Our New Home!

Our New Home!
The sun sets on our first month in Oklahoma!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Good Conditioning!


I am writing today’s post a little later than I usually do.  Piper and I spent a good portion of yesterday in the backyard.  First, I pulled the battery off the riding mower so I could charge it and then mow the lawn later this week after the long winter dormancy.  As I opened the double doors of the shed I immediately noticed that our newest resident, a 5’ Rat snake with his shiny black and silver coloring was sitting up on the side wall checking out the disturbance to his afternoon siesta. 

I first spotted him last week and decided that if he didn’t bother me, that I wouldn’t bother him… since they are not poisonous and keep good control of the little varmints around the property.  So, I stepped into the shed, looked him down and let him know that I was coming in and that he needed to move on… and he did!

After getting the battery on the charger I felt ambitious, grabbed my shovel and dug the hole for our new Golden Delicious apple tree which adds to our “orchard” of a Colette Pear, Santa Rosa Plum and also soon to be planted Brown Turkey Fig (to replace the one we Iost last year).  Once that was complete, I pulled out the bare root tree and placed it into a bucket of water in order to hydronate the roots before planting. 

Since I still had some energy left, I then put together the new 4’ X 4’ raised bed planter and lined the bottom with ¼” hardware netting to keep out the moles!  By the time I finished the assembly of the planter and cleaned up, I still had about three hours before the tree was ready for planting so we retired into the house for lunch, figuring that we’d quickly plant the tree afterwards… Well… guess what?  Yep!  By then I ran out of steam and decided to plant the tree the next morning… which brings us back to why I am writing the blog so late in the day!  You shouldn’t keep the tree soaking for over 24 hours so I wanted to get it in right after breakfast!  And here we are…

When I was out back an hour or so ago, I began to think about how much I enjoy gardening.  There I was sitting on my knees on the grass putting up a 3’ chicken wire fence to protect the young tree from any hungry rabbits who might come out looking for new delicacies during the night… and I was having a good old time! 

I grew up in a family that loved to garden.  Planting veggies, flowers, trees and almost any other thing that would grow was a normal part of my childhood and continues in my adult life.  Some folks thought that I was kind of crazy for buying a house with this much property, but in doing so I KNEW that I would be surrounding myself with lots of hours of stress-relieving garden and lawn care!  Some times I have to force myself outside, but I am always thankful for it when I am done with an outdoor project.

After all those years of watching my Grandfather putter around in his beautiful gardens and growing up with parents who spent most of their spare time in the front or back yards, I guess you could say I’ve been conditioned to act and think the way I do when it comes to gardening.  My most enjoyable times when I worked at The Home Depot was the multiple seasons I spent working in the garden department. 

The truth be known… looking back now, I regret making the decision to go into management for the last two years of my career there.  It was much more rewarding for me to be working around the plants, trees, gardening equipment and the happy-to-be-gardening customers than making a few more bucks in supervision.

I received some similar thoughts from reading once again, from Philippians 4:7 in The Message Bible where the translator describes Paul’s thinking in modern vernacular as: “It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”  A couple modern English dictionaries define “worry” as “to allow one’s mind to dwell on difficulties or troubles; to torment oneself with disturbing thoughts” or “to harass by repeated biting, snapping etc…” (Oxford Online Dictionary and Dictionary.com)

I thought that the ideas presented by the words “allow, torment” and “harass” were right on… at least in Piper’s and my experience over the years.  As Pastors we ministered to many individuals who had allowed worry to come in and torment and/or harass them.  With the initial reports coming in from the tests with Piper’s health awhile back, we also saw some individuals who allowed worry to overtake them which resulted in their personal torment and harassment which oftentimes was also projected toward us.

As I meditated on this earlier today, I realized that much of the way we all respond to the various situations in our lives has to do with the way that we have conditioned ourselves to react!  Philippians 4:6-7 describes the one who has been training themselves to respond to life with the peace of God.  The opposite result is found in the ones who have not been practicing peace in their daily lives.

I believe that this repeated practice of peace should take place in everything we do during any given day.  From the stubbed toes… like last night when I wheeled Piper’s chair over my shoeless foot… to the more annoying things like my knocking over a glass of grape juice all over the floor, cabinets, refrigerator and dishwasher… when I was very tiredly preparing dinner on Saturday night. 

My first thought was to scream out, but thank God I have conditioned myself enough to know that this particular reaction would do no good… and I could also hear my wife’s sweet tender voice in my head saying; “Jim, it is time to praise the Lord!”  So, I did… I wasn’t really happy with it at first, but after awhile the joy of the Lord finally took over and I began to laugh at my predicament.

It is all about conditioning!  How you handle the little disturbances in your life will be the same way you handle the tough situations.  Like my mother always said when she was teaching me piano lessons back in my elementary days, “Practice makes perfect!”  Today, I am very regretful that I didn’t realize the importance of her words as I can barely play the scales on the piano.  But on the other side, if you ever heard Piper play the piano you would KNOW that she spent countless hours from about when she was six years old through her college years taking piano and organ lessons and practicing at home.

I have many fond memories of attending her piano recitals when we were dating, picking her up at her piano teacher’s studio, or looking through the tiny window in the practice rooms in the music hall in Junior College and at Chico State University.  She also kept it up throughout our marriage.  In these last few years when she couldn’t figure out the music sheets anymore, she would sit at the piano and just play from the heart… which was funny because she never really could do that when everything was functioning normally.  She could sight read anything, but to just sit down and play without music… well… not so easy!

