The Scariest Journey…(Podcast & Pondering)

Listen to the Podcast here (or read transcript below):

Dear fellow Ponderers, I apologize for my absence as of late, you see we had a double whammy in our home.  First our four wonderful children were off of school for Spring Break.  Secondly, all four of our wonderful children caught the flu during this week of Spring Break…so it’s been an interesting week to say the least.

I wanted to talk to you today about the scariest journey anyone will ever take in their life.
No, I’m not talking about a visit to a war torn country or a treacherous climb on Mount Everest.  No, this journey is something more common place, and yet so frightening that few people ever truly embark on it.  coin

There is the story of a rich young ruler in the bible and he goes to see Jesus.  The rich man is pretty confident that he is doing life the right way, and so he asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus lists the ten commandments to this rich man, and the man insists that he has indeed lived a disciplined life and has kept those commands since he was a little boy.  Then Jesus says the scariest thing to him , despite keeping all of these laws and doing all the right things, “You still lack one thing…”  In the rich man’s case it was selling all of his possessions, giving it to the poor and following Jesus…

There is another story in the bible, this time from the old testament.  A story about a guy named Abram.  His story is in the first book of the bible, and in chapter twelve God calls Abram to participate in the scariest journey of his life.  God says to him, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1) 
God called Abram from what was known into what was unknown.
God called this man from the familiar into the unfamiliar.

The scariest journey we will ever go on doesn’t happen in the deepest darkest jungles in some remote country in the world, instead it happens when we say yes to God’s calling into the unfamiliar.  The rich man was called out into it and he said “no” because he didn’t want to leave the comforts of a lavished lifestyle and what was familiar.  Abram left and God promised that he would be the father of mighty nation.  Both men were rich, yet one man said yes, while the other walked away.

For you and for me, God calls to us to leave the familiar and follow Him into the unknown.  This is a scary calling.  This calling could take us away from the things we feel comfortable with.  God’s calling moves us into action.  Our response determines this path.  And you see, the Holy Spirit wants to work in our lives.  He wants to move us from where we are right now into a deeper relationship with Him.  It’s like going on a journey and coming to a train station right in the middle of the journey and saying to God, I’m just going to stop right here…it’s kind of nice right here…I think I’ll just stay here.  Yet God knows that there is something better in store for us if we just continue on this journey even though we might not know how long we have travel and what we might see along the way…but He knows that this little comfortable stations along the way isn’t the destination…He’s got something better in mind for us.  In a way, we often tell God that we know better and that where we are right now is good enough, when in fact God has something even better for us in mind if we only trust Him to lead us out into the unfamiliar.

Abram trust and God led Him…Abram wasn’t always perfect and he did make mistakes along the way, but we left the familiar and embraced the scariest journey because of his faith in God.
So let me ask you today, where are you on this journey? path
Are you where God has called you to be, or are you at some sort of midway station along the journey enjoying the comfort and familiarity?  If we can admit that the Holy Spirit has more and expects more from us, then perhaps it’s time to move into the unknown.  Perhaps God is calling us into a deeper faith that requires us to take a step out of our comfort zones…and perhaps one step turns into twenty and twenty turns into a hundred and then we just keep traveling out into the unknown.

I love that song Oceans…admittedly it has been played out a bit on Christian radio, but in the bridge or refrain part of the song it it says, “Spirit lead me where my faith is without borders, let me walk upon the waters where ever you make call me…”  This is a very scary place to be – to leave the familiar and embrace the unfamiliar.  To stop living the status quo and to start living an all-in kind of life for the Lord regardless of what other people think or regardless of where this takes you.  This could take you away from your present church or ministry.  This calling could take you away from your families and your current job…this calling could make you reevaluate your entire life.  That’s why this is the scariest journey to ever embark on…but I believe this will be the most rewarding one of our lives.  So let me ask you, are you prepared to move if God asks you to?  Are you prepared to take that leap into the unknown if that’s what it takes?  Are you okay with stepping out into the unknown because you trust in a God who is known?  waters

It starts with saying “yes” to God regardless of where that yes will take you.
That my dear fellow Ponderers is the scariest journey for us to take…
God bless you today!

