Journal

Men of faith

 Worship session during 2017 retreat

Worship session during 2017 retreat

I am just home from our church’s men’s retreat.  In 20 years of attending Grace Chapel, I've been able to attend 16 of the 17 such retreats held over that span.  Retreats offer time away for the men to receive teaching on a topic pertinent to guys and build on our relationships with each other.

This year's speaker, Kevin Harbin, pastor of Christ Church in Fraser entitled his teaching based on Paul’s letter to Titus, “Getting Your Life in Order.”

Titus was a Gentile convert who partnered with Paul to spread the gospel. After the two planted a church in Crete, Titus stayed to get the new church in order as Paul headed off to take the Gospel elsewhere.  Paul's letter to Titus offers instructions along the lines of furthering faith and building knowledge of the truth, two essential steps to getting life in order.

In chapter 2, Paul’s focuses on certain groups in the church, beginning with “the older men.” (v2). Subsequent instructions are then offered to “older woman” (v3), younger women (v4-5), young men (v6-8) and slaves (v 9-10).  

Leading with older men is key, noted Kevin.  Men who learn and practice sound doctrine often anchor strong families that in turn provide a solid foundation for churches. Faith practice undergirded by sound doctrine produces godliness in people.

 Pastor Kevin Harbin

Pastor Kevin Harbin

Noted Kevin, godly people honor God while ungodly people do not.

Tracking through the brief Titus letter all weekend, Kevin offered many great lessons and life applications for us men to draw from, such as: practice godliness and cut out ungodliness.  

I was fortunate to be raised by a godly father whose faith practice anchored our family. Women of faith are often instrumental in the faith of their children but too often, men are missing from the equation.  That men of faith support both their wives and children in faith was one of Pastor Harbin’s points.

Although my dad didn’t always see my faith emerging along the line of his preference, I never hesitated to let him know that the faith he and mom planted in me was what took root in my late 20’s.  

In the context of a men’s fellowship I joined in 1983, I answered Jesus’ call to follow him.  In 1997, this men’s retreat tradition of our church was instrumental in my decision to bring my family to Grace Chapel where I and my family have been surrounded with solid ybelievers ever since.  Our church’s strongest families are lead by strongly faith-filled men.

As I looked around the room at this year’s retreat, I saw many of the men who are instrumental in my faith walk right now, including elders I am presently serving with to lead our church. Thanks to each of them* for undergirding my faith walk and for making time this year to join me on this retreat weekend.

Thank you God for the godly men you’ve placed in my life.

-----------------

Notes:

1. 2017 Grace Chapel Men’s Retreat attendees: Alan, Tom, John, Mark, Steve, Bruce, Jim, Greg, Andy, Joe, Kevin, Doug, David, Roy, Ron, Rick and Brandon

2. Banner Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Regarding global (luke)warming ....

 Wind farms to reduce dependency on emissions-spewing coal-powered plants. (See notes for photo credit.)

Wind farms to reduce dependency on emissions-spewing coal-powered plants. (See notes for photo credit.)

Interviewing an expert after the recent 8.1 magnitude earthquake off the southern coast of Mexico, a local radio reporter lead with this question,

“Dr. (so and so), to what extent would you attribute this earthquake to global warming?”

The expert quickly responded that global warming had nothing to do with this earthquake or with the study of earthquakes in general. He then offered a brief explanation about earthquakes and noted that this region near Mexico experiences considerable earthquake activity.

Not that the question was surprising. Global warming or “climate change” is so hot that the condition’s promoters manage to find a way to associate it with all nature events.  (Pun intended.)  Like this Tweet by “kate”

3 hurricanes, the entire west coast is on fire, & now an earthquake in Mexico? THIS IS NOT GOD. THIS IS CLIMATE CHANGE.
— Tweet by kate‏ @kate__bear

Climate change believers are practically stumbling over themselves to prove that global warming is real while promoting whatever measures they deem necessary to reverse or slow the warming trend.

Detractors claim the theory is flawed and that modulations in climate temperatures are natural and historically well-documented. They claim that climate change advocates advance actions that unnecessarily impedes development that boost economies and improve the human condition.  

Me? I tend to file the debate under planet stewardship. Our creator God charged humanity to manage and care for the earth home he gifted to us.

The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. (Genesis 2:15, NLT)

My take of man’s original charge was to balance nature’s needs with his own - except the unthinkable happened. Man disobeyed God and all once blessed through man became cursed including the very creation he was to care God’s image-bearer.

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you;  through painful toil, you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. (Genesis 3: 17-18, NIV)

At odds with both God and creation, man has fought for survival ever since.  

So creation diminishment is indeed a man made issue but the root cause is not global warming but global luke-warming as identified in the book of Revelations.

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Laodicea. This is the message from the one who is the Amen—the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation:

“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! (Revelations 3: 14-16, NLT, bold added)

This is a letter from the Lord to a church in Laodicea who purport to follow Christ but who live in a manner the Lord labels as “lukewarm.”  God is so repulsed by this condition that he warns he will spit them from his mouth.

While gross to read and think about, even more repulsive is that global “lukewarmness” in the Church isn't just a church problem, it places our planet in much greater jeopardy than any emission or practice or chemical implicated in the global warming/climate change debate. Here’s why - The redeemed church factors into God’s plan to restore our ruined planet.

Listen to what Paul wrote to the Romans:

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8: 18-22, NIV, italics added)

Nothing wrong with having a healthy concern for the well-being of our planet but fellow believers, in particular, let’s not become so preoccupied with defending or combatting so-called global warming/climate change that we are lax about the much more serious condition of global luke-warming.  

The remedy for lukewarm is hot.  

Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me.
— Luke 11:23, NLT

Notes:

1. Biblical verses on Creation Care: http://www.earthcareonline.org/pages/bibleverses.html

2. Photo by Karsten Würth (@inf1783) on Unsplash

 

Threat reflex? (II)

 Hurricane Irma blasts Florida ( People.com )

Hurricane Irma blasts Florida (People.com)

Note: Don't know why but I labored over this post. The first version that went out had many typos and phrasings that didn't quite say what I wanted.  Here it is again with some edits.  Did I miss any?

----------------------------------------------------

Hard not to feel the whole world is under siege from threats both natural and human. Last weekend, a massive, category 4 hurricane blasted Florida just a couple weeks after a similarly fierce hurricane inundated Houston.  An 8.1 magnitude earthquake just erupted off the southern coast of Mexico.  

Meanwhile, human-initiated threats escalate as North Korea tests nuclear bombs to take aim at the continental United States. Terrorism continues unabated with attacks in Barcelona, London, and Brussels. Here in the U.S, an incident in Charlottesville, Va. uncovers a growing white-supremacist movement.  

When threats loom, we often appeal to God for rescue and answers. While God rarely answers directly or specifically, he is actually a situational rescue specialist though credit is usually attributed to factors other than him.  

God is ever reaching out to people who don't know him but relates best to people who relate to him, who find his Bible a source of much insight and comfort for the threats life brings.  They know he can also bring plenty of muscle when it suits him.  

His story features many shows of power more than sufficient to turn back the most formidable foes, to dial nature up and down at will, and bring remorse to people and nations that refuse to acknowledge and obey him.

Although undeniably mighty, shows of power are not God’s style or even his default and rarely does his timing coincide with our demands or desires. He trends more along the line of calming storms than causing them and favors winning over forcing. He is more about transformation than momentary fixes and enjoys engaging our minds and hearts more than solving our safety and comfort issues.

“‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD: ‘though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.’” (Isaiah 1:18, ESV)

God really, really wants people to turn to him and he will definitely allow a good threat or two to inspire us to do just that.  When we do appeal, go as you are and leave biases about him behind.  Although a popular notion, blind faith isn’t on the menu of God who created our brains. Rather, use it to engage with him.

When the storms come, via nature or humanity, God promotes a threat reflex that looks most like letting go and letting him.  

Although God is known for so-called "fox-hole" rescues, the letting go reflex is honed best in mundane moments when the learning process is detached from dire repercussions.  Most of us take many preliminary steps, many of them backward before we fully engage with letting go.

Letting go opens revelation leading to realization that can and will fully sync with the highest levels of our intelligence. However, such realization eludes us if we refuse or fail to let go with God.  