As I have mentioned many times before, I firmly believe that our three-year saturation-in-the-Word stint at Bible School in Oklahoma really conditioned us for what we are facing today.  Many of the ways we think and act now, are done without much thought.  We have been well-conditioned to think, act and speak like the Word says to!  Like Jesus did!

What about you?  What kind of conditioning have you had… or need to bone up (ie; to try to master necessary information quickly – Merriam Webster Dictionary) on?  In certain situations… it could be the difference between life or deathvictory or failureenjoying the life that God desires for you to live, or barely getting along!

What will it be… for you?

Have a great week ahead, and as you do, keep asking yourself… “How am I expecting to react to life’s situations today?”

Friday, April 27, 2018

PEACE vs Emotions


I am not sure why, but the last few weeks have been exceptionally hard for me.  It seems like everywhere I looked and everything I did reminded me of my wife… and brought back sweet but very emotional memories of her smile, her laugh, her encouragement, her wonderful voice and the uncanny anointing she possessed to make any situation okay and in doing so fill our home, and me in particular, with peace.

For the last 47 plus years she has been my closest confidant in any and every situation that I ever faced.  Whenever my mind was swirling with confusing or frustrating thoughts or pressures, she was always my calming oasis.  A few moments of quiet discussion with her, while holding hands and looking into her bright brown eyes would set the storms in me at peace.

But I realized last night after dinner that her most-important-to-me voice of spiritual discernment and calm is not available to me right now.  That reality suddenly hit me pretty hard.  What do I do?  Where do I go?

Then on the verge of tears I had to stand and place my hands on my wife’s thin shoulder and cry out: “God I need peace!”  And without much other recourse, I sat back down on the couch and began to pray in the Spirit as I knew that my words were not capable of praying for the right concerns and might even prove to be detrimental to our stand of faith for Piper’s healing. (See: Romans 8:26, I Corinthians 14:14-15)

After a while I began to sense a calm coming upon me and felt a distant tinge of expectation building up from within.  The rest of the night went well as Piper went to bed without a hitch and I was relaxed enough to dose off easily and even sleep for most of the night.

After a little rocky start, the morning today began to gain momentum for me when I felt the leading of the Lord to return to my studies where I had left off yesterday in the New Testament book of Philippians chapter four.  Verses 6-7 in The Message Bible encouraged me right away by declaring:

“Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.  Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

I really needed to hear that last line in this modern paraphrased rendition of this verse.  The idea of “Christ displacing worry at the center of” me immediately brought a vivid and tangible freshness of his love and His care for me and my wife at that very moment in time and place… right in the middle of our dining room as the sun outside was breaking through the overcast skies and the droplets of water from yesterday’s rains glistened in the reflection of the light as it beamed down upon the grass in the yard.

The God’s Word © translation of verse seven declares that “God’s peace, which goes beyond anything we can imagine, will guard your thoughts and emotions through Christ Jesus.”  On a hunch I looked up the meaning of the word “emotion” and discovered that it is described as “a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood or relationships with others… as distinguished from reasoning or knowledge.” (Oxford online dictionary) At that point I realized that the Lord was showing me that without knowing it, I had been allowing my emotions to guide me more and more over the last few weeks.

That thought gave me a jolt as I instantly recalled our experiences of being on the receiving end of other people who were being led by their emotions that blocked their reason or accurate knowledge of our situation.  Not only was that situation very frustrating and bizarre to us, it also proved very hurtful… and I definitely didn’t want any of that response in Piper’s and my home or in our lives at this critical time in our stand of faith!

A quick peek at the original Greek definition of the “Peace” that our scripture is centered around describes an atmosphere in us that includes: “security, safety, prosperity, and felicity.” (Thayer’s)  It hit really close to home for me when I realized that “felicity” is defined as “the ability to find appropriate expression for one’s thoughts.” (Oxford online dictionary)

Wow… we also experienced the OPPOSITE of that definition when we saw the response of emotion without reason or knowledge leveled at us!  So yea… God taught me somethings today! 

First and most important was to get my mind off of the emotional aspects of what I have been seeing and thinking about in recent weeks and MAKE SURE that I have my thoughts and life CENTERED ON CHRIST.  That direction leaves NO room for a negative response to the rollercoasters of life and thoughtless emotions, words and/or actions!

And in that position… “God’s peace” is well able to guard one’s “thoughts and emotions through Christ Jesus.”  It would seem that the absence of Godly peace invites fear to take its place and thereby release all kinds of ugly thoughts and wild emotions into the situations of our lives.  YUCK!

I am so thankful for God’s personal teachings to us through the truth of His Word… Aren’t you?

Have a super weekend, and as you do, keep asking yourself…  “Am I expecting God’s PEACE or my EMOTIONS to be my guide today?”

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Predetermined!


I had to smile yesterday morning as I was studying the Word when my phone made the familiar sound of “swoosh” telling me that a weather alert was just posted.  I glanced over to my phone and read of the “Weather Alert” that had just been posted for Harnett County until 10:30 that morning.  Potentially dangerous high winds were being predicted for our area and surrounding counties.

