Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Sustaining’ Category

On the wall of the classroom in bold, beautiful font were the empowering words:

“turn your cants into cans and your dreams into plans”

After correcting the grammar*, my next thought was the proverb, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) Can’s and plans are good, and godly ambition is a worthwhile pursuit, but whether you are a believer or not, your life is held in God’s hands (Daniel 5:23) and He is sovereign in all of your life. So heed the advice given in James 4:15: “Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” Good may come of your efforts, but difficulties may also come of them and both good and ill will come anyway (Job 5:7). Don’t be discouraged by it. Yield to God and learn from it and prosper in it. I have had a measure of trouble, not so great as many others nor so slight as some others, and I have not always been patient, but trials are a constant and consistent teacher. I hope the following poem may encourage and strengthen you rather than drag you down.

In this life and on this path
There is strife and sometimes wrath
Difficulties small and great
But nothing ever left to fate

We have dreams and we make plans
Some have even help and fans
All of your ambitions dear
Wait for God’s directions clear

Paying forward, looking back
Outward viewing, keep on track
In your life reflect on how
Before His will you may bow

The when difficulties come
More than an unhappy sum
Of trials and loss and joys ban
They are part of His good plan

 

*I was first drawn to the visual aesthetics of the display, but almost immediately questioned in my mind why such a poorly constructed phrase would be on the wall of an English classroom. I considered that our students don’t know grammar because we don’t know or model grammar. We are all caught up in texting language, which is understandable for texting but deadly to the language and good communication. If you ignore the contractions, which should not be in formal writing (I use them in this blog to increase the conversational tone of my writing.), then the wall display should have read more along the following lines: “Turn your can’t’s into can’s and your dreams into plans.” The subject is understood because this sentence is a command, but students need to have this modeled along with punctuation.

Read Full Post »

I’m not complaining to say the following about 2019. It has simply been a difficult year. Health, stress, strained relationships, loneliness, unfulfilled dreams and expectations, they have all been there. But God has been there, too, and He ordained, allowed, and prescribed the difficulty as well as directed, sustained, and provided in the midst of it. I am not here to say everything is alright now, but I am here to say God’s presence has been more obvious in the midst of the ongoing difficulties. Forgive the overuse of a single rhyme sound. After the first verse came, it became a challenge to continue with coherent, true, and heartfelt lines. Some people say don’t look back, but bracing for the next wave, as well as riding it, requires a steady foothold and keen balance based in knowing your source of propulsion and floatation.

Oh, my goodness, what a year!
Losing things I thought were dear
Trials and temptation to fear
Mundane difficulty drear

Oh, my God, Your presence near!
Comforting when every tear
And discouragement appear
Sparks of joy amidst unclear

Oh, my Comforter, and dear
My cries for help so sincere
Do not fall on a deaf ear
Do not meet with scoff or jeer

Oh, my Jesus, grace so clear
Wipes away my every tear
Makes the voice express my cheer
Pushes worries to the rear

Oh, my Lord, in this new year
Me not from Your path to veer
Own ordained influence sphere
Trials that witness to each peer

Read Full Post »

If desperate times call for desperate measures, then tremendous provision calls for tremendous thanksgiving. Our youngest grandchild was born just over a year ago with heart problems. He had major heart surgery about 9 months later. Though small, he is now growing and happy with good skin color. It is amazing that he is alive and progressing. His father decided that in the light of God’s gracious provision of his child’s safety and health and the many people who showed concern, helped out, and prayed that a birthday party might not be enough. Instead, he decided to invite anyone who had been even distantly involved to come for a half day celebration of his son’s life and God’s goodness. 50 people responded that they would come. In the time my wife were able to be there, from 1-5:30 PM, the people came and went at a steady but reasonable pace for meet and greet. Good conversations, good food, and many stories of God’s goodness abounded.

After a year of multiple hospital stays, procedures, tests, and surgery, it is good to see the little man at home, content, and growing. God is good even when things are hard, but we celebrate His goodness when He is gracious to care for us with such largesse. His all sufficient grace is good and praiseworthy and full of joy.

In retrospect, I wish that I had taken pictures of the many people who came, but my few good pictures are of my own family gathered to encourage and give thanks. Also, notice that the little guy is almost always serious. He will go to anyone, probably because he is used to being held by nurses, but he takes a serious look at whoever picks him up.

20190809_165350

First Arrival Greeting

20190809_170542

Mama Talk

20190810_120415

Very Involved Sister

20190809_182036

A Few Moments Together

20190810_120434

Close Siblings (He smiles more often with his sister than any other time.)

20190810_150916

A Story and An Inquiry

20190810_151254

Intense Little Video (Uncle Time)

20190810_150948

With Uncle and Aunt

20190810_135321

With Those Swingin’ Uncles

Gift from a Pilot

20190810_151102

Odd picture: It must be blurred because I was shaky. Her face must be in focus because her movement matched my shakiness. That gives it a cool sense of motion.

