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Posts Tagged ‘hope’

I serve on the Care Team at Church.  We meet people with God’s love and give them hope.  I feel called to this.  But it’s not always easy. 

From the conversations I have I see that Hope is a commodity often in short supply.  Usually the visit for care is the result of multiple crises in a person’s life.  Often it is the result of personal decisions combined with events outside their control.  Almost always there is some degree of loss that precedes the loss of hope… decline in health, the passing of a loved one, a job loss, a broken relationship…  The end result is that the initial loss precipitates a void wherein hope is drained from the individual.

Our goal in Care is very simple.  We seek to allow the Lord to work through us to help the Care Receiver know that Jesus loves and cares for them.  It is amazing how He does this.  Empathy is our connection point.  Often the Father matches life experiences that the Caregivers have walked through with the challenges the Care Receiver is facing.  This empathy is more than just important, it is essential in being a conduit of God’s love and hope.  We do not theorize, postulate, or pontificate, but rather we seek to be like Jesus and know the person as a valued child of God.  With this relationship established we are able to take the next step.

With sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and an attitude of love, we seek to help the individual identify the root of the loss.  In most cases there are decisions that have been made that need to be understood.  While we seek to deal gently with the broken, we do not treat sin lightly.  It is vitally important that sin be clearly identified and labeled as what it is.  While not all poor decisions are necessarily sin, those that are must be confessed and repented of.  The Word of God is the key here.  With Love we share what the Bible says and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.  (Sidenote – It appears to me that where we Christians gain a black eye in the public realm is when we take on the role of prosecuting attorney for God.  Don’t get me wrong, we are to flee from sin, to resist the devil, and do all in our power to promote what is good, decent, and godly.  But if we simply speak the truth from the Word of God, we can leave the emphasizing of what that means to the Holy Spirit.) 

Where it is possible, attempts to undo the damage of the sin are appropriate.  Restitution is a bold, and often beneficial step in the process of repentance.  When I became a believer there was a person I had wronged in my college days.  The Lord impressed upon me that I had a concrete step to take with that person so I drove 600 miles for a face-to-face confession of my sin and to ask for forgiveness.  At the time I was just trying to be obedient to what I understood the Lord was showing me I needed to do.  Today I recognize that it was a major step in my growth as a believer which freed me to be ready for what lay ahead.

Many times forgiveness is a key act in the repentance and healing process.  One of the diabolical aspects of sin is that the victim is often the one who ends up bound in cords of unforgiveness.  There is great liberty in forgiving someone who has done you wrong.  I have had a few “done unto” events and I can honestly say that the Lord has blessed me, not in spite of those things, but through those events after I forgave and then gave the situation to Him.  This is something I have personally experienced and it is essential in the healing process.  (Truth in writing, the forgiving part requires persistence.  The enemy will initially bring the event back up to try and revive the pain and emotional turmoil.  This is a good time to rebuke the thought and repeat your decision to forgive and verbalize that it is in the Lord’s hands.) 

This post is about hope, but it is necessary to understand that hope is a tender flower that requires the proper soil.  What I have described above is required to prepare the soil of the heart to receive the seed of hope.  Make no mistake, hope will not flourish in the wrong environment.  There is a plethora of hope-killers waiting to stamp out the flower of hope, but Jesus’ words should encourage us – “Fear not, for I have overcome the world.”  He is the MASTER Gardener and the Giver of Hope.

Which brings us to the next step – sharing the Word of Life.  The bible is full of God’s promises.  In caregiving this is an apt time to share words that speak into the Care Receiver’s life situation.  Frequently after a conversation I stand amazed at how the Lord brought the right scripture to mind at the perfect time in a conversation.  It is important to regularly read the Word so that it performs its transformative work in you (Romans 12:1-2) and becomes the source of your wisdom to share with others.  The final piece of this is the active work of the Holy Spirit to bring to mind the right word for us to speak and then apply that word in the Care Receiver’s life.    

This leads to the climatic step in Care Giving – Prayer.  I’ve mentioned speaking and verbalizing a couple of times already.  I’m prompted today to mention that it is often necessary to speak things into existence.  The bible begins with God speaking all of creation into existence.  Through the Old Testament we see God putting His words into the mouths of His prophets.  When Jesus walked the earth He spoke and people were changed, healed, delivered, saved.  He even spoke to the wind and waves and they obeyed Him.  He is the Lord God Almighty.  To Him every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess (Phil 2:9-11).  Now for a time He has chosen in His great mercy to give mankind a little more time to turn to Him.  In this window we do not yet see everything under the heavens fully submitted to Him.  But make no mistake, it is all under His dominion. 

