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Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

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.

 

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The bible is replete with imagery of God as our Father.  Some of the sweetest of moments are those when my spirit, stirred with love for my Creator, cries out “Abba, Father”.  Abba is an intimate Hebrew term for a father, more akin to Daddy or Poppa.  But when God created mankind He was very intentional that both sexes were fully image-bearers of God.  We see this in Genesis 1:27. ‘So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.‘ ‘So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. ‘

Genesis 1:27
https://www.bib While the imagery of God as a mother is less frequent, it is still there.  David picks up a piece of this in Psalm 17 ‘Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.’ giving us a picture of a mother bird sheltering her chicks from danger with her wings.  Jesus uses similar imagery – “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” Matthew 23:37 NIV

It’s not a stretch to realize that the best traits typically exemplified in either a father and a mother emanate from the character of God. This was impressed upon me recently as I did a photo shoot for our youngest daughter and newest granddaughter.  At 10 months old, Lilah, our granddaughter, had not been out in nature before so when we headed to a local park she experienced many new sights and sounds.  She was clingy at first not wanting to get out of Momma’s arms.  I captured one particularly poignant scene as Momma introduced Lilah to what a tree is.

 

Lilah and Christin-8

“Lilah, this is a tree.  It’s a plant – a living thing, but not like Duke, our dog, or Mommy or Daddy.”

 

Our daughter spoke gently, explaining to Lilah, what she was seeing.  She wasn’t pushy.  She wanted Lilah to learn something new without fear.

 

Lilah and Christin-9

“Look at that rough skin.  On a tree it’s called bark.  It’s okay to touch it.” 

 

Lilah and Christin-10

“It’s rough, but if you touch it gently it won’t hurt.”

 

Lilah and Christin-11

“Here. I’ll help you.”

 

Lilah and Christin-12

“Ah, See, you tried something new.  That was fun wasn’t it?!”

 

Lilah and Christin-13

Ever so gently Lilah examines the tree trunk.  

 

Lilah and Christin-14

“Look Mimi, I’m touching the tree!”

 

Lilah and Christin-15

A little girl happy to be holding Mommy’s hand and experiencing something new.

I couldn’t help but make the connection between how tender and loving our daughter was with Lilah and how God lovingly leads us.  He wants us to experience new and different.  But He is not pushy.  God has so much good in store for us, but much of that good is beyond the horizons of what we already know… beyond what currently feels safe.

  • Reaching out to people different than us…
  • serving in places we’ve never been…
  • loving without conditions…
  • giving kindness in the face of anger and hostility…
  • forgiving even when the wound still hurts and the grievance is legitimate…
  • facing fears that threaten to overwhelm us…

In each case God is with us as the gentle parent.

  • He encourages us to extend a hand… just like Jesus extended His hands for us.
  • He shows us how to serve… like Jesus when He washed the disciples’ feet.
  • He teaches us to love without limits… like Jesus does whenever we humbly return to Him after a fall.
  • He exemplifies poise, dignity, and equanimity… like Jesus when His accusers hurled lies and abuses at Him and He refused to fight for His rights.
  • He burdens us to forgive those who abuse us… like Jesus did when He whispered to His Father, “Forgive them” for His killers.
  • He tells us we need not fear… because He has overcome the world.

 

 

 

 

God is the perfect Father – the perfect parent.  He knows us intimately and loves us completely.  His desires for us are altogether good.  And His ways with us are perfect.  Put your hand in “Abba’s” hand today.  Take time to just rest in your Father’s loving embrace.  Listen to Him say, “You are my precious, precious child.  I love you with an everlasting love.  I will never leave you or forsake you, because you are mine.”

 

 

 

 

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We desperately need healing in our nation.  Historians, Statesmen, and even our Lord Jesus have pointed out that division precedes destruction.  A nation divided, like a house divided, shall soon fall.  A look back in history shows us that the greatest danger to a thriving nation is internal division and strife.  Ancient Rome was one of the greatest nations the world has known, controlling most of the civilized world of its day.  Civilization flourished and stretched its influence across Asia, Europe, and Africa.  But the soul of the nation became corrupt.  Division, strife, intrigue, assassination, and disunity weakened the resolve of the people.  Moral decay left a nation that had once been a nation of laws and nationalistic spirit a giant with a weakened will to fight.  When Rome fell, the Dark Ages ensued.

There are several touch points in our nation that should give us pause.  There is a radical element that has risen inciting protests, disobedience, violence, and even anarchy.  This has been highly publicized, perhaps even with a favorable slant in the media, to the point that the greater portion of the public has chosen sides.  Polarization has occurred and continues to do so as greater focus is given to the “protests” and little effort seems to be taking place to move in the direction of reconciliation.  This is madness.  At the very least it threatens our position in the world as a just and compassionate “leading nation”.  At the worst, and it is a plausible worst, it threatens our security as a nation founded “under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”.

I have been praying for our nation, asking God for healing and for guidance.  It has been my experience that God will guide our prayers when we offer them up in faith.  Last week as I was seeking the Lord’s face, I sensed that I needed to pray for empathy… for myself and for people across this land.  We need to gain a perspective of the issues we are arguing about from the other side’s point of view.  As I have done so, I have seen an interesting thing happen within my heart.  Instead of perceiving all the protestors in a totally negative light, I can begin to see them as human beings with real hurts, fears, and concerns… people a lot like me.  People who have not had the same life experiences as me, therefore they do not have the same worldview.  We live in the same pluralistic nation, but we see it differently.  The only way for us to coexist is for us to have a large degree of compassion for one another that isn’t predicated upon our belief system, our political views, our skin color, our gender… upon the differences between us.

