The new house!

The new house!
This is our spring and summer view from the kitchen of our new home in Oklahoma!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The (post) Christmas Muse… What Star?

I take the dog out every night around ten or so that he can take care of his needs before we head off to bed.  As with our last dog, I used to simply open the door and let Fiver go out and do his thing.  That process worked well for our 13 year old dog who simply went out, took care of her business and quickly returned to the comfort of the home.  But Fiver… well, he did well until the middle of summer’s muggy heat and rain which turned our backyard into a menagerie of sounds, smells and movements!

It is interesting how much the environment changes out here with the weather differences during each of the four distinct seasons.  In the heat of the summer it seems as if every creature within a few miles of our yard comes out and wants to make their presence heard… if not seen as well. 

Let’s see, we have the frogs that croak and the ones that quack like a duck before and during a storm, the rabbits who come under the fence and try to stay in the back shadows of the yard, the various birds that call to each other, the chatter of the squirrels in the trees that line two sides of the yard, the crickets and of course the ever present cicadas.  With all those sounds invading the yard it is no surprise that Fiver just seemed to go wacky when let out.  He would run from side to side and back to front with his nose in the air and his big ears peaked upon his head.

Needless to say, he would get thoroughly distracted, forget what he was supposed to be doing out there and of course… completely ignore my ever increasing calls for him to return to the house!  That’s when I decided that it would be best for him and me if I were to take him out at night on the lease.  And you know… he does really good!  He goes out to a particular spot near the patio, takes care of business and then turns and leads me back up the stairs to the deck and into the house!  This makes life a lot more peaceful for me, for when we return to the house, I can easily focus on helping my wife to prepare for bed.

On clear nights, I love to look up to the bright expanse of the stars that are on display in the heavens above our home.  Sometimes I like to turn the patio light off when we go out the door so that there is no artificial light to dim the scene unfolding in the skies.  On many occasions I’ll find myself mesmerized by the sight I am viewing with my upturned head and then am rudely interrupted as the dog has finished his job and yanks me back to reality in his desire to return to the deck!

Every time I look at the stars I am reminded of Papa God’s words to Abraham concerning the number of offspring that He promised him.  I also consider the many times throughout the scriptures that the stars are used to remind men and women of heaven, the presence of God and of His faithfulness to us, His children.  At this time of year I also think about the star that led the wise men to the baby Jesus.

As I read from the account of Matthew over the last few weeks, I found it interesting that it seemed like nobody else saw the star except these men!  Matthew 2:1-2 tells us that once they got to Jerusalem they asked all around the town to no avail for assistance in finding Jesus while they explained how the star had led them there.  Even Herod didn’t know anything about what they were talking about… except that the talk of another king definitely scared him!

Then after leaving the presence of the local king, the star miraculously reappears and goes and sits right over the house where Mary, Joseph and the baby resided… but the story doesn’t say anything about others in the town seeing the star and gathering around the home to find out what was going on!  I mean let’s face it… a bright light like that would definitely attract a crowd around here!  Just look how on-lookers are drawn to flashing red and blue lights.. or to the effects of a spot light flashing across the evening sky.

That insight into the story got me to thinking about all the times that the Lord has spoken through that small-still inner voice to Piper and I over the years.  That small-still voice has probably also spoken to all of you at one time or another in your lives.  Sometimes you recognize it, and at other times you might not.  Over the years I find the Lord usually working in a familiar pattern and have become faster in my recognition and obedience to His voice and directions.

What I have also discovered is that just like the star that led the wise men, not everyone else around you will see what you have seen or heard!  But like the wise men, I have learned to persevere no matter what others may say or think about our obedience to the call of the Lord.  After all, I can’t necessarily expect other folks to understand what we are doing as the Lord has spoken to us and not them!  And He usually works through each of us in relation to our level of faith and Christian maturity, our lifestyle, the unique set of circumstances that surround our lives, our background and history and maybe more importantly, through the expectations and dreams in our hearts. 