20190810_171809

Healthy and Happy

20190810_172213

Mamaw Loves Those Grandchildren

Read Full Post »

Recently, I gave each of my older grandchildren (that’s 4 out of 6, who are old enough to understand what I am saying) a polished black rock. I told them that every time they look at it or rub it with their thumb to keep it shiny, they should think, “Jesus is  like a rock that is unchanged.” He is firm. He is sturdy. He is dependable. He provides for us. The Scripture describes Him as a rock in I Corinthians 10:4: “and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from the same spiritual rock which followed them, and the rock was Christ.”

The illustrations for Paul’s comments in I Corinthians are found in Exodus 17:1-7, Numbers 20:1-13, and Deuteronomy 8:15, 32:1-43 (The Song of Moses). If you read the Numbers passage, you will see that God got angry with Moses and Aaron for striking the rock this second time instead of speaking to it as God had commanded. Even though Moses’ anger showed a presumption on his part, what God says to them reveals the source of God’s anger as resulting from them not treating (or representing) God as holy before the congregation. They had disobeyed God’s direct command. I have long wondered why God got so angry. I believe ultimately it may be because Moses’ careless and angry action destroyed a symbol God had designed to explain His work with man. The first time before a rock (Exodus 17), God commanded Moses to strike the rock. The second time (Numbers 20), God commanded Moses to speak to the rock. The first time Christ came He was struck on the cross to deliver us from sin, for “in that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity.” (Zechariah 13:1) Just as the rock poured forth life giving water for the people when Moses struck it, so Christ poured forth life giving blood when the nails were struck into his hands and feet. The second time Christ will come “having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await him.” (Hebrews 9:28) He will gladly provide all we need and more for those for whom He was struck to rescue them. “Ask, and it will be given unto you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the it will be open to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened to him.” (Matthew 7:7-8) 

In Deuteronomy, Moses teaches Israel a song about the dependability, consistency, strength, perfection, faithfulness, righteousness, and jealousy for His people of Israel’s God, their Rock.

David helps to solidify our understanding about God as our Rock. His most direct explanation of the rock metaphor comes in Psalm 18. In verses 1-3 he sets forth the idea of the Lord as his rock:

“I love You, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.”

The rock metaphor becomes a shorthand for David of security, protection, salvation, strength, victory, and all else that God means to him regarding physical, mental, and spiritual rescue from all variety of enemies. God is for him a firm place where his foot doesn’t slip and his enemies don’t overcome him (v.36-37)

I know that my grandchildren can’t understand all of that right now, but learning dependence upon God is a good lesson to begin early. We will always need to come around to learning it at a deeper level and life provides many opportunities to review that lesson.

20190729_083735

 

Read Full Post »

Why Me? There are generally two ways to answer that question.

Why me? Why is this happening to me? What did I do wrong?

         Or…

Why me? What is God trying to teach me? How is He using these circumstances to guide me?

On a very pleasant, sunny afternoon my wife and I were preparing to go for a walk on our local Greenway. We were talking and enjoying conversation and she was understanding well. You see, she is a stroke victim and most days communication is poor and ponderous. We went to the car, talking away as we went. I distinctly remember enjoying the moment.

I pulled out of the driveway, looking both ways. In my blind spot a car had pulled up on the opposite curb. I looked in my rear side mirror and reacted just soon enough to dent his passenger door no more than about four inches. Two inches less and a toilet plunger would have fixed the problem, but the main beam was damaged and irrepairable. It was an expensive mistake.

Now two months later I was at the body shop paying for the repair. I had planned other business nearby. When I came out of the shop, my truck would not start. After a half hour cleaning the battery cable, I was underway, too late to do the other business I thought so important.

Why had all of this happened? Why was I prevented and redirected? What chain of events is God orchestrating for His glory and my benefit through these less than pleasant events?

I may never know, but I do know that the Scripture says, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) I lived a good portion of my life frustrated by annoying sidetracks and roadblocks, but I have come to understand what the Psalmist means when he says, “It is vain to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; for He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.” (Psalm 127:2) I want to end my days trusting God, as the Psalmist says, “The Lord also will be a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble; and those who know Your name will put their trust in You. For You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.” (Psalm 9:9-10)

Read Full Post »

I have the same question as Gideon when God’s messenger said to him, “The Lord is with you”: “O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” (Judges 6:12,13) The prophet Habakkuk feels a sense of desperation as he surveys the landscape of difficulty before him. He pleads, “LORD, I have heard the report about You and I fear, O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.” (3:1-2) And Ethan the Ezrahite asks, How long, O LordWill You hide Yourself forever? Will Your wrath burn like fire?” (Psalm 89:46) And he questions, too, Where are Your former lovingkindnesses, O Lord, which You swore to David in Your faithfulness?” (v.49) The sons of Korah, a designated group of Levites for praising God, wrote, O God, we have heard with our ears, our fathers have told us the work that You did in their days, in the days of old.” (Psalm 44:1) But they are discouraged and ask, Why do You hide Your face and forget our affliction and our oppression?” (v.24)

Some of the questioning that people do may well be jeering unbelief that says, “prove it”, similar to “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.” (Luke 23:35) For others it may be more like Gideon, who said to God, “Do not let Your anger burn against me that I may speak once more; please let me make a test once more with the fleece, let it now be dry only on the fleece, and let there be dew on all the ground. God did so that night; for it was dry only on the fleece, and dew was on all the ground.” (Judges 6:39-40). 