As believers God has placed His Holy Spirit into us.  We are His ambassadors.  An ambassador is a representative of a sovereign nation living and residing in a foreign land.  Even though they live in a different country, the full weight of their home country rests upon them.  When they speak, they are speaking for their home country.  As Christ’s ambassadors, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are to speak God’s Word and His words into lives.  Prayer is how we do this.  God gives us the responsibility and privilege of praying what He wants to do in the lives of those He sends our way.  The enormity and mystery of this overwhelms me, but I have experienced it too many times to ignore or discount.

The final step is living out the hope which God has called us to dispense.  In some instances, it will mean we walk with the Care Receiver for a time, for a season, or as life-long friends.  In other instances, it will mean praying for and encouraging them for just that intersection of time, trusting the Lord to continue the good work He has begun.  In every situation though, God has called us to look to Him in child-like trust and nurture the hope that He promises us in His word and He places in our heart. 

A final application.  Please forgive me ahead of time for this final inclusion, but it is a burden I’ve been bearing for several weeks now.  It is also the primary reason I haven’t blogged in a while.  You see, I, like a lot of Americans, am disappointed in what I see in our political process.  It wearies me to see the division and acrimony blasted forth for all to see and endure.  I do not see hope there.  I have chosen a candidate to vote for, but it is more because I see a terrible choice and a little less bad choice.  My friend this has tended to get my eyes off the Lord and onto lesser things.  This weekend I was able to minister care to others dealing with real world, right now issues and I was able to fellowship with others who love God and are striving to live lives of abundant hope.  In so doing I saw my malady for what it was.  I was being drawn to put at least a portion of my faith in things that are not worthy of my faith, nor able to give real hope. 

And then I lifted my eyes…  Jesus is the only one worthy of my total faith and the only one who gives real hope.  And that hope does not disappoint!  (Romans 5:1-5)

Two final thoughts.  I finished this blog last night, but for some reason I didn’t post it.  This morning I woke and called my wife to do our devotion.  (I travel a lot in my work so we do our devotion together over the phone each morning.) The following scripture just jumped out at me.  It is the exclamation point from the Word on what I have said.

Psalm 62:5-8

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him. Truly He is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart to Him, for God is our refuge.

Today is the one year anniversary of the passing of four of our youngest son’s friends in a tragic car accident.  James, Josh, Mills, and Sarah are not here with us any longer.  The pain and loss is still very real for their family and friends.  But with eyes of faith we look forward to the day when we will see them again.  They trusted the Lord and were His children.  And one day we too will pass from this life to larger life.  And the reunion will be real and it will be good.  This is hope that we can hold onto.

Take care my friend.  May the Lord richly bless you today as you live a life of tangible hope.

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The Presidential Race is going strong here in the USA.  Sadly, that means dealing loosely with the truth is broadly on display for all to see.  At least two of the front runners in the race for our highest office are guilty of repeatedly lying.  And yet they are still in contention to be our next president.  I find myself becoming discouraged, not so much by the fact that the lying occurs, but that it seems like it is accepted by so many voters.  Truth is devalued.  When truth becomes so devalued that it no longer matters, the consequences are brutal.  Just look at Germany in the 1930’s…the Soviet Union in the early to mid 20th century…ISIS today.

Fortunately there is a remedy – an eternal remedy.  God is real.  His sovereignty is genuine.  His plan is being worked out.  Ultimately all lies and distortions of God’s eternal truths will be completely overthrown.  And if we chose, we do not have to wait for some time in the future for this to begin taking place.  Jesus explained this to a crowd of His followers and His antagonists in John 8:31-32.  “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 

I have lost count of the number of times God’s truth has given me a stable place to stand when it seemed the world around me was in upheaval.  Some of them stand out as stark reminders for me now and on into eternity.

When my company announced a merger and it was likely that the group I was in would be downsized.  The Lord clearly spoke Isaiah 41:10 to me.  “So do not fear for I am with you; do not be ashamed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  Through the months of waiting as the merger unfolded and the office I was in was eventually downsized, I had God’s truth holding me.

