Friday, August 30, 2013

The Nature and Nuances

SIAS University, Henan Province, China
If you can't understand the meaning of this parable, how will you understand all the other parables? ~ Read Mark 4:13-20

Somewhere along the line I heard Jesus' parables described as "earthly stories with a spiritual meaning," or something similar to that. Certainly that was one of the techniques Jesus used to teach his inner circle. What perfect sense that makes when we remember that he was preparing them to communicate in the awful now-and-now about the sweet by-and-by.

So Jesus scans the landscape and sees a farmer sowing his fields. Swirling winds catch the seed, then die, and drop the sleeping life they carry. Some seed falls along the hard packed footpaths that act as boundary lines. Other seed sifts into the cracks and crevices of the stacked, pyramids of rock picked from the fields. Still, other seed falls into the thorny hedges that serve as natural fencing to contain livestock. And as the farmer intended some falls on the moist, dark soil, of freshly harrowed fields. Jesus saw this cyclical occurrence, and he used it to explain what it would be like as The Twelve delivered the message of the Kingdom.

Hear his voice as he does so. It isn't casual it is emphatic. "If you don't understand the significance of this lesson, you will not understand the nature and nuances of your calling."

Some things to consider...

*Advancing the Kingdom is a spiritual work in an nonspiritual world.

*We are in complete control as to whether or not we will broadcast the Seed.

*We are not in control of where the Seed lands or takes root.

*We should expect the Gospel to receive a mixed response.

*God will reveal the condition of the heart that received the message.

*Keep sowing.

*There is nothing wrong with the seed.



The Parable of the Sower is extremely important for us, because the story helps us to understand, and take the right course of action as we engage in God's purposes. Also, we gain a working knowledge that helps us shed discouragement when people fall out, and avoid the pressure we tend to put on ourselves thinking we are responsible for the outcome. Both of which, we may fall prey to...








Thursday, August 29, 2013

Here's the Dirt...

Lotus field in Henan Province, China
Then Jesus said to them, "If you can't understand the meaning of this parable, how will you understand all the other parables? The farmer plants seed by taking God's word to others. The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message only to have Satan come at once and take it away. The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don't have deep roots, they don't last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God's word. The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God's word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced. And the seed that fell on good soil represents those who hear and accept God's word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted. ~ Read Mark 4:1-20

In Bulgaria, Venezuela, Mexico, the Bahamas, Greece, Canada, China, Bermuda, Native American Nations, and in many of the fifty states of America, I have encountered people, who, through someone's witness have received the Good News of Jesus Christ. Just as the Revelation tells us, when God decides to wind up this finite epoch here on earth, the infinity of Heaven will be comprised of people from every kindred, tribe and tongue.

Take a moment to read the entire passage again.

Did you notice that the political or economic climate of this world does not dictate the success or advancement of the Gospel? What does? As simple as it may sound the biggest hindrance implied is neglecting to take God's Word to others. We can be sure there will be no fruit if the seed is never sown. Jesus knew, and we realize, too, that there are a lot things to share about being a Christian, but we must remain committed to the centerpiece of Scripture--the story of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection. It recently struck me that since I was sixteen years old (that would be forty one years ago) I have NEVER had a Believer even attempt to share the gospel with me? How about you?

When I was in China I often thought of this passage. If you have been there, you know that the Chinese attempt to garden wherever they can find a patch of ground. Seriously, if it isn't paved with concrete--something is taking root, and it never failed to amaze me how often such unlikely soils would bear fruit. With that said, we need to keep in mind that the good soil for the seed of God's Word isn't dirt--it's the human heart, and neither you nor I can see what kind of condition it is in. We need to let God determine that. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Reflecting and Restating

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them... ~ Genesis 1:27

O LORD, what great works you do! And how deep are your thoughts. Only a simpleton would not know, and only a fool would not understand... ~ Psalm 92:5-6


God created us in His own image--it almost sounds egotistical, does it not? Yet, it is God's testimony of you and me. For those who know the rest of the story, we also understand that we needed to be re-created, or born again, because the image of God initially mirrored in us was lost due to sin.