Our differences do not have to divide us.  We have always had differences in this nation.  Our nation was founded as 13 distinct and highly autonomous colonies.  They had major differences.  Our constitution is indeed a marvelous document written to forge a single nation of these distinctly different states.  It leaves significant room for the different expression of beliefs and values of the people while establishing a foundation of law and joining us as a single nation.  And we have persevered as a nation for over 240 years, through good and bad times, with strong dissention and disunity on occasion, with a civil war and many periods of internal turmoil.  But we have remained one, united nation.  Not uniform, but united.  I take four things from this high-level view of our history.  1) There is an enemy, a spiritual enemy whose tool is strife and division, who wants this nation to fall.  2) There is a spiritual protector whose tool is love and compassion, who wants this nation to exist and succeed.  3) There has been, and I believe still is, a divine reason for this nation in the world.  4) It is incumbent upon followers of God to seek His guidance, wisdom, and help in healing this land and fulfilling the purpose for this nation.  2 Chronicles 7:14 are the key verse that we, the Church should be heeding.  “if my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

As the Church, as people who have been rescued by Jesus’ love, as people who once were enemies of God through our sin and disobedience, we should be taking the lead in seeking reconciliation and healing.  Our first step is prayer.  Our second step is empathy.  We need to open the dialogue with people with whom we disagree.  We need to hear their perspective.  We should work toward understanding why they believe what they believe.  And we should understand why we believe what we believe as well.  The Prayer of Saint Francis is a good model.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

 

What I am proposing is not the easy thing to do.  It is counter to the current mood portrayed in images on our TV screens and computer monitors.  It is not aligned with the ever-increasing rhetoric I am seeing in social media.  But as I seek the Father’s heart, it seems to be aligned with what the Spirit is whispering to me… “Blessed are the peacemakers…”  “Love covers a multitude of sins…”  “You will know them by their love…”

Friends, please join me in praying for healing in our nation.  And follow that up by asking the Lord to provide opportunities to engage others in civil discussion.  Seek to understand their perspective.  And ask the Lord to help you understand, and when appropriate, articulate your point of view.  While the media may continue to highlight the strife, let us humbly and quietly seek the common ground, the healing, and uniting that I believe the Lord desires.  When we do, we will also see doors open for the Gospel to be shared and God will get the glory.

Be blessed today.  And be a blessing.

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At some point in our lives, most of us want to hear God speak directly to us, directly into our life situation.  I am convinced that intimacy with God is our highest calling.  What Adam had in the garden before the Fall is a picture of what life in Christ can become… intimate, familiar, loving, without secrets or shame, the PERFECT relationship.  But for almost all of us we are still a long, long ways from it.

If intimacy with God is our highest calling, then why do we struggle so with achieving it?  Why is it that we don’t hear about or see where God is speaking to people regularly?  Why does my prayer life feel more like a one sided conversation than a dialog?  Why is the silence so quiet?

A conversation this weekend has brought this question into my spirit and I have been wrestling with it for three days now.  While I suspect there may be other reasons, I have insight into some of the reasons and a path through a season of silence that may be beneficial for you.

Let’s begin with the order of priorities God has for us.  The most important thing God has for us is to know Him.  That is priority #1.  Not knowing ABOUT Him, but knowing Him.  He sent Jesus to earth to engage humanity face to face, skin to skin, heart to heart.  Jesus’ life on planet earth was brief – 30 or so years, but in God’s providential plan, He inspired the writing of the Word which not only fleshes out the “God Story” for the billions of us who did not get to know Him in the flesh, but creates the pathway to meet and truly know Him.  Also in His plan, Jesus’ resurrection means Jesus is alive.  If He is alive then He is knowable.  At my conversion, I believe Jesus was right there with me, talking to me, offering me life in Him.  When I accepted, He placed His Holy Spirit within me and I was changed.  I know it.  I felt it.  Others saw it and commented on it.  It really happened.  Now humanity’s enemy, the bible calls Him Satan, has periodically tried to convince me otherwise.  Most of His attempts have been to get my eyes off Jesus, my spiritual ears from listening to the Holy Spirit, and my actions away from intimacy with God.  Those times I have been diverted, quiet ensued.  This brings me to the first reason we may enter a time of silence in our relationship with the Lord.

Spiritual warfare is a reality.  The enemy actively fights against God.  The children of God, believers who have been saved through faith in Christ, are at the frontline of that war.  There are many similarities in warfare we see and what goes on in the spiritual realm, but I want to focus upon one aspect – communication.  Knowing the battle plan and keeping in touch with command is vital in battle.  This is often hard to do, particularly when the fight is intense and the din of battle drowns out all other sound.  Spiritual warfare will have times when we are getting hit with any number of  assaults.  The good news is our Lord God is the ultimate Commander in Chief.  He has both a plan and resources to win the war and bring us through the battle.  When we are in the battle, we may not clearly hear Him, but we can trust Him.  We make our requests, we hold our position, and we do what we know from His Word we are to do.  In the absence of a clear word from the Lord, we trust the Word of the Lord and the last thing He told us to do.  And we hold on.  We also look for reinforcements.  This would be Godly friends who can come alongside us in the fight.  Ones who will join us in the battle.  Ones who will also be communicating with our Commander, the Lord God Almighty, about our needs.  Scriptures for this are 2Cor 10:3-5 and Eph 6:10-18.

Reason 2.

On-going sin.  Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins – all of them.  God in His wisdom has given us a role to play in our salvation.  We repent – we turn away from sin and turn to God.  There are many things that can be said about why sin is such an evil thing, but for the sake of this discussion I’m going to focus upon just one aspect.  From where we stand sin lies in the opposite direction of God.  If we choose to run after sin, we are turning our back on God.  Have you ever noticed the orientation of our ears?  They are cupped forward.  This allows the capture and amplification of sounds in front of us.  This also provides a degree of shielding from sound waves coming from behind us.  This is a physical picture of a spiritual truth.  When we turn away from God, it becomes much more difficult to hear God’s voice calling us back to Him.  That which we are facing grows louder and more strident.  The voice of God grows harder to hear.  And God seldom shouts.  Hopefully I can come back to that theme in another post.  God can and will shout, but it is the exception rather than the rule.  His gentle whisper and subtle nudges are the norm.

