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Fall is defintely in the air!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Step Up, Step Out, and Step In


I have always been… shall we say… a little exuberant when describing exciting things that things that have happened to me.  My wife would probably tell you that I’ve even been known to exaggerate a bit!  I can clearly picture her looking at me with that cute little crooked smile when I would be sharing a story, and just waiting until she got my full attention.  Then she would shake her head and say, with a little tingle of joy in her voice, “Now Jim, don’t exaggerate!”  And I would immediately respond with a sigh, “well maybe it wasn’t quite as dramatic as that… but…”

But you know?  As I read through the epistles of St Paul, I am coming to realize that I am in some good company with him when it comes to embellishing our points!  One of the online dictionaries defines the technique of “embellishing” as “making something  more attractive by the addition of decorative details or features.”  Take for instance the verse that we have been discussing in the blog this week from Ephesians 3:17 where Paul prays “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love…”

In my last post I talked about how both of the words “rooted” and “grounded” are very similar if not identical in some uses in the original Greek language that Paul corresponded with.  Both Strong’s and Thayer’s use the word “stable” as part of their definitions of the word.  And as you study Paul’s writings, you’ll notice that this is a common practice of his.  Someone once explained that he doubles up his explanatives in order to accentuate certain points in his teachings.

Another couple of examples of this would be found a few verses down in Ephesians 3:20 where Paul describes the power of God to work in our behalf as being exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (NKJV) or in reference to God’s grace in I Timothy 1:14 where he also declares it to be exceedingly abundant…” (MKJV)   Robert’s Word Pictures describes these as “late and rare double compounds”  The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges states that these “Strong expressions of largeness, excess, (and) abundance, are deeply characteristic of Paul.”

So, you see… I was just copying my brother Paul… in fact, Jesus did it too!  If you remember… when talking about the return on our giving unto the Gospel, He described it as “pressed down, shaken together and running over…” (Luke 6:38 KJV), therefore I wasn’t exaggerating… I was just “accentuating certain points” in my story!

Okay… I can just see Piper shaking her head again as I try that explanation of my story telling techniques to her… but my antics sure helped to hold the attention of the kids in our Children’s Church classes over the years!

But going back to Paul’s point of being “rooted and grounded in (God’s agape) love,”  I believe that he was using this double compound to accentuate the point of the importance of being super stable on the rock-steady foundation of God’s love as we walk through the events of our daily lives!  That word “being” in the verse infers “the quality or state of having existence,” or exhibiting a quality of “something that actually exists” (in our lives). (Merriam-Webster)  In other words, it’s not just something that you talk about, but is something that you live through your daily actions and deeds.

The Apostle John, who is called the Apostle of Love, puts it best in his teachings by saying “Dear Children, we must show love through actions that are sincere; not through empty words.”  (God’s Word ©)  The Easy to Read Version says that “Our love must be real.  We must show our love by the things we do.” 

According to Paul, it takes a double compound foundation of God’s love for us to be able to successfully navigate the tricky paths and switchbacks that we must walk in this life!  When you put that thought to work in your life, then to love others is an easier path to walk than we might otherwise think.  To me, Love In Action means the confident (I didn’t say easy – but In His Love we can be confident) ability to:

·         Stand Up and acknowledge that we need to love others in need

·         Step Out of our comfort zone (ie; putting their needs before ours) &

·         Step In to someone else’s life in order to make a physical difference

Simple right?  Well… I think if it was that simple then Paul wouldn’t have needed to double accentuate his teaching on love… wouldn’t you say?  But while it might not be simple, he makes the point that it is something we not only CAN but SHOULD do!

I encourage you to think on that this weekend.  If need be, go back and review the last few blog posts to encourage yourselves!  - Then take a chance… and Step Up, Step Out and then Step In to love someone around you in need!  Have a great weekend, and as you do, keep asking yourselves… “How am I expecting to LOVE someone today?”

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Rooted and Grounded = Stability


When I Fiver and I stepped out back first thing yesterday morning, I could not help but stand in awe and simply soak in the beauty of the morning.  The day just seemed to be alive with hope and joy.  The sky was bright blue with a few puffy white clouds, the little birds were out in mass singing songs that uplifted my senses and there were even a couple of squirrels frolicking in the yard near the back gate… that is until they spotted the dog and made a hasty exit between the pickets in the gate!

If I remember correctly, the temperature was in the low fifties with a gentle cool breeze fluttering the leaves on the tress.  As I took all this in, I suddenly had the thought that it was almost as if the new-life of spring and the starkness of winter were in a final fight for the dominion of the weather… with the weather caught in the middle and not being able to decide which way to go!

