Tag Archives: encouragement

The end of one year–the beginning of the next

31 Dec

Do you have a peaceful place, a place you retreat to for silence, reflection, escape? A man- or she-cave. Soaking in the tub behind a locked door. A place everyone knows not to disturb. Maybe it’s a deserted island only in your imagination.

When I look back over our experiences is 2019, a large part of me cries out, “Thank God that is over.” It was like one storm followed another eroding my island sanctuary away until I found myself standing on a one square foot needle of rock reaching up off the earth. Looking down, I could see what I had lost, but lamenting over it gained me nothing. Only in looking up and declaring it’s only you and me God can anyone find meaning. And that is what God has been after all along.

I’m reminded of the Japanese Lutheran pastor sitting in a prisoner of ward prison at the end of World War II. He knew his fate included a firing squad for treason because he had provided aid to enemy prisoners to ease their suffering. He was okay with that. The torment he faced came from letters he had received from his wife and daughter that last few days. They spoke of American planes flying over dropping pamphlets telling the people to leave the city. The Japanese armies ordering them to stay put. He advised them to do as the pamphlets said. Then the letters stopped. Not knowing their outcome drove him to the brink. He cried out that his life was worse than death. He said he had nothing left. No one to turn to except God. With that, he begged God to forgive him for thinking of Him in such a way. God is not a last resort. He’s first and only.

Jesus prompted me with a word for the year at the beginning of 2019: Come. I began the year rejoicing in that word and found great delight in responding to it. However, several times I had to be reminded in my spirit in the one-foot-square moments what God’s desire was and is in the word He gave me. Like the Lutheran pastor, I had to repent for making my relationship with Him a lower priority and value in my life, thinking I could manage on my own.

I come to the end of 2019 with a challenge, not nostalgia, and a renewed purpose to seek Him and the work He wants to do in and through me in 2020. Like the golden sunlight at the end of the trail in this picture, He awaits with His splendor to share with me.

Photo by Charles Huff

Insignificant Essentials

5 Nov

I’m old enough to remember when having pocket change was almost a necessity. One never knew when he might need a nickel to make a phone call. And pennies? Well, they were the primary food for parking meters. My mom saved every steel penny that passed through her purse. She swore they racked up extra minutes on the meter. She would always grab a handful of her special coins from her penny jar before heading out for town.

Recently while in line in a fast food place, a woman in front of the line dropped a coin. Her immediate reaction was to spy and retrieve it. Seeing it was a penny, she simply waived it off. I thought I would pick it up when I got to the front because someone could step and slip on it. However, a bit of confusion while placing our order with our youngest grandson in tow bumped that intention from my mind. So much for another phrase: “take care of the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.”

And a saying that really makes me smile is the old standard phrase, “Hey, buddy, can you spare a dime for a cup of coffee?” Somehow, saying Can you spare $5 for a quadruple shot grande whole milk with whipped cream white chocolate peppermint mocha latte? doesn’t have the same ring to it.

With Jesus, too

When and how did things that once carried so much weight become so insignificant? Also, how unfortunate that the same drift has happened in the spiritual side of our lives. My wife and I were talking about a simple example of that this morning. She commented on how often we skip through the greetings in the New Testament letters to get to the meat of them. You know, the “I Paul, an apostle yada, yada…love…your sincere…in Jesus Christ.” Now on with the good stuff, right?

I shouldn’t have to remind myself, but it’s all good stuff. Take for example this verse we read in the greeting this morning. Philippians 1:8 “For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ.” My first response to this verse went something like this: There’s a difference between the desire to go to family or class reunions and the desire based on and fueled by the affection of Jesus Christ.

In our early married life, we wished we didn’t have to choose which Bible study to go to and which to skip. We couldn’t make it to each one, but we wanted to. Our hearts thrilled with being with the other believers and seeing things in the Word we had missed seeing before. Gradually, life pressures squeezed out the Bible studies so that Sunday mornings became the only time the church assembled. We were part of the reason. Homeschooling our kids at the time filled our calendars, thoughts, and emotions to the point we actually sighed with relief that an hour or two was freed up.

