Friday October 22, 2021 – A spectrum such as sour to sweet

Scripture to follow…

One of the realities that we live with is that we are all works in progress.  We have strong points and weak points.  There are areas where we have really grown in God, and then there are those areas where our growth is stunted or nonexistent.  We can become callous to the reality of who we are; the ‘who we are’ that others encounter.

In looking at our lives, there are many attributes of our character.  I would like us to look at each of the following and prayerfully ask the Lord to help us to have eyes to see where we are in the continuum that exists for each.  This assumes that we know what each of the attributes is.  Do we know what being polite looks like?  What about the nuances of being rude?  Do we readily recognize inappropriate pride in our lives?  How does it differ from humility?

Considering the illustration of ‘sour to sweet’, do we understand that there are many degrees between the two?  Such as really sour; to sour; to slightly sour; to not sweet enough; to just right.  Where do you see yourself on each of the following spectrums?

  • Rude               to                     Polite
  • Proud              to                     Humble
  • Boastful          to                     Not boastful
  • Unkind            to                     Kind
  • Easily angered             to        Not easily angered
  • Remember wrongs      to        Overlook wrongs
  • Impatient         to                   Patient
  • Envious             to                  Not envious
  • Self-seeking               to         Not self-seeking
  • Delight in evil            to         Rejoice with truth
  • Unprotective              to         Protective
  • Untrusting                  to         Trusting
  • Skeptical                     to         Hopeful
  • Gives up easily           to         Perseveres
  • Fails                            to         Never fails

We must recognize that the ingredients on the right are those of God’s Kingdom.  Those on the left speak of another kingdom in this world.  (It’s a place we aren’t even supposed to visit let alone live there!)

You have probably surmised that this listing has to do with the attributes of love from 1 Corinthians 13.  The more our lives fall to the right side of each of the above continuums, the more they are demonstrating love of Christ.  Think of them as identifying ‘whose’ we are!  (Children of Light or children of darkness)  Here is the way Paul puts it:

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  8Love never fails.

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Thursday October 21, 2021 – A different and better perception of the word shallow

Hebrews 13:1 Keep on loving each other as brothers.

I grew up in a small town right on Lake Michigan across from Chicago.  Going to the beach was a favorite pastime in the summer.  There was a particular beach that we loved to go to.  It had sand dunes to climb on and big sandbars in the water that were wonderful to play on.  Typically, when we entered the water it would get a little deep but as you kept going out the water became shallow.  The water there was less than knee deep.  When there were waves, the sandbar was a great place to body surf.  Out beyond the sandbar it got much deeper going way over our heads.

Today, the word shallow often refers to something that is superficial or not really desirable.  It is not a word typically used in a positive way.  I would like to change our reference point with the word shallow because it is a very helpful and descriptive word that can shed some important light in our lives.  Think of the word shallow as it applies to the water level on a sandbar or in a swimming pool.  It simply means the water isn’t very deep.  Amplifying a bit further, the water is real, just not very deep.

Now think about the friendships and relationships we have.  Doesn’t the word shallow constructively describe many of them?  They are real – just not very deep.  Many of these people would be there for us in a time of need, but there just isn’t much time spent together.  Our lives are just so busy and we are often spread too thin for it to happen.

Depth in relationship takes effort – it takes learning to love one another.  It involves intentionality because such relationships typically don’t happen by accident.  Seeing needs and helping out; caring for one another; being in small groups together; spending time together are all ways that we can develop depth in our relationships.  Another way is sharing meals together and simply making time for each other.

We can’t do this with everyone, but there are those in our lives that God wants the relationships to deepen.  It involves reordering our priorities and pursuing activities that make it happen – and God will guide us.  Developing true community in our churches means that we must pursue the opportunities we have to develop deep, strong relationships.  They are a missing reality in so many lives today and God wants that to change.

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Wednesday October 20, 2021 – What is the flavor of your fruit?

Galatians 5:22-23   But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

I grew up in southwestern Michigan which is an area that has been known as the Fruit Belt since the 1800s.  In the spring there are strawberries, followed in the summer and fall by cherries, blueberries, peaches, plums, pears, apples, and grapes.  The trees that produced much of the fruit all bore blossoms in the spring.  It was so wonderful to drive through the countryside and see fruit trees in bloom everywhere.

The blossoms, although beautiful in their own right, are a promise of something to come.  Whether the bearer of the fruit is a tree, a bush or a vine, the fruit is the natural result of the plant – and typically the fruit is supposed to be sweet and flavorful.