There is a decided difference between these two types of questioning, for The Lord will not allow the righteous to hunger, but He will reject the craving of the wicked.” (Proverbs 10:3) I believe that the verse refers to both physical and spiritual hunger. God will help those with doubts who really want to believe. In Mark 9:14-29, Jesus heals a boy possessed by a demon. He is clearly frustrated by the crowds unbelief (v.19), but shows patience with the struggling father whose belief is faltering: “But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us! And Jesus said to him, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”” (v.22-24) Jesus casts out the demon and raises the son.

So, what do we do with the times when we need direction, help, or rescue, but God seems not to show. Were His works only in the past as stated and implied by the prophets I quoted above? A somewhat frequent saying I hear among Christians is “God has to show up” or “God showed up.” I understand the sentiment in these statements, which is similar to the questions of the prophets, but it is not as though God is not continuously present.

And so Samuel places an Ebenezer; Joshua erects a monument; the half tribes of Manasseh and Reuben erect a facsimile altar. Others like Laban put up monuments for self-protection or like Absalom for self-aggrandizement, but properly intentioned markers are good to reduce spiritual forgetfulness and faltering faith. It seems as though we modern believers should have much less need for markers, because we have the completed Word of God to strengthen us. We also have far more distractions and false voices. Perhaps rather than a stone edifice,  each time we see God work, we could hang a representative picture on the wall or have a book of remembrances we could pass down to our children that reminds us of God’s faithfulness. Maybe this blog is my attempt to remind myself, my readers, and one day my descendants that our Creator and Savior is He who rescues and sustains and directs even when the path seems winding, dark, and without destination.

And God seems to like markers, too:

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’” Revelation 2:17

“you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” I Peter 2:5

Read Full Post »

I Need You

My Lord, I need you in so many ways
In this moment and all of my days
For You give me purpose and hope that stays
Help and direction when I pray

There is no other God besides You
All that You are, do and say is true
Why do we make idols and them pursue
When our glorious God is in view?

How so, you may ask, can we see Him?
With eyes of faith that are not dim
From what He’s made His unseen attributes
Through His Word and salvation He imputes

So I will ever serve this kind and mighty Lord
And seek to make Him known and His grace afford
Cling to Him when by difficulties floored
Follow after Him to blessings and reward

 

You need Him, too. You just may not know it at this time. I pray that you will come to serve Him. We all serve a master; there is no true autonomy. We either serve the devil and his world system resulting in death or we serve the God of heaven through His Son Jesus resulting in life. Plead with God to save you; He will. He is a kind and gentle Master.

Read Full Post »

Let me begin with a few excuses: 1) not much time, 2) more than normal rainfall, 3) injury, and for good measure 4) wasn’t sure it was worth it. My wife had asked me to weed the flower beds in front of the house several times. I must confess that the only thing that got me motivated to actually start was the avoidance of another chore I detest more, scrapping paint. Now that I’ve blown my cover about a few of my procrastinating personality flaws, here is the point I considered while yanking crabgrass leaders out of the soil.

Weeds run deep. They grow fast. Ignoring them makes their removal harder. Weeds can choke the life out of things. Apart from poison that contaminates everything, the only way to prevent weeds is to replace them with desirable plants that leave no room for weeds.

I have another flower patch that has very little weeds in the middle of it. Weeds have no room for roots and very little sunlight. The various kinds of lilies simply grow too close, having produced more bulbs with each passing year. I will not be thinning them because I don’t have to weed that area. English gardens make more sense, with their crowded beds of profusely blooming flowers. Undesirable weeds just can’t take root in this environment.

It is the same way in our lives. It is not enough to root out something unprofitable or wrong in our life. We must replace it with something better, more desirable, healthier, God-pleasing. Otherwise the weeds will return all the faster in the cleared, well-tilled ground we just cleared.

It reminds me of what Jesus said, “When the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and not finding any, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and takes along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24-26) What Jesus states is in the more extreme, related to demon possession and salvation. But even for those of us who are already saved by His grace, we need God in every area of our lives filling up the void spaces, working righteousness in us, teaching us prudence, kindness, and discipline. Our lives filled with the good things of the Lord are far less likely to be encroached upon by the seedier tendrils of sin and unbelief.

101_1159

Weeds all gone

101_1160

Totally gone

101_1161

Dead azalea, too

101_1163

A transplanted daylily (not the one in bloom) and a Purple Speedwell

101_1164

A Gayfeather and White Speedwell with volunteer Cala Lily in between

101_1162

spreading Purple Verbena

Now that I’ve begun to clean the inside of the cup, I guess it’s time to spruce up the outside as well. Oh, I hate scrapping paint.

Read Full Post »

I hugely enjoy fellowshipping in other churches on the rare occasions that I travel. This Memorial Day weekend was just one of those times. I am encouraged by God’s universal church worshipping God and the teaching of God’s Word, interpreted by the same Holy Spirit, sounding forth. God is at work in many and various places to accomplish His work, and God’s people are seeking Him.