As the morning progressed the clouds began to billow in until the neighborhood was shrouded in gray.  Then by mid-afternoon the clouds had moved on and the blue skies and sun returned!  When I took Fiver out for his last run before bed, the sky was gorgeous with only a few clouds and a picturesque unfolding of bright stars and constellations with a couple of jets flying high overhead for effect!

The day’s weather pattern seemed to emphasize the Word from Ephesians 3:17-18 that I’ve been revisiting lately, especially when it comes to the part where Paul prays that we be “rooted and grounded in (God’s agape) love (so that) you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love.” (KJV/MSG)

The connection to my weather experiences came when I got inquisitive and looked up the Greek meanings to the words translated ‘rooted’ and ‘grounded.’  It is interesting that they basically can mean the same thing but in order to differentiate between them, let’s just say that ‘rooted’ infers “to become stable” while ‘grounded’ relates “to putting down a substructure or foundation.”  (Strong’s and Thayer’s)  Both of which render someone or something to become stable.

It got even more interesting to me when I read of those Greek definitions in relation to The Message Bible's paraphrase of verse 17 where it encourages us with the importance of having “both feet firmly planted on love.”  If I have only one foot planted on love and the other planted somewhere else… say in the world’s place of fear because part of me is letting the circumstances of life guide my emotions and decisions instead of the truth of God’s Word… then I become unstable when things begin to shake!  Because I’m caught having my foundation on two different places at the same time!

Does that remind you of another scripture?  Say James 1:8 where he teaches how “a double minded man (or women) is unstable in all his (or her) ways?” (KJV)

That double minded person is similar to how I saw the weather responding to the transition from winter to spring.  It was almost like it didn’t know what to do… so it went one way, then another, and then back again (and today it is heavily overcast and is supposed to rain all day tomorrow!)

As I meditated on all this yesterday and again this morning, the light suddenly went on as to why some folks respond to tough situations that they encounter in life.  It explains why they would say one thing in front of some people and totally opposite things to someone else concerning the same situation.  It explains why emotions can fly out of control one moment and then have peaceful, loving things come from the same lips in another moment.  Believe me, it makes for a very strange and strained relationship for the one on the other side of those varying comments!

These verses seem to point out that the difficulty stems from where we are rooted and grounded.  Are both our feet firmly planted on God’s love?  Or, is one on His love and the other somewhere else?  I’ve been caught in an unbalanced position before when transferring my wife and I almost fell and dropped her!  I don’t want to be there again, so I’ve learned to always make sure that both of my feet are balanced and on a stable platform before I lift her!

And that is how I desire my faith walk to be… and the best footing according to these verses is found when both feet are firmly planted on His foundation of love.

Where are your feet planted right now?  Is your foundation stable and secure… or do you find yourself bouncing back and forth in your responses to the difficulties that life presents to you?  Don’t forget… it is easy to re-position your footing.  It starts with a solid decision to trust in the Lord and then takes commitment and continuous effort (in and through the Word) to stay there!

Have a great day, and as you do, keep asking yourself… “How stable am I expecting my feet to be today?”



PS:  Piper had a fairly positive review yesterday.  Some things have downgraded a little, but not as bad as I thought – PTL!  Thanks for your continued prayer support!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Strength!



I was thinking over the weekend about all the new places, people and activities that I have had to pursue since we began the various tests and doctor’s appointments for my wife beginning in Tulsa in 2007.  You talk about stretching one’s comfort zone!  

Through it all I have come to realize that it takes all kinds of strength to do all the things that we face and/or are called to do in this life.  The word strength is defined in Dictionary.com as “The quality or state of being strong; bodily or muscular power or vigor; mental power, force or vigor; moral power, firmness or courage; the power of resisting force, strain, wear, etc.”  From that definition you can see that it covers a whole spectrum of human expression from the physical to the mental and into the spiritual part of man.

And speaking of strength… I discovered this weekend that it also takes strength to consistently live within the parameters of God’s love.  This truth was opened up to me as I continued to look at Paul’s prayer about Christian love in Ephesians chapter three.  You might not realize it from reading verse 18 out of the King James Version where it talks about us being “able to comprehend with all the saints” but when you look at other translations you’ll notice a subtle change.  Most other versions talk about having the strength to experience “the extravagant dimensions of God’s love” (Ephesians 3:18 The Message Bible)  

The Literal Translation of the Holy Bible (LITV) states concerning the previous verse where Paul spoke of being “rooted and founded in love,” (Ephesians 3:17 LITV) “that we may be given strength to grasp with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and depth and height and to know the surpassing knowledge and love of Christ that you may be filled to all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-18)

Upon further examination I found out that the word translated “able” in the KJV actually refers to the ability “to have full strength and/or be entirely competent.” (Strong’s)  I guess if we were living in 1611 we most likely would have understood that, but with the changes that have occurred in the English language over the years, I find it good to have a multiplicity of modern translations around when I study with the KJV.