Have you ever been in an orchard where you could pick and eat the ripe fruit as you walked along?  Regardless where you find it, how pleasant it is to bite into sweet fruit and savor its taste.  Unfortunately, we’ve all probably tasted fruit that was anything but sweet and flavorful!   The typical result is wanting to spit it out.

The scriptures are clear that Christians produce fruit.  The question then isn’t, are you producing blueberries or grapes, but rather what does your fruit ‘taste’ like?  The fruit of the Spirit listed above is sweet and flavorful.  The ‘fruit of the flesh’ if you will, would be the antonyms of the fruit of the Spirit and characterized as sour and bitter.  Which fruit do we want to ‘taste’ in others?  Which fruit do we want others to ‘taste’ in our own lives?  We have choices to make because good fruit doesn’t happen by accident.

Think of the blessing that others receive from tasting love; from savoring faithfulness; from encountering kindness – from experiencing any of the fruit of the Spirit.  God wants those who encounter us – His people – to be able to walk through the orchard of our lives and taste the sweet and flavorful fruit of His Spirit.  Once they do, they’ll be back for more.

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Tuesday October 19, 2021 – The blessings available in testing

Matthew 6:13a  “And lead us not into temptation,…”

Years ago I heard a Bible teacher give a very illuminating paraphrase of this verse: “Lord, let there not be anything in my heart that would cause you to put me to the test.”  We know from Scripture that God doesn’t tempt anyone.  (James 1:13)  But God will allow situations to arise that will reveal what is within us.  The manner in which lovers of Jesus respond is critical.

I think of King Hezekiah in 2 Chronicles 32:31 – “But when envoys were sent by the rulers of Babylon to ask him about the miraculous sign that had occurred in the land, God left him to test him and to know everything that was in his heart.”  The same Bible teacher explained that the way God leaves us is to withdraw our conscious awareness of His presence.  We think we’re alone, but we’re not.

God uses these experiences in our lives for our benefit – not as ‘Gotcha!’ moments.  They are God’s gifts to us that allow us to show ourselves strong in His behalf; or to have faults within us revealed that we then can deal with.  If we have ‘termites’ or are building our ‘house’ upon sand rather than rock (Matthew 7:24-27), isn’t it critical that we find out and repent?!

Sometimes the situations we encounter reveal our unbelief or lack of faith.  When we see our deficiencies, they are not putdowns – but are revelations that enable us to change for the better.  The Holy Spirit is working within us to conform us to the image of Christ in every area of our lives.  The opportunity to repent is such a gift from God!

God wants and expects excellence from us in every area of our lives.  If we think we are only capable of mediocrity, we will be content with mediocrity.  But with the Holy Spirit we are not only capable of excellence; we are held accountable for it as well.  Not in a judgmental way, but as recipients of the greatest gifts ever given: the new birth and the Holy Spirit.  This news isn’t meant to intimidate us but exhilarate us!

God is working incessantly within us to enable us to become a glory to Him.    He is the Master Craftsman.  When people see us (the work of His hands), His intent is for them to recognize His craftsmanship.  They will see Him in us; and experience Him when interacting with us!  We are an intimate part of the process so let’s embrace it with the passion it deserves.

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Monday October 18, 2021 – The blindness that comes with calloused hearts

Mark 3:1-6  1Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”   4Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.  5He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

It is difficult to find words to describe everything contained in these few verses. So many big things happen.  Jesus had compassion on a crippled man and does a wonderful miracle.  Jesus not only discerned the stubborn hearts of the Pharisees, he was angry with them.  The Pharisees were unable to see their own stubbornness and unbelief.  In the face of the miraculous, they were blind and deceived.  I think this is one of the most frightening things in the scriptures.  They saw Jesus and wanted to kill Him.

How could anyone see such a wonderful miracle and not be moved and humbled by it?  These religious leaders believed in God, yet the condition of their hearts made them blind to God right in front of them.  They were witnessing a demonstration of the power of God unlike any seen in the history of mankind.  Yet they failed to see Immanuel, (God with us) in their midst.

Surely they too had family or friends who were sick, crippled or in bondage.  Jesus was doing miracles everywhere.  Why didn’t they go and get them and bring them to Jesus?  Instead, the Pharisees become so angry that they wanted to kill Jesus – because He did the miracle on the Sabbath.    How could these men not recognize the wonder they were beholding?  They clung to arguments rather than recognizing the Son of God – right in front of them.

I think of Isaiah 6:9, 10   9 He said, “Go and tell this people:

“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
10 Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull
and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”

We must recognize that the same spiritual deafness and blindness can happen to us.  We can miss God working in our lives and right in front of us through the ‘callousing’ of our hearts.

