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.

Gathering

There is something universally special about gatherings.

 Many animals gather at certain times to migrate: fish, crustaceans, amphibians, reptiles, insects, mammals, and even slime molds. They range in length from 1/16 inch to 80 feet.

In Bracken Cave, Texas, where Mexican Free-tailed bats live, twenty to forty millions of these winged critters exit the cave to eat 200 tons of bugs every night. That’s a lot of bugs.

Names for animal groupings sound weird, or fitting, and even majestic, such as cobras, called a quiver, buzzards, branded a wake, ducks dubbed a paddling, lions labeled a pride, and one of my favorites, porcupines get pegged a prickle.

We humans gather as well. A crew of sailors weigh anchor. Students make up a class. Relatives comprise a clan. Ballplayers make a team. Workers organize a union. Companies establish boards of directors, and theaters create troupes of actors.

A huge crowd gathers into a horde; when confused, it becomes a melee, which turns into a dangerous mob, and subsequently, a noisy rabble, organizes into a regiment, which moves in one direction as a troop, and finally arrives as a wave.

I’ve attended committee meetings like this.

When we who hope in Christ gather, God calls us His church. I’ve heard the saying, “Christians don’t go to church, we are the church.” While true, this phrase sounds a little cranky to me, but our Father does intend we should gather regularly.

When we assemble to worship, the Lord offers us a preview of heaven.

The scriptures tell us, “You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor. And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God.” I Peter 2:4-5 (NLT)

I know Christians who have stopped going to church. When asked about it, they say something like, “Oh, we’re fine. We read our Bible, and look at church podcasts online, we pray. We just don’t need it right now.”

My wife and I neglected to attend church for a time. We read our Bibles, watched church on TV, prayed daily, occasionally socialized with Christian friends, and tithed. Things were okay.

Except things were not okay.

We knew it in our hearts. Oh, our relationship with the Lord mattered to us greatly. Yet, it felt like, somewhere, in our garden of faith, a tree stood dying. God intends for His chosen to gather and give Him glory.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:23-25 (NASB)

There are many admonitions in scripture for believers to worship in unity.

“Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.”  Colossians 3:16 (NLT)

So why did my wife and I stay away from church? I have no complete answer.

I believe part of the answer lay in “self-ness.” We put aside the principle of, “J-O-Y”: Jesus, Others, and then, Yourself. We lost our joy in the Lord as our focus turned inward.

The dying tree embodied that joy, a tree that thirsted for the Living Water found in gathered worship with our brothers and sisters.

You know, all those Christians who are just as flawed and broken as me.

And you.

“But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body.” I Corinthians 12:18-20 (NASB)

Our society today places high value on self. People snap and post “selfies” all the time. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with taking a picture of yourself at some event you want remember. It’s fun.

It’s all the rage, not just because of the availability of technology, e.g., cell phones, but it’s also a symptom of our obsession with self, as an outgrowth, in part, of that same technology.

People now have options. Before a doctor visit, people google their symptoms. This drives doctors and nurses crazy. Someone wants to buy a car, so they research all available within a hundred miles.

In this post-modern age, people don’t trust leadership, or institutions. People see the church as an institution.

People have a strong sense of self-sovereignty. Some Christians believe, since they have a personal relationship with Christ, they can self-direct their spiritual growth. This has never been true. Our grace comes from God; our faith comes from God; our growth comes from God; He grants us our right standing before Him; we are used by the Spirit to further God’s plan and will for His church in the world.

“For it is by grace [God’s remarkable compassion and favor drawing you to Christ] that you have been saved [actually delivered from judgment and given eternal life] through faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [not through your own effort], but it is the [undeserved, gracious] gift of God; not as a result of [your] works [nor your attempts to keep the Law], so that no one will [be able to] boast or take credit in any way [for his salvation]. For we are His workmanship [His own master work, a work of art], created in Christ Jesus [reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, ready to be used] for good works, which God prepared [for us] beforehand [taking paths which He set], so that we would walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us].” Ephesians 2:8-10 (AMP)

It’s pretty amazing God chose to use us, broken people, to carry out His grace in the world, and He delights in us.

This astounds me.

He had other options. He is God. He formed His chosen into His church to build each other up for the work of serving Him.

“God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.” Ephesians 3:10-11 (NLT)

Some people can’t attend church because of illness or some other reason. I know several people who have for years visited those who are sick, housebound, or recovering. They bring church to them.

