Our New Home

Our New Home
I love all the summer greenery around our home!

Friday, January 31, 2014

True Friendship


Who am I that You are mindful of me
 That You hear me when I call
 Is it true that You are thinking of me
 How You love me it's amazing
 

(Chorus)
 I am a friend of God
 I am a friend of God
 I am a friend of God
 He calls me friend
 

God Almighty, Lord of Glory
 You have called me friend
 

(Repeat Chorus)
 

He calls me friend
 He calls me friend... ("I Am A Friend of God" by Israel Houghton)
 

I was immediately drawn back to the incredible statement Jesus made in John 15:15 this morning when I turned on my computer bible study program.  Here He clearly tells us that “I have called you friends.” (KJV)  Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible gives a more descriptive rendition of what Jesus wanted to convey to us by saying: “I have admitted you into a state of the most intimate fellowship with myself…”
Jesus was telling us that He desires our friendship with Him to be more than just a casual relationship.  I am sure that we all have people who we call friends, but don’t really spend much time with except for whatever the common thread is that drew us together be it work, the stores we shop in, the neighborhood we live in, or even at our church.  I was always a little miffed when I left one job I had after a 20 year stint with the company (downsizing!) and tried to contact one individual with whom I thought we had developed a close friendship as we worked together daily, had lunch together, attended company activities and had formed a good working relationship with.  After many attempts I finally was able to catch him at home but it was clear that he was not comfortable keeping the relationship going outside of the workplace. 
Yesterday I mentioned my hard lessons about true friendship that I have learned over the last few years.  I had openly shared some information concerning our finances and about some other decisions we felt the Lord was leading us in with certain family members.  As it turned out, this information was not held in confidence and came back to bite us as information was misconstrued to our children and other individuals who I would have preferred to not have known such information (even though what they were hearing was far from the truth!).
That’s clearly not the relationship that Jesus is telling us that He wants to have with us!  A true friend is someone you can feel free and safe to tell in the strictest of confidence without any thought of reprisal, judgment or retribution.  It is the type of close relationship where you expect to receive comfort, understanding, and encouragement.  You may not always agree with the other’s choices, but you still love and support them anyway!
It’s like the description of God’s agape love found in I Corinthians 13:4-8.  This is the one portion of scripture that I always like to read and explain to couples when we meet for the pre-marriage meetings when I have the honor of officiating at their weddings.  Another great scripture to understand is found in the Song of Solomon 5:16 when the spouse of the bridegroom tells of her husband’s good qualities and concludes by declaring “This is my beloved, and this is my friend…” (KJV)  She was stating that their relationship was not just built on physical feelings but was intertwined and bound with the oneness of an intimate, loving, and deep friendship.
I can attest to the truth of this statement in my relationship with my wife.  I have had many friends over the years, but none have I felt as free, confident and trusting enough to share EVERYTHING with as I have with my wife from practically the beginning of our relationship!  And that’s what Jesus is describing when He says that “I have called you friends!”
He further defined what He meant when He continued His thought adding “because I’ve made known to you EVERYTHING that I have heard from my father.” (John 15:15 God’s Word ©)  The word “known” in this verse is a derivative of the word “ginosko” which as used in Ephesians 3:19 in talking about intimately knowing the love of Christ, is the idiom that was the Jewish term used for sexual intercourse between a husband and wife.  In other words, it describes the very close, intimate relationship between two individuals as can be known only to a husband and wife who deeply love and respect each other.
That’s the kind of relationship, or friendship, which Jesus wants to enjoy with us!  You’ll notice also, that Jesus says that He shares EVERYTHING that He has heard from His Father with us!  Jesus loves and trusts us so much that He holds nothing back from us, and desires that we do the same with Him. 
So I would encourage you this weekend to think about your friendships with others, and especially your friendship with Jesus.  Do you feel that your relationship with Him is as close, as trusting and as loving as He wants it to be?  A relationship of that magnitude can only grow and get better and better as time goes on!  Have a great weekend.  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What kind of friendship am I expecting to have with Him today?”