Nine months into this process, when they called us in individually to tell us our specific outcomes, I was told my job was being eliminated.  This time Jeremiah 29:11 repeatedly came to mind, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”  I was totally buoyed by the truth God spoke.  I was immensely aware that the God of the universe was with me to see me through.  No matter how it turned out, He had my back… as well as my front, my sides, above and beneath.

Five days before this job was to end, they offered me a new position which was a significant promotion to do work that I really wanted to do.  I experienced the reality of Jeremiah 29:11 in a way so tangible that even as I write today I can’t help but smile.  I know a freedom that the world doesn’t know because I am certain of the truth – He is alive and He is living in me.

But let’s bring the story up-to-date.  A little over a year ago I was in a leadership role in a new company where I had worked for about 3 years.  I had significant responsibility in a brand new plant.  We were making steady progress on our goals, but my boss, the plant manager, and I were not on aligned.  While it was not a surprise, it was still uncomfortable to be told by your friend, the HR Manager, “I have to let you go.”  Since we are talking truth, I have to admit that there were bouts of anger, feelings of loss, and a number of times when I reviewed what I could have done differently.  I continually came back to the same place though.  I had continued to lead with the best interests of all involved to carry out my job in a manner that glorified God and met the company objectives.  In my heart, I could not perform my job the way my boss wanted me to and remain true to my moral and ethical beliefs.  And since he was the boss it was his right to fire me.

Through that soul-searching time the Lord repeatedly gave me signs of His love and peace.  Over and over as I would begin to sink into either anger at the unfairness or self-pity at the loss of a very good (compensation-wise) job, the Lord would whisper, “Trust Me.” 

Today I am at peace and even quite thankful for that situation.  I work part-time doing work that I enjoy, working with people that appreciate what I do.  The mountain of stress that I was under is gone.  My marriage is as strong as ever.  I am able to be much more involved in caring for people.  In fact this afternoon I am going to my grandson’s school to give a brief talk on Thomas Jefferson as part of their President’s month.  I am thrilled to get to do this.

Dear reader, I don’t know where you are in your life, but I want to encourage you today to look to the Truth.  Jesus said in John 14:6 “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  If you already know Him, as I am sure is the case for many of you, then commit yourself totally to knowing Him better.  Spend time every day seeking His face and fellowship.  Obey what He says in His Word and what He whispers to your heart.  He is there and He is not silent.  Love Him and let Him love you.  Freedom – amazing, awesome, peace-filled freedom is what awaits.

What are you waiting for?  Tether to the truth and hold on for the ride of your life.

Be blessed and be a blessing today!

 

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As I finished my run this evening, I was struck by the thought of how good God is to us.  “He showers me with too much love,” I thought.

I don’t deserve the goodness that He pours out upon me, upon my family.

I don’t deserve the kindnesses I have experienced from total strangers in Jesus name.  They were moved to bless and it overwhelms me.

Too many times I have not done what I know He wants me to do and yet His Grace is still upon me and evident in my life.

I have had times when I was happy with my “successes” and pride was a very real issue.  I am still a man who thinks of himself way too much and others way too little.  But day-by-day He leads me to understand that it’s not about me in the end.  It is about Him.  It is about loving others with His love.

Even when I am moody and controlling, His love reaches out to me, to correct me, to lead me, to show me the way of peace and joy… which does not consist of getting my way.

Like Isaiah, I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips.  But God called and sent out Isaiah and He calls and sends me out.

Like Paul at times I can only cry out, “what a wretched man I am!”

But Paul was right – “thanks be to God who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

He died so that I might live and know Him in spirit and in truth.  It is too much love for this man.

And that is exactly the right amount.

 

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As I rose this morning I wondered if the storm that crashed in upon us at dusk last night would result in a glorious sunrise this morning.  I hurriedly got dressed as an excitement rose within me to commune with the Father and see what the morning light ushered in.  Surprisingly, my excitement only rose when I looked out the window and saw the fog.  Grabbing my bible and hot tea I headed outside.

This morning’s post requires a little background before I get to the good stuff.  I am in a new phase of my life.  At the beginning of this year after almost 32 years of constant employment and increasingly responsible positions within three different companies, I found myself unemployed.  The way the separation transpired left me with unanswered questions and a fair amount of emotional loose ends to work through.  I had the basis of a plan already formulated, but I had not done much work in setting the plan in motion when the separation arrived.  So even as I moved into a time of soul-searching I also moved into hurry-up mode to become an independent consultant in my field of expertise.  Today, five months later I have made more progress on the soul-searching side, but both are progressing.