The remedy when on-going sin causes us to lose awareness of God’s voice is simple, if not necessarily easy.  Cease the sin immediately, repent, confess, and seek the Lord’s help through Godly friends and counselors who can help you take your next steps.  In this I have seen an accountability partner provide tremendous benefits.  God works through His people in the healing process.

Reason 3.

Emotional wounds not dealt with.  My understanding of God is that He has saved me utterly and completely.  My experience has been that in a few cases God walks me through the healing of damage created by sin, my sin and the sins others have done to me, over time.  Although I have been a believer for 30+ years, there are still times of periodic cleansing, teaching, and healing that He does in me years after I felt Him power-wash my soul.  I am getting into an area that still holds a degree of mystery for me, but I have seen this at work in my life and in others.  God will choose to heal some things from our past years into our walk with Him.  The forgiveness has long since been applied, but sometimes God wants to heal the scars.  In some cases our stuffed hurt actually encases a bit of poison that must be removed.  If the Lord wants to do the healing, our role is to allow Him, the Great Physician, to do surgery.  Covering it up, holding it in, saying it doesn’t exist does not further the Lord’s work in this area.  Giving it to the Lord, confessing and lifting it up to Him, is the right thing to do.  One of the areas I have seen this frequently take place is for people who have been victimized by sexual sin.  Opening up about this to a caring and wise counselor is a one of the most benefical steps in the healing process.

Reason 4.

Our unrealized expectations of God leading to a “God Grudge”.  An unfortunate situation often occurs when a person comes to faith.  A well-meaning soul will tell the new convert something like, “You are changed and your life will be rich, full, and exciting because you are a Christian.”  While there are many blessings that come with being a Christ-follower, absence from life’s difficulties is not one of them.  In fact, when we immerse ourselves into living a fully surrendered life we will experience times of need that lead us into greater dependence upon Him.  Sadly many believers reach a point where their expectations are not met, but rather than seeking Godly counsel, they bottle up the disappointment and trudge on.  Over time and as more unrealized expectations occur, a God Grudge develops.

I have seen this and been fortunate enough to speak words of encouragement to people to help them identify the source of their grudge and help them take it to God.  He already knows we are holding it.  He just wants us to admit it and then give it to him.  I can think of five situations where the persons took this step of faith and within a month a break-through in the natural realm of a long-standing problem was manifested.  Intimacy requires honesty.  God can handle our honesty.  We just need to be open to what He has to say back to us.  Psalm 51 resonates for Reasons 2 – 4.

Reason 5.

Disobedience to what the Lord has said.  I know that disobedience to the Lord is sin, but I want to zero in on disobedience to God’s personal word to us.  I shared my most poignant and painful example of this in a post last summer. https://areliablefaith.wordpress.com/2015/06/23/responding-to-the-nudge/.  In this story I share how I rationalized my way out of obedience to the Holy Spirit’s nudge and the consequences were significant.  This example and some lesser periods of waffling when presented with promptings from the Lord have clearly shown me that quiet ensues when we ignore what the Lord tells us.

Our Pastor has shared this with us as well.  “Have you done the last thing I told you?”  This is the question the Lord has laid on his heart when he has tried to maintain a dialog, while not being fully obedient to the last thing the Lord told Him to do.  I admit to the same thing.  A few years back I went through an extended time where the Lord repeatedly brought the same scripture to my mind as I prayed.  It wasn’t until I obeyed the practical application of that scripture that my prayer life moved forward.

God is not into superficiality.  There is no façade that works.  Obedience is essential if we desire unhindered dialog with the Lord.

Reason 6.

We are to wait.  This one is perhaps the most common for me.  And it really only becomes an issue when we get our priorities backwards.  At the beginning I said our #1 priority is to Know the Lord.  For the finite to know the Infinite takes all our life and at the end we will still fall far short of knowing God fully.  But that is what God desires and has called us to.  Part of the process for getting to know the Lord is that we walk in our second priority which is: Know and Do the Things God Wants Us to Do.  Life spent being where God wants and doing what God created us to do is a life well lived.  However, our “doing for God” can usurp our first priority – Knowing God.  When this happens we can get out of the Lord’s whisper range and we can move into the realm of silence.

I have fallen into this pit more than once.  I am an active person.  I also tend toward being a workaholic.  I struggled to type that because in my mind I am just thorough, but my wife and others have pointed this out with enough examples that I cannot deny it.  It is not uncommon for me to get involved in a good thing but fail to take the time to validate it against the Lord’s leading.  Being over-committed to good things invariably leads to being under-committed to the best things.

The solution here is pretty simple.  Make the #1 priority the #1 priority.  Isaiah 40:31 is on the spot.  “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.  The shall mount up with wings like eagles.  They shall run and not grow weary.  They shall walk and not faint.”

If we seek first God and His righteousness, then we put ourselves in position to hear, to learn, and to move when He says move.  For me waiting is manifested in a number of ways, but let me share my primary few.

1) Rising early with the bible, a cup of coffee, and a heart to enjoy anything new that I perceive is from the Lord.  This may be a new insight in the scripture.  It could be a person the Lord brings to mind that I pray for.  It is often an idea that rumbles around in my Spirit picking up scriptural ties that becomes a blog post.

2) Attending worship with the sole intention of lifting up adoration and praise unto the One Who is worthy of every last bit of praise I have to give.  There was a time in my life when I had to listen to a number of praise songs, concentrating on their lyrics before I moved into deep worship.  I seem to have moved to a place where I come expectant and ready to commune with the Father in worship.  This is awesome within our church, but it now occurs regularly whenever I listen to praise and worship.