A major Ah-Ha! moment is realizing that no matter what we think we’ve accomplished in our lives, we, in fact, have nothing, can do nothing and are nothing without the Lord. (John 15:5) Humility is when his love leads us to truly know that he is the sole source of all goodness that we previously claimed as earned or entitled.

Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.
— Francis Chan.

His more enthusiastic followers will testify that God-sourced humility, love, grace, trust, peace and strength stands against storms and packs more than enough to power to vaporize every threat, doubt and belittling remark.

His strength and manner just looks, feels and acts a LOT differently than ours. Ditto with his timing.

Letting go is where we all begin and end with the Lord.  Not that we don't continue to falter but I'm growing into the sense that each subsequent "letting go" happens a little further down the line.

be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
— Romans 12:2, ESV

Hang in there to develop a letting go reflex. God is almost endlessly patient because, well, we matter to him.

Poor reception or something else?

 

 

I’ve had some conversations lately that were not received as I intended.  Ditto with some of my writing and social media posts.    

As I increasingly resolve to lean into and live for the Lord while also planting seeds of faith every chance I get, I encounter more instances of, shall I say, poor reception.  This despite the Lord’s assurance that the Holy Spirit will give us words to say when our faith is on the line. (Matthew 10:19-20).  

In fairness, the context for Jesus’ assurance regarded more of a “being handed over to the authorities” situation.  Still, some otherwise normal conversations intended to be winsome feel like that, sinking into argumentative debating.

Does the Lord’s word accomplish his purposes even when poorly delivered by the likes of me? While I enter a conversation intending to be loving and responsive, somewhere along the line, another spirit butts in.  Did that nasty retort actually come out of MY mouth?  

Why is it that struggling, sad, or traumatized people are generally more open and attentive to faith conversations?  The hardest to connect with are those who: (a) are doing well in life, at least inasmuch as can be observed or feigned; and, (b) who I am closest to.  In the case of family, multiply the likely disconnect quotient by ten.   

No matter how toughened I think I am, to have my intentions doubted or dismissed by those I am most known to is emotionally deflating.  It's also something I realize I need to get beyond.  

Even Jesus’ experienced this when we visited his hometown during the height of his popularity everywhere else. There Jesus commented, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.” … And he was amazed at their unbelief. (Mark 6: 4,6, NLT)

I italicized amazed.  Imagine Jesus amazed by unbelief.  Whose unbelief amazed him?

Unbelief has lots of help, like success in life already noted.  Then there’s that other “presence” I mentioned that is virtually invisible to enlightened moderns but who likes to horn into every opportunity to plant Gospel seeds.  

Warned Paul, “...our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12, NIV)

Here God’s message in Scripture is consistent and often.  The basis of all our hope is not results or even receptive people but the Lord.  Period. You’ll never hear the Lord ask, “How is that working for you?”  Only, “Are you abiding in me?”

No matter how well or badly our attempt to share faith seems, the Holy Spirit is the only one able to bring new believers across the start line.  All the feathers are in God’s cap while none are in ours.  

Help me tell myself to take a deep breath, relax and have some fun with this, to not take myself so seriously.

No matter how much pressure I put on myself, the sobering realization also cited often in Scripture is that most people are not open to the Lord.  Most shut him down or off and prefer to live according to their own intelligence.  Jesus’ “narrow road” analogy is alarmingly in that it easily accommodates everyone who is tuned into God through Christ. (Matthew 7:14)

Check out how God coached Isaiah to approach his prophetic ministry.

He said, “Go and tell these people:

‘Listen continually, but don’t understand!
Look continually, but don’t perceive!’
Make the hearts of these people calloused;
make their ears deaf and their eyes blind!
Otherwise, they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears,
their hearts might understand and they might repent and be healed.”
(Isaiah 6:9-13, NET)

Ever hear that from a professor on the first day of class? “The road to an A is to listen and understand but every one of you is going to ignore my advice and fail.”   

Distressed, Isaiah replied, “How long, sovereign master?” The Lord’s answer doesn’t paint a pretty picture. (See Isaiah 6: 11-13, NET)

Every Gospel writer picks up Jesus citing this passage, as does Acts and Paul’s letters to the Romans and Corinthians.*

Stand on God’s words and assurances vs. my own assessment about the situations and people I encounter.
— (Note to self)

When I feel cast aside, I need to order myself to fall back and regroup with the Lord!  Instead of rehearsing answers to anticipated objections or questions, more and more I pray that my hope and trust in the Lord is dialed up so I am strong in his assurance that I am covered no matter how things go.

When Jesus engages us, he also assures us that he’s got our backs.

...do not worry about how to respond or what to say. In that hour you will be given what to say. For it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
— Jesus, Matthew 10:19-20

Notes:

1) Isaiah passage cited in New Testament: Matthew 13:14–15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:39–40; Acts 28:26–27 and in the background of some of Paul’s letters (Rom 11:7; 2 Cor 3:14)  from "The Use of Isaiah in the New Testament" by Donald W. Mills

Memoir

dusty-bible-read-me.jpg

One of many benefits of serving as an elder for our church is discussions lead by our pastor at the beginning of our meetings.  Last week’s discussion regarded Hebrews 4:12.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
— Hebrews 4:12, NIV

In this case, the “the word of God” is Scripture, God’s written word.

We customarily think about Scripture as the basis for God’s commands, standards, positions, and expectations, often quoting verses to support a lesson, point or premise.  I draw upon Scripture in every Road Report post.

I wonder how often recipients and readers skate past or around verses, not really taking them in. Alongside a premise being supported, perhaps Scripture poses certain challenges.  Spoken or written, chiseled in stone or displayed on a poster or screen, Scripture activates that “sharper than any double-edged sword” effect noted by the writer of Hebrews - penetrating, dividing, judging….

Scripture is irrefutably from and about God.  Even if used incorrectly or out of context, Scripture is God speaking.

Through the prophet Isaiah, God emphatically said this about his word.

“...so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
(Isaiah 55:11)

My word does NOT return to me empty, insists God.  It ALWAYS accomplishes the purpose for which I sent it.  Here, Scripture stands alone with an ironclad guarantee from the author himself.

We take a risk when we use Scripture to undergird teaching or prayer or to support a point or anchor a vow.  Why?  Because, regardless of how we see it or how pure our intentions, we can’t really know God’s desire or purpose for any word he offers.  Here again, God explains through Isaiah.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
   neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
   so are my ways higher than your ways
   and my thoughts than your thoughts."
(Isaiah 55: 8-9, NIV)

“These are the very Scriptures that testify about me,” said Jesus.  (see John 5:39, NIV). Scripture is about God, not us.

“It is God’s self-revelation, literally a book authored by God that unveils his heart, mind, and Spirit," noted author Samuel Williamson. "Someone once said, ‘We come to Scripture not to learn a subject but to steep ourselves in a person.’”

Consider approaching Scripture not as a what but a who.  Meditate on God’s memoir to become familiar with his manner, tone, inflection, longings, inclinations, tendencies, passions and principles.

Given the risks, we venture into Scripture primarily because God intended this word for us, relentlessly inviting us to engage with him.  

Come now, and let us reason together, Says the Lord, (Isaiah 1:18, NASB)

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; says the Lord to his prophet Jeremiah and to us (Jeremiah 1:5, NIV)

If we sincerely seek him, he assures we are safe with him because he alone knows our heart, our true intent even if we miserably fail to say what we intend or use Scripture “incorrectly.” *

We may not be safe with people but we are always safe with God.  Even though he is not predictable or controllable or tame, he is good.  By regularly encountering him in his word, his voice can become intimately recognizable and familiar without any reverence due him being lost.

(For a brief listing of some verses featuring many attributes, see my companion post, “In His Own Words.” )

“God speaks mostly in whispers,” said Williamson.  “The secret to a lifetime of hearing him lies in learning to distinguish his voice from the clamor of other voices in our lives.”  He then concludes:

“The best way to become familiar with God’s voice is to meditate on His Word, just as the best way to spot a counterfeit is to spend lots of time with the real thing.”

Williamson’s counterfeit analogy struck me.  Scripture meditation tweaks my spirit to be at ease when Scripture’s use resonates with how God revealed himself in his word. Conversely, my spirit cringes when Scripture is used to a manner that seems unlike God’s revelation of himself in his word.  

