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Friday, March 27, 2015

The Real Definition of Maturity...


I been finding myself getting very frustrated in the middle of the night for the last week or so.  During this time my wife has been waking up – well, actually she doesn’t wake up but I do – sounding very congested with the occasional cough to clear it out.  It seems to last for up to an hour or so and then it’s over!  This action has happened before over the last year or two but not with the regularity we are experiencing now.  With the concern over the potential of the onset of pneumonia, I made an appointment with her GP about a month ago, and as with the other appointments for the same problem with her doctors in California, her new doctor out here performed a thorough examination and could find no cause for concern.
Everything was normal with her respiratory system and her chest was clear.  Once again as before, it is thought to be caused by allergies and/or not completely swallowing her food at dinner.  Then a couple of weeks ago I sent an email to her doctor informing her of the increase in the regularity of the problem and she sent me some additional ideas on dealing with the situation.  Since that period of time I make sure that she has finished eating at least two hours before bedtime, added a particular type of allergy medicine to her regiment and I purchased a cool mist humidifier. 
The frustration that seemed to come to a head in me last night is that all the changes don’t seem to be working!  Each night I get up around 3:00 AM when it happens and raise her pillow and rub a bit of Vicks VapoRub on her. It’s a little funny in that even the dog has been getting into the act!  She seems to know that her favorite master is having a problem and sticks her head up to Piper’s pillow and licks her face.  Then as if she’s trying to tell me to get up and do something, she comes over to my side of the bed and sticks her wet nose and tongue in my face.. and then just stands there staring at me until I get up!
Last night after getting up three or four times, I finally walked into the hall way and cried out to the Lord… giving into the frustration and a shade or two of self-pity that I was working up!  I emphatically stated: “Lord I’ve done everything and it isn’t working… What do I do?”  Then as I stood there quietly, I felt the Lord saying: “Are you implying that there is nothing else that I can do?”  That thought quickly put me to rest and while I can’t say that I received any revelations of what to do or that Piper’s breathing pattern instantly changed, His peace flooded my being and I climbed back into bed.  The next thing I knew it was about six o’clock and Piper was breathing quite comfortably and normally!
That incident came back to my mind this morning as I read Philippians 3:15 from the God’s Word © translation.  It says that “whoever has a mature faith should think this way, and if you think differently, God will show you how to think.”  This verse really captured my attention as I understood that everything discussed previous to it is an example of mature faith.
Verses 1-14 encourage us to be full of joy, to be humble, to keep our eyes foremost on Jesus, to stay open to change and the possibility of learning new things while not gloating on past accomplishments or failures and to realize that you may not always know all there is to know about any given situation.  Above all, that your goal is to always seek and follow God’s will and designated purpose… in other words like we discussed yesterday, to be and stay flexible in your Christian walk so as to be empowered through His love working in and then through you to others!
I have mentioned on numerous occasions how my faith and personal understanding of truths that I have developed and held for many years was greatly challenged during the first year following the negative diagnosis of my wife’s health.  Many if not most of my preconceptions of how I thought things would go, of how I thought those close to us would respond and most surprisingly some scary things that arose in me because of their response, shattered my spiritual and emotional well-being.
I must admit that it has taken a long time to sort through and pray over all these things.  My life has been on a wild roller-coaster ride of emotions, frustration, hurt, understanding and then healing as I’ve grown progressively closer and more intimately acquainted with Christ's love for me and Piper.  After some forty plus years as a Christian I think that I am finally beginning to grow up in my faith!  Since 2009 I have had to deal with and come to a personal understanding of just about everything that the Apostle Paul discussed as the marks of a mature Christian in Philippians chapter three.
And you know… it is not really my place to judge those who may or may not have not acted according to Paul’s definitions, for it seems that when you point ONE finger at someone else you are also pointing THREE back at yourself!  The only person whose actions that I am responsible for is ME!  So, in many respects I am thankful for those who unknowingly helped me to take a hard and LONG look at myself!  Like I said, what I saw was pretty scary and I think it really forced me to “Man UP!” and make the changes that I vividly saw were necessary for me to make in order to run and win the race that Christ Jesus has set before ME!  Have a wonderful weekend.  Stay in tune to God’s Word, and keep asking yourself… “What, in Whom or How am I expecting to be mature today?”

Thursday, March 26, 2015

How Flexible Are You?


