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Posts Tagged ‘spiritual growth’

Start your day with the Bible in One Year, a Bible reading app with commentary by Nicky and Pippa Gumbel. Nicky Gumbel is the Vicar of HTB in London and pioneer of Alpha. ‘My favourite way to start the day.’ – Bear Grylls, Adventurer

Source: Bible In One Year 2017

Hi Friends,

I intend on reading through the bible this year and I am going to use this devotional from You Version to help me stay on track.  I’d love for you to join me.  I am getting a little head start because I know there will be times I miss a day.  This will give me a little cushion for those days.

Be blessed today and be a blessing.

Dan

 

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Before launching into this study, I want to put it into context.  Sadly, the spiritual gifts can be a controversial topic within the Church.  There are two extremes we can take which, if we hold too tightly to, can cause us to miss the ultimate purpose of the spiritual gifts, which is to build up the Body of Christ and to draw unbelievers.  (See 1 Corinthians 14)

On one hand, we can de-spiritualize the gifts of the Spirit to the point that they are simply natural human traits and capabilities maximized.  In this view we take something that is manifestly a supernatural empowerment of the Holy Spirit and turn it into an ability that we train and build up purely through regular exercise.

On the other hand, we can over-spiritualize the gifts of the Spirit to the extent that every manifestation of the gifts must be connected to an ecstatic event.  We work ourselves up into such a spiritually-heightened state that we are finally ready for the Holy Spirit to fall on us and the mighty works of God can begin.

These extremes are not so much false as they are simply much too narrow to capture God’s purpose in giving the Gifts of the Spirit.  Additionally, these extremes fail to adequately capture the experience within the breadth of the Body today.  The Church and it’s 2 billion adherents experience God’s grace sufficient for life in a broad range of environments and circumstances.  God is continuing His work around the world drawing people to Himself out of every nation, tribe, and people group.  And He does this through His people being obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and responding to the Holy Spirit.  The work is a collaborative effort between the Spirit of God and the people of God yielded to the Holy Spirit.  Our yielded-ness leads to the Holy Spirit moving in us to accomplish great and mighty things.  Many times that manifests itself in the spiritual gifts.  That is what this study is about.

 

This blog is from the notes I pulled together for our home group study.  I used a few on-line resources (which I will note at different points in the paper) and copious hours reading and praying over the scriptures.  I have been overjoyed to find new insights in the Word as the Lord expanded my understanding of spiritual gifts, particularly with respect to the source and foundation of why He gives them.

For the study, I usually began with general questions to draw us into topic, followed by more directed questions related to the text we were studying.  It is my intent to leave this to aid others who might want to expand upon this for their own study.

A final disclaimer.  Many years ago I entered a bit of a longer fast seeking God’s direction in my life.  I was ready and willing to go into ministry if that’s what the Lord wanted.  At the end of those three days, the Lord spoke very clearly to me.  He said, “Son, I’ve not called you to be a preacher.  I’ve not called you to be a teacher.  I’ve called you to be a man of prayer.  You will preach and you will teach, but first and foremost, you are to be a man of prayer.”

That was around 25 years ago.  I have seen those words played out perfectly in the meantime.  As I share this with you, I do so with a sincere sense that the Lord has made this one of the times when I have been called upon to teach.  Recognizing that teaching is one of the gifts I scored a middle-of-the-pack score on (Spiritual Gifts survey which I will identify later in the study), I can rightly assume that whatever good comes from this is due to the Holy Spirit enlivening it in me and in the reader.  Fortunately, these are spiritual gifts and as such God is able to do abundantly, amazingly, above all we can ask or imagine.  I sit here confident and overflowing with thankfulness that this is true.