After finally reaching their goal of finding Jesus, Matthew 2:10 reports of the wise men that “They could hardly contain themselves:  They were in the right place!  They had arrived at the right time!” (The Message Bible)  I was telling someone just the other day that even though we went through some rough times while staying faithful in our following of the Lord’s call for us to pack up and move to Oklahoma so that I could finish my Bible College education, that everything ended up happening just as He said it would!  With all that in mind I can heartily agree with the wise men’s sentiments saying with great exuberance that “We were in the right place and arrived at the right time!”

So for the rest of this holiday season and into the New Year, I would heartily encourage each of you to listen for and obediently follow the leadings that the Lord has specifically for you!  And while it is good to seek counsel from others with whom you trust … in the end, make sure that you are following His wisdom and not that of man… for they might not know all the intricate details of your lives and have the faith-filled confidence in you and your abilities as Papa God does!

Have a great rest of 2016 and as you do, keep asking yourselves… “What adventures am I expecting to embark upon with the leading and direction of the Lord in 2017?”

Monday, December 26, 2016

The (post) Christmas Muse... Meditation and Reflection

Well… today is the day that you get up a bit groggy from all the effort and energy that you have expended over the previous day(s) activities and walk through your once pristine living room now cluttered with piles of torn Christmas wrappings, open boxes and scatterings of popcorn, cookie crumbs and glasses smeared with a dried on golden substance from the egg nog that they held the night before.  Once you get the coffee brewed and take that first sip, you sigh with a happy note and recall the fun time you had with family and friends over the Christmas celebration.  Then, the mess in the house and the dirty dishes in the kitchen sink just don’t seem to matter anymore!  The joys of the season take over as you allow the warmth of those good feelings to filter through your conciseness…

While I did not wake up to a dirty house this morning, I did wake up to many pleasant thoughts from an enjoyable Christmas experience the day before as Piper and I spent time with our older daughter and her husband at our home in the country.  It was actually kind of a quick start day!  I woke up, rolled over on my back and spent a moment reminiscing over the gathering with two of our four kids and then of the Face Time and phone calls with the other three kids in California and Oklahoma.  Then I turned to my left to check out the clock to see how much more time I had before I needed to get up and was shocked to see that it was actually a half hour past my normal get up time!

I quickly rubbed my eyes and blinked a few times to make sure I was seeing correctly and like the classic Christmas poem says, “I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter!”  Well, in reality I knew what “was the matter…” as I had overslept and if I was to keep a strict schedule on the application of Piper’s meds, I was supposed to be getting Piper up at that VERY moment! 

But thankfully, a spirit of calm prevailed and I realized before I stepped into the bathroom, that with the company and events of the day yesterday, that I had been late in getting Piper her evening medicines and therefore was actually on schedule for today –WHEW!  You have to understand that I really strive to keep my lovely wife on her schedule so as to lessen any cause for discomfort or distress on her behalf.  I guess I get pretty hard on myself when I mess things up with her as my affection for her causes me to want to make sure that all of her needs are met BEFORE she has any problems!

So… after that little bit of trauma, the morning has gone well for us and Piper is now resting comfortably in her chair after having some Word, some breakfast and we read in the new book we recently started together called: “The Father and His Family” by E.W. Kenyon.  It’s actually rather peaceful in the house right now while I sit here at the dining room table and reflect over our time spent with our kids.  For me, our time together was just what the doctor ordered!  

I don’t admit it too often but there are times in caring for my wife that I get a little lonely and a little worn over the situation and the demands of our daily routine.  I have always worked at least two jobs (sometimes three!) simultaneously throughout our marriage and have seen some stressful times, but nothing compares to the energy and emotional output that one expends when caring 24/7 for a loved one… Especially when that loved one is the very heart and soul of your life!  

So… the good conversation, good food (I BBQed some Ribeye steaks thinking it would be nice to shake up the usual Christmas meal of turkey and all the fixings!) and lots of good laughter was a bullseye on the target of my needs!  Today will be a day to relax as I sit back (yeah right… sit back…) and meditate and reflect on the previous day’s events.

I noticed as I read from the Biblical Christmas story as described by Luke in chapter two of his gospel, that Mary also did a lot of meditation and reflection over all the events and conversations that surrounded the birth of her first born son.  In verses 17-19 we find a lot of activity going on in the stable where Jesus was born as the shepherds and others in attendance conversed and theorized about the night’s activities.  