Music used – Oceans (Hillsong). 

Day 8: The Full Court Press…

“Not that I have already obtained all of this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Philippians 3:12

Let’s face it, none of us are perfect, and we all struggle from time to time.
But there ought to be some reassurance in knowing the Father – who sent His one and only Son for us.  Although we fail from time to time, we have a Savior who doesn’t fail us.  In fact He picks us up when we fall flat on our faces and helps us back on our feet, that is our faith on this spiritual journey.
perseverance.jpgHere’s a caution for all of us though, just because we are not perfect does not mean that we cannot be made Holy by God’s divine presence.  The Holy Spirit longs for us to become what we were always created to be – Christ’s very image here on earth.  And so He prods us, reminds us, convicts us of the things we have yet to surrender to Him.  Sometimes we might have deep dark places in our hearts that we think aren’t forgiveable or redeemable, and so we hide them away and never talk about them.  We think God will just forget about them, but the truth is if we never confront them, we will never full realize the image of Christ in us – it will always remain blurred and seemingly far away.

Press On!
So we have to put on the full court press in our lives.
We have strive to be disciplined in our personal conduct and in our thought processes.
We are made for something so much more than this and we ought not settle for being “just okay”…we can live Christ in every facet of our lives.  Paul reminds us that he isn’t even there yet, but that doesn’t get him down, he just presses onward.  This is what we are to do as well.  Admittedly, we aren’t there yet…we still have a ways to go, so don’t quit, become frustrated or exhausted – keep going!
do-it
How is your spiritual journey going so far?
Has your journey been wrought with set backs, failures, heartbreaks and hurts?
If not perhaps you aren’t trying hard enough…and if it has, don’t quit and don’t surrender – keep pressing onward!  Without this forward progress within us, we will wither, become stale and ultimately fail.  Ask important questions.  Challenge spiritual concepts.  Tackle the rough things in your life, and with the Holy Spirit’s help we will overcome!  Do you believe it?  I mean do you REALLY believe it?

Prayer:
Dear Lord, I confess that I am not there yet.
I am often imperfect and I struggle in my spiritual disciplines.
Help me to overcome.  Grant me your strength to press onward.
Make me holy Lord, so that my thoughts are your thoughts; my heart your heart.
I long to finish this race with strength and power, and not simply end by the skin of my teeth.  Help me to thrive along the way! In Your name I pray all of these things.  -Amen!
img_2411

Day 6: Listening to the noise…

“After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper…” 1 Kings 19:12

This is one of my favorite verses in the bible…Elijah is worn out, frustrated and afraid for his life.  He seeks refuge in the mountains because God told him to do this.  As he waits for God, a bunch of noise happens around him.  First an earthquake, then a fire…and it says that God was not in those things.  I wonder how long Elijah waited on God.  It doesn’t say, I would speculate that God’s arrival to him was not immediate…there was a waiting period involved here.

The Noise noise2
There is so much noise around us today, so much distraction.  We might blast our favorite songs on the radio in the car, I sure do.  We flip on the t.v. to catch our favorite hour long show – guilty again.  We check our social media accounts more often than we’d care to admit.  The distraction of noise, both auditory noise and visual noise, is all around us!  It seems as if we cannot escape it’s grasp on our lives.

With all this distraction around us, when do we carve out the time to wait on God?
distractionDo we sometimes forget Him amidst the distraction of the noise?  It would be very easy to do in our culture today.  We are seemingly immersed in the noise and there is virtually no where to run from it.  But thankfully we serve a mighty God who is capable of breaking through that noise!  In Elijah’s case, God showed up in a gentle whisper.  Elijah recognized it and stepped out there to encounter Him.  He recognized the moment for what it was…

Do We Recognize our Moments With God? 
When the noise of life crashes in, like it frequently does, will we recognize the gentle whisper of God?  Are we focused and in tune with Him?  Do we wait expectantly for God to show up (which He will)?  Whatever your distractions and noise might be, rest assured that God can break through for you, just be prepared and listening for Him!