3) Serving others has become a source of blessing for me.  I have found that in praying for and caring for others, I become more sensitive to the Lord nudging me, prompting me, leading me.  I know Who the answer is and so in listening to others in need, I am open to the Holy Other speaking life and hope to them.  Sometimes it may be through me.  Sometimes it may be through another in the conversation.  But I have consistently seen the Lord minister.  My role is to simply wait, be open and receptive, and do or say what I believe He leads me to do or say.

4) Out in nature – particularly at sunrise or sunset.  For this one I generally am simply swept up into the awesomeness of Who God is… Creator, Sustainor, Artist, Master Designer, intimate Friend, Loving Father – and worship ensues.  The utterences of my heart flow unbidden to the throne of grace.  Sometimes I sense something specific in my Spirit.  Always I receive the Lord’s refreshing.

 

I know this has been a long post.  I hope and pray it has been encouraging for you.  The Father loves you and He has a message for you.  Seek Him and He will speak to you.  Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

In closing I share a few of my favorite pics from my sunrise and sunset devotions.  Be blessed my friend and allow the Father’s blessing to flow in, through, and around you to in rich abundance.

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Sunrise over Crater Lake, Oregon.

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Crater Lake, Oregon

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East Rim of Crater Lake at Sunset

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Alpine-glow on Mount Rainier, Washington.

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Update South Carolina Foggy Sunrise

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Radiant!

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The heavens declare the glory of God.

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The best man can do is but a glimmer compared to the beauty the Lord bestows on the canvas of this world. View across our front yard.

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Sunset on Ruby Beach, Washington.

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Ruby Beach at Sunset and Low Tide

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Splitting the Sky

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Rows in the heavens

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Sunrise in the South Pacific.

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Darkness tried to hide it, but the Light cannot be contained!

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Sunset over the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, Australia.

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Sunrise over Mahon’s Pool at Maroubra Beach, Australia

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Sunset over my backyard this past Sunday.

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

The reason for our hope. Pretty Place, Camp Greenville, SC

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I’ve heard it said that the first ability we need to cultivate in our relationship with God is availability.  Being ready and available to do what He says in His word and what the Holy Spirit nudges us to do is foundational to growing and thriving as a Jesus follower.  Last night I was reminded of that in a very powerful way.  I had a conversation with a gentleman I worked with briefly 15 or so years ago.  After not seeing Al since that time we meet again here in Washington where we happen to be working on a project together.  Over dinner he shared a bit of his faith story and it surprised me that I likely played an unknown role in his spiritual awakening.

Our faith conversation started when I mentioned that I had been in church all my life, but it wasn’t until I was 23 that I realized that God was interested in a real, living relationship and not just some dry, ritualistic participation in church.  He mentioned that his story was similar and his awakening to that fact began during his one of his visits to my plant in Calhoun, Tennessee around 2000 – 2001.  He said he was sitting in a meeting and he noticed Proverbs 3:5-6 written up in the corner of a blackboard in the conference room.

Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

He said he was at a point in his life that he was very successful.  He didn’t have any needs being unmet.  He described a life that many people long for – a happy marriage of almost 30 years, two great daughters, good health, a great job he enjoyed, financially sound – in short a life that he was satisfied with.  But something about that verse on the blackboard just poked at him.  I call it a Holy Nudge.  And it began a search.  From that moment he began to seek out what it meant to trust in the Lord with all your heart and to submit to Him.  Well what happened to him is what God promises to everyone who will seek Him with all their heart – He found that living, vibrant relationship with God that has molded and shaped his life since then.  He responded to God’s nudge in that small conference room and his life has been changed from a good life to a great life in union with His Heavenly Father.

My heart swelled because I remembered my days at that plant.  I worked there for 17 years.  One of the lessons I learned while there was the vital importance of responding to Gods’ holy nudges. I can vividly remember two holy nudges early in my time at Calhoun that shaped my faith walk and put me into a position to be used in my friend’s life… whether I knew it or not.  One was a failure on my part that God has redeemed.  The second is part of that redemption and directly impacted my friend, Al.

I had only been at the mill a couple months when I was asked to attend a four-day communication workshop being held at a nearby hotel.  The leader’s name was Sid.  Sid was a large, jovial guy who liked to ask probing questions.  He began the week by telling us that he had recently had a serious health scare as the doctors had told him that he had the big C – Cancer.  But just a week or so earlier he had gotten the all clear from the doctors – no more cancer,  he was fine.  Later that first day Sid had us perform an exercise of sharing our “lifeline” with the class.  We took 10 minutes to draw a chart that represented our life to the current date.  We were to identify 2 or 3 defining moments and share them in a succinct manner.  He shared his lifeline first and mentioned the low point of thinking he might die of cancer and then his line turned up when he was told he was cancer-free and that life was going great.  As I drew my life line it had a major positive step change when I met the Lord at age 23 and I spoke briefly about that.  I remember that Sid challenged me pretty strongly about my step change.  Thinking back I remember I felt intimidated by the force of his challenges and felt even a bit like I was being attacked for my faith.

I was probably a bit more demur the next two days of the workshop.  On Wednesday afternoon, Sid said he was shutting down the workshop 30 minutes early and he was opening up a bar tab for us so we could stay and chat.  It was at this point that I got a very clear Holy Nudge to stay and speak with Sid.  I remember it vividly because I argued with God a bit about it.  I rationalized that since I wasn’t a drinker, I would feel out of place.  I was working on a piece of furniture for the house and I reasoned that I could use the extra time to make good progress on my project.  Even though God was nudging, I was coming up with reasons NOT to do what He was asking.  I even remember telling myself that as hostile as Sid was, he probably was only going to belittle my faith some more.  To my chagrin, I have to tell you that I walked out and went home to my project.  I can tell you now that I felt bad about it as I wiped stain on the entertainment center.  I even paused more than once to pray for Sid.  But I felt the conviction of the Lord as I was substituting a “religious act” instead of following God’s Holy Nudge.

