You’re Missing the Blue Bubbles

My wife, Candace, and I often enjoy a cup of tea in the evenings. Our electric water pot has a window on one side lit by a bluish light, and when the water boils, the bubbles that shine like pearls fascinate me.

I tell Candace, “You’re missing the blue bubbles!” She shakes her head, and rolls her eyes. She doesn’t share my fascination, and that’s okay. I find joy in simple things. I studied entomology in college, and once spent several hours watching an ant trail for a class project. Enough said.

Through social media, people give account of the many ways they fill their days during this time of “sheltering in place.” They binge watch their favorite series on TV, assemble huge puzzles, and even re-discover board games or baking with their families. I write, garden, strum my guitar, stuggle to convince myself to exercise, phone friends, send cards, read good books, and enjoy the company of my wife.

Some spend their time volunteering, delivering food and supplies to at-risk neighbors, making facemasks for caregivers, giving blood, mowing lawns, looking in on friends. Our neighbors said they would go grocery shopping for us, and I told my wife they must view us as the seniors on the block. Bless them, and thank the Lord, we still do our own shopping, just less often.

I anticipated celebrating Easter with our church family, and a special meal with loved ones around the table. Now, friends over for dessert sounds like a luxury. Bible studies canceled, no trips to the coast, no family rendezvous in Oregon; all gone with the pandemic. Whining doesn’t help. We’re blessed. Many have suffered in the past few months, and it’s hard to take in. Yet, I know God loves us in the midst of our tribulation.

“As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things” (Ecclesiastes 11:5, NIV.)

Back to the blue bubbles. This amusement stops when the automatic switch trips. Life changes moment by moment, like our water pot. I hear the phrase “new normal” with increasing frequency. I can’t predict what changes will happen in our daily lives when the pandemic subsides, and I don’t believe anyone else possesses that ability either. For those who know the Lord as Savior, scripture tells us God changes us continually.

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18, NIV.)

Only God changes my heart. I can’t change myself into a better person, but I can still use this time to reassess what God is telling me. There are positive things I can do to improve my journey through life. Paul gave useful advice to the Philippians.

“Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart]” (Philippians 4:8, AMP.)

The Marines train to improvise, adapt and overcome in any situation. In this time of quarantine, people have adapted to reconnect with each other. In response to the cessation of in-church services, Christians have employed technology, and switched to virtual services. I have a long-time pastor friend in North Carolina. His congregation numbers about 55 people, and most don’t have a computer or smartphone, so once a week he calls each household to pray with them. God made us to worship Him in community.

“Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; (Philippians 1:27, ESV.)

Christ has one bride, His church, in unity, worshiping together.

“This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32, ESV.)

Our Heavenly Father takes note when a small bird falls to the ground, and I believe nothing escapes His eye as the entire world navigates through this pandemic. I patiently watch for His wonderful, loving hand of mercy every day.

“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul” (Psalm 143:8.)

Selah.

The Jesus Jar

God speaks through simple things; when we pause to listen, we are blessed.

  My wife and I decided to prepare a meal for a couple who are friends. The wife has been doing double duty to care for her husband while he recovers from surgery. We made a large casserole, an apple pie, added a large bag salad and a bag of Portuguese rolls. I decided to include a jar of my homemade pineapple-orange marmalade, since I had just made a new batch, but I noticed two jars from the previous batch, still very tasty, so I set one on the counter. Later, I passed by and noticed the jar, and a Scripture verse came to mind.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:40, NIV.)

I exchanged the older marmalade jar for one from the new batch. I realized there was more to understand from this, and perhaps the Spirit wanted to tell me something.

We delivered the meal, and our friends later told us they enjoyed three dinners from the food we brought, and asked us for the casserole recipe! They said it was a relief not to have to think of what to fix for dinner for a few days.

This blog chronicles my efforts to listen to God speaking through simple, everyday things. In my humble opinion, many blessings come from this. Readers won’t return if they’re not receiving something for their effort, so if you choose to, I invite you to learn along with me. I want to see God’s fingerprint in common experiences, hear what His Word says about them. It takes diligent practice to open one’s heart to the Spirit’s leading in this area, and I have a way to go.

Back to the jar of marmalade, which I dubbed it the “Jesus jar,” recalling Matthew 25:40. Another verse came to mind.

