Saturday May 7, 2022 – Panting for Him

Psalm 42:1  As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.

We had the blessing of living for twenty years in a little village in the middle of a 32,000 acre national park in NE Ohio between Akron and Cleveland.  We were in a valley, surrounded by forests and fields with a river running through the middle of it.  It was home to a great many white-tailed deer.  We could hardly drive anywhere without seeing them particularly in the morning and evening.

After moving into our home there we soon learned that the deer considered the flowers we planted ‘lunch’!  Later we built a wrap-around porch on our house with hanging plants centered in the railing sections.  We had to install gates on the porch because the deer would come onto it to eat the plants.  Whenever we drove, we had to keep an eye out for the deer because deer accidents were so common.  We had four in those years with several near misses.

One of the important side benefits of being around the deer was the way they reminded me of this verse.  For years it presented a fascinating picture, but I just glossed over the part of the verse that talks of my soul panting for God.  Later when the Lord began dealing with me about passion for Him I came to realize that this verse describes how He wants me to become.  He wants my soul to pant and thirst after Him just like a thirsty deer pants for streams of water.

This began a great adventure for me in seeking the Lord as to how to make this happen.  It’s one thing to say it or claim it – it’s another for it to be descriptive of what is actually occurring.  One of the things that helped me in the process was the conviction that it was the Holy Spirit, at work in me, who was causing me to seek after this.  Since He was the source, my hope was grounded firmly in the fact that He would enable me both to pursue and grow into this goal He had for me.

Thus began a process of daily praying for this to become me. Overall it was part of a much bigger picture of becoming passionate for God.  The focus was upon seeking Him.   The amazing thing is not only that God loves to play ‘Hide & Seek’ with us – but that He loves to be found!  (When we’re playing this game with our little kids or grandkids, think of the joy we have in them looking for us and finding us.)

Whenever we see deer in nature, in calendars, in pictures – even reindeer hitched to a sleigh.  Let them all trigger thoughts of this verse and the wonderful gift that God has in it for those who seek after Him.

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Friday May 6, 2022 – Who we are supposed to be!

Luke 4:18-19  “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

What kind of people do you like to be around?  When you’re having difficulty or need help, who do you call on?  Or better still, are there people you know that will see your need and offer to help without being asked?  Isn’t it wonderful to have friends who encourage us and we don’t have to watch our backs around them.  They are kind, considerate and thoughtful.

The past couple of days a friend and I were talking about the incredible good news that the Gospel is.  Then this morning I was reading this in Luke about Jesus and was impressed with how this verse also provides a marvelous picture of the Gospel that our words, lives and relationships are to proclaim.

This proclamation of our words, lives and relationships is supposed to be – and must be – good news to the poor; freedom for those in bondage; enabling those who are blind to see again and the oppressed to be released.  We are to be living examples of God’s favor.  That doesn’t equate with financial or material prosperity, but with lives and relationships that glorify our Lord.

The words we speak aren’t primarily the 4 spiritual laws or just a ‘verbal presentation of the gospel’.  But our words speak of kindness, encouragement, integrity and honor.  We mean what we say and our words do not reflect anger.  We don’t gossip and say unkind things.  Think of having a reputation where if someone was told you had said or done something negative, it wouldn’t be believed.  The response would be, “He or she doesn’t do that.”

God’s intention is for us as Christians to live such lives.  He wants everything about us to be consistent with and reflective of the Gospel.  That is good news because Godliness is attractive.  People will be drawn to Him because they know us.  This includes both Christians and non-Christians.  Remember, our lives are to be all about Him.  What an incredible privilege we have!

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Thursday May 5, 2022 – The road less travelled

Isaiah 26:3  You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.

This morning I woke up thinking about this peace that God will provide and the last stanza of Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken.  Reading the entire poem it would seem that the name of the poem might have been more fitting to be The Road Less Traveled because as he writes, that has made all the difference.  Although the author might not have meant it this way, I have always related it to choosing to follow Christ:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.                        Robert Frost 

In Matthew 7:14 Jesus says, “But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  This is the Biblical “Road Less Traveled”.  While great is the blessing by simply not taking the other road (that leads to destruction), there is more to it than that.  It involves who we are and who we become as we take this road leading to life.

Colin Harbinson, a friend of ours, has a statement that focuses on this and my wife loves to quote him:  “We are human beings – not human doings.”  This really gets at the heart of today’s verse.  The Lord will keep in perfect peace him who is steadfast, because he trusts in the Lord.  Being steadfast and trusting in the Lord are the keys.  The Amplified Bible helps us by ‘amplifying’ the meaning of these words in Isaiah:

You will guard him and keep him in perfect and constant peace whose mind [both its inclination and its character] is stayed on You, because he commits himself to You, leans on You, and hopes confidently in You.”

