Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Cardboard Box

A church without forgiveness
is like a cardboard box;

very handy and useful,
able to contain a variety of things,
lightweight and versatile,
yet durable and resilient…

…until it gets wet.

“In Him we have redemption through His blood,
the forgiveness of our trespasses,
according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us.”
~Ephesians 1:7,8

“So, as those who have been chosen of God,
holy and beloved,
put on a heart of compassion, kindness,
humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another
and forgiving each other,
 whoever has a complaint against anyone;
just as the Lord forgave you,
so also should you.”
~Colossians 3:12,13

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Painting

The ocean, the surf, the sand, the footprints, the blue sky, the distant clouds;
all were rendered to perfection,
so much so that as I allowed my imagination
to be drawn into the impressionist’s rendering,
I could almost taste the salty air and feel the gentle breeze catching at my hair.

Perhaps it was because I longed for it to be that way.

My feigned senses were abruptly snatched up into the grasp of reality.

Where were the rocks, the pieces of driftwood?
Missing were the tangled globs of seaweed, dead palm fronds,
bits of weather-worn sea glass.

Was there nothing left lying around to reveal sweet memories
of sand castles, picnic lunches, Frisbee games?

Where was the lost slipper, the half-buried wristwatch,
the makeshift homeless shelter
tucked amid the thorny mesh of bougainvillea and kiawe?

As lovely and delightfully inviting as it appeared,
the painting was unrealistic…

…like my prayers may sometimes be.

Who am I
that my life would be reduced to a painting?

Am I entitled to health, comfort, kind treatment?

Am I capable of discernment?
Must my default assumption be that my struggle or lack or failure
are indications of God’s disinterest in my personal affairs,
of His punishment for my ineptitude, or of His disappointment in me?

Are the phantom portrayals and partial glimpses
of the lives surrounding me
meant to be emulated or somehow establish a standard of measurement
with which I must compare?

When I allow my imagination
to be drawn into my own artistic rendering,
I can almost taste the salty air of an ideal life
and feel the gentle breeze of self-centered optimism catching at my hair.

Perhaps it is because I long for it to be that way.

My feigned senses must be abruptly snatched up
into the grasp of God’s Truth;
that is…

to desire Jesus,
to trust in His perfect love for me,
to relinquish every holding, every title and tenure,
to count all things as loss in view of Jesus…

“But whatever things were gain to me,
those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 
More than that,
I count all things to be loss
in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,
for whom I have suffered the loss of all things,
and count them but rubbish
so that I may gain Christ,
and may be found in Him,
not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law,
but that which is through faith in Christ,
the righteousness which comes from God
on the basis of faith…” 
~Philippians 3:7-9

As the realities of life
are placed in the presence of the true reality, that is Jesus,
there are no illusions of hopelessness….

…and there is rest.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Take Courage

   If Paul Harvey were to have given an account of Paul’s journey to Rome, it may have gone something like this…

“…the Lord stood at his side and said,
‘Take courage;
for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem,
so you must witness at Rome also.’”
~Acts 23:11

“There we found some brethren,
and were invited to stay with them for seven days;
and thus we came to Rome. 
And the brethren… (came) to meet us;
and when Paul saw them,
he thanked God and took courage.” 
~Acts 28:14,15

   And so it was that Paul travelled to Rome where, surrounded by friends, he shared the Gospel and lived happily ever after.

   But God did more than just speak to Paul; He stood by his side.  What crisis would Paul have encountered that he would have needed such a measure of courage as God would provide?

   Thus began a series of predicaments, each one intense enough to require a significant amount of courage to endure…  Stay tuned as we take a closer look at… the rest… of the story…

Courage in the Face of a Death Threat:
Bright and early the very next morning, 40 Jews vowed together to refuse food or drink until Paul was dead. (23:12-15)

Courage in the Face of a Narrow Escape:
Paul’s nephew overheard their plot.  He ran and told Paul, who instructed a centurion to inform the commander, who arranged an escort of 200 soldiers by night to bring Paul, along with an official letter, directly to Caesarea. (23:16-35)

Courage in the Face of False Accusations:
The Jewish high priest and elders brought accusations against Paul in the court of Felix, the governor.  (24:1-9)

Courage in the Face of Exposing the Accusers’ Motivation:
Paul spoke in his own defense, identifying the point of contention between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. (24:10-21)

Courage in the Face of a Lengthy Imprisonment & Manipulation:
Paul remained in custody for 2 years, often summoned by Governor Felix to discuss the Gospel. As a glimmer of hope turned to fear in the realization that his life and career would be affected, Felix attempted to manipulate for an opportunity to accuse Paul of bribery. (24:22-27)