Prayer
Dear Lord, my life is noisy and often I become distracted by it.
Many times I am consumed by it.  Help me to find the gentle whispers in my life.  Allow me the patience and attention to hear your voice amongst the noise.  Be with me today.  Remind me of this communion with You, that I desperately need your divine presence with me.  Let me fellowship with you!  In Your name I pray these things.  Amen.

Nooma- Noise
bench

Day 5 – All Things New

And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.'”  -Revelation 21:5

It snowed here today.
Snow is not uncommon, but our community is not properly equipped for snow fall.  There are not enough snow plows and other equipment here to handle such things.  Thus, unsurprisingly, we received an early morning phone call from our children’s schools – School was canceled.  There is something sweet about telling our children that there would not be any school as they thrust fists into the air and then nestled deep down into their blankets once more to catch a few more slumber hours…especially the smelly teenagers in our house.

Looking out our windows today, there is a small, pure white dusting of snow on the ground, just enough to make things look clean, crisp and white.  It got me thinking – This is what our Heavenly Father does for us when it comes to forgiveness.  He wipes our slates clean.  He purifies us, and all of the hopes and possibilities become visible again because we do not have to focus on all of the guilt and shame any longer.  Of course the consequences are still there, like ripples in a pond…but forgiveness comes (through Christ alone) to make all things new within our hearts.  Everything that we cannot change…everything that we still feel guilt over…everything that we regret…everything that weighs us down and, with seemingly unbreakable chains, holds us captive…EVERYTHING is washed away, wiped clean the moment we receive and accept this gift of forgiveness from God.

The amazing thing is, that we will often need to go back to the source of forgiveness and grace, and we can receive it.  This, of course, doesn’t mean that we treat it like a get out of jail free card from monopoly, but we can still receive forgiveness when stumble along the way.

So how about it?
Are there moments right now in your life that require this cleansing once more?
Are you bogged down by the weight of sin and guilt?  It doesn’t take much to soil this cleansing – a few words of malice; entertaining impure thoughts; actions that are not God-honoring…these daily temptations come rushing in at us because we still live in this fallen world.

But hear the still small voice of God himself who says to us – Behold, I will make all things new.  This isn’t just at the end of all things, this is also true in your life today, at this very moment.  Just whisper a prayer to Him and He will glad cleanse you once again.  Our goal? Becoming the very reflection of Christ in our living…this can only be done by consciously allowing His holy presence to guide, restore and change us…We must linger moment by moment in the Master’s presence in order to fully realize this reality in our lives.

Prayer:
Lord I long for you to make all things new in my life right now.
Forgive me of these sins that creep up in my life and weigh me down.
Cleanse me once more, make my heart and mind vessels for you and you alone.  I long to be the reflection of Christ in all that I do and all that I say.  In your name I pray these things, Amen.
ponderings

Day 3 – Are You Picking Rotting Fruit?

“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit…” Matthew 12:33

Have you heard the phrase “garbage in garbage out?” It describes the results of bad living – whatever we consume – we become.   If we determine to look at everything that comes our way today through the lenses of doom and gloom – that is what we shall become.  Our perspective on things can, in some ways, dictate the outcomes we eventually face.

rotWhat kind of fruit are you picking?
In this new year, you have a choice to make:  will you conscientiously strive to consume the spiritual fruit that brings you growth, depth and life, or will you settle for picking rotten fruit, which leads to more than rottenness in your life?  It all comes down to your choice in the matter.  It sounds easier than it really is, this I know all too well.  Many times I have eaten this rotten fruit in my life and suffered the effects of such decomposition.

Context:
Jesus had some harsh words for the Pharisees of His day.
He even calls them a brood of vipers in the very next verse (34).
I would be afraid of what He might say to us sometimes, when we look around at others and attempt to cast judgement all the while forgetting to focus on our own trees and the fruit we are bearing.  I would hope that in sobering moments, His Holy Presence would bring conviction and even chastisement.  This is a bitter thing to consider, but better to be confronted with our own areas to work on than consume more bitter, rotting fruit that we have produced.

