Thanksgiving, Mystery and Childhood.

I’m sipping coffee, I know what else is new?  But as I sit here with my caffeine companion, blue cup, steam brimming from its edges and handle inviting me to grasp and chug down its contents, I am drawn to this topic of thanksgiving.  There’s a little film booth in my mind churning over snap shots and feature length moments of my life.  The booth is dark but for the flickering of projector light as dust dances in its wobbly yet dazzling rays of ambient lumens.  On screen, I am seven years of age.  Sun burst of blonde hair apparently free from the clutches of Dad’s comb that day laying every which way.  I am content.  No, better than content, I am full of joy and warmth.  It’s like that moment when you will finally see long lost relatives again that you’ve been anxiously longing to see since last you met.  Add to that euphoric sense the emotion of a snoozing Saturday when you have to plan, no chore list and absolutely no where to be.  

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I am more than content.  I am happy.  Isn’t it funny the small things that bring us joy?  The plastic bag of army men that probably cost 50 cents down at the convenience store clutched in a seven year old’s hands equaled joy that day.  Playing on Mom and Dad’s bed with folds of blankets, flowery in a sunburst pattern, abruptly becoming mountain ranges and ocean floors in some cosmic battle between good and evil (evil was slowly scaling the mountain only to be repelled again).  

But it wasn’t the plastic arm men that gave joy, it wasn’t their ongoing battle that filled me with jubilation and peace, it was where I was. And where I was can only be felt in the loving arms of children guided and loved by parents who cared.  We were loved.  Nothing greater a gift can be given to your children, than a