But… think about that for a moment.  Paul was telling us that it takes strength to walk in the God kind of love!  How do you feel about that?  I have mentioned the struggles I have had over this journey with my wife’s health concerning some of the negative things that have happened to us over the years and how surprising and tough it has been to witness my own inner feelings of anger and unforgiveness.

A friend of mine posted something on Facebook last night that said in effect, that to forgive an individual for a wrong is easy, but to trust them again takes a long time… and my personal experience agrees whole heartedly with that statement!  But I guess that is where the strength that Paul talks about comes in… wouldn’t you agree?  It takes strength to forgive and maybe even greater strength to cautiously open up the doors to trust again. 

My recent experience says that the forgiveness AND the reestablishment of trust are all part of the process of walking in God’s love… and let me say… it ain’t easy folks!  That’s what I think Paul meant when he implied that it takes the kind of strength that affects the whole man to walk the path toward the accomplishment of this task… the task that is assigned to all of us Christians… THE TASK OF WALKING IN GOD’S LOVE!

We’ll explore this kind of strength some more throughout this week, so stay tuned!  I’d also be interested to hear about some of your actual experiences concerning this subject.  So… have a great week, and as you do, keep asking yourself… “Am I expecting to have the strength it takes to walk in God’s love today?”

Friday, March 24, 2017

Consonance or Dissonance?


I have told before of how I enjoy many kinds of music styles.  When my wife and I started dating I was in a rock band and she was into Christian folk, which made for an interesting combination!  As our relationship grew, so did our appreciation of what we considered good music.  For a while we had a couple of gospel quartets that we enjoyed.  Then in the mid-seventies came Christian bands like the Second Chapter of Acts and we took an easy sway toward Christian contemporary music.

But as the years have passed, I still enjoy a good hymn with a church organ accompaniment, rockin’ Gospel choirs, quartets, Christian rock with some loud and intricate electric guitar riffs, and of course some beautiful classical music, like what we play throughout the house in the late afternoon hours of each day! 

Since we have been out here in the southeast, I’ve also takin’ a likin’ to Southern Gospel tunes.  There seems to be a simplicity to the music and the stories and testimonies they tell of that captures one’s attention and heart.  I’ve even been tuning into Sirius radio channel 65 in the car, which is the Southern Gospel channel ‘enLighten.”  So, it seems that I can feel at home in almost any musical situation and find things in common with those with whom I am fellowshipping with.  Well… almost anybody!

When Piper and I returned home from our three year stay in Oklahoma to face what was going on with her health, I was surprised… no, a more accurate way to put it would be ‘shocked’ when I discovered that there were some in our family and social network that we had developed over the previous 50 plus years in our home town, that were not singing the same song as we were.

After a few years of confusion, physical and mental torment, mixed with frustration, anger, disappointment and hurt, I felt the voice of the Lord clearly telling me that we needed to go with those who were flowing with us in a consonance of music and distance ourselves from those with a dissonance of chords.

After a while it became increasingly easy to discover those with a similar harmony and rhythm that we could keep our tempo of faith attuned to.  Psalms 40:1-3 could be considered to be a good ‘cheat sheet’ when trying to ascertain musical simpatico or discord among individuals.  Verses one and two tell of our cry to the Lord for assistance in times of need and then goes on to describe some of the positive actions that He will take in response to our heartfelt supplications unto Him.  In other Words, these verses talk about God’s part in the two-way operation of prayer.

Then we move into our part as Psalm 40:3 declares our emphatic response with our shout of praise: “He placed a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.  Many will see this and worship.  They will trust the Lord.” (God’s Word ©)

So you see, it is actually quite a simple task to discern those in tune with your melody of life and those who are not… just listen to the song that is playing in your heart and the lyrics that are coming out of your mouth!  If you’re not singing a new song of praise around some individuals but are with others… then stick with those who help you to perform the new song of praise to God, and distance yourself from those who can’t seem to keep a beat when there are around you!

It reminds me of the early days of Piper and I leading music in a couple of churches we served at.  Many times it was just the two of us playing our instruments while leading the praise and worship.  And everything would go fine until a member of the congregation brought along their tambourine and decided to accompany us from their seat… Well… instead of adding to the flow of the service it would hinder our ability to stay in tempo and bring the congregation into the presence of the Lord!  The moment they joined in, you could sense the discord in the room.  It finally got to the point that I had to ask the ushers to please ask those with tambourines to not play them during the music time of the service!