Today, I have mused on the great works God has done for me, and in me. And not just me, but in the wide variety of people I have talked with this week. In particular, I have been looking back over the short-term, and I am able to see--to some extent--just how deep God's thoughts toward us have been. When I read the passage from Psalms, I smiled and thought, "We are not geniuses, but we are not simpletons either! We are sometimes foolish, but neither are we fools!"

Sometimes it's good to take note of how much God has done in us, rather than how much is left to be done. Like David, reflect on the new construction we see in ourself, and others. Then offer a simple prayer, O LORD, what great works you do! 


Monday, August 26, 2013

Friending the Unfriended

Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus' followers.) But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, "Why does he eat with such scum?" When Jesus heard this, he told them, "Healthy people don't need a doctor--sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners." ~ Read Mark 2:13-17

This is an unusual story. Particularly so, if plugged into our contemporary religious society. Try to imagine if you can, someone as holy as Jesus--calling someone as unholy as Levi to be part of his ministry team. Levi was a Jewish tax collector, so in his day he was considered a traitor of sort. Think about it. What could alienate you more than becoming extremely wealthy by extorting exorbitant taxes from your own people group for an oppressive government? What's more, the fraternity of Levis' business associates was a collection of more of the same!

Jesus' calling changed the trajectory of Levis' life, but in the process Messiah befriended the unfriended brotherhood of thieves that were Levis' peers. That being said, I think it is safe to assume this--if God became flesh today, rather than two thousand years ago, his FaceBook friend list, pictures, and status updates would include some of today's most colorful and disreputable "sinners."

Question? Would we be asking "Why does Jesus associate with such scum?" To go one step further--would we hold in contempt other Believers who friended the unfriended? Would we unfriend Jesus?

According to Jesus, the question posed by the Pharisees revealed more about the interrogators than the transgressors. Interesting, is it not? Jesus words to those who think they are too righteous to be among those who know they are sinners were pretty scathing.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Keep Digging

Chinese dangling from the fourth floor window!
Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus, and after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, you sins are forgiven." ~ Read Mark 2:1-12


At one of the churches I pastored we began an outreach to men and named it, Call of the Wild. It was a rather novel approach at the time, so we wrestled with ideas of how to promote it. Zack, our college minister, who had also been a trainer for the Army Rangers, came into one of our meetings with an impish look in his eye, and said, "Bill, I just reconned the upper level of the sanctuary, and I have an idea for a Sunday promotional for Call of the Wild." Some background--Zack had been teaching me to rappel, and we had been on a few high-altitude adventures together. He continued, "There is a spot, about forty feet above the choir loft, where we can tie off to the roof trusses, remove a ceiling tile, and rappel into the sanctuary, right between the choir and pulpit!"

Well, on a Sunday morning just before the choir sang, we pulled the panel, dropped our ropes, came flying down out of the ceiling in a fast descent, and set our brakes about ten feet off the floor.  We announced that we were having a day especially designed for men at the Buck's farm for skeet and trap shooting, archery, bass fishing, paintball wars, a rock climbing wall, rappelling from an eighty foot tower, SEC football on a big screen, and lots of red meat!

As Zack and I dangled there in mid-air, we could see the many different expressions on the faces of our congregation. Some thought it was the coolest thing they had ever seen. Others--not so much. One of the single ladies, said that as she sat in the choir loft waiting for the choir to sing, she prayed that God would bring a man into her life. She thought she was witnessing a genuine miracle when two dropped out of the heavens right in front of her. She recovered and prayed more specifically, "God, it would need to be a single man!"

Many of the hundreds of men that joined the event Call of the Wild would never darken the doors of a church. Also, we learned that under their starched, white collars--that work attire demanded, was a redneck. Through that ministry we baptized thirty two men the first year--in the church.

Back to Mark's story...