The next day was the last day of the workshop.  I think I may have even told the Lord that I would stay and speak with Sid after the class or something like that.  The day started fine, but just before lunch Sid told us that he wasn’t feeling very well and that he was going to end the class early.  He mentioned that he had experienced angina a few years before associated with a heart attack and that he was feeling angina this morning.  He was going to head over to the emergency room to get it checked out.  I remember I volunteered to drive him, but he had already made arrangements.  I headed home and I can honestly say I was really praying for Sid now.  But I also expected that everything would be fine since he was heading straight to the hospital.

At work the next day, Ben, the assistant plant manager swung by my office to see if I was okay.  I relayed to him that I had enjoyed the class, but that I was concerned about Sid since he had headed to the hospital.  Ben realized then that I had not heard the news.  Sid had a massive heart attack at the hospital that evening and did not survive.  I realized that I had been in a position to offer Sid God’s Words of Grace the evening before he died, but I had rationalized and walked away.  I was ashamed and saddened to my core.  I had grieved the Holy Spirit and I missed an opportunity to obey the One Who gave His all for me.

Thankfully, God’s grace and forgiveness extends to us even when we fail Him.  Over time His forgiveness brought restoration to my broken soul.  I knew I had sinned greatly.  I knew I directly disobeyed the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  But the same Holy Spirit reached out to me, lifted me up out of my sorrow and self-pity, and spoke life to me again.

It was probably a little less than a year later when I was asked to supervise a large team of maintenance personnel on a multi-day paper machine outage.  I was a 30 year old engineer who had never really worked on tools like a craftsman, and yet I was supposed to direct, coach, and support the efforts of about 2o maintenance technicians performing a dozen or more jobs.  The work was going over the weekend of Palm Sunday.  The first day was Saturday and honestly, that day is pretty much lost to my memory.  I vaguely remember feeling overwhelmed more than once with the large amount of demands that I struggled to keep up with.  As I drove in to the plant on Sunday morning I remember clearly speaking out my frustrations to the Lord.  I even said, “Lord, here it is Palm Sunday and I am heading to work and I won’t be able to make it to church.  That’s just not right.  I won’t even be able to have a real time of prayer since I’ll be so busy.”

The Lord spoke to my heart, “Pray with your Team.”

“What Lord?”

“Pray with your Team.”

Rationalizations rose up in my mind… “I barely  know these guys… Am I allowed to do something like this? … What will they think?”

But then I remembered Sid.  I remembered what disobedience felt like.  And I remembered that I had committed to the Lord after ignoring the Holy Nudge with Sid, that I would obey when He clearly asked me to do something in the future, no matter how crazy it might sound.  Well His voice was crystal clear this time.  So I gave the results to Him and I obeyed.

I didn’t have much time to think about it, I just did it.  I handled the normal safety topic and explanation of jobs the same as I had the day before, but as I ended I then shared briefly that my preference on a Sunday morning was to be in church rather than working in the mill.  Also since I believed God was present with His followers everywhere, including when they had to work at the mill on a Sunday we could take the time to acknowledge Him while at work.  I then let the men know that I would like to start our work day with a word of prayer and that it was fine if anyone didn’t share my belief.  They could stay while I prayed or head on out to the job.  Noone moved.  Then we prayed.  I felt the Spirit of the Lord take it from there.  I’m not sure exactly what I prayed, but I know I was being obedient and that God was pleased.

That started a pattern that has remained a part of my life.  I have had a number of leadership roles.  Not every meeting results in a Holy Nudge to pray with the group… but a surprising number have.  The Lord led me to start and lead a number of prayer groups and bible studies during lunch periods and before work as well.  As Al was telling me his story last night, I was moved to tears.  One of the other habits I got into was using the blackboards and dry erase boards during our lunch time bible studies and prayer times.  And sometimes I would get a Holy Nudge to leave a verse behind… just in case.

You almost never know how your obedience impacts someone else’s life.  Thank you Lord for giving me a glimpse of this one.

Obey immediately when He gives you a holy nudge and rejoice in being a partner in the Father’s work.

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Good Morning this Maundy Thursday of Holy Week 2015.  For much of the night I pondered and prayed about what to share this morning.  Holy Week is climactic in the life of a believer as we relive Jesus final earthly hours and culmination of why He came.  As I alluded to yesterday Jesus came with a primary purpose and a number of secondary purposes.  Some of His secondary purposes were to give us an example of how to live, to touch lives in His day that were later recorded so we would know how to minister, and to send the Holy Spirit to live within us who would further our living and ministering in faith.  His primary purpose was to give Himself up as a perfect sinless sacrifice for sin so that through Him everyone would have a path to forgiveness and restoration with God the Father.  I heard on the news this week that a recent study found that over 50% of youth and young adults do not know the reason for the Easter season.  That is sad.

I am praying for a groundswell of truth seeking for I am convinced that if people seek truth, they will find God.  This is never more accurate than if they simply look into the facts about Jesus.  I have spoken with unbelievers and invariably their response has fallen along a couple of distinct lines.  Either they don’t want to be bothered by seriously considering the claims of Christ or they simply have never taken the time to weigh the evidence and apply logic to determine what is true.  In my experience the root of unbelief for those who have heard the gospel and not accepted it has always been a sin they were not willing to give up or look past long enough to consider is Jesus who He said He is.