We read in James, “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;” 5:14 (NASB) “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” 1:27 (NASB)

When a Christian stays away, God’s assembly misses the absent brother or sister. God intends for those who follow his Son to meet regularly. It’s His plan.

Broken people lifting up broken people.

This morning I woke up tired, with painful back, and  I thought about staying home, but Candace and I were in church.  As we waited for service to begin, a man with a walker shuffled by to take a seat in a front pew. Another celebrated her 90th birthday today.

Okay, Father, I see Your point. We must gather.

Bees gather in a swarm, hyenas cackle, plovers congregate, zebras dazzle, hares warren, goats tribe, squid audience, jellyfish smack, and eagles gather in an ostentation.

And God’s chosen gather as a church. He meant for us to do so, as brothers and sisters in Christ, to honor Him.

Gather.

Blessings await.

Selah.

Prayers and Bumblebees

When we seek God in simple things, hope permeates our lives.

I frequently associate Scripture with what I see in  nature, and focus on ordinary and everyday occurrences. I’m passionate about this.

Most of our daily lives consist of small things.

The other day my wife, Candace,  misplaced a checkbook. She had it on her desk, and then it went missing. I helped her search high and low, even under the car seats. Nothing.

Desperate, we both prayed. A little while later, she opened a box of new checks, and bingo, there it lay. One could say this was a logical place to put the checkbook, and the Lord had nothing to do with finding it, but I’m thankful to give Him the credit.

God cares about small things.

In Psalms 56:8, we read, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” (NLT)

The idea of praying for the commonplace brings bumblebees to mind. Yep, bees.

Scientifically, bumblebees belong to the Tribe Bombini, which is kind of a cute name. These chubby little critters love my abelias, Abby and Leah, and I love to watch them buzz among the blossoms.

A popular myth tells us bumblebees should not be able to fly. The truth is amazing. When bumblebees fly, they rotate their wings up to 600 beats per second, and make mini-hurricanes to lift their bodies, so the truth is bumblebees do abide by God’s laws over this world.

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” Ps. 119:18 (ESV)

So what do bumblebees have to do with praying? They underscore just how much our Father cares about our lives. They tell us we can depend on Him. If God lets fat bees fly, then He wants to hear our prayers, our everyday, ordinary and simple prayers.

He already knows your heart. We don’t pray to our Father to inform Him, but to know we trust Him. God knew Abraham would lay his son, Isaac, on the altar, but Abraham needed to know too.

Our faith is gifted to us by God, but He loves us enough to allow us to choose to trust Him with every detail of our lives. We fear our circumstances, but God has compassion for our fear (Psalm 103:13).

We say we want to know our Father’s will: whether to turn one way or another, but God has a question for us, “Will you trust Me, and take Me with you, on every path you walk?”

Corrie Ten Boom said, “Is prayer your steering wheel, or your flat tire?”

Maybe you misplaced your checkbook. Maybe you’re exhausted from a long, tense bedside vigil with a loved one: not all things are simple. He wants you to talk with Him. He cares.

When I’m not sure what to pray, I pray the prayer that never fails. (Matthew 6:10)

So let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” Hosea 6:3 (ESV)

Jesus told his disciples a parable, to show them they should always pray and not give up. Jesus told the story of a judge who refused to grant justice to a widow. The woman pleaded persistently for him to grant her justice, until he finally gave in (Luke 18:1-8).

Jesus said, “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?” (Luke 18:6a, NIV)

Day and night. He’s always listening. I love my “sweet hour of prayer,” but sometimes concerns come to mind, and I may not be able to retire to a quiet place just then.

I have a long-time friend, who is a teacher and a gifted music minister. Years ago, he told me about “arrow prayers.” When something came to mind during his day, he’d shoot up an arrow prayer. God loves to catch our arrows.

“Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” Jeremiah 33:3 (ESV)

Bumblebees.

Arrows.

Simple prayers.

Whatever stirs your heart, pause, and talk to Him. He is Jehovah Jireh. He is Jehovah Rapha.

Selah.

Hummingbird Hope

When we value simple things, hope and encouragement permeate our lives.

Recently, some family and friends visited, and we shared a delicious meal, and enjoyed an afternoon in our back yard by the pool.