Which brings me to the lesson in the fog.  Our church is currently going through a series called “Without a Doubt”.  We are looking at God’s faithfulness in life’s most trying times.  As Pastor P said several weeks ago every person is in one of three stages in life.  Either they are in a storm, they are coming out of a storm, or they are getting ready to enter a storm.  Last night’s storm dumped a lot of rain and that moisture created the fairly dense fog this morning.  Storms do that.  Their impact can linger even after the deluge has passed.

The fog after the rain.

The fog after the rain.

Enveloped by Fog.

Enveloped by Fog.

As I prayed this morning I realized that since I came to faith I don’t believe I have doubted God’s love.  I have experienced periods of uncertainty about what the results would be in a storm, uncertainty whether my response would be right and good, uncertainty whether I would stand in the God-honoring way I desire, but I haven’t been uncertain that God is or that He is sovereign.  Digging deeper though, I have been uncertain that God’s love would manifest itself in a way that I could bear.  It was not whether God loves or that He would be with me.  Those are unshakeable truths.  But I recognize in myself the weakness of thought and action that leaves me yearning for more of Christ and less of me.

At that moment I raised my hands and looked up into the grey mist all around and above and I praised the living Lord.  Immediately I thought of what was on the other side of that grey mist – a glorious sunshine that was bright, golden, and warm.  A light that is life giving.  A light that is always there.  A light that I am certain is there.

It dawned on me in that moment that God’s love is the same as the sun.  It is always there… it is life-giving… it is bright, golden, and warm.  My doubts and uncertainty are swallowed in the certainty of God’s love.  It is a redeeming love.  Even if I lose all, God’s love can and will redeem what is lost (See Job 42:10).  Even if the way is dark, God’s love is the light of dawn speeding toward us.  Even if my faith slips and my response misses the mark, God is faithful and just to forgive us and restore us because of His love.

I had two key take-aways from the message this weekend that apply in every storm and in the fog.  First, if the situation we are in is not good, then God’s not finished.  Second, in the times when I cannot see God’s hand, when I can’t understand what is going on, I can always, ALWAYS trust His heart.  Let the storm come.  Let the fog roll in.  Let the darkness settle upon us.  In all things and in every situation God is there, God is light, God is life and God is love!

As I finish this blog I look out the window and within the past five minutes the fog has lifted.  I think I will take that as I sign I got it right.

The fog has lifted!

The fog has lifted!

AWESOME!  He is SO GOOD!

Rejoice today my friend.  God’s love is precious and it is near.  Take hold of His hand today and let us rejoice!

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Life is a lot like the weather.  Sometimes it is wonderful like blue skies and pleasant temperatures.  Other times it is rainy, dull, and dreary.  And on occasion a storm or hurricane decides to roll through.  For those in the northern climes we’ll say a blizzard blasts you.  Today I sit on a balcony at Myrtle Beach as tropical storm Ana decides to come ashore.  As storms go Ana is relatively mild.  Still the wind gusts and at times driving rain are scuttling the plans of many as we hunker down inside and plan to “make the best of it.”

Today several of our friends are going through hurricanes in their lives.  A precious 2 year old succumbed to cancer yesterday.  Another friend lost her only brother who leaves behind a wife and two young daughters.  Other friends are dealing with struggling relationships – marriages being attacked and threatened.  These painful events are akin to the wind, rain, and battering waves that threaten to destroy beach, buildings, and any soul who mistakenly wanders out into the storm.

Jesus talked about exactly these sorts of situations and He used a weather metaphor to do so.  In Matthew 7:24-27 Jesus describes the wise and foolish builders.

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

I am an engineer so I know that there are many steps in building a good, solid house.  Jesus really emphasizes only one point in this story – the foundation.  You can do everything else in home construction perfect, but if you have a poor foundation the home will not stand when the earth shakes or the severe storm hits.  Jesus and His teachings are the only truly solid foundation for life.