Courage in the Face of Publicly Dividing Religion from True Faith:
As soon as Festus, the next governor, took his seat on the tribunal, the Jews brought accusations against Paul with renewed vigor.  Festus wanted to do the Jews a favor and allow them to assume the judgment process.  But Paul, as a Roman citizen, appealed to the highest court of appeal, which had the potential of identifying Christianity as different from Judaism. (25:1-12)

Courage in the Face of Waiting:
Paul’s case continued to gnaw at Festus’ mind.  As he relayed his experience with Paul and the Jews, the curiosity of King Agrippa was piqued. (25:13-22)

Courage in the Face of Addressing the King:
King Agrippa made a showy appearance, requesting a firsthand account of Paul’s defense.  (25:23 – 26:1)

Courage in the Face of Boldly Presenting the Gospel of Salvation:
Paul presented his defense before King Agrippa by way of relaying a testimony of his life experience before, during, and after his initial encounter with Jesus, all the while clearly presenting the Gospel.  Paul boldly invited the King and all who were present to become Christians. (26:1-32)

Courage in the Face of Relationship to Authority:
Paul, along with a group of prisoners, was placed under a centurion’s charge for the journey to Rome by ship.  Due to inclement weather, the voyage became increasingly dangerous.  Meanwhile, Paul and the centurion developed a relationship of mutual respect and trust. (27:1-13)

Courage in the Face of Fear:
A typhoon overwhelmed the sea with such severity, that those aboard abandoned all hope of being saved.  After an angel stood before Paul assuring him that no life would be lost, he relayed the message to his shipmates, instructing them to ‘keep up your courage’.  In the face of fearing for their lives, the 276 men made faith decisions, trusting on the hope Paul presented. (27:14-38)

Courage in the Face of Destruction:
Protocol required that the prisoners be killed in case escape was imminent.  But the centurion overruled in favor of Paul’s faith.  The ship struck a reef and began breaking into pieces, but every man made it safely to shore. (27:39-44)

Courage in the Face of Ascribed Power:
Safely ashore on the island of Malta, the kind natives kindled a fire to offer warmth.  As Paul added wood to the fire, a deadly snake latched onto his hand.  The superstitious natives immediately assumed him a murder until he shook the viper off without being harmed, altering their view of him from a murderer to a god. (28:1-6)

Courage in the Face of Temporary Relief:
Paul extended to the natives of Malta the hope of the Gospel through healing prayer and healing. (28:7-10)

Courage in the Face of Preparing to Take Courage:
After 3 months, they again set sail toward Rome. (28:11-14)

   From the moment God instructed Paul to ‘take courage’ until it is recorded that he ‘took courage’, Paul’s life was turned upside down.  Each of these various experiences heightened the potential for Paul to become discouraged. 

·        Paul’s hope was firmly established by God.

·        Pauls actions were based on God’s promise.

·        Paul’s strength to endure was sourced
in complete dependency upon God.

·        Paul’s authority to lead those around him
was attributed to God’s blessing.

   But the first mention of Paul actually taking courage was not until he was in Rome surrounded by the brethren who rushed to meet him.


   Did he attribute God’s appointed courage for God’s purpose?

   Was the courage which God had prepared for him a precise portion of courage uniquely designed for Paul to face a particular task?

   Could it be that he remembered why the Lord sent him to Rome in the first place?
“…the Lord stood at his side and said,
‘Take courage;
for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem,
so you must witness at Rome also.’” ~Acts 23:11

   Did God’s gifts of courage which he received throughout the journey prepare Paul to accept the courage to face God’s purpose for him in Rome?

Does God offer courage to me for specific purposes?

Courage to Face Temptation: 
I Cor. 10:13

Courage to Speak and to Serve: 
I Peter 4:11;  II Thes. 2:16,17

Courage to Grow Together in Faith: 
Acts 16:5

Courage to Stand in the Wake of God’s Power Over Enemies: 
Deut. 31:1-6;  I John 4:4

Courage to Face Catastrophic Calamity
          Psalm 46:1-5

Courage to Pray with Thankfulness: 
Phil. 4:6

Courage to Encounter Trials: 
James 1:2-4,12

Courage to Be Perfected in Love: 
I John 4:16-18

Courage to Walk:
          Psalm 37:23,24;  Psalm 41:12

“Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord.”
~Psalm 27:14

…and now you know… the rest… of the story…  Good day!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Hidden Treasure ~ Cinquain

secretive, untouchable
whispering, probing, penetrating
defying death, securing life

“Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, 
that I might not sin against Thee.” 
~Psalm 119:11

Thursday, March 22, 2012

In Control

“Jesus entered Jerusalem and came into the temple;
and after looking around at everything,
He left for Bethany with the twelve, since it was already late. 