At one point, Sis, known as the “hummingbird lady” in the small Oregon town where she lives, pointed out one of these fast little flyers seeking nourishment from the silk red flowers in a pot. This sight spoke to me. 

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.”

The little animal reminded me of what our Lord said, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” Matt. 6:26 (NKJV)

The hummingbird returned to the fake flowers several times. Hummingbirds have the fastest metabolism of any creature on earth, about 100 times that of an elephant, and often eat 1.5 to 3 times their body weight in food per day. Hummingbirds must visit hundreds of flowers daily, and one day of bad luck can spell death. I gain weight reading a recipe.

So, I understand why the bird kept coming back to the fake flowers for food, even though trumpet vines, lemon blossoms, gardenias, and my two hydrangeas, Alice and Henrietta, waited to feed him.

People do the same thing. I want a car, so I jump ahead rather than submit the purchase to prayer, and give it more thought and research. Regret. Some young people decide to get married before they’ve had a chance to know each other well. Regret. We say angry words to a loved one because it felt good at the time. Words wound, even after an apology. Regret.

I thought of the story of Jesus and the rich young ruler, found in Mark 10:17-27. Although the man deeply desired right standing with God, he knew he fell short.

Yet, he refused to place God before his desire for power and wealth, and went away saddened and “unfed.” He returned to fake flowers for food, even though he knelt before the One Who is the bread of life. Regret.

Jesus said, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for food that endures [and leads] to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you; for God the Father has authorized Him and put His seal on Him.” John 6:27 (AMP)

Farther on in this passage, Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.’” John 6:35 (NASB)

We never again read about the rich young ruler in scripture, but I like to think the young man, now penniless, was among the three thousand saved in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. (Hmm, perhaps a novel awaits?)

Our relationship with Jesus is always about the condition of our heart. We can’t buy or work our way into heaven.

King David said, “You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” Psalm 51:16-17 (NLT)

It’s not hard for me to find someone who looks for spiritual food in places where none is to be found. I only need a mirror. I ask myself, “Do I see anything that draws me away from Jesus?” Too often, I do.

We can see this same conflict, looking for spiritual food in temporal things, in others. Like the hummingbird, we frantically beat our wings in search of real food, but settle for far less.

Even local fellowships do the same thing. I believe, when church leaders attempt to relate scriptural truth to modern life, they can become arrogant. God doesn’t need our help to move the human heart. Indeed, we can’t help.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”  Jeremiah 17:9 (KJV)

Yet, it is common for churches to go to great lengths to modernize their appeal to a secular audience, to focus on easy and immediate application of the Word, a quick take-home, in an effort to make the scriptures relevant the modern age.

            Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The blessedness of waiting is lost on those who cannot wait, and the fulfillment of promise is never theirs. They want quick answers to the deepest questions of life and miss the value of those times of anxious waiting, seeking with patient uncertainties until the answers come. They lose the moment when the answers are revealed in dazzling clarity.”

Paul contrasted of the milk of the Word and solid food.

            “Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world? When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I follow Apollos,” aren’t you acting just like people of the world?” I Corinthians 3:1-4 (NLT)

Doesn’t this sound like the frequent strife in congregations between traditional worship and “seeker” worship? It’s a complicated discussion. If both groups kept their eyes upon Jesus, I believe there would be more love and less strife. Neither group has a better hold on grace.

Given the definition of grace, unmerited favor of God, none of us deserves. So it is silly for one group to think they deserve it more, unless they believe they can earn it.

I agree with Chris Hutchinson when he says of the “seeker” movement, “its chief problem is not innovation but unbelief—unbelief that God saves people through sincere, rich, sin-and-grace-based preaching. It would rather believe that God needs our help through new and creative methods. And since its methods are essentially man-centered and works-based, its disciples will be the same.” (citation reference below)

Below is a link to the article in Tabletalk Magazine, written by Chris Hutchinson, senior pastor of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Blacksburg, Virginia. He explains the tension between “seeker” and traditional sin and grace preaching, between accessibility and practicality and mystery and urgency. Cut and paste the address. I had to read this one a couple of times, but it’s worth it.

The link: https://tabletalkmagazine.com/posts/2018/06/preaching-seeker-driven-churches-and-unbelief/

My point is, all this relates back to our hungry hummingbird, and the search for food. We can seek fake food, or real spiritual food from Christ our Savior.