Now that forecast would not normally be something to smile about except at that very moment I was reading in my Bible from Luke 6:48 where Jesus taught: “If you do that (come, hear and do – see yesterday’s post “Right in the Middle.”), you’ll be like the man who wanted to build a sturdy house.  He dug down deep and anchored his foundation to solid rock.  During a violent storm, the floodwaters slammed against his house, but they couldn’t shake it because of solid craftsmanship.  (It was built on a rock)” (The Voice)

It had been storming outside since late afternoon of the previous day so the weather alert was not a surprise.  A look outside with the trees bending this way and that in the gusts of wind also confirmed the accuracy of the alert.  My smile came up as I pondered the thought that the Lord must love to take advantage of current events and be able to give a live-action object lesson as I read about the house that didn’t break apart when the storm related floodwaters rose up against it!

As youth and children’s pastors for over 30+ years, I’m sure that He knew that Piper and I would appreciate that.  It seemed like Piper and I were always looking for object lessons that our students could relate to in the study of the Bible.  Piper was a real genius in that department.  She could turn almost any event into a learning experience… Like the time we had gone fishing at our favorite fishing hole up in the Sierra’s and successfully returned to camp with a nice catch.  Well, she and the kids began dissecting and studying the fish’s inner workings right in the middle of the camp picnic table where I was trying to get the rest of dinner ready!  But by the time we ate… let’s just say that I had lost my appetite for fresh trout…

Back home just before dinner the night before, I stood at the dining room window watching the trees blowing and bending in the wind and had commented to Piper that it was amazing to see how much flexibility the tall and sturdy trees surrounding our property had.  That they could sway in the breeze and then bend over under the power of the 35-45 mph gusts and strengthen right back up when things calmed down.  I had to smile then as well and I turned around, faced my wife and stated, “just like those of us who have our lives founded on the solid Rock of Jesus Christ!”

When I continued to study from Jesus’ parable on the Sower from the Voice translation of the Bible, I was awe struck when I read of the man “who wanted to build a sturdy house.”  What came to light was that this individual had predetermined to build a house that was not going to fall apart in a storm.  When he grabbed his shovel, (I doubt that they had backhoes in Bible times…) he already knew that he was going to have to put forth a lot of extra effort and time in order to dig down deep until he hit the solid rock under the top layers of sand and dirt.  Dictionary.com defines “predetermined” as “to settle or decide in advance.”

While I paused and meditated on that revelation, I realized that that was the exact step that Piper and I had taken before we moved home from Oklahoma and faced whatever was going on with her health.  After receiving the initial… kind of confusing report from those first brain scans in Oklahoma, we immediately took hands, prayed and committed the whole process to the Lord.  Even though, we didn’t know exactly what we were facing, we sensed that whatever it was, that God and the power of His Word was the only road to her healing.  At that point we predetermined to trust Him and what we believed to be the truth of His Word… no matter what or who attempted to steal our faith.

Looking back today, I can clearly see how we got bombarded with some totally unexpected hurricane force storms that would have easily destroyed us… if we had not predetermined to trust in the Lord above any of the negative medical reports, or disturbing words and actions of people against us.  Even though those storms hurt and shook us to our very foundations, we continued to stand (although a bit shaky at times) and expect our predetermined faith in Him and His Word to carry us through it all.  We faced the impending storms having already been built up in the Word and full of unshakeable confidence in His loving care, grace and strength.

It is interesting to me, that in those dark hours in the middle of the night when I would sit alone (with the dog!) at the base of the stairs at our rental home in Santa Rosa before we moved out here, and physically shake while I tried to make some sense out of all the medical facts the doctors were giving me and that I was witnessing in my lovely wife’s body and mind… and on top of that shock... also consider the negative words and actions that some were casting against us… and ALWAYS eventually came back to… BUT GOD! 

In the end the truth we had predetermined to trust in and rely on... “God's peace, which goes beyond anything you can imagine, (which) will guard your thoughts and emotions through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7 God’s Word ©)

I may have experienced the sway of the pressure and even bent over and shook in a few of those ugly storms, but it was the predetermination of Him and His way, that ALWAYS prevailed.  And I continue to renew that predetermination first thing every morning and last thing before I turn off the light at night.  How about you?

Have a good rest of the week, and as you do, keep asking yourself… What predetermination are you expecting to see you through the storms of life today?”

Monday, April 23, 2018

Right in the Middle!

Yesterday was one of those days that I think I got more of Piper’s Chocolate Boost Plus, coffee, Ovaltine and vanilla, all topped with marshmallows breakfast drink down her front or on my hands than she actually swallowed!  Thank God for Bounty Quilted napkins!

Growing up my Dad had a favorite saying that he used whenever us kids left a room and didn’t turn the lights out, ate all the peanut butter soon after my Mom went shopping or any other such (what he considered) an extravagant usage of a product… I can see him now calling out down the hall from the kitchen table where he was correcting his student’s papers… “Turn off the lights… we don’t own stock in PG&E* (or in Skippy’s or in whatever the product was) you know!”  After a while that saying got to be a family joke, but you know… I surprised myself a few times when our kids were growing up by saying the same thing to them!  I’ve thought about that saying of his almost every time we go grocery shopping.

Over the last few years since Piper has been on a liquid diet, I have tried just about every brand of napkins sold at Walmart, Target, CVS, Kroger’s or Food Lion (the stores we shop at out here).  Most are too thin while a few others are too thick and are cumbersome to the daily task I endeavor to complete without making a mess.  I finally settled on the Bounty brand of napkins.  They tend to cost a bit more but are well worth it as they seem to have the right consistency, feel and absorbability.  It took awhile with plenty of experimentation, but it is nice to finally have a product that works well with the intended task I need to perform.