Visiting a small church called “Grace…” [only part of the name I could remember, or needed to know] in New Port Richey, Florida, the pastor’s son-in-law, who is a policeman, preached on trials from James 1:1-12. Following are a few paraphrases of his words on purpose and perspective in the midst of trials:

“We don’t have it in us to have joy” [deep, light-hearted confidence]; it comes from the Holy Spirit within us enabling us to “delight in the

       1) person of God,    

       2) the purpose of God, and

       3) the people of God.”

“Our life purpose is to portray the superiority of God in our lives”, giving glory to God.

The purpose of our trials is to glorify God by our winning when it looks like we are losing [because of trials].

Trials test our faith: pop quiz:

1) “Do you believe God is in control?”

2) “Do you believe God is good?”

3 “Are you willing to wait on God’s perfect timing in every area of your

    life?”

The endurance or steadfastness referred to in verse three means to ‘remain under’. Trials are a stress, a pressure, an uncomfortable force in our lives. ‘Everything God wants to do in our lives and use to bless us comes through us remaining under God’s control’ in the midst of trials.

This spattering of my sermon notes does not convey the full weight of the sermon, but it does give you pieces of wisdom that I think are worth reading over several times. Trials are for believers to test and strengthen their faith and give glory to God. We are not spared trials because they are what are best for us and give the most glory to God. May His name be praised in all that I do.

Read Full Post »

On Resurrection Day
God’s power on display
No better way to say
Death’s sting has gone away

Great exchange took place
The Pure One for the base
Elect ones of the race
Will meet Him face to face

Now I have been set free
From death, sin’s penalty
Live no longer for me
For God and His glory

Death to life He will bring
Sinless life enabling
All Creation will sing
Saints with praise rejoicing

Reflect on His goodness and grace on this Resurrection Celebration Day. We have been made alive; we have hope; we have a purpose and a message to share. Rejoice!

Lily1

Signs of New Life

Read Full Post »

“When my anxious thoughts multiply within me,
Your consolations delight my soul.” Psalm 94:19

There is peace and rest and joy for the anxious soul here. But how do you or I access it?

I don’t know if I have ever had what would be clinically considered to be a panic attack, but I have had significant feedback loops where disturbing, worrying, debilitating, anxious thoughts accelerated in my mind, even giving me the shakes or rendering me sleepless. These are rare events for me, as I usually keep very busy and my family can attest to how fast and how soundly I sleep. But I do have garden variety worries and feelings of inadequacies for tasks at hand. Some people genuinely don’t have trouble with anxiety. I say honestly, good for them. I am told that I come across as a confident person. I am not intending to fake confidence. I know what I believe and “I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Timothy 2:12) But even so, I have anxious thoughts, and particularly thoughts of inadequacy. I think that it is a residual of my upbringing that will never go away.

Does that mean I can never have victory over it? Not in the least. And that is where this verse comes in. If there was reason for worry the psalmist had reason. Evil people were being arrogant in every way and harming God’s people and the destitute and there was no visible evidence that God was paying attention. The psalmist goes on to declare that he does believe that God hears and will act in judgement and will support the righteous, but that doesn’t negate the present difficulties nor the “anxious thoughts” that “multiply” (v.19)

For any activity or thought pattern that needs to cease, there needs to be a replacement. To just say to someone or to yourself, “Stop that,” and not give an alternate path for thought or deed is useless. But what is the replacement? “Consolations”? What are those? I understand that God provides them in at least three forms (that are significantly overlapping): promises, practices, and presence.

Following are but a few examples of each one:

     Promises

“Your lovingkindness, O Lord, will hold me up.” Psalm 94:18  

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” Psalm 34:18      

” Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10                

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” John 15:7-11                                                                                                                     

   Practices

“Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33

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 comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is ]lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9

But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith,love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” I Timothy 6:11-12

   Presence

“I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

” But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all the I have said to you.” John 14:26

“He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,” so that we confidently say, The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraidWhat will man do to me?”” Hebrews 13:5-6

” then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”                   I Thessalonians 4:17

God’s consolations are many and ever present to those who by His grace belong to Him. When you and I get caught in moments of worry or waylaid by anxiety, replace it with the promises of God, the life giving practices He has provided for us to live before Him, and the knowledge of His continual and intimate presence as we call upon Him.

Read Full Post »

Resolutions are like water off a ducks back. They bead up on the oily resistance of our habits and roll off of the feather weight of our existence. We really don’t have the ability to make change that counts for eternity. We may do that which is good, by common grace, for our neighbor or environment, but still wrongly intentioned.

So why even talk about resolutions or trying at all? The reason is The Enabler, the Holy Spirit, Who lives inside of those who have and habitually submit to Him.

Is this enabling just for the perfect and privileged? No, it is for all who feel a deep desire, ultimately given by the same Enabler, to make change.

And how is this enabling obtained and practiced? It starts with submission to the Son in salvation of the soul and continues in a renewing of that submission as life goes along. Jesus came to save sinners from rebellions and omissions past, present, and future, but He also came in order for those sinners to do what is right in God’s sight. As is says in Romans 8:3-4: For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

My resolve then for this coming year is not by my own puny strength which will fade or become puffed up with some level of success, but “divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses” (2 Corinthians 10:4; check out verses 3-6).