Talk about determination! Think about the compassion, persistence, and creativity of those four men who tunneled down through the tiles and trusses of that rooftop, and then lowered their invalid friend down through a cloud of dust and debris until he hovered just above the crowd. Their faith in Jesus was so rock-solid. They believed that if they could get him to Jesus he would do what was best! And that's the most important thing--getting people to Jesus. To do so, we may need to think outside the church building setting!







   

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Great Relief of The Great Commission

While in China, I used to ride my bike to this place to find some quiet time. 
Before daybreak... Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. Later Simon and the others went out to find him. When they found him, they said, "Everyone is looking for you." But Jesus replied, "We must go on to other towns as well, and I will preach to them, too. That is why I came." So he traveled throughout the region of Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and casting out demons. ~ Mark 1:35-38

No one has the right to hear the gospel twice, while there remains someone who has not heard it once. ~ Oswald J. Smith

Few people come to Christ the first time they hear the gospel. Elsewhere the apostle Paul said, "One plants the seed, another waters the seed, but it is God who brings the harvest." Surely, most of us have experienced being part of that very process. This being said, it may seem that Smith's words are somewhat out of place, but based on what Mark recorded we know that Smith was in harmony with the mind of Christ. Look at what Jesus said, We must go on to other towns as well, and I will preach to them, too. There were still hordes of spiritually and physically needy people right where he was, yet Christ said in effect, it's time to move on.

Is there something here for us to learn? I think there is. Jesus put a high value on getting the message of the gospel out to as many people as possible. For Jesus, wherever his feet could take him, he considered that to be his field. He sowed the message far and wide. For us, we need to be equally aware of that dynamic. As Believer, our journey gives us almost countless opportunities to ever expand our sphere of influence. Due to our individual uniquenesses--be they our venue, or personality, each of us are given opportunities to touch the lives of people in ways no one else can.

One final word...

In the Great Commission, Jesus reinforced what we have just been discussing. Jesus said, "Go into all the world, and as you are going preach the gospel." Isn't that encouraging? Isn't that why we are here, too? Isn't that a great relief?


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Deliverance and Delivery...

Jesus and his companions went to the town of Capernaum. When the Sabbath day came, he went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority--quite unlike the teachers of religious law... Amazement gripped the audience, and they began to discuss what had happened. "What sort of new teaching is this?" they asked excitedly. "It has such authority! Even evil spirits obey his orders!" ~ See Mark 1:21-28

One Saturday, Jesus showed up at the synagogue to teach--think church service. This weekly gathering would be different. From the onset his audience listened with rapt attention. Soon heads were leaning ear-to-mouth to whisper about the uncommon authority the young rabbi possessed as he parsed each word and phrase. "He is quite unlike the teachers of religious law." they said in hushed tones.

Suddenly, one of the congregants, possessed by an evil spirit, recognized that Jesus of Nazareth was no friend of the darkness that resided in him. With an unholy growl he snarled and screamed at the threat the Holy One represented. Jesus instantly shut him down--the demon in him, that is, and sent it shrieking into the shadows.

Amazement gripped the audience. What had been but a murmur, turned into an excited, full volume discussion. "What sort of new teaching is this? It has such authority! Even the evil spirits obey his orders!"

As it was then, so it is now--there is a world of difference between religious authoritarians, and those through whom Jesus speaks authoritatively. Think about it--how many days, weeks, months, or even years did that troubled soul take his seat in the assembly, possessed by a demon, yet leave unchanged and unchained? It may not be the case in every instance, but in this one, the problem had been the distinct difference between the messages and messengers.

According to Mark's testimony, the synagogue had become a place where people filed in Sabbath after Sabbath as expected, yet expecting nothing. Sure, there was order, and the teachers of the law taught the laws of their religion, but nothing happened. But when the Spirit of Jesus is the messenger, and the Word of God is the message, there is a freshness and authority that neither oratory nor ordination can duplicate. It should be kept in mind, and anticipated, that when God's people convene, there should be instances of deliverance--not just the delivery of a homily.





