Our New Home

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

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Just What Are You Expecting in 2016


As 2015 comes to a close tonight at 11:59, I would like to take a few moments to comment on the good, the bad and the ugly of this current year.  I realized this morning that for us, the end of 2015 was very much like the beginning of 2014.  It was a time where we were completely focused on moving!  Last year it was 3000 miles from the West Coast to the East while this year was but a hop, skip and a jump about 20 miles south-east to the countryside near the little town of Fuquay-Varina from the apartment we had been leasing in Morrisville, NC.  Each of the moves had their own unique challenges but both were loaded with the visible evidence of the Lord’s hand throughout the accomplishment of them!
Looking back over the entire 12 months of 2015, I can see all the positive lessons I have learned from both the good and bad experiences of life.  Like I stated above, my wife and I have incurred a great multiplicity of examples of Papa God proving His love, His grace, and His abundant provision to us as we have sought to stop, look and listen to Him through His Word, prayer and the leading of the Spirit deep inside of us.
One of the roughest lessons I’ve had to face and learn through was the shocking personal realization of how fear and depression can totally incapacitate an individual.  That understanding was cemented yesterday as I conversed with Piper’s homecare nurse about the powerful effects of depression.   It has solidified my resolve to never allow it a foothold in my life!  (and believe me, with the battle for my wife’s health, I have LOTS of opportunities!)  It makes me remember my wife’s ability to turn the threat of depression into an opportunity of praise and worship to our heavenly Father.  It was the caveat that empowered her to write and sing simple praise tunes to the Lord that numerous generation of kids that we worked with over the years are most likely teaching their own kids and grandchildren today!
Over the last month I have noticed many negative prophecies being shared in various Christian circles.  They highlight what the prophet declares is all the terrible changes and fearful things that we can look forward to in the next year.  The threat of terrorist attacks is being fueled through the TV and online news and talk shoes.  When I observe these reports I clearly see the enemy of our souls standing behind the scenes whispering: “Fear!"  "Fear!"  "Fear!” 
But when I read the Word of God the pressures of those fears are erased as I hear the voice of the angel as he spoke to the shepherds in Luke 2:10 expectantly declaring: “FEAR NOT: for behold I bring you tidings (or in modern language: ‘good news reports’) of great joy, which shall be to all people.” (KJV) 
I hear the reports from the Gospel of Mark where the writer boldly documents the works that the Lord Jesus has empowered each of His children to do on this earth and then sums it up with the iron-clad proof that he witnessed in the following years declaring that: “they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and CONFIRMING the word with (miraculous) signs following.” (Mark 16:20 KJV)   
And then the icing on the cake being the Apostle Paul’s peace-giving and confidence building statement to the young Pastor Timothy expectantly expressing the truth that he himself regularly experienced in the face of the continual dangers that affronted him with the faith building words that “God has NOT given us the spirit of fear, but of POWER, and of LOVE, and of a SOUND MIND.” (II Timothy 1:7 MKJV)
So with all that, I am boldly, excitedly and expectantly looking forward to the victories that the Lord has for me and my wife in 2016.  I am boldly, excitedly, and very expectantly looking forward to how the Lord will use my wife and I to share His loving, grace-filled and exceedingly, abundantly above Word of life with those we come into contact with throughout the New Year ahead!  
I declare in agreement with the Word that fear has NO hold and therefore NO place in me.  I choose to face and live the daily occurrences that I experience in 2016 through the filter of my increasing intimate experiential knowledge of Christ’s love, as Paul prays for us in Ephesians 3:19 and 20.
How about you?  What does the New Year of 2016 hold for you?  Remember 2 Corinthians 2:14 tells us in NO uncertain terms: NOW thanks be to God, who ALWAYS causes us to triumph in Christ…”  (2 Corinthians 2:14 MKJV)  Do you really believe that?
May the Lord bless you and fill you with His Love, His Grace, and His power as you walk each day in service unto Him in 2016… and through it all keep asking yourself… “Just what am I expecting in the New Year?”

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Past vs The Future...