Finding the right napkins for Piper may seem like a silly example, but it typifies the way I tend to approach most things in life.  I like to go for it and do my best, using the best tools and process, whenever I accept a responsibility.  Working at Home Depot really opened my eyes to the availability of quality tools to help me to do many of the jobs I fumbled through in the past, by using whatever I had on hand.  I’ve probably bought more new tools or equipment over the three years that we have been in this house than I have in past years combined!  I’ve come to the point that I figure that if I am going to do something, that I might as well do it right… using the right tools for the job.

That is also the way that I have operated within my Christian faith since Piper and I got together in high school.  I don’t necessarily know what drives me, but when I start studying the Word I want to know all I can about the subject that the Spirit is instructing me in.  As most of you know, I love to do word studies back to their original languages, I enjoy investigating multiple commentaries on the Bible verses I am studying, look at Bible dictionaries as well as Biblical maps of the particular time the scriptures were written.  And on top of all that, I have been a student of revivals spanning from the 1400’s to modern times and tend to gobble up autobiographies and teachings of the great Generals of the Christian faith.

Like I have said many times, from day one, Piper and I have not been content to simply hear about the Word, but have desired to be right smack in the middle of what was happening… That’s why we were part of a group that pioneered three different churches in our home town.

If you think about all this, as I was doing last night while preparing dinner, you’ll find out that Jesus was saying the same thing when He shared the parable of the sower sowing the seed of the Word.  In Luke 6:47-48 He said: “Whoever comes to Me and hears My Words, and does them, I will show you to whom he is like.  He is like a man who built a house and dug deep and laid the foundation on a rock; and a flood occurring, the stream burst against that house and could not shake it; for it was founded on a rock.” (World English Bible) 

Jesus makes it pretty clear here that the sincere Christian walk takes WORK!  It takes dedication, consistency and the desire to get out and jump into the middle of the action… God’s action!  In verse 47 He defines three all-important steps.  First you have to COME to Him through prayer and especially in His Word.  Second you have to HEAR and thereby understand the gospel message and thirdly you gotta DO it… by taking action and putting feet to your faith.

Verse 48 highlights the dedication and consistency of the Christian walk.  He likens it to the man who sets out to build a house on the beach near what I would picture as a scenic river countryside.  But to build there, one has to do some extra work by digging down deep through the sand until you hit the bedrock in order to set the foundation upon the solid rock.  Then when the expected storms of life come, the water may beat on your home but when all is said and done, your house will still be standing.

I was telling Piper while thinking on all this as I prepared dinner, that in some respects I should have expected the accusations and what some called persecution against us when we returned from Bible School in Oklahoma.  For it would seem that our being obedient to God and His call to us might have made an unpleasant splash in the face of the enemy of our souls.  It made me smile when I considered that what we did and the way we tried to live our Christian life through the years might have been the basis for the trails and tribulations we have incurred.

COME, HEAR, and DO… well, that’s the way we’ve always done it.  We’ve never liked the idea of being bench warmers!  How about you?

Have a wonderful week, and as you do, keep asking yourself… “Have I COME to God, do I really HEAR what His Word is saying to me and am I expecting to DO what it takes to be right in the middle of His action today?”


*It’s funny for after my Dad passed, I could have sworn that I saw some PG&E stock listed in his investment portfolio!  No Skippy Peanut Butter though.  I guess he finally gave in and figured he might as well profit off our habit of not turning off the lights…

Friday, April 20, 2018

Keep It Positive!


Have you ever thought or maybe even said critical things about YOURSELF?  I know that I have… but it kind of came to a head the other day as I was absent-mindedly moving around the kitchen while making an omelet for breakfast.  While I whisked the eggs, graded parmesan & cheddar cheeses, onion flakes, freshly ground black pepper and a dash of turmeric, I replayed in my memory an incident from years past at my job at Agilent Technologies… which did not go as I had originally planned and ended with some negative consequences.

From that remembrance my memory shifted gears and my thoughts switched to some advice that I had given a youth way back in 1977 or so, that I now know better of and realize that I should never have opened my mouth!  Then the condemnation set in for both regrettable incidents and I wallowed in it while I poured the yellow concoction into the frying pan sizzling on the hot stove.

But as I stared a little transfixed at the bubbles that started to pop up as the omelet cooked, I heard that gentle, soft and sweet voice that I’ve become very familiar with over the last ten years saying, “What about all the good things you’ve said and accomplished at your secular jobs as-well-as for those while working in Christian ministry over the years… Why not concentrate on those instead of the negative events?”

Any you know?  As I considered what I would count as the positive things that I’ve accomplished wherever the Lord has put me, I realized that the good most likely far outnumbered the negative.  Wow, He’s got a point there, thank you Lord!

So, as I grabbed the spatula and folded the omelet and then pushed back the liquid that tried to escape across the pan, I began to see how much of the time I think about the not so successful things that I have done rather than being encouraged by the accomplishments which did go well! 

Do you ever find yourself in the same predicament?  With the Lord’s help in the kitchen the other day, I think that I am beginning to see some things in a new light… in particular, that it is a lot easier to dwell on the negative in your life than the positive!  I also am starting to understand that when we think on the failures of our past that the enemy of our souls is right there and more than willing to stir up the flames of self-condemnation.

One lesson that both Piper and I learned many years ago though, was that so-called bad things don’t always happen to you because you’ve done something wrong or made an incorrect decision or followed a course of action that was not the right one!  Sometimes negative things happen because you followed the RIGHT course of action, trusted the Lord and stepped out with Him in the face of the open and condemning skepticism of others around you.