“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much” (Luke 16:10, NASB.)

 This verse reminds me to stay thankful and humble. I heard Dr. Robert Jeffress say, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” I remember the acronym from my youth group, JOY, for “Jesus, others, and then yourself.”

There have been times when I’ve wondered if I have fallen short of God’s best intentions for my life. I consider II Corinthians 5:10, one of the more troubling verses in the Bible. I wanted to serve as a missionary doctor. I have a special compassion for the poor people of Appalachia, and the medical needs of the poor in general. When I became a nurse, and served most of my career among factory workers. Did I fall short?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts. We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly for the highest good.  . . . We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet, really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things?” (Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community)

Most of our daily lives consist of small, common things, and God loves us just as much in those ordinary times, as on the hilltop. God loves every one of those factory workers I served, and He blessed me through my days with them in so many ways.

If I don’t notice simple things, a child’s laugh, the soft light before sunset, or the aroma of oven bread, how can I see the needs of those around me? Will I hear God’s still small voice? Will I show compassion instead of indifference?

Mother Teresa said, “Man’s greatest sin is not hatred, but indifference to one’s brothers.”

In Mathew 5:46, Jesus said, “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”

People use the term “woke,” and think this is some new insight. Christ’s redeemed have been woke for two thousand years. It takes effort to put aside indifference, and notice others, a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker, or even a stranger. Though I have a way to go, I have hope. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Philippians.

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6, NLT.)

I thank God for this day, silent time with my Bible, a call or email from a friend, warm covers on a cold night, the flicker of firelight, a brief talk with a neighbor by the mailbox, and his gray cat lurking in our garden. I thank Him for the opportunity to take a meal to a friend recovering from surgery.

And for a jar of marmalade.

Selah.

Little Boy Big Wave

God speaks through simple things, and when we take the time to pause and listen, we’re blessed with unbounded hope.

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A little boy lives across the street, and whenever I sit on the porch, and he sees me, he waves, and yells, “Hi.” He keeps it up until I wave and say “hi.” Then he remains silent. In five minutes, he begins again until I respond.

He trusts me, humble without pretense, despite knowing little about me. I talk to his father and mother when I see them, so perhaps his trust in me arises more from a trust of his parents. After all, he’s only two years old, and he depends on his father and mother for everything. The thing is, he trusts, like a child.

This gregarious little guy gives me pause. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18:17, NASB.)

That’s a serious statement. How much do I trust God?

Memories of my childhood stretch back a number of decades. I try to act like an adult, well, most of the time. What is it about a child that opens the kingdom? If I need to have it to get in, I want it.

When I say “kingdom of God,” I mean a spiritual rule over those who have surrendered willingly to the lordship of Christ, and He rules in their hearts. No one is without sin, or we wouldn’t need God’s grace.

It’s common to think of trust and faith as the same thing, but I think they’re different. Faith is a noun, and given by God. It’s supernatural.

Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1, NASB.)      

Trust is a verb, something we do.

“No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:20-21, ESV.)

This verse tells me if we act, believing God to provide, our faith will grow.

The story of Charles Blondin and Harry Colcord illustrates the difference between trust and faith. Blondin walked across Niagara Falls on a tightrope in June of 1859. He did this several times over several weeks, adding different challenges, like pushing a wheelbarrow full of rocks on one occasion. When Blondin asked the crowd if they believed he could do it again, they cheered. When he asked for someone to get in the wheelbarrow, the crowd fell silent. Colcord managed publicity for Blondin. In August, 1859, Harry Colcord climbed on Blondin’s back and they successfully crossed Niagara Falls.

The crowd had faith in Blondin’s ability, but Colcord demonstrated trust. He chose to act based upon his faith in Blondin. How often I believe in the promises of God, like the crowd, but I fail to climb on His back, in trust. Obedience requires action on my part, but to get off my duff, I need to trust God. There are plenty of stories in the Bible to show God comes through. He does what He says He will do.

“God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” (Numbers 23:19, NLT.)

I need to embrace my weakness and trust God will fill in the gaps. He will give me what I need to get the job done. I can trust Him.

Easy said, harder to act.

So how do I develop trust in God? I read His Word, and strive to act in obedience. The Word is powerful and living, and God moves upon our hearts when we read scripture.

“The unfolding of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130, NASB.)

