Saturday February 16, 2019 – Real versus artificial

1 Peter 1:7  These (all kinds of trials) have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Have you ever thought about the difference between what’s real and what’s artificial?  Depending upon the circumstances it might be irrelevant or it might be significant.  I don’t think we’d want to bite into artificial fruit – we might break a tooth; but seeing a bouquet of artificial flowers is another thing.  But you sure wouldn’t expect to see a garden of artificial flowers.  Context can make a big difference.

Personally I love bouquets of fresh cut flowers.  Springtime is particularly wonderful when daffodils, hyacinth and blossom trees are in full bloom everywhere.  But many are the times I’ve experienced the disappointment of being attracted to plants or bouquets only to discover they weren’t real.

I remember years ago we were being shown around a friend’s big new home.  The wooden furniture in one room was amazing.  At least it was amazing until we touched it and discovered that the ornate fronts of each piece were plastic.  They were pretty but it seemed the intention was to have the furniture give the appearance of being something it wasn’t.  It wasn’t genuine.

Do we realize that any discussion of real versus artificial takes on a whole different dimension when we talk about our lives and relationships?  What kind of ‘front’ do we put up when we go somewhere?  .  How often do we hear of marriages breaking up and it comes as a total surprise to even close friends or family?  Instead of a genuine quality relationship, the representation of the marriage was artificial.

The same problems can appear in individuals, families, friendships or working relationships.  The issue isn’t to broadcast our problems to the world but to recognize the importance of our lives; that as Christians – Jesus followers – they must be the real thing.  There are times when we need help to get through stuff and we mustn’t let pride get in the way.  Beautiful gardens don’t happen over night; they take work.  So do quality lives and relationships.

We must take advantage of the grace, mercy, instruction and resources that God gives us; plus the enabling power of the Holy Spirit to become the genuine reality that He desires.  When we do, our lives are real – not artificial – because they are the work of His of hands.  He is the potter – we are the clay.

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Friday February 15, 2019 – Dad, since when does the sun rise in the west?

Joshua 24:15a  But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve,

In 1996 my two oldest sons and I went on a mission trip to Romania with a small group led by a close friend from Seattle.   We flew into Munich, picked up our van and spent the first night in Europe at the YWAM castle in Hurlach, an hour west of there.  The next morning we left early to beat rush hour in Munich.  We had to drive south from Hurlach and pick up the highway going east toward Munich and then on to Hungary where we would spend the night.  My sons were in seats facing the rear of the van.  We got on the highway and after about 15 minutes, John, my oldest son asked an important question: “Dad – since when does the sun rise in the west?”

We had inadvertently taken the wrong ramp and were headed for France – not Munich and Hungary!  Thank God that it wasn’t a rainy morning and that my sons noticed this major discrepancy.  The dawn and the sun coming up on a clear morning are kind of hard to miss.

We need to recognize that life is filled with opportunities to take mistaken directions in terms of the attributes that characterize our lives.  The wrong choices become easier to make when we are distracted from following the Lord and become preoccupied with other things.  Instead of choosing righteousness, we make choices that are more appealing to our fleshly nature.

We get careless and wind up going the wrong way without being aware of it.  Such decisions frequently made become life habits and contradict or undermine our faith: situation ethics, shading the truth, the ends justify the means, using a smartphone to cheat, a little promiscuity, cutting corners, let someone else do it, no one will know, getting even – hey everybody does it.  If you’re reading the Bible and are sensitive to the Holy Spirit, you hear them echoing within you, “Don’t go that direction!”

Unfortunately, hearing them doesn’t mean listening and obeying them.  Worse, our spiritual eyesight becomes dull and we don’t see the warning signs around us – (i.e., the sun rising in the west!)  We become comfortable with our Christianity being something we put on like a T-shirt.  Outward appearance might seem okay but inwardly we become filled with rot and decay.  Look at our society – about 75% consider themselves Christian, but you sure wouldn’t know it by looking at our culture.

We must recognize that our choices are the true reflection of whether we have chosen to follow and serve the Lord.  It’s not what we say.  It’s not what we think we believe.  It’s not what we do on Sunday mornings.  The consequences of our choices are immense.  “Choose for yourselves this day….”

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Thursday February 14, 2019 – Valentine’s Day: The 2 greatest love gifts given to me!

1 John 4:9, 10  9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Valentine’s Day is a special day to remember those who are especially dear to us.  I tend to be the romantic type and I love to give my sweetheart flowers, particularly yellow roses or a gardenia.  Today is a special day to say and to be told, “I love you.”  A special day to remember the love we give and the love we receive.