Recently I was reading to Piper from a book that contains a compilation of sermons by Smith Wigglesworth that spanned the time of his worldwide ministry from the mid-nineteen twenties into the early 1940’s.*  In the course of one of these sermons first given in Sweden, I believe, the evangelist quoted from a portion of Jesus’ parable of the Sower and the Word in Luke 6:47-48.

A couple of truths struck me strongly as we read: “Everyone who comes to me, and hears my words, and does them, I will show you who he is like. He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock.” (World English Bible, KJV) 

First of all, the main principle of this section of scripture is predicated on the man or women who “hears” the Word of God and then puts it into action in his or her life.  Again we find out that the word “hears” is our old friend listed as G191 in Strong’s and Thayer’s Greek and Hebrew dictionaries, and it speaks of the one “who understands or perceives the sense of what is being said”  So therefore it describes a person who has spiritually discerned the Word and has taken the time and consistent effort to make it to become a part of who they are in their daily lives.

Secondly you can’t help but noticed that Jesus made the point to talk about what happens after the above is accomplished.  Once the house is strongly built He calmly continued with what we can expect next declaring, “and WHEN the flood arose…”   Yikes, you mean that even though we’ve done everything right, followed through and went to great lengths to obey the Lord, that we are still going to get hit with a storm? YES!  But it will be a gentle quick storm, right?  Well… simply said: NO!  In fact, if you read on you’ll see that sometimes the storms of life will be a real "Nor'easter" as they describe the macro-scale cyclones that we occasionally get out here on the East Coast of America.  The King James Version says that “the stream beat vehemently upon that house…”

BUT… it continues with the encouraging promise that although the storms of life can be very difficult, the end result for those who faithfully trust in Him is that they won’t  be shaken down to destruction for “it was (or our lives are) founded upon a rock.” 

You see the enemy of our souls doesn’t like it one bit when we step out and do things for God, and he’ll do any and everything he can to get us to give up and doubt God, or even turn our back on Him.  That’s why the devil loves it when we start listening to negative thoughts about our past, present or even into our futures!

And you’ll notice that he especially likes to push the negative thoughts when we are down and/or facing an especially rough life-challenge.  I’ve already told of many of the seemingly innumerable attacks that came against Piper and I during the early years of our battle against this disease that has attacked my wife.  It felt like everything that was near and dear to us was open game for the enemy.  But I am sooo thankful that He prevailed in us… the personal “hearing” or understanding and doing of the Word is the best defense against the propagation of lies flowing from the mouth of the devourer.

So, what will it be?  Will you yield to the negative thoughts about your past actions, words or feelings, or open yourself up to the positive you’ve accomplished in your life and the vibrant future that lies ahead of you as you faithfully hook your personal faith to the truth and power of God and His Word?  Okay… Okaythe answer is really obvious, but hopefully it gets you thinking this weekend!

And speaking of weekends… have a great one, and as you do, keep asking yourself… “What positive thoughts based on the truth of God and His Word am I going to dwell on today?”



*Smith Wigglesworth, On Prayer, Power, and Miracles, compiled by Roberts Liardon, copyright 2005, Destiny Image Publishers, Inc.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

It Does What?


I have been told over the years of this journey with the attack on my wife’s health, that I am doing a good job at taking care of her.  Some have even told me that they don’t know of many other husbands who would so dedicate themselves to the care of their wives the way that I have with Piper.  I really don’t know about that, but I can’t think of any other way to watch over the love of my life except for the way that I do!

I tend to want to shake my head when people tell me these things.  I mentioned to one of the hospice team members the other day that I just want to be able to do more for her.  Sometimes I just feel so helpless when I see and/or sense the things that she is going through.  There are many occasions when I’ll sit down on the floor in the dining room with my back to the wall (and the dog licking my hands, as he always seems to sense when I’m down!), or when I lay down in bed at night in the dark and cry out to the Lord asking Him what else I can or should be doing.  Well, I may or may not be doing more than others would do… but all I know is that I want to do more!  And each and every time I have done this, I always get the same reply… “just keep filling her with My Word!”

So, I do!  As I’ve mentioned in other posts, we start the day confessing healing scriptures while Piper is still in bed.  After breakfast we read from a Christian teaching book on healing or the miraculous power of God and His Word and do the same after lunch.  Before we go to bed we usually watch a teaching from one of the various Christian evangelists that I record throughout the day and then I’ll confess our healing scriptures over Piper after she is tucked in bed for the night.  And in-between all of that… well, we talk a lot more about God, the truths found in His Word and of His proven miraculous powers available to those who believe.

I was lost in thought about the “whys” of this “saturation process” as the Lord once described it to me, the other day while we were listening to the dean of the Bible school I graduated from as he spoke on Sunday morning during the live-streaming that we were participating in, and was suddenly jolted awake when in the course of his sermon he stated that: For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”  (I John 5:4 KJV)

In a moments time it all started to come together for me!  With his proclamation of that verse, that had become a standard for Piper and I over the years, my senses jumped up a notch and I thought, “Faith is the VICTORY that overcomes the world… and how do we get faith?  According to Hebrews 10:17 it is through HEARING the Word!  And what has Papa God instructed me to do for Piper… SATURATE HER WITH HIS WORD… so that her faith and mine is developed, increased and strengthened!” 