Far from reliable on this, I am grateful to trusted advisers for catching and correcting my own foibles and abuses.  This is a perfect role for the Church - the fellowship of believers with whom we work out our faith together.

In the end, our saving grace is God himself, who knows our hearts, and his word that stands alone in speaking for itself and him. Only by him are we righteous.  Despite our best or worst intentions, we are unable to thwart or even improve God’s intentions and purposes.

Rather, God invites us to participate in his redemptive purposes.  The privilege is all ours.

Meditate on God’s Word to become familiar with him and to hear his voice in your life and regarding the matters you encounter along the way.  Through Scripture, our love for God grows along with our realization of how much we matter to him.

 


Notes:

1. Image source: http://primacyofreason.blogspot.com/2014/11/meditating-on-bible_22.html

2. How can Jesus and the Bible both be the Word of God?

3. Scriptures about God's various attributes: See related Road Report Journal post: “In His Own Words.”

4. God knows our hearts: See 1 Kings 8:9; 1 Chronicles 28:9; 1 Samuel 16:7; Psalm 44:21; Psalm 139: 2-23; Ezekiel 11:5; Matthew 9:4 and many others

5. Samuel Williamson's books is "Hearing God in Conversation."

Fears imagined real

 Photo by  Patrick Fore  on  Unsplash

As if life doesn’t bring enough real perils, I have this bad habit of imagining unreal fears.  If I don’t head them off, I can really get myself worked up over these imagined perils.

Imagined fears surface most when I’m asleep. If I “over-entertain” them, they fester long enough to cross over from my subconscious to consciousness.  That’s when I awaken with a prompting to pray.

“Lord, I confess this fear. Rescue me.”

Prayer isn’t a magic button or anything. It works in concert with faith, my conviction that God loves me, redeems me and is in control of my life no matter what happens.

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7, ESV)

and

“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”  (Mark 11:24, ESV)

Notice the parts God reserves for us - “If you abide” and “believe.” God is ever strong, true and faithful but my faith sometimes wavers and fear gains a foothold. That’s when I resign myself to get out of bed, don my robe, grab a bible and head to my favorite late night prayer chair.

A frequent companion of these middle-of-the-night intervention sessions is a little devotional book I bought 35 years ago, “The Personal Promise Pocketbock.” It’s a simply organized index of Bible verses selected from 10 different translations regarding three groupings of God’s promises and purposes...for me, my relationship with Him, and my relationship with others.

Lest anyone mistake me for one of stalwart, unshakable faith, let me confess that the most turned-to promises in the booklet regard “feeling depressed and desperate” (pg 19) and “I’m afraid” (pg 22).

Occasionally during these anxious moments, God responds in a rescuing manner with a peaceful tranquility whooshing through me like a calming breeze swooping down from heaven.  But most often, He coaxes me in thought to figuratively stand in faith to confront the fear with the authority of His word.

Usually, just a couple of verses gets me headed back to bed and sleep but sometimes, a more determined offensive is required.  During one particularly challenging night, I prayed through a number of verses before finally locking onto 2 Timothy 1:7 in the “I’m afraid” list.

“God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”  (NKJV)

In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul exposes where these spirits of fear originate.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12, ESV)

Wrestling is not a passive sport.  Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t the bathrobe-attired sumo-dude standing in his living room that finally dispelled that persistent principality that had ahold of me that night.  But me standing in faith was definitely a part of the equation, bathrobe and all.

I don’t why God so explicitly prefers involving little people like me in his redemptive work but I appreciate that he does.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God" (Philippians 4:6, NIV)

Furthermore, he cares about our well-being all the way down to ensure that we are fortified with a good night’s sleep each night.

“If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.” (Proverbs 3:24)


Notes:

1.  "Fears Imagined Real" was originally posted as a Road Report on FarmingtonGlenn.net on 12/8/2015.

2. Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

3. The Personal Promise Pocketbock by Harold Shaw Publishers is out of print but used copies are available at various internet booksellers.

Quiet Please!

 Morning stillness near Elsworth, MI

Morning stillness near Elsworth, MI

Visiting friends last weekend in their lovely cottage home in northern Michigan, the notable quiet of the region struck me our first night there.  I noticed immediately as my head hit the pillow the profound lack of city din - just the dark stillness unbroken by city lights.

Now I do like our home neighborhood, an attractive and peaceful place offering the blessings and curses of suburbia.  Conveniences that support our work, shopping, visiting and busy lifestyles also press into our beings to keep us in a constant state of agitation. To escape “up north” requires jumping onto a convenient road until we “exit” onto a less convenient but slower-paced one that winds over, around and through woods and farms and small towns.  

Driving leisurely, we enjoyed the ride until we arrived at our friends’ getaway perched atop a land swale overlooking rolling, treed lands on one side and a huge bay on the other that opens onto Lake Michigan, one of five “great lakes,” three that envelop our mitten-shaped home state.   

Just after arriving, we were treated to a stunning sunset over the bay followed closely by a robust rainstorm that rolled in to wash the land with much-needed refreshment.

Due to a series of job changes over the last year that had me always earning my place in another new pecking order, I haven’t been able to take time off for a little getaway.  When our friends graciously invited us up for quick weekend, we readily accepted.  

After getting off the highway, we drove atop yellow-striped, black-topped roads that I’ve grown to love and often use as imagery for reflecting on my journey through life under God’s tutelage.  Just a few miles from our friend’s place is the stretch of M88 that has served as the banner for Road Report Journal since its launch in 2012.

No need to talk to me about regular respite.  I am very intentional about building plenty of it into my life such as morning devotions, Saturday morning writing and a prayer meeting, reading, and scenic walks and drives with my wife….

Back when my work schedule was more set and predictable, we took annual, two-week vacations that usually involved camping in the woods, often near a lake or river or mountain far away from city din.

While on the one hand, God created our bountiful earth just for us humans to live, work, play and commune with neighbors and build community, we rebelled against his intent to draw from and trust, acknowledge and honor him every moment. Mercifully, he refrained from ridding creation of us by allowing us to pursue life according to us while also hatching a “Mission Christ” redemption strategy to win us back into his fold.

I wonder what life would be like had we not rebelled?  Not that urban congestion and noise would not be part of our lives but maintaining connection and relationship with God would be normal and common.  Perhaps escape would be unnecessary since relating to and honoring God would be a part of our regular life pattern.  

Thankfully, God’s Christ strategy included conscripting certain people down through the ages for key roles while also compiling the unfolding story into a grand read we know today as “the Bible.” There we  find plenty of context and insight for how to live for him in a creation spoiled by our rebellion.

On looking to nature for cues:

  • Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy (Psalm 96:11-12, ESV)
  • “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. (Isaiah 55:12, ESV)

On God speaking into our stillness:

  • “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10, ESV)
  • He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.  (Psalm 23:2, ESV)
  • But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. (Psalm 131:2, ESV)

Of course, Jesus himself walked the talk as he invited his apostles to ‘“Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.” (Mark 6:31-32, ESV)

He urged that  “...when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6) while also modeling his own advice.

“After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.” (Matthew 14:23)

As his story resonates in my being, I gratefully incorporate regular quiet into my life and, occasionally, with a little help from my friends, more extended doses of it. 

Livin' on Love!

 Livin' on Love! (see notes for image source)

Livin' on Love! (see notes for image source)

“Livin’ on Love” is an endearment I sometimes offer my wife when something we were counting on to happen doesn’t work the way we hoped.  It goes something like,

“Well, honey while that car repair just zapped our savings, at least we have each other - ‘Livin’ on love!”

If that comes across as lame to you, be assured that she usually sees it that way as well. Protecting the so-called nest egg sure seems more secure than simply “Livin’ on Love!”  

Then again, what if God secured the love we’re livin’ on?  “God is love,” said John in his first epistle (1 John 4:7-8) and he “holds everything together,” wrote Paul to the Colossians (Colossians 1:17).  Therefore, if we’re livin’ on God’s love, how much more secure can we be?

Our pastor recently completed a great 13-message series entitled, “Making Room.” He covered such topics as “Making room for … the Gospel, the poor, widows and orphans, your neighbor, children, your betrayers, and grief. He completed the series with “Making Room for Love.”