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Friendship


In the Spring of 2006 I was asked if I could lead a chapel service at the largest Christian School in our home town.  This was special for me as we were leaving for Oklahoma within a few months’ time and it would probably be the last chapel service that we would do for a while.
In the years previous to this occasion, I had been asked by another Christian School that our oldest daughter worked at, if I could come and put on a presentation with our puppets and live singing.  So I put together a small team of puppeteers I’d trained and worked with a friend who custom built us a portable puppet stage and with our Senior Pastor (who just happened to be a journeyman cabinet maker) who built a complete portable sound center for our use. 
Since that initial outreach, our program became a 3-4 times a year regular at the first Christian School for chapel services and special occasions.  We also held programs at other schools in the area as well as a couple of times at a city sponsored Family Fun Night at one of the shopping malls in town.
For each service I would individually write a program based on a central Biblical theme that incorporated group singing led by my wife and daughters and myself.  This was always the funniest part of our presentation as the students (and teachers) weren’t always used to the loud Christian rock ‘n roll and very active hand and body motions we would encourage them to perform with us!  Without fail, we would always have one (bossy) teacher go up to our sound person and implore them to turn it down!
You have to understand that I have always been one to believe that the volume helps the kids to release their inhibitions and strengthen the anointing in the room.  And while it was not blaring loud, is was NOT what some of the adults were used to!  To be honest, I finally got to the point that I simple instructed our sound people to acknowledge the teacher, and just pretend that they were turning it down… (Okay… so I was a little sneaky… but they walked away happy and the kids had a blast while receiving a great message of truth put forth in a way that captured their full attention and was presented in such a way that they understood!)
We had an additional treat in store for the students at this last Chapel Service.  Since we were about to move out of state, our new Pastor had hired another Pastor to take our place with the Children’s ministry at the church.  Well, Pastor Pat was not only an accomplished Children’s leader but also a gymnastics instructor!  So along with the singing, funny conversations with our puppets, and object lessons, Pat and I did an interactive lesson that began with him bursting through the doors of the church sanctuary and doing full-body flips down the aisle!
I was also excited as I was going to get to introduce a new song to the students.  Over the years I had accumulated many sound tracks of Christian Kid’s Rock ‘n Roll songs that we used for Children’s Church and the outreaches we did.  As time passed these music-only tracks were getting harder and harder to find.  I had finally found another source and was looking forward to leading the kids in an up-beat, fast, kid friendly version of “I am a friend of God.”  Each of these song presentations took quite a while to develop as I had to figure out simple hand and body movements that the kids would enjoy, train our song cheerleaders who the kids would follow, and then hardest of all… memorize the song myself as I led the singing part!
Our last Chapel Service at this large school was a big success!  I was more than a little disappointed though, because afterwards I felt like my new song presentation of “I am a Friend of God” didn’t really go as well as I had planned!  It turns out that it was actually too long and the kids began to poop out with all the motions they were making!  Most likely, the kids never knew it because the whole program was built on quick timing and a seamless flow between the various parts of the presentation.  But, I knew and determined to make the great rendition of this song work for the next chapel service!
Well, there hasn’t been a next service since that last one in 2006!  When we returned to our home town after three years, we were again asked to present a program for the original school, but since we were right in the midst of dealing with my wife’s health concerns and I didn’t have the same trained puppeteers and song leaders as before (they all grew up!), I had to decline the offer.
Today, as I continued to study the Word concerning how amazing our God is, I had a fleeting thought of that last service when I began to concentrate on the amazing reality that Jesus Himself calls you and me His friends!  In John 15:15 Jesus is recorded as telling His disciples that: “I don’t call you servants anymore, because a servant doesn’t know what his master is doing.  But I’ve called YOU friends because I’ve made known to YOU everything that I’ve heard from my father.” (God’s Word ©)
Vincent’s Word Studies tells us that “the position of the pronoun (YOU) in the Greek is emphatic.”  In other words – You and I – are the part of His statement that is to be emphasized!  WOW!  Think on that for a while… Jesus is personally calling YOU His friend!  Proverbs 18:24 declares that “a true friend is closer than your own family.”  And Jesus is that true friend to YOU and me!  Again I’ll say, WOW!
There have been numerous times over the last few years when I have felt alone in standing in faith for my wife’s total and complete healing, but the Lord’s gentle loving presence ALWAYS intervenes and lets me know that He is my friend as I hear His words from Joshua 1:5 lovingly whispering to my heart saying that He will never neglect me or abandon me.
Don’t ever allow yourself to get to the point where you can’t hear Him reminding you of His faithful and loving friendship with you.  The noise of this world and the situations of of our daily lives may get a little loud at times, but it’s simply telling us to sing out His praise just a little bit louder and KNOW that He is YOUR friend and will ALWAYS be there for you!  Have a good day!  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What am I expecting today?”

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Amazing!


Over the years in ministry, I have always sought out what I thought to be the most relevant curriculums available for our children and youth students.  Many times I took the time to write my own lessons as I felt that most of the products on the market would not catch the attention of the students in our church, due to the somewhat unique environment we live in within California and the North Bay Area to be more specific.
In the mid-1990’s though, I felt that I had found Nirvana with the introduction of Willie George Ministries newly upgraded Children’s curriculum which combined live Praise and Worship with video drama segments, puppet skits, a terrific, Word-filled interactive teaching and object lessons.  We built a two story puppet stage in our Children’s Activity Center and developed a ministry theme that excited our young participants as well as the entire church family!  During that fun period of time I enjoyed writing and directing All-Church programs that intertwined our Children’s Ministry’s musical themes with our puppet characters and adult actors.  Like the time we used our biggest church ushers to act as bodyguards escorting our ex-mafia-now-saved puppet Godfather through the audience into the puppet stage!
In one particular episode of Willie George’s children’s video series “The Gospel Bill Show” (Later upgraded to “Bill Gunter-US Marshal” and then renamed “The Cimarron Strip” when it was shown in select markets on national TV) one of the characters named Elmer Barnes excitedly replies to his friend Nicodemus when Nic gave him some ridiculous advice on how to keep his pet worms warm saying “Nicodemus, you’re amazing!”*
That video clip jumped into my consciousness this morning as I was doing a word study on the term “fear” from Proverbs 3:7.  The King James Version tells us to “Fear the Lord, and depart from evil.”  I believe the meaning of this word when associated with our relationship to our loving heavenly Father is not meant to be one of fright, but instead of reverential awe and respect.  It was one of Thayer’s definitions of the Greek word for “fear” in this verse that sent me down memory lane though!  He stated that it is like “those struck with amazement.”
That jumped started my thoughts about where I am in my personal relationship with Jesus.  I had to stop right then and there at my desk and honestly ask myself if I was still “AMAZED” by God in my daily life. As I fast-forwarded though my recent activities, I could see places where I still experienced the awesomeness of God and then other areas where He had sort of taken a back seat! 
As I mentioned earlier this month, my wife and I are currently in a place where we are making some significant changes in our lives.  What I realized this morning is that even though it was the Lord who has been directing us to do it, I was beginning to put more stock in the natural side of things as it makes good sense emotionally, physically and financially to go forward with the changes.  That’s not to say that we shouldn’t do things because they make good sense, but to always keep THE DIRECTOR in focus first and foremost over the natural wisdom of the actions.  I saw today, that as I focused strictly on the natural means, I was beginning to lose the excitement and zeal that had accompanied God’s original command to “Go!”
When I adjusted my focus back on how amazing He is, the former excitement returned!  In the past, many times His Word was all we had to go on as we followed His directions, so we were forced to keep our eyes solely on Him.  This time around though, many of the physical attributes of His plan are visibly in motion and I was reminded that I still needed to keep my eyes on Him!
So let me ask you today… Is He still AMAZING to you?  Are you as excited about Him and the plans and purposes He has for you as when He first began to show you what He has in store for you?  Does your heart skip a beat when you think on Him and His Word?  If not, then it’s probably time for some rearranging!  Knowing Him as AMAZING is an EXCITING place to be!  Have a great day.  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What AMAZING THINGS am I expecting today?”