These are the attributes of the Road Less Traveled that the Lord wants to develop within us.  These are things we learn and grow in.  It’s so much more than a list of ‘dos and don’ts’.  Remember that it’s not only the destination that is a prize, but it’s the journey that makes the difference.  It is as we walk along the road (with Him) that we experience the life-giving, life-transforming relationship with our Lord.

Life is filled with difficulties and uncertainties, but His peace is not subject to them. Likewise, neither are we.  His plan and provision are for us to walk in His peace no matter what turbulence is going on around us.  By focusing on Him, He transforms us so that today’s verse becomes the reality of our lives

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Wednesday May 4, 2022 – Afghanistan’s red and white stones

Proverbs 4:6a  Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;

In the summer of 2007 I got to spend a month in Afghanistan.  Among other things, the organization I was with had medical centers and community centers out in the rural areas – in places we would describe as the middle of nowhere.  We were visiting these locations and sometimes would ride for hours to get there on these incredibly bumpy paths that were loosely called roads.

A major goal was to bring medical care to areas that had never had any.  Afghanistan had the highest maternal and infant mortality rates of any county.  One medical center served 57 villages and many villagers would walk for hours to get there.  In the preceding 6 months, there had been 50 babies born there with all mothers and babies surviving!  As we were driving to get to this particular center, I noticed that in various places along side the road there were small stones every few yards that had a brush-stroke of paint on them.  There were sections of the road where the paint was red and other sections where the paint was white.

When we got to the medical center I asked Dan, the organization’s leader what was the meaning of the painted rocks that we encountered in different places along side the road.  His answer got my attention. Afghanistan had experienced years and years of war.  Many areas were minefields where these explosive devices had been planted.  The white stones indicated fields that the military had ‘swept’, meaning they had been cleared of the mines.  The red stones indicated fields that had not been swept free of mines.  To walk in those areas marked by the red stones would likely result in serious injury or death.  No matter where we were going it’s amazing how easy it was to notice any red stones and avoid those areas.

God’s word and His wisdom will do the very same thing for us in our daily life.  He tells us what to avoid and where it is safe to go.  The more we listen and walk with Him the easier it is for us to spot danger areas where he has ‘red stones’ in plain view warning us not to go there.  In fact His Spirit within us will even point them out to us if we are missing the obvious.  His wisdom will protect us and keep us safe but we must listen to it and not forsake it.

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Tuesday May 3, 2022 – A moving scene from Ben-Hur

Galatians 6:10  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

This morning I was pondering this verse and while pouring myself a cup of coffee, I thought of a moving scene in the movie Ben-Hur.  Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince, is betrayed into slavery by a friend who is an ambitious Roman officer.  While being marched with other slaves to the sea they go through Nazareth.  All of the slaves are desperate for water.

The entire group is getting water from the people of Nazareth- except for Judah.  The people are forbidden by the guards from giving him any water. Judah collapses to the ground in utter anguish overcome with thirst.  But then, into the scene comes a young man, a carpenter, who had observed what was happening from his hut.  Ignoring the guards, he comes and kneels and lifts Judah’s head and gives him water to drink.  I am in tears writing this, overcome with the power, tenderness and kindness exhibited in the scene.

The guard angrily yells at him to stop but the carpenter doesn’t.  Instead, he stands and faces the guard who then backs down, unable to withstand the power of this carpenter as they face each other.  All during the encounter, you can see in Judah’s face the gratitude, the wonder and bewilderment of what just happened.  He knows that his life was just saved.  As he later learns, he just encountered Jesus of Nazareth.

While this is a dramatic scene, the point I want to make is the value of offering someone who is thirsty a drink of water; someone who is weary, a helping hand; someone who is discouraged a word of encouragement; someone who is heartbroken, a shoulder to lean on; someone who feels overwhelmed, a friend who says you’re not alone.  May we recognize and respond to the many opportunities that surround us to do the good that our Lord expects of us.  This is loving one another and is at the heart of following Jesus.

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Monday May 2, 2022 – The Leper Part 2 (and suppose it was you)

Mark 1:40-42  A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”  41Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.

Continue to imagine that you are this man – whom we have assumed is a farmer, a husband and father.  You had to leave everything because of your leprosy.  The pain of separation, and the pain of life’s hopes and dreams being dashed had become a given in your life – until that day Jesus healed you.

Although he warned you not to tell anyone and to show yourself to the priest, your excitement and joy caused you to tell everyone about this amazing miracle.  On your knees you begged him, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”  He responded, “I am willing. – Be clean!”  How can you ever forget the compassion in his eyes!  And his touch – the very fact that he touched you, an unclean leper!  No one had touched you in such a long time.