Following the delivery of our new couch last week, I moved the old loveseat into the room we’ve been setting up to be our new Study.  On the following morning I officially moved my morning Bible Study time into that room… and it’s been pretty sweet!  The room just has a comfortable, peaceful and inviting feel about it. 
This morning as I meditated on the Word I was studying in Philippians 4:12-13, I leaned back in my desk chair and stared out the window for a while.  As I observed the quiet morning scene before me, I just seemed to soak in the tranquility of it all.  The tall trees, the green fields surrounding the distant houses and the meandering roads and long driveways leading up to our neighbor’s homes and I found myself greatly appreciating the idyllic nature of what my eyes were perceiving through the rectangular squares in our window pane.
The reality that “we really live here now” sort of floated into my being and I had a hard time resisting the smile that formed on my lips!  With that thought I also began to wonder what the future holds for my wife and I in this locale some 3000 miles from where we had lived the previous 50 plus years of our lives.  And you know… it wasn’t a scary thought but one that brought excitement to my spirit and a growing expectation of God’s best for us in the New Year ahead.
In Philippians 4:12, the Apostle Paul encourages us to forget the difficulties and problems of our past and to reach forth toward the things, the activities, the goals, the plans and the dreams that your future holds for you.   For many of us, that process can be very difficult.  For others it is like an enjoyable walk in the park!
I had to make a decision very early in this journey for my wife’s health that we’ve been on for the last six years.  I had to make up my mind that I was not going to dwell on how great things were BEFORE the onset of Alzheimer’s, but on how great our God is, and how great the FUTURE is that He still has planned for us to complete on this earth.  That is why I stay focused on the promises of healing in His Word.  That is why I have been following His command to me and have been inundating my wife with His Word on healing for over four years now.
I also keep mementoes of her in various locations around our home.  I have pictures taken at various times over the 45 plus years of our relationship on the walls, notes that she had written, a few articles of her clothing that she wore on special occasions, and I endeavor to keep up our relationship just like it has always been.  In fact, I received a really special complement yesterday from my younger son’s wife in a long phone conversation with her.  She mentioned that when she first met Piper’s family this last summer that they stated that she reminded them of my wife and took it as a complement.  But then she told me that the greatest complement she had received was from a good friend of hers as they were looking at Jeremy and her wedding pictures.
At one point she and her friend were talking about a particular pose where she was looking at Jeremy and they commented on what a special moment of unity it captured.  Then her friend said that it was even more special because Aubrey had the same look in her eyes that Jeremy’s Dad has when he looks at his wife, for you could really tell that he still very much loves her!  I freely admit that comment got me a bit choked up…
But I believe the point is that I love her for who she IS, not for who she WAS.  The things around the house that remind me of her continue to show me who she really is apart from the lying symptoms of the disease that has been attacking her.  It is who she is that keeps me going and expectantly trusting in the truth of God’s Word for her!
It is the Word of God that defines our future together and the things that Papa God still plans for us to complete as a team.  So with my focus on the Word, I don’t dwell on the wonderful times of the past, but I reach out to the good things in the future we are to do for Him.  As I peered out the window of the study this morning I could not but get excited about what is ahead for us.  I may not know what it is yet, but I do know that the best is yet to come!
What are your thoughts about the New Year to come?  Are you wallowing in the victories or problems of the past, or expectantly reaching out to what Papa God has in the future for you?  Are you basing your hopes on your memories or on what you see around you that may not look too great… or are you choosing to focus on what God’s Word says about your future?  Have a great last week of 2015 and keep asking yourself… What am I expecting from God and His Word for 2016?”

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Thursday, the FOURTH week of Advent - Christmas Eve


“Twas the night before Christmas

 when all through the house

 not a creature was stirring

 not even a mouse…” *
 

It is pretty clear to me that the author of that poem wrote from a vision of fantasy rather than from reality!  If you are anything like my wife and I, then you would know that the night before Christmas would not find everyone sleeping contentedly “nestled all snug in their beds” with Mama and Papa “settled for a long winter nap…” 
 

Sure the kids may be in the sack, but I can assure you that Mom and Dad are still up and covered in a furry of wrapping paper and scotch tape as they madly rush to wrap all the presents, only to see them torn open a very few hours later!  I can still clearly remember the consternation I felt back in the early 1980’s when I opened up the box of our young son’s gift of a GI Joe jet plane that was marked “some assembly required,” only to find an instruction sheet that when spread open would reach from one end of the room to the other!  I kid you not as there must have been a least a hundred pieces to painstakingly put together!  I think that my wife and I might have gotten about an hour’s sleep that night!

Then there was the doll house we bought for our girls a few years later that when it was finally completely assembled, I think I had just enough time to take a shower before we got the kids up!  But you know… now as I look back… I kind of miss those days!  For there is nothing like seeing the glee in your children’s eyes as they excitedly open up their gifts on Christmas morning!  Christmas this year is quite different with the kids grown, married and with kids of their own spread out across the country.  And while I did find the new tree complete with lights that we bought last year, I was only able to dig out one box of decorations and ornaments from the mountain of boxes from our recent move, that fill up our guest room.  But we still find glee and joy as we imagine the look of our kids and grandkids as they open up their gifts tomorrow morning, wherever they may be!
 