My wife had always been very flexible.  Come to think about it, I would have to say that she has been pretty flexible in most areas of life!  When we were meeting with her brain specialist in San Francisco about a year ago, her doctor who was checking her reflexes and joint movement, took Piper’s hands in hers and with a wisp of amazement paused and declared “What tiny hands she has.”  Her comment drew a laugh out of me and I began to regale her with stories of how flexible and capable those little hands were!
I told of how she could fly those little fingers across the keys of a piano.  How her flexibility would allow them to stretch in what seemed like some of the most awkward positions in order to play the necessary chords in any given piece… with minimal effort I might add!  Piper used to make our kids laugh with demonstrations of how she could bend her double jointed fingers into shapes that none of us in the family could mimic.
I would always be amazed as she could stand at the changing table with our oldest son, be changing him and then without more than a glance, backhand the folded diaper across the room into the waste basket!  I tried that once… and let’s just say I had a mess to clean off the wall… (sorry, didn’t mean to gross you out!)  I observed her many times as she nonchalantly held our toddler son in one arm and happily changed his baby sister with the other!
Then there were the many times she would shimmy through the small sliding window on our little Datsun 4X4 pickup in order to minister to the two children seat belted into their car seats in the back of the truck in the covered bed we had customized for the kids travel needs while on vacations.
When we were dating in high school she would amaze me as she would play softball with our group of friends in her jeans and t-shirt like one of the guys and then knock me off my feet as she answered the door dressed up in a gorgeous dress, looking like a million bucks for our date that evening.  She was always very adventurous.  Like me, she loves the outdoors, took walks just about every day and has enjoyed hiking and riding bikes.  Then there was her daily regimen of Canadian Air Force exercises…
I can remember the day like it was yesterday when I was shocked in the realization of the visible evidence a few years back, that she was losing her coordination as part of the progression of the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.  Her steps were slower, her movements a little bit hesitant, and her sure footedness impaired as she began to trip up over little things like a wrinkle in an area rug or a dog toy left on the floor.
When I read from Philippians 3:13-14 this morning, I also realized that Paul, to some extent, was also talking about the potential of us losing our spiritual flexibility.  Here he tells us that “I can’t consider myself a winner yet.  This is what I do: I don’t look back (instead) I lengthen my stride, and run straight toward the goal to win the prize that God’s heavenly call offers in Christ Jesus.” (God’s Word ©)
As I read this I had the impression that Paul was saying that when difficult times come to us or to those we love that we shouldn’t just follow a set pattern or plan.  We don’t necessarily just do what we’re comfortable doing or what we’ve always done.  We should change our stride or our game plan, look to see what’s going on and move in tune to the specific need of the situation, changing our approach as necessary!  Another way to say it would be to not get stuck in always doing things the same old way.  To not keep looking back, but to stay focused on what is ahead and be open to change!
Last night I found myself discussing the subject of yesterday’s post “Man Up!” with my wife.  I got to thinking about the individuals who, in my opinion, failed to “Man Up” when I realized that they always tended to play a certain role when various situations arose.  When that role was no longer available to them or just not appropriate in my wife’s case, it seemed that they no longer knew their place and simply chose to fade out of the picture. 
That revelation also caused me to pause as I got a picture of how difficult or fearful that must have been for them.  That may be one reason for some of the distasteful things that were said and done.  It felt like they might have been unable or unwilling to take Paul’s advice to be flexible and change one’s approach with the uniqueness of each situation.
I have come to learn through my personal experiences in this adventure in faith, that the main goal to keep first and foremost in my mind is doing whatever I need to do in order to reach the goal for the prize of God’s high calling in Christ.  At this point, it no longer matters what I want or what I am comfortable in doing.  My wife’s needs and God’s desires for me in helping to meet those needs is the only thing that is important.
I have come to understand that real love, God’s agape love goes with the flow!  It always stays flexible and molds itself in God’s image in the process of meeting the needs of the situation currently at hand.  His love tends to remove the emphasis off of the “Me” and directs it to “Him!”
I get very excited every time I see a demonstration of some of my wife’s flexibility return… no matter how miniscule the example may be.  When I was helping her to walk into the restroom last night I could hardly contain myself as she took several completely normal steps and swung her right foot up and over a section of the small throw rug that had bunched up.  That may seem like nothing to you… but it is magnificent when you consider that there where days over the last few weeks when I would have to literally hold her up and at the same time bend over and physically lift up her leg in similar situations… and believe me, that is no small task as I was NEVER as limber as she was… and will be again!
So… think about that as you maneuver through your day today.  Just how flexible are you in your approach to the situations you face?  Do you keep looking or going back to how you’ve always done it… or are you flexible to change into whatever is best for the current situation before you?  Have a great day.  Stay in tune to God’s Word and keep asking yourself… “What or How FLEXIBLE am I expecting to be today?”

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Man Up!


I have been a car nut for as long as I can remember.  Even as a youngster I had an eye for sharp looking cars.  As an elementary student I remember thinking that my parent’s taste for cars was to put it mildly, rather bland!  Early on my Dad drove a 1940ish tan Chevy to work every day.  They jokingly referred to the car as “Jezebel.”  Little did I understand the Biblical relevance of that name at the time!  The family car was a 1955 brown and white 2-door, six passenger, five window Chevy station wagon.  Not the cool Nomad hard top, mind you but the boring regular old wagon with the drop and lift gate.
All that started to change in 1973 though, when I convinced my folks to talk to the father of one of Piper’s good friends who just happened to be the manager of the local Pontiac dealership.  A few days later a brand-spanking new golden yellow Luxury Lemans coupe graced their driveway!  That car held a special significance for us as they later gave it to our oldest son for his first car!  He proudly drove that car until the rear axle broke and it wouldn’t move more than just a few feet!  When the Christian band he was a part of cut their first CD, the car was the backdrop for many of the pictures on the case cover!
I sort of bucked the trend with the purchase of my first car.  When we were in high school and college, mid-sized muscle cars were the rage!  It seemed like almost every male in my age group drooled over the dream of owning a Chevelle SS, a Mopar enhanced rocket from Dodge or Plymouth or the pinnacle of performance in the form of a Pontiac GTO!   I clearly remember salivating uncontrollably as I test drove a used dark burgundy 1970 Chevelle SS 396 in early 1973!  To own that car would have been like a dream come true (and the envy of all my buddies), but alas, it was just too expensive for budget at that time!
Later that same year my head was turned to another possibility when my sister’s Air Force Captain husband decided to sell his 1966 Black MG sports car and gave me first dibs on the car!  Well, my budget allowed for it (barely!), my folks agreed and on a warm summer afternoon my favorite girl and I found ourselves driving home from Beale Air Force base near Marysville, California in my hot little roadster!   
Well, none of our friends or acquaintances owned or even desired to own a British sports car, but you know it didn’t matter to me!  I knew that I had a cool, fun car and I simply “Manned Up!” to their sarcastic comments and the smirks on their faces and enjoyed myself!  (I guess that I had the last laugh for when the gas shortages hit the next year, suddenly most everyone was looking for a small, easy on the gas car!)  Many years later I have had another opportunity to “Man Up!”
As I read from Philippians 3:12 this morning I recalled my past and present opportunities to “Man Up!”  In this portion of scripture the Apostle Paul tells his readers that “It’s not that I’ve already completed the course.  But I (“Man Up!” and) run to win that which Jesus Christ has already won for me.” (God’s Word ©)  A few verses later he goes on to say that “Whoever has a mature faith should think this way.  And if you think differently, God will show you how to think.” (Philippians 3:15 God’s Word ©)
It is like Paul is challenging mature Christian Believers (or those who feel they are such) to “Man Up!” in life and step confidently into who role of how a mature Christian should act in the midst of trying circumstances.  The Urban Dictionary defines the term “Man Up!” as “to fulfill your responsibilities as a man despite your insecurities…”  In the case of what we are talking about, I think you could simply say that it means to take your responsibilities as what the Word defines as a mature Christian, despite your insecurities!
Over the last few years I have personally witnessed individuals that I always thought to be mature Christians fail to “Man Up!” when faced with the situation concerning the attack on my wife’s health.  And on the other hand, I have seen those whom I did not necessarily see as well informed or mature Christians put aside any insecurity and boldly step forth offering whatever assistance they could to us in our greatest time of need. (says something about what I think I know doesn't it!)
On one hand, there were those who suddenly had all kinds of excuses as to why they couldn’t visit, call and never once asked if there was anything they could do to help.  Then they just kind of distanced themselves from us and personal contact became less frequent until months would pass before we might hear from them.  And you know… it’s been about three years and it still hasn’t changed!
Then there were friends and cousins, some with whom we hadn’t had regular contact with suddenly seem to come out of the wood work as phone calls, emails, Facebook conversations, texts and personal visits and/or invitations for us to visit them became more frequent!  These were the folks that despite any insecurities of dealing with the difficulty in our lives, despite their busy work and home life schedules “Manned Up!” to be a part of the solution to our needs - just I as was reeling with emotions, questions, shock and a great multitude of decisions that had to be made!
In relationship to walking in love and being in order, Paul in his first letter to the Corinthian church, emphasized the need for Christians to not become as children but to be mature… or in other words… to “Man Up!”  (I Corinthians 14:20)  Once again the ability to “Man Up!” is linked to our love walk.  Love is the overwhelming force that empowers us to step out from the clutches of our personal fears and “Man Up!” to any occasion of need that presents itself to us!  Which way will you go when the situations of life suddenly go south?  Will you allow personal insecurities to cause you to step back and away… or “Man Up!” and be used as a conduit of God’s love, peace and power in somebody else’s life?
Have a great day.  Stay in tune and actively involved in the truth of God’s Word, and keep asking yourself… “What, Where and How am I expecting to ‘Man Up!’ today?”