Then we are reminded:

• Revelation 2:5 “Remember therefore from where you have fallen,”
• Hebrews 10: 24 “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,”
• And the verses we heard in this past Sunday gathering, Hebrews 12:12-13 “ Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.”

The good news is I sense a re-awakening, the fire of His love being rekindled in the hearts of believers. Old challenges seem to be taking on new or deeper meanings. The currency of God’s kingdom never changes in value. None of His grace should ever be waived off. When Christ dwells in our hearts, we should share in his affection toward others. The magnetism of His Spirit should make a difference each time believers come together and each time He wants to do something special. Watch for it. Pray for it. I believe it’s beginning to happen.

Do You Have God on a Dimmer Switch?

24 Sep

In my last blog Ah, the Mona Lisa, I pointed out how imitations of something don’t affect the true worth of the original. I used the Mona Lisa as an example. We all know this to be true. I then said negative attitudes toward Jesus based on what people see in His followers is like rejecting the masters’ paintings because the copies are flawed.

That blog could be interpreted as me speaking to those attacking Christianity, but when I wrote, “a lot of the vilification directed at Jesus and all believers result from the imperfect representations of Jesus,” I hoped to challenge all who call themselves Christian. Would their expressions of Jesus resemble a fine painting or a cartoon?

The apostle John gave us another analogy: light versus darkness. Drawing from the Psalms and prophets, John wrote that at the core, the message of the gospel is God is light and no darkness can be found in Him. (See 1 John 1:5) He goes on to say that we can’t claim we are in Him if we walk in darkness. Think of it this way: imagine having just one of those football field lights in your living room. The brightness of the light bounces off every object in the room with such intensity that all shadows disappear. In response, we shield our eyes and fumble for the dimmer switch to bring the light down to allow some darkness back into the room—not to total darkness again, but to a level where we are comfortable.

Jesus said, “Let your light shine, (Matthew 5:16 NASV). I would add brightly because the verse goes on to say the light should cause men to glorify God for the good work they see in you. Dimming God’s light in us so we fit better in our circles runs contrary to God’s heart and Jesus’ command.

I should note that some of us in the body have the ease and ability to stand out. Perhaps in communication, leadership, or casting vision. We have to be on our guard to be sure it is God’s light shining and not our own. Pride and presumption can sneak into our lives and become an offense to others.

How do we find the balance?

Focus on becoming comfortable standing in His light. We mustn’t reach for the dimmer switch to adjust God’s light shining on us. His goal is to make us into the likeness of His Son, that requires changes in us. And change is uncomfortable. Our choices are simple. Accept the changes with its discomfort and rejoice. Or, reach for the dimmer switch to stay in what we know. Become like Jesus? or attempt to change Him into our likeness? Paul’s answer to those who say they are Christians is to seek and set your affections on things above where Jesus is sitting beside the Father, (Colossians 3:1-3).

Want More Joy in Your Life?

3 Sep

I hope I’ve caught you at a good time. For just a moment or two I want you to think about conversations you had yesterday. If you can, think back over the last week in more general ways to consider the topics while not the actual conversations. What do you remember about them? Did they bring happiness or heaviness? Laughter or grief? Or did they just fill airtime?

I know a lot of mine camped around the housing rehab we are wading through. With summer rushing toward winter, we know we need to get all painting and varnishing done while we can open windows and empty the house of the obnoxious (and unhealthy) fumes. Adjusting our to-do lists, replotting our schedules, and working around the rest of life define me at the moment.

Realizing that reminded me of some verses I read recently. The Message Bible presents 1 John 1:1-4 this way: “From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in—we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands. The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! And now we’re telling you in most sober prose that what we witnessed was, incredibly, this: The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us.

We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy!”