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Sunday October 17, 2021 – Opportunities calling us out of our comfort zone

Matthew 14:28  “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

Have you ever dreamed of what it would be like to be in the boat with the disciples when Jesus walked on the water?  How would we have responded to seeing Him?  Remember it was a very windy night and the disciples were struggling to survive let alone get across the lake.  In the midst of it, they saw a figure walking on the water that was about to pass them by and were terrified.  They thought it was a ghost.  But then Jesus spoke to them saying, “Take courage!  It is I.  Don’t be afraid.”

Even then they weren’t sure it was Jesus as indicated by Peter’s response, “Lord if it’s you…”  Isn’t it amazing that Jesus chose a stormy night – and not a calm one for this encounter.  (Note: God does the same thing with us.)  Imagine Peter’s excitement when he heard (above the sound of the wind and waves) the Lord say “Come”.

I wonder what went through Peter’s mind.  Did he simply want to be with Jesus?  Or was it more, “I’d sure like to do that!”  Whatever, Peter didn’t allow the risk involved to stop him.  Picture him trying to hang on to a bouncing boat as he got his legs over the side and then began to walk.  Peter experienced an incredible wonder – before he began to sink.  Remember the water wasn’t flat or calm but was wind-swept waves.   Peter did walk on the water and came toward Jesus.

Then his focus shifted from Jesus and the wonder of what he was doing, to the adverse conditions around him.  Although he did succumb to fear and begin to sink, Jesus was right there to rescue him.  Peter experienced the miraculous because he responded to the opportunity that Jesus gave him.  He didn’t allow fear to keep him in the security of the boat.

God uses the same principle in His dealings with us.  In the midst of our often difficult circumstances, He will give us opportunities to respond to Him.  We have to have ‘eyes’ to see the opportunities and the willingness to respond.  In spite of the safety of the ‘boat’ – our lifestyle and circumstances that we are comfortable with – will we overcome our fear and the risk involved to respond to the Lord bidding us to come?  It’s amazing the wonders He has for us to experience if only we will respond to Him.

Note: One of my favorite authors is John Ortberg.  He has a wonderful book on this very subject that I highly recommend titled, If You Want to Walk on Water You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.

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Saturday October 16, 2021 – Thirsting and longing for Him

Psalm 63:1  O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you,  in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Think of the contrast between longing for something we are deprived of; versus longing for something where we are filled with wonder and anticipation that it’s coming.  On the one hand, we can be dominated by our lack – on the other we are dominated by hope and expectancy.

This is one of those verses in the Bible that has gone from being a mystery to me to being a source of unspeakable joy. This was a Psalm of David when he was in the desert of Judah.  Since encountering God when I became a Christian in 1968, I could relate to him writing and saying, ‘O God, you are my God”.  I could also relate to seeking after God.

The thing I had difficulty with was, ‘my soul thirsts for you. My body longs for you’.  I didn’t understand how that could come about.  I wondered how you could get to a place where you could know and feel that your soul was thirsting for Him – that your body was longing for Him.  On the one hand, as Christians we have his Spirit within us.  Jesus has also promised to never leave us.  But on the other hand, I perceived that this verse spoke of something of great value worth pursuing.

I identified the thirsting and longing as passion for the Lord and made it the focus of prayer for weeks, months and years.  These were things that I didn’t have but wanted.  They spoke to me of aspects of relationship with God that were there for those who would pursue them – and Him.

With joy I discovered in my prayerful pursuit that these are things that we can experience today.  We can thirst for Him and long for Him. He provides us with living water to satisfy the thirst.  He provides us with His presence to satisfy the longing for Him.

No matter where we are or what we are doing, we can experience Him.  The thirsting and the longing are gifts that He gives that help motivate us to long for Him, to pursue Him, to see Him and to find Him.  He wants to be found.

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Friday October 15, 2021 – Delighting in Him

Isaiah 61:10a  I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God.

What do you think of when asked to name something you delight in?  Is the word ‘delight’ even a word in your normal vocabulary?  By definition, the word ‘delight’ means a high degree of gratification; joy; also extreme satisfaction, something that gives great pleasure.  To me, delight has always had a sense of superlative to it.  It’s more than just being pleased with something, or liking something.

I remember so vividly the time when Becca, our oldest granddaughter, was about 19 months old.  She walked up to me, grinned and said, “HI GRANDPA!”  Oh my!  What I experienced in that moment.  If I could have melted I would have been a puddle on the floor.

What do you experience when someone you love calls simply to hear your voice – to see how you’re doing?  Or how about when the Lord puts someone on your heart and when you call them and give them a word of encouragement, you discover it was exactly what they needed to hear?  The Lord used you to bless them.  Think of how special that feels!