 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Experimentation!


My wife and I grew up in the late sixties and early seventies.  The youth of these decades were characterized in the public media by their explorations into the sexual revolution, experimenting with mind altering drugs, and a whole array of experimentations into areas beyond the scope of what had been the socially accepted norm. 
It is interesting to note that modern historians and social scientists now tend to downplay the impact that was really made to change the status quo during that time.  “Many… are beginning to think that ‘revolution’ is too much of an overstatement”.  A 1990 report on the sexual revolution concluded that “While the term ‘revolution’ implies radical and widespread change, this was not necessarily the case.  Even in the ‘liberal’ sixties, conservative, traditionalist views were widely held…” ("A Report: The Sexual Revolution?" Tom W. Smith, The Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 54, No. 3. (Autumn, 1990), p. 419 at [2])
In my many years working with our youth and the young college/career age groups in the local church, I have come to understand that questioning the status quo and experimentation is an expected, healthy and normal activity for these individuals.  It is a time of discovery for them as they navigate through the vast changes that are going on in their minds, bodies, emotions and intellect.  My job (as well as every Christian in the church) has been to help introduce Jesus into the process and to mentor them in discovering the importance and benefits of giving Him a central role in everything they do in life!
The process of experimenting with things in life is something that many adults tend to leave behind as they mature.  I personally feel that as Christians we are called to continually push the envelope of our beliefs by experimenting with what we should be continually learning in the truth in God’s Word.  Does that sound a little risky or maybe even too secular to anyone?
I sense that this is exactly what Paul is talking about in Philippians 3:10 where he states: “For my determined purpose is that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection [which it exerts over believers]…” (The Amplified Bible) 
The Geneva Bible Translation Notes defines this as saying: “That I may indeed feel him, and have an experience of him.”  Adam Clarke states that this infers that we are “to know him to be the true and promised Messiah, and experience all that salvation which he has bought by his blood.”  Jamieson, Fausset and Brown simply comment that Paul is saying “That I may know him – experimentally.”  Dictionary.com defines the action of “experimentation” as “an act or operation for the purpose of something unknown or of testing a principle or supposition. It also calls it an “experience.”
Paul is encouraging us to step out in faith and experience ALL that God has for us in His Word of truth!  In my understanding, this is the Holy Ghost anointed approval to experiment with the promises which Christ’s salvation provides for you and me.  Like I mentioned yesterday, that is exactly what my wife and I have endeavored to do in our Christian walk.  We have literally taken the challenge of Paul’s in Ephesians “to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love.  Reach out and experience the breath!  Test its length!  Plumb the depths!  Rise to the heights!  Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18 The Message)
Has it always been easy?  NO!  Have we always fully met our intended goals? NO!  Has that caused us to give up? NO!  I read recently were many millionaires have gone bankrupt - some numerous times – in their pursuit of success.  They have an inner stamina and belief that keeps them going on until they succeed.  Walt Disney “was fired by a newspaper editor because ‘he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.’  He went bankrupt several times before he built Disneyland.  In fact the proposed park was rejected by the city of Anaheim on the grounds that it would only attract riffraff” (http://www.incomediary.com/went-bankrupt-now-worth-millions)
And you know… as Christians we have something far greater than many of these individuals did to base our pursuit of life on.  It is called a personal relationship with the creator of the universe, the one Who literally supplies us with our next breath!  The Almighty God who promises you and me that we “can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13 MKJV)
You and I have a relationship with a perfect God with a perfect word.  The work, pursuit and resiliency of our faith comes into play though, due to the fact that we live in a fallen world that will fight us most steps along the way to experiencing all that Papa God has for us. That should be a known when we step out in experimentation of His goodness and grace.  I must admit that it has always surprised me when mature Christian friends and relatives have questioned or tried to dissuade us from trying a second time when things may not have totally worked out on the first try.  I figure that we learned a lesson the first time and then take the extra precautions to not hit that wall again and move forward to step out in faith, based on, supported by and empowered by our increasingly deeper revelation and understanding of the truth of His Word.
To me, that is the only way that I can truthfully and fully follow Paul’s encouragement to become “more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him… and in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection…”  It also makes for quite an exciting lifestyle!  I was never one to settle for the mundane… How about you?  Have a great day.  Stay in tune and active in God’s Word and keep asking yourself… “What or Who’s promises am I going to experiment with today?”