So how about it? 
fruitWhat kind of fruit is your tree producing right now?
Is it sweat, ripe and pleasing to God?
Or is there room to grow and improve?
This is a very personal devotional thought today, one I would guess we shy away from…but don’t shy away from this.  Take a long sobering look at your life right now – can you declare unabashedly that you are a fine fruit-producer for Christ?  If you come to the conclusion that you still have work to do – do not become frustrated and defeated!  You are not alone…many of us (including myself) are right there with you.

Homework Assignment: 
Read Matthew 12:33-37 again right now:
33 “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”


Questions to Ponder: 
What work still needs to be done in my heart right now?
Are there weeds growing amongst the fruit?
How can I de-clutter my heart today and remove the rotten fruit?
How can I encourage others around me today?
What soothing words can I speak on behalf of Christ to those I meet today?

Prayer: 
Dear Lord, I confess that at times I do not always produce good fruit in my life.
Sometimes my words are harsh and my actions do not reflect You.
Help me to be your image in all that I say and do today.
I desire to produce in my life a harvest of hope and love for You and you alone, and in so doing I might be an Eternal aroma to those I meet.  Help me to be the very best representative of you!  In your name I pray these things.   -Amen.

Day 2 – Residing In The Goodness…

Focus Verse: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. -Romans 8:28 (NIV)
The grace of God resides within us.  His presence provides what we need in the good times as well as the bad.  

Our focus verse for today has less to do with some sort of magic “goodness”and more to do with where we choose to place ourselves daily.  What I mean by that is this: are we firmly planted in our faith in the almighty?  Or, like shifting sands, do you waver and even falter when stressful/difficult things occur?  

The emphasis within this verse is “…of those who love Him…” Whatever you may face today, wherever your path might take you, how deep does your love for God go?  To what depths will you journey…will you go even beyond your comfort zone to serve our Father in heaven?  

The goodness God offers might not manifest itself in earthly riches and worldly fame, but rather in our daily provisions and spiritual blessings.  He gives us what we need, not necessarily what we want.  He loves us and know exactly the means by which to provide and to protect us.  The very real question is: do we trust Him?  Might I confess that I still struggle with this trust.  I still attempt to “handle” it all on my own…and I usually fail gloriously when I do.  

Might I suggest that we tackle this trust issue moment by moment instead of with vast brush strokes and promises?!  …and in so doing, may we plant ourselves firmly in the goodness of God, and remain there!

Prayer: Dear Lord, I want to reside within your goodness.  Show me how that can take place within my doubting moments. Help me to surrender to you even when the going gets tough.  I long to be yours and yours alone!  Thank you for this glorious day that you have given me and the blessings that I often take for granted.  Reside with me throughout my day and all that might frustrate my plans.  May Your will be done in my life today.

-Amen. 

A Transforming Year – Reading #1

As promised, I will attempt, with the help of others, to include a Pondering daily devotional this year.  I hope that this might be found useful to all who read it. -Blessings!

Reading #1
Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” -Romans 12:2

What will this year have in store for us?
Will it be an epic year, or will it be a difficult year?
What challenges will I face?

As we look into this new year of 2017, we cannot but help to wonder what might happen, both the good and the not so good.  Despite the fact that we do not know what the future holds for us, we do know who holds that future!  Our faith must not be so shallow as to worry about what could happen, or what might take place…these things are beyond our reach, and as Matthew 6:25-34 describes – what good is worrying?…”Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear...”  The only thing that worry is good for is wasting our time and efforts.  Let go of what could be, or what might happen…these worries distort and consume us if we allow them access to our innermost thoughts.

Instead, let our focus verse become just that today – Your focus.
Do not allow the elements and issues of the world around you to decide how you will live or interact with others.  These concerns of the world will always be there, but at the end of the day can we really control it all?  – NO!