Willie George Children's Ministry products are available at The Church on the Move website: http://store.churchonthemove.com/collections/kids-on-the-move-curriculum

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Camping!


There is a line in the 2005 movie Sahara where Matthew McConaughey’s character, Dirk Pitt, from the bestselling Clive Cussler adventure novels, is telling the heroin of the story as they are riding in a fast boat up the Niger river, that the best things in his life have always happened in the water.  For me, many of the best memories of my life come from my experiences camping with my family as a child growing up, with family friends, cousins, my wife and then with our four children.
I went camping in the Redwoods with a good friend just days before I proposed to my wife.  We started out our marriage camping during the last few days of our honeymoon and we spent our last vacation alone together enjoying a wonderful week up in the Sierra’s camping before the symptoms of dementia began to become pronounced in her over the next few years.
Well, today as I continued my study in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, I discovered why I have had this love for the great outdoors… It would seem that Jesus also likes to camp!  The last part of verse nine says “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (KJV)  According to Strong’s the literal meaning of “rest” is “to tent upon.”  In other words, it is like going camping together with Jesus!  Now, before you start shaking your head, just think about it for a minute… When Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus and the three Apostles after His transfiguration, what was Peter’s first reaction?  He wanted to camp out with them!  He was thinking about setting up three tents so they could fellowship around the campfire, have S’mores, go hiking and fishing with the guys and savor the hot coffee perking over an open fire in the early morning!
He desired to have some quiet, undisturbed and special time with Jesus and the two Old Testaments hero’s of his faith!  What better place than in the solitude of the mountains away from the pressures of life.  Okay, okay!  So maybe this wasn’t the Apostle Paul’s exact thoughts when he talked about Jesus’ abiding with us in the midst of our weaknesses, but it definitely proves a point!
He was saying that our times of weakness can allow Jesus’ strength and ability to rise up in us so that we can successfully go through the hard times in life.  Our vulnerable times, when yielded to Him, can have the same effect as a week camping in the mountains has on me!  Those trips allowed me the ability to get away from the busyness and stress of life and get physically and spiritually renewed to face whatever would come against me in the months that followed that vacation.
God’s Word is telling us that Jesus wants to camp with or in us 24/7, throughout all the trials and tribulations that we face.  He wants us to encounter His strength, His peace and His ability in the midst of the situations we deal with on a daily basis!  Sometimes those adverse times are quick and relatively easy, while others may seem to last for years.  But no matter their duration, He wants us to know that He has set up camp with us and is looking forward to fellowshipping with us around the campfire.  All we need to do is to recognize this fact and decide to yield our time and troubles to Him.
I have a cousin who lost a son in a random shooting at a party seven years ago.  She wrote last night in Facebook that it was her faith that has gotten her through this journey.  She stated that her faith has been critical in helping her survive some of “the most searing emotional pain imaginable.”  It was that abiding with Jesus through an intimate relationship with Him along with the loving words and actions of family and friends that gave her the strength to rise above the circumstances.  In her weakest times He became strong for her!  Her example is one for all of us to follow after!
So, I encourage you to set up a tent for Him in your heart today… right now!  Make the time to fellowship with Him around the campfire on a regular daily basis.  Believe me, it is the ONLY way that you’ll make it through the hard times in this life!  Have a great day.  Stay in tune to His Word and keep asking yourself… “What am I expecting today?”

Monday, January 27, 2014

Decide!


“I have decided to follow Jesus;
     I have decided to follow Jesus;
     I have decided to follow Jesus;
    No turning back, no turning back.

 
  The cross before me, the world behind me;
  The cross before me, the world behind me;
  The cross before me, the world behind me;
  No turning back, no turning back.” * 
 

While I was studying from the book of Proverbs over the weekend and again this morning, I kept hearing the Lord telling me to “Always be aware of our positions.  Keep our positions in the correct order.” 
Proverbs 3:5-6 in the Message Bible instructs us to:
“Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
 don’t try to figure out everything on your own.   
 Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
 he’s the one who will keep you on track.”
 

Throughout the writing of the various blog posts last week, I was continually reminded of the things that had been said and done against me and my wife over the last four years as we have faced the battle for her health.  On Saturday I suddenly thought about St Paul’s words when he was under some of the worst persecutions he had endured.  In 2 Corinthians 12:9 he stated that in the midst of his anguish and prayers over the situation “the Lord said, ‘My grace is all you need.  Only when you are weak can everything be done completely by my power.’  Then he went on to say, “So I will gladly boast about my weaknesses.  Then Christ’s power can stay in me.” (Easy-to- Read Version)
As I meditated on Paul’s words, I could fully appreciate and understand where he was coming from!  Then I realized that the persecution that we had endured acted as a catalyst to knock the me down enough so that Christ in me could rise to the top!  It is almost like I should thank the people for their accusations as it worked out for my good!  This experience made me make sure that I was in the right position with Jesus.  Him in the front, and me behind, intently listening and watching His every word and move!  Many of the things that were said were so outrageous that I couldn’t possibly figure it out on my own.  All I could do was to listen for His voice in the things we needed to do, and in the places we needed to go.  And I am so thankful that He has kept us on the right track!
When I found myself under attack and was bewildered and weak, He became and continues to be my strength.  We had made a decision early on that we were going to follow Jesus and that there was to be no turning back!  Well, we got tested, hung in there and He proved, once again, to be faithful and true to His loving and redeeming word!
So through my personal experience, I can concur completely with the Apostle Paul when he declared “So if Christ keeps giving me his power, I will gladly brag about how weak I am.” (Contemporary English Version)  Hummmm… works for me.  How about you?  Have a wonderful week.  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What am I expecting today?”