I offer another translation from the Latin Vulgate: “The declaration of thy words giveth light: and giveth understanding to little ones” (Psalm 119:130, The Douay-Rheims Bible—DRB.)

A characteristic of the simple, of little ones, or of those who receive the Kingdom of God like a little child, is humility. All I have, all I am or will be, comes from God. I’m not in control, whether or not I’ve submitted to Him as Lord.

Dr. Charles Stanley writes, in his wonderful devotional, Pathways to His Presence (June 4, “Faith Defined”), “Before we can trust God fully, we must come to a point of helpless dependence. It is here that we realize that we simply cannot do it all, be all that is needed, and have all the answers. If we could there would be no need for God. We would be in total control and very proud of it . . . Godly dependence is not a sign of weakness, but one of immeasurable strength and confidence. There are problems in life that only God can solve, tasks only He can perform, and solutions that can only be discovered through the wisdom He gives.”

The more I read scripture, the more I understand God will meet my needs when He gives me an assignment. I can let go of my pride, which leads to trust in Him, and I can be more thankful, look outwardly, to the work God has for me to do. I can be more fruitful.

And I don’t want to forget the small stuff. You know the story: but for a nail in the horse’s hoof, the shoe came off, the horse went lame, and so on, until the battle was lost. I need to stay alert and humble. If God gives me a small job today, so be it. Small things count.

Like a little boy, who waves at me, and persistently yells “hi.”

Selah.

Where To Keep The Christmas Baby

God speaks through simple things; when we pause to listen, we’re blessed with unbounded hope.

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While visiting some friends, I noticed a nativity display with the infant Christ absent from the manger. The friend told me she will place the Christ child figure in the manger on Christmas morning. When I reflected on this tradition, I wondered what life would be like if Jesus had never come . What if the manger remained empty?

I googled it, and decided contemplating a world without Christ reveals a deep, dark abyss, devoid of hope. Not what I want to think about just prior to Christmas, because like many people, I have melancholy days at this time of year, missing those absent for Christmas, so I try to focus on the positive. That said, I like to focus on the magnificent reality that Jesus came into this world as a baby, God with us, Immanuel.

The birth of Christ initiated an amazing earthly life that revolutionized world history, morality, aid to the poor, education, and establishment of universities and hospitals, music and the arts, and more.

Truly, Jesus did come. The Gospels record many of the amazing things He said. Jesus described Himself as the only way to our salvation, to have a right place before a Holy God, His Father. Some try to describe Him as just a good prophet, but He left no room for that conclusion, as recorded in the gospel of John.

            “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6, NIV.)

Jesus wanted us to know His Father watches over us, and His love permeates every part of our lives. Do you count the hairs on your head? Me neither, though every year there seems less to count. Not even a small bird falls but He sees it, and cares. Called common grace, when He paints a beautiful sunset, all see it, not only Christians.

            “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:29-31, NIV.)

Holy Spirit transforms those who belong to Him, to accomplish Kingdom work, bringing others to a saving relationship with Jesus. This is a wonderful mystery, and privilege, and it means we can make a difference for good in this world and for God’s kingdom.

            “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” Matt. 5:16, NIV.)

Our Heavenly Father notices the smallest, simplest act of kindness and mercy. Yogi Berra said, “You don’t have to swing hard to hit a home run. If you got the timing, it’ll go.” Borrowing from Yogi’s way of saying things, when you make a difference, it makes a difference. We have the Spirit, and His timing is always perfect.

                “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward” (Matt. 10:42, NIV.)

Yogi Berra also said, “If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.” We struggle in a fallen world, and Jesus had something to say about that.

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NASB.)

Jesus came. When I pause and reflect on Him, He speaks in simple, but profound ways to lift my spirit, and give me renewed hope. Sunlight piercing through the clouds, a cup of coffee warming my hands, the smell of fresh baked bread, or the sight of children laughing and running, singing carols in praise of Christ, a candle glowing in a dimly lit corner, reading scripture, and many other ways all speak to His glory. All good things come from Him (James 1:17.)

Most of my days are ordinary, and if only I strive to open my heart and eyes, He will reveal Himself through small details. When I ignore the simple things, I miss out on so much blessing.