 Just a little bit later in Matthew we see a real life example of Jesus’ authority demonstrated.  Crossing the Sea of Galilee Jesus falls into an exhausted sleep in the boat when a squall breaks out.  From Matthew 8: 23 – 27:
23Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

26He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.
27The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”
For some storms in our lives Jesus will step in and calm the storm… the layoff passes us by, the diagnosis is marvelously / miraculously wrong, the wayward child comes to their senses and returns home.  For many storms though the Lord, in His infinite wisdom, chooses to walk with us through the storm rather than still the storm.  The promise of scripture and the experience of followers everywhere is that if the Lord doesn’t calm the storm, you can be certain He is with you in the storm.  That is my story.  Jesus’ peace, comfort, and grace have sustained and carried me through every storm I’ve experienced.  And on the other side I am a better person with a stronger faith because of it.  I have been in a particular storm for the past year plus, but I see the end of this storm on the horizon and I am excited.
As I’ve written the bands of wind and rain have continued to sweep through and yet I feel joy in my heart as if it where a beautiful, spring morning.  I know Him who is the foundation of life and He is my strength and shield.  I don’t know where you are in your life, but there is a truth our pastor says fairly frequently.  “Whoever you are you can be certain one of three things is true.  Either you are in a storm, you’ve recently come through a storm, or there is a storm in your future.”  This would be pretty discouraging IF we didn’t have a sovereign God who knew how to bring good out of every storm and Who walks with us through them.
If Jesus and His words are your life foundation, then join me in praising Him in the rain.  If you do not yet know Him, please comment to my blog and I will be happy to reach out and introduce you to the Lover of your soul who wants to be your foundation.  Ask the Lord to help you know Him.  Also pick up the bible and start reading.  The gospels are the best choice, but I would be happy to correspond with you and give you some suggestions based upon your life situation.
Be blessed today and be a blessing whether you are in the sunshine or in the rain.

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This morning as my wife and I finished our devotion we moved into prayer for friends and family who are going through serious challenges.  In particular we prayed for couples who are striving to reconcile their marriages after betrayal and hurt.

A picture that came to mind as we were praying is that of a deep wound that must heal from the inside out.  I spoke with a friend recently who has suffered a very serious injury losing the ends of three fingers.  The doctors are leaving one of the wounds open so that it will heal properly – from the inside out.  Coming back to the picture that came to mind as we were praying, I believe that this was a word the Lord gave of what has to happen in these couples we know although it is true of anyone who has suffered deep hurt.  The emotional wound has to have time to heal.  Words and superficial actions will not bring the healing that we truly need to be made whole.

In a marriage a demonstrated commitment is essential for this healing.  Practical steps in this are striving to know and understand our spouse better and better, seeking to understand and speak our spouse’s love language, putting our spouse and their needs before our own, and walking in the character trifecta of openness, honesty, and integrity.  These same truths apply to other relationships as well, but marriage is indeed a common relationship crucible for many of us.  Sadly, for many marriages the refining fire beneath the crucible doesn’t have to get too hot before the majority of what we have built our life upon becomes ash.  Yet through this God is able to build something truly valuable with the little that is left and adding His all-sufficiency.

You see I know this from personal experience.  My wife and I celebrated 30 years of marriage last month.  As I look back I can honestly say that over those 30 years we have had 29+ years of very good to amazingly great love and life together.  But there have been times…  A little over three years ago our relationship had become quite strained.  My job had me on the road 70% of the time.  Lisa was focusing more and more on her career and when I came home looking to be pampered a little bit (okay maybe I was looking for a lot of pampering) Lisa was about used up from all the extra she was having to do.  Our communication suffered and frankly the love was a rather dim ember at that time.  Even the close friendship that we have always shared was being severely tested.  At Christmas we had booked a condo in Orlando assuming Sammy’s soccer team would be playing soccer between Christmas and New Years as they had done for four years previously.  Surprise, they decided not to play in that tournament and yet I had the condo rented.  The short story is it was not the relaxing time to refresh and rejuvenate that I had hoped for.  In fact we now refer to it as the “vacation from hell.” That is not a direct reflection on Orlando necessarily, but more on our heart condition at the time.

Driving back from that vacation I was secretly looking forward to work and being be back out on the road.  I had scheduled to be gone for the first seven weeks of 2012.  Six days later we were racing to the emergency room with Lisa’s left leg just above the ankle sitting at a grotesque angle.  It was a compound, open fracture of both bones a little above the ankle.  A week in the hospital, three surgeries, 12 weeks with no weight on the ankle and multiple PT sessions later Lisa is able to walk and generally has regained most of her mobility.  In a previous post I have written about our walk through this time.  It’s a particularly moving read called “Broken Legs, Mended Hearts.”