Then it all made sense!  Papa God wants us to have the VICTORYHis Victory… which can only come through our strong, relentless and consistent faith and its inherent dependence on the Spirit, power and life that only comes through the daily, fresh and powerful doses of the Word!  (See: John 6:63 and John 10:10)

Then I literally jumped off my seat when Dean Tad pulled my attention back to his sermon when he stated that “Jesus found Himself in the Word!” and then read from Luke 4:16-21 where it documents Jesus’ first sermon after receiving the Holy Ghost and spending 40 days in the wilderness at the very beginning of His earthly ministry.  The Bible says:

“And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias (Isaiah). And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,  To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:17-19 KJV)



The next Verse says that He closed the book and handed it back to the attendant while everyone in the church had their eyes glued on Him.  I wish I could have been there to see the sparkle of excitement in Jesus’ eyes as He looked over the crowd and then gloriously declared, “This passage came true today when you heard me read it.”  (God’s Word ©)

So, with my lightning quick comprehension, I immediately reasoned, what better example to follow than the standard that the Son of God established?  If Jesus can find Himself in the Word, then so can I!  When you think about it you can readily see and understand that the Word of God tells us everything that is available to us believers through Christ Jesus.  It literally tells you and me WHO WE ARE!

So… The more I stuff Piper and I with His Word of TRUTH and POWER, the more we become as He, in his Word, says we are… no matter what discouraging things I may see in my wife’s current physical state.  And if it is true for us than it is also true for you, for Saint Peter stated when he witnessed the first Gentile converts in Acts 10:34: “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.” (KJV)

Like I said: FAITH gives us the VICTORY that overcomes the lies and attacks of the world.  We increase and develop our faith through HEARING THE WORD, and along with all of that, WE FIND OURSELVES in the WORD!  Whew!  Kinda says it all doesn’t it!  This definitely makes me look at my Bible(s) in a new and exciting manner!  How ‘bouts you?
Have a great rest of the week, and as you do, pick up your Bible and freely confess the Word over the situations in your life and say… “What am I expecting the life, the power and the Spirit of and in God’s Word to do in my life today?”

Monday, April 16, 2018

Facts vs Truth...


We had a real gully washer blow through our area last night.  High winds were being predicted throughout the day and some of our neighbors without garages moved their vehicles away from the tall trees around their driveways to protect them from falling branches.  When I took Fiver out for his afternoon run in our spacious backyard around five, the wind was gusting pretty good.  I mentioned to Piper who was snuggly wrapped in a warm coat, a beanie cap and a couple of blankets while sitting on the deck, that the sound of the wind rustling through the trees reminded me of our camping adventures in the Sierra’s in northeastern California.

At first, it’s a gentle sound in the distance that slowly gets louder until the trees around the camp or yesterday at our house, begin to actually sway near their tops before moving on.  I must admit that there was a bit more of the trees swaying yesterday afternoon than just the tops!  I have one Oak tree in the back corner near our shed that I’ve had some concern for as it always losses a good number of branches during wind storms.  As I stood under it yesterday and examined its movements, I suddenly had the thought that I might not be standing in the best position in the yard during a wind storm, so I retreated out of the way it was leaning!

The rain began to come down in earnest a few hours later and I made regular checks of the front and back to make sure that everything on our property was okay.  I had no choice but to take Fiver out for his final outing of the night around ten in the midst of a downpour.  I had a raincoat on and weathered the storm without difficulty, but I can’t say the same for the dog!  Even though we weren’t out for long, he was pretty wet when we came back in.  But he’s always a good sport and seems to enjoy it when I towel him down after such an adventure.

I had prayed earlier in the evening over our property and ourselves for God’s protection as well as for that of our neighbors.  But each time I looked outside I had to remind myself that God had everything under control.  My final look out front from the study window showed that our drainage ditch near the road was about ¾ full with rapidly moving water.  As I stared at the scene before me, I began to have visions of the water overflowing the banks and making its way up to our house!

Isn’t it interesting how our minds, if left to their own devices, can play tricks on you in the midst of storm.  I finally had to physically shake my head to rid myself of those worst-case scenarios and then was able to hear that small still voice on the inside of me reassuring me that HE was protecting us… just as we had prayed earlier in the evening!  That TRUTH brought an instant peace to me and I pulled down the blinds and went to bed! 

I heard the current dean of our Bible school say yesterday that facts are constantly changing but the truth always stays the same.  Well, that’s exactly what I saw out the window last night.  The rain and the wind were quickly changing the facts of the storm right before my eyes, but the truth of God’s Word was still the same… however the worse the facts seemed to be getting!

The first place that Piper and I have learned to retreat to at the beginning of any storm that we’ve faced over the years is Psalm 91:10 where the Psalmist boldly and confidently declares “no evil shall befall You, nor shall any plague come near Your dwelling.” (MKJV)  Of course, we always personalize it by substituting “us” and “our” for “you” and “yours”

At times like last night, I often times picture the determination and confidence on my wife’s countenance in the past whenever she would quote that verse.  One look at her and you-knew-that-you-knew that she believed it and NOTHING was going to change her mind.  If I was really honest with myself, then I would probably have to admit that there were a few times in the past where I found myself hooking my faith onto her trust and confidence… because mine wasn’t quite up to level with hers!

Over the last ten years I have had to build up my own confidence, trust and determination so that she can hook her increasing inability to stand on her own faith onto mine!  With my wife’s degenerating brain disease, I am a firm believer in Ephesians 5:31 where Paul declares concerning the marriage of a man and a woman that when “…a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become 'one flesh.'" (The Message)  I know that some will disagree with me, but I have come to see that the oneness of a Christian husband and wife… especially with the close relationship we have always had, has given me the responsibility to stand with and increasingly FOR her in our daily faith life.