 

Key Chapters Discussing Spiritual Gifts

Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4

 

List of Spiritual Gift Possibilities in Key Bible Passages (italics indicates a gift repeated in other places in scripture)

Romans 12

exhortation, giving, leadership, mercy, prophecy, service, teaching

1 Corinthians 12

administration, apostle, discernment, faith, healings, helps – service, knowledge, miracles, prophecy, teaching, tongues, interpretation of tongues. wisdom

Ephesians 4

apostle, evangelism, pastor, prophecy, teaching  

Misc. Passages  (the following are implied as gifts in other scriptures)

celibacy, hospitality, martyrdom, missionary, voluntary poverty

 

OTHER GIFTS FROM THE LORD

Salvation, Church, Family, The conveniences He provides.

 

 

Lesson One

(Select two or three of these questions for ice-breakers to lead into today’s discussion)

What is your favorite gift-giving event?  What makes it your favorite?

What is one gift you have received that you value above all others?

What is a particularly memorable gift you have received?  What made it so memorable?

Any stories of gift-giving gone wrong?

What is the purpose behind giving and receiving gifts?

How about with spiritual gifts?

Have you given a gift and had it received poorly?  How did you feel? 

Have you ever received a gift poorly?

 

What are gifts? 

Transfer of an item from one who has or possesses the means to have something to one who does not currently have.

Transfer of ownership of something.

Freely released into the ownership of the other.

To be a true gift, there needs to be a recognition that the thing received is desirous and good.

For a gift to be good it must be “unwrapped”, appreciated, and used.

Gifts most often come from ones who care for us and want us to experience good things and to be happy.

Some gifts are given to us to help us be more functional and to accomplish specific tasks.

 

Is there timing associated with gifts?

Times of gift giving – Birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Anniversaries, Graduations, Baby Showers, Weddings

Some gifts have an “expiration”, i.e. like a bouquet of cut flowers, a new car.  Some gifts have a lifetime legacy – a deed of land, a wedding ring, a poem written in honor of another.

Some gift-givers are extremely generous and continue to give and give and give.

 

 

Some gift receivers are very appreciative.  Some gift receivers are never satisfied.

Receiving with thankfulness and true appreciation engenders greater goodwill between the giver and receiver.

Receiving gifts with dissatisfaction or grumbling or without thankfulness damages the relationship between the giver and the receiver.

 

Romans 12

To be read in context of the whole chapter.

What is the first gift offered in chapter 12?  Verse 1 – our bodies as living sacrifices.

How is this sacrifice received?  We don’t determine this, but Paul tells us when we set ourselves apart unto God it is “holy and pleasing to God”.  He also affirms that this giving of ourselves is our true and proper worship.

What are the “personal” reciprocal gifts that we receive if we continue to give ourselves to the Lord? (verse 2)

Transformation, a renewed mind, clarity in knowing God’s will.

What are the “communal” gifts that we receive if we continue to give ourselves to the Lord? (verses 6-8)

Part of the body of Christ, prophesy, serving, teaching, encouragement, generosity, leadership, mercy / care-giving.

Are there any pre-requisites to receiving these communal gifts?  (verse 3)

Humility (do not think more highly of yourself than you ought), sober judgment, faith

Take time to make the distinction of the supernatural element of these gifts if they flow from sacrificial living leading to transformed people with renewed minds, living together in humble faith while exercising sober judgment about themselves.

 

What is the outcome of this gift giving, particularly when it entails all members of the body of Christ exercising their communal gifts? (verses 9-21)

Sincere love one to another.

A true rejection of what is evil with an active passion to fight against it.

A passionate embrace of what is good.

Devotion one to another… hugs and warm affection manifested, expressing genuine love.  Lives intertwined and supportive.

Honoring one another – accomplishments celebrated, faithfulness recognized, high-fives all around.

The zeal of the Lord present and richly manifested in lives devoted to Him, to one another, and to whatever work He has called us to at that time.

Joy even when circumstances are not exactly what we would want because hope is so rich and tangible.

Patience even when we are in the midst of affliction.  (I picture the body, particularly those with the gift of care-giving, rallying around the one suffering the greatest.)

Faithful intercession and prayer that moves mountains, breaks chains, heals wounds, and accomplishes God’s purpose, in God’s way, in God’s perfect timing.