It states that: “when they saw it, (the baby Jesus in the manger as the angel had told them) they gave them an account of the things which had been said to them about the child. And all those to whose ears it came were full of wonder at the things said by the keepers of the sheep. But Mary kept all these words in her heart, and gave much thought to them.” (The 1965 Bible in Basic English)  This is said again of Mary a little later in the story when it describes the incident some 12 years later when Mary and Joseph found Jesus discussing deep religious truths with the priests in the temple after their yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem. (See Luke 2:51)

I find a connection to Mary in these scriptures as I tend to be slow when it comes to making quick decisions or statements following startling or important events or situations that I am faced with.  I am not sure if it is my ministerial background and training or just my personality, but I like to ponder over things that are said or done before I comment on them.  I like to be somewhat confident that what I say next is going to be helpful in the context of the conversation… at least that is what I strive for!

Most Biblical scholars seemed to agree that Mary was most likely between twelve and fifteen years of age when the angel of the Lord appeared to her.  She had to be a very mature and spiritual young lady in order to be hand-picked by Papa God to fulfill the responsibilities that He had planned for her to accomplish!  I would imagine that those responsibilities rested very heavy upon her and that it was with much wisdom that she kept her thoughts to herself while she “kept all these words in her heart, and gave much thought to them.”  Then when she spoke, I bet everybody listened with rapt attention!

What Mary did took much self-control, confidence and ultimate trust in her Lord.  I think that she is a perfect example of the actions of one that walked in an intimate experiential knowledge of the love of God for her!  Who knows… she might have been in the back of the Apostle Paul’s mind when he prayed for that special experience and knowledge to be a major foundation in the lives of those at the church at Ephesus. (See Ephesians 3:19)

That is the kind of experience and intimate knowing that Piper and I have come to find throughout this journey that we have found ourselves in with her health needs.  Like I have said on countless other occasions, I don’t know what I would have done without the amazing realization of His love for the two of us!  That intimate knowledge of Christ’s love for us has been the rock that has kept us grounded throughout the gale winds of this storm in our lives.  It is also the foundation that has helped me to not make snap decisions or comments when negative things are happening at the moment and/or not progressing the way I think they should be!

Yes, Christmas is a time of giving, but it is also a time of loving and trusting the Lord… and in deepening your own intimate, experimental knowing of Christ’s love for you.  That is what I plan to keep foremost in my thoughts throughout this last week of 2016 and it is also what I plan to focus on as I look forward to the New Year ahead!  How about You?

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Christmas Muse... The Empire Strikes Back!

Boy, did our pooch have the vinegar this morning!  When I let him out he first ran over to our neighbor’s side of the yard to check and see if their fuzzy little white dog was out and about.  When that proved negative he ran down the fence line to the corner post near the back gate and nuzzled against the fence slates just in case the screws I put in to inhibit his ability to exit the yard had come loose.  When that didn’t work he quickly ran across the yard, down the other fence line and up to the forest side front fence.

Once he determined that there were no rabbits, vultures, hawks, deer or the evil squirrels to chase, he turned and ran at top speed back across the yard to his initial position and his observation of the neighbor’s back deck!  During all of this I stood on our deck snuggled up in my heavy wool-lined hoodie and laughed aloud in between acting as a play by play announcer for my wife who was seated at the table just inside the open sliding doors.  

After a few more seconds, Fiver took off across the yard again and suddenly stopped near the play structure and turned to look at me with that look on his face that just seemed to say: “Well?”  And being the good father that I am, I knew exactly what he was requesting, so I ran into the house and grabbed his bowl of treats.  Then I went back outside, walked down the steps to the patio and squatted down with the bowl in my outreached hand.  He took one look at me and ran with a renewed burst of energy toward me.  As he approached I stood up while he ran past me, literally flew over the three steps leading up to the deck and ran inside the house where he stopped, turned and sat down waiting for me and his treat… to which I heartedly obliged him.

