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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be blessed today my friend and be a blessing.

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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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Traditional institutions like marriage and family are under attack like never before.  The home, the nuclear family, the church, faith in God, even God Himself, are the target of a systemic and focused campaign to undermine their value and rightful revered place in society.  It breaks my heart, because I am intimately aware of the value these have meant in my life and literally thousands of others over the course of my lifetime.  It’s more than just an emotional value.  It is a practical… real… solidify-your-world value that creates emotionally and mentally healthy individuals who are then able to positively impact society.  That, my friends, is the most desperate need in our families, communities, nation, and world today.  There is a solution that then serves as a catalyst for a whole host of “right answers” to what needs to be done.  But we must get that answer right first for the other answers to make sense and fit together.  Jesus was asked what the most important thing was.

‘Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” ‘ Mark 12:29-31    https://www.bible.com/bible/59/MRK.12.29-31

Whenever a person enters into a relationship with God through His Son, Jesus, they become a child of God, adopted into God’s family in a marvelous and miraculous way.  A transaction takes place where Jesus’ death on the cross is substituted for the just and right punishment for our sins and God accounts the righteousness of Jesus to the repentant, new believer.  We become a new creation.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. ‘ 2 Corinthians 5:17-21   https://www.bible.com/bible/59/2CO.5.17-21

God has His eye upon us for good and not for evil.  He desires that every single one of us would turn to Him in faith and begin the journey into the rich and abundant life He has for us.  But He also allows us to make choices.  Each choice we make has consequences.  Each choice results in a new set of options with a new set of consequences.

I was raised when maps were all we had to help us get around.  I loved reading maps. Finding and following the shortest route was my goal and I enjoyed a real sense of accomplishment when we successfully completed a trip.  One thing I learned though was that wrong turns sometimes occur.  Once you realized you had taken a wrong turn you needed to take immediate action to get back to the desired path.  Continuing down the road thinking it will eventually get you to your destination was a losing proposition.  I learned the U-turn from observing my father.  As an adult I have pulled a few U-turns myself.  A good church word is “repent” which in essence means “do a U-turn”.  It carries the connotation of recognizing you are on the wrong road, headed in the wrong direction, and you take decisive action to go the other way into the right direction… into the arms of Jesus.  God’s desire for every person is that they enter into a relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus.

This is the beginning of the most incredible journey, a journey which consists of the rest of this earthly life, continuing on into an eternal life in heaven.

There is another similarity between our road trips and this journey that Jesus calls us to.  The further we have travel down wrong roads, the more backtracking we will have to do.  There are habits that develop heading down wrong roads that are not helpful to our new life.  There are addictions to be broken, lifestyle choices to be turned away from, and relationships that will have to be altered.  We are adopted and become God’s children the moment that holy transaction takes place.  But God’s desire is that we grow  into the whole, healthy, faithful, mature men and women He created us to be.  That transformation takes our active participation and it lasts a lifetime.  He works in us to make us holy.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. ‘ NIV  Romans 12:1-2   https://www.bible.com/bible/111/ROM.12.1-2

Our nation is badly divided right now.  It is extremely sad that a rational, thoughtful conversation between people of differing opinions is so hard to achieve.  While I have a political opinion on the many issues of the day, I am dismayed because I know that anything our governing authorities may do will only treat the outward symptoms.  And they often carry unintended negative consequences.  Only when I turn to Jesus do I see hope.  And it is a marvelous hope.  When God’s people get busy doing what we are called to do – pray, seek God’s face, love God, love others, intercede, serve, and obey Him, then we will see the deep work in lives that will result in the transformation of our marriages.  As our marriages are strengthened our families will grow healthier.  Healthy families undergird strong, growing communities – the Church family and local communities.  And healthy communities in turn positively impact our state, nation, and world.

God’s plan is the positive transformation of society through the transformation of the individual through a vibrant, growing relationship with Him.  In my last three posts I spoke of the Kingdom of God being real and current, yet only partially revealed.  God’s kingdom is the picture of what society can be like – people seek to love Him and love others, brokenness is healed, loss is genuinely comforted, the confused and lost are found and given direction, and through it all God is lifted up and glorified.