Greed is gone as the body supports and shares with one another freely, especially those with the gift of generosity.  A point here – those with this gift also often have the uncanny ability to make money.  I think this may be either an aspect of the gift of generosity or simply a manifestation of the law of reciprocity where Jesus said, “Give and it will be given to you.”

Kindness, a supernatural love for and active reaching out to those who do not share our belief or faith.  In fact, it is a love for those who actively work against us.

Empathy manifested in every life situation.

Unity and harmony that is genuine and from the heart.  This absolutely transcends social status, education, age, race – and any other potential source of division.

The rejection of evil to the point that we do not respond in kind, but rather we are motivated by love and our response is what life within the body of Christ would approve of and support.

Peaceful living, with the full recognition that those not in the body might not live in peace nor want to allow us to do so.  Yet we seek peace.

Our response to evil’s attack is to seek to do good while trusting in God to be our shield, our shelter, and our defender.

 

Prior to this study I have always tended to read the bible with a strong awareness of the textual divisions that editors have inserted.  Romans 12 includes three different divisions… verses 1-2 are under the heading “A Living Sacrifice”, verses 3-8 are “Humble Service in the Body of Christ”, and verses 9-21 are “Love in Action”.  While these textual divisions are often helpful, they can also cause us to overlook some important connections the author may have had in mind.  Reading this chapter without those divisions leads us to see a flow that I believe Paul meant for the reader to grasp.

Before we focus on chapter 12, let’s take one step back and place this chapter into context of the entire letter to the Romans.  Romans is written to a part of the church Paul has not yet personally visited.  In this letter Paul provides a succinct explanation of the love and grace of God manifested through the sacrificial life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Through these early chapters we can trace God’s plan of salvation as Paul describes the ultimate gift of God giving His Son… of Jesus giving His life for us.  Paul paints with words God giving over and above anything we could deserve or even imagine comes through.

When we hit chapter 8 we see this new “life in the Spirit” which is available to all who are followers of Jesus.  This too is a magnanimous gift from a gracious and loving Father.  By the time we reach chapter 12 we have had the point driven home again and again – God has given us such a stunning abundance of grace and goodness.  This is the first “giving”.

In chapter 12 we then see giving taking place in three rapid bursts.  The first is in verses 1-2 where we give ourselves to God.  This is a call to total abandonment.  Paul has used old testament imagery throughout the previous chapters so when he speaks of a living sacrifice here, he is tying it to the old testament understanding of sacrifice being a complete giving over.  The only difference is as “living” sacrifices we get the honor of repeatedly deciding to completely give ourselves over to God.

The second giving is God giving spiritual gifts for the edification and building up of the Body.  I will speak about it more later, but I want to clearly state it here – the primary purpose of the spiritual gifts is the building up of the Body of Christ, but building up of the individual believer happens at the same time.  God is the ultimate multi-tasker.  In dispersing His gifts, He accomplishes many things as the Body, and the individual, receives and responds.

Then comes the third giving which is the one I had always missed.  That is the Body of Christ becoming a radiant, shining example of God’s goodness, grace, and love to the world that does not yet know Him.  We become God’s gift to the lost and unbelieving.  Through this, people are drawn to look to Him, to consider the claims of the Church, and to come to faith.

 

In conclusion to this week’s lesson, we see that God initiates the giving through giving Jesus as our savior.  We respond by giving ourselves to Him as our Lord.  He then continues giving by working transformation in us and by giving spiritual gifts to the Church.  The final giving is the Church being given to the world as a manifestly beautiful and attractive “Bride of Christ”.  This final giving includes an invitation to all who have not yet accepted Christ to join the fellowship of believers by receiving God’s initial gift of His Son – Jesus.

In our next lesson, we will investigate the ultimate source of God’s gift giving – His amazing love.

 

Until next time, may the God of all good gifts pour His Spirit out upon you, filling you with His wisdom, His truth, and His love.  In Jesus Name.  Amen.