 PS:  You can click on one of the videos in the sidebar and sing along with them... and make the same decision we have!

 

*Attributed to: Sundar Singh / Folk melody from India / Public Domain

Friday, January 24, 2014

Be Prepared!


I came across another translation of 2 Corinthians 10:3 that got me to laughing this morning!  I am not sure why, but as I read from Weymouth’s 1912 version of the New Testament, I took it as almost a sarcastic statement!  It was like I was picturing a standup comedian raising his eyebrows and making a comment saying: “For though we are still living in the world, it is NO worldly warfare that we are waging.”
And with that I immediately thought about a sermon I heard on Wednesday evening where the Pastor was explaining King Nebuchadnezzar’s reaction to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s stand of faith when they refused to follow the King's command to fall down and worship his statue… like everyone else did.  What they did was certainly NOT the way he expected them to respond when he threatened them with a painful death in a fiery furnace.
The story goes on to say that the king went completely ballistic at their stand of faith and made some quick decisions without considering the consequences.  He commanded that the furnace be heated up seven times hotter than normal and then directed his strongest soldiers to tie up the three Hebrew men and toss them into it.  What he didn’t foresee is that the extra heat would instantly kill off some of the best men under his command.  This is a perfect example of the “loose cannon” that we talked about earlier in the week!  His lack of control caused destruction within his own forces.  The interesting part is that it DIDN’T harm the young men who had NOT responded according to the world, but according to the standards dictated by their faith in God.  He did not like it when the Hebrew’s didn’t agree with him.  In fact it probably frightened him because it was so different than what was expected!  He thought it was a good idea and when they did something contrary to what he thought was right he got down right angry!
Verses 24 and 25 then record the king’s reaction when he calms down enough to notice what happened to the Hebrews.  In today’s lingo you would say that he “FREAKED OUT!”  It says that “Suddenly, the king jumped up and shouted, ‘Weren’t only three men tied up and thrown into the fire?’”… but, but, “but I see four men walking around in the fire,” and “none of them is tied up or harmed, and the fourth one looks like a God!’”  (Contemporary English Version) 
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s response certainly got the king’s attention!  But while this story has a good ending, the same cannot always be said for the reactions of those around us when we don’t act like everyone may expect us to.  Don’t get me wrong… down the line, eventually, the Lord will bless and honor you because of your stand of faith, but it may not always be through the ones who stood against you!
A good motto for us to follow would be that of the Boy Scouts of America who are taught to always “Be Prepared!”  In your daily Christian walk, it is a good idea to always “Be Prepared” to not have the people around you always respond favorably to the Godly standards that you have chosen to follow.  In my case a few years ago, I WAS NOT prepared for the barrage that came against me and it shook me to the core!
Romans 8:5 says in S. Way’s “The Letters of St Paul to Seven Churches and three Friends with the Letter to the Hebrews” that “Men whom the animal nature sways have animal tendencies: men whom the spiritual nature sways have spiritual tendencies.”  I have painfully found this to not only be true in those who are not Born Again, but also in Christians who have not yet yielded certain areas of their lives over to the Lord.  The God’s Word translation calls it our “attitude” whether it is led by our worldly desires or spiritual insights.
I have come to learn that as I am aware of the possibility of these negative reactions while following what I believe are the leadings of the Spirit for my wife and I, that I am able to respond more lovingly, more patiently and more understandably when they are repeated.  I also believe that it has strengthened my faith and my resolve to have my attitude guided by the faithful wisdom of my heavenly Father!
What do you think about that?  Are you lovingly and patiently prepared to take a barrage of negative words and actions when you step out with God?  If not, then I suggest that you get into the Word so much so that you come to the place where NOTHING will sway you from what it says about your situation!  Have a great weekend.  Stay in tune to His Word and keep asking yourself… “What am I expecting today?”

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Fight!