  • It is a young teenager who gives up her addictions when she finds out she is pregnant.  Or better yet, she decides to wait to experience sexual intimacy until she marries her husband.
  • It is a troubled youth that has a father at home to see and head off the down-ward emotional spiral.  Or better yet the father was there from the moment of his birth to invest into his young son and to head off issues very early.
  • It is a doctor, alert to the needs of every patient, noticing a young man that is slipping deeper into a violent mindset who determines to intervene not just with more drugs but compassion and wisdom and a different course of action.  Or better yet, the doctor is sensitive and compassionate enough that he prays and intercedes for the troubled young man and gets Holy Spirit given direction in bring healing.
  • It is a local community that is close enough and communicates well enough that a troubled and violent youth is identified early enough that they prevent a mass tragedy.  Or better yet, the community is one where faith and love predominate and a sad and troubled youth is loved, embraced, and gets the deep help he needs early.

One of the more difficult things to measure is a problem avoided.  Since it didn’t occur you don’t have something to count.  Yet it is true that if you do the right things, you will get the right results.  This is true in industrial plant maintenance.  It’s true about taking care of your car.  It is true in our families.  It is true in society.  Doing the right thing in our society would be to recognize and support the Judeo-Christian principles that this nation was founded upon.  Latitude was given for persons of other belief systems, but this nation was founded as a nation under God specifically because He gave us the privilege to do something new in the world.  We must not abandon the foundation that made this nation the great nation that is has become.  Faith in God, responsibility to God, family, and community, genuine love for others, clear and compelling laws and a judiciary that rightly interpret the laws, are all cornerstones of the just, fair, and compassionate society our forefathers attempted to establish and that we are responsible to preserve.

Lord Jesus, please move in this land to bring this nation back to it’s founding principles.  Jesus bring an awakening to this nation and cause us to turn back to you.  Stir your body, the Church, to pray, to intercede with fervor, and to minister in the power of your Holy Spirit.  Help us to wage warfare in the spiritual realms and minster in your mighty power in our homes, schools, workplaces, churches, and the hi-ways and bi-ways.  Bring your answer to today’s issues Lord with clarity and emphasis.  Lord God display your power and love in and through your people. Be glorified today Lord.  Make your presence known Holy Lord and be glorified today.  It’s in the name of your glorious Son and our mighty savior, Jesus Christ, we pray.

And all God’s people said – Amen!

 

 

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When I set out to blog, I made the commitment to be transparent in my writings and never sugar-coat the stories of my faith journey.  It is easy to write about the good things that God does in our lives.  Yet when we slip or when things aren’t working out quite as nicely as we would like, we can easily gloss over or ignore a significant part of life that likely carry’s meaning to many, simply for the sake of putting up a good front.  Today I am compelled to share a recent chastisement from the Lord.  Partly this is to highlight an aspect of God’s nature that is often mis-characterized.  Also, it is because the trap I fell into is very easy to slip into even if it is hidden in plain view.

In my last post, ALL, I wrote about Jesus’ declaration of the greatest commandment and what our love of God with all that we are looks like.  What you don’t know is that I wrote that a week ago under what I sensed was the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  But I hadn’t quite finished it.  While we have had a lot transpire in our family over the past week, there is no reason why I didn’t finish the post sooner.  I had clear nudges to do so, but I kept busy and I kept putting it off.

For much of my life I have risen early to spend 1 – 2 hours in bible study, prayer, and occasionally blogging.  But for the last week I would wake up very early, usually before my alarm would go off, with a strong sense of needing to spend quiet time with the Lord.  But I would reason that I could pray just fine snuggled in my warm bed.  Somehow one or two sentences in prayer would occur and the next thing I knew it was an hour or more later.  By the time I would arise, it was time to start the day’s activities.  Needless to say, my attempts at a quiet time were rushed, stilted, and not really a time of connection.  It was more like a child rushing through the kitchen late for school, snatching at whatever they can for breakfast before sprinting out the door.  It might have the appearance of eating breakfast, but nutrition it was not.  My quiet times had become like that – an appearance of the right thing, but connection with God and edification, it was not.

Tuesday of this week I did respond to the nudge.  I was up early and I got into the Word.  Afterward I slipped outside where a light rain was falling.  With an awareness of my lack of direction lately I whispered a prayer, “Lord, please steer me.”  Immediately the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart, “The boat has to be moving for the rudder to work.”  Oh my!  I am used to God’s encouragement and gentle correction, usually when I turn in repentance after I realize I have made a mistake.  In this case, I had been a little lazy for several days, but I assumed that getting up early was a good sign on my part.  The rebuke was firm, clear, and thankfully cut through my self-satisfaction.

Since our relationship is with the omniscient God, there is no hiding our true thoughts, feelings, and motivations.  If we are not careful, we can slip into self-deception and “think” we are fine.  But, getting into the Word, spending real connected time with the Father is the antidote we all need.  When we do, He will guide us into the way of truth and life.  And if we need more than a little nudge, He can provide that too.  The important thing on our end is to embrace His loving nudges and His firmer chastisement and follow Him diligently.  It ties into the last post.  When we are giving Him only part of our attention, part of our heart or soul or mind or strength, we are falling short of His high calling upon us.  It is not God who is lessened when we are not fully devoted to Him, but us.

