desires us to live in relationship with Him, He is able to bring us to the point of decision using our intellect, our emotions, or the  combination of all we are.  As believing family members reaching out within our family we must simply seek to work in concert with the Holy Spirit to reach them.  It is God’s desire that they know Him even more than we desire it.  Our prayer and our obedience are primary tools God will use.  The plan and timing are His though. 

We’ve looked at a family in the bible that Jesus clearly loved.  He was engaged with them individually and as a family.  They are an example to us of how He wants to relate to us as well… as individuals and as an entire family committed to Him.

Walk in the power of His resurrection life and be a blessing today!

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