2 Corinthians 10:3 in the King James Version tells us “for though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh.”  The God’s Word translation comments on our humanness, but then declares “but we don’t fight like humans.”  It would seem that although we live in this world, we are being told that in order to be a successful Christian in it, we are to fight with different tactics than the world prescribes to.
So how then, do we fight the battles that we regularly face?  Well, the answer is found a couple of verses later in 2 Corinthians 10:5.  Here Paul explains that we are to “take every thought captive so that it is obedient to Christ.” (God’s Word ©)  S. Way makes the declaration that “I (or we) can make each rebel purpose my (our) prisoner-of-war, and bow it into submission to Messiah.”  I think J.B. Phillips’ paraphrase “The New Testament in Modern English” defines it even better by stating “We even fight to capture every thought UNTIL it acknowledges the authority of Christ.”
In plain English, the author is telling us that it takes diligence and effort to stay with it until the negative thought is removed and/or taken into submission to the authority of Christ and His Word.  Just like a Pastor I once worked with told me about the ministry saying that “Ministry is spelled W-O-R-K!”  The same could be said about our walk of faith!  It takes perseverance and W-O-R-K!  I came across a plaque of my wife’s that one of her students had given her back in the early days of our marriage when she taught at a Christian Pre-School.  It simply says: “Faith makes things possible… not easy!”
There is a lot of truth and a lot of power behind that elementary statement!  The thought that popped into my mind as I was meditating on this subject this morning was that “Perseverance pays!”  Anytime a negative thought that goes against the truth of God and His Word flashes across your mind, take the time to STOP its progress within you by counteracting it with scriptures that tell God’s side of the story in the battle that you are in the midst of!  And keep pouring on God’s truth until you make that other thought bow its head in submission to God’s point of view!  The negative reasoning will starve from lack of attention or nourishment when you refuse to even consider it.
I had the opportunity to practice this lesson just a few nights ago as I prepared dinner for my wife and I.  As I puttered around the kitchen, I took a moment to go over and kneel down in front of my wife who I had wheeled into the kitchen area so she could watch what I was doing.  I looked deep into her eyes and said a few funny but endearing things and waited for the response… that never came.  On that particular night she had a faraway look in her eyes and they were void of the sparkle that always encouraged and drew me to her.  So, I gave her a little peck on the cheek and returned to the kitchen counter.
When I looked up from the counter my eyes fell upon a picture of the two of us that I had taped to the kitchen cabinets. It was a shot of us embracing in our backyard from the late 1990’s.  At the time the picture was taken, I was preparing for an upcoming wedding shoot that I had.  I was planning on using my older Canon F-1 as my secondary camera but had to make some adjustments as the light meter was off by a few stops.  So this roll of film was a test roll to see how I needed to change the automatic settings.  There was really nothing special about the picture as my wife was dressed in her normal mid-summer outfit of blue jeans and a cotton long sleeve shirt over a T-shirt that probably advertised one of the State Parks that we liked to camp at.  I had on another vacation purchased T-shirt and my customary shorts!
The photo was slightly under-exposed so it really accentuated my wife’s freckles.  I guess the thing that got to me though, was that she was holding me with a big smile on her face.  When I looked at the picture that night, I gave into a flood of emotions that were bottled up inside of me and gasped aloud: “God, I miss you!”  I think what I miss the most with the fight we are fighting for my wife’s health as we stand against the effects of Alzheimer’s, is her touch and regular reassurances to me.  Other people can encourage me and even give me a hug, but NOTHING compares to her embrace.  My whole world could be going up in smoke but one word and her close embrace would instantly bring peace and comfort beyond words!
After I uttered those words, my mind was suddenly filled with all kinds of disparaging thoughts of what it would be like without her.  But once again, I am so thankful for the Word that we have been pouring into our hearts over the last few years.  I instantly saw the folly of my ways and IMMEDIATELY began to replace the thoughts that were contrary to the Word of healing that we are standing on.  I breathed in deeply, put down the knife I was using and went over to the table where my Bible was and began to fight back with the Word of God!  And within a few minutes the smoke from the attack had cleared and even my wife began to smile at the emotional and spiritual change that had taken place in our hearts as well as in our kitchen!
When I went back to the chopping block and looked again at the photo, I could only smile knowing that we will experience many more opportunities to embrace and share a healthy, holy and profitable for-the-kingdom-of-God life together again!
Now that’s the “good fight of faith” (I Timothy 6:12) that we are told to fight, and we do it by taking the time to “capture every thought UNTIL it acknowledges the authority of Christ.”  Remember in the midst of this fight, that the biblical definition of faith explains how “Faith assures us of (the) things we expect and convinces us of the existence of things we cannot (yet) see.”  The key is that we WILL eventually see the thing that we are expecting, if its based on the truth and faithfulness of God’s Word.  All we have to do to keep that hope strong is to keep God’s final word on the subject ever-present before us!
Have a strong-in-the-Lord day today!  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What am I expecting today?”

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

We Reserve the Right To Refuse Service...


Have you ever seen those signs posted near the entrance to a store or restaurant that state: “We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to Anyone”  I know that they have caught my eye in the past, but to be honest, in our current legal atmosphere those signs really do not carry much clout!  Challenges to the owner’s rights to refuse service to certain types of individuals have rendered that sign’s effectiveness to just a few rigid circumstances.
A peek at an article about this subject on the web site LegalMatch.com tells us that those situations would be limited to such times, for example, when the customer threatens to harm employees or other patrons, or that their presence might create an issue of safety or health hazards.  There are a couple of other situations, but these two seemed to pertain to some thoughts I had concerning our look at the subject of taking thoughts captive to the obedience of God’s Word. (II Corinthians 10:3-5)
One of the best ways to fight the temptation to say or do things that come up in our minds that are contrary to God’s ways is simply to stay away from those places, situations or people who might encourage such thoughts.  In a previous letter to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul talked about this when he wrote: “…my dear friends, get as far away from the worship of false god’s as you can!” (I Corinthians 10:14 God’s Word ©)
In essence he was telling them to “Reserve the right to refuse service to these temptations” because of the harm they could cause us.  Another way to put it would be to say, “Don’t give any service or attention to those desires, thoughts or feelings.”
When my wife and I were watching a recorded program on the TV the other night, we found ourselves observing a commercial for a popular reality TV show.  In the clip the hostess of the show was shown yelling very critically at one of the contestants.  Since just about everything we watch is recorded, I immediately grabbed the remote and fast forwarded through it and all the other commercials until our show resumed.  Then I turned to my wife and incredibly asked her how audiences could actually enjoy watching people rudely demeaning each other!  But with the popularity of these types of shows, it is obvious that this is an activity that is popular in today’s culture.
When one looks at our media today, it becomes obvious that the enemy of our souls is using it to dull the senses of the audiences to the incorrectness of certain moral issues, honorable social interactions, and the rudimental issues of kindness toward others.  Another area that is getting widespread attention is in turning the activities of occultist events from the domain of evil to being social accepted!
All of these things tend to take away our allegiance to God and place them within the definition of idolatry.  The Apostle Paul makes it clear that we should stay away from such things!  For the last two days I talked about individuals who could be considered “loose cannons” due to their carelessness with the words they speak.  My experiences over the last few years showed me the down side of staying in regular contact with the people who continually spoke this way around us.  I suddenly found myself having to deal head-on with personal feelings of anger, revenge and unforgiveness!  It was especially difficult as I really thought that I was beyond all of that stuff in my Christian walk.  It is amazing to see what gets stirred up when you are continually faced with certain things that are not healthy for you!
The Lord finally made it clear to me (or probably it is better said that I finally heard and obeyed what the Lord had been trying to tell me) to distance myself from these individuals.  This was difficult though because we had been very close to these people through the years and respected them.  They were part of the reason we returned home after our school time in Oklahoma instead of going out into the ministry in another city in California.  After a little over a year now, it is obvious that it was a good decision as our relationships with them have improved and are becoming health again for my wife and I.
This morning the Lord spoke to my heart and told me that “regular contact breeds familiarity and causes the offending individuals to feel free to take certain liberties with you.”  It not only fed their fires but it caused me to constantly feel angry, frustrated and very confused.  It also was becoming too easy for me to want to talk trash about them because I began to give into the lie that I had the right to dish back to them what was being forced upon me!  So Paul’s advice to stay away, or in our case to limit our time with them, was accurate.
So what’s my point here?  Am I proposing that you just cut yourself off from the world and from those in your family or friends that cause you problems?  No, I am suggesting that you simply be aware of where or with whom you spend your time, with what you allow into your head, and with how you are responding to those things.  Sometimes it is best to make a point to limit your exposure to those items.  There are some people and things that we have to touch in our lives, but it doesn’t mean that we have to move in with them!  It is best that we spend the quality time in our lives with those people or things that build us up and keep us focused on the things of God.
Have a great Wednesday!  Stay in tune to His Word and keep asking yourself… What am I expecting today?”