“On the next day… they came to Jerusalem. 
And He entered the temple and began to drive out
 those who were buying and selling in the temple,
and overturned the tables of the money changers
and the seats of those who were selling doves…
…And He began to teach and say to them,
‘Is it not written,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”?  
But you have made it a robbers’ den.

“… The chief priests and the scribes heard this,
and began seeking how to destroy Him;
for they were afraid of Him,
 for the whole crowd was astonished at His teaching.”
~Mark 11:15-18

Lost Temper?
Out of Control?

Here are Jesus’ actions:
1.    He walked around the day before and checked out the situation in the Temple, perhaps to gather information, or maybe to simple allow His presence to be witnessed as calm and composed.
2.    After walking several miles away to Bethany and sleeping overnight, He went back to the Temple the next day.
3.    He got physical, but not with people; only stuff.
4.    He remained there, seizing the moment to teach God’s truth to all who were present.
5.    He identified Himself as God; “My house…”
6.    He declared God’s purpose for the “house of prayer”, as was spelled out Isaiah 56; “…for all the nations”, not for Jews alone.

What were the people’s reactions?
1.    The crowds were captivated by what Jesus said.
2.    The Jews, who held positions of leadership and authority “were afraid of Him”. 

Typically, a fit of rage indicates lack of self-control and establishes in any observer’s mind that the angry person is not to be completely trusted; a hot potato, a loose cannon. 
People who lack self-control don’t usually stick around; they leave.
It is simply a matter of time before word spreads and the person displaying rash behavior is written off as ill-mannered.  Thus pegged with this identity, any future threat the person poses causes him either to be under cautious scrutinization, to be avoided, or to be dealt with by brute strength or legal action.

So, why were the rulers afraid?
Were they afraid for themselves, that they might lose control of power or position? 
Did they recognize His true authority and become aware of their inability to validate their own?
Were they afraid for ruin of their financial benefits gained by requiring the Gentiles to perform costly rituals which were established by tradition? (Matt. 15:1-3, Mark 7:1-6)
Were they afraid that the Gentile population would infiltrate and dilute their sacred Jewish traditions?
Were they afraid of the possibility that this Jesus, who claimed to be God, might actually be God?
Did the Spirit of God cause them to be afraid in His presence?

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter why they were afraid.
It is, however, quite obvious
that Jesus’ actions that day in the Temple were resolutely
On Purpose
a dramatic teaching moment,
specifically timed,
and designed to communicate the Truth of God
to all who were present,
paving the way for God’s mercy.

“Oh, the depth of the riches
both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! 
How unsearchable are His judgments
and unfathomable His ways! 
For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who became His counselor?” 
~Romans 11:33,34

Our anger is often as a result of our being out of control. 
Jesus’ anger is always in God’s control.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Aurora Borealis

Solar flares leap forth
stirring the skies to dance and play
in colorful display.

Jesus, You are Light
awakening our hearts to joy
in every new employ.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Jesus felt a love for him...

   “As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ 
   “And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good?  No one is good except God alone.  You know the commandments, Do Not Murder, Do Not Commit Adultery, Do Not Steal, Do Not Bear False Witness, Do Not Defraud, Honor Your Father and Mother.’ 
   “And he said to Him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.’ 
   “Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, ‘One thing you lack:  go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ 
   “But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.”
~Mark 10:17-22

What did you feel when you read this story?
…because the man walked away in low spirits?

…because it shouldn't be that hard to give stuff up?

…because mega-property holders shouldn’t be so tightfisted?

…because the concept of doing good is unclear?

…because of Jesus’ response?

Jesus’ reply to this man’s eager question was fourfold:

1.     He asked a question about Himself.
2.     He clarified with a statement which identified Himself as God.
3.     He correctly defined the term ‘good’ from God’s perspective.
4.     He validated God’s commandments.

The man was sincere, consistent in his actions of obedience to the law. 

A loose interpretation may present the man’s question as follows: 
‘O.k. Lord, I checked all the boxes. 
So far, so good. 
Now, what do I do next to accomplish the goal?’
Eager?  Yes. 
Sincere?  Yes. 
Obedient?  Yes. 
Desire to do good for Jesus?  Yes. 