There are things I try to practice daily, even if imperfectly, that help me to open my eyes and my heart to His voice. I pray through my day, remind myself to be humble, forgiving, and a purveyor of grace and compassion to others, just as He offered me grace and mercy. I need to remind myself of this often. There are plenty of distractions to take my mind off Jesus. He is the Word, the candlelight in a dark world. When I take my eyes off Him, the world looks dark indeed.

The best treatment for melancholy at Christmastime? I focus my attention away from myself. Visit a sick friend, or bring a meal to someone in need. Donate the clothes to charity, send a card to someone alone, or make up cookie baskets for neighbors. I thank God for my wife Candace. Through her example, God shows me ways to serve, to turn away from the darkness, and toward the candle of Hope.

I pray your candle burns brightly this Noel.

Rejoice. Jesus came. Immanuel.

Selah

Honey Bees and Bible Pleas

If we take time to see God in simple things, we will never lack for hope

Why do bees swim in circles? This summer as I passed by the pool, I found a bee. I set him beside of the pool, and he promptly made a “bee line” for the water again. This time I placed him further away from the water. I watched as he preened his legs and antennae, while he basking in the sun. Eventually, he flew away, hopefully to a good place.

Bees need to drink water as often as we do, but they don’t like to get their feet wet.. They store water in a special stomach called a crop. A hive of 80,000 bees can drink 3 gallons of water on a warm day. This same hive could lose hundreds of bees in a day to old age, and when they die they flutter to the ground, and some land in my pool. Or, maybe this bee just fell in while taking a sip; they don’t land very gracefully.

The bee reminds me of myself. Trials come, and I swim in circles, so to speak. I have access to a Heavenly Father, Who watches my every move, and cares. Maybe I need to stamp “pray” on my forehead.

Last year I lost a sister-in-law, and this year a cousin with whom I’d recently reconnected. I developed a serious cough after removing some old vines, and lost 25 pounds in two weeks! In a recent church service, the pastor announced the passing of a dear congregant. Events like these serve to illustrate that people experience troubles in life.

Jesus told his disciples, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NLT.)

I’ve taken comfort in this verse when praying for healing, or provision, or understanding, but when things don’t change, or get worse, my prayer room get a little dark.  Prayer, when done in earnest, is hard work, and it’s a battle. I battle my own flesh, I battle the enemy, Satan, when he attacks me with doubt and fear, and I battle against God, when I struggle to align my will with Christ’s Lordship.

I tell myself God has a plan and nothing can alter it, but I doubt God is listening, and I become complacent about my prayers. God has a plan, but I’m missing something when I choose not to pray. The Lord Jesus told us to pray when he related the parable of the persistent widow.

“Now Jesus was telling the disciples a parable to make the point that at all times they ought to pray and not give up and lose heart,” (Luke 18:1, AMP.)

The writer of Hebrews tells us, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6, NASB.)

When my prayer room feels dark and silent, I remember I have access to a great God. This light comes not from me, but the Spirit.

“Now to Him who is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly more than all that we dare ask or think, according to His power that is at work within us,” (Eph. 3:20, AMP.)

His power works within us.

God has ordained the end, but he has also ordained the means to that end. While much of His plan is a secret to us, it is big enough to include anything that happens to us. As His redeemed, He gave us a responsibility to be a part of His plan. He uses our prayers to change things. What a wonderful mystery and blessing.

He wants us to pray specifically. Rather than swim in circles like the bee, I choose a straight path to the Father in prayer. Everything on our hearts lies upon His heart.

“For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize and understand our weaknesses and  temptations, but One who has been tempted [knowing exactly how it feels to be human] in every respect as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15, AMP.)

To pray according to God’s will is not a cop out. His will is a hedge of protection around us, to keep evil away. Both the Old and New Testaments affirm this truth.

 “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him, (Nahum 1:7, NIV); and

“The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (2 Timothy 4:18, NIV.)

Our Lord meant for us to strive together in prayer. Like a team sport, it’s most effective when we pray with each other. We need each other. I have Christian friends who choose to attend church infrequently. We, the Church, need them. We need the power of the Spirit at work within them, and they need the regular communion of the saints. Paul acknowledged this truth in his letter to the Romans.