A point of his love message that struck me was that God is the origin of a love so magnificent and encompassing that even those who have no regard for him share in it. In Christ, the Holy Spirit infuses believers with God's limitless love.

That coincides with my understanding of “common grace,” holding that God’s grace, his unmerited favor, covers all people without discrimination. Think of common grace as any favor experienced in life.

Said Wil Pounds in his 2006 message, “The Common Grace of God,” ‘The purpose of God’s common grace is to cause us to turn to Him and receive even greater grace.”’

Substitute love for grace then consider how much we humans benefit from a life that is amazingly loving even considering all the evil, tragedy, suffering, and misfortune that occurs in life. As troubled as our world can be, it is significantly more kind than unkind, more good than bad, more safe than unsafe - even in the nastiest, most dangerous places where day to day survival is at great risk.  

Without God’s loving grace, none of us would survive another second.  Best of all, his love and grace are not dependent on our conduct.  Even those who openly oppose God or don’t believe he exists are included.

While some Christ followers may be unsettled about God’s love covering those who blatantly disregard or oppose him, that God loves indiscriminately actually provides a more solid foundation for everyone than if based on a standard or conduct or belief that would be subject to human interpretation - a wrinkle most religions suffer from.

Unlike us, God is unchanging, unfailing, unwavering and unflappable.  He is reliable when we are not.

So when our plans fail or the image we desire to convey about ourselves falters, God’s love prevails - for our good and his glory.  Thank God!

Quite literally, “Livin’ on Love” is a lot more than an endearing expression or hippie chant from the 1960’s.  It’s a sustaining reality we can all count on that is not only fully secured by God, it is not the least bit dependent on us.

Wow.  We must REALLY matter to God.

---------------------------------

Notes:

1. Link to 13 “Making Room” podcast messages from 5/7 thru 7/30/2017 by Pastor Doug Walker, Grace Chapel Church, Farmington Hills, MI

2. What does “God is love” mean?

3. 10 Bible verses re: The earth is filled with God (who is love)

4. Photo by Mayur Gala on UnSplash

Fresh Air

 Kinetic "Daisy" wind spinner in our yard

Kinetic "Daisy" wind spinner in our yard

This summer has featured many temperate days with low humidity and cool nights for leaving windows open and air conditioning off.  

In Michigan, we are blessed with three seasons of moderate temperatures that provide an abundance of fresh air moving through our living spaces. We have ceiling fans in every room running year-round, keeping cool or warm air moving around us all the time.

Breezes soothe me.  I have thee wind chimes around our house and I recently received a wind spinner for our backyard. The kinetic ones with fans on two sides that rotate in different directions in the lightest of breezes particularly fascinate me.  

Nothing like “hearing” the wind pass through our two tubular chimes or stir our bamboo one into a gentle cloppity-clop, cloppity-clop rhythm. Even in the dead of winter, if I notice the chimes stirring outside our dining room window where I read the Bible and journal each morning, I will crack the window just a little to hear them better.  

 Chimes adjacent to my morning devotions spot.

Chimes adjacent to my morning devotions spot.

Hot coffee, fresh air, and a lovely, breeze-stirred chime sets me up perfectly for my morning time with the Lord. The sounds and sensation of the wind coming and going refreshes my being, evidence to me that the wind’s author, God, is near.

Recall the apostles' reaction when Jesus calmed the wind and seas in the fourth chapter of Mark’s gospel.

“They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”’ (Mark 4:41, NIV)

Whereas God’s power over tempestuous winds speaks to the awesome magnitude of his power, I am drawn to the story of how God chose to personify Himself to Elijah.

“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  (1st Kings 19:11-13, NLT)

Perhaps God's gentle whisper was like the calmest of breezes or the silence in the middle of the night when all is still.

Water, woods and wind are three natural features that particularly captivate me. While we don’t live within sight of a lake or river or bordering a woods, our neighborhood is plentifully treed and neighbors adorn their homes with shrubs and flowering greenery, tended lawns and various ornamental trees and plants to keep nature close to our mutual spaces.

For wind, our chimes and spinner convert fresh breezes to a chorus for our listening and visual enjoyment.  When the breeze at ground level is too slight to stir our chimes or wind spinner, I need only look to the nearby treetops to be assured that the wind is ever present, like God

Like physical space is stifling without a steady supply of fresh air, so my faith stagnates when I am closed to new ways that God is working in and through me.  When I am stuck or digging into a stance that shuts God out, He has a way of opening me with his "fresh air" to let me know he is near and ready when I am.  

He makes the clouds his chariot
and rides on the wings of the wind.
He makes winds his messengers,
flames of fire his servants.
— Psalm 104: 3-4, NIV

Healing Wasn't Why He Came

July 19 is an auspicious date for me, the day that both my mom, Nancy and brother, Roger died in 1977 and 2014, respectively, 37 years apart.  In memory of them and to offer hope to many loved ones today whose passionate prayers for healing seem to go unanswered, I again share this reflection I originally wrote after Roger's death. I pray it ministers to you.


 True healing here

True healing here

Recently, cancer took my brother Roger's life. Even though the insidious disease resisted treatment every step of the way, he managed to hold it at bay for over thirteen long years. Meanwhile, he was able to see his two children into their teen years and to solidify a life legacy that those of us who knew him will carry with us for the rest of our lives.

Roger is ninth of my parents’ ten children that I am oldest of.  A simple man by choice, he was devoted to his family and successful in his work. Accomplished in golf, the game was not so much a platform for his golfing skills and intense competitiveness as just another avenue through which he touched others with his character, wit, warmth and genuineness. Family, golf, character and a great sense of humor are four common descriptors expressed about Roger.

A significant number of people cared about his Roger’s well-being and deeply desired for him to beat cancer. I have no way of knowing how many people prayed for Roger during his illness but a few expressed to me their belief that faith-doubters would be swayed toward belief by Roger overcoming cancer.  While I know my own faith would be bolstered by that happening, I think the relationship between healing and belief is weak.

Healing WAS a big drawing card for Jesus’ earthly ministry but when he began to shift away from healing to focus more on his true mission - to sacrifice himself to redeem people from the curse of sin, his popularity waned and the crowds thinned.  That the throngs were drawn more to his miracles than this message didn’t sit well with Jesus.

As the crowds increased, Jesus said, "This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. (Luke 11:29)

Healing and miracles demonstrated Jesus’ power over biology and chemistry but the cross is where Jesus’ greatest demonstration of power occurred - where he sacrificed himself to break the stranglehold of sin that is the cause for all that we suffer - sickness, pain, despair, trial and death.  The power of Jesus' cross occurred where the real action is - in the spiritual realm.

By bringing Roger to God in our prayer, we followed in the footsteps of those who did the same in Jesus time. On two such instances, Jesus acknowledged the faith of the bringer(s) in the healing of the brought - 1) the centurion who requested healing for his servant (Luke 7: 1-10) and 2) the friends who lowered the paralyzed man through a hole they dug in the roof of the house to where Jesus was teaching below (Mark 2: 1-5).

So did God answer any of our prayers for Roger?

Diagnosed in 2000, his disease was arrested briefly between 2006 and 2010.  The rest of the time,  this usually fast-progressing disease worsened steadily but slowly.  Although he endured through several crisis and sampled a few new treatment developments that emerged, surviving as long as he did could be attributed as easily to medicine as to God.  Ultimately he shared the same fate as those who Jesus unquestionably healed during his ministry.  Roger experienced the fate all of us will also face - mortal death.

While Jesus was able to heal bodies effortlessly, those healings were temporary whereas the much harder work he did on the cross made something more permanent possible - eternal life for all who believe in him. In contrast to the difficulty of Jesus’ work on the cross, our belief work is easy and just a little earnest faith is all that’s needed…. as little as a mustard seed…

(Said Jesus): "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you. (Luke 17:6, NIV)

…. as meager as mere crumbs of food that fall from someone else’s table….

(Said Jesus): “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”  “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” (Matthew 15:26-27, NIV)

 Roger in 2014

Roger in 2014

Two days before he died, Roger opted to begin hospice care. Perhaps sensing his mortality, he put the word out for family members to visit with him if they wished.  I was able to see Roger the day before he died.

As Roger’s body faded, I prayed for his faith to rise up in him, to know beyond doubt and be comforted by the sure and steady hand of his Lord and Savior gathering him in.  