Piper and I had to laugh a few years later when we attended a 2nd Chapter of Acts concert when the band’s producer went up to the microphone in between sets and asked those in the audience with tambourines to please put them away as they “were not attending a hootenanny!”

So once again we can look and listen to the Word of God to discern harmony or discord with those we spend time with.  I have learned that when one is standing in faith, that it is VERY IMPORTANT to surround yourself with those playing the same melody of faith that you are singing!  It is a lot easier to stand and sing with a beautiful choir than it is to sing alone!  Who knows… it just might be the start of a new Gospel Choir that I might hear on my car radio some day!

Have a SUPER weekend, stay in tune to God’s Word and keep asking yourself… “What melodies am I expecting… and needing those around me to sing with me today?”


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Shhhh...



First thing every morning when Fiver and I step out onto the back porch, I like to stop and take in the ambience of the yard for that day.  It’s funny because it seems like Fiver likes to do the same thing!  He is not like our last dog who would trot right across the deck and down the steps to the lawn without a second thought.  Unless he spots something moving on the lawn, Fiver will usually stop at the top of the steps and take a good look around before he commits himself to the stairs!

As I am standing on the deck with the crisp newly found spring air caressing my senses, I find that my glance is normally led to the left and into the forested area that lines that side of our yard.  For the last few days I have been taken in by the melodies of the different birds that are hiding themselves amongst the trees.  Lately their songs have seemed to be louder and more precise.   

Since we’ve been here in North Carolina, I have become familiar with the beautiful chords of the Cardinals that inhabit the shrubbery around the yard and the squawks of the raven’s that seem to send out the alarm every time Fiver comes into the yard!  But now I have become aware of additional tones of harmony that are echoing through our woods.

With the onset of warmer weather the yard has been inundated with robins searching for whatever goodies that they can peck out of our re-awakening lawn.  I am also beginning to see other unknown varieties of birds with their green, blue and/or yellow feathers reflecting from the morning sun as it peaks over the tree tops from the east.  It is actually quite enchanting to stand on the deck and enjoy the symphony of music that is being broadcast in natural stereo throughout the backyard!

After coming back in the house today, I poured my morning brew of Java and sat down at my computer, pulled up my Bible study program and focused in on the highlighted verse left up from the previous day at Psalm 119:54.  As I read aloud from The Message Bible, I immediately found myself, in my mind’s eye, standing on the deck again listening to the morning’s concert.  Today’s first scripture verse read: “I set your instructions to music and sing them as I walk this pilgrim way.”

As a guitar player, the Apostolic Bible Polyglot, which is an English version of the entire Bible with a Greek interlinear gloss that is keyed into a concordance, brought the message right to my heart.  It declares that “As strummed chords of music were to me, (so are) your ordinances in the place of my sojourn.”  Then there is the Contemporary English Version which simply reflects “No matter where I am, your teachings fill me with songs.”

Those birds singing their hearts out in the morning are just doing what comes naturally to them.  It is almost like they cannot hold back their voices as the warmer weather and the breaking rays of sunlight shines upon the very branches they are standing on at that particular moment in time!  While reading today’s verse I began to think of myself in the light of the birds in the yard and I wondered what songs I sing throughout the days of my life.

As I reflected that line of thought, I realized that this Psalm is something that Piper and I could actually have written ourselves.  Not only has music and song been a central part of our lives since those early days of dating back in high school, but it has also been the inner songs of the Word of God that has carried us through both the good and the tough times of our lives.

I have been blessed through the years in that our ministry calling has enabled me to express my creative side by the writing of songs, plays, puppet skits, a book or two, a Children’s Church curriculum and three original Vacation Bible School programs.  But I think the greatest blessing (at least to me… If she could speak, Piper might have a different viewpoint!) is the ability to make up and sing scripture songs as we deal with daily activities that we face in the midst of the attack on my wife’s health. I kind of do it now without much thought of “why” I do it.  I think all the Word that we have pumped into our hearts over the years and especially concentrated over the last eight years, is just sort of “hard-wired” into our DNA!

I find myself singing these songs to Piper in the house, out in the yard (thank God we only have neighbors on one side of the house…) in the car and even in the grocery store!  Psalm 119:171 states that “My lips shall utter praise…” while the next verse continues the thought by declaring: “My tongue shall speak of thy word…”(KJV)  And then there’s an old favorite of mine in Psalm 40:3 that vocalizes my actions saying: “He placed a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God…” (God’s Word ©)

So let me be so bold as to ask you to STOP and LISTEN to your heart today…

And once you have quieted yourself… reach out with your inner ear and listen to what song is playing in the deep recesses of your life.  What are you hearing?  Does it harmonize with the notes spoken of in our scripture verses today? Or is it a discord of tones that just don’t seem to blend together into the symphony of music that the Lord wants you to live by?