One of the things I have done a lot in my career as an engineer is Root Cause Analysis.  The most effective way to get to the real reasons a failure occurs is to diligently gather all the evidence, make sure it is valid and accurate, and then put those pieces of evidence together to see what story it tells.  I have been involved in hundreds of these investigations and if this process is followed, we always resolve the issue.  However I have seen a number of situations where the investigator approached a failure with a preconceived idea of what the root cause was and the investigation did not go well.  You see, if we approach a question with a bias ahead of time, it becomes much more difficult to accept the evidence at face value.  We look for evidence that supports our hypothesis.  In many cases unconsciously.  In others it is conscious and willful.  We will overlook or dismiss evidence that does not fit our hypothesis.  Additionally when we have a bias from the outset, we are not able to effectively apply logic.  Remember that one of the key principles of logic is that when all the evidence is weighed, if all other options are eliminated, then the remaining option, regardless of how unlikely, must be true.  (I think I heard the character Sherlock Holmes say that recently.)

The ultimate question then becomes “Who was Jesus?”  People who haven’t investigated all the facts and applied logic will often respond, “Oh Jesus was a good man.”  “He was a wise and good teacher.”  Or perhaps they will even go so far and say what Islam says about Him, “He was a great prophet.”  However those are not valid choices as the ultimate declaration of who Jesus was.  To make the claims He made and to suffer an indescribably cruel and painful death as He did, there are really only three choices.  One he was insane and delusional in the most extreme sense.  Two He was the greatest deceiver who has ever lived.  Or three, He was who He claimed to be.  Jesus claimed to be God’s Son – to be One with the Father.  He claimed to be able to forgive sins.  In John 14:6 we read “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one come to the Father except through me.'”  These are extremely bold claims.  A good man does not make Himself equal to God unless that is Who He truly is.  Otherwise He is either a deceiver or mad.

The evidence is pretty substantial.

  • We have eye witness evidence from multiple sources of the life and miracles of Jesus.  They are amazing stories.  And if we do not allow our biases, either for or against to sway us, then we put those into the “validation bin” to determine a little later if we admit them as true and valid.
  • We have the number of prophesies in the ancient Hebrew sacred texts (the Old testament of the bible) written 400 – 1000 years before Jesus’ birth that fit what we know about His life perfectly.  Many of these were fulfilled completely independent of any thought or action He could have taken.  Here are a few of the 100+ prophesies fulfilled in the life of Jesus.
    • Virgin birth
    • Born in Bethlehem
    • Herod’s killing of all male babies in Bethlehem (except Jesus who had escaped to Egypt) after Jesus birth
    • From the lineage of David
    • The manner of His death
    • The advent of John the Baptist
    • Plus many more to numerous to capture here.
  • The fearful disciples who hid themselves after the crucifixion were transformed into life long evangelists after His resurrection.  Eleven of the twelve were martyred with John the only one to suffer a natural death albeit in exile because of His faith.
  • Jesus’ body was never found.  This is really huge. Remember the key principle about logic mentioned above.
    • If the disciples had stolen the body (highly unlikely) one of them would surely have broken and confessed when under the threat of death.  And while it is possible a person might die to cover up a lie, that such a large group of people maintained the same story speaks to the truth of the tale.
    • If the authorities had taken the body all they had to do was show the body and the movement would have been stopped at the outset.
  • The number of post resurrection appearances Jesus made.  All told Jesus appeared to over 500 people after He was ressurected.  And because of this they were transformed into faithful followers even through persecution and death.
  • The accuracy and validity of the bible.  This is actually evidence to support the validation process.
    • The bible is far and away the most studied book of antiquity.
    • There are more high quality ancient manuscripts of the bible than any other book from antiquity by far.  Some of these manuscripts are from within just a few decades of the original documentation.  A recent ceremonial mask from Egypt was found and carefully studied.  I believe the date was from around 80 AD.  The mask was made from papyrus that had short selections of the Gospel of Mark in it that authenticated current texts.
    • The dead sea scrolls found in the Judean desert in 1947 had a large number of Hebrew texts that proved the accuracy of current texts.
    • Along these lines, an understanding of the absolute rigor and holy reverence with which the Jewish scribes approached the copy of the texts ensures the highest level of accuracy and attention to detail.
    • The secondary sources such as the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus that support the historical details surrounding Jesus and the time and place He lived.
    • Even the manner of the biblical writings supports its authenticity.  A consistent message and story is presented with enough variability to show it was compiled by different persons with slightly different perspectives.  The minor differences do not in any way take away from the central tenants of the faith, but they do reveal an integrity in documentation and copying.  This supports the argument that what we have today is in the same form as the original writers, some eyewitnesses and some recorders of eyewitness accounts, intended.
  • The growth of the church from the humblest of beginnings, ie. one man crucified upon a Roman cross after only a three year itinerant ministry in a very small, remote, and isolated province of Rome, to the 2 billion Christians in the world today.
  • Lastly, the lives of people throughout history and continuing today, who are changed because of knowing the risen Lord.  Jesus is alive today and He is still meeting people and transforming them through His mercy and grace.

I am one of those people Jesus has changed.  I have met the Lord.  He has saved me.  He has brought much positive change in me.  I would love to say I am totally faithful and complete in every way, but I am not…yet.  I, like all faithful believers, am a work in progress.  But I am growing because He is real and He is walking with me, helping me to become more and more like Him.

Dear friend, I hope this has encouraged you today.  If you are a believer my desire is that this provide a reinforcement of your faith and help you share that faith with others.  If you are not yet a follower of Jesus Christ I invite you to dig deeper and see if what I have written is true and accurate.  Ultimately I was convinced by the life that I saw in people who claimed to know Jesus and lived with a vibrant, tangible faith.  The rest of the information just solidified my faith once I accepted and started following Him.  Since this is Easter, I encourage you to go to a bible believing church this Sunday and ask the Lord to speak to you.  See if He won’t speak a message of love to you heart.  What do you have to lose?