I firmly believe that only when we are finally face-to-face with our Lord will we truly understand why healing wasn’t why he came.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11: 1, NAS)        

If you declare with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9).

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.  (Revelations 21:4)


Originally posted by Road Report on August 19, 2014

Image by Aaron Burden via Unsplash

 

 

Workplace Grace

 Photo credit: see notes

Photo credit: see notes

A co-worker admitted to a bit of a laissez-faire attitude about work that he attributes to perceived inequities experienced or observed during his work history. Offering a few experiences of my own, I sympathized with his sentiments.

Given that we all spend a considerable amount of our lives at work, experiencing problems there should come as no surprise to any of us.  However, Christ-followers should be ready to offer that while sin weighs on everything to do with life and creation, including workplaces, grace triumphs over sin. (See James 1:14-15 and Romans 6:14, NLT)

Am I taking St. Paul too literally to suggest that we believers “work out” much of our salvation at work?

...continue to WORK OUT your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who WORKS in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing,
— Philippians 2: 12b-14, NIV

Unfortunately, hearing my experiences only reinforced my co-worker’s cynicism.  Not my intention but our duties that day didn’t allow me to dive more into this with him and we haven’t worked together again for a couple weeks.  

Reflecting later on our exchange, I prayed for an opportunity to revisit our discussion.  If that occurred, I would want to say something like….

“As a Christian, my context is based on Jesus Christ and the Bible. While work disappointments are certainly troubling, they should come as no surprise since all people are born with a condition called sin.  Sin inclines most people to be prideful and act in their own best interests in a way that may be detrimental to others.  This is natural and should be expected even with the nicest people.”

If able, I might add that “pride and selfishness are especially prevalent at work. However, Jesus came to cure people of this sin condition even while we were still sinners and enemies of him.  (Romans 5:8, NIV).  As a Christian, I am a new man in Christ, enabled to bless my co-workers and supervisors regardless of how they treat me in return.”

Side note.  I’ve never said anything so succinct to anyone before but, God-willing, I’ll have other opportunities to do so - to be prepared to share the hope that is in me. (See 1 Peter 3:15, NIV).  

While I suspect I’ve suffered more workplace disappointment than most of my mostly-younger co-workers, my inclination to be negatively influenced by those disappointments is tempered by something far stronger, stronger even than sin itself - grace.  

This becoming a new man due to grace has evolved over time and experience.  Truly, God used workplace disappointments to mold me into what I’ve become.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)

In a former job, a coworker/friend there expressed concern that the efficiencies I was introducing might eventually give the boss reason to no longer need me. In response, I failed to put into words my conviction that the Lord gifted me to bless in certain ways, especially at work.  To hold back God’s gifting would violate who I am, even if the boss used my innovations to justify eliminating my position.

Ultimately he did eliminate my position so it seems my friend’s concerns were warranted. However, he is ultimately answerable to God for his motivations.  (See Proverbs 25: 21-22, NLT)

I pray that the Lord’s molding of me is shaping me to live graciously more and more because I am becoming a new “I am” in the likeness of God who also defines himself that way.

“God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'" (Exodus 3:14, NIV)


Photo credit:   rawpixel.com via Unsplash

Under God, Indivisible?

A co-worker who knows I’m a Christian asked what I thought about the news story of the pastor planning to fly the Christian flag over the American flag this Independence Day.

I’d not heard about that story so I had not formed an opinion about it except to ask, him, “There's a Christian flag?  What does it look like?”

 "Christian" and American flags.

"Christian" and American flags.

Later I looked up the story to find this matter is hardly a new one.  While I doubt few Christians would argue that God’s authority supersedes that of every nation, my initial thought is that flag positioning is essentially symbolic although it takes on special significance in certain situations.

I recall reciting the Pledge of Allegiance while facing the flag with my hand on my heart at the beginning of each school day as a child. As to the last time I recited the pledge, I don’t recall.

I never did locate the particular story my colleague was referencing but did run across some older stories about lawsuits filed to remove the words “under God” from the pledge of allegiance.  The pledge we Americans have recited since 1954 is:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
— American Pledge of Allegiance since 1954

Interesting to learn that the original pledge was written in August 1892 by a socialist minister,  Francis Bellamy (1855-1931).  Then it read:

"I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Bellamy intended that the pledge would be used by citizens in any country.

In 1923, the word “my” was replaced by "the Flag of the United States of America" and in 1954, President Eisenhower encouraged Congress to add the words "under God" to counter the atheistic communist threat of that time in the form of Russia.

While the current pledge has stood for 63 years, it has indeed been nuanced since originally penned by Bellamy 125 years ago. Good to note that while reciting the pledge is a rich American tradition, reciting it is not a requirement or law.  Due to the liberty promoted by this pledge, the citizens covered by it may freely skip any and all words they find offensive.

Interesting how our very freedoms allow us to individually stand against anyone and everyone that we choose.  However, as we decide to employ courts to force choices that increasingly segment and divide, don't we place "indivisible" in serious jeopardy?  And all I have to say right now about trends to expel all references of God in our laws and infrastructures is "implosion." 

In my mind the flag and the pledge go together and I do and will always hold our country, its government and all its patriotic traditions as “under God” even if the legal and governing authorities rule otherwise.  

My first allegiance is, after all, to Christ’s kingdom that Jesus himself noted is not of this world. (See John 18:36)


Soil the Foil

 Grass resistant soil?

Grass resistant soil?

"Soil the foil" - my clever title for a new takeaway from Jesus’ very familiar “Parable of the Sower” in Mark 4 that I read this week.

Foil, not the aluminum kind but the “prevent something from succeeding” version. If something won’t grow, the soil is a good place to start looking for solutions.

I’m having difficulty growing new grass on a particular area of our lawn.  Even though I raked some new topsoil into the spot and planted brand new seed, growth is not happening despite new grass growing robustly in immediately adjoining areas.

Jesus would probably advise, “Your soil needs an upgrade.”

I’m going to buy some compost today and start over.  With some babying of the area over the next few weeks, perhaps I'll be rewarded with better results.  Stay tuned. 

Meanwhile, we participate in Grace's Acre, a community vegetable garden hosted by our church.  Thanks to nutrient-rich soil, lush, robust growth is already yielding lettuce, spinach and herbs with many other vegetables well on the way.

 Thanks to fertile soil, Grace's Acre is growing robustly in late June.  These raised beds adjoin a large area of ground rows that supply our food pantry and market program.

Thanks to fertile soil, Grace's Acre is growing robustly in late June.  These raised beds adjoin a large area of ground rows that supply our food pantry and market program.

Wish I knew more about the underlying “soil” conditions of people I’ve shared the gospel with over the years but who are reluctant about, or clearly resist accepting Jesus’ invitation to let him take the lead in their lives.

Could it really be as simple as Jesus claims? That new life flourishes in good soil but falters in soil that lacks essential makeup and/or conditions?

I recently met a guy who was raised in a good church lead by a rather renowned pastor who happened to live next door. His mother is a ministry leader of a large evangelical church.  

He is a good guy as far as I can tell - married, respected at work but despite having been raised in apparently “good soil,” he admits to lapsed church attendance.  By way of explanation, he dismissively recalls the church experiences of his youth as boring.

Each morning, his radio listening features personalities who specialize in being offensive, lewd and shocking.  When I tried to engage with him about it, he pushed back with, “It’s no big deal, just harmless humor.  People who object should change the channel.”

Hard to be too judgmental here since I’ve given a similar answer to questionable influences I allow into my life that I have also defended as no big deal - influences that "foil my soil," so to speak - Like Jesus’ warning about sowing seed in rocky or thorny places. (Mark 4: 16-19)

Don’t know for sure but it seems he’s received good “Gospel seed” that failed to flourish.  Conversely, I marvel and am constantly grateful for the Gospel taking root in my life.  

Like my new friend, I believe I had good soil conditioning as well but was particularly blessed with good timing - having a memorable encounter with the Lord when I was particularly receptive. Still, nothing obvious about me makes me a better candidate than others who resist the Gospel.