As you read this last installment of this year’s Advent Calendar today, I might suggest that you do so with the idea of experiencing that same joy of giving throughout the coming New Year.  Why not BE THE GIFT to another in need of everlasting life?  You have the ability and the means to be the carrier of the greatest gift any man or women could ask for… the gift of knowing Jesus Christ as personal Savior and Lord.  It is the gift that literally lasts a lifetime!  It is the gift that will cause that similar glee as seen on your children’s eyes on Christmas morning to be permanently etched in the eyes and countenance of those you give it too…
 

 

Be the Gift

 

Wednesday - the fourth week of Advent – Christmas Eve

 

Today’s Reading: Proverbs 22:17, Luke 1:78-79, Acts 2:38, Romans 5:15-16, Romans 6:23, 2 Corinthians 9:15, James 1:17-18

 

As a final consideration to our understanding and celebration of Christmas this year, I would encourage you to look beyond the time set aside for the holiday season and extend your “good will toward men” (Luke 2: 14 KJV) throughout the coming New Year!  When Zechariah prophesized at the birth of his son, he declared that John would tell of the One who would bring “A new day (that) will dawn on us from above because our God is loving and merciful.”  And how “He will give light to those who live in the dark and in death’s shadow.” (Luke 1:78-79 God’s Word ©)
 

As John the Baptist came to prepare the way for the Light to come into the people’s lives, we too can follow in his footsteps.  Or, as we have been talking about in the last couple of posts, we can “Be the Gift” or the bearer of the gift of light and life to those within our circle of influence in our daily lives.  You and I can have the privilege of letting others know that a new day is coming and is available to them!  I can’t think of a better quest for 2016, can you?  Just imagine the lives that can be changed as you and I become the ones to show forth the love and mercy of our loving God to those in need around us.
 

Then at the right time you can experience their joy as they open up the gift of the new life that only Jesus can bring!  So, once again, I would encourage you to make the time this Christmas season and beyond, to tell your world by both precept and example of the “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” (Luke 2:10 KJV)
 

May you and yours have the best, blessed and joyous Christmas that you have ever experienced in your life… and as you do, remember to keep asking yourself… “What joyous gift am I expecting to share with others today?”
 
Pastor Jim & Piper  


*Originally Written by Clement Clarke Moore for his family on Christmas Eve in 1822.  First published in the Troy (New York) Sentinel on December 23, 1823.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Wednesday, the FOURTH week of Advent


We had our new red leather loveseat delivered yesterday so I was able to move our old white leather loveseat into our new study.  This room is just about complete now.  All I need to do is to put up a few more pictures and other mementoes and then we will have our very inviting place to study God’s Word, read a good book (pay bills!...) or just chill out in!
 

I was finally able to get the furniture unpacked, assembled and moved into position in the various rooms by dinner time despite the time taken for the delivery and visits by Piper’s new homecare physical therapist and primary nurse.  I had to laugh a bit as I went through the house last night looking for the dog so I could feed her dinner.  I found her curled up on the couch in the study like it was her private domain. 
 

When I got up this morning an hour before I needed to help Piper up for the day, I brewed a fresh pot of Dunkin’ Donuts White Chocolate Peppermint coffee and headed into the study to enjoy the ambience of the room as I studied the Word of God.  The enjoyment of the room was complete when I heard the clicking of the dog’s nails on the hardwood floors in the hallway and watched her come up to me for her customary morning pet and then turn and hop on the couch with a look of pleasant contentment!
 

As I turned back to my Bible Study program on my laptop, I thought about just how long I have been following this same morning routine.  I can hardly remember when His Word became that important to me that I always made sure to schedule time with Him each morning.  All I know is that it has been a long term priority in my life that has paid out countless dividends over the many years!
 

Our Wednesday, the FOURTH week of Advent reading today talks about this same principle!  Take a moment before you read today’s Holiday post to think about your priorities in life and then keep them in mind as you meditate on today’s reading…
 

 

Personal Priorities…
 

Wednesday, the FOURTH week of Advent
 

 

Today’s Readings:  Psalm 5:12, Proverbs 3:1-6, Matthew 6:33, Luke 2:52
 

 

Have you ever noticed that there is only one verse in the New Testament that describes the formative years of Jesus’ life?  Luke 2:52 concludes the incident that we looked at in yesterday’s Advent reading declaring that Jesus “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” (KJV)  The next thing we read about in Matthew, Mark and Luke is Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist when He was approximately 29 or thirty years of age.  There is a seventeen year gap where the only thing we know is that Jesus “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”
 

But when you really begin to think about it, that verse is simply another fulfillment of all the Old Testament scriptures that point to Jesus’ coming into the world that began in that little town of Bethlehem so many years ago.  I thought I knew a lot when I went to Bible School after being in the ministry for almost thirty years, but I remember sitting in many of the classes with my mouth wide open in astonishment because of all the things being revealed that I didn’t know!  One of those classes was a detailed look into all the Old Testament scriptures that specifically told of or were types and shadows of the coming of the Messiah.
 

So when you look at it, that verse at the end of Luke chapter two is just one of many that talks about Jesus’ life and ministry.  It is also a very important verse for each of us to grab onto this Holiday season, for it describes the key to Jesus’ successful accomplishment of His calling.  He grew in wisdom, stature and in favor with both God and man.  How did He do that?  By studying, understanding and applying the Word.  The story of teenager Jesus sitting at the feet of the religious teachers and scholars demonstrates the hunger He already possessed for the things of God and obviously continued to go after throughout the next seventeen years of His life and into His public ministry years.
 