So what went wrong?

The man’s external conformity to the law collided head on with his need for inner obedience to the Person of Jesus, which can only be satisfied by God’s undeserved gift of mercy and grace.

Did Jesus scold Him?  No.
Did He shame him by exposing his failure to understand?  No.
Did Jesus command everyone to give up all of their possessions?  No.
Does self-denial earn heavenly treasure?  No.

“Jesus felt a love for him”

… and in this genuinely tender expression of love, Jesus touched upon one hindrance, one cause of division, one obstacle that kept the man from placing his trust in Him.

His instructions to the man were simple: 
The command to “Go”; obedience to act, with a promise of reward,
the command to “Come, follow Me”; obedience of relationship with Him.

Jesus discussed this concept with His disciples at great length, telling them just how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God… like a camel going through the eye of a needle.  It was a very disheartening conversation, indeed.  Jesus was basically telling them, ‘You can’t do it.  It’s impossible.’

So there they were, between a rock and a hard place, with no end in sight… they hit a wall.  They had heard the conversation between the rich man and Jesus, yet they were amazed, they were astonished, they were at a loss of understanding for what to do next… just like the rich man. 

How did they feel?  …sad?  …annoyed?  …outraged?  …confused?  …curious?

In desperation, they cried,
“Then who CAN be saved?”

“Looking at them, Jesus said,
‘With people it is impossible, but not with God;
for all things are possible with God.”
~Mark 10:27

Jesus felt a love for them.

Jesus feels a love for me.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Blank Pages ... in anticipation of being married for 50 years

Fifty years yielding
to our precious Savior,
we savor His flavor,
forever in view.
                Setting the stage
                for more years to unfold,
                love more treasured than gold
                and His mercies anew.

Books filled with pages,
each book overflowing,
each paragraph showing
great things He has done.
                Yet blank pages linger
                and thus will remain
                unwritten and plain
                ‘til new days are begun.

Blank pages bursting     
with intrigue and mystery
of all that makes history
yet to be penned.
                Bare pages anxious
                for thrilling occurrence
                with joyful assurance
                fresh ink will commend.

Fresh pages aching
to tell of His glory
in every new story
that steps into shoes.
                Clear pages flowing
                in ceaseless unveiling
                of days never failing
                to bear the Good News.

"Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ,
if there is any consolation of love,
if there is any fellowship of the Spirit,
if any affection and compassion,
make my joy complete by being of the same mind,
maintaining the same love,
united in spirit,
intent on one purpose."
~ Philippians 2:1,2

Thursday, March 1, 2012

All's well that ends well.

All’s well that ends well.

Grammy Morgan loved to read.
One day, I watched as she pulled a book off of the shelf,
flipped to the last chapter, and began reading.

“Grammy, that’s cheating!” I cried in disbelief.

“Why, that’s not cheating,” she replied.  “I always check the ending so I’ll know whether or not it’ll be worth reading.”

“…Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia,
they came to Thessalonica…” 
~Acts 15:36-41, 17:1

Thessalonica, a sizeable metropolis with a population of about 200,000, was the capital and main seaport of the entire Roman Macedonian Province.  Strategically located for communication and commerce by land and by sea, this vast city hosted its fair share of multicultural influences including an array of aggressively pagan religions.

In A.D. 51, Paul remembered with compassion his recent brief stay with this new body of followers of Christ.  He thought of the believers, newly converted from paganism, living in Thessalonica with hardly any external support, enduring persecution.  Paul longed to be with them again, to encourage their hearts and instruct them in God’s truth. 

In A.D. 51, Paul wrote to the baby church in Thessalonica, encouraging them in their trials (3:3-5), instructing them how to live in godliness (4:1-8), advising them to continue in their work (4:11,12).

What could be said in a letter
that would offer encouragement
which would be felt deeply
and known confidently?

Paul’s letters did more than instruct… each correspondence was permeated with hope…  infused with, wrapped in, saturated by assurance of the future!

“…to wait for His Son from heaven,
whom He raised from the dead,
that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.” 
~1 Thessalonians 1:10

“…so that you would walk in a manner
worthy of the God who calls you
into His own kingdom and glory.”
~1 Thessalonians 2:12

“For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? 
Is it not even you,
in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming?”
~1 Thessalonians 2:19

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely;
and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete,
without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
~1 Thessalonians 5:23

All’s well that ends well.

Take Grammy’s advice:  Check the ending so you’ll know.
...and remind others of the ending, too.
*Hint:  God's ending is... there isn't one!

Don’t worry; it’s not cheating.