Monday, March 23, 2015

Right Smack Dab in the Middle...


I realized earlier this past weekend that my wife and I have always desired to be right smack dab in the middle of whatever activities we have pursued throughout our married lives.  Sitting in the stands or even on the bench as spectators has not been a welcomed option.  We have always preferred to be playing in the game… and as I looked back over the years, I also noticed that we most likely tended to be in some sort of a leadership role while playing in whatever game or activity it was!
As I was discussing this with Piper this morning, I suddenly was spell bound with the thought that this positioning as leaders started from the time we first became an “item” back as seniors in high school!  Do you think that maybe this was all part of Papa God’s plan for us?  That thought definitely hit me hard while standing still, frozen in place in the unfolding of this revelation while frying an omelet for breakfast!
Don’t get me wrong.  I had some opportunities of leadership roles during my elementary school years, but I really didn’t have much self confidence in those early days.  Looking back today, I can see how all that seemed to vanish when Piper and I got together.  In the spring of our senior year we teamed up with our good friend Mike and took a leadership role for the Italian booth in the school’s first ever Ethnic Fair (Mike and I also got some heat for driving the Italian sports cars we arranged to be displayed in front of our booth a little too fast on the way from the dealership to the school…).  Later that year Piper and I spearheaded and directed the planning, purchasing and Barbequing of the chicken for the Teacher’s Appreciation Dinner.  If I am not mistaken, we also helped to decorate the halls for a few of the senior dances that year.  We even got our picture in one of the business sponsored ads in the back our yearbook.
Piper was also very involved in the marching band while I was active with the Key Club.  The same was true for our participation with Piper’s church youth group.  We quickly assumed leadership roles there and followed the same pattern following graduation with “Faith Action” the church’s newly formed College Career group.  (Guess who came up with the name?  Yep… it was Piper.  She is good at naming things including one of the two churches we helped to start many years after that!)
In Philippians chapter three, the Apostle Paul tells of his desire to be found right smack dab in the middle of a life dedicated to Christ.  He recorded that “I threw it (those things that I once considered valuable – from the previous verse) all away in order to gain Christ and to have a relationship with him.” (Philippians 3:8-9 God’s Word ©)  I get the picture that following his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus, that Paul literally jumped into Christianity with both feet and never looked back!
I think that is exactly what happened to Piper and I.  Some of that may have had to do with our childhood experiences.  My Mom was always very adventurous.  She had a glint of joy in her eyes and was primed and ready to take a chance in life.  My Dad, on the other hand was NOT!  He was very conservative.  My Mom would talk about them purchasing some property and my Dad would always squash the thought!  I recall one of his favorite retorts being: “we can’t afford it!”  (Of course later on in life some of that conservatism paid off as he provided well for his family, did purchase some investment properties and he and my Mom traveled a fair amount after us kids were married and then left an amazing inheritance for us kids.)
From what I have come to see, I think Piper also faced some similar lines of thought as her parents talked and dreamed of special things but that is as far as it usually went.  Some of our closest times were in the immediate years following our marriage when we would spend Saturday afternoons talking and dreaming with her folks in their living room while we sipped hot cups of Sanka decaf coffee.
I believe that by the time Piper and I tied the knot in marriage, that we were ready to not just think and dream about things but TO DO them!  When it came to our Christian walk we early on began to take Papa God at His Word!  If He said that He would supply all of our needs (See Philippians 4:19) we decided to put Him to the test!  Early on in 1977 we prayed earnestly for direction, felt His peace and made our first big purchase as a couple and drove home one day with a brand new Pacific Blue Datsun 280 Z sports car.  We stood strong in faith with that one and actually were able to make extra payments on it each month!  If His word said that by Christ stripes we were healed (I Peter 2:24) we stepped out in faith and prayed over each other and then later on our kids and believedand saw His healing demonstrated.
And you know, some 45 years later… not much has changed!  I must admit that while some of our (what we’ve believed to be) faith-led decisions have not always been popular with some of our relatives, we have made it our life goal to seek, listen and faithfully obey when we sense a call of the Lord.  I believe that this confident expectation in the Lord and His Word is what is empowering us to see the power of Christ’s resurrection manifested in Piper’s body in bringing about a total and complete healing for her (See Philippians 3:10).
I believe that this kind of confident expectation (called FAITH – Hebrews 11:1) is the same power that will work for your benefit in ANY situation you face today!  I guess I just believe that if you’re gonna do something, that you might as well do it right and with all the earnestness of your heart!  So jump in the middle of the fray today!  Grab hold of the Word of Papa God that you can faithfully stand on and expect His Word to work for you… Expect a miracle!
Have a great week.  Stay in tune and in faith to God’s Word and keep asking yourself… “What am I expecting today?”

Friday, March 20, 2015

Going to the Gym!