   

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Spontaneous Adjustment

One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, "Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!" And they left their nets at once and followed him. A little further up the shore Jesus saw Zebedee's sons, James and John, in a boat repairing their nets. He call them at once, and they also followed him, leaving their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired men.  ~ Mark 1:16-19

Jesus said elsewhere that he only did that which he already saw his Father doing. He would never just wing-it. Yet, here we see actions that seem so spontaneous and unconstrained. Jesus is walking along the Sea of Galilee, sees two young men, Simon and Andrew, slinging their fishing nets, and two others, James and John, fixing their nets. What does Jesus do? He challenges them to make an on-the-spot, monumental, career, and life changing decision. Jesus' actions are only out-staged by the immediate response of the quartet, and the dumbfounded look on Zebedee's face, as James and John fell into stride with the itinerant rabbi!

There is something to be remembered and received from this story. We must remember that when Jesus calls us he is in perfect concert with his Father's will for him--and us. When Jesus calls us, though it may seem unconventional, or even inconvenient, it is of utmost importance that we respond fully and immediately.

I realize that it can be pretty scary to step out into what may appear to be an unplanned adventure, and our world spontaneously combusts. Would it help to think of such a response as a spontaneous adjustment, instead? Could we think of it as God having chosen a particular moment in our life to issue a challenge that He has had in mind for eternity? For sure, such a radical step would mean letting go of many good things--things in which we have found a measure of security, personal identity, and purpose. Without question, our decision will mean that something we were going to do, at the very least, must be put on hold, or even permanently abandoned. Peers may judge us as impulsive, ours wouldn't be the only life disrupted. But if Jesus is calling, though we may not live to see the impact of our obedience, our decision will change someones world and eternal destiny. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The End-Game

Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God's Good News. "The time promised by God has come at last!" he announced. "The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!"~ Mark 1:14

You probably know the rest of the story. Not only was John the Baptist arrested, he was also gruesomely beheaded. Moreover, his martyrdom was the direct result of clearing the road for the Good News. John proclaimed a hard-edged message that left no room for a half-hearted response. Listen to Mark's succinct description of the wilderness prophet's message: [John] preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven.  

As an aside, let me try to get to my point this way. The name of my blog is Enjoying the Adventure. I sign nearly all personal correspondence, Enjoying the Adventure. Now let me say this, not every step of the adventure has been enjoyable in the moment. In the words of the old Negro spiritual, Nobody knows de troubles I've seen. Let me put it right out there and confess--I have brought some troubles upon myself, due to my own choices. But there have also been many, many times when the adventure was painful, because I did the absolute right thing.

That being said, let's get back to the brief narrative of Scripture at the top of this post.

Look how it quickly it transitions from John being arrested, and beheaded--we would consider that bad news. To Jesus joyfully heralding the Good News. At this point it would be good to remember that the Good News message Jesus preached got him killed, too.

"What are you driving at?" you might be asking.

Here it is: In the Adventure we live, as Believers, not every step we take is enjoyed in the moment. Did you know that shortly before his demise, John the Baptist, the wild man from the desert, looked at the predicament his preaching had got him into, and sent a messenger to ask Jesus, "Are you the One, or should I keep looking for the promised Messiah? In John's mind the story wasn't supposed to go the way it was. And also, do you remember that in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, "Is there anyway this cup of suffering can be avoided?"

What I am saying is, in the hardships of our journey we need to quickly transition our thinking to the end-game. And what is that? The most important matter at hand is the advance of the Kingdom, and we can Enjoy that Adventure...


Friday, August 16, 2013

Cliff Notes

The Spirit compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan for forty days. He was among the wild animals, and angels took care of him. 

At his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove. Now, the same Spirit is leading Jesus into a face-to-face showdown with Satan. These adversaries are not dressed in dark suits, their skin perfectly made-up for stage lights, as they orate from behind mahogany lecterns. There is no strict protocol. Robert's Rules of Order will not be enforced, assuring a fair and civilized debate. No, the Son of Man is covered in the dust of the barren land he has been treading, and his skin is burned and bronze. For forty grueling days he has been alone in the desert fasting. His stomach, shrunken to the size of a tennis ball, is completely empty. An indescribable fatigue is his, because each night, as he laid down to rest, wild animals stalked him from just beyond the glow of his flickering campfire.