Continuing with the soil analogy, I attribute some of the best ingredients of my faith now to the nutrient-rich soil where I am planted and live - a believing wife and life partner, a vibrant church family, excellent teaching and leadership, relationships with strong believers who invest time, transparency, prayer and practical support in our lives as we likewise invest in theirs…

Unlike the composition of actual good soil, a person’s “soil conditions” for Gospel rooting is discernible only the Lord himself. We as believers are to simply assist in the sowing while resisting judgment because soil conditions known only to the Lord may become just right at any moment for the gospel to take root and flourish.

So I will keep planting as opportunities to do so present to me.   Meanwhile, are you flourishing in your faith?  If not, how would you assess your soil conditions?  

Might be time for a soil upgrade.


Blessing our Workplaces

My friend, Mike insists my presence made a noticeable, "spiritual" difference in my former workplace, a hardware store.

“When I go there during your shift, I can tell the difference just by walking in,” Mike recently shared. “That store is blessed due to you.”

 Image source: see notes

Image source: see notes

I've enjoyed this job the most of all the jobs I’ve had in the last nine years.  In seven months there as a sales associate, I slowly learned the store layout, how to cut keys and mix paint and grew more confident and comfortable greeting, helping and relating to our customers. I credit the people-focused culture to the owner, Tim and his hiring practices. He employs people like me - with some to considerable hardware know-how and good with people.

To affirm Mike’s claim would seem immodest but I mention it to explore a perspective in Scripture that seems ignored or overlooked in Christian circles - that God can and does work through certain "chosen" people to bless the places they occupy. Let me be clear though that the source of blessing is God, not me or you.

I desire to be engaged with God and I faithfully observe certain routines to develop and maintain a relationship with him.  On good days, I am tuned into God's channel while at work, alert to bringing him into encounters with other people when an opening to do so occurs. 

 How it sometimes seems for us "rookie" employees :)

How it sometimes seems for us "rookie" employees :)

Likewise with the jobs I've sought and secured. I can make a case for God having something to do with me landing each one of them.  Would that be the same as God "choosing" me for these positions?

As to God blessing my workplaces through me, well I can only say that Mike’s view merits consideration due to plenty of Biblical evidence of blessing attributed to God working through one person. The Bible also offers warnings of peril and vulnerability for people and places due to the apparent ABSENCE of “righteous” people, according to God.

Notable examples of God blessing others or nations due a person chosen by God are Abraham, Daniel, Joseph, and David.

  • Abraham - Through him, God established the Messianic line to bless all the families of earth (see Genesis 12:1-20)
  • Daniel - Able, due to God, to interpret the king’s dreams, exile Daniel was elevated to leadership in the government of his captor, Babylon (see Daniel 2: 46-49)
  • Joseph - Like Daniel, God granted Joseph interpretations to Pharaoh’s dreams that resulted in Joseph becoming one of Egypt’s highest officials.  (See Genesis 39: 2-5)
  • David - Through David, God established an everlasting kingdom (See 2 Samuel 7: 12-17)

Conversely, Biblical places imperiled due to the lack of righteous people according to God include Sodom and, possibly, Canaan.

  • Sodom - But for the presence of just ten righteous people, the Lord would have spared Sodom from destruction. (See Genesis 18: 16-33)
  • Canaan - Israel was ordered to completely destroy the nations occupying their “promised lands” due to longstanding societal patterns that were detestable in God’s eyes (see Deuteronomy 18: 9, 12)

Mike isn’t the only person who claims I’ve made a noticeable difference in a place I worked. Furthermore, even though I’ve not been part of any workplace longer than 18 months during the last nine years, many of the companies have thrived during my time there. Also, I’m aware that some faltered a bit after I left.

Did God "choose" me for any of these workplaces?  Is any of this supposed blessing or prosperity due to God dwelling in me as I dwelt in the work I did there? Was my leaving in any way associated with God withdrawing blessing?

Given God’s nature and manner and the evidence of Scripture, all of the above are certainly possible even if logically far-fetched. So imagine with me for a moment that little old you and me are conduits for Godly goodness in the workplaces we occupy, whether big or small. Author Samuel Williamson says God is always speaking and acting through his creation and people and wants to speak to and through us in every moment.

“God invites us to walk with him even in--maybe especially in--our ordinary moments.”  (from “Hearing God in Conversation,” page 33)

Even at work or, if you are retired, whatever you are doing wherever you are doing it.

I pray that what Mike claims is true, that God blessed that store because I brought my relationship with the Lord to work with me. Ditto with my new job, a manufacturing company.

How about you?

--------------------------------

Notes:

  1. Canaanites: Genocide or Judgment?
  2. Trailer for movie, War Room (2015)
  3. Image source: Jill Heyer via Unsplash

 

To my children: a Father's Day wish

 Image source: see notes

Image source: see notes

Our daughter texted to ask what I wanted for Father’s Day.  I replied, “A conversation with my beloved daughter.”

“Your conversation wish will be granted,” she answered, “but what ELSE do you want?”

I sent her a few items pending on my Amazon wish list. However, my greatest wish as a father is to be assured beyond reasonable doubt that she and her brother follow and love the Lord Jesus Christ.

Of course they already know that wish.  Years ago when they were in late high school or early college, I sat them down together and asked if they knew that my relationship with Jesus was what in life I cherish most.  They readily affirmed that I’d gotten that across to them along with my second-most important life priority - that both of them also follow and love the Lord.

They are grown now and doing very well by societal standards - liked and respected, healthy, career success and earnings, living independently, close with friends and family, regularly engaged with us... One is married, new house, etc. and the other still single, career-focused and enjoying the “good life.”

Our passion for their spiritual well-being was behind my wife and I moving to a new church over 20 years ago - to surround them with the Jesus-loving people attending there.  They both made faith commitments there and we are grateful to our church family for lovingly tending the faith seeds that we as parents planted in them.  

I credit the strong faith I now enjoy to seeds planted in me by my parents that were tended by the churches of my youth. Even so, those seeds didn’t fully germinate in me until I was nearly 30 - the age milestone both our children are nearing now.  That’s when I finally accepted Jesus’ invitation to truly become one of his own - Definitely the highpoint of my life.

Anyone who's ever done planting knows that the space between sowing and reaping is crowded with significant challenge. Jesus-loving parents need all the help we can get.  Success-seekers in our world level can easily surround themselves with ready encouragement, supportive friends and family, and resources that faith seekers often lack.

The Christian faith that influenced and guided the founding of our American republic 200 plus years ago is now openly shunned.  America has polluted its once faith-nurturing soil.  As Jesus illustrated in his parable of the sower in Matthew 13, poor soil weakens faith.

While I try as a father to live the kind of life that would draw my children to the Lord, I often wonder what they see in me along that line. Does my trust in the Lord come through as I now struggle to earn a living while they both thrive with career success?  How badly do my shortcomings and sinfulness tarnish my faith witness?  

Thankfully, whatever faith influence I have with my children, positively or negatively, ONLY Jesus saves!  Into our messiness, he fearlessly arrives.

I believe God pursues and attempts to draw every human being who ever lived to himself.  At whatever level we experience him, we all have an opportunity to receive or reject him.  Some of us have more opportunities than others to choose.

He is a just and most gracious God to allow us to make and live with our choices, only coming to our rescue if we call out to him.  Sounds good on the surface but, truthfully, to grant us such free will is a frightening matter.

You see, even if we manage to commit to following the Lord, life’s messiness resumes.  Although God’s Spirit empowers us to live our faith, following Jesus does not assure a life of ease, well-being or prosperity, although God may permit us some or much of all the above.

Noted Sam Williamson in his superb book, “Hearing God in Conversation,”

We seek God with the hopes of experiencing some sunlit plain of starry night; we look for peace and comfort. In my experience of God, though, he almost always afflicts my comfort before comforting my affliction.

In recent years, has our children’s front row seat to the affliction of our comfort negatively or positively impacted their own faith?  I don’t know.  I don’t have those answers but even if I did, my prayer is not that they look to me but to God himself for everything.

Solomon’s prosperity ruined him and Job’s prosperity was lost in a wager that he had no part in.  Ultimately Job decided that the many challenges and questions he directed to God during the worst of his struggles could be left unanswered when God himself showed up.  For Job, God was enough.

So, my dear, beloved children, my Father’s Day wish is that you will become convinced more and more as your lives unfold that not only is God enough for you, he is all you need.  Meanwhile, I will love you to the extent of my mortal powers and, God willing, we will also spend eternity together as well. 