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I had the privilege of serving as a room leader at Gauntlet 2016.  In my young adult life I was a youth leader at two different churches and I even lead a diocese-wide youth event in Louisiana.  Other life demands took priority as I entered my mid 30’s so my youth leadership became focused upon coaching and a four year stint as a scoutmaster.  Gauntlet is our church’s youth camp, but it is youth camp to the extreme.  There were over 5300 youth at the Gauntlet with another 1700+ room leaders and support staff.  We descended upon Daytona Beach in 129 buses and filled 9 beach-front hotels.  And for the first time we filled the entire Ocean Center auditorium.

I intend on posting several pics and a few highlights from the week in this blog over the next few weeks.  The Gauntlet is an environment where youth and leader alike hear clear teaching on how to become a Christian and what it means to live the life God has created us for.  It provides ample opportunity to speak with caring leaders and fellow sojourners about life’s trials, challenges, failures, and triumphs in a safe place.  Within this context each person is given multiple opportunities to identify and take their next step in the faith journey of life.

This was my second time to serve.  And I almost didn’t go.  My experience the first time was enough of a challenge that I questioned whether the Lord wanted me there.  I left the date open on my calendar and I continued to ask the Lord to make it clear if I was to attend.  About 4 weeks prior the Lord gave me the nudge that I was to go and He provided two very clear instructions.  “Don’t have expectations on how your students are to respond”  and “Trust Me.”  So I signed up.  I am so glad that I did.

That I had chosen the right path was confirmed for me on the bus ride down.  Everyone traveled down in “pods” of three or four buses.  We were the first pod of buses from our campus which also happens to be the furthest from Daytona Beach.  Just outside Jacksonville the bus in front of ours broke down.  The failure on the bus disabled their air conditioning, so our bus leader asked us to make room for the folks from the other bus.  Our boys immediately moved to the back of the bus tripling up in seats or standing in the aisle.  We spent the next 3+ hours waiting on one of the other buses to complete the trip down to Daytona and then return to pick up the passengers from the disabled bus so our pod could continue.

The AC in our bus was stretched to the max with the extra body heat and the lack of air movement over the AC coils, so it was not very comfortable in the back where the boys were all scrunched together.  But during that entire time there was no whining or complaining.  The boys chatted.  I got to know several of the young men like Hawk, CJ, Bernard, Nick, Sean (or maybe Shawn), Drey, Marcelous, Dillon, and others.  For three hours we sweated together, watching bus after bus pass us as we sat on the side of the road with the Florida sun beaming in the windows… and the mood never turned sour with self pity.  I’m chuckling to myself right now because I was, and still am, pumped at how mature the boys handled the situation.

Although I didn’t meet and begin getting to know them until we arrived in Daytona Beach, my two roommates and new friends, Dylan and Greg were among those on the bus who handled the situation so well.  And they proved to be just as mature and good-natured as my initial impression of the other young men on bus 5.  It was truly a blessing to spend the week with these two guys, to get to know them, and to talk about what our next steps in growing closer to Jesus are.

That’s enough of a story for today’s post. So without further ado I share the first of my Gauntlet 2016 pics.

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

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

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

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

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

Reason 2.

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

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

Reason 3.

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

Reason 4.

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

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

Reason 5.

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

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

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

Reason 6.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Sunrise over Crater Lake, Oregon.

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Crater Lake, Oregon

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East Rim of Crater Lake at Sunset

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Alpine-glow on Mount Rainier, Washington.

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Update South Carolina Foggy Sunrise

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Radiant!

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The heavens declare the glory of God.

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

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Sunset on Ruby Beach, Washington.

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Ruby Beach at Sunset and Low Tide

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Splitting the Sky

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Rows in the heavens

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Sunrise in the South Pacific.

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

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

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Sunrise over Mahon’s Pool at Maroubra Beach, Australia

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Sunset over my backyard this past Sunday.

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

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

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There is a friend of a friend who has come to a place where he can no longer embrace a faith in God.  He told his spouse that he loves her and he will attend church with her if she wants him to, but she needs to know he is doing it for her, not because he believes.  His primary reason – there are simply too many unanswered questions.