That one little verse is a gigantic lesson for us to appreciate and follow in our own lives.  Like Jesus, it is the key to a successful life for you and me!  I’ve often told of the habit I developed early in my Christian walk of making sure that I spend time alone with God at the beginning of every single day.  I have made it a priority in my life.  And it hasn’t mattered if I had to get up at 2:30 in the morning to get ready for the start of an early day on the job, if I was on vacation or at a Youth camp in the mountains with a cabin full of energy packed teenage boys.
 

I’ve have come to learn that we humans will always make time for the things that are important for us.  That reality has especially come forward in the course of the journey reclaiming my wife’s health that we have been on for six years now.  I have witnessed friends and family who seemed to be very busy always have (or make time) to minister to Piper.  And on the other hand, I have seen those who repeatedly apologize stating that they were just too busy to stop by and visit her.
 

I’ve discovered that when I put God and the study of His Word first, that I always seem to have time to complete all the other things on my daily “To Do” list.  When we observe Jesus’ adult ministry we notice that He always found time to steal away by Himself to spend time with His Father.  I’ve also found out that the more time I spend in His Word and in prayer, the more I desire to be with Him… and like I keep repeating in this blog, that time has given me my strength, fueled my expectations for God’s best and empowered my ability to go on each day especially when Piper’s having a rough day and things in the natural just don’t look too promising.
 

With all that in mind, I would joyfully encourage each of you to make a fresh commitment this Christmas to spend time with the Lord in His Word and in prayer as this year comes to a conclusion and then onward throughout the New Year to come.  You might even want to make it a family project to experience together in 2016. 
 

You’ve probably come to realize that I am an avid note taker and like to place written reminders of my goals in pertinent places around our home.  It helps me to remember things when the activities of daily life seem most overwhelming.  So again, I would suggest that you ask the Lord for directions today and then write down your plan on numerous "Post It’s" and place them on your refrigerator, bathroom mirror and/or on the dash of your car.  Make this Christmas to be extra special as you plan to celebrate His coming, His wisdom and His favor throughout the coming year! 
 

Have a great day and keep asking yourself… “How much time am I expecting to spend with Papa God this Christmas and then throughout the New Year?”

 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Tuesday, the FOURTH week of Advent


I must admit that I have not had a lot of time to think about Christmas this year.  A couple of weeks ago I was desiring to purchase and put up some lights around our covered front porch so as to blend in with some of our neighbors who have decorations and lights on their houses.  But that plan went up in smoke after a couple of emergency room visits for Piper turned my attention to her immediate needs.  When you combine that with settling in to the new house (ie; digging through the mountain of boxes stacked in various places around the house), purchasing and assembling some new furniture, home care nursing visits, follow-up doctor’s appointments… and the list seems to go on and on… Let’s just say that I have been a bit distracted!


I did manage to get the new tree we bought last year up, but can’t seem to find the boxes containing the ornaments and other Christmas decorations.  At least it has lights on it!  I also noticed that I just don’t have much desire to get into the Christmas excitement. 
 

The last few years have been difficult for me around the Holiday season.  The bottom line is that I miss sharing and celebrating this special time of the year with the full input and recognition of my wife Piper.  It is sort of like I go through the motions, but don’t have the zeal behind the actions!  Have you ever been there?
 

Today’s Tuesday, the FOURTH week of Advent reading tells of the excitement and adventure that the young teenage Jesus must have felt as He sat at the feet of the religious teachers and scholars during the family’s annual trip to Jerusalem.  That picture stirred me up today!  As I focused on God’s Word this morning, I began to feel a fresh tinge of excitement and expectation for the things of God in Piper’s and my life.  It felt like the Holy Spirit had dropped another big log into the fire that was smoldering in my heart.
 

As the flames began to brighten, I began to discover a new hope and a new joy for the promises we have been standing on for about six years now.  And even though Piper had kind of a rough start today, I am still sensing that new surge of excitement for Christmas and the New Year that is just around the corner!
 

Do you ever find yourself fighting a bit of discouragement or depression in the midst of the celebration of the birth of the Christ child?  Well, I believe that the excitement and adventure that you’ll read about today, can and will have the “SPARK” to reignite your trust, faith and expectation in God’s best for your life!
 

 

The Greatest Gift!

 

Tuesday, the fourth week of Advent

 

Today’s Readings:  Exodus 23:14-17 / Deuteronomy 16:16 / Luke 2:41-52

 

As the end of our daily look at the story of the first Christmas draws near in this season of Advent, it is only fitting that we take a peek at “the only passage of story recorded concerning our blessed Savior, from his infancy to the days of his showing to Israel at twenty-nine years old…” (Luke 2:41-52 Matthew Henrys Commentary on the Whole Bible)  It is interesting to note that this incident takes place when Jesus was about the same age as His mother when the angel Gabriel originally appeared to her as a young teenage girl.
 