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

In What Direction Do Your Standard’s Go… ▲▼?


Dictionary.com defines the term “loose cannon” as “a person whose reckless behavior endangers the efforts or welfare of others.”  Wiktionary describes it as “An uncontrolled or unpredictable person who causes damage to their faction, political party, etc…”  In all my years in management positions in the secular world as well as being on the staff at multiple churches, I have had firsthand experience in working with these types of individuals… and in attempting to clean up the messes they have left in their wakes!
It is interesting to me that the Wiktionary definition gets very specific in saying that these individuals words and actions cause damage to their own associations, be it a work group, a family, a church fellowship or any other social circle which they are a part of.  In my case, it affected the family unit, and the frustrating part to me is that I do not believe that the individuals involved have any inkling of what their words and actions did!  It can be likened to an army that moves through a once beautiful city with their weapons blazing away and never look back to see what damage they’ve left behind!
And while this behavior can be somewhat expected in the world without Jesus, it can come as a rude awakening in a dedicated Christian’s lifestyle.  2 Corinthians 10:3-5 in the God’s Word translation puts it this way: “Of course we are human, but we don’t fight like humans.  The weapons we use in our fight are not made by humans.  Rather they are powerful weapons from God.  With them we destroy people’s defenses, that is, their arguments and all their intellectual arrogance that oppose the knowledge of God.”
The King James Version says that our weapons “are not carnal” meaning that they are not to be “under the control of the animal appetites.” (Thayer’s)  It also puts it that “we do not war after the flesh.”  Once again, according to Thayer’s Greek Definitions, this implies that this reaction would be a step down.  In other words the Apostle Paul is telling us not to lower ourselves down to this beastly standard, but to keep our personal integrity, our personal response to life’s situations at the level of God’s standards!
It would seem that we can choose to react by focusing in on the limitations of fear driven implications or respond in love because we are aware or focused solely on and have our faith in God’s unlimited – GRACE DRIVEN – resources!  (see: Ephesians 3:19-20)  Remember 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 declares that with God’s weapons we can utterly destroy all of the enemy’s hand in any situation, but do so in such a way as to not leave a path of destruction, unforgiveness and anger behind you!
This path takes a little bit of homework in the Word of God, lots of patience and love and most times includes buckets full of self-control!  But the Good News is that we’ve got it!  For II Timothy 1:7 informs us that God Himself hasn’t given us the spirit of fear (so that we shouldn’t even consider reacting to it) but one of power (or of His ability),His love and of self-control, good judgment or discipline! (Depending on the translation you read!)
So what will it be?  Do you want people around you to cringe when you come in a room, or relax in knowing that a representative of God’s love and grace has arrived on the scene?  Have a great day!  Stay in tune to His Word and keep asking yourself “What am I expecting today?”

Monday, January 20, 2014

Loose Cannons


This weekend as I sat in my study during the early morning hours preparing to study the Word, I heard the phrase, “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”  That saying immediately caught my attention as I had awoke with some anxious thoughts bouncing around in my head concerning my wife’s health.  I knew enough not to accept those thoughts as they were contrary to the Word of healing that we have been standing on but nevertheless, they were still there attempting to make entrance into my heart.
When I turned in my Bible to 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, I immediately received the grace-filled peace of God as I read Paul’s encouragement saying: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds… and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God.” (KJV)
The fearful lying thoughts of the enemy may try to make an inroad into our lives, but God’s greatest weapon, His Word, is mighty and when spoken out against and depended on, will quickly dispel the intimidations of the devil! The Message Bible seemed to hit the nail on the head for me with its modern paraphrase of this verse.  It declares that, “We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ.”
The idea of “fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse” made me think of the idiom of someone being like a “loose cannon!”  With that, I quickly realized that the thing that shook me the most with the way some people responded to my wife’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and the initial steps we took to deal with the situation, was with the insensitivity of their words toward us.  It was as if they were a cannon that had come loose from its moorings during a battle or storm (which was what we suddenly found ourselves in!) and was inflicting indiscriminate calamity all around!
As I leaned back in my chair and gazed out the window, I began to see that those loose thoughts, emotions and impulses can be like a loose cannon if they are not controlled and directed into the structure of (zoe) life that Christ is shaping in us.  It became obvious to me that uncontrolled thoughts, emotions and impulses that are released through our words can cause a lot of collateral damage!
This is a revelation that should hit home to all of us.  What made it even harder for me at the time, was that each of the “loose cannons” that had fired at us were supposedly mature Christians!  It would seem that each of us, no matter where we are in our Christian walk, can become a “loose cannon” if we do not keep our eyes focused on the truth of God’s Word… and consider it BEFORE we fire off a retort into the midst of a situation!  It reminds me of Proverbs 15:1 where it states that “A gentle answer turns away rage, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (God’s Word ©)
I will be sharing a few more thoughts on this subject this week, but suffice to say, it would behoove us all to Stop, Look and Listen to that still small voice on the inside before we fire off a barrage of words that could cause collateral damage in the lives of those we love.  Have a great day.  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What am I expecting today?”