Satan, the darkest of evil's darkness, the wildest of wild beasts, was Jesus' opponent, and his diabolical strategy to derail Messiah from the outset revolved around the little word "If." The Evil One, knew that the Incarnate One was also the second Adam, so he shrewdly by-passed Jesus Divinity and zeroed in on his weary humanity. "You are hungry? If you are the Son of God, then turn those stones into bread... You are loved? If you are the Son of God, leap from this edifice erected to worship Him. If your Father loves you, make Him prove it! Finally, upon a mountainside cliff, Satan offered, "If you will worship me, all you can see, I will give you. I can put you on the fast-track. Have you Looked at your ragged self?"

If was the key. The Master of Deception had no concern, whatsoever, as to the beliefs Jesus held, as long as he doubted the most important of all--his eternal identity, and that he was dearly loved by his Father...



This is where our spiritual battles are won or lost--in these Cliff Notes, if you will. The Darkness will subtly whisper, "Believe anything you want--except the truth." All the while he is trying to find a place for doubt. Satan doesn't care who we trust, as long as it isn't God. He doesn't care what we think about our selves, as long as we reject the identity God has given us. His goal is simple--exchange the certainty of the I AM, for the uncertainty of the What Ifs.

Jesus succinctly and unflinchingly responded. "Get out of here, Satan. For the Scriptures say, 'You must worship the LORD your God and only serve Him.'" So must we...

Thursday, August 15, 2013

An Eternal Echo...

I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit! ~ Mark 1: 8

Dark, muddy water rose higher and higher around his camel hair clothing as the woolly man from out of the desert led Jesus into the Jordan River. Just before John immersed the Son of God beneath the flood that fed the Sea of Galilee, he protested. "I am the one who needs to be baptized by you, so why are you coming to me?" Jesus' responded without hesitation. "It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires." The Nazarene laid back into the arms of the Baptist, and the watery grave closed over him. Seconds later, Jesus, in symbolic fashion rose from the dead. Next, a phenomenon we can't fully picture took place--the often shy partner of the Trinity descended upon Jesus like a dove lighting in a tree, and the voice of the Father broke the silence, saying. "You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy."

But he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit...

Our obedience to follow the example set by our Savior is a symbolic expression. It is a public confession of an even greater baptism that preceded it at the moment of our salvation. Upon receiving the Gospel, Jesus baptized us. Immersed into the Spirit of God, we die to ourselves, become entirely new creations, and possessors of Divine life that conquers the power of sin and death. Into the eternity of eternity, God's voice will forever echo, "You are my dearly loved, and you bring me great joy!"


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Out of the Wild

This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. It began just as the prophet Isaiah had written: "Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way. He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the LORD'S coming! Clear the road for him!'" ~ The Gospel of Mark

John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament Prophets, was about as subtle as the lightning strikes and thunder claps that flash and bang just beyond the window of my study. John dressed like the crazies in the American Express commercials. He foraged for food among honey combs, and ate bugs--not exactly the persona of someone sent to warm-up the audience to receive a message of Good News. Try to imagine what images would come to our minds if this guy from out of the wild, blew into town, cupped his hands around his mouth, and started shouting, "Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am--so much greater that I'm not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of his sandals..."

Now I want to ask a question--"Have you experienced an uncommon, uncomfortable, unwelcome, and unpredictable event that may be a message to prepare you for an encounter with Jesus?"




Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Cry, Baby

O LORD, listen to my cry; give me the discerning mind you promised. Psalm 119:169

Our daughter, Meagan, was the nanny for the first year--of our first, and to this point, only grandchild, The Amazing Wyatt. As you might have already surmised, he is perfect. I love getting down on his level and playing with him, turning his spoon into an airplane to get him to eat, playing peek-a-boo with him, and just observing his fascination and curiosity with his toddler world.