Image by Forrest Cavale via Unsplash:

Competing Ways: Gurus vs. God

 The Guru track to career success.  Whose missing?

The Guru track to career success.  Whose missing?

In the rather convoluted job/career track I’ve been on since 2008, 16 positions in nine years, my current job has by far been the most enjoyable.  It seems I found something new I flourish at - customer service!  

Might have something to do with the workplace -  a hardware store - essentially a toy store for a Do-It-Yourself guy like me.

It’s a great work environment - a knowledgeable, patient boss, supportive and friendly co-workers and a growing and appreciative customer base. I also love the part-time schedule that has allowed me to work a little more on some long latent creative longings like this blog, writing in general, maybe doing something more with my ornaments...

Unfortunately, the variable schedule pushes against the rhythms my creativity thrives best in and then there’s the compensation issue.  Retail pay is notoriously poor and I’m at the lowest rung possible.  Although we gave this a go, we’ve been tapping into our modest savings to cover our bills.

We already live frugally but we managed to find a couple small costs to cut back on while keeping a closer eye on spending.  Meanwhile we lean heavily into what has become our primary life strategy - to trust in, abide with and wait on the Lord.

 Me as a True Value, "Customer Service Associate"

Me as a True Value, "Customer Service Associate"

This "Trust-Abide-Wait" focus finally locked in with me in 2016, a few months after I was “downsized” from position #15.  During eight or so years of career-searching, I basically vacillated between following the “Guru” career-search track and seeking/depending on the Lord.

“Guru” is my term for the generally advised career-search strategy that involves crafting a plan with tailored materials and pitches that feed a relentless campaign to aggressively promote yourself to hiring managers who make the call about who gets the job and who does not.

Some of the Guru mantras are: “Go big or go home… Just do it… If you want it, you gotta go get it;” and,  “Don’t turn back until you hit your mark.”

In stark contrast is God’s way along the line of Jesus’ striking teaching in Matthew’s gospel:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
— Matthew 7: 7-12, ESV

Notice how individualized God’s advice is.  “EveryONE who asks receives, and the ONE who seeks finds, and to the ONE who knocks it will be opened.”  

So how does God work out what happens when each of us ask, seek and knock along different lines?  EXACTLY!

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps...Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
— Proverbs 16:9 and 19:21, ESV

When I finally peeled myself away from Guru to give myself over to trust-abide-wait, I was able to hear God’s voice a lot better.  This hardware job surfaced during that time and I accepted it with full knowledge of its variable hours and meager pay.  While our bank account dwindled a bit, my wounded spirit was restored.  

In the last three weeks, two job opportunities were made known to me, both bearing God’s fingerprints. While neither were perfect fits, I applied for both.  The second one resulted in my next job that offers stable hours, better pay and a growth track I can pursue if I want to.

Now I have to break the news to my current boss and colleagues.  Store staffing is delicately balanced and my departure is going to upset that balance during our busiest season. After I accepted the offer for the new job, I decided to also trust-abide and wait for a couple days to seek God’s guidance about the conversation with my boss.  

I’m glad I did because God reminded me that my duty is to listen for and follow only him and let him take care of everything else.  

“He is before all things, and in him ALL THINGS hold together,” wrote Paul in his letter to the Colossians  (1:17, NIV).

“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27, ESV)

God holding ALL THINGS together includes my boss and colleagues, all our customers as well as everyone at my new workplace.  Such “holding” as only God can do is behind Paul’s bold, “no stress” statement in his letter to the Philippians:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
— Philippians 4: 6-7, NIV

Ideally, obedient believers have no stress whatsoever when we follow the path the Lord opens no matter how unusual or irrational it may initially seem.  Even so, God recognizes that this life is far from ideal and we all are stuck in it to varying degrees. For our "stuck" moments," Jesus offered these words of comfort:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
— John 16:33, NIV

No matter how stressed we feel about what we know we have to do, "Trust-Abide-Wait" is generally a great course to take.


Take the adventure that comes

 Aslan and Lucy from "The Last Battle," Chronicles of Narnia. (see notes for image source)

Aslan and Lucy from "The Last Battle," Chronicles of Narnia. (see notes for image source)

I write this for myself but feel free to read along.  This is a reminder for now and to have here to come back to again and again.  Because these feelings repeat.

I’m discouraged and I don’t feel like writing.  What do I have to say that anyone would want to read?  But here I am, writing anyway.

I find myself lacking a sense of call or purpose to wake up to today; or a future or dream to give the day some perspective.  But another day awaits that needs to be lived out.  

This awful, foreboding sense of failure washes over me, a strong sense of having fallen short but not knowing what hand I had in it or how to get back to generally succeeding again except to just live into this new day, do my best and lean into the Lord; And not take myself too seriously.

Today’s to-dos seem more than can be done in a day.  Some are in my sweet spots but some will stretch me.  Lately, more stretchy ones are in the mix than I prefer but I’m kinder on myself as I get older, more O.K. with good enough being good enough than when I was younger.  I’ve learned a thing or two about imagined perfection and excellence and their associated costs.  May I invoke that learning when today’s hour is late and some unchecked items remain.

“We must go and take the adventure that comes to us,” said a character in C.S. Lewis’ “The Last Battle,” the seventh of seven books of his Chronicles of Narnia.  The remark was offered as our heroes faced a daunting situation.  What to do or how to proceed was not at all clear while peril was certain and the odds were heavily stacked against the good guys.

In the case of these stories, the adventure-takers were all believers in and followers of Aslan,  the lion Lord of Narnia that Lewis modeled after Jesus Christ.  The adventure was viewed as one that Aslan had a hand (or in this case, paw) in allowing or causing to come to them. They knew he expected them to go forward despite their uncertainty.

So must I.  You too.  To go forward, live today.  

As we take on our to-do lists, keep the story God wrote, just for us, at hand.  Its guidance and wisdom is strong.  Filling its pages are the stories of other’s journeys very much like mine and yours.  

Whether you see yourself taking on the grand or the mundane, God levels every task and adventure, somehow rendering the grand mundane and the mundane grand.

Speaking to the sense of call or purpose, Os Guiness wrote,

“We are not primarily called to do something or go somewhere; we are called to Someone. We are not called first to special work but to God. The key to answering the call is to be devoted to no one and to nothing above God Himself.”
— Os Guiness, “The Call - Finding and fulfilling the central purpose of your life”

 

So here is the new day, brought directly from God, the author and source of all life and every moment of every day. We believers in him enjoy relationship with him through his son Jesus.  

Therefore, thanks to his mercy and grace, the burden of my past can be shed so I start this day with a clean slate, wholly forgiven and new.

O.K….(deep breath).  Ready now to “go and take the adventure that comes.”


Well-worn paths *

 "Pathlike" road in Iowa, 1997

"Pathlike" road in Iowa, 1997

I have a fondness for certain kinds of roads - windy, hilly, black-topped ones that thread through countrysides.  Roads like these exude the character of the places they traverse.  Still, roads are not paths. Paths are different.

Agrarian author Wendell Berry offers a lush perspective about paths vs. roads that remains stuck in my mind since the moment I read it.

“The difference between a road and a path is not only the obvious one. A path is little more than a habit the comes with knowledge of a place.  It is a sort of ritual of familiarity.  As a form, it is a form of contact with a known landscape….

A road, on the other hand, even the most primitive road, embodies resistance against the landscape. Its reason is not simply the necessity of movement, but haste. Its wish is to avoid contact with the landscape; it seeks so far as possible to go over the country, rather than through it;”

By Berry’s definition these roads I like are not paths at all so I exercise my writer’s license to declare my roads that snake “respectfully” through their countrysides as well-worn paths that pavement was applied to. I certainly experience considerable relaxation when turning onto a road like this from a highway or freeway that I have no fondness for at all.

Rural northern Michigan features my best encounters of these path-like roads. The Road Report Journal banner is one of those, a stretch of M-88 in Antrim County.

I have enjoyed 27 northern Michigan encounters during an annual “Boys Weekend” with my brothers.  These weekends harken to Berry’s description of a path as “little more than a habit that comes with knowledge of a place.” Our Boys Weekend is a convening of brothers that has become a habit, a ritual of encountering each other in a certain place.