 “Dear brothers and sisters, I urge you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to join in my struggle by praying to God for me. Do this because of your love for me, given to you by the Holy Spirit. Pray that I will be rescued from those in Judea who refuse to obey God. Pray also that the believers there will be willing to accept the donation I am taking to Jerusalem. Then, by the will of God, I will be able to come to you with a joyful heart, and we will be an encouragement to each other” (Romans 15:30-32, NLT.)

My wonderful wife has been laying out fall decorations today. She knows I love this season. The other day, while we were in a store, I noticed several beautiful signs using the phrase, “Gather.” That sums up this time of year for me. I look forward to the times we will share with our friends, and pray together.

I invite you to do the same.

Selah

The Secret of Sunsets and Coconut Cream Pie

When we seek God in simple things, blessings permeate our lives

Have you ever wondered why sunsets beam orange and red upon an evening sky?

Then again, I believe one learns, perhaps, more from a sunset from simply enjoying its beauty than contemplating the science behind its color.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge“ Psalm 19:1-2, (NASB.)

Okay, to offer a short answer to the question, light from the sun travels farther through the atmosphere in the evening and morning, and by the time it get to the surface of Earth, other colors have been absorbed by particles and gasses in the air, leaving oranges and reds. Even though the speed of light is about 7 times around Earth per second, sunlight takes 8 minutes to reach this planet.

All that way, and we see just 14% of the evening light. Think of the rainbow resulting from sunlight passing through a glass prism. The colors making up light each have a different wavelength, so each is bent at a different angle when passing through the glass, and voila, a rainbow.

The science tells an interesting story, but that’s not the secret of sunsets.

Perhaps I can illustrate what I mean through a precious childhood memory. When I was a little boy, my dad took the family to the coast, and we camped in a grassy park.

One evening after dark, Dad took me on a walk, just the two of us. We came to a street with shop windows shining brightly on the other side. We entered a diner, and warmth and enticing aromas welcomed us. Dad set me on a padded stool at the counter, and ordered two large slices of coconut cream pie and a glass of cold milk.

This was my first taste of coconut cream, and I thought I’d gone to heaven. When I swigged the last of my milk, Dad leaned over to me, “This is a secret between you and me. Don’t tell Mom or Sis.” That made the experience even more special. I recall this memory when eating coconut cream pie. I didn’t reveal the secret to Mom or Sis until after Dad passed, They laughed, and cried.

So how does the secret of a delicious pie relate to the secret of sunsets?

I trusted my dad when I walked with him in the dark. even though I didn’t know where he was taking me. Our Heavenly Father has shown me when I go throught dark and difficult times, He goes with me. He promises another sunrise, and hides no secrets in the sunset for those willing to open their hearts to Him.

“For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime,; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” Psalm 30:5 (NIV)

Several years ago, when my doctor told me I had cancer, I was concerned how my wife would take the news. I asked him, “Can I at least assure her I’ll still be around a year from now?”

He said, “No, you can’t.” It was hard news. Just as I can’t see all the color of light at sunset, my future looked dark. I had to learn to trust God for each day. The sun rose again. And again.

I believe this trial pales in comparison to challenges others face. I can only say, I grew closer to God. He knows the future, and He remains faithful in His love and mercy. Just as, in a beautiful sunset, I see His promise of another sunrise, I know God goes with me in my difficulties.

“The Lord’s unfailing love and mercy still continue, Fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise” Lamentations 3:22-23 (NASB.)

When I look at a rosy sunset painted on the clouds, I whisper, “It is His glory.”

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” Romans 15:13 (ESV.)

Selah.

Chronicles: The Lads, the Chaos, and the Cupboards

When we seek God in simple things, blessings permeate our lives

 I strive to live with my eyes open to God’s presence in the ordinary day. Even the simplest of life’s experiences can mimic a C.S. Lewis novel. Like Lewis, God is always trying to teach me through these events.

Recently, we hired a painting contractor. This project included everything in the front rooms, the kitchen cabinets and island.

The results amazed us. The experience proved to be complicated. The painting contractor team consisted of a father and his two sons. When they finished the project, we missed interacting with them. They are wonderful men of God.

We had much to do during the project. We moved the furniture, stripped the walls, and removed wall plug covers; you get the picture. We filled every non-project room in the house, including the garage. One evening, I had to unwrap the microwave to cook dinner. We camped out in our house for two weeks. I was organized chaos.

But I digress. What did God have to say to me through this experience? I saw a connection new to me.