Have a great rest of the week, and as you do, keep asking yourself… “What melodies am I expecting to hear from within my heart today?”

PS:  More to come!

Monday, March 20, 2017

GOOD Opportunities...



Wow!  Did I pass up a GREAT opportunity first thing this morning… Yep, I was presented with a GREAT opportunity to get frustrated and discouraged as I was helping my wife to partake of her breakfast… but you know what?  I chose to do the best thing I could at that moment and bit my lip and KEPT MY MOUTH SHUT!  But let me backup for a moment before I go on…

I awoke on this sunny Monday morning with a bounce in my step and an encouraged heart.  I had purchased a new book on faith for my Kindle on the previous day and had read a couple of chapters before I turned the light out for the night.  So all those thoughts of the faithfulness of God swirled through my brain for the entire night, and as I said, I awoke with a very optimistic view for the day.  That optimism continued as I got Piper up and she proceeded to have a pretty easy time swallowing her various morning medications.  All was looking good… until we got to her breakfast drink… what I jokingly call her “Cocoa-Mocha-Cinna-Boost!”*  

She swallowed the first mouthful without effort and then stopped!  For a few moments there, I was getting more on me and down the napkin in front of her than was going in… and if you know me and/or have been reading this blog for a while, then you know that I CAN’T STAND STICKY FINGERS!  Well… this was beyond just sticky fingers… it was a mess!  So, as I was about to stand up, say a few things that were not very “faith-filled” and throw the chocolate soaked napkin across the room, I suddenly thought better, sat down, paused to compose myself and quietly began to mutter a few positive scriptures and sing “♫ The Joy of the Lord is my strength! ♪ ”

Then I figured that it would be a good time to take the dog out to take care of his morning needs while I caught a moment to revive in the crisp 22 degree weather outside!  And you know what?  It was a GOOD decision!  When we came back in, I went back over to my chair next to my wife and proceeded to give her more breakfast which after a moment’s hesitation, she began to swallow again… and she ended up consuming more than she did throughout the entire previous day!

So… let’s reflect for a moment… What happened there?  Well, like I said earlier, I passed up a perfectly GOOD opportunity to give into a momentary set back and give in to fear and discouragement while opening up the door to doubt in the Word of God doing exactly what God says He will do in our situation!  

You remember how the master deceiver, the devil, approached Eve in the garden don’t you?  The first thing he did was to get her doubting what God had told her and Adam.  Her acceptance of that doubt caused her to participate in a course of action that changed their lives (as well as every generation since then) forever!  and that is not what I want to be remembered for when it comes to writing the history of Jim and Piper Berruto!

So… by not yielding to that perfectly legitimate (in the world’s eyes) opportunity to get upset, feel sorry for myself and say a few things that might make me feel better (for about 1 minute!), I chose to stick with the encouraging, life-giving, restorative and reviving power of God’s Word… but let me tell you… it wasn’t easy… there was a whole lot of ME that I had to fight through!

In speaking about God’s Word, Psalm 119:50 in The Message Bible tells us that “These words hold me up in bad times; Yes, your promises rejuvenate me.”  The King James Version declares “This is my comfort in my affliction: for the word hath quickened me.”  The word translated “quickened” or “rejuvenate” in The Message paraphrase means “to revive, to nourish, to recover, repair or restore, to save or be whole.” (Strong’s)

When I look at that meaning, I understand that this is exactly what happened for me this morning!  Instead of getting upset and letting the morning’s experience be my guide, I decided to default to the Word that Piper and I have been standing on since that first report we received concerning the results of the brain scans they took in 2007.  F.F. Bosworth in what I have come to see as the definitive book on Biblical healing “Christ the Healer” declared that “I am determined to base my doctrines on the immutable Word of God and not on phenomena or human experience.” (Christ the Healer, pg 186)

I have come to learn by personal experience that God’s Word is the one source of restoration, recovery, vigor, preservation and repair that I CAN and MUST depend on!  It is too easy to give up when the times get tough… and my wife and I have come too far to trust in anything else but His Word that brings us peace, joy and strength.

How about you?  

Have a great week, and as you do, keep asking yourself… “Whose Word can I expect to depend on throughout all the ups and downs of my daily life?”


*It’s a varying mixture of coffee, marshmallows, Ovaltine, cinnamon, ½ and ½ (to increase the calorie count) and a bottle of chocolate Boost PLUS nutritional drink.