But putting that argument aside… The lesson I again learned last night is to trust the TRUTH of God’s Word to stand firm in the face of the ever-changing FACTS that occur in the storms of life!  Once you pray over a situation and claim one or more promises from His owner’s manual… Then BELIEVE it and don’t let the FACTS that your eyes, ears and feelings may be seeing change your mind!

Have a great new week, and as you do, keep asking yourself… “What TRUTH of God’s Word am I expecting to stand on… in the face of the ever-changing FACTS around me today?”

Friday, April 13, 2018

Faith Alive!


I mentioned in one of my blog posts last week of how the digging that the plumbers were doing in our front yard, in order to replace the water line, reminded me of the tell-tale signs of moles in our backyard. (“Take It!” 4/6/18)  I had never actually seen a mole in the yard, but plenty of the tunneling and open little holes where they can pop out… until a couple of days ago when I saw one… hanging from the talons of our friendly neighborhood hawk.

Piper, Fiver and I had just come in from spending some time in the backyard and I was sitting at the dining room table preparing to transfer that day’s blog post from Word to our online blog site (pjberruto.blogspot.com).  Suddenly, Fiver who was laying on the floor with his nose pressed against the screen door, jumped to his feet and with his ears perked up, looked with great intent off toward our patio.  Since this is an activity that he usually only does at the front door and not the back, I took notice.  As I stood up to move to the window there was a blurred flutter and our hawk friend flew over and landed on a ceramic planter that is seated right next to our deck.

Then before he even folded back his beautiful brown and black with white striped wings he hopped to the ground and in a flash, flapped his outstretched wings and took off in a low arch into the forested area west of our property… with a mole hanging from the grasp of his talons! 

It all happened so fast that all I had time to say was “Look Piper, it’s the hawk,” before he was but a distant object majestically flying between the trees next to our property!  Now I have a good idea of why I haven’t seen any actual moles around the property like we would regularly see in our last home in Oklahoma.

What came to mind as I attempted to settle back in my chair was that the hawk was simply doing one of the things that he was created to do!  When he sits on our fence posts or on the peak of the playset, he isn’t just hanging out for a visit, he’s looking for dinner!  But you know, he could sit on that fence post all day and unless he spots a varmint and then makes the effort to swoop down to pick it off… he’ll never eat.

His job takes two steps.  First, he has to be relatively certain that he is in an area where the pickings are good (and from the amount of tunneling I’ve seen in the yard this year, he’ll be around all summer!), and secondly, he has to take the appropriate action when he spots a meal sneaking out and about our grass.

It is kind of like what James talks about concerning our faith in James 2:17.  The International Standard Version of the Bible puts it this way saying, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it does not prove itself with actions, is dead.”  The more familiar King James translation uses the word “works” instead of the more modern term “actions.”   Thayer’s Greek Definitions defines “works” as “that which any one is occupied, an act, deed, thing done; (where) the idea of working is emphasized in opposition to that which is less than work.”

So, like our backyard hawk, we Christians have a job to do when it comes to being in active faith in our lives.  First, we do what we were created to do, which is to take God at His Word, and believe in what it says concerning the situations of our lives and secondly, to take the appropriate action that proves that we ARE in faith!

I’ve told the story in past blog posts of the time our guest Pastor was teaching the small group of Believers that had joined together at our home on Thursday nights with the purpose of starting a new church.  Paul who had just graduated from the Bible College that I would eventually graduate from, was recommended to us through a friend and he would drive in from out of town on Thursday nights to be with us

On one of his first visits he spent some time talking about the importance of Christians being in active faith in their daily lives.  I remember him walking around our living room in front of the 10 or so folks gathered that night and asking for a show of hands of those who were currently in the midst of a faith project in their personal lives.  Well, I had recently quit my secular job and was embarking on a new business venture, so Piper’s and my hands bolted straight up! 

But I was surprised when only a few other hands went up from the rest of the individuals, whom I considered to be strong and very mature Christian men and women.  By the end of the evening though, most of the hands went up when Paul asked for another showing after he completed his teaching and all of us realized how important it is to be in active faith every day of our lives!

What I’ve learned since that night in the early 1990’s, was that FAITH TAKES WORK!  It definitely is NOT a casual decision or emotional reaction to a good sermon or sudden need in your life!  It’s like a Pastor we once worked under (previous to that night in our living room) told me one day as we conferred in his office.  While planning some ministry directions and how we would accomplish it all, he looked me in the eyes and said, “You know Jim, one of the first Pastor’s I worked with told me that ‘Ministry is spelled W-O-R-K!’”  And WOW!  I’ve never forgotten that.

I once figured out in the late 1990’s, when that church that started in our living room was probably at the height of ministry, that with all the weekly hours I put in, I was actually making about 6 dollars an hour… which was about 6X less than I made with my secular job that I had gone back to a few years earlier! 

Most of the work that I did at church was behind the scenes as I sat at my computer at home and meticulously planned the children’s and youth activities, wrote curriculum, sermons, puppet skits, songs and dreamed up the many all-church activities that we put on over the twelve years at that church.  And… I loved every moment of our ministry at the church!  I always considered my church position as my main job over the secular management positions I also held.  My youngest daughter once told me after we left that church and moved to Oklahoma, that it seemed to her that I always looked happiest when we were at church!