I like the honesty… if it is truly the honest response of a searching person.  However, it may be that he is trying to put the infinite God, Who wants us to come to Him by faith, into a box.  If he is seeking a nice, safe, fully understandable god, then he is not really looking for the Creator God… the infinite God of the universe… the God of absolute justice and total love.

Frankly, God doesn’t want to be understood; He wants to be known… to be experienced.  He will not subject Himself to our experiments.  He won’t fit into a test tube.  I am an engineer, a scientific person.  Admittedly I wanted, and still sometimes try to, define God in terms that make sense to me.  This is not wrong.  But it will always be limited and fall short of capturing Who the Infinite Other really is.

I have experienced God.  Baby steps of faith grew to the point that I went all in and committed my whole life to Jesus several years ago.  God entered my life that September day in 1983 and I suddenly knew that He was real.  It was not theoretical.  It was not a faith of straining to do the right things.  It was an overwhelming reality that God’s Spirit had taken up residence in me and was beginning the process of changing me for the better.

I have been thinking about and praying for this friend of a friend for several weeks now.  In a couple weeks I am going to meet him for lunch.  I will try to answer some of his questions.  But I know that answers to his questions are not what he truly needs.

I have thought about the wind the last few times I was praying for this friend.  I can give a scientific definition of wind… the movement of air from a higher pressure area to a lower pressure area.  But for a person who has never been outside to feel a cool breeze or walked on the sea shore and experienced the tangy, salty wind blowing in from the ocean, my scientific definition is of little value.  They get much closer to grasping what wind is by seeing it’s affect… trees swaying in the winds of a storm, coastal trees permanently shaped by sea breezes, snow drifts, and clouds moving.

Ultimately they will only begin to really understand what wind is by stepping outside and experiencing it.

Jesus used wind in one of His most famous illustrations.  He was talking to Nicodemus, a religious leader who was curious.  The conversation was recorded in John’s gospel, Chapter 3:5-8  “Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘you must be born again’.  The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it come from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

My baby steps of faith were bolstered by seeing evidence of God in other people’s lives.  I saw the changes and transformation of character that had taken place.  I realized that my striving to make me a better person had always seemed to slip back.  And then God met me and offered me a new life… a life in Him which had only this promise.  “I will never leave you or forsake you.” He said.

Folks, I stepped into the wind that day and I experienced life for the first time.  And He has never failed to keep His promise.   The life I have lived has been blessed beyond my wildest dreams.  I thank the Lord for drawing me to Himself, for pouring His Holy Spirit into me, and for shaping me with the wind of His love that others might see and seek Him out too.

Love you guys.  Have a blessed day.  And let the Lord bless others through you.

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I saw a very familiar scripture in an entirely new way the other day.  Perhaps it is more accurate to say I saw it with an entirely new emphasis.  Matthew 11:28-30 is one of my favorites.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Whenever I read this previously my focus had been on gaining rest or help with the challenges and burdens of life.  I had always skimmed over the “take my yoke” part, accepting that this meant to be a believer.

Well, that changed last Friday.  I was worshipping the Lord and seeking His guidance for a word of exhortation I was to give.  As I sensed the Lord calling me to a place of holy listening, I became aware of a song playing that simply repeated this scripture.  Somehow it seemed like the volume increased whenever the yoke was mentioned.  As I prayed and pondered several thoughts came together which I share with you today.

First off, what is a yoke?  For many today the agrarian imagery that Jesus used may not be as familiar as it was to His 1st century listeners.  A yoke is a type of harness used to hitch a beast of burden to a load of some sort.  The burden could be a cart, something with wheels, or it might be a plow or harrow – devices used in breaking up ground.  In addition to connecting to a load the yoke connected a pair or team of oxen or similar to one another so they would pull as a team.  Finally the yoke provided a means for a driver to guide and direct the beast or team of beasts.

This scripture has a progression to it.  It begins with coming to Jesus.  For most of us this occurs when we get to the end of ourselves, a condition usually resulting in being weary and burdened.  When we come to Jesus He immediately gives us a measure of tangible rest and peace.  I remember this well and it was such a wonderful place to be, standing in stark contrast to the turmoil and difficulties of striving to do life in my own strength.  Today, I can look back and say that this was merely an initial deposit.  God has so much more in mind for each of His children if we but dive deeper into Him.  Hence the progression continues.