Now you are approaching your home, grateful for the bath you took and the clean clothes you now have on.  Your wife and daughter do not know yet of this miracle – but they are about to find out.  Approaching your home you experience the joy of walking across your fields.  When you are near the door to your home, your young daughter comes out but she doesn’t see you.  You stand there a moment watching her – how she’s grown.  And then you call her name – your voice cracking with emotion.  She turns and you see the stunned look on her face.  That is quickly replaced with a smile and a squeal of joy you will never forget as she runs to you and leaps into your arms.  Never, in your wildest dreams did you think this could ever happen again.

After holding her close, you tell her to go get her mother, your wife, but she’s not to tell her that you are there.  In a moment, she comes out of the door pulling your wife who was busy working inside.  Your wife is fussing with her, wondering why she had to come out.  Then your daughter slowly lifts her arm and points in your direction.  Your wife turns and sees you standing there – smiling.  You have never seen her look so stunned and so speechless.  You can no longer hold back the tears.  As you open your arms, she runs to you and is enfolded in your embrace.

For the longest time you just stand there holding each other and then your daughter comes to join the hug.  Finally, the questions burst forth from their lips.  They want to know what happened.  How can you be healed of your leprosy?  You take them inside, sit down and take a breath.  Looking into their faces you begin, “There is this man named Jesus…”

Note:  Max Lucado has a wonderful story of the leper Jesus touched.  We have had the joy of seeing our son Andrew act out the above story in performances where the audiences wept because the story came so alive.

Note: The movie “Risen” is one of the very best!  It is told from the perspective of the Romans, specifically the Roman Tribune who is assigned the task of finding the body of Jesus.  One of the very last scenes after the resurrection is Jesus in Galilee rescuing, embracing and healing a highly deformed leper –  who we then see become a fully healed man. I don’t recall ever seeing a scene to compare to it, that so reveals the leper’s deformity – and such a loving response by our Savior!

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Sunday May 1, 2022 – The Leper Part 1 (and suppose it was you)

Mark 1:40-42  A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”  41Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.

Consider for the next few minutes that you are this man.  Assume that you were a farmer with a wife and a daughter – that your home was filled with laughter and love.  One day it becomes clear that something is radically wrong.  You cut yourself and don’t even feel it.  You and your wife realize that it is leprosy and that you must leave, never to be with them or see them again.  Imagine the pain of saying goodbye.  This disease makes you unclean and an outcast, forever separated from family and friends.

Some years pass and you hear about this amazing man from Galilee named Jesus.  You hear the stories of people thronging to him because of the miracles he is doing – and not just a few.  But he’s healing all who come to him!  No one has ever had this kind of power to make the blind see and the cripples to walk.  Imagine the glimmer of hope that would begin to stir within you when you first heard of the miracles.  The thought through your mind that maybe – just maybe – this Jesus could and would heal you!

You finally decide that you are going to find him and see if that which was unthinkable could possibly happen.  People are going to react negatively because you, an unclean and untouchable leper, are going to have to get through the mob surrounding him.  But the glimmer of hope is now a beacon drawing you to this man named Jesus.  You have nothing to lose.

Upon finding him, you experience something that all the stories of miracles and wonders had not prepared you for.  After kneeling before him and begging him, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” –  you look into his eyes and see them filled with compassion!  Compassion for you!  He is not telling you to get away, but instead is reaching out to you!  He touches you!!!  And as he does, he says, “I am willing,” and “Be clean!”

And then it happens!  The leprosy is gone and you are whole!   Think of the smile you see on Jesus’ face and the joy in his eyes as he watches your transformation.  Think of experiencing that moment and try to imagine the wonder and glory and power and jubilation of that moment exploding within you! Your entire world has just been radically changed!

To be continued…

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Saturday April 30, 2022 – The awesome wonder of our Lord

Luke 8:24b, 25  He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”

Fear and amazement!  This was the response of the disciples to this demonstration of power and authority even though they had already seen Jesus do all manner of healing miracles and deliver many from evil spirits. We’re not talking about healings that only the person who was healed would know if the pain went away.  The miracles included those paralyzed, leprosy, withered hands, and demon possessed.  Think of the magnitude of the miracles that would attract thousands to pursue Jesus.

They had seen these miracles first hand, yet the disciples were stunned by seeing the storm, the wind and the waves obey Him.  Mark uses the word terrified to describe their response and Matthew describes them as being amazed.  Somehow this was different for them.  Maybe it was the magnitude of what responded.  Having life come to paralyzed limbs or wholeness to a withered hand appeared small in comparison to a storm that was threatening their lives immediately becoming calm.