I’ve been thinking a lot about our scripture from yesterday’s post where in Philippians 3:13-14, Paul tells us that “this one thing I do, forgetting those things that are behind and reaching forth unto those things that are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (KJV)  I mentioned the Greek definition of “reaching out” as encompassing the exercise of stretching oneself forward.  It was the action of stretching oneself that kept me arrested by this verse.
I feel like that is the realm that I have been living in over the last few years, 24 hours a day!  It is kind of like living in a gym, sleeping on the bench press table at night and continuously working out on an upper body muscle building machine and then the elliptical for hours on end each day!  Too bad that I don’t have the physical physique to show for all that effort, although I am positive that my inner self has definitely developed some solid muscle tone!
Following the initial diagnosis of the disease that attacked my wife, I made the decision that I would do whatever is necessary on my behalf to see her successfully through this thing!  I set my mind and my spirit to press toward the mark of the prize for Piper’s total and complete recovery… And let me tell you… without any question at all… it has proven to be constant stretch for me.  I would think it was probably like Lewis and Clarke as they journeyed each day into new and unchartered lands in pursuing their assignment from US President Thomas Jefferson “to explore and map the newly acquired territory” following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and “to establish an American presence before Britain and other European powers tried to claim it.”  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_and_Clark_Expedition)
I too have found myself venturing to territories that we need to acquire for my wife’s wellbeing and establish God’s presence for us in those various areas before the powers of the enemy of our souls can claim them and render them useless to us through fear, doubt and unbelief.
I know that I have told of one of the first and most prevalent words of advice that I received along the way.  An older gentleman who had lost his wife to the disease told me through a friend, that the first thing I needed to do was to lose my pride!  He also put together a folder stuffed with resources that he had used in their battle.  The one difference between us and them is that they were not believers and did not have the same battle tested tools in the Word of God that you and I possess!
His words though, quickly rang true as I began to stretch out from my comfort zone and accomplish all the tasks that have been required of me.  It seems like every week brings before me a new barrier to overcome.  Many of the phone calls, appointments and resources I have pursued have totally yanked me out from the security of the previous 50 plus years of comfort zone that I had settled into!  But you see, I no longer matter in this journey.  My pride has NO place whatsoever.  It is all for her!  It (hopefully) is all accomplished with and through God’s love acting as the director, the empowerment and purveyor of the confident expectation of the success of each venture as stated within the pages of His unimpeachable Word!
Through it all I have learned that Papa God’s encouragement, His “you’re doing a good job Jim,” is all that I need, although the thing I miss the most with the changes in Piper is her voice of comfort, encouragement and love.  I was thinking last night about how much of her I have taken for granted over our 45 year relationship.  But now that part of those unique qualities that make her who she is are temporarily suspended, I have realized how important those sweet quick words of love, hugs and the simple things like holding my hand as we go for a walk are sorely missed!  It has forced me to stretch out to Papa God as never before!  And you know… He has ALWAYS been there when I have cried out to Him.
I have also learned that just as the physical stretching and training of your muscles is painful at the beginning, and then serves to develop you, causes you to become stronger and make you to be better fit, so does the stretching out from your comfort zone as you reach forward toward the call of God for your life.  I am actually kind of excited to see what the Lord has in store for us as we complete and win this battle… I’m sure that there is something very exciting ahead… complete with a whole new set of stretching exercises!
So… I encourage you to get excited with me this weekend.  Take the time to go to the spiritual gym and begin your work out to improve your life for a victorious future!  Have a great weekend.  Stay in tune and limber with God’s Word and keep asking yourself… “What or How am I expecting to STRETCH for Papa God today?”

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Trying as Hard as I Can...


I found myself being a little impatient this morning when I went in to help my wife up for the day.  I was wanting to abbreviate the time spent speaking the Word of Healing over and into her and get her into the kitchen so that we could get on with the day.  But a funny thing happened… as soon as I thought that, a familiar quiet voice spoke within me and said “This (the confession of God’s Word) is the most important thing you’ll do all day!”  Needless to say, I was sufficiently rebuked and sat back down on my haunches next to the bed and began to boldly and expectantly speak out His will for Piper’s healing.
Previous to that I had been continuing my study in my bible from Philippians 3:13 where the Apostle Paul is relating one of the most important aspects of his life saying, “But this one thing I do, forgetting those things that are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (KJV)  I discovered that his usage of the phrase “reaching forth” is more than just a casual, occasional attempt on his behalf to complete the call on his life. 
Thayer’s defines it as an action that causes one “to stretch out to.”  Adam Clarke goes into a bit more detail explaining that “The Greek word points out the strong exertions made in the race, every muscle and nerve is extended, and he puts forth every particle of his strength in running.  He was running for his life.”  I get the idea that Paul was saying that his Christian walk encompassed a very dedicated, focused and strenuous effort.  Another modern translation says “and I try as hard as I can to reach the goal before me.” (Easy-to-Read Version)
I have told many times of my frustrations while in the beginning stages of my wife’s and my fight against the ravages of Alzheimer’s in her body.  After the initial diagnosis I sort of shifted into high gear and began to investigate the diverse aspects of spiritually and physically attacking this lie, reading all that I could get my hands on concerning this dreaded disease, making the needed changes in our home life and our income sources so that I could be with her 24/7 and looked into potential benefits that could be of assistance to us. 
To say the least, it was a VERY busy and turbulent time!  I felt that I was trying as hard as I could to reach the goal of her good health.  The difficulty came when some in our extended family not only criticized my actions but actually accused me to our kids and friends of not doing anything about her situation!  Like Hello where have you been?  But that was the answer… These same folks distanced themselves from Piper and I in the midst of our battle and were thereby unaware of all that was happening in the trenches. 
And you know… it is still going on.  I mentioned yesterday that I have opportunities and reminders to be drawn back into some of the old frustrations and most of these come from current interactions with these same folks who remain out of touch with our current place in this situation and hardly ever ask how Piper is doing. 
They also demonstrate by their comments or even with articles they send about the disease that concern information that is not very pertinent to where we are at in meeting Piper’s needs.  In most causes it talks about the prevention of dementia or of possible treatments that we looked at numerous years ago… and discussed with them at that time!  I tend to look at it as a good thing though, in that at least they are showing some interest…
The Phillips paraphrase of Philippians 3:12 describes Paul’s efforts saying “But I keep going on, grasping ever more firmly that purpose for which Christ Jesus grasped me.”  There are two aspects of that description that I like.  First that it implies that Paul isn’t just staying in a somewhat stationary level in his pursuit of the things of God, but is getting more involved, more intent, more determined and more convinced in a progressively deeper effort to attain God’s promises.  And secondly, that Papa God is right there with him each step of the way and is putting forth as much if not more effort for Paul as Paul is for him!
I like that!  We may have some in our earthly family that may not seemingly be putting forth much effort for my wife, but we rest assured that Papa God is right here with us each step of the way, has put forth much more personal effort into her healing than I am and is keeping a firm, loving and expectant grasp on us!  WOW!  You know… I guess that is all that really matters!  His faithfulness and love is all we need to succeed in our pursuit of His call and in what we are facing today!
Rest assured that He is also right there with you today.  He is closer than your next breath and is exerting much more toward you and your success than you are exerting to or for Him!  Hummm… No matter what level you are at, that thought kind of makes you want to kick it up a notch or two doesn’t it!  Have a terrific day!  Stay in tune to His Word and keep asking yourself… “What or How am I expecting to turn it up today?”