Be blessed today and be a blessing.

Oh, one more thing.  Three year ago I wrote a blog that is really cool family story called Quest for Truth.  If you want to read about a practical application of Truth Seeking.

 

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In 2014 we were fortunate to travel to Israel with a group from our church.  I enjoy learning about history and I am an avid student of geography.  Visiting the places where Jesus lived, walked, and taught was a dream come true.  And while I have studied the bible for over 30 years, being there made it come alive in a new and vibrant way.  This was just before the Arab uprising which stopped travel for several days.  As we progress through Holy Week for the next several days I will share pictures and stories from that trip.  To set the stage for Holy Week I will concentrate upon the trip prior to our Jerusalem visit today.

The three days prior to Jerusalem were spent in Galilee.  We visited Capharnaum, where Jesus was based through His time of ministry, as well as many traditional sites such as the Mount of Beatitudes, the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River, the Church of the Primacy of Peter where Jesus commissioned Peter to “Feed My sheep”.  An over-riding impression of Galilee was peaceful.  It was easy to picture Jesus walking through this land, ministering to people, healing, delivering, and teaching.  Galilee is fairly rural.  In Galilee the land is dotted with small villages surrounded by lots of fields and open spaces.  It is different from the US where rural often means a single farm surrounded by it’s fields.  I don’t remember seeing any homes remote from others.

When visiting places of historic consequence, I like to imagine what it was like at that time in history.  That means you often have to look past a lot of what has been added as well as seeing through the revisionist history.  Fortunately in the Holy Land you have two major benefits.  First, there is much about the land that has not changed dramatically.  Being such a highly contested area, there has been much ebb and flow to who is in charge, but not a tremendous amount of development that has significantly changed the land.  One of the most significant changes is that modern horticultural techniques have made the land bloom and grow more prolifically than ever, however this has not resulted in significant development and growth… at least not in Galilee.  Along the Mediterranean Coastline, yes, but not so much in Galilee.  The second reason it is perhaps easier to get the feel of what it was like 2000 years ago is that we have the most accurate living document from antiquity to consult when we read the bible.  The bible is far and away the most widely published and read document in history.  And unlike all other ancient documents, the bible can be compared to extant manuscripts from the first century showing the accuracy of what we read today.

One small detail.  I will refer to the Sea of Galilee by its traditional name from the scripture of Sea of Galilee.  However it is technically a fresh water lake.  Water flows in particularly from the snow melt and springs of Mount Hermon and it flows out by way of the Jordan River.

 

CAPHARNAUM

Matthew 4:13 tells us that Jesus moved to Capharnaum.  It was in this area that Jesus called Simon Peter, his brother Andrew, James, and his brother John.  (Matthew 4:18-22).  It was in this area that Jesus got into a fishing boat and taught the people as they lined the shore.  From this shoreline Jesus would climb into a boat with His disciples and travel to different places around the lake to teach, to heal, and to get away for quiet time with the Father.

Jesus' home during His ministry years.

Jesus’ home during His ministry years.

Ruins in Capharnaum.

Ruins in Capharnaum.

One of the stories set in Capharnaum is found in Matthew 8:5-13.  A Roman Centurion comes to Jesus asking for healing on behalf of his servant.  The Centurion’s faith in Jesus is so strong that Jesus is “amazed.”  (See verse 10)

Aviel, our guide, provides background on the ruins of the synagogue we are standing in.  Archeologists put the timing of this synagogue to around the 1st century meaning it is possible this was one of the places Jesus worshipped and taught in.  The construction cost was likely funded by a wealthy Roman centurion.

Aviel, our guide, provides background on the ruins of the synagogue we are standing in. Archeologists put the timing of this synagogue to around the 1st century meaning it is possible this was one of the places Jesus worshipped and taught in. The construction cost was likely funded by a wealthy Roman centurion.

The shore of the Sea of Galilee in Capharnaum.

The shore of the Sea of Galilee in Capharnaum.

 

MOUNT OF BEATITUDES

On a sea side hill about a mile from Capharnaum is the commonly accepted location of the Mount of Beatitudes (See Matthew 5-7).  A small church was erected in that location and visitors like ourselves come to walk where Jesus walked and see what Jesus saw.  We were there in early spring and everything was nice and green.  We were told that the beginning of April moves into the dry season and shortly browns and tans would be the predominant coloring.  As you can see, it was fresh, colorful, and alive.

 

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View southeast from the Mount of Beatitudes.  Mount Arbel is the peak just left of top center.

View southeast from the Mount of Beatitudes. Mount Arbel is the peak just left of top center.

View west from the Mount of Beatitudes.

View west from the Mount of Beatitudes.

View eastward from the Mount of Beatitudes.

View eastward from the Mount of Beatitudes.

 

Church on the Mount of Beatitudes.

Church on the Mount of Beatitudes.

View up to the church on the top of the hill that is the likely location of the Mount where Jesus gave the sermon on the mount, including the beatitudes.

View up to the church on the top of the hill that is the likely location of the Mount where Jesus gave the sermon on the mount, including the beatitudes.

 

CHURCH OF THE PRIMACY OF SAINT PETER

The Church of the Primacy of Peter sits on the water’s edge on the north side of the Sea of Galilee, a little below the Mount of Beatitudes.  This location is believed to be the same one described in John 21.  This makes sense since it is only a mile or two east of Capharnaum where the disciples would have likely headed after Jesus’ crucifixion.