Do you want a transformation that lasts much longer than any new year’s resolution?  Then look no further than God’s Holy Presence to begin that new and good work within you!  It won’t be easy.  There will be setbacks along the way, but with His power and strength, all things are possible!  But I must warn you – this path takes discipline and diligence to see a marked improvement of the soul.

Take time today read this focus verse…read it more than once.
Perhaps say the words out loud…even take it step further and write these words in your own handwriting somewhere, perhaps in a journal or a piece of paper you can post on your refrigerator or some place prominent.  Pray for God’s transforming power to begin this good work within you anew.

Homework: (Don’t be afraid, there won’t be a test)
* Read the words out loud
* Write them down
* Pray about your concerns and worries – begin to lay them one by one at God’s feet.
* Invite God into every aspect of your day – from beginning to end.

Prayer: 
Dear Lord, I have these worries in my life.
Fears about tomorrow.
Stresses at work and sometimes with my family and friends.
Intercede in my life today!
Remind me of your transforming power that will guide and provide me peace in the midst of my storms.  Help me this year Lord to trust you more, to worry less about the world around me that often consumes my thoughts and leaves me drained and empty.  Give me a passion for others that reflects Yours.  Change this heart of mine, transform my thoughts, ambitions, desires and efforts into an outpouring of love for You.  Thank you for Your presence with me, now walk be side me into this new year.  In Jesus name I pray these things.  -Amen.

ponderings

Don’t Lockup The Holy Spirit!!

I was doing homework with one of my sons the other night.
We have four children, all in school and there are some days that my wife and I scramble to help them with their collective homework – which seems to be like our laundry: never ending.  homework

So there we were at the kitchen table, the contents of his backpack emptied and I am pouring through his homework folder trying to make sense of his disorganization (it too is a never ending task it seems).  As I am finally wading through the old papers and graded papers at last I come to the homework that needs to be done.  We both sit at the table and I begin reading it to him.  He has no idea how to fill in the answers – it’s history, one of his favorite subjects (proud Dad moments, History was mine as well).   So he doesn’t know the answers, and the questions are very specific…and then I read the very top of the page; “Use your text book from pages 265-282“.  I look over at my son, “Where’s your text book?”  He goes to his now empty backpack – it isn’t there.  “I think I left it in my locker“, he says.  “Well then, I really can’t help you with these questions, because without the text book we will probably get every one of these questions wrong.“I said this with frustration in my voice, knowing his homework would be late.  School is important and to forget some as pivotal as his text book was very unfortunate.

In that moment, homework was cancelled, or perhaps postponed until the next day…all because without the text book, the homework and its questions were beyond our reach.

It got me thinking…
holy-sThe Holy Spirit is a lot like that in our lives.
No, He’s not some text book that we stuff into our locker at school and forget about…but then again we kinda do leave him out of our lives from time to time.  We do forget about Him.  We know the story of Jesus, His love and grace and His gift to us on the cross and in the empty grave.  We believe that He is preparing a place for us, but there’s more to the story.  When He ascended the Holy Spirit came and never left God’s people.  The Holy Spirit is still real within us and can be felt in the still small voice or the gentle prodding in our lives.  Jesus even told His disciples:  I have told you this while I’m still with you.  However, the helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything. He will remind you of everything that I have ever told you.” John 14:25-26

But sometimes, we leave Him in the lockers of our lives.  We forget He’s even there, ready and able to help us.  We think we have to guess at all of life’s mysteries all by ourselves, and so we begin attempting to take the whole world upon our shoulders…in our own strength…and when we fail (which we will) we wonder where God is, when in fact, He never left us, we forgot or left Him.

My dear fellow ponderers, take God’s holy presence with you into the fray.
Don’t forget what great power He has for you and the hope and peace He will provide you in your day.  Don’t lock Him up or compartmentalize your “Church life” from your “Home life”.  Remember He can’t be contained, He doesn’t want to share space in your life with false gods and earthly “stuff”.  He is certainly jealous for you and me.  He longs for fellowship with us, and He desires moment by moment conversations and heart to hearts.
Don’t lock up that potential, because in reality you are only limiting the joy and peace you could experience with Him intricately involved in your life…He has the answers – seek Him out and He will be found.