Many years had passed since the miraculous set of events had occurred to Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus in Bethlehem.  Jesus as a young man of twelve was at the age when “boys began preparing to take their place in the religious community the following year.”  (Luke 2:42 footnote in NIV Study Bible)  But there was something different about this lad that separated Him from others his age.  I believe that this unique quality that set Him apart is the key to understanding this portion of scripture.
 

Jesus had a hunger for more of God.  He was also at the age where He was beginning to develop greater cognitive abilities and understanding of the world around Him, as well as seeing the first light of dawn concerning His divine purpose.  His retort to His mother after she had shared Joseph’s and her concern for Him was not one of rebellion, but simply an honest answer as seen through the eyes of a typical Middle School boy!  He was so focused on the revelation that was beginning to unfold to His understanding that I believe He did not even consider the worry and anxiety that His actions had caused His parents.  He was beginning to see that He had a job to do and decided that He would do it!
 

Jesus walked in the footsteps of David as He marveled and sought after the Lord’s precepts. (See: Psalm 119:99-106)  And like the Apostle Paul who would come after Him, He sat at the feet of the rabbis who were the experts in Judaism, absorbing their every word like a sponge absorbs water! (See: Acts 22:3)  But as the realization of the unveiling of His calling was beginning to come to Him, Jesus was also “an obedient child, whatever sense He also had of another relationship unconnected in itself with subjection to human parents.  Consciousness of the one did not injure His perfection in the other.” (Luke 2: 41-52 John Darby’s Synopsis)  Jesus duly obeyed the word of His earthly parents, went back home with them to Nazareth and “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:52 NIV)
The example for us to draw from this portion of our story is Jesus’ hunger for the things of God.  His pursuit and obedience to His father’s Word was the foundation for everything He became in life.  Every action that He took was based on His intimate knowledge of His father’s love and faithfulness to His Word.  That is also the key to yours and my success in the New Year ahead.  Jesus was the ultimate gift given to the world on that first Christmas over 2000 years ago.  It would be quite a shame to leave a gift of that magnitude unopened under the tree this year! 
 

Think about the look of excitement and adventure that must have been glowing in the eyes of Jesus as He sat at the feet of the religious scholars while they expounded the truths of the scriptures to Him!  You can experience that same excitement, peace and joy that will lead you through every adventure that you face ahead.  2 Timothy 1:7 declares that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power (or ability) and of love and of a sound mind.” (NKJV)  All the tools and all the answers are to be found in His Word… and they are all very user friendly!
 

As you open presents with family and friends this Christmas choose to remember to open and then fully utilize the greatest gift of all.  Then you’ll experience life in the New Year to come with a peace and joy like you’ve never realized before!  Have a Blessed and Joyous Christmas!  Stay in tune to His Word, share this reading with another today and keep asking yourself… What Exciting and Adventurous things am I expecting today and to continue through 2016?” 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Monday, the FOURTH week of Advent


A funny thing happened the other day.  We had only been in our new house for a few weeks when I was inside helping my wife with some personal needs while our Australian Shepherd was out back.  The pooch had quickly developed the habit of walking along the fence line, down one side, the back and then the other side before venturing off to sniff the middle ground of the yard.  Suddenly I heard her frantically barking and wasn’t able to discern her intent.  The problem was that I was right in the middle of something with Piper and couldn’t stop in order to check on the dog.
 

I was beginning to get alarmed as the barking intensity seemed to be increasing.  Since our new yard backs up to a wooded area I could just imagine what kind of wild beast was attacking our dog!  In my quest to get outside and save the dog, I had to jostle Piper a bit, was finally able to finish the task at hand and practically jumped over her chair as I stumbled to get to the backyard.
 

When I got to the deck overlooking the yard I could not help but feel a little bit foolish as I bent over in laughter.  There was Mandie in the middle of the yard, lying on her back, twisting back and forth and gleefully barking at the sky!  Up to that point I thought I knew the sound of her different barks.  The playful bark, the “I spotted another dog going by our house” bark, her protective bark and her welcome home bark.
 

She had never taken this action before and it surprised me.  But then again, we haven’t had a house with a real backyard for many years.  I think she was just expressing her gratitude of having the freedom of a large playground!  Recognizing her various barks and their different meanings got me to thinking about hearing the voice of God.  His voice is one that I depend on and have done so for many years.  Sometimes other voices come in from all sides to try and divert me from hearing and following His voice but I have learned (most times) to quiet those distractions and hone in on His directions for me and my family.
 

It is obvious from reading the Christmas story that Joseph and Mary had honed that same skill down to an unquestionable source of life for them to follow… and it literally saved their lives on more than one occasion.  How good is your hearing these days?  Are you able to quickly discern the voice of God as He speaks to you?  Consider that as you meditate on today’s Monday, the FOURTH week of Advent reading.

 

The Voice!