How do I access that kind of power? Yesterday morning in church after hearing a sermon on how Christ is better than all other ways to God and enables us to live victoriously, I wanted to conclude the service with the following hymn by James Fillmore:

  1. I am resolved no longer to linger,
    Charmed by the world’s delight,
    Things that are higher, things that are nobler,
    These have allured my sight.

    • Refrain:
      I will hasten to Him,
      Hasten so glad and free;
      Jesus, greatest, highest,
      I will come to Thee.
  2. I am resolved to go to the Savior,
    Leaving my sin and strife;
    He is the true One, He is the just One,
    He hath the words of life.
  3. I am resolved to follow the Savior,
    Faithful and true each day;
    Heed what He sayeth, do what He willeth,
    He is the living Way.
  4. I am resolved to enter the kingdom,
    Leaving the paths of sin;
    Friends may oppose me, foes may beset me,
    Still will I enter in.
  5. I am resolved, and who will go with me?
    Come, friends, without delay;
    Taught by the Bible, led by the Spirit,
    We’ll walk the heav’nly way.

I settled for singing one verse and refrain with two sisters from the choir. I hope it will set a tone for my life and theirs and yours in the coming year, that God’s power might wet our most stubborn, bad habits until they are washed away and fire our weak resolve into weighty ballast of the soul for God and His kingdom.

Read Full Post »

Sometimes I’m not sure if I have already written a post or just thought about it. So, sometimes I go back into my own blog and search for a post. The post I actually wrote was about 29 years of heating with wood (Click on the following title to read “A Warm Habit“.). I am now heating in my 35th year. I have some unfinished writing I said I would write another day in “A Warm Habit”.

The first year I heated with wood was the second winter of our marriage. I used a wood stove borrowed from a friend. The next year my father bought me a small, cast iron, bolt together wood stove with a nice picture on both sides. It was sufficient for the small 3 room house we were renting. As hindsight now allows me to regret, I sold that stove the next year. I thought that I would not heat with wood again when my wife and I went for a year of Bible School in Chicago and lived in a 4 room house with central oil heat. The next  year we moved to Elizabethton, TN, and lived in the front half of a split house. Ironically, though we had just lived in Chicago, the first winter in Elizabethton was the coldest we ever had in a house. The landlord had a wood stove in the the crawl space with ductwork to supposedly heat both halves. It didn’t heat our half. Our first child was constantly wrapped up like he was outdoors. The next winter we lived in a house on Camp Ta-Pa-Win-Go. I paid a small rent and worked as maintenance man. We heated with the very nice installed wood stove. The next year we moved to the Horseshoe, a small gorge and bend in the Watauga River in that shape. The first year in that little house in the woods with the curtains that blew in the winter breeze, we heated with my friend’s wood stove again while he was building a house.

If you having been following this story, then you will realize that we had now been married 7 winters and heated with wood for five. It was again time to find a wood stove. I started checking the want ads of the local newspaper, because this was in the days before Ebay and Craigslist. I looked at several that were a combination of too small for heating a whole house and too expensive for my budget since I was was in the state of affairs referred to as under-employed at the time, doing odd jobs. I saw another stove advertised for $250 in Bristol, TN, about an hour and a half drive by the roads then available. The price seemed at the edge of my range and it was called a Fisher “Grandfather”, which I understood vaguely to mean it was a larger model stove. I grabbed a friend and we went that way. It was well after dark when we pulled up to the most curious house in the neighborhood. The house was obviously much older than any other in the neighborhood. It was a one story white clapboard house that had a large porch all across the front with disproportionately large white columns one might expect to see on a big house on the plantation. The address matched. The windows were unlit even as the neighborhood was poorly lit. A young couple came to the door. The stove was in the front living room which was almost empty except for the large, two door wood stove in front of the chimney. I sized it up while my friend made small talk. I began to engage with the man in order to try to haggle the price. He referred me to his wife, who he said was the owner of the stove before they were married. One of us made a comment about the interesting house. They began to explain that they had hoped to remodel this post-Civil War house and raise their family there. Instead, they were now going to be missionaries and had already cleared most of their furniture. I told the young woman that my budget was really tight and I intended to heat with wood as I had already been doing to save money. With what I thought to be almost tears in her eyes she explained how the stove was meaningful to her because of family connections and that she hated to part with it. She had already turned down several other people who had wanted the stove and finished her story by saying, “I just want to find a home for this stove with someone who will burn a sincere fire.” I assured her that based on the fact that I was already regularly heating with wood, cut and split all of my own wood, and had a growing family and a limited income, that I could most certainly “burn a sincere fire.” I felt as though I was swearing to always burn fires in this way. Based on my sincere testimony, the woman was convinced and allowed me to give her just $190 for a stove that probably cost $900 to $1000 new. But I was not scamming or playing; things were really that tight. The stove was very hard for us three young men to move, given its size and weight. We laid down boards and mostly scooted the stove across these boards to avoid scratching the hardwood floor and porch. We wrestled it onto the back of my 1970 F-100 with the rusted bed. For the next 30 winters thus far I have burnt the most sincere fires possible, keeping warm a wife and 5 children in three different houses in two states. I think that what most makes the fires in this stove sincere is the enjoyment I obtain from heating with wood and the reflection I have while starting fires. My wife encouraging me to get up and start a fire because it’s cold in the house probably doesn’t hurt any.