I allude to this story today because one of the residuals from this is a serious scar around Lisa’s leg where the tissue was so seriously damaged.  Two things the doctor later told us that we look to as a testament of God’s grace.  First when he first saw Lisa’s leg he estimated he had a 50/50 chance of saving it.  Yet her healing progressed very well.  In fact he seemed very pleased and even a little surprised at how well she recovered.  Second at her one year check up he fully released her telling her to listen to her leg and let pain and discomfort tell her how much to do.  (Oh he did forbid her from swinging on rope swings too.)  But he also said, that a break as bad as hers 50 years earlier often proved fatal.  The bones were shattered into so many small pieces and the wound was a terrible thing.

As we finished our prayer time and I shared the picture that I had used in praying for our friends, Lisa thought of her leg and pointed to her scar.  And she said that deep wounds can leave bad scars.  She was mostly right, but I don’t see her scar as bad.  To some it may not be pretty, but to me it reminds me of Gods abundant grace.  Lisa lived.  Lisa kept her leg and she has most of her mobility.  Our marriage was healed because when Lisa broke her leg, God broke my heart.  Our oldest daughter who had been estranged from us for a time not only came rushing back to be with her mama, she gave her life to the living God.  She will live with God in His kingdom and the catalyst for her final step to this decision was Lisa’s broken leg.

One final thought.  I went for a run after we finished our devotion.  I love to run and I had stopped for a couple of months, so it was exhilarating to get back out there.  But I don’t run for the sake of running.  I run so I can talk with the Lord.  He did not disappoint.  I pick up small rocks as mementos of the places we’ve travelled.  (Lisa is wrapping up a business meetings here in Myrtle Beach as I write this post.)  You may agree with Lisa and think it’s a little weird, but I have found a few other persons who share this weirdness.  Anyway I am on the return leg of this long run and I have picked up a couple good rock candidates for my collection when I feel the Lord speak to me to stop and look for a rock.  Now I like fossil rocks or intricate design rocks or even pretty rocks – something that stands out.  So as I stand by this puddle I am thinking, “Are you going to show me a gold nugget or something Lord?”  And I started looking for something special.  But the Lord said, “Look in the muck and mire.  Look for the dirty and overlooked.  Get the rock that looks the least appealing.”  So I looked and sure enough there was a little, ugly black rock.  I picked it up and as I evaluated it I decided it is a possibly a small piece of shell encased in a little bit of asphalt.  I thought, “Wow, no gold nugget here.”  To which the Holy Spirit immediately replied, “Everything can be redeemed!”  My mind went to the description of the heavenly city described in Revelation of the streets of gold and I realized that streets of gold will have an underlayment that support them and keep them strong, flat, and beautiful.  An underlayment that can include little pieces of shell encrusted in small chunks of asphalt.

Friend, I do not believe you are reading this by accident.  I feel that the Lord has a message of hope for the world that He will get out through as many means as possible.  This message is meant for you and perhaps a loved one or friend.  God loves you, He can bring about the deep healing that is needed, scars aren’t always bad, and everything can be redeemed.  That about sums it up for this morning.

Have a blessed day.  And be a blessing to someone God puts in your path or on your heart today.

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Recently I heard some guys reminiscing about our high school days and one of them commented with a sigh, “Those were the best of times.”  I’ve pondered that a good bit since then wondering is that true in any sense of the phrase.  While this becomes a reality for some this absolutely does not have to be true.  One of our slogans at church is “The Best is Yet to Come.”  I believe that.  Not because I am locked into a positive-thinking mindset.  (Although I do see this is better than a negative-thinking mindset.)  But because God’s Word promises this.  Also I have seen what happens to people who are fixated upon the past.  They usually have a wreck in their immediate future.  It’s like trying to drive while constantly looking in the rear view mirror.  It doesn’t work for very long before you are piled up into a tree.

Sadly for some, perhaps many, the high school days are the high point of life.  The freedoms most of us enjoy during high school are significant and growing.  The responsibilities most of us have are generally much less than what we will encounter a little later in life.  Finally, there’s the “small pond” effect.  You do not have to be really big to be the biggest fish in the pond.  In a similar manner, in high school it is easier to be the “star” because of the small population.  I experienced that.  In high school I had my accolades, but when I got to college I disappeared into the mass of humanity just trying to figure things out.  Until I connected with a small group that helped give me an identity, I was invisible.