William Cowper (1731-1800) wrote several hymns, but lived his life a troubled man. He lost his mother at the age of six, and the rest of his life he struggled with depression and doubt. John Newton, the writer of the hymn Amazing Grace, became his spiritual father, and together they penned many of the Olney Hymns.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Nothing that we despise in other men is inherently absent from ourselves. We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or don’t do, and more in light of what they suffer.”

Shortly before Cowper’s death in April, 1800, he wrote “There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood.” He overcame his doubts and accepted the scriptural truth that nothing but the blood of Jesus saves. Nothing.

This truth opens wide the door of hope.

As Christians, we seek to do good works because of a changed heart, not to earn our salvation, or to boast we have a better hold on grace.

Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” Titus 2:13 (KJV)

A few lines from Cowper’s hymn say it well, “The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day; and there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away. For since by faith I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply, redeeming love has been my theme and shall be till I die.”

Bonhoeffer also said, “The Church is the Church only when it exists for others . . . not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.”

Don’t be like our hummingbird, searching for food in places devoid of nourishment.

I love snuggling up with a good mystery book on a rainy night. The Bible is like that, but infinitely more. It is full of wonderful mysteries, and our Heavenly Father has amazing things to tell us. He wants to dazzle us. Be patient, but diligent.

He cares.

The Dove Who Rested

When we value simple things, hope and encouragement permeate our lives.

This time of year, doves try to make nests atop our columns. When we allow them to build, we experience an unsanitary mess. Twigs and nest-building debris lay on the ground, and worse, tiny brown orbs with white dots scatter about, looking like so many eyeballs.

Despite our diligence to shoo the doves away, one persevered, and we discovered her sitting on a nest. I dubbed her, “the dove who triumphed,” but as I thought about it, I changed that to “the dove who rested.”

Yes, rested; it’s not a typo. If  you think perseverance merits the main idea here, stay with me.

Back to our bird. We hear chirps in the nest, and the droppings have increased, but we don’t have the heart to remove the nest until the chicks have fledged.

This diligent dove reminds me of the words spoken by Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) in the movie Jurassic Park; to paraphrase, “Life finds a way.”

Perhaps a better way to phrase this is, God made a way.

The scriptures often speak of the Creator’s work, and He provides lessons for us through nature.

                “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” Matt. 6:26 (NASB)

Christians often ask God, when faced with a decision, whether to turn to the right or left. I believe that often God says to us, “The real decision isn’t which way to turn, but will you take me along with you? Will you trust me?” This is the connecting thread: God tells us to rest, to trust in Him, with the events of our lives, the good and the bad.

I have a boyhood memory: my cousin Joe and I decided to ride our bikes down a steep gravel road. My handlebars turned into a two-inch wide blur, but I hung on for dear life and made it to the bottom. At times, my life has felt like this bike experience. I grab the handlebars and hold on for dear life.

C. S. Lewis wrote in one of his letters to the Reverend Peter Bide, on April 29, 1959, “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us, we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”

I try to remember what Jesus said about “the birds of the air.” I know I need to rest in Him, submit to His will, and talk to Him about my concerns.

Fear is not from God (2 Tim. 1:7.) Yet, I fear. I hear a whispered lie: I can’t trust God to forgive me. He’ll give me the punishment I deserve, and I have no way to change my fate. I don’t, but our Heavenly Father does.

God made a way. He offers His redeeming love, unmerited favor, His grace, as a gift to those who call upon the name of Jesus.

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” John 1:12 (NASB)

When I hold tightly to the handlebars of life, I’m saying I don’t trust God for His love, and His watchful eye upon my life, the life over which I chose to make Him Lord.

Hebrews 11:6 says, “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” (NLT)

In good times and bad, I have learned to pray, and pray some more. When I bathe my thoughts in scripture, something miraculous happens.

I rest in Him, like the dove. This peace comes from the Spirit.

                “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs, and don’t forget to thank him for his answers. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 (TLB)

Dr. Robert Jeffress referenced the writings of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 1:21-30. Jeffress wrote, “There are times when it is good to have a case of holy indifference—to not panic about what will happen.” Paul, in prison, faced possible execution, but he rested in God, and “ironically, Paul’s holy apathy gave him tremendous determination,” to travel and preach the gospel.

I’m not advocating laziness. My mom used to tell me, “If you pray for potatoes, you’d better have a hoe in hand.”

I see the “holy indifference” Dr. Jeffress describes as a combination of deference and diligence.