As He has so many times, God provided what I needed when I needed it. During those times when it seemed as though He didn’t, really He did, just not in the way or at the time that I expected or requested. He is good.

101_0744

Starting a sincere fire during the first snow of the season with wet wood drying by the wood box in the background.

101_0742

The sideboard of an old woodbox that my wife stenciled when we lived in the Horseshoe.

Read Full Post »

Many the comment that comes from students the last few days for school. Many are gracious, wanting to end on a friendly note. It shows a measure of decency on the part of the majority of students. Others are harshly truthful and others contrived, far from truthful, out of some need to right a never done wrong. “I can’t wait until this class is over. Friends told me that I wouldn’t be able to wait to get out of here, but that I would miss you afterward. I don’t see that happening.” It seemed like a complement to me, if not from the student in front of me, then certainly from the ‘friends’. Dealing constantly with people is not easy business. It wears on the emotions, particularly if you care even a little bit. It doesn’t help that you always know that you have failed in some small way with every person you interact with, even though you know you did your best overall and intended the best for your students. It is for all of this difficulty in the midst of trying that the occasional word of genuine encouragement lifts the weary soul. At the end of the last assignment to be graded for one class there was the following statement: “Mr. __, I’m so glad you were my teacher! I learned alot from you! Science and life choices.” That is the way that I want to be remembered as a teacher- passionate about teaching Science and life. Many of my years of teaching have been stressful for reasons inside the class and out. This past year was not the worst for stress, but it did rank. At the same time it was a year of spiritual benefit in my own life and in opportunity to talk to students about eternal things. It sometimes amazes me how often students will bring up the subject of where we came from, or do I believe in God, or how do you solve life’s difficult problems, or what is the meaning of life. Some of the questions relate directly to the subject at hand and others seem random, though I am sure that the underlying thought process that brought them forward was not. I hope that I taught many students science and life this past year and that God will take what I offered for His glory and their good.

Read Full Post »

 

The time of year to attend graduations, send cards and well wishes for the future, and give advice to the bright-faced graduates is upon us. I have no better advice for the graduate entering the workforce than that which I heard from the commencement speaker at my son’s graduation just over a year ago at LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas. The commencement speaker was former Secretary of the U.S. Mint, Edmund C. Moy. The seven points of advice that he gave are appropriate for the graduate or any Christian in the workplace who desires to live for God. Following is my interpretation of what he said.

Seek a mentor. Find someone who has been there and done that. The emphasis is on a spiritual mentor who can help you to navigate and balance the demands of working and stresses of interacting with people with your desire and need to grow spiritually and demonstrate God’s love to those around you. This mentoring relationship requires time and scheduling. Start right away seeking such a person you may trust in this role. At my stage in life I have offered and mentored younger employees and students.

Find or form a like-minded group with whom to pray and fellowship and witness. Certainly a church may fulfill this need but a sub-group within the organization of your employment is an added help to you and your colleagues. Seek out other Christians; there is strength in numbers. These groups change over time and my present one is outside my workplace.

Be trustworthy with the small things. As Jesus said, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? (Luke 16:10-12) Integrity matters. Certainly this is good workplace ethic, but even more to the point, how can you expect people to entrust to you to talk to them about eternal things, the Gospel, if you are not trustworthy with material things? Don’t shame Christ’s name for trivial pursuits.

Do good work; it praises God. Are you a team player? On time for work? Meet deadlines? Do quality work so that someone else does not have to come behind you and fix it? Stay positive and refrain from complaining? “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.” (I Corinthians 10:31-33). If you would live openly as a believer, then let your words be kind and truthful and your actions sound and pure. I will add that you should not pursue the easy way out by hiding your faith. It may show you don’t have any.

Make a “to be list” to become spiritually mature. “To do lists” are everyday business that we must do to complete each day’s tasks. God is most concerned with us coming to understand who we are in Christ, which will most profoundly affect what we do. Set goals for becoming more of who you are. This is not works religion. This is spiritual discipline.

Consider public service. The private sector is good, but we need honest, hardworking, honorable, high-order thinking individuals in the public sphere as well. Your skill set is needed to set things right.

Many resumes have a zig-zag path. That’s OK: God is behind it. God is sovereign in His providential care and direction. Rather than get frustrated and ask why, pray harder instead, and enjoy the ride. My personal route has certainly been circuitous. God is good.

May the truth and application of this advice assist you as you enter the workforce, college, or the military.