Each year has favorite quotes people put on plaques, tee shirts, mugs and such. One several years ago announced JESUS IS ALIVE. I TALKED WITH HIM THIS MORNING. I think that is what John was trying to get across to his readers. Witnessing and fellowship is about having conversations about what Jesus has done and is doing in our lives. It is about spreading that joy, becoming contagious with it.

That’s hard to do if we are not seeing with our eyes, hearing with our ears and touching with our hands that Word of Life. Of course, Jesus is not standing in the flesh before us as John was able to testify, but that doesn’t mean we cannot have as real of an experience through the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

My word for the year is “Come.” I have been learning the joy of responding to the Lord’s call to come to him and fellowship with him. Lately, I’ve seen how my conversations have been far from him. Talking about how the rehab on our house is going dulls my enthusiasm and drags me down. Even the best conversations filled with compliments on my work lifts me only so high and leaves me wanting.

Yes, my word for the year is come, and I’m taking a guess that next year’s word may be “abide.” It seems like a natural progression: come and abide. Even if it isn’t, I know I want that to be my experience and practice.

Crown-worthy Preparation

2 Jul

My life took a tumble within the last few weeks. On top of surgery and recovery, I went through hard to swallow disappointments, discouragement, and dashed dreams. Paul wrote that I can rest assured that what I’ve experienced is not uncommon, so I know you can relate to me. Perhaps some are in the tossing, turning, and free fall of life right now. If so, take heart. God has a purpose.

Have you ever watched clothes in a dryer? Especially noticing your favorite shirt rolling up the side then dropping down, disappearing, catching a glimpse of it in the back before showing up again pressed against the glass? Knowing it will in the right time come out of the chaos dry and wrinkle free gives us patience to let it continue.

Recently, I read an article on how to polish rocks using a rock tumbler. I couldn’t help but see a metaphor for what I’ve been going through and of life in general, especially the Christian life. The rock polishing process begins with selecting the right stones. And once selected, they are scrubbed to remove surface crud. That may include knocking or chiseling off sharp protrusions before being put into the tumbler.

As much as we say we found Jesus, the fact remains he chose us–before the foundations of the world Paul tells us. And after our being joined to him, we often see much of our crud purged from our lives. Joy fills us when we realize for the first time how great it is to be free of those things.

When we think life couldn’t be better, we experience upset. Confusion, pain, and disillusionment tosses us like the shirt in the dryer and like the stones in the rock tumbler. Here is what to remember. After the choosing, scrubbing, and shaping, the craftsman puts several stones into the tumbler along with some hard grit and water. He then turns on the tumbler for a specific amount of time. At the end of that time, he turns off the tumbler, washed the stones, and checks their progress. Then the process is repeated.

Jesus is the master craftsman. He has a purpose for each one he chooses, a purpose far greater than scrubbing away our crud. He puts us together with others {we aren’t alone in our tumble}, uses the washing of the word and the power of the Holy Spirit to smooth out other imperfections. The stone-polishing process is repeated until the ugly rock shines with the brilliance of a precious gem. (Note: the gem was there all the time, but only the Master could see it.) And so it is with us. Jesus is changing us from “glory to glory.”

As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:16-17 “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory…”
Perhaps the next time life is a jumble with no stable ground to stand on we can remember our heavenly stone polisher. Instead of fearing or complaining we can say, “I’m becoming what God sees in me and shown to the world–a gem suitable for being part of his crown of glory.”

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?

Latest devotional published

3 Aug

Do you remember that song about those “lazy, hazy days of summer”? You do know those days are not limited to just suDSC_0128mmer, don’t you? They even creep into our Christian lives. I have a thought or two on those–the first being how much we desire them and how easily they slip in. As enjoyable as they may seem, beware of the hazards.

http://us8.campaign-archive1.com/?u=0a3227eb2f3937e79c5e59b94&id=fcb8fb7873&e=54d718ca28

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