Friday, January 17, 2014

Sealed!


Over the past four years I have received a lot of advice from people concerning the situation around my wife’s health.  Some of it has been good, some of it not so good!  Much of it is based on other people’s personal experiences that to be honest, does not always mesh with our life!  In the midst of my personal pain, I have been openly criticized and blamed for my wife’s condition, and have had some that I thought we could trust and depend on, turn away from us in our time of need.
Now I am not trying to feel sorry for myself here!  I will admit that I have had some very difficult times dealing with and coming to terms with these unexpected negative reactions, but through it all I have learned of and have come to trust entirely in the unshakable and unquestionable love of God as the firm foundation and good ground wherewith we have sunk our roots. (See: Ephesians 3:17)
There have been many occasions over these last few years where I have sat alone* at the bottom of our staircase in the dark of night and have reached deep inside to grab hold of that to which I have committed unto Him.  At these times it is only that trust and/or faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the truth of His Word that has given me the unyielding expectation that His Word will prevail – NO MATTER WHAT (or who) MAY COME AGAINST US!  
As I read from John 3:33-36 earlier today, I had to nod in agreement as I could see this as the explanation to what I have been learning and experiencing through the journey my wife and I have been on.  Verse 33 tells us that “He that hath received his (Jesus’) testimony hath set his seal that God is true.” (KJV)  Vincent’s Word Studies explains that the meaning of the term “seal” in this usage describes how one “has solemnly attested and confirmed the statement that ‘God’s word is true’”
As I dug a little deeper into the definition, I also discovered that elsewhere in the Bible this same word is used for the “closing up for security, hiding or the marking of a person or thing.” (VWS)  Thayer’s pointedly says that it means “to seal for security from Satan.”
What I have personally learned is that without that truth sealed away deep within my heart, I never would have made it!  As my mind exploded this morning with thoughts and examples of something sealed deep inside your heart, I suddenly thought about the wooden plaque that Harry S. Truman, the 33rd President of the United States, had on his desk.  It simply stated that “The buck stops here!”  That term became a favorite of his throughout his presidency as he used it as the explanation for many of the difficult decisions he had to make such as dropping the Atom Bomb on Japan during the waning days of WWII.
Sealing the unyielding understanding that the Word of God is true and is the final word on every subject is the place within us where the “buck stops!”  When your world seems to be going haywire, when things look impossible, when those you thought you could trust and depend on turn away from you, the only thing left is to reach deep inside and grab firmly ahold of that which you have sealed in your heart.  When all else fails… HE WON”T!
When push comes to shove, the buck will stop with what you have sealed in your heart!  For some it is fear and they will go from bad to worse, but for those of us who like the Apostle spoke of in John 3:33, the light of His Word will shine brightly and overcome any darkness that may be trying to prevail in our lives!  I may have spent many times sitting at the bottom of our stair case in the dark… but I have ALWAYS arisen with a smile on my lips and a strengthened resolve inside that has enabled me to go on with the expectation of seeing God’s best for my wife and I in the days to come!
Have a great weekend!  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What GOOD THINGS am I expecting today!”  (You also might want to ask WHY you’re expecting those good things!)
  

*Well, not quite alone… Our faithful Australian Shepherd seems to have a sixth sense during those lonely periods as she magically appears and lies quietly at my feet as I converse with the Lord!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Unselfishness...


It came to my attention this morning as I read from some of John the Baptist’s final words as recorded in the New Testament, that he was a very unselfish man!  Our story takes up in John chapter three.  At this point, Jesus has begun His earthly ministry in earnest and was baptizing people in the Judean countryside.  John had moved on to another area where the water was plentiful and continued the ministry that was given to him to fulfill.
Some confusion had arisen amongst some of the Jews and John’s remaining disciples, and his devotees went to him to resolve the issue.  They stated: “Rabbi, do you remember the man you spoke so favorably about when he was with you on the other side of the Jordan river?  Well, he’s baptizing and everyone is going to him!” (John 3:26 God’s Word ©)  This is where the true nature of John the Baptist came out when he simply answered from his heart and reminded them of what he had previously told them saying: “I’m not the Messiah, but I’ve been sent ahead of him.” (John 3:28 God’s Word ©)
Then he likened his position as to that of the Best Man in a wedding whose job is to assist the Groom and rejoice for him and his bride.  John proceeded to make a powerful statement that each of us should seriously take to heart.  He told his followers, “He must increase in importance, while I must decrease in importance.” (John 3:30 God’s Word ©)
John knew his place and his part in the Divine plan of God.  More importantly, he knew and understood Jesus’ place and gladly yielded his position to Jesus as His ministry began to take precedence in the land.  Later on, John explained that Jesus had better connections and more information than anyone else and that while most people were not accepting what He said, that he did and affirmed that God’s word is true! (see: John 3:31-36)   All of John’s actions were in full support of Jesus’ ministry.
When I was hired to be the Assistant Pastor by the original Pastor of the last church we served at, he made it clear to me that my job was to support and assist him and his ministry goals.  Even though I was over some of the adult support ministries in the church as well as over the children and youth ministries, everything I did supported his vision and direction for the church.  Did I always agree with him?  No!  But I always stood with him and supported him.  At times my allegiance to him alienated me from some in the church, but I understood my position and was fully committed to support him.
That is how I saw John the Baptist and his position when compared to Christ’s ministry.  I loved John’s practical example of the job of the Best Man at a wedding.  Having been the photographer at countless weddings, I came to appreciate the role that the Best Man played.  I would make a point to become friends with the Best Man.  I would explain some of his responsibilities to him and then have him help me to assemble the various people in the wedding party that we needed to photograph during the different phases of the wedding.  The Best Man was there to assist the Groom and his bride and the guests normally understood that and listen to him when he helped to direct activities at the celebration.
John the Baptist was confident in who he was and what part he had to play in God’s master plan. When his part of the plan was completed he humbly yielded his position to Jesus and quietly left the scene.  That is something that each of us should aspire to. 
I always admired the ministry of Lester Sumrall who was a great man of God who simply followed the leading of the Holy Spirit and moved with Him into whatever new areas of ministry he was directed to go.  When his work with a successful ministry that he was leading was completed, he gracefully let go and allowed the Holy Spirit to lead him into the next job that God had for him.  He pursued this course of action even when other Christian leaders told him that he was too old to begin another ministry.  Sumrall who has been called the “father of Christian television” went on to be with the Lord in 1996 and left a strong legacy and a thriving ministry in the hands of his sons and family.*
John the Baptist was another seeker of the greater things of God.  He faithfully followed the leading of the Holy Spirit and left a legacy that fully supported and pointed to the Lord Jesus Christ.  That’s what I would like to be said about me… how about you?  Have a wonderful day.  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What am I expecting today?”
 