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Remembering The Good Parts...


I enjoyed walking down the path of memory lane yesterday as I pondered some of the special times of my past family and personal experiences.  I had to laugh a little though.  After I sent the blog off into the intergalactic reaches of the internet, I realized that I had written in the previous day’s post about “forgetting the past!”  But I also understood that those poignant recollections of my childhood are not where I live today.  Each of those memories is a part of who I am.  They are portions of the foundations of my life that have made me to be the individual I have become.
My Mom’s East Coast childhood and my Dad’s West Coast upbringing both factor in to my genetic code!  (maybe that’s one reason we’ve felt as at home on this coast as we had in California…)  My parents are both first generation Americans and therefore their parent’s Italian roots and traditions held a strong sway in my childhood development.  My parents were raised in almost polar opposite situations.  My Mom’s Dad was a partner in a successful garment factory in New York City.  Their family was very Americanized and eventually moved from Brooklyn to Long Island where my Grandfather owned several lots.
My Dad’s father came to America to make his fortune and when he was settled went back to Italy to bring home his seventeen year old bride.  I didn’t know until recently that it was sort of a marriage of agreement between my Grandfather and my Grandmother’s family.  Her family was not very well off and she had multiple siblings.  My sister related the story to me earlier this year of the emotional hardships that my Grandmother went through upon her separation from her family and the move across the ocean to the USA. 
After a stint as a miner in the Northwest, my Grandfather moved his family to Richmond, California where he worked as a gardener for the wealthy in San Francisco.  Theirs was a very frugal life living in a small home in the Italian district where the neighbors shared the use of a vacant lot for raising animals and growing their vegetables.  My Dad grew up to be a very self-sufficient individual, who worked hard for everything he did to provide for his family and left a loving and strong legacy for his children.
Like I said, my childhood is a very important part of the puzzle of my life, but again, I don’t live there today!  It is part of my make-up though.  It contributes to the way I look at life, make decisions and has fueled my ability to believe scriptures such as Philippians 4:13 that declare “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (MKJV)   Memories like those from St Patrick’s Day strengthen my resolve to move forward in my current place in life. 
Then, as if we were on the same wavelength, I get a package from my cousin and her family in California yesterday with a birthday gift consisting of a red sports jersey that declares “Property of Montgomery (high school) Vikings – 1971!”  I immediately texted her to thank her and let her know that it opened up another slew of memories from my high school years.  Those were also important years for me.  I believe it was the time that I really came into my own.  It was also the time that would change and establish my life forever as I met my future bride in our junior year!
I believe that the Apostle Paul is telling us to let go of and forget the negative parts of our past, the mistakes, the bad decisions and the things that we may not necessarily be proud of.  I was thinking yesterday that our past would also include things that may have happened just five minutes ago!  Scripture promises like I John 1:9 give us the instant opportunity to ask forgiveness for our mistakes and then move on from that moment on with a sense of total cleansing - a total disconnection from that wrong action - with a fresh anointing and placement of right standing with Papa God.
Don’t allow yourself to dwell on the bad decisions you may have made in the past or of the bad things that were done to you by others.  The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown commentary says of Paul’s statement about “forgetting the past” in Philippians 3:13 that “Looking back is sure to end in your going back.”  Looking back can also give you a distorted view of what’s ahead for you.  It could be instrumental in causing you to make wrong decisions in the now. 
Our new Mustang has a rear spoiler on the trunk that is barely visible from my side view mirrors.  I can’t tell you how many times I have checked the driver’s side mirror and thought a car was close on my tail causing me to hesitate when changing lanes or executing a left hand turn!  Those quick glances behind me have caused me to take incorrect actions because I am not really seeing what may actually be there!  When I force my focus past the point of the spoiler, I can get a true picture of the present situation and am more able to base my actions on what’s currently happening in regard to my current set of driving skills!
I am one that likes to learn from my past mistakes and then move on from there!  I have many opportunities and reminders that arise to fall back into the feelings of past mis-deeds by myself or of others to me, but I choose to NOT GO THERE!  I am learning to just give those opportunities a moment’s laugh and then turn and move on!  I want instead to not hold back but to “do my best to reach what is ahead.” (Philippians 3:13 Good News Bible)
So… in retrospect I would encourage you to be proud of those parts of your past that have helped to develop you into the individual you have become and to simply neglect the parts that didn’t help!  Keep your focus on Papa God and what the truth of His Word declares about you.  With that attitude you can’t help but succeed!  Have a great day.  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep declaring to yourself… “I am expecting to do all things today through Christ who is strengthening me!”