 

Monday, the fourth week of Advent


 

Today’s Readings:  Matthew 2: 19-23, Luke 2:39-40, Acts 9:1-8, Acts 22:6-10

 
 

 

In concluding the story of the first Christmas, Luke 2:39 begins by stating that “When they finished everything required by God… they (Joseph, Mary and Jesus) returned to Galilee and their own home town, Nazareth.” (The Message Bible)  I would imagine that as they turned their attention back up north from which their journey had begun, they did so with a sense of relief but yet with expectancy for what lie ahead in the years to come for their small family.  As I read this verse, I was over-taken with thoughts on the significance of what was meant by “they finished everything required by God.”
 

As I went back over the various parts of the written documentation of the event that would change the course of history for mankind, I noticed that the common thread was that each of the participants in the story began their journeys by hearing and then obeying the VOICE of the Lord spoken directly to them.  Beginning with Zachariah and then continuing with Mary, Elizabeth, Joseph, Simeon, Anna and the shepherds, each of these individuals heard the VOICE of the Lord through a variety of interventions and channels of communication.
 

I began to see that it was the recognition of that VOICE that gave them the peace, confidence, commitment and fortitude to follow through on everything required of them to the point of completion.  It was the memory of that VOICE that empowered them to keep going no matter what others around them thought or said about them and the unusual mission each one of them were carrying out!  Their ultimate trust in that VOICE gave Mary and Joseph the confidence and strength to begin a long journey on a donkey when their baby was due at any time.  That VOICE instilled in them the ability and wisdom to set out in the middle of the night to a foreign country when their baby’s life was threatened.  And it was that VOICE that led them safely back to their hometown when the coast was clear and safe.
 

As I look back now, I can clearly see that it was my wife’s and my confidence in that same VOICE that we heard when He told us that it was the right time to move to Oklahoma to attend Bible College.  It was our trust and familiarity with that VOICE that gave us the joy, stamina and grace to endure the persecution we received from various family members concerning their disagreement to our decision to follow that VOICE and “Go Ye!” (See Matthew 28:19 KJV) during as well as after we concluded the event!
 

In some respects though, I can now understand some of their confusion with our following that VOICE.  In Paul’s recollection of his saving encounter with that VOICE in Acts 22:6-10, he stated that “The men who were with me saw the light but didn’t understand what the person who was speaking to me said.” (Acts 22:9 God’s Word ©)  John Wesley in his Explanatory Notes wrote that “they did not hear the voice – Distinctly; but only a confused noise.”  It would seem that the words were only for Paul’s ears and heart to hear, and not for those around him.  That would explain why others around us, even those with a close family relationship, did not understand what we were called to do.  To them our move didn’t make a lot of sense.  It was a confusing noise that they were determined to clear up for us!
 

To Joseph and Mary and the other main characters in our story of the first Christmas, that VOICE meant the difference between failing the unique mission in life they were called to complete or to be able to march in God’s planned victory parade!  As you enter into this Christmas week I would encourage you to think about the many times that you may have heard that VOICE in your own life over the years.  I can’t help but wonder if those who disagreed with our following that VOICE throughout the years were just unknowingly reacting to their own past experiences with that VOICE and the possibility that they may not have obeyed His directions due to their concerns with financial security, the seemingly impossibilities of the request and/or of the fear of what others might have said…
 

Maybe 2016 is to be a breakthrough year for you to follow that VOICE that next time you hear it, without any reservations.  If that is your decision, then why not cut out a star shape from a piece of white paper and jot down that decision on the star and then hang it on your tree or among your other Christmas decorations displayed around your home.  Then when you take down the decorations after the holidays, tape that star on your refrigerator or bath room mirror as a reminder of your new found commitment to faith in His love generated, faithful and faith-filled VOICE!  Have a great week and keep asking yourself… “What commitment am I expecting to His VOICE today?”

Friday, December 18, 2015

Friday, the THIRD week of Advent


With the recent passing of my wife’s Dad, I have had some time to consider the role that Grandfather’s play in the lives of their kid’s children.  I’ve come to the realization that although Piper’s family has demonstrated some personal difficulties in coming to terms with the attack on her health as of late, that they were always wonderful to our kids. 

That thought got me to look at things just a little bit differently.  Lately I have begun to look at the situation through the eyes of a child and their relationship to their Grandpa… and in particular, my relationship with my maternal Grandfather.
 

I never had the honor of knowing my paternal Grandfather as he passed away before I was born succumbing to the negative effects of a lifelong habit of Italian Toscano Cigars.   My Mom’s Dad though, was a powerful influence in my life.  As I considered this, I realized that his passing was the most difficult death that I have had to face so far in my life.
 

My Mother once commented that I was most like my Grandfather.  He could do no wrong in my life.  He’s one of main reasons I have a love for gardening and yard care.  He’s the one that taught me by example to make sure that my wife’s needs were always met before attending to the needs of others when out in public, at family gatherings and at home.  His visible affection to my Grandmother was a sterling example that I have always sought to imitate.  I have a clear picture in my mind’s eye of them holding hands as they walked together coming up my parent’s long driveway.  He is also the reason I wear my watch upside down.  I do it because he did, I later came to find out that he wore it that way as he was a dress maker and co-owner of a garment factory in New York and wore it as such so he could check the time while cutting out patterns!
 