Wyatt, though he is yet to speak English, is nonetheless bi-lingual--his languages are laughter and his tears. Meagan, and his mom and dad, are especially adept at decoding his heartbreaking cries. Sometimes his fussing says, "I'm hungry." Other times it says, "I'm tired." Or, "I'm not getting what I want, or need!" Finally, there is another, a frustrated wail, that says, "I'm not really sure what I want!" Because of their familiarity with Wyatt, they listen for a moment, decipher his sounds of baby sorrow, and then provide his true needs. Slowly, Wyatt is learning to communicate his desires in vowels and consonants, words and phrases, and understand the responses he receives. But that would never happen without my little guy being surrounded by those who can discern his infantile language of tears. Thankfully, he does have loving people who want to supply his needs, and they are teaching him how to verbalize his emotions into linguistic expressions.

As God's children, we mature along a similar learning curve--especially when we cry out to God in a language of tears that says, "I'm not really sure what I want, or need!" Know this, He is listening, and just as those who monitor Wyatt's world know what his cries are really expressing, so, too, God knows the cries of our hearts. Slowly, as we watch God's response to our cries, we learn to understand his language, discern His voice, and spiritually communicate with our heavenly Father.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Off-Track, On-Track, Back-Track


When I took a long, careful look at your ways, I got my feet back on the trail you blazed. I was up at once, didn't drag my feet, was quick to follow your orders. Psalm 119:59-60 ~ The Message

Saturday, August 10, 2013

InYourFace

My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life. ~ Psalm 119:50

Though the outward man perish, the inward man is renewed day after day. ~ The apostle Paul

Most of us use FaceBook as a kind of day-to-day highlight of the good things in our lives. Viewing someone else's life--captured in pictures of their perfect vacation and profile photos--can convince us that our adventure isn't quite as bright and sunny. Admission--I try to put a good face on things, too.

There is much more to our lives than perky status updates, is there not?  Do you sometimes want to curl your fingers over someone's "happy"FaceBook picture and pretend you are pinching their smiling little face?

Suffering is part of our lives. In fact, sometimes we go through stretches when hardship gets the lion's share of our existence. Not only do we have to bear the burden of our own suffering, but also share the burdens of those we love. Sheesh, sometimes we are burdened not wanting to be a burden! No wonder a Biblical sage summed up our sojourn this way, "Man's life is like the sparks that fly upward, full of trouble."

Where did David say he found comfort during suffering? In promises--promises that went beyond those pledged by flesh and blood. Like us, David had people in whom he put great trust and confidence. I think of Jonathan in particular, who, time after time, had David's back. Yet, as his suffering deepened, and his earthly safety nets disappeared, David dug deeper into the promises of God. David wanted to do more than just get through--he wanted to be comfortable. Comfortable with his Sovereign God that allowed his situation to occur. For us, finding comfort in suffering must take us down the same trail where we learn the same trust.

I don't want to sound like a Prophet of Gloom, but Jesus wept, and so will we. Life can be extremely difficult, and sometimes it is more like, InYourFace...than Facebook.






Thursday, August 8, 2013

Pushed to the Limit

I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free. ~ Psalm 119:32

For you are free, yet you are God's slaves, so don't use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. ~ 1Peter 2:16 

Two wheels, and a breeze! We love cycling! Pedaling along country roads with only the sounds of nature, and the wind shushing through our helmets brings with it a sense of freedom.

Me, I love flying down a long hill or ridge line. Once, I hit nearly sixty miles per hour down a mile-long hill in Greenfield, Maine. It was exhilarating--right up to the point when my front wheel started to shimmy. Fortunately, it all worked out. I stayed on my bike, in the saddle, on the paved highway, and got my aluminum and carbon-fiber rocket under control! The speed limit was forty five miles per hour for an automobile. Going nearly sixty on a bicycle was a bad idea--that seemed good at the time.

Conversely, David says he was able to live wide-open because he knew God's limits. Interesting, isn't it? It's the same for us. God puts limits on our lives, so that we can live with no limits! He gives us a specific lane to run, and says, "Give it all you got!"