Something more to ponder today!

Holiness – The Only Prescription!

“…but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – John 4:14

The Doctor’s Visit:
Suppose I had an ailment that could only be cured by going to the doctor on a regular basis.  Now, suppose after my very first visit (which was fantastic and successful) I believed myself cured and instead of taking the doctor’s advice, I left and never came back…how foolish would I be?  I felt great for a short time, but soon enough, my symptoms returned and I was right back where I began.  You might say that I should have taken the doctor’s advice, and followed through with my treatment plan.  You might also say, that I was stubborn and foolish.

The RX Application:drugs
This is how Holiness should be to a Christ-follower!
God has prescribed to us the perfect example by which we should live – His Son Jesus Christ.

But you see, I don’t believe that Salvation is the end of this spiritual journey, instead it is only the beginning!  Once we accept Christ in our lives and believe He saved and redeemed us from sin and death, we are essentially at the very first appointment at the doctor’s office!  We still struggle.  We still need help.  We can still fall into temptation!

holyChrist’s prescription to us? A daily/moment by moment conversation with Him.  The more we visit with Him, the more we begin to reflect who He is in our lives.  Our goal (and the simple definition of Holiness) is to become like Him in every way day by day – by taking His prescription for life!  Without it, we will be like the patient (me…) leaving the doctor’s office the very first time and not following his treatment plan!

Salvation is just the first dose and Holiness is the cure!
Something more to ponder today!

Imprisoned By Fear?

There is all sorts of types of fear.
Fear that propels you into action.
Fear that keeps those you love safe.
Fear that weighs the outcomes of decisions yet to be made.
Irrational Fear
Phobias…

When we say the word “fear” sometimes it evokes different interpretations and understandings of this little four letter word.  Some see it as a challenge, while others dread.

Fear, when used  right can be helpful, but when it is not it can imprison, immobilize and prevent all forms of progress in life.

Our Faith Walk:
The Apostle Paul, after taking those first step in following Christ, post his roadside theophany,  could have fear what others thought of him.  He could have been held captive by fear following the first time he was thrown in prison or flogged for his outspoken faith…but he didn’t.  He rejoiced while in prison.  He and Silas sang songs well into the night.  Although Paul was imprisoned, he certainly wasn’t imprisoned by fear.

How about us?
How is our faith walk?
Do we find ourselves shouting “Amen” during Sunday church service, meanwhile on Monday at work we whisper to a quivering fearful heart?  Does fear hold us back?  Are we afraid of how others might perceive us if we professed our faith out loud?  What about our attitudes and intentions toward others?  Isn’t it harder to remove self from situations than it is to be selfish?  So it is with overcoming fear and replacing it with faith.  It is not that the fear is removed completely, no, instead we learn to use that fear to our advantage.  We recognize when that fear is rising in us and we must consciously decide to step out in faith…or leap.  Harnessing fear places us “out on that limb”.  We say, yes, I am afraid, but I will trust in God to lead me and direct me.  I do not know where this path will lead me, but I will follow the Lord…I will put my trust in Him.

…“I will proclaim Your name to My brothers; I will sing Your praises in the congregation.”13And again: “I will put My trust in Him. Hebrews 2:12-13

Make this your prayer today:
Lord, where you lead me I will follow.
I am afraid, I admit that…but I will not run from
your calling on my life.
I want to live for you in every moment of today.
Lord, take this fear of mine and use it
motivate me into action.
Let me love those around me.
I will become less and you, dear Lord become more.
I struggle with trusting you with all there is of me,
but I acknowledge this and I ask you to remind me of your presence with me
today.
Grant me your boldness, your courage, and your love
as I walk this path that I cannot see.
Lead me Lord.
-Amen.

No Longer Slaves

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