Decluttering relates intimately to mercy.

As I read scripture, the themes of decluttering and mercy spoke to me, and I asked God to show me how they connected. I searched the internet for scriptural articles on the two subjects, and I began to understand.

Clutter also gathers in the heart. When I neglect the spiritual clutter that accumulates in me, my ability to see God’s grace diminishes. I refuse to forgive, hold on to anger, and keep record of wrongs, large and small. I stop seeing things as gifts from God, and harbor feelings of regret, remorse and unworthiness. The spiritual clutter builds up.

I want karma, but Christ doesn’t allow it, for it diminishes God’s grace. Thank you, Pastor John, for that insight.

Marie Kondo said to ask if the item gives us joy. I don’t ask that of a material thing. God is the source of joy, a gift of the Spirit.

Still, I do feel a sense of freedom when I declutter, and simplify my surroundings. The project required us to handle each item in our cupboards and drawers, shelf items and wall hangings. It was a chance to evaluate whether to keep things, or let them go.

Perhaps, if I simplify my surroundings, I’ll sit quietly, and listen for God to speak. He is the God of mercy and compassion, and I need His grace in order to forgive others, to let go of attitudes and anger that interfere with my relationship to Him.

But it’s not easy. I can’t say a prayer, and expect to declutter my mind and heart. Like my physical home, clutter continues to accumulate. Thankfully, our Father knows this.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13-14, NIV.)

When I realize how much I need God’s mercy, compassion, and grace, I realize my obligation to offer them to others. Merciful action is the essence of spiritual living. My pastor recently said, “We are to be purveyors of God’s grace.

I have adopted this as my personal motto. I repeat the phrase several times a day. While I won’t deny the truths in scripture, I strive not to grumble, or be resentful and judgmental of others. Our society promotes self-reliance and independence, but I don’t want my possessions, status, or popularity to become the rock I hold onto.

 He saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we have done, but because of His own compassion and mercy, by the cleansing of the new birth (spiritual transformation, regeneration) and renewing by the Holy Spirit,” (Titus 3:5, AMP.)

Every act of forgiveness and mercy entails a battle against evil, a battle that one can engage and win only in the power of the Spirit. Christ never meant for us to fight this battle alone.

In her book, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life (IVP Books, c.2016, p. 31), Tish Harrison Warren states, “But God has loved and sought us—not only as individuals, but corporately as a people over millennia. As we learn the words, practices, and rhythms of faith hewn by our brothers and sisters throughout history, we learn to live our days in worship . . . Our hearts and our loves are shaped by the things we do again and again and again. On Sunday in gathered worship, we learn to sit together in repetition and in predictability. We learn the repetitive, slow rhythms of a life of faith.”

We learn, hopefully, to declutter our heart, and sit still before our awesome God of mercy, compassion and grace. And, perhaps, just listen.

I want to live gladly in the reality of God’s love and grace, and be a purveyor of God’s grace to others. To do this, I must acknowledge my spiritual clutter, and work continually to clear it out. When I feel unworthy to draw near to the Father, I remember that I’m not worthy, yet Christ died for me, and I seek Him.

He’s too wonderful to take in. Like the prodigal father of scripture, God waits for me, and offers His mercy, compassion and grace. Abba Father.

Selah.

 

   

What Ants Know About Wisterias

When we seek God in simple things, blessings permeate our lives.

Thank you for reading my blog. One value I hope you will take away from every post is to see God’s presence in small moments, and receive His blessings. Most of our days consist of simple things, so I choose to find a way to value them.

Christians face the same trials as is common to all people, and we struggle to remain true to our faith despite our faults, doubts and weaknesses. God helps us, and sometimes, He carries us.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:27-30, ESV.)

The other day, I noticed an ant moving in jagged circles at my feet. Thinking I might have stepped on him, I inspected more closely and realized the ant was carrying the carcass of a larger ant, and tangling his feet in the legs of the carcass. Maybe he thought it was a good lunch. I studied entomology (bug zoology) in college, so I have an interest in insects.

I nudged the ant from his burden, and he went on his way in a straight line, presumably following the trail laid down by his friends. When I placed the carcass in his path again, he picked it up, and moved in jagged circles, so I freed him from his burden.

This reminded me of times when I’ve refused to make a change, or let go of a burden in my life. I moved in circles, like the ant.