Read Full Post »

Few things that I really need
Many that I want
Separating them indeed
Seems to be a taunt

This exercise brings freedom
I don't have to grasp
Holding both these in tandem
Frays nerves like a rasp

Now I am not a Buddhist
Wants I don't deny
More likely increases the list
Better not to try

But wants don't have to control me
I can walk away
He has met my needs, I'm free
In peace each new day

Out of breath and lost my way
Cling for my supply
Gratification delay
He will soon reply

(Luke 10:40-42; Matthew 6:25-34)

Read Full Post »

The book of Daniel and the character Daniel have been my favorite since seriously reading the Bible as a pre-teen. By God’s grace he, along with his three friends, overcame the temptations of this world and exhibited God’s character to amazed, pagan, hostile, and adoring onlookers. As I was studying the first chapter recently to teach it, the scene struck me a different and modern way. What I write below will sound ‘tongue in cheek’ but my intent is to convey how relevant this story is.

When Dan arrived on campus with his three buds Hank, Mish, and Azar they were tied in knots with anticipation. As Freshmen they thought themselves royalty but they were just another set of pretty faces with some brains thrown in, pretty much like all the other neophytes with persuasive scholarship from the Founder of BU. This same Founder and President was also the  biggest donor to the university and had influence at every level and insisted that the Dean of Men put these new recruits through their paces in liberal arts coursework with a major in Chaldean Studies. The President had deep pockets and provided the Dean with everything to make the college experience compelling. It was a real party school with all the best food and wine provided by the school. But Deep Pockets expected a payback in studies and potential service in the future, so everybody had to hit the books hard in the accelerated 3-year course. To complete the whole college experience, the Dean of Men even assigned each of the freshman in the fraternity and floor name, kinda Baby. U’s version of Greek life. So the guys became Belt, Shad, Messy, and Abed. There were certain things in the frat house where guys  were expected to go all in. One was eating the party food. But these boys had been cut from a different cloth, raised by fathers and mothers who taught them to be respectful and honor God in all that they did (I Corinthians 10:31). Dan petitioned the Dean to forego the party food for what the fraternity brothers called ‘rabbit food’ and water. The Dean was not so sure about this scheme, fearing that Sugar Daddy might give him the axe. But Dan kept his wits about him and requested a little use of the scientific method to test how the new eateries would fare. The Dean agreed, and after a 10-day free trial he was sold and kept bringing on the veggies and spring water. The boys were relieved and set about studying hard. In fact when the Dean presented them to the President on Founder’s Day, they were top of their class with exponential growth ahead of the other frat bro.’s. They had studied the deeper meaning of life itself and were rewarded with careers serving in the President’s office, Dan even seeing many changes in administration through the subsequent years.

Read Full Post »

I have always struggled to get a handle on the essential essence of integrity. It is far more than honesty and deeper than mere examples. While studying Daniel 6 I was struck with new force by Daniel’s faithfulness, trustworthiness, moral uprightness, whole and undivided spirit that resulted in him being the same in public as he was in private. That is to say, Daniel exhibited godly integrity. What is the source of integrity and what does it produce? As I searched for answers in the passage and on the internet I came across an interesting statement by  Larry Sternberg that says,

“In common conversation the word “integrity” is most often associated with honesty. But that’s a very narrow understanding of the concept. In addition to honesty, integrity is about being whole and unimpaired. We can speak about the integrity of a roof or a ship’s hull. When a structure can remain unimpaired in the face of pressure, assaults or stressors, that structure has strong integrity.

When it comes to a person, integrity involves the ability to remain true to one’s values in the face of pressure, assaults or stressors. We know little about the strength of a person’s integrity when life is easy. What if it will cost you your job? What if you’ll lose some friends? What if you’ll go to jail? What if you’ll get beat up — or worse? We only learn about the strength of a person’s integrity when things get tough, when adhering to those values involves a high cost.” (reference

Though not stated directly, the take away I gained from this short article was ‘Integrity produces courage and courage reveals integrity.’

And even though the wicked can be ‘true to himself’ (a phrase I’ve heard a number of times), it is godly integrity that is admirable. It is unselfish and gives glory to God, its source. It frustrates the wicked as with the satraps (provincial governors) and counselors who envied Daniel, but impresses those who see its purity and simplicity as with Darius the king. Daniel is not called upon to state his refusal to obey the edict as his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were in chapter 3: “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18) He does state his innocence after the fact: “My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.” (Daniel 6:22) Daniel’s unstated trust in God points to God’s trustworthiness. So Darius gives glory to God because he recognizes the miracle that God did for Daniel:

“I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.

“For he is the living God
    and he endures forever;
his kingdom will not be destroyed,
    his dominion will never end.
27 He rescues and he saves;
    he performs signs and wonders
    in the heavens and on the earth.
He has rescued Daniel
    from the power of the lions.” (Daniel 6:26-27)

Darius also recognizes that Daniel’s integrity points to God: “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?…The king was overjoyed.” (Daniel 6:20,23)

And this has long been my desire, that I would have the integrity of Daniel and that my life would point to God. I have not been so faithful as Daniel but God has been faithful to work wondrously in my life so that I pursue the goal of integrity each day so that I might give glory to Him and hear one day, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21)

Read Full Post »