Friends, I pray that your walk will be marked with consistent progress and Godly joy and peace.  But, when you do begin to veer off course, I encourage you to readily accept and embrace the Lord’s loving correction, however He may give it.  He loves you with an everlasting love.  He knows you intimately and His desire is always for your good.  Jeremiah 29:11 affirms this.  “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.”

Be blessed my friend.  And be God’s blessing to someone today.

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““The most important one,” answered Jesus,“ is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’”  Mark 12:29-30

Jesus was very clear here.  He was repeating the words from Deuteronomy.  I’ve read this dozens of times, but today the word ALL stuck out.  It was like they are being highlighted for emphasis.  Before I get to the weighty matter of what all means, let’s look at the four elements Jesus articulates.

Heart.  When I think of heart I think of passion.  I think of the thing or things that drive me, that compel me.  “The team with the most heart often wins.” It is more than emotion, but emotion is part of it.  Another analogy is if all our actions were a compass needle, our heart would be the point to which the compass needle consistently points.

Soul.  I struggle with distinguishing this from the other three, but I realize it is place where my will resides.  My soul is the center of my individuality and consciousness. 

Mind.  This is pretty easy, it is my cognitive, thinking self.  It is the part of me that processes data, assesses information, and makes decisions.  It is our intellect and the repository of all the data we have accumulated throughout our life.

Strength.  My strength is the resulting development of all my actions to date.  Much like a laborer muscled and toned from years of hard work, my strength is the capabilities I have now because of the life and actions I have taken.

So back to all.  Does Jesus really mean ALL?  And we are to LOVE with ALL.  If we love God with all then there won’t be anything left over for others – a spouse, children, parents or siblings, will there?  Well Jesus does say ALL and the heart, soul, mind, and strength pretty much encompasses everything about who we are.  How can this be?

It gets back to the reality that God is our creator.  He knows us better than we know ourselves.  He created us on purpose, for a purpose.  It is His desire for each person to fully fill their divinely ordained purpose.  But our purpose can only be found when we are immersed in Him and when we are filled by Him – through the in-dwelling Holy Spirit. 

By giving Him ALL of us, He is able to mold, shape, and transform us into exactly the person we are meant to be.  In some cases it is a transformation of sin habits.  At salvation the penalty for our sin is paid.  Jesus paid it on the cross and we said yes to receive it at our salvation.  We are washed clean by the blood of Jesus.  But the flesh still remembers the old habits.  Sanctification is the process of losing the old, bad habits and taking on new, good habits. 

A life verse for me is Psalm 37:4. “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  This verse makes perfect sense when it is aligned with Jesus admonition.  When God has our heart, soul, mind and strength, we cannot help but become aligned with His heart.  When our heart aligns with His heart it will desire what He desires.  When we desire what God desires, we become partners with Him is seeing these things come to be.  In some cases we will be moved to missions, moved to serve sacrificially, moved to go and do the things we have been prepared to do with the totality of our life experiences and under God’s anointing.  In all cases we will be moved to love more deeply and fully than we are able to without Him.

Another aspect of this is we will be moved to pray God’s prayers.  Intercession is a high and holy calling.  I’m not talking about reading through a list of names and asking God to bless family and friends.  Intercession which emanates from God’s heart to our heart is a burden to pray for specific people and needs even to the point of travail. God wants to partner with us, to pray through us.

There is one final element of Jesus’ saying that needs emphasizing.  The admonition begins with LOVE.  Love is a game changer.  We can serve.  We can honor.  We can follow.  But none of these meet the standard of loving God.  They each are manifestations of our love response, but love is deeper and richer than these alone.  Love is the deep-seated acknowledgment that God is the wholly complete other to Whom our devotion, desire, and passion is aimed.  1 John 4:16 says this.  “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”

To love God with All that we are is to enter fully into the life we were created for.  Amazingly we find that our ability to love and do the things God calls us to do become the desires of our heart.  He takes our attempts to love, pray, serve, work and, through His Spirit, accomplishes His good and perfect plan in us and in those He leads us to.  As we walk the road of loving God with our All we will find that He reveals our All to be more than we knew or imagined.  But it is only in losing ourselves in Him that He is able to do this great and wonderful work in us.

Purpose today to love God with your all and bask in the joy of knowing He first loves us and He will live fully in us as we abandon ourselves into His love.

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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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