Reading John 21 again, I am struck by how Jesus responds to the disciples, especially Peter.  First Jesus sought Peter and these other disciples out after they had gone back to Galilee.  Jesus had told Mary of Magdalene to tell the disciples He would see them again in Galilee.  In my mind I suspect they had “hung out” for a little while before they resorted to what was familiar to them – fishing.   Second He met them where they were and He met their immediate need.  An entire night without any success was instantly turned into overflowing success immediately following obedience to Jesus’ command.  Third He feeds them.  Notice that He already had fish and bread ready for them when they came ashore.  Finally the way Jesus restores Peter is telling.

Peter denied Jesus three times.  Jesus asks Peter three times does he love Him.  With each response I can sense Peter’s growing desperation to assure Jesus of his devotion.  I can’t prove it, but I believe that Peter carried with him a large burden of guilt because of his denial of Jesus.  There are not a lot of activities that are recorded in all four gospels.  When they are they are vitally important in God’s message to the church. Peter’s denial is one of them.

When Jesus forgives us, our sins are literally transferred to the ledger of “debt fully paid”.  We do not ever have to go back and pay that debt.  This is hard for some people to accept though.  As proud and brash as Peter was, it is likely that his sense of guilt was strong and would hinder the plans Jesus had for him.  Jesus’ three questions and three directives were directly aimed at demolishing the foot hold the enemy had in Peter’s life through that guilt.  Finally Jesus speaks prophetically to Peter to let him know that he will again face a choice to deny or follow Jesus and this time he will follow to the very end.

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The Primacy of Peter chapel.

The Primacy of Peter chapel.

Inside the chapel at the Church of the Primacy of Peter.

Inside the chapel at the Church of the Primacy of Peter.

Statue symbolizing Jesus reinstating Peter into leadership in the church.

Statue symbolizing Jesus reinstating Peter into leadership in the church.

The outside chapel at the Church of the Primacy of Peter.  We enjoyed a wonderful quite time as a church here.

The outside chapel at the Church of the Primacy of Peter. We enjoyed a wonderful quite time as a church here.

Having Church on the shore of the Sea of Galilee on the grounds of the Church of the Primacy of Peter.

Having Church on the shore of the Sea of Galilee on the grounds of the Church of the Primacy of Peter.

 

JORDAN RIVER

The place we visited on the Jordan River and had baptism was within a mile or so from where the Sea of Galilee empties into the Jordan River which flows the 75 or so miles south to the Dead Sea.  We were told that the lower Jordan River is fairly polluted due to the heavy use of the lower Jordan River for agriculture, but I don’t have any confirmation of that.  As you can see by the pictures it was a beautiful location.  The Jordan River below the Sea of Galilee for most of the year is a small, meandering stream rather than a large flowing river.  I find it so like our Lord to take a small and relatively insignificant river and infuse it with eternal meaning as the site of John the Baptist’s ministry and Jesus’ baptism.  The same is true of Galilee in general.  There are no large and prosperous cities.  The people seem to live quiet, modest lives.  It is such an understated place for the God of the universe to perform the vast majority of His earthly ministry.  But that was His plan and purpose.

Pilgrims coming up out of the Jordan River.

Pilgrims coming up out of the Jordan River.

The baptism site at Yardnit on the Jordan River in Galilee.

The baptism site at Yardenit on the Jordan River in Galilee.

Jordan River downstream from Baptism location.

Jordan River downstream from Baptism location.

Pilgrims awaiting the baptism at the edge of the Jordan River

Pilgrims awaiting the baptism at the edge of the Jordan River.

 

TIBERIUS

We stayed two nights Tiberius, the city built by Herod Antipas during this time and named after the Roman emperor.  For a time it was the capital of Galilee.  While much of Galilee was decidedly Jewish, there were Roman cities built during these years such as Tiberius and Sepphoris.  These cities were built from the excessive taxation of the local citizenry and strove to create a Roman feel in the backwoods province of Galilee.  These were pagan cities of the foreign rulers built to impress upon the local population the dominance of Rome and perhaps bring the influence of Roman culture.

View north from our hotel room in Tiberius.

View north from our hotel room in Tiberius.  I never was sure what that flare was, but it reminded me of Jesus teaching that a city set on a hill cannot be hidden in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:14)  About four hours after this picture we were on that Mount which happens to be just under the city shining in this picture.

Tiberius from our hotel.

Tiberius from our hotel.

View back at Tiberius from out on the Sea of Galilee.

View back at Tiberius from out on the Sea of Galilee.

Demonstration of the traditional "fishing" on the Sea of Galilee.

Demonstration of the traditional “fishing” on the Sea of Galilee.

One of our tour boats on the Sea of Galilee.

One of our tour boats on the Sea of Galilee.

The fishing fleet returning at days end to Tiberius.

The fishing fleet returning at days end to Tiberius.

The hills north of the Sea of Galilee

The hills north of the Sea of Galilee

Remnants of the morning shower that rolled across Tiberius and the Sea of Galilee at daybreak.

Remnants of the morning shower that rolled across Tiberius and the Sea of Galilee at daybreak.  It was so cool to wake up to this flash shower that quickly rolled down off the hill above Tiberius and onto the Lake.  It reminded me of the stories of Jesus calming storms such as the one found in Matt 8:23-27.

 

Over the next few days I will share a few other pictures and stories from Israel.  One of my biggest take-aways from the trip was that the Lord who is powerful beyond comprehension chose such a quiet and relatively non-descript area to send His Son.  We are talking about Jesus’ entire life and ministry spent in an area the size of New Jersey.  Today over 2 billion people all around the world call themselves Christians.  Amazing!  But that is not all.  Wherever you are, whatever you have done the same God who chose this unlikely piece of land to fulfill His amazing plan is asking you to be His and to allow Him to use you and your life for His glory.  He wants to pour His life into and through you just as He poured His life into and through Galilee 2000 years ago.  And just like He is not through using this Holy Land in His plan, He is not through using you either.  That is awesome beyond words!  Thank you Lord God Almighty!!!

Be blessed today and be a blessing.

 

 

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