While I am ready to move on to the wonderful promises the Lord for His children, I’m reminded that there are many variations on the theme “those were the best of times”.  The marriage that started strong and somehow lost its way and ended… the promising career that crashed… the health and vitality that drained away in sickness and ill-health…  the era of raising a family that gives way to scattered family in distant reaches with infrequent contact.  The reality is life changes and it ebbs and flows over time.  Not every experience is a mountain top.  And every mountain top does not have to be big and dramatic.  Our two year old grandson loves his grandpa.  At the moment we get to see him a lot.  When he hears me come in he charges to me with his arms raised and a big grin to give me a hug.  I realize I am very fortunate that I get small “Best of Times” reminders like that pretty often right now.  Don’t miss this though.  I could miss them.  If I did not respond with the same warmth and love that Jasper shows to me, I am pretty sure I would lose this wonderful gift.

There is a reason I recognize this small “Best of Times” gift.  I know my Father loves me and He wants the best for me.  Actually He wants the best for every one of His children.  In fact His offer of adoption is available to everyone and He wants to shower us all with His love.  Some of His love and grace already falls upon those who have not yet come to Him.  The country we live in enjoys freedoms and prosperity perhaps greater than any country ever has.  And it goes back to the grand experiment of our founding fathers who built this nation upon Judeo-Christian beliefs.  If we have eyes to see, if we take time to really see, we can perceive many ways that small blessings come our way.  Why is this important?  If you are in a valley time, and they happen to all of us, you are not meant to remain there.  An important step in getting out of the valley is to keep looking up, keep seeking a way up, keep praying for a path up.  God wants us to go forward, to come on up.  If we get stuck wallowing in regret, self-pity, and blaming, we look down and back rather than forward and upward.   God’s desire is to bring us through the valley to even higher ground than we were on before.  The world, the flesh, and the devil conspire to keep us stuck in the valley.  Choose the higher ground and keep striving.

Fortunately God has given us a guidebook, the Bible, which has numerous passages that affirm this desire for us to keep progressing unto more Best of Times.  Jeremiah 29:11 was written to the Jewish exiles in Babylon, but the Lord also had it written for us.  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  The prophet Isaiah was also God’s mouthpiece to the Jews 2700 years ago and to us today.  In one of the valleys that the Lord brought me through, Isaiah 41:10 became a life verse.  “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  If we keep our focus looking back or looking at what we have lost we will miss the good things that God has ahead of us.  How do I know God has good things ahead?  Well I take Jesus at His word.  In John 10:10 He tells us, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they (that is His followers) may have life, and have it to the full.”  Another translation says it “that they may have abundant life.”  Either way it fits my description of the “Best of Times”.

The final reason I am certain that as good as it gets here it still falls short of what the future holds, is because this is not my home.  Our final destination is with God in heaven.  Now I won’t claim to know what it is totally like, but occasionally I believe the Lord has given me hints.  On the gorgeous late spring day when everything conspires to be absolutely beautiful, the Lord whispers, “It’s better than this.”  When I have gotten to some breath-taking vista and I am admiring the view thinking how absolutely amazing it is, I hear Him say, “This is just a foretaste…”  When my heart is light and bubbly because of the love one of my children or wife has blessed me with, I sense the Lord say, “I love you more than this.”  WOW!

I am thrilled to be on this journey of life.  The hope, anticipation, and excitement of what lies ahead is truly bubbling inside me at this very moment.  I look out the window to the grey threatening sky of an unusually brisk spring morning and my heart is thrilled because there are sunny days, beautiful vistas, and a heavenly home filled with God’s unfathomable love ahead.  Truly the Best is Yet to Come!

I pray that wherever you are, whatever you are going through, that the Father will give you a foretaste of the “Best is Yet to Come” He has in store for you.  I know of some family and friends who are walking through challenging times.  I pray that you will be encouraged as God provides tangible support to you through this time.  For others who may be in the doldrums, which constitute a fair amount of our life, I encourage you to see and enjoy the little glimpses of the “The Best” He puts in your path.  Be encouraged.  He has no forgotten you or forsaken you.

Final thought.  The way Jasper responds to me and to his daddy is a picture of how we can respond to our heavenly Father if we want to bless Him.  My heart soars when this little guy comes running to me with joy on his face just wanting to be in my arms.  I think our heavenly Father’s heart desires the same from us.

Have a wonderful day.  Be blessed and be a blessing!

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