I’ve also learned through the years and especially since we have been fighting the good fight of faith for Piper’s health, that although it takes a lot of work, I find myself stronger and happier with life when I am in an active stand of faith on God’s Word.  When I work hard at staying focused on God’s Word instead of what I may see unfolding before my physical eyes, I usually surprise myself at all I am able to accomplish toward my wife’s well-being!

When the Nurse Practioner was here the other day, she thought that she heard what might be the potential beginnings of Pneumonia in one of Piper’s lungs.*  As we sat there and talked frankly about what we might expect next, and she explained the “natural” progression of things, I listened to her and noted her eyes tearing up.  I then expressed my honest thoughts that one of the hardest parts in all of this ordeal has been to keep my faith strong in the face of all the contradictory evidence that keeps popping up along the way. 

I told her what we believe the Word tells us concerning God’s will for Piper’s healing, but also discussed the WORK it takes and the toll I’ve taken in order to keep the right Biblical perspective as the symptoms and years have gone on!  But you know, yes it takes hard WORK and yes there is a mental, physical and emotional toll to pay, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  It is the same way that I have faced everything in my adult Christian life, and I m not about to change it now!

According to God’s Word, FAITH without ACTION is dead… Faith is meaningless without the appropriate corresponding actions that prove one’s faith.  John Gill described the relationship between FAITH and ACTION when he wrote back in the 1700’s that: “Good works are second acts, necessarily flowing from the life of faith.”

The exciting way that I like to look at it is with the idea that FAITH with ACTION is FAITH ALIVE!  And I like to know that I am living a life that is ALIVE and thrilling through my personal FAITH in God and his Word… What about you?

Have a great and LIVELY weekend by continually asking yourself and then following through with the appropriate corresponding actions saying, “How am I expecting my FAITH to come alive in and through me today?”

* PTL!  Piper's visit and follow up examination with our regular nurse yesterday, showed that her lungs were clear!  I can't tell you how relieved I am!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Flippant Words!


For the vast majority of our adult lives, my wife and I have been part of a Christian denomination that strongly advocates the importance of our words and the power of positive confession… especially when it comes to taking a stand of faith.  I guess that is the main reason that I resisted the thought of engaging the services of Hospice to assist me in the care of my wife for a few years prior to bringing them on board a little over a year ago.

In my minds eye, all they would do is bring a constant reminder of the potential of her passing… which did not agree with the direction of my Bible based stand of faith.  In the months that they have been on board, I have come to understand that while one of their missions is to prepare one for the final step, they are in fact, much more than that!  I have been highly blessed at the Christian foundation within this particular hospice group and delight to see them openly embracing our stand of faith.  I feel many times after they’ve been to our home for a visit that I’ve been to church!

Throughout this ten-year journey that we have been on though, I have also been involved with the interactions of other folks whose words have been… shall we sayless then encouraging… to the point that their words would lean to the “flippant” side instead.

In Matthew 12:36-37 Jesus taught on the subject of the importance of our words and declared: “But I say to you that every idle word, whatever men may speak, they shall give account of it in the day of judgment.  For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned.” (MKJV) 

With my over forty years of being taught about the seriousness of our words, it bothers me when I see people taking such low consideration of what’s coming out of their mouths.  Do you know what I mean?  At times it seems like they are joking, the next minute they are being insensitive and then one hears words of love and Christian affection.  In the midst of my wife’s situation, I have come to take to heart and depend on people’s words and subsequent actions.

Dictionary.com defines the word “flippant” as, “characterized by levity which means, “lightness of mind, character or behavior; lack of appropriate seriousness or earnestness.”  The seriousness of the life situation that Piper and I face on a daily basis has forced me to take a whole new and eye-opening look at the words that I speak to her, as well as to others that I interact with in her care.

But with the seriousness of our words, I have also come to see that it is not so much our words that make us, but more importantly our actions!  I was getting Piper ready for the day one morning last week when the thought hit me that “Our actions define us!”  Yes, our words are important and according to our scripture verse we will have to address all those “idle words” that we’ve spoken in our lives, but from what I have experienced in our toughest time of need, is how I can easily forget someone’s words, but their actions are definitely pressed into my memory.

I’ve known some who say all kinds of sincere and even very Christian words… but in actions DO NOTHING!  I have to be brutally honest here… their actions tell me that I can’t really believe what I hear in conversations with them!  I like what The Message Bible says about this line of thought in James 2:17, “Isn't it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?” 

Previous to this verse, James is talking about the individual who comes across an old friend who is in need of food and clothing and responds to the situation by saying: “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!" and (then) walks off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you?” (James 2: 15-16 The Message)

We’ve been in the place of that needy one… left standing with our empty hands held out and shaking our heads!  It is not a really good feeling to be left hanging like that.  So what do you think?  Words/Actions… Actions/Words… Where does the importance of your words and actions stand in your life?  Do you understand the consequences behind the things you say and do? 

I’ve certainly come to have a better understanding of the seriousness of my words and the subsequent actions I take today… and I can honestly say that I’ve also been quite embarrassed when I consider some of the things I’ve said and then didn’t follow up on in my past!  I guess one is NEVER too old to admit error and correct it… even at 65!  (Who says that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks!)  I had a Pastor tell me once that I was the most teachable and humble person he knew… and while I am not too sure about that… I hope and strive to stay that way!  How about you?

Have a wonderful rest of the week, and as you do, keep asking yourself… “Am I expecting my WORDS and my ACTIONS to be a blessing to others around me today?”