You know… that’s the way I like to start my days.  With purpose, mixed with enthusiasm, excitement and a few good laughs!  How about you?  Well… while reading from the very beginning of Luke chapter two, I got the idea that this is exactly what the good Lord also wants for us… and that He has even provided a way to accomplish it… no matter what our circumstances may be!

It was Luke 2:1 as paraphrased in The Message Bible that got me to thinking about this hypothesis.  It reads: “About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the empire.”  Now this may seem a little out of context for the Christmas season… but as soon as I read this verse yesterday, I immediately thought about the original Star Wars movies… and in particular the 1980 sequel entitled: “The Empire Strikes Back.”

I had to laugh and push back my chair while my mind wrapped itself around the idea that was percolating in it!  I finally turned to my wife who was sitting quietly next to me and said: “That’s exactly what Jesus came to do through His church!”  I found it interesting this morning when I realized that the same word translated “empire” in the Message or “world” in the King James is used by Jesus himself when He talked to His disciples about the end of the age saying: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto; and then shall the end come.” (KJV)

If you exchange “Empire” for “world” in that translation you will probably see where I am going with this.  Caesar Augustus thought that he had sovereign and ultimate rule over his empire… But Papa God had a higher plan of a greater empire… the kingdom of God… that would eventually be preached all over the world, offering those who accepted Jesus as personal Savior and Lord freedoms and power that the Caesar’s authority could never match and on top of that… the promise of eternal life through Him.  Like WOW!

You see…. Christmas is really a celebration of “The Empire Striking Back!”  Caesar Augustus was simply a pawn used to help set up God’s plan of salvation and the proliferation of a Godly empire in those who would eventually accept that little baby who was humbly born in that stable in Bethlehem.  Kinda puts another whole spin on Christmas doesn’t it?

I admit that I was disappointed when my pregnant wife and I left that theater back in 1980 after watching the movie “The Empire Strikes Back.”  I don’t like it when the bad guys prevail… and I had to wait another three years and two kids later before I got to see the good guys win the war!  But as a Christian… I don’t have to wait for all that Jesus has already provided for me through His finished work of the cross.  

Every morning I pray over my wife from the prayer that Jesus told His disciple to pray saying: “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom (or EMPIRE) come.  Thy will be done in earth, right here at 410 Sherman Rd, in Fuquay-Varina NC, in Piper, just as it is in heaven…” (Matthew 6:9-10 KJV-personalized)  You see… as far as Papa God and His Word is concerned… His EMPIRE has struck back, and I am claiming His kingdom’s provisions for my wife!

Because of what was set in motion way back in that little town of Bethlehem some 2000 plus years ago, you and I can walk in confidence, in boldness, in power and in love… even when things and people around us may not be loving!  You and I have the power of God’s EMPIRE living in us, for us and through us!  You see… I don’t have to be disappointed at how this story ends because I know what the end of the book says… and you and I as citizens of God’s EMPIRE win!

Papa God presented His EMPIRE to a dying world who had no access to Him when that little baby was born of a virgin girl in that insignificant little town many centuries ago!  He presented The WAY and the means for us to draw near to the Father, live a successful life and help others to reach the same place of inner peace and victory!

So what do you say?  How are you going to celebrate Christmas this Sunday?  Whose EMPIRE are you going to let have its way in your life in 2017?  You know what?  I am looking forward to being the first one in my neighborhood to declare that “The Empire is Striking Back!”  What about you…

Piper and I (and of course Fiver) pray that each of you have blessed, peaceful and joy-filled Christmas gatherings and celebrations this year.  You might even want to bring your Light-saber (ie., your Bible) with you this year.  If you recall, John tells us in John 1:4 that: “In him was life; and the life was the light of men.” (KJV)   

This Christmas I encourage you to be proud to be a member of Papa God’s armed services and an active participant of the team that helps “The Empire Strike Back!”

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Christmas Muse... Traditions

“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
 Just like the ones I used to know…”*

When I opened up the curtains and looked out over our backyard this morning, you would have thought that it snowed last night!  There was a heavy frost that covered everything in a thin layer of white.  The view from the front door was even prettier.  The crisp, clean sheen of white got me to thinking about Christmas and childhood dreams and traditions that seem to abound during this time of the year.