This sense of delight and rejoicing are not to be occasional things.  I think of what I experience whenever my Donna looks into my eyes and smiles at me.  Words simply cannot describe what goes on inside of me.  I never dreamed that I would be loved as she loves me.  I am overwhelmed with the reality that I GET TO love her and be loved by her all the days of my life.  I GET TO be with her – every day.  It never gets old!

Now think about our Lord.  He wants our experience with Him to result in this kind of joy and excitement and pleasure and extreme satisfaction.  He really does!  He has this for us but we have to respond to Him and pursue Him to find it.  If Moses hadn’t turned aside to explore the burning bush, he would have missed what God had for him.

If this is missing in your relationship with the Lord, don’t be disheartened.  Recognize the GREAT NEWS that He has this ‘treasure’ there for you – you simply have to pursue it.  He wants you to want it and turn to Him for help to find it.  The amazing thing is that as you pursue this, you find Him in ways that will thrill you beyond words!

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Thursday October 14, 2021 – Imagine the excitement!

Scripture is at the end.

Imagine living 2000 years ago in the Middle East in the land of Judea; specifically in a region called Galilee.  There are no hospitals, no pharmacies, no vaccinations, no antibiotics and very little medical care of any kind.  Injuries and illnesses that today are no big deal were life changing or deadly back then.

Our neighborhoods and families would likely have individuals who were crippled or sick with conditions that greatly affected their daily lives and the lives of those around them.  Chances are that some of us would be among those with such conditions, with no hope of them ever improving.

Into this mix comes word of a Nazarene carpenter named Jesus who is doing unbelievable things.  He’s going around doing miracles!  Cripples are being made whole, deaf are now able to hear, the blind are receiving their sight, the sick are no longer sick, lepers are being healed, demon-possessed are set free and there are even cases where the dead are brought back to life!  On top of that – we have seen individuals whom we know personally who experienced miraculous healing and restorations through this Jesus!.

Yes he is teaching about God, but teachers have always been a part of Jewish life.  Although people say he is teaching like no one they’ve ever heard.  No one has ever done what he is doing – and it’s not just isolated cases here or there.  He is healing everyone who comes to him!!!!  Multitudes are flocking to him.

Can we imagine the excitement?  Do we think that we’d be sitting around, discussing whether we were going to go see this Jesus – or not?  Rather, doesn’t it seem likely that we would be beyond excited; doing everything we could to gather all our sick and crippled family and friends – helping them to get to him?

Jesus was so much more that a ‘great teacher’ – there has never been anyone like him.  Here is Matthew’s description of the above scenario that we have been imagining together (4:23-24):

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them.

He was AND IS the Christ – the Son of the living God!  He is our Savior and Lord!

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Wednesday October 13, 2021 – Speak this prayer for yourself

2 Corinthians 9:15  Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

Today – a prayer:  For the past couple of days I’ve just been so aware of the wonder we have being loved by our God.  This isn’t just a general Biblical truth but a faith-filled experiential reality. This is one of those precious times when God heightens our awareness and appreciation of Him.

All my thoughts just keep coming back to how fortunate and blessed I am.  I am just overwhelmed with God and His love for me.  What follows is written a bit differently.  I’ve written it in first person so that you can read it and pray it and speak it for yourself.  I pray that it will bless you as much as it’s blessing me.

How can I ever thank you Lord for making me your own?  You, the God who created the universe know my name.  That is almost beyond imagining.  I am in awe of the fact that you care about me; that you would want me to be your child – to be part of your family for eternity.  It’s beyond words that you have made me your son and you are my father.

How can I ever thank you Lord that you let me experience your presence; that you give my life purpose and meaning?   How can I ever thank you for allowing me to be your hands extended; that you give me the opportunity to touch others with your love.

How can I ever thank you for Jesus?  Without Jesus, I have nothing.  With Him, I have everything.  How can I ever thank you for your Spirit who lives within me?  I am never alone.  You are always with me; loving me, encouraging me, comforting me, convicting me and helping me to repent whenever I need to.

How can I ever thank you for your Scriptures?  They teach me all about you – but even more wonderfully, they teach me how to love you!  Oh Lord, I do love you!  It is just so amazing that you give me the opportunity to be a blessing to you.  I don’t begin to understand it but I rejoice that I can give you pleasure.

How can I ever thank you for the passion you have put in my heart to live my life for you? – That I can gather with your people and sing to you and worship you and experience you.  Thank you Lord for my heart – that is bursting with gratitude for your kindness and love for me.

Forevermore your child, Don

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