While the giving of cards, flowers or gifts is special, it’s particularly wonderful to be together – to take the time to enjoy one another.  In the midst of busy schedules, we need to slow down and be there for each other.  I so relate to the bunny Thumper in the movie Bambi when Donna smiles at me and I see the twinkle in her eyes.  The thrill that goes through me is beyond words.  I will thump my chest with my hand just like Thumper ‘thumping’ the ground with his hind paw – and we will laugh.

The two greatest gifts in my life are gifts of love and I never dreamed that I would ever receive either of them.  Never did I think that a girl would love me the way Donna does!   And even more amazing is the fact that our love not only doesn’t grow old – it gets better with time.  We ‘get to’ spend every day of our lives loving one another!  Our love was a gift to us from our Lord.  And as wonderful as this gift of love is, He gave us one even better.  He gave us Himself in Jesus.

How do we describe the absolute wonder of His love for us?  It is so much more than a theological reality – it is an experiential reality that He perpetually blesses us with.  He loves us and enables us to be blessed even more by loving Him in return.  I still pinch myself at times because it seems like I have won the Lotto of the Ages.  The day He broke through into my life (October 11, 1968) is even more stunning than the day that Donna and I met and were engaged (2 ¼ hours later –August 25, 1969).  I went from lost to found; from left out to included in; from being lonely to being chosen; from having a Matterhorn of doubt to seeing it leveled; to being clean inside from head to toe, and being swept up in love like I never dreamed existed.

My whole world became new – inside and out!  Jesus not only became my Lord, He made me His own.  The wonders of being made clean inside and being forgiven still overwhelm me.  They never grow old; like His mercies they are new every morning.  Please take time today not only to communicate your love to those dear to you, but to focus upon Jesus.  After all, His coming for us is the very definition of love.

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Wednesday February 13, 2019 – Blessed by a stranger named Jeff

2 Corinthians 9:8  And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

I’m reminded of a special kindness shown to me by a stranger that really moved me.  We were having family over for dinner one night and needed a couple items from the store.  So in the afternoon I went to Aldi’s to get those items plus some fruit and vegetables.

The total came to $16.27 and I used my debit card only to have it declined.  That was unexpected and I thought it was just a computer glitch so we tried the card again only to have it declined again.  I was mystified because I thought I had sufficient funds in the checking account to cover a small purchase.  The cashier suggested I call the bank.  So the transaction was suspended while I went to make my call.

I walked over to the counter area where customers pack their groceries after paying for them and called Donna to have her check the account online.  Just then another customer came over to me.  He had just purchased his groceries and had witnessed my little adventure.  He got my attention and said, “I’ll pay for your groceries for you.”

What an unexpected kindness!  I thanked him and said that my wife was checking our account right then.  He said he would wait to find out.  I was embarrassed to discover that I had let our checking account balance get down to $14.  So Donna transferred money online from savings into the account.  All the while this gentleman was standing patiently next to me with cash in hand to pay for the groceries.

It’s difficult to describe what was going on within me once he made his offer.  Although I was on the phone with Donna while she accessed our account, I was so aware of the kindness that was being extended to me by this stranger.  Further, I was blessed by the fact that he didn’t leave me when I informed him we were transferring the money.  He just stood there patiently waiting to see if the card would be approved.

Once Donna completed the transfer, I went back to the cashier; we reran the card and it was approved.  He was still standing there, waiting.  I turned and thanked him again for his generosity and kindness, and asked his name – it was Jeff.

As we walked to our cars I was so grateful for the kindness the Lord had shown me through Jeff.  On the one hand, it’s something that I don’t want to happen again.  But on the other, I was grateful that I had inadvertently allowed the account to have such a low balance so that I could experience the Lord’s kindness to me through a stranger named Jeff.

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Tuesday February 12, 2019 – The most powerful dream I’ve ever had (with Jesus!)

Ephesians 5:25  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,

This morning I woke up thinking about the pain of couples who quit loving one another.  I was reminded of a dream that is unquestionably the most powerful and vivid dream I’ve ever had.  This dream occurred several years after Donna and I went through our marital difficulties (1992) that were due primarily to me – my being unkind and behaving like a jerk as I relieved the stress from my job on her.  At the time of the dream, our marriage had become the best it had ever been.  But in this dream Donna and I had divorced one another and that was the given for what then happened.

In the dream I walked into a small room and there in front of me was a small narrow table with Jesus sitting on one side of the table and a chair opposite Him.  I sat down across from Him and looked up into His face.  I don’t remember what he looked like but I will never forget his eyes and the tones in His voice.

With a smile on his face and joy in His voice He looked at me and said, “Tell me how you loved my daughter who I gave to you to be your wife.”  I did not say anything as my heart sank. (Remember in the context of the dream we had divorced.)  His smile vanished and there was no longer any joy in His voice when He began a series of rhetorical questions.  By the rising tone in His voice with each question, He knew the answers.