As I look at our children today, I can’t help but be proud of the way that they responded to their Grandpa “Sir’s” declining health.  The multiple phone calls from the out of state kids, regular visits and assistance from our son and his family in California and the unscheduled flights from Oklahoma to California by our youngest son.  I can only hope that even though we do not live near our Grandkids that I can have the same lasting effects that my Grandpa had on me and Piper’s Father had on our children.
 

Today’s Friday, the third week of Advent reading talks about how our lives can and should have a positive effect on the children in our own families as well as the children and youth that we might influence in our neighborhoods, our churches, the stores we shop in and those we walk past in our regular daily activities.  Think about what influence you play or could play in the lives of the young people who you interact with as you meditate on today’s blog post.
 

 

Christmas Kids…
 

Friday, the third week of Advent


 

Today’s Readings:  Proverbs 22:6 / Luke 2:39-40

 

As we near the conclusion of the story of the first Christmas, our portion of scripture in Luke infuses with Matthew’s details concerning Joseph, Mary and Jesus’ escape to Egypt and their eventual return to Israel.  The author makes a point to declare that “they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.”  (Luke 2:39 KJV)  It must have been very important to God that Jesus be raised in the familiarity of His earthly parent’s home town.  To have the comfort and security of living amongst family and friends who knew and cared for them.
 

From the scarce amount of information that the canonical scriptures give us, we can come to the conclusion that Jesus lived an ordinary childhood and experienced the same pleasures, trials and challenges that all children do as they grow up.  But verse 40 establishes some very important details about His childhood and the way He was raised.
 

I believe that this small section of our story is to be read as a tribute to Joseph and Mary! The NKJV says that “the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.”  The God’s Word © translation ends the verse by stating that “He gained favor from God and people.”  These statements make it clear that Jesus’ earthly parents taught Him by precept and (probably more importantly) by example the things of God.  They did whatever it took to establish Mary’s first born son in the understanding, trust and love of His Father God.  And this was not accomplished at the expense of a natural education.  While Jesus was a well-rounded individual in His secular and spiritual education, what preeminently came forth in His adult life and ministry was the firm foundation of the Word that was put into Him, primarily by the effort of His parents.
 

I think that this is one of the greatest lessons that parents, grandparents and all relatives alike should learn to follow in this life!  We have a responsibility to the children and youth around us to be the best example of God’s love and holy living that we can be.  I must confess that this was one of the primary reasons that I gave up having an occasional glass of wine or a beer many years ago.  As I prayed and agonized over this, I came one day to the realization of the poor example that I was setting for my own children as well as for the ones that I ministered to in our church and as a soccer coach!
 

Many times the church will tend to attach Jesus’ unquestioning trust in God to His being the Son of God.  But Jesus lived a normal life as the Son of Man until the Holy Spirit came upon Him following His baptism by John the Baptist.  At that point I don’t believe that He was suddenly endued with all spiritual wisdom and understanding, but came to a much greater understanding of all the teaching that His earthy parents had bestowed upon Him as He grew up under their love and care.  And you know what?  It is never too late to start, especially if this wasn’t the pattern you demonstrated when your kids were at home!  I have developed a stronger relationship now with my adult children than when they were younger.  Now it is increasingly more exciting and rewarding to share the Word and our experiences with our faith to each other as never before!
 
I also hold my responsibilities as a grandfather in high esteem and honor.  I desire to back up the kid’s parents and be able to share from my life’s experiences through the Word of God!  Then there are the neighborhood kids, the kids at church, the young adults who bag my groceries and… the potential just goes on and on!  I want to have the same kind of purpose, commitment and unselfish heart that Joseph and Mary demonstrated to Jesus!  How about you?  Maybe that is one of the gifts that you can give to the children and youth in your family, your church and in your world!  Have a great weekend and keep an eye open for those young folks that you can bless this Holiday Season.  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “WHO or What am I expecting to Be An Example To today?”

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Thursday, the THIRD week of Advent

I’ve mentioned before of how our return to our hometown in California after our three year stay in Oklahoma so I could complete my Bible School education, found everything to be different!  Even though it was the place where my wife and I were born, grew up, married and raised our family, it just wasn’t the same place anymore.  All the foundations of our previous 50 some years there had changed. 


Our family relationships were on a different level, and in some circumstances even a bit strained. The church which we had helped to start and had been an integral part of its life and growth had a new pastor and was headed in a new direction.  We moved into a neighborhood on the other side of town from where we had spent the majority of our married years together, our kids were married and/or living in other states, and we were facing the greatest battle of our lives with the attack upon my wife’s health.

To say that the following six years were a bit difficult, confusing and frustrating would be a great understatement, but through it all, I had an underlying sense that it was a temporary condition.  I would imagine that Joseph and Mary had a similar sense on the inside of them as they suddenly found themselves on the move to a foreign country.