The next step is a big one – Take My Yoke upon you.  This is an invitation into the deepest, most amazing, most fulfilling journey this life offers.  However Jesus leaves the decision up to us whether to slip ourselves into the yoke.  As the description of a yoke above mentions this yoke will harness us to the work Jesus has planned for us.  In some instances it will connect us with others pulling in the same direction, lifting the same load.  It also provides a means for Jesus to lead and direct us.  All of these things play out in taking Jesus’ yoke upon us.

One of the greatest benefits of wearing Jesus’ yoke is that we become pupils of the Master.  Jesus says, “learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart…”  There are many, many things He will teach us and I am convinced that for each one of us He knows us well enough to teach us in exactly the manner we need for exactly the work He has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10).  But this scripture points to a universal “learning” when Jesus alludes to two of His character traits that we are to emulate – gentle and humble in heart.  Being fitted into Jesus’ harness will cultivate gentleness and humility that blesses those the Lord sends us to and opens doors to being Jesus’ hands and feet.

As we willingly wear the yoke we will find the character of Jesus being created in us.  By His Holy Spirit we are transformed into the faith-filled followers we were created to be.  And the rest we were given when we first came to Him becomes a soul-satisfying, deep and abiding “rest for your souls”.  It is as different in scale as a spring rain is from a raging hurricane.

It is at this point that we realize the Lord has given us work which we have accomplished without fanfare and seemingly without extraordinary effort on our part.  Yet these things are well beyond what we could have envisioned from the outset.  Following the Lord, doing the work He gives us – making disciples, caring for the hurting and sorrowful, meeting the needs of those in want, encouraging the fainthearted, preaching the Word, living a life that rejects sin, but embraces the sinner with Christ’s love – these tasks, these burdens become lightly carried, yet effectively accomplished.

This scripture offers us rest, but it offers so much more.  Life as a Jesus-follower is a life of growth and constant transformation.  Where He will take us is beyond our comprehension, but it is also good beyond comparison.

Be blessed today and allow the Lord to bless through you as you take on His yoke and live.

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It’s spring in the South so that means I am busy in the yard.  One task that was always low on my list of spring tasks was pruning the plants.  I wasn’t fond of loping off part of a living plant.  I also wasn’t very confident that I was doing it correctly.  Finally, I wasn’t sure it was all that important.  I mean plants in the wild don’t have somebody coming through and pruning them do they?  As I’ve grown in my gardening skills and lived a number of years, I’ve come to not just practice pruning because I have to, but to value it and even look forward to the opportunity to give the essential care that pruning provides.  And I’ve learned pruning isn’t just good for the plants in my yard.  Pruning is good for me too.

My introduction to pruning was as a young lad working the family garden with my Dad.  We often grew a number of tomato plants and Dad taught me that we had to pinch off the “suckers” in the crotches of the tomato branches.  It seems that as the plant grows it will focus it’s energy into making more and more branches and more leaves, but at the expense of producing fruit.  By removing the suckers we are encouraging the plant to produce the tomatoes it was made for.

That made sense so I have always pinched the suckers on my tomato plants, but I didn’t really see the connection with a lot of my other plants.  Later we had some roses and I noticed that the first year they looked very nice all season long.  The second year not so much.  As the third season rolled around I read about pruning my roses.  It said I could remove up to 1/3 of the plants growth in pruning and that I should focus upon sick, damaged, and dead wood.  Well I set out carefully making small snips here and there removing the material that fit that definition.  It was extremely time consuming.  I also got pricked more than once.  And after I had finished a rose bush it didn’t look much different than when I started.

My wife came out after I had finished about half the bushes and she asked what I was doing.  When I told her, she said, “Oh, I know how to prune roses, but that’s not how you do it.”  After I explained to her what I had read she responded in her usual, loving way, “Yeah, but that not how you do it.  Why don’t you go get the ones around the side of the house and I will finish these in the front.”  I was all for getting a little help.  As I walked around the house I wondered what was left to do.