The rituals of my relationship with the Lord define perhaps the most-worn path in my life, so heavily tread that pavement could certainly be applied to it.  Its place is more a setting where practices occur such as dedicated time with God, reading Scripture, journaling, and prayer.

I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
— Psalm 130:6, NIV

From this well-worn path go many trails into my days. This writing is one of those trails, exploratory offerings of learnings gleaned on the path.  My hope and prayer is to convey the sense of God’s intentional caring, his merciful, graceful presence encountered here on my path that speaks to you on your path.

Well-worn paths may yield extraordinary benefits from the mere frequency and persistence of traveling occurring on them.

You were tired out by the length of your road
Yet you did not say, ‘ It is hopeless.’
You found renewed strength,
Therefore you did not faint.
— Isaiah 57:10, NASB

I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, And in His word do I hope. (Psalm 130:5, NASB)

It seems that the wisest people I know travel many well-worn paths with God.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge
— Proverbs 1:7a, NIV

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Notes

1) * Edited re-post of "Well-worn paths" originally published as a Road Report at FarmingtonGlenn.net on January 27, 2015

2) Wendell Berry quote from his book, “The Art of the Commonplace” page 12

 

Room for Evelyn

 Evelyn VanTassel and her poodle Sara Lee

Evelyn VanTassel and her poodle Sara Lee

While I think of myself a loner, the gospel nudges me toward to others.  Sometimes I even obey.

Last week, I was moved by a study I’m doing about hospitality to “make room” for Evelyn.  Mother of our friend, Marilyn, Evelyn was admitted to a nearby hospital several days earlier.  I could have visited during her first couple days there but I resisted the urge to do so.

Why?  Well you see, I am involved in a house project and you know hospitals make me uncomfortable.  Besides, Evelyn is 98 and has difficulty speaking. How would we converse and what could I say or do to make her feel any better?

Excuses that sound as lame as they are, especially since I had no difficulty spending an entire day in a car with Evelyn five years earlier.  That was 2012 when Marilyn asked if I would drive Evelyn back to her home in Marquette after wintering in Marilyn’s Farmington Hills home.

Evelyn was 93 then and I was in-between jobs, so available to help. Marilyn insisted I take her car so she could pack it with all Evelyn’s stuff before I arrived.

Conversation was not a problem during the eight or so hour trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula although I only recall tidbits of what we talked about.  We arrived late-afternoon at her house a block south of the Northern Michigan University campus where her deceased husband and Marilyn’s dad, Leo was former Vice President of Business and Finance.

 View from a Marquette park, 2012

View from a Marquette park, 2012

I unpacked the car and heeded all her specific instructions for putting everything back in its place among the many treasures lining every room of her house.  Later, she suggested we drive around town so she could show me the sights. Before dropping her back home, she treated me to dinner in a little restaurant in town where many greeted her by name, staff and patrons alike. After staying the night in a local motel, I headed home the next morning.

Although I did that drive only the one time, the cycle of Evelyn spending winters in Farmington Hills with Marilyn continued. Connected by that drive, I made a point to spend a little time with Evelyn whenever she came with Marilyn to church, and our small group meetings.

Last winter Evelyn was weaker, mostly wheelchair bound and virtually unable to speak.  Then news came on the church prayer list that Evelyn was admitted to a local hospital.   

One of my study’s scriptures was Romans 12:3-8 that includes something about using our gifts for our fellow Christians.  What gifts do I have for Evelyn?

I could almost hear God whispering “you” into my brain. As in me, being present and doing my best to let Evelyn know that I cared about her, as did God - to be God’s hands and feet and voice.

Turns out she “spoke” quite well without uttering any words - with nods and squeezing my hand that I offered her when I arrived.  Her breathing was labored and her body really warm. Despite that our clasped hands got sweaty, she did not want me to let go.

That evening, “Our Daily Bread” reading was Matthew 8:1-4 about Jesus healing a leper.  I keyed on the story part when the man pleaded with Jesus,

“Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Then) Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.
— Matthew 8: 2-3 (NIV)

Picking up on Jesus’ unhesitant response to touch this man everyone else gave a wide berth, the devotion shared a story about Kiley who jumped at a chance to join a medical mission in East Africa despite having no medical experience.

Despite being repulsed by the distorted leg of a woman there with a horrible but treatable disease, “Kiley knew she had to do something. As she cleaned and bandaged the leg, her patient began crying. Concerned, Kiley asked if she was hurting her. “No,” she replied. “It’s the first time anyone has touched me in nine years.”’

Me holding Evelyn’s hand was the part of my visit that I think she liked the most.

Evelyn died the morning after I visited her, finally heading to her “real” up north home in heaven with our Lord after 98 venerable years walking among us.  When I heard news of her passing, I whispered a little “Thanks!” to the Lord for nudging me to make room one last time for Evelyn.

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Notes:

1. Evelyn's picture: from Marilyn VanTassel
2. Our Daily Bread, May 2, 2017: Just a Touch
3. Hospitality Study by "He Reads Truth:" Making Room

Nature: Listening or Suppressing?

 For lawn-loving Do-It-Yourselfers, Scotts 4-Step program

For lawn-loving Do-It-Yourselfers, Scotts 4-Step program

If we are paying attention, seasonal transitions bear powerful messages.  Take note as spring finally arrives to Michigan.  

Winter 2016-17 was light on snow but featured many stretches of cold, damp, sun-starved days. Notwithstanding the plethora of Michiganders who complain about snow, at least snow can be played in.  Snowless winter along with damp cold essentially renders the out of doors uninhabitable.

Impotent winter also makes for long, SLOW shifts at the hardware store where I work.  Pallets of salt and rows of snow shovels and ice scrapers and aisles clogged with snow blowers intended to tame and suppress winter are bypassed by customers heading to consider paint colors instead.  

While some form of each season is assured every year, we humans devote more attention to suppressing nature than tuning to its voice.  Despite our considerable knowledge and wherewithal, nature puts up formidable resistance to our best attempts to tame and suppress it.

In spring and summer, nature suppression shifts from reducing ice and snow impact to eliminating impediments to growing desirable foliage. Here in suburbia, the surest money bet regards growing great grass and controlling invasive weeds.

In the hardware business, Scott’s 4-Step program is a popular lawn fertilizing program for the DIY crowd.  Step 1 is a crabgrass preventer and lawn food that works best if warmer temps arrive in early April. If winter’s cool lingers a little too long, customers skip to the second weed and feed step.

This year spring held back so crabgrass preventer sales lagged after initially surging.  Even though May just arrived, everyone is already onto weed and feed with store supply barely meeting demand.

Untamed nature features varieties of plants indigenous to climate and countryside. Lawn-loving people on the other hand prefer graded ground, lush, weedless turf and plantings of trees and cultivated bushes and flowers arranged in fanciful contours.  Nature manifests fine as the elements dictate, but humanity’s taming requires considerable earth-rearranging, chemical combos and inordinate amounts of water.  

Recommended water consumption for a person is about a half gallon a day.  That's 3.5 gallons each week.  A healthy lawn needs about an inch of water a week, 3,100 gallons for a 5,000 square foot lawn - enough to sustain 885 people!

Having a sparse budget for landscaping, I fertilize sparingly and water almost never.  However, I can toil for free!  Thanks to my part-time job, I have more time available to be outside during the day to experience and observe spring’s arrival and manner.

I'm slowly coming around to thanking the Lord for clearing this space in my life to simply abide by what he brings.  Where I live, the peacefulness of our sedate neighborhood while everyone else is off at their day jobs is violated by the busy M5 highway nearby imposing its considerable din on all the nature it cuts through on its way to wherever.

Yes, God charged his first people to steward his creation, but rebellious humanity inclines more toward manipulation and suppression of nature than listening for the rhythms and revelation nature prefers we tune our lives to. Meanwhile, nature seems to allow our imposition to recast it into something other than what God had in mind for us to do with it. However, its true power is really his, hiding just beneath its seemingly sedate surface, far surpassing ours.  

Meanwhile, nature most often presents as kindly, winsomely inviting us with its refreshment, wonder and inspiration.  As you pause to listen, be mindful that nature is created, not Creator. Nature draws us beyond, not to, itself to its Gardener ... and ours.  

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.
— Romans 1:20, NLT