One example is the wisteria that once grew over the pergola courtyard at the side of our house. In the spring, it produced beautiful blooms, and in the summer provided shade under the pergola. It also made a mess.

Every season, the wisteria produced debris: flower blossoms, large seed pods, and leaves falling. The mess would foul the fountain, and the wisteria grew like a weed, requiring constant pruning. I put up with this for years because of the beautiful flowers, but I finally realized how much better it would look if I removed the plant.

Now the courtyard remains clean and usable. We could have enjoyed the area much more, and saved a lot of work, had I made the decision to change it earlier.

In Eclesiastes 3:6, we read “a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,”

Some past decisions I can’t change so easily. The hardest changes lie in the heart, like negative attitudes, unforgiveness, and fear. I suppose most people can remember something from their past they wished they had been willing to change.

I recall a friend who worked for years at a stressful job with no benefits, and for one third of the going salary. I pleaded to her to change jobs, but fear of change paralyzed her. Finally, the job went away in a downsizing. Her new job has three times the pay, full benefits, and less stress. Her past can’t be changed, but her future is much brighter.

My writing mentor, Jerry Jenkins (of the Jerry Jenkins Writers Guild) says, “All writing is rewriting.” I think life is akin to writing a book. I write it day by day through the decisions I make, but God is my editor.

Rewriting one’s life requires willingness to change, when change is wise. So many times I’ve held on to attitudes, and things, that needed to go. I find I’m willing and able to make change more readily in my mature years, but the Spirit has had a lifetime to mold me, to be the editor of my story.

Our Heavenly Father’s transforming work in us is a wonderful mystery. God’s compassion and love for those who revere Him reminds me of water washing over stone. I read somewhere, “Water doesn’t cut through stone because of its power, but because of its persistence.” He never leaves us. He could turn us into sand in an instant, but He is patient with us.

Our Father assures us, “If you wander off the road to the right or the left, you will hear his voice behind you saying, ‘Here is the road. Follow it’” (Isaiah 30:21, GNT)

So what’s my point? Like many people, I don’t like change, but I’ve learned to prayerfully consider opportunities to make new decisions, and sometimes it leads to something good. I can remove troublesome wisterias and replant, I can prayerfully embrace new directions as God leads, and trust Him.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, NKJB.)

Now, about my weight.

 Selah.

A Sparrow, Falling Leaves and Angels

When we take time to seek God in simple things hope permeates our lives.

A few weeks ago, as Candace and I raked leaves, she pointed to a small bird jumping from branch to branch in one of our cherry trees.

The sight reminded me of Jesus’ words, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

We finished our work, and as more leaves fell on the ground, I thought of what Jesus said to Nathaniel, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51, NASB.)

Angels coming and going like autumn leaves stirred by a gust of wind.

As we raked that day, the air was smoky from the devastating fires in northern California. We breathed the ash of their tragedy, and I felt heartbroken for them. My efforts to help seemed futile. I’m part of the family of God, and we are bound together by one Spirit, so I share in the suffering of my brothers and sisters. Such events give us abundant opportunities to show the love of Christ, even if imperfectly.

 During Advent, many things remind me of God’s love for us. The falling leaves also reminded me of the angels descending on the shepherds in the field to announce the birth of Jesus that first Christmas.

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“An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’” (Luke 2:9-13, NIV.)

First one angel, then a host, like the leaves.

“The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told (Luke 2:20, NIV.)

They were “caused great joy” just like the angel said.

 I’ve read that Christian joy is an attitude of the heart, not a feeling. I know God changes my heart, but I praise and glorify Him because I feel joy knowing that I’m His child. In church, we sang halleluiahs to the Lord, and I felt joy.

Our Savior said, “I have told you these things so that My joy and delight may be in you, and that your joy may be made full and complete and overflowing”(John 15:11, AMP.)

Synonyms for the word joy include: delight, great jubilation, triumph, exultation, rejoicing, happiness, gladness, glee, exhilaration, exuberance, elation, euphoria, bliss, ecstasy, rapture, enjoyment, felicity, joie de vivre, jocundity, and thrill.

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 It gives me joy to know Jesus, and to know my Father is watching every detail of my life, and sending His angels to do His bidding, and affecting my life in ways I don’t see, or can’t understand. He remakes my imperfect efforts by His perfect love.