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Saint Patrick's Day!


Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!  This is a day that always releases a whole slew of fond memories of my past.  My first recollection always concerns the phone call that I would habitually receive from my Mom a week or two previous to my birthday on the 14th of March.  She would proceed to invite our family over for my birthday dinner and ask, “What would you prefer, steak or corned beef and cabbage?”  And since an occasional somewhat tough chuck steak was about all we could afford on our family budget with a family of four kids, I would answer without hesitation: “STEAK!”
Then without fail, as soon as we walked up the steps to their home we would smell corned beef and cabbage emanating from the kitchen window next to the front door.  My Mom would greet us with a big smile and say, “you know, we haven’t had corned beef and cabbage for such a long time that we decided to have it for your dinner tonight!”  At that point I would nod with a forced smile that most likely showed my disappointment and turn to Piper who would instantly make it better with a quick wink and smile that said “its okay!”
Then there were the Corned Beef and Cabbage Kiwanis Club dinners that I worked with my closest buddies as a member of our high school Key Club.  They were very tiring but loads of fun as we served the patrons, cleared tables, washed dishes, tossed food around in the kitchen and ate until we burst!
In later years Piper, the kids and I attended various Italian Federation St. Patrick’s Day dinners as guests of my folks who were active members of the church club.  They were also a lot of fun.  Anytime you mix a bunch of older traditional Italians together over a meal you can’t help but have a blast!  Somehow they always managed to integrate huge bowls of pasta with marinara sauce complete with hand-picked wild Italian mushrooms into the dinner menu.  Once the meal was served the volume in the room would increase as everyone would talk at once arguing about how their sauce recipe was the best!  My folks were well known amongst the members and as such we were treated like everybody’s extended family!
The holiday also reminds me of my maternal Grandfather’s brother who had a booming tenor voice.  They lived down south in the Los Angeles area and we didn’t get to see them that much, but when we did, Uncle Mike would always take over the night’s activities and serenade us all with Irish songs.  He had me convinced for years that he actually was of Irish decent… while everyone else in the family was 100% Italian!
St Patrick’s Day is actually a pretty cool holiday that from what I have seen, the protestant church tends to ignore.  Tradition holds that the Roman-British born Patrick was kidnapped at the age of sixteen by Irish raiders and was taken as a slave to the Gaelic Island.  While there, working as a shepherd, Patrick allegedly wrote in his confession entitled “Declaration” that at that time he “found God.” 
He went on to document how the Lord told him “to flee to the coast where a ship would be waiting to take him home.”  After his return to Britain he entered the priesthood and followed a call as an evangelist and “returned to Ireland to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity.  The Declaration says that he spent many years evangelizing in the northern half of Ireland and converted ‘thousands’.  Tradition holds that he died on 17 March and is buried at Downpatrick (located about 21 miles south of Belfast in County Down in Northern Ireland.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Patrick's_Day)
Here’s the traditional story of a man that did not allow the pain of his past to dictate his life.  Instead he followed the love of Papa God through the recreation of his spirit and returned to Ireland with a message of love, forgiveness and an expectation of a better life to those who had threatened to destroy his future!
Sounds like a pretty good message for all of us to follow!  What plans and purposes has Papa God put on your heart?  Maybe today’s celebration of St Patrick’s Day could be a time to renew your passion for the call that Christ has put on your life.  You know… It is never too late to let go and let God lead you to the place He wants you to occupy in this life.
I would think that most of our callings don’t come with the treat of a price on our heads like Patrick most likely had upon his return to the land in which he was held captive in.  Have a great day today and celebrate your own move into the call of God, as we celebrate the work that has us honoring St Patrick on this day… and keep asking yourself… “What CALL am I expecting to given in to and do something about today?”

 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Don't Look Back!


After a few years of twice a day walks with my wife in her chair and the dog in tow, I think I finally got most of the bugs worked out.  That is until the dog decides she wants to go in the opposite direction of the one we are currently headed in.  It gets really tough (and a bit humorous) when we are headed uphill and Mandie spots a crafty little squirrel downhill from us.  Especially when I’ve just gotten the momentum going to make the grade.  The dog stops and suddenly begins to strain in the other direction which causes me to have my arm practically jerked out of its socket and when I dig in,I find myself standing there on the sidewalk in front of the whole world with my arms completely stretched out like a “T”!
I usually win the battle of the wills and the pooch dejectedly lets her tantalizer go on his merry way scampering up a tree.  After that the three of us return to our peaceful walk around our neighborhood.  Then there are other times when we may come across someone else walking ahead of us and Mandie will begin to strain at her lease so that she can go greet the walkers and get some attention.  I have never seen such a people dog as our Black Australian Shepherd!  Even if the other walkers have a dog our two with them, she’ll eventually ignore the pooches and seek a gratifying pat or word from their owner!
The Apostle Paul also knew what it meant to strain for something up ahead.  In speaking about his Christian life he made the point in Philippians 3:13-14 saying: “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own.  But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (English Standard Version)  I can easily picture Paul leaning forward and expectantly straining toward the next town he was going to hold a meeting in... just like our dog pulling on her lease excitedly straining to get where she wants to go!
Another thing that caught my attention in those verses was the statement about not looking back.  Over the last few years I have had time to think about the few years leading up to the diagnosis of the disease that has been attacking my wife.  As I have looked back I can now see where there were many tell-tale signs of the beginnings of the changes within her body.  Sometimes I want to kick myself for not having seen them back then.  But there was so much going on in my life at the time that I just didn’t notice it… It seems that maybe I was too caught up in the events of my own life to ignore some of the things that were going on right under my nose!
Those two or three years before things really got noticeable were very turbulent times.  During the dramatic economic downturn in the early 2000’s, I had the honor of being one of the 3000 county employees of Agilent Technologies to be laid off after a twenty year stay with the company.  Then a couple of years later the professional photography store I had gotten a job at went out of business.  When you combine that with the turmoil that was going on with our church with the Pastor of over twelve years suddenly leaving after two years of our quietly sensing that something was going on with him, you can see how I was otherwise occupied!
But still… we are talking about my wife.  The most important person in the world to me!  I really should have been more observant.  Then again… looking back is always easy to do once you’ve gone through a situation and learned from it!  In reality, there was nothing I really could have done to improve the situation with Piper.  If I had known back then we probably would have not gone to Bible School in Oklahoma and gotten all the physical, spiritual and emotional support I have needed to get through this.  Our two younger kids would not have turned things around and become the strong spiritual people that they are today and they would never had met the perfect matches that God had for them to marry!
So in the long run… what good does looking back do except for making you want to punish yourself for what you could of-maybe-possibly done differently if you had only known… Paul seems to be saying that the important thing is to keep looking and moving forward in your walk with the Lord!  When I read that verse yesterday I very excitedly reported to my wife when I helped her up for the day that “We ain’t through with this life yet!  Papa God’s got A LOT more for us to do and we are going to complete His call for us in a joyful, productive, healthy and whole manner!”
How about you today?  Do you have things from the past that keep coming back to haunt you?  Paul tells us to STOP looking back – forget them - and MOVE forward in and for Christ!  It really is as simple as that!  Don’t try and complicate things… just let go and let God take you on to the new and exciting places He is calling you to go and make a difference in!
Have a great week!  Stay in tune to His Word and keep asking yourself… “What or Whose CALL am I expecting to follow forward today?”