Yeah, man, my life motto, “Life is Good”, “livin’ the dream!” Good vibes, positive outlook, need plenty of that, right? Not so fast. What about when you are sick and you just lost your job and the dog got run over and taxes went up and there is another war and…you get the idea. So, does that mean life is bad then? Is that what I’m saying? Let’s take a closer look. If the phrase, “Life is Good” was the end of the thought, it has limited utility to help us along in life perhaps, but as used in our society at this time it has modifying thought that follows. This implied extension of the thought is also explicitly stated in places like the “Life is Good” Facebook page. It goes something like this: Life is good because I’m doing what I like and liking what I do. The implication is a totally self focused or humanist view of life and it doesn’t work on several levels. First of all, you can’t always do what you want to. Secondly, in a more narrow sense, if doing what you want to do refers to your vocation, it is an economic impossibility for everyone to have the job of their dreams. And as just pointed out, many times life is hard. The idea may well turn into life is good for some subset of the population for whom everything is falling into place, but that must surely imply that I don’t care what happens to the other half or I think they just need to get their life together, think positive, and make it happen. Or maybe we are being urged to follow blind optimism: Let’s pretend life is good and that will somehow make it better. All of these possibilities seem a bit depressing unless you happen to be riding the wave, and even then it probably won’t last.

Rather than just burst your bubble and leave you hanging, I would like to suggest a more meaningful and purposeful phrase and explain why it is not just wishful thinking: “Life is good because God is good.” Stated this way the fact that life is also at times hard is not ignored or denied. God is working blessings deeper and more lasting. In the midst of hardship God is training us to trust Him (Proverbs 3:5-6,12) and look for what is honorable, pure, and good (Philippians 4:8). He is building, reserving, and guaranteeing future blessings (1 Corinthians 2:9) that outweigh these present difficulties (Romans 8:18). Through His gifts of goodness to us and as we praise Him we are given value, comfort, and provision (Psalm 34). Our lives are filled with meaning (Romans 8:28) and purpose (Psalm 67:7); He is given glory (John 15:8). These reasons that life is good will seem foolish to those who do not know Him (1 Corinthians 1:18), but I invite you to find the peace, joy, and purpose in serving God through the knowledge of His Son, Jesus (Psalm 34:8; Colossians 1:9-13), for He is the way to God (John 14:6). “Life is good because God is good”, which means that all of life is life gained from God and lived unto God (2 Peter 1:2-4), to His glory and for our benefit.

Read Full Post »

Hebrews 1:3 is a deeply insightful verse about our God: “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” I have long been fascinated by the phrase “radiance of His glory” and have written about it once upon a time here (Radiance Check out the poem, too.). “Radiance” is translated “brightness” in several versions but seems to fall short of conveying what Jesus accomplishes by revelation to us of His Father. He shines forth His glory, that is, we could not know of God without seeing His glory in Jesus’ representation of Him. You only see the sun because of the light radiating from it. Analogies can be taken too far, in this case to make Jesus out to be something or someone separate from the Father. That is heresy and not at all my intention in explaining radiance. Rather, hear what Jesus said, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9) That verse, of course, bears on the phrase “exact representation” also. In the ESV it reads, “exact imprint”. As an illustration I pressed my truck key into Play-Doh. I pointed out that plastic could be poured into the imprint, harden and used to open my truck door. Again, you could get into positive/negative imprint or representation being a facsimile rather than the original but that is not what the Scripture is saying. These analogies fall short because of the mystery of the Trinity, meaning our inability to understand the essential nature of God, but He gives us insight to extend our understanding even though we fall short of full understanding.

The next phrase is the one that has caught my attention most recently. I am now going to indulge in some manifest musing (or “thinking out loud” as we usually say if I were talking to you). Heupholds all things by the word of His power.” “Word of His power” is an odd construction in English. NASB, KJV, NKJV, and ESV use this phrase. NIV, HCSB, and NRSV say, “His powerful word”, and the RSV says, “his word of power”, both phrases which seem to me to have a different meaning from “word of His power”.  I suspect the three newer translations (NIV, HCSB, and NRSV) made interpretative decisions for the purpose of clarity. Is this change justified? The Greek Interlinear Bible (http://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/NTpdf/heb1.pdf) has the literal English word order as “declaration [word] of the ability (power) of Him” (“[]” being my addition and “()” being theirs). Not claiming to know more than the slightest inkling of Greek grammar, I can at least say that the majority translations are going with the more literal wording. The interlinear translation and Strong’s help us with what the particular words mean. “Word” here is not logos, the expression of God, but rhema, a declaration. And “power” is dynamis, which means ability or potential for power or action.

The “of” is important. It denotes possession. If I say, “son of mine” I mean the same thing as “my son”. The shade of difference is the emphasis on son in the first phrase. So the reason I don’t think “word of His power” and “His powerful word” mean the same thing is that “powerful” is not possessive, but a descriptive modifier. It says His word is powerful. “Word of His power” says His power’s word. The power is expressed in a declaration (word). Rather than saying His word has power, it seems to be saying that His power has word. His power proceeds forth as that which communicates what will be (be that static (“upholds”) or dynamic (“created” Isaiah 40:26)). Word modifies power rather than power modifying word. If we had the word it could read, ‘His wordful power’. The emphasis is on declaration (word) that upholds all things but the source of that word is His power. From His power proceeds forth a word which upholds. The way his power is being exhibited is through efficacious declaration.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »