Rock Solid Reality

14 May

Over lunch, a friend told me he raised his children to not be gullible. He always pulled pranks on them. As an example, he shared about the time his kids asked why the water tower on the north side of town was blue. “Because that’s the cold water. On the other side of town is a red tower for the hot water.” He said some time passed before they came back with scowling faces asking him why he had told them that. We shared a hearty laugh.

I must say he had a creative approach which I’m sure his children can, by this time, laugh with us when their embarrassment is so far behind them. Growing up, I was simply told to believe nothing I hear and only half of what I see. I can’t say it helped me in life all that much. As for society, it seems like our age of information overload has pushed many into frustration over research and has them settling into believing what they want to believe. I admit I’ve gotten lazy with verification checks at times.

But all of this is in contrast with something I wrote about last week. (See P.R.A.Y.) The “R” stands for the Reality of God in my acronym. He really is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. He is love, mercy, holy and a righteous judge. These are not traits in a fairy tale. Moreover, he honors his word above his name and he invites us to put him to the test to prove his reality. That makes his promises even more real.

I’m talking about promises like:
• Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. (John 14:27)
• I will never leave nor forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5-6)
• Ask whatever you will in my name and it will be done for you. (Mark 11:24, Matthew 21:22)
• Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33

Too many times when I find myself in uncomfortable situations, I forget how real my God is. It’s easier to blend in to what others are doing than to stand out as different. Jumping on a deal instead of waiting on the Lord becomes first nature. Upgrades and brand-name items for premium prices bring greater satisfaction than finding contentment in the Lord. Yeah, I’ve been there.

I look at myself and ask, “Do I do anything in my relationship with the Lord that would make others jealous?” When was the last time anyone said to me, “I want what you have”? Or have I been too successful in blending in?

Now, I’m not talking about being all starch and polish in outward actions when I talk about being different. I’m referring to having the heart of the Father. Jesus spent three years with his disciples, teaching and showing them what having the Father’s heart in every issue of life was like. Even after experiencing heavenly power in their own ministry, they faced the end of Jesus’ ministry in their natural strengths. Do you remember their swearing dying allegiance to him up to the time Jesus was arrested? However, after receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the disciples made good on their promises by the power of the Spirit.

So, we too need to transition out of our natural strength and into the power of the Holy Spirit. I hear many argue that the manifestation of God’s power in the first century church was for that era to establish the gospel’s roots in society, meaning they are not for today. I look at what is happening in the world today and say it has never been needed to be seen as much in world history as to this generation. People need to see the reality of God and his power to change lives—even in miraculous ways.

When I became united with Jesus, I stepped into a new reality. Lies, fears, timidity, and unbroken chains held me back from expressing that reality. I believe it’s time to embrace and live the truth. Who will join me in the adventure?

“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God MUST BELIEVE THAT HE IS (emphasis mine), and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him,” (Hebrews 11:6 NKJV).

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P.R.A.Y. Without Ceasing

7 May

I opened my Bible app. Nothing unusual in the start of my day. No indication to expect something out of the ordinary. But the verse of the day didn’t wait for me to focus and read. It jumped off the screen and slapped me a good one. Just three words: “Pray without ceasing” from 1 Thessalonians 5:17.

After the stun faded, I looked at the verse again. What’s so special about this verse today? How many sermons have I heard on it? How many studies? So many times of asking how is it even possible to fulfill. We’ve concluded it can’t mean prayer is the only activity of thought and body every day. Having a heart ready to pray or having an attitude of prayer at all times seems possible, but even those are vague concepts.

My eyes began to settle on the word pray. I wondered if there might be an acronym to help explain an attitude of prayer. Four words dropped in place.

P for Presence
Jesus told us he would never leave or forsake us. God is omnipresent. He is with us, but we don’t always act like we believe it. Jesus said, “Come to me….” (There’s my word for the year again.) Jehovah said to Israel, “Come, let us reason together….” Prayer begins with quieting our hearts, our thoughts, and drawing into his presence. To pray without ceasing indicates we must abide in him—take up permanent residence in him—and be mindful of it.

R for Reality
I’m old enough to remember when we were taught Columbus discovered America. That was our reality. Then we learned we have our name from a man Amerigo Vespucci who was the first to land on our continent. Columbus discovered the islands of the West Indies—not the big continent. That became our new reality. Decades later archeologists discovered the Vikings were here long before any of the more well-known adventurers. Then behold, the native inhabitants were also immigrants.

God is real. His reality never changes. As ones grafted into the Vine, we become part of that reality. It’s our new and never-changing reality. Let that sink in a bit.

A for Adoration
Did you do it? Did you let it sink in? If so, then this next word should be a natural response. His Spirit testifies to our spirit we are his, we are in him and in his presence. His joy fills our hearts when we resist doubts, fears, and temptation—choosing fellowship with him instead. Adoration flows up from our innermost being to give honor, praise and thanksgiving for his marvelous work. What is impossible for man is possible with God. Jesus made the way for us to abide in his presence.

Y for Yearn
On our first trip to the Philippines, Cindy and I experienced many new things, among them the food of the region. Some dishes were amazingly good, a few equally bad. Before going, we had been on a strict diet to lose weight. We knew we wouldn’t be able to maintain it on the trip. Near the end of the trip, I turned to Cindy and said, “You’ll probably hate me for saying this, but I sure could go for a Big Mac about now.” At that moment, it symbolized home and the familiar. Longing for it helped me understand the yearning Jesus spoke about in his sermon. “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled,” and later, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness….”

Maybe “maintaining an attitude of prayer” works for you. I know for me, (P)resence, (R)eality, (A)doration, (Y)earn will sit in a prominent place among other acronyms I’ve run across over the years. And I hope it keeps me there without ceasing.

How have you understood and lived out “pray without ceasing”?

Peaceful Smile

30 Apr

I’m smiling right now. It seems both odd and so appropriately cool at the same time. I know. I just dated myself by calling something cool. My mood takes me back to when I realized I wasn’t cut out for fishing. To do fishing right required work. One had to outsmart the slippery prey. Somehow I succeeded in drowning worms and going home empty.

In spite of feeling a failure, I assessed my situation and comforted myself knowing I didn’t have to spend time cleaning fish. But most important, I had spent an afternoon relaxing and enjoying the songbirds around the lake and the cooling breeze.

That’s the smile I have right now. We are going through some challenging changes and have been for a couple of months. The most recent event took me to a place I didn’t want to go, but on my way to my doctor appointment, I felt a quiet peace settle on me. The process was still unpleasant, but the test went well with little side effects.

All I could do at that point was wait. In that waiting my subconscious mind began to rob that peace I had. It wasn’t like it was whispering lies and fears to me. I just became impatient in the wait, counting the hours. When I realized it, I recalled the peace given earlier and reestablished my confidence in my Lord.

Yesterday (about 24 hours ahead of the estimate), my doctor called to tell me every tissue sample came back negative. This thrilled me, of course, but I thought about the other things that we face. I know the peace I felt covered all of them not just this one ordeal.

For that reason, I am smiling.

“You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You,” (Isaiah 26:3 NKJV).

And “ Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:6-7 NKJV).

I invite you to share a time—perhaps even right now—when God’s peace allowed you to smile in the midst of problems because you knew he is in control. This site is about encouraging one another. I would like to hear from you.

Great Adventures

16 Apr

Who’s up for an adventure? Signs in my life are pointing toward one it seems. Change. Maybe a big change. We don’t know what is going to happen after the changes in progress. We have a choice: to be fearful or to be excited as we face this unknown. From where we stand at the moment, we see only good things. We choose to focus on them, not worrying about what bad things could be beyond the horizon, and to see an adventure before us.

Cindy remembers conversations we had in our first two years of marriage. We wanted to travel. Low pay, as we were just starting out, then becoming responsible for little lives as our family grew, hindered us. That and fears.

Circumstances in our children’s lives had each one returning to live with us—sometimes only one at a time, once with the three youngest together, and two with their families. The last one included my son’s father-in-law. His was the longest stay as he and his wife worked through college degrees. Forty-four years passed from the first addition to our family until we are soon to be empty nesters.

The son has started moving his family out. It will be completed in about six weeks when his daughters begin summer break at school. Little things excite us, things like:
• How much will our utility costs drop?
• We can finally do those nagging repairs on the house.
• What will we do when our time and schedule is our own?
• We have freedom to travel.
• We can at last get back on our diet and lose these hateful pounds.

One item on our list gives us mixed signals. Our house. One part has us excited that we can function in hospitality at long last. We will have the room to entertain others without worrying about disturbing the rest of the household (or their disturbing our guests). But, it’s more house than we need. We didn’t think so when we bought it fourteen years ago, but at age 55 I no qualms about climbing ladders. And then the cost of living in our state needles us. We could have more disposable income elsewhere in the state and even more in neighboring states. Even downsizing in the same city would help. So many choices. But move? That’s a stressful adventure. Where is God taking us?

I think Abram must have had some of the same thoughts as he struck out for the land God promised him. Part adventure, part frustrating inconvenience maybe, and a large part of questions. At the same time, I believe Abram had a good relationship with God before his adventure started. I can’t believe that first recorded conversation with him was actually his first. So, Abram had another part of excitement. God said, “Come.” Heaven intersected earth—and more specifically—his life.

What a delight to know God has opened the door of heaven for all to have that same experience: heaven intersecting our lives. Like Abram, we won’t know where that will take us nor what we will encounter along the way, but we know we are where he wants us when we answer his call to come. So, we launch our new adventure.

Mining Treasure from the Crisis

9 Apr

I found a silver lining. Some of you may know or recall that my hard drive died a few weeks ago. Nearly everything from 2018 and much of 2017 is gone. I’ve been circling back through my online activities in an effort to recapture some of what I thought was lost forever. Social media has been a big help, but that isn’t the silver lining I’m referring to.

One resource of recovery is my blog site. I have been going through old posts and copying them back to my computer. That’s where I found something I had forgotten about. Two years ago I had chosen a word for the year. That word was pursue. As I read my post on the topic, its similarities and differences to my word for this year, which is come, spoke to me.

Pursue and come both have the same goal: to be closer to the Lord, taking on the same attributes as his spirit leads me in greater measure. The challenge to pursue had me focused on my heart attitude. Did I draw near to God to experience peace, joyous worship, or even material benefits? Or, did I hunger and thirst for him? Pursuit and the right motive in it depended on me.

Come has me as the object. The King has invited me (sometimes perhaps summoned me) to be in his presence. I remember how much anxiety filled me when I was newly with the Lord and one of the church leaders asked me to meet with him. I tried to remember everything I might have said or done that required correcting. I sat tense as the elder tried to initiate conversation, and I chose my words carefully. As our meeting drew to a close, I asked why he asked me there. He smiled. “Just to get to know you more.”

It took a few of those meetings before I could relax and know he was sincere in his desire and purpose.

Now, this year, I have the King of kings, the Creator of everything, saying “Come. Meet with me. Let’s spend quality time together. Let’s share hearts and thoughts and see what happens. Let’s be friends.”

Tripping over my word for the year from two years ago made the call this year to come pop for me with new excitement. By the end of the first quarter (yeah, it didn’t take me long) the call had grown cooler. I hadn’t lost it entirely, but it lacked the fire it had in the beginning. Then seeing it in contrast with pursue refreshed me. I found a silver lining in the computer crash.

I have to go now. I hear the King calling me.

I find consistency can become routine, habit, an activity on a to-do list to check off. How do you keep your meeting with the Lord consistent and fresh?

Beyond Priceless

26 Mar

We had received a free diamond from some sales gimmick and had given it little thought. It looked like a fine diamond and large, compared to the one Cindy wore on her finger. We had stuffed it somewhere and forgot about it until finding it became important to us. That happened when we discovered Cindy’s diamond was missing from her engagement ring.

Finding the gift one, we went to a local jeweler to see if he could mount it on Cindy’s now engagement band. He questioned why we would want to use it then had us look under his jeweler’s eyepiece. He then put his ring under the scope to let us see the difference. While the free gem was a real diamond, it was a very low grade one. We knew it didn’t seem to have the sparkle we thought was normal, but we were amazed at what we saw with the magnification. It was filled with bubbles. They made the diamond fragile. It could shatter like glass—which it eventually did a couple of years later. The fine diamonds the jeweler wore were perfectly clear and refracted light into tiny rainbows.

In our case, the old maxim held true: you get what you pay for.

This reminds me of the parable Jesus told regarding the pearl of great price. In it a merchant is seeking good buys in pearls. Finding one of exceptional quality, he sold everything he had in order to buy that one gem. Jesus said that story describes the kingdom of heaven. Most interpretations maintain the pearl represents Jesus and his kingdom. Nothing in this world is worth holding onto if it means not possessing that pearl.

I don’t dispute that understanding; however, story structure in all these parables suggests Jesus is the merchant. He left all that was his in heaven to find and purchase us—with his own blood. Consider what being the pearl means. Jesus surrendered all the glory of heaven to become one of the created beings—and not just any one of them. He became one of questionable birth, raised in a community held in disdain, and the oldest son in a family of humble means. His life ended as the object of his heavenly Father’s greatest judgment. No greater price has ever been paid. He paid it because he values a relationship with you and with me that much.

Free-Fall Faith

19 Mar

Do you remember that crazy crowd surfing fad back in the 80s or 90s where people on stage would turn their backs to the audience then fall backwards into them? They trusted the people would catch them and save them from harm. The closest I ever came to experiencing it happened in team-building workshops. There, one person stood in front of the other and fell backward—again, trusting the other person would catch him then lower him safely to the floor. Motive and distance of the fall are what distinguishes the two, but one thing is the same. One person free falls not knowing in full confidence (experientially) that he will be protected.

I think the most extreme example of this happened about two thousand years ago. Jesus hung on the cross. The morning sky darkened as night when the sin of the world got placed on the cross with him, when God the Father could no longer look upon his Son.

Jesus cried out, “Father, why have you forsaken me?”

I don’t think anyone can fully appreciate that moment. Having taught the power of the Almighty was on him, Jesus demonstrated it when he healed the sick, raised the dead, and gave sight to the blind. At that time on the cross, Jesus felt totally human, weak, abandoned.

But then he chose to trust. “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” He closed his eyes and free fell. Only his fall landed him in the depths of hell—Satan’s kingdom, death.

Here again we can’t come close to imagining the taunts, jeers, and mockery he faced as Satan celebrated the death of the Son. On the third day I believe a blinding light of an atomic blast filled hell as Jesus stood and led captivity captive out of the grave.

I recall that we also face the challenge to fully trust the Lord in free-fall moments. When things are going well, trust. When calamity strikes, trust. When we face our death of a vision or even our own mortality, trust.

In the team building exercises, no one ever trusted beyond a fifteen- or twenty-degree tilt from perpendicular. Their natural instincts kicked in to catch themselves, but they did build trust and increase from five degrees.

Jesus asks us to trust him all the way. That’s core to the gospel message. We bring the cesspool of our lives—especially the parts we are proud of—and trust Jesus to create something beautiful to honor the Father. I struggle in the free-fall moments, certain that I can escape or lessen the pain. My attempts to take over probably causes more pain, but my prayer is for more childlike faith to trust him all the way in whatever circumstance I’m in.

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