Friday, March 13, 2015

Our Purpose in Life...


Have you ever had one of those times where you question your life?  I’m not talking suicidal thoughts, but a wondering of why you’re here, what’s your purpose in life and if things will ever get back to normal or just better than they currently are.  I had one of those experiences a few days ago.  If you know me, or catch the drift of this blog, you would know that I am a pretty up person and do not usually have to deal with depressive thoughts.  But this was an especially tough week.
I’d mentioned that we had started my wife on an additional drug to stimulate her cognitive functions.  Her initial reaction was very positive but as we increased the dosage up to the prescribed amount it kind of went downhill from there.  Throughout it, I have had to continually remind myself of her experience when we increased her dosage of the Aricept a couple of years back.  For two or three weeks her reaction was terrible and just as I was about to call her doctor and stop the process she became stable and much more alert!
By Tuesday or Wednesday of this week though, I was not remembering the past and was getting absorbed… too absorbed… in Piper’s natural reactions to the change in her medications.  It got to the point on one day that she just stop walking and I had to carry her from one room to another… and my back which I take great effort to exercise and keep strong finally began to whine over it!  It was at that time that questions about where we are in our lives right now began to come up in my mind.
Let’s face it…We are just in a weird place right now!  We are literally living on the other end of the country from where we are used to being, unable to attend church on a regular basis when we practically lived there 24/7 since our dating days, I am not working an outside job which I’ve done since I was in Junior High, and find myself in the demanding role of a 24 hour a day (or as a popular book on the care of Alzheimer patients calls it: “The 36 hour day”) caregiver for my once vibrant and extremely active wife.
All of that seemed to come to a head on Wednesday afternoon.  I had just finished getting a spaghetti-like Piper ready for the day and shuffled into the kitchen where I tiredly poured myself into a chair at the table.  I was not in the best place I have ever been in!  After a few moments of sitting there in order to regain a semblance of perspective and strength, I tapped my computer to awaken it from its power saving sleep mode and starred at the picture that popped up.
I periodically change the picture that I set up as the desktop background and had recently placed a picture of Piper and I that was taken at our wedding rehearsal on the night before our wedding.  In fact I believe it was the same picture I posted on our blog page earlier in the week.  In the photo we had just turned around after facing the Pastor and were getting in position to walk back off the platform.  As I examined the scene I was drawn to the look in Piper’s eyes and everything suddenly changed!
I had never seen it before… In the picture I had taken her left hand into my left hand and was cradling it in with my right arm.  I was looking at her hand and she was looking up at my face.  In her eyes I saw a trust in me that I’d not picked up before.  It was like on the night before the beginning of our life together she was saying, “I am putting all my trust into you Jim!  I am putting my life into your hands and am expecting you to care for me… and I have NO doubt that you will ever fail me…”
And with that revelation unfolding before me, any doubt, any questions and any thoughts of how long I could keep doing what I am doing simply disappeared!  She had put her unequivocal trust in me as a very young women forty years ago and there is NO way that I would ever let her down!  In a moment’s time I felt physically, emotionally and spiritually strong.  I realized that I have the most important job in the world in taking care of her as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” (Psalm 23:4 KJV)  For “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 MKJV) because “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4 KJV)
I also have the confidence and earnest expectation that no matter how much that which  I see with my eyes conflicts with the truth of His Word, that He is the One that “always causes us to (eventually) triumph in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2:14 MKJV)  Above all, I understand that my intimate relationship with Him causes me to know His voice when times may be at their toughest as He declares to me that “I will never neglect you (and Piper) or abandon you.” (Joshua 1:5 God’s Word ©)
So that’s it!  I know my current place and purpose in life.  No, it is not where I would really prefer to be, nor do I really care for it… But today I move on with a renewed and re-strengthen and expectant purpose KNOWING that I am doing EXACTLY what I am supposed and empowered by His Word and His love to be doing!
How about you today?  Do you KNOW that you are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing?  It doesn’t really matter whether you agree with it, like it or not… What matters is that you do it in the strength and expectancy of His power and His love!  Have a great weekend and rejoice and be glad for He will “never neglect or abandon you” in the midst of any tough time you find yourself going through… and keep asking yourself… “What or Whose strength and purpose am I expecting today?”

PS:  Piper was walking with renewed strength and coordination last night and again this morning!  PTL!