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“For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone” (Psalm 91:11, NIV.) His angels, his messengers, watch over us.

At times I struggle with joy, especially because I miss loved ones who are absent. Often the Spirit lifts me in wonderful ways, like Christmas music and hymns. David Jeremiah wrote, “Music brings the celebration in our hearts into fruition in our very being. It brings the joy of the angels into our lives.” (Turning Points, December, 2018, p. 39)

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the  blast of the ram’s horn–shout for joy before the Lord, the King” (Psalm 98:4-6, NIV.)

A sparrow, falling leaves, and angels.

They tell me God loves me, and when I focus on this truth, I feel joy.

For Christmas, and always, that is my prayer for you.

Selah.

Sooty and the Fishy Dive

When we take time to seek God in simple things, we find Him, and hope permeates our lives.

My wife, Candace, and I spent a few days at the coast. Every evening we made sure to watch the sunset. Just before the drive home, we spent an hour on a bench looking out to sea.

I watched the Shearwaters (specifically, the Sooty Shearwater, Ardenna grisea) glide just above the surface of the water, and eventually dive beneath, presumably to snag a tasty fish. The Sooty Shearwater migrates thirty-five thousand miles each year, in a kind of figure-eight pattern over the Pacific. They can dive up to fifty feet for food. I’ll bet some of the fish swimming below felt surprised when Sooty snagged them for lunch!

As we watched the ocean, an ambulance sped past, its lights and siren alerting traffic. Someone’s day had taken an unexpected turn, like the fish in Sooty’s beak.

The evening we arrived home, I saw on the news a head-on collision occurred just an hour after we drove through the same road–another unexpected turn in someone’s life.

Some unexpected occurrences result in good things. I’ve harbored a fanciful dream for years about the ideal cottage on the coast. Even my novel project contains a similar cottage. Via an online search, I found “A Victorian Light Keepers Cottage” available for rent in Cambria, just down the street from our hotel!

Cottage ownership remains a dream, but I never expected to find my dream cottage actually exists.

Back to Sooty.

As I watched the shearwaters dive for fish, it reminded me that my life has taken a few unexpected turns. God is sovereign, but He is also our God Who delights in surprises. He shows up in unexpected places, and acts in my life in ways I never could predict, even during the worst times.

In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis said, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”

I understand. Once, someone I loved and trusted betrayed me. I felt devastated. Friends huddled around to help, and invited me to the local watering holes. They meant well, but this did nothing to improve how I felt about my life.

Some Christian friends invited me to their Bible group on Sunday mornings. After the first meeting, I felt like I’d taken a breath of fresh air. In time, I could see myself growing more sensitive, aware, and forgiving, and God led me to a loving, Christian wife.

John Piper said, “In all the setbacks of your life as a believer, God is plotting for your joy.”

I want more in my relationship with Christ than to simply lean into the headwinds of life, believing God will sustain me. By the way, I do believe He will sustain me.

In his letter to the church in Rome (12:1), Paul says, “I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing to God, which is your reasonable service.”

Is my life a living sacrifice? An altar is a place where a person makes a sacrifice to consecrate himself to God. Many churches have altars for prayer, communion, weddings, and other sacred purposes. The human heart holds an altar, a place to surrender to the Holy Spirit. If I’m honest, it’s hard to do, and sometimes I take things back. When one builds an altar, you must first carry the stones, but God offers so much more.

There’s a key to a more intimate relationship with Christ, found in the four words, “In everything, give thanks.” It’s easier to do when He provides for our needs like food, shelter, clothing, and daily needs. What about the hard stuff? Should we thank Him for divorce, cancer, or financial loss? Yes! It is God’s will for me as a believer.

“In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I Thessalonians 5:18 (NKJV)

I’ve set upon an effort to see where this “everything” business takes me. When the hard times come, and I don’t feel thankful, I want to thank Him on faith alone, because this is His will. He may choose to surprise me, not just in the bad times, but any hour of any day. I want to practice this expectation, trusting in my heart that God rules over every detail of my life.

“Look at the nations and watch, and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” Habakkuk 1:5 (NASB)

Sure sounds like He takes great joy in surprising us!

               May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 (NIV)

Thank you, Father. I can’t wait for your next surprise.

            Selah.