I hadn’t finished the first of the rose bushes on the side of the house when Lisa came around the corner with hedge shears in her hand and said she was through.  Alarm bells went off as I noticed the crooked grin on her face and the way she said she was through.  As I rushed to the front I saw piles of rose bush clippings scattered everywhere and the roses I had labored over for over an hour had been reduced to just a few stems and leaves.  Horrified at how this mangled mess of roses now looked, I suddenly realized I had left my wife alone… with the hedge shears… by the defenseless roses on the side of the house.  I ran back just in time to see her finish massacring the last of the roses.  I was stunned.  She stood up with pieces of rose leaves in her hair and on her shirt, put her hand on her hip and asked, “Well, what do you think?”  “You’ve killed our roses,” was all I could say.

Four weeks later the roses were more beautiful than they had ever been.  I couldn’t believe it.  I learned a lesson that season.  Pruning can invigorate plants that look healthy and good, but have so much more to offer.

While my wife provided a practical lesson in the benefits of pruning, I realize that this is exactly what Jesus told us in John 15:1-2.  “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.  Jesus told us these same principles apply in our lives.  As I reflect back over my life, I can see so many ways in which I have been pruned.  I mentioned in my last post about losing my job a year ago.  That was a time of extreme pruning that I am now so thankful for.

A difference between people and plants is that we can be more active participants in the pruning process.  Lent, this season of anticipation as we approach Easter, is a wonderful time to ask the Father what might be appropriate to remove from our lives.  Some things that come to mind is any number of addictive behaviors, poor eating habits, or excessive social media.  Another area where God wants us to join Him in the pruning process might be in relationships.  A lesson I have learned is that not every person we meet is someone we should build a relationship with.  There are toxic relationships that we need to avoid or are not to remain in.  This type of pruning is often among the most difficult, but also the most beneficial for all involved.

When I mention this, it is important to realize that the person with whom we would have a toxic relationship with, can have a meaningful relationship with the person God chooses.  Our staying in a toxic relationship just might be the thing that prevents them and us, from moving forward in our lives.  Note, this is not about leaving a marriage, but rather any number of other relationships including dating, work, and other social interactions.  In marriage, it is important to realize that our priority relationship is with our spouse, so pruning will occur to build a stronger and healthier marriage.

I remember one working relationship that I had where God used pruning in an amazing way.  Early in my career I worked for Mr. R for about a year before I was promoted into another area.  Mr. R was a rather big personality.  He could be a schmoozer when he needed your help, but he was a rather cantankerous individual on many occasions.  Within a few years I was promoted again and now I had Mr. R working for me.  In my new role, the big personality that was merely a distraction when I worked with him, became a serious thorn in my side as a member of my team.  We worked together for about 6 years and there were so many times when he pushed me to my limits.  Interestingly, God wouldn’t let me stop loving this man even though he frustrated me to death.  I distinctly remember leaving a confrontation with him one day heading to my office as angry as I ever remember being.  I was going to begin official discipline.  But as I got to the stairwell, the Spirit of God overwhelmed me with love for this man, even while I was still stewing over his impertinence.  Prayer and serious pleading with God ensued.  Interestingly, it was not long after this that Mr. R retired.  A pruning occurred.  But that is not the end of the story.  While he was out of my life, the hours of prayer and sharing the faith had not been in vain.  Mr. R found himself in a serious life crisis a few years later and in the midst of this, he came to faith.  We renewed our relationship and I was blessed to find that God had worked a miracle in his life.  He was a new man.

Pruning is now one of the first chores I tackle each spring.  I realize it accomplishes more than I ever imagined.  And if I sense the Father pointing to areas in me that need pruning, I don’t pull back any longer.  I submit to His good work.  “Lord, you are the Master Gardener.  Accomplish Your good and perfect will in me.  Prune in the manner I need.  To You be the glory!”  

Be blessed today and be a blessing!

 

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