I think of the word wonder.  The wonder of seeing and experiencing the miraculous power of God.  Have you thought of this aspect of our God recently?  Hopefully, you have experiences in your life that left you breathless and in awe of what God had done.  In fact just the memory of such experiences can bring goose bumps or tears.  Think of the powerful testimonies and answered prayers that you have read and heard and ponder the wonder-working power of our Lord and Savior.

If you don’t have memories of such experiences, ask your Christian friends to share ones that they have or read about them.  There are lots of books available that recount inspiring experiences with our God.  Also, and most importantly, look to Jesus and ask Him to allow you to experience such wonder and awe.  The Christian life is the most wonder-filled life that can be lived.  Let us rejoice together because we get to live it.

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Friday April 29, 2022 – Mowing the lawn on a hot humid day

1 John 1:9  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

When we moved to Franklin, TN it was a reintroduction for me to high humidity and the effect it has in combination with high heat.  I’ve lived with it for most of my life but for the previous five summers we lived in Colorado Springs where there was heat but little humidity.  In Franklin the effects of high humidity were most noted when I mowed our lawn with a push mower on hot, steamy days.  Our lawn had a slope to it so I would also get to push the mower up hill.  Needless to say, I would be drenched when done.

After my mowing adventure it was so marvelous and refreshing to step into a cool shower and experience the cleansing and refreshing it would bring.  An important part of the experience was putting on clean clothes afterward.  It would be inconceivable to put the wet mowing clothes back on – they went into the laundry.

We can all relate to the above experiences; both the effects of working in the heat and humidity, and of the cool shower and clean clothes afterward.   They present a practical picture of sin, repentance and forgiveness.  Best of all is the absolutely unfailing promise of our Lord to always – yes always – fulfill this promise in our lives.

Being human, we sin.  The Holy Spirit convicts us.  And as a pastor friend of ours likes to say, “The Holy Spirit is not incompetent at convicting of sins.”  We confess our sins and he forgives us.  This is where the illustration of work, heat, humidity, a shower and clean clothes come in so importantly.  (I find it so helpful to have practical, daily events remind me of His love and care for me.)  Spiritually He cleanses us from the sins like a cool shower would do for us.  There is a cleansing and refreshing that occurs.  The repentance in our lives is discarding the ‘mowing clothes’ and putting on clean garments.  We change our behavior.

His forgiveness never grows old.  It’s like His compassion and His faithfulness; they never fail and are new every morning because of His great love for us.  He delights in forgiving us.  He knows these are things we will need every day of our lives.  Blessed are His sons and daughters who recognize this and pursue Him.  As Lamentations 3:25 says, “The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;”

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Thursday April 28, 2022 – My critical experience at Schafer’s Bakery

1 John 2:16  For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.

Years ago when our first two sons were little I took a job at a large bakery in Michigan.  The ministry we were involved in was struggling and I needed to have a paying job.  I discovered on my first night at work why there was a high turnover rate for this position.  In fact it was not unusual for men to quit during their very first night.  There were several of us racking bread.  We each stood at the end of a line of rollers where the loaves of bread came.  After going through a slicer and bagger machine, they came to each of us like a never ending line rolling along.  I think they came at a rate of about 50 a minute.

For eight hours we would stand in one spot and slide the bags of bread on to trays that could hold 10 loaves apiece.  Then we would slide the trays filled with bread into big racks on wheels.  If any of us fell behind there was emergency shut off button we could push to stop the bread coming down our line but that meant we got yelled at.  But at least that was better than the loaves going off the end of the rollers onto the floor at our feet.

One night while working I got to thinking about our sons (who were 1 & 2).  I thought of them in elementary school and the teacher asking students what their daddies did for work.  The students one by one answered, “My daddy is a teacher.  Banker.  Doctor. Lawyer.  Engineer….”  Then it was my son’s turn and he said, “My daddy racks bread at Schafer’s Bakery.”  I was mortified.  Here I had a college degree and was racking bread!

Immediately, the Lord took me to task for my prideful attitude.  My mind was filled with questions that did not originate with me and each I knew I had to answer.  Is the work you are doing necessary? – “Yes”.  Is it dishonest or sinful? – “No”.  Is it enabling you to pay your bills and provide for your family? – “Yes”.  Is it honorable labor? – “Yes”.  Are you grateful for this job? – “Yes”.

Instead of focusing on prideful comparison of jobs, the Lord wanted me to recognize the honor in work – and the importance of providing for myself and for my family.  It is a real snare to look down on jobs as being “beneath” us because the attitude will easily translate over onto those who are doing the jobs.  What a blessing it is to be able to work.

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