We get it backwards sometimes, don't we. How many times have we chosen the wrong kind of adventure, because we think the right kind means no adventure at all? Through the Psalmist, God says to us in effect, "Don't worry, the path I have laid out for you won't bore you to death. I will expand your boundaries in ways you never could. You won't be playing it safe. No, My limits will push you to the limit! I dare you. Come, live your lives in a wild and sanctified freedom!"


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Self-Deception

What a tangled web we weave...
Keep me from Lying to myself; give me the privilege of knowing your instructions. ~ Psalms 119:29

"Actually," said Jace, "I prefer to think that I'm a liar in a way that's uniquely my own.” ~ Cassandra Clare, City of Ashes

When someone tells me they never lie that second quote comes to mind, and I think, "They have a unique way of telling the truth." Listen, we all lie. Every single one of us comes into this world speaking lies, and we will leave this world never having fully mastered the art of telling the truth.

C'mon, you know what I mean, and I will be gentle. Under the guise of being kind, unoffensive, polite, a peace maker, and not wanting to rock the boat, we lie. I will even go so far as to say that as we read these words, and silently push back against them, we only prove the Psalmist's point precisely... Keep me from lying to myself. 

David knew all about lying. Yes, the Apple of God's eye was also an expert at lying. David told little lies. David told outright whoppers. At its root, every lie is self-deception, and we are all guilty.

It is quite obvious what must happen for us becoming truthful people, and David states it with profound simplicity. He says in effect, "God, Your instructions are absolute truth, and if I don't know Your truth, I will build my life on a set of lies." The Psalmist stated that Truth is objective--meaning it actually exists, and God is the source of it. God's Truth is not subjective, meaning, "Truth is only truth if it is truth to me." No, that's how you begin lying to yourself--not to mention to others.

Self-deception can be overcome. How? By continually prevailing upon God in humble honesty. Like David, we confess that we need Divine help, because without it we cannot be honest about our human condition. We must enter His presence seeking the specific privilege (grace) of knowing the source of Truth, and be straight up with God, asking--teach me Your truth, and start with the truth about me!




Monday, August 5, 2013

After The Dust Settles

The lone oak stood firm against the fury of the tornado
I lie in the dust; revive me by your word. I told you my plans, and you answered. Now teach me your decrees. Help me understand the meaning of your commandments, and I will meditate on your wonderful deeds. Psalm 119: 25

Unless you have tried to accomplish absolutely nothing, you can relate to the Psalmist's words. I will take it another step further and say, If you are a person of Faith you have attempted the impossible, because you believed that with God all things are possible. Then, your dream died, and you awoke in a bed of dust. I know I have.

I had just returned from China extremely disappointed that our long-held dream, of a longterm stay, on a spiritual frontier--a plan I was sure God had given me, wasn't exactly what God had in mind for Sandy and me. One weekday morning we took to the Pine Mountain Trail to hike, clear our hearts and heads, and try to figure out what God did say. At Pine Mountain, we stepped into the shade of one of the trails and began a three mile trek. It had been at least five years since we had been in the area.

Walking the trail that rose and fell and traversed the side of the mountain, we talked and were enjoying our reunion with this gift of nature. It was refreshing. Now, imagine the shock when we came around the edge of a ridge and saw the destruction of a tornado that had shredded trees into splinters, left jagged stumps, cross-piled timber, and stripped the landscape bare. This was not at all what we expected on our little soul quest. Standing at the top of the gorge, I looked out over the destruction. What little vigor was left in me trickled out through the dusty soles of my hiking boots.

Revive me...

There are definitely situations that boost our spirit. You know, a good nap, an unexpected kindness, reconnecting with an old friend, a romantic evening, a good song. However, as we follow God--get that--follow God, we are talking about an entirely different adventure. So, mark it down, situations will arise that will require more than a "boost." It happens to every sojourner. Somewhere along the road you will either miss a word from God, misinterpret a word from Him, forget that you have not heard all He has to say regarding a matter, and our plans unravel. Continuing to listen cannot be overstated. God alone, can speak revival into those kinds of situation. It's more like a spiritual resuscitation.