Paul didn’t worry about his life. He deferred to God’s control. Yet, he pursued his ministry with diligence. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.” Philippians 1:23-24 (NLT)

So many times in scripture, God tells us to lean on Him.

“For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’” Isaiah 30:15 (NIV)

There you have it. The Lord tells us to find strength by resting in Him, like the dove.

I could do better, but when I practice trust, holy indifference, He’s always there, giving peace, even when His best turns out to be painful. I don’t need to fiercely grip the handlebars of my life.

The psalmist wrote:

“‘Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’
The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.” Psalms 46:10-11 (NASB)

I find it interesting this verse ends with the word, selah. When we see the word selah in a psalm, we’re invited to pause to carefully weigh the meaning of what we have just read or heard, lifting up our hearts in praise to God for His great truths.

The same applies to life. God provides a way.

I want to trust God more. I hope to live like The Dove Who Rested.

Selah.

Plow Around the Stump

When we value simple things, hope and encouragement permeate our lives.

I’ve spotted a lot of tractors at work. There is something beautiful about the smooth, clean dirt of a newly plowed field. It’s a promise of new of life.

An old farmer’s adage says life is simpler when you plow around the stump. In former days, when clearing land, a farmer would plow around large stumps to save time to get the planting done. Later, therewould be time to clear away the stumps.

Sometimes avoiding a controversy or disagreement will spare people from harm and hard feelings. Yet, it seems to me many people choose not to take the simpler path these days. They rail about their rights, and whine about what they deserve.

I have learned there are some things I have to put aside, or risk wasting much energy and time struggling with something I can’t change, and might cause pain and heartache to myself and others if I pursue the issue.

I recently lost someone dear to me. My sister-in-law, Sandy, visited for a birthday party in mid-December, and three months later, she was gone. Almost every day of those three months, I watched cancer steal more of her life. I’m a nurse, and still I found it hard to believe how fast disease ravaged her body. I need to take this in a little at a time.

Many of the wonderful people who supported Sandy, and my wife and me, during this experience don’t call or visit anymore. Their busy lives call them away. I understand, and I’m grateful for each one of them.

This brings to mind some thoughts on thankfulness, forgiveness, and hope. It seems to me these three hold hands.

Christians celebrated Easter a month ago, when we emphasize Christ died to offer us a Way to a right relationship with the Father, a free gift we can’t earn. Afterward, some Christians get on with their busy lives, and forget Easter. I’ve done it myself.

Not this time.

Before Sandy went home, she told me she felt thankful for the many good things she had enjoyed in life, all gifts from God, but what mattered most to her was her salvation. She looked forward to seeing Jesus. The controversies of this life meant little to her.

Scripture tells us avoiding controversies often makes life simpler (2 Timothy 2:22-26.) Dr. Robert Jeffress calls this “holy indifference” to the tribulations of life, like the Apostle Paul (Philippians 1:20-22.) I need to humble myself before God and acknowledge He’s is control. When I lack humility and hold a hardened heart, I can’t offer thankfulness or forgiveness. I become ungrateful, think I’ve earned, and deserve, status, money, position, learning, influence, and leave God out of the picture.

Except He’s never out of the picture.

But whatever is good and perfect comes to us from God, the Creator of all light, and he shines forever without change or shadow.” James 1:17 (TLB)

We need to forgive others because God forgave us. To forgive, we must choose thankfulness. To have a thankful heart, we must choose forgiveness. As I said above, they hold hands. I know I can’t do this on my own steam. I need the Holy Spirit.

“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.” Colossians 3:12-15 (NLT)

Have you figured it out yet? The field refers to the life God has given each of us, and God intends for us to plant it and be fruitful for Him. We can spend time digging at every stump in the field, and righting every wrong in our lives, or we can get on with the business of planting for the harvest, and plow around the stumps.

We need to trust Him and leave the hurts, controversies, betrayals, the pain of loss, disappointments, and heartaches, and failures to Him. God will take care of these things in His time.

“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.” Romans 12:9-13 (NKJV)

Sandy planted and watered her field, and God gave the increase in her life. She had plenty of stumps along the way, but the harvest was plentiful. God used her.

At the end of my life, I hope to hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

We all get a last day, and today could be the one. I don’t want to waste it digging at stumps. Until the Lord takes me home, I want my life to reflect a line from an old hymn by William Cowper:

“Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.”