It is interesting how one tends to associate snow with the Christmas season.  Being born and raised on the west coast, I never experienced a white Christmas in my life!  The closest I came was when my family and I visited my sister and her family a month or so before Christmas when they lived in the quaint town of Nevada City in the Sierra foothills of California.  We got to enjoy snow in the morning and even cut a Christmas tree on a piece of property that my parents owned near there.  I guess that snow and Christmas is just one of those traditions that many of us share.

Traditions seem to be especially important during the holidays.  When I brought Piper into the dining room this morning we were met by the sounds of a choir singing The First Noel with a beautiful organ guiding their melodic sounds on my Pandora Plus station.  It instantly brought back special memories from our time at the Baptist church during the first eight years of our marriage.  One in particular was their tradition of singing Christmas carols around the large tree that they always set up in the foyer of the church.  

There was an old pump organ in the foyer that as far as I can remember was only played that night.  (It may have been the original organ from when the church resided in the church built from one tree that was made famous by Ripley’s “Believe or Not” comic strip.)  I always enjoyed watching our very prim and proper organist awkwardly pumping the petals as she churned out the beautiful tunes of praise to the new born King.  Piper and I usually got to sing a song or two as I accompanied us on my guitar.  I still get warm feelings as I think about the smiles and laughter that our church family shared on that special occasion… and the homemade cookies and hot cocoa afterwards were also pretty good as well!

And while we’re on the subject of traditions… I had the thought as I read in the Christmas story about the angelic choir that appeared in the skies above the shepherds out tending their flocks near Bethlehem, that maybe their appearance was part of a heavenly tradition that was shared around the throne of God.  In talking about giving praise and honor to the Lord in heaven, both Daniel 7:10 and Revelation 5:11-12 describe how “ten thousand times ten thousand (angels) stood before Him.” (KJV)  

Think about it for a moment.  It would kind of make sense that these angelic hosts (or literally translated “army” or “heavenly knighthood” according to Vincent’s Word Studies) couldn’t hold back and burst forth into the earthly realm in order to continue their tradition of singing praises unto the Lord in order to announce His coming, to glorify God and at the same time legitimize His presence.  What do you think?

I’ve always been sort of a traditional person.  I enjoy following traditions… but only as long as they don’t inhibit my ability to move on with each and every calling of Papa God upon my life.  Over the years I have known many folks who have been so afraid to step into a new place and have held on to traditions so tightly that they failed to receive blessings from the Lord and at the same time be a blessing to someone else.  My wife and I have been in places where sticking to old traditions have strained relationships between us and our family and friends.

There are times to hold on to traditions, but there are also times to move on and create new ones!  Change is always hard to accept.  One thing I have learned over the years of being in management positions in both the secular and sacred worlds is to hold my tongue and opinion of proposed changes until they have time to be properly presented, understood and lived for a while!  In my experience, changes that I see as initiated by the Lord that lead to new traditions are not only good but very freeing to both the soul and spirit!

So, check it out  What traditions are you following this Christmas season?  Are they good and freeing for you or do they actually hold you back from experiencing the best that Papa God has for you to be and to do unto others?  I want my life to be like those heavenly hosts that couldn’t help but sing praises that glorified the new born King that night many years ago!  I want my life to be a song of praise unto God for all men to see.  How about you?
Have a great rest of the week before Christmas… and as you do, keep asking yourself… “What personal traditions am I expecting to pursue this Christmas and New Year… and which do I need to change?”

*The song White Christmas is undoubtedly the most famous and popular of all the Christmas songs. The music and lyrics for White Christmas were written by Irving Berlin in 1942 and originally featured in the movie Holiday Inn starring Bing Crosby. The lyrics of White Christmas struck a chord with the soldiers fighting in the Second World War and their families who were waiting for them back home. The song and recording of White Christmas by Bing Crosby with John Scott Trotter's orchestra and the Ken Darby Singers was so popular that it was later reprised in the movie called after its name - White Christmas. The film White Christmas once again starred Bing Crosby together with Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen.  (