Now, several months removed from the disappointment of leaving Asia, we can see that all we had planned was not all that God had planned. Was it all for nought? Of course not. Do we have all the pieces in place yet? No, but we are still standing, still learning, and God is still teaching. Much of the dust has settled, and thank God, we are not laying in it!


Allied or Abandoned? (part 2)


My life is an example to many, because you have been my strength and protection...and now, in my old age, don't set me aside. Don't abandon me when my strength is failing...Now that I am old and gray, do not abandon me, O God. Let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your mighty miracles to all who come after me. Psalm 71:7, 9, 18


Transparency allows us to own up to the same spiritual struggle the Psalmist wrestled with--he repeatedly turned his pleas heavenward asking God to never abandon him. At times we will do the same. Why? Because we have experienced being used, and then set aside when people have gotten what they wanted. Also, we have been guilty of the very same thing--abandoning someone when we could no longer exploit them for our own selfish designs. Logic tells us, "What goes around, comes around."

Not so with God. He is an ally of the abandoned, and never abandons an ally.

So, what do we do? We guard our hearts, remember that God is not like us, reject the possibility that God would capriciously use us, and then callously toss us aside. Remember, God doesn't need anything. He sought us out and invited us into His eternal adventure. We can lean on his ever-sufficient grace to cover us.

Astounded by His steadfastness, not ours, we live with the anticipation that every generation gets to see the houselights dimmed, and God put on stage. With humility, we enter His presence and declare, O God. Let me proclaim Your power to this new generation... 

He does! 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Ally of the Aging

Let me proclaim your power to this new generation...
My life is an example to many, because you have been my strength and protection...and now, in my old age, don't set me aside. Don't abandon me when my strength is failing...Now that I am old and gray, do not abandon me, O God. Let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your mighty miracles to all who come after me. Psalm 71:7, 9, 18

In just a few months I will have completed my fifty eighth trip around the sun. Were I to die before that happens, people would say I died young. Yet, I am no longer a young man. Although I cycle, kayak, hike, and love physical activity, the signs of aging are present. I am not as physically strong as I once was, I have aches and pains in places I didn't even know existed just a few years ago. My hair is gray--actually, my hair is nearly neon white!

But as we follow God, our years become our ally. Our soul becomes older, wiser, and spiritually stronger. The longer we live the more new experiences are ours. We even get the opportunity for a few do-overs---to make right some things we have done wrong.

Processing the journey is important, because it is filled with rich examples of God's extravagant grace, love, and kindness. This resume isn't about our accomplishments. Instead, it is a record of great God-stories. As important as processing is, so is communicating our adventures. There is nothing narcissistic about telling our stories. God's rescue, emboldening, protection, healing, and generosity in pouring His eternal life into our vessels of clay needs to be shared. Opportunities to put the spotlight on God's glory are endless.


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Muscadine Grapes and Purity

Our small arbor of muscadine grapes.
How can a young person stay pure? By obeying your word. Psalm 119:9

You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.  John 15:3-4

The purity that the Psalmist speaks of is seen in the words spoken by Jesus. Jesus' message, the Gospel, is a living, transforming message. It not only cleanses the soul, but goes about the process of pruning away the dead remains of our old life. According to Jesus, those evidences actually define us. They determine whether the message has taken root in our lives.

Just as the grapes growing in our small arbor cling to their vines to sustain life, so, too, Jesus is our vine that carries spiritual life to us, the branches. Staying pure means that Christ, the Living Word, IS the life of God that starts invisibly upon salvation, but evidence its life in us visibly.


The message of the written Word is not an aside, but remains essential to maintaining a pure spiritual life. Jesus said, you are purified by the message I have given you...

Friday, August 2, 2013

From Start to Finish



Please don't give up on me! Psalm 119:8

We love him, because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19








More painful than someone giving up on you,
Is never having someone believe in you.

He doesn't give up on us,
even when we give up on him.

He loved us,
before we loved him.

He believed in you,
before you believed in him.