With great deliberation Jesus asked, “What do you mean you didn’t love her?!”  “What do you mean you left her?!!”  What do you mean you divorced her?!!!!” I cannot begin to describe the shame and distress that I experienced in the dream; hearing my Lord’s voice say again and again with growing incredulity and disapproval, “WHAT DO YOU MEAN….”  He wasn’t yelling, but if you’ve ever been called on the carpet and confronted by your father or a boss for serious mistakes you’ve made, you get the idea.

Then, all of a sudden, in the dream, I was Donna and the scene repeated itself.  Jesus asked with a smile and joy in His voice, “Tell me how you loved my son who I gave to you to be your husband.”  When He began the “What do you mean…” questions I immediately woke up.  What a mixture of pain and joy – pain at remembering the dream – joy and relief in knowing that Donna and I truly loved one another and had not divorced.

This dream was a priceless gift to me because it allowed me to see and experience the incredible importance that our Lord places upon marriage.   It also gave me a gut-wrenching taste of displeasing Him.  I cannot begin to describe how excruciatingly painful that was – and still is.  I pray that I never forget it.

But importantly, the dream generated a core conviction in the depth of my being that loving my wife is a primary way that I love Jesus.  If I don’t love her, I don’t love Him – and He and His word describe what love is.  Love is a whole lot more than affection.  What joy there is in waking up each day able to love our Lord and love our spouse!

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Monday February 11, 2019 – Remembering my sister Judy, one year later

Psalm 116:15  Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.

Note: This was my post February 12, 2018.

What a delight my sister was!  Last night after 10 PM we received word that she had gone on to be with Jesus, her Lord. My heart goes out to her amazing family and I rejoice in the treasure they were to her as she was to them.  She was surrounded by her family and it was very peaceful.

This morning as I continue to respond to this news, my sadness and sense of loss, as deep as they are, are secondary to the effervescent joy that is flowing within me from the memories I have of her.  I’m crying and smiling at the same time.  Judy was just such a precious person and I cannot think of her without remembering the love and laughter and joy and encouragement that she brought to my life – and so many others.

Then I think of her husband, children and grandchildren – while my heart is aching for their loss, I am grateful and blessed by who they all are, in spite of my pain and tears.  I don’t begin to understand all of what is going on inside me.

For 18 months there has been the struggle of her illness.  If she hadn’t responded to treatment and prayer it could have been only 3 weeks.  We believe the Lord gave her those 18 months to experience important family milestones.  And as things neared the end, we were able to go see her again last Monday. It was a divinely choreographed trip to their home to spend a special hour with her.  The days before and after Monday were snowy but Monday was sunshine and blue sky for our 7 hour round trip drive.

What can I say? – to see her; to hold her hand; to see her smile and laugh; to share some precious moments and memories with her; to see her loving husband and one of her sons who helped us arrange the trip; to hear the peace in her voice as she talked of being ready to be with Jesus, her Lord.  What memories to treasure!

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.

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Sunday February 10, 2019 – God’s grace is never missing!

2 Corinthians 12:9a  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Have you ever had the experience of trying to put something together only to discover a key part is missing?  Or getting a group together to address an issue at work and someone vital to solving the problem is unable to attend?

I know there have been numerous times when my wife is making something in the kitchen and she calls me to run to the store to get a missing ingredient.  Sometimes you can get by with what’s missing or substitute something similar.  But often times there is no getting around the problem posed by a key item being missing.

Fortunately the missing ‘key part’ problem never applies to God’s grace.  It is always in sufficient supply for every situation we encounter.  Can you imagine the uncertainty and trauma we would go through if God routinely withheld His grace from us?  Think of the nightmare if He allowed temptations to come our way that were more than we could bear.  Our faith would be radically impacted – and undermined.

Faith and grace are there for us to apply to everything we do.  We need them for the problems we face AND how we respond to the problems.  Suppose we are asked to do something and we do it in a negative manner.  In God’s scheme of things, it’s possible that the only reason we were asked to help was for Him to reveal our attitude problem to us; that we were not walking in His provision for us.

One of the most helpful paraphrases I’ve been taught applies to the Lord’s Prayer and to the “Lead us not into temptation” phrase.  The teacher paraphrased this, “Lord let there not be anything in my heart that would cause you to put me to the test.”  God never tempts anyone (with evil) (James 1:13, 14) but He will allow us to encounter situations that reveal problems we have that we might be unaware of – like spiritual termites.

What a privilege we have in God enabling us to respond in a way that glorifies Him no matter what we encounter.  The key is for our faith to focus more and more on Him throughout each day recognizing that He and His grace are there for us to respond righteously.

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