*For more information see: http://www.lesea.com/

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Peanut Butter and Jelly


My wife and I have always had a love for books!  Some of the first gifts that my wife gave to me when we were dating were colorful little books filled with encouraging words, scriptures and cheerful poetry.  Then there was a book called “The Age of Cars” that she gave me as a Christmas gift in 1973.  I still have that book and have cherished it all these years… and especially the note she wrote on the inside cover telling me to “check out page 47 on the lower left hand corner” where there is a picture of a MGB, which just happened to be my first car that I had purchased only a few months previously. 
She lovingly signed the note, “Love always, (your pitstop girl) Piper.”  Little did she know how prophetic those words would be over the next 41 years.  During the ensuing decades she has fulfilled her promise of always loving me through the good times and the difficult ones, and together we have continuously shared a passion for sharp cars having owned over ten different models.  I think the only 2 vehicles we ever purchased with the thought of functionality as our number one purpose was Piper’s 1983 Pontiac Bonneville wagon and her 1998 Suburban.  And on both of those she insisted that we have wide tires and mags!
But back to books…  For me, part of the love of books has to do with my being a seeker of knowledge.  I always have been attracted to books about history, including historical fiction novels.  Of all the books I have read, the one I keep returning to on a daily basis is the Bible.  I have probably mentioned this before, but I have over forty translations of Bibles in my personal collection.  I guess in that regard you could call me a seeker of God!
It wasn’t always this way though, in my Christian walk.  Looking back on my early ministry days, I think that I was more excited by the intricacies of the job than of the spiritual well-being of the youth under my tutelage.   I had studied Recreation Administration during my Junior year at Chico State University and the position of Youth Minister tended to satisfy that passion in me.  It was like a dream come true!  I could organized fun activities, write and lead study sessions and multiple day retreats, lead singing, write songs and together with my wife direct a singing and drama group.  It was like being in seventh heaven!
When we left that church (with my pride hurt due to some things that had transpired toward the end of our stay), I learned a valuable lesson that changed my priorities for good!  One Sunday after attending another church for about six month, the Lord spoke directly to my wife’s and my hearts through a story that the temporary Pastor of that church was telling the large congregation.  We knew that day that we needed to return to our former church and mend some broken fences!
Well, return we did and after another three years serving as the College-Career leaders and humbly eating a lot of crow… we felt the release and went to a small Word of Faith fellowship that was meeting in a hotel room in an older part of town.  When we walked into that little room which was lined wall to wall with folding chairs, I vowed that I would quietly sit there and do anything that was asked of me with a humble and joyful heart.
For the first six months or so, we simply sat there with our mouths wide open and soaked up the powerful and anointed Word that was being taught like a sponge!  Somewhere during that time the Pastor asked my wife and I to sing a special song for the congregation and when his very pregnant wife who was leading Praise and Worship with a tambourine delivered their fourth son, they asked us to step in and temporarily lead worship.  Well, the temporary began full-time and we learned the nuances of leading a congregation into the presence of God, in difference to leading a group of rowdy youth in fun group singing!
Those years with that tiny fellowship taught me what it meant to be a seeker of God!  Since those early lessons I have had God and His plan and purpose as my first priority in every other group that I have ever had the honor of leading.  And you know what?  I have still got to do all the fun natural parts of the job that I’ve always had a passion for… and it has only gotten better since putting Him first!

John 1:36-37 tells us of a time when John the Baptist was standing near the river Jordan with a couple of his disciples when Jesus came by.  When he saw Him, “John said, “Look!’  This is the lamb of God.”  The two men with him instantly reacted.  When the two disciples heard John say this they followed Jesus.” (God’s Word ©)  These two men were also seekers of God!  They understood John the Baptist’s ministry and knew that it was over and immediately left him to follow the One that he had pointed out to them.

Andrew and the other man, thought to be the Apostle John, were hungry for the things of God.  John 1:41 makes it obvious that they along with Andrew’s brother Simon had been looking for the Messiah for some time, and that they knew Him when they saw Him!  These men’s hunger drew them to Jesus and Him to them!

That is the same way I want to feel and act about my relationship with Jesus.  How about you?  Matthew 6:33 tells us that as we “seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness” that everything else that we need and or desire will be added unto us. (KJV)  Isn’t that exciting?  Do you hunger and thirst for Him?  Are you feeling satisfied in your life?  Matthew 5:6 informs us that those two qualities go together like peanut butter and jelly!
As I read about the example of Andrew and John this morning, I was revitalized in my zeal to be a seeker of God.  Hopefully today’s post will energize you to do the same!  Have a great day.  Stay in tune to His word and keep asking yourself… “What am I expecting today?”