What do you do when you find yourself in this situation?  Well, we just kept plugging along holding fast to the words that the Lord had given us before the move back home.  Now about six years later we have a clearer picture of what His plan has been for us with our new country home in North Carolina!  In 2009 I would NEVER have envisioned us living on the East Coast.  When we moved back home I swore that we’d never leave California again… But God had a different plan… and I am SO glad that we stayed sensitive to His continual leadings and directions through all the turmoil, contrary advice that people gave us, and the continual attacks of frustration, confusion and a tinge of anger that I had to deal with along the way… most likely just like Joseph and Mary also had to face while in Egypt.

Have you ever found yourself living in a temporary Egypt in your lives?  If so, keep a special attention as you meditate on today’s Thursday, the third week of Advent reading!
 


Stigmas!

Thursday, the third week of Advent
 


Today’s Readings:  Isaiah 11:1 / Matthew 2:19-23 / John 1:46 / John 7:52

 


In some respects it is difficult to sense what Joseph and Mary must have been feeling when they suddenly found themselves on the run and living in a foreign land.  My understanding is that Egypt was a Roman province at that time and that there was a fairly large contingent of Jewish settlers living there.  With that in mind, it would not have been as big a shock as if they had to cross the border and try to fit into a totally independent country, with different laws, a different culture and different traditions.  It reminds me of our stay in Oklahoma a few years back when we moved there so that I could attend Bible College.  It too was a temporary stay, but the main difference was that we had a specific purpose in being there with a definite beginning and ending point.

Joseph, Mary and Jesus on the other hand did not have that foundation.  They just knew that they needed to go there in a hurry and then wait until the angel returned with the news that they could go home again.  We took a year to plan our move, search out employment, housing and generally get everything set before the moving van arrived.  We also had been there on numerous previous occasions so we already knew the lay of the land.  As we mentioned yesterday, Joseph and Mary had no such luxury!

I have read of all kinds of estimates as to how long they actually sojourned in Egypt, ranging from two months to six years.  Think about it for a moment.  What do you do?  Do you get a temp job or go through all the work of starting your business up, rent or buy a home, live off your savings, attempt to set down some roots?  What a quagmire to find yourself in!

Then the day finally arrived when the angel shows up again and tells Joseph that “those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” (Mathew 2:20 NKJV) Whew!  What a relief they must have experienced.  But then their plans changed again.  According to the scriptures, Joseph and Mary had every intention of returning to Bethlehem and raise Jesus there, but once more, God had a different idea!  Being as the new leadership in Bethlehem was as bad or maybe even worse than the previous administration, the angel informed them that they needed to go back home to Nazareth in the region of Galilee.

As we have witnessed throughout our story, this was done so as to fulfill the ancient prophecies.  An interesting point about Galilee and Nazareth in particular, was that they were areas “whose inhabitants were objects of sovereign contempt to the Jews.” (John Darby’s Synopsis)  Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary says that “The family must settle in Galilee.  Nazareth was a place held in bad esteem, and Christ was crucified with this accusation.”  Jesus carried that “put down” or stigma with Him throughout His earthly ministry!

How many of us have “put downs” that sit on our shoulders everywhere we go?  The real question is how we deal with it.  It definitely didn’t stop Jesus from successfully completing the tremendously tough assignment He accepted from His father.  Can you say the same thing?  I think Joseph and Mary probably figured that it would have been much easier to raise God’s Son in the royal city of His earthly ancestor David within the close proximity to Jerusalem, where they assumed that Jesus would have the bulk of His adult ministry.  And they were probably right. 

Jesus could very well of lived a more privileged life around those who had heard and or seen the miraculous events surrounding His birth.  But like we said, God had a much different plan and a deeper purpose than just Jesus’ personal well-being.  A privileged life would have made Him less accessible to the common folk, and totally divorced Him from any contact with the Gentiles.  Jesus began His ministry as a common man but ended up making a life-changing impact on this world that is still felt strongly today!

What a great example for us to follow in our individual lives.  Each of has a unique background and a special set of gifts and talents, but share the same love of our heavenly Father.  It doesn’t matter what stigmas we may carry, where we’ve been and what we have been through, He has given each of us the tools in His Word for us to successfully make our mark in this world!

Talk about a Christmas gift that you can really use!  Jesus, God’s love, who came down on that first Christmas thousands of years ago, is on your side, and has your best interests in mind.  If you find yourself living in a type of Egypt today, rejoice and be glad that God has your back!  Don’t give in to feeling sorry for yourself either!  And don’t think for a moment that you are all alone.  “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  (Hebrews 13:5 NKJV)  Is there someone that you can share the greatest gift with today?  Take a look around you whether you are in Egypt or not, for there are others in a worst place than you!    Go ahead!  Be brave and make their day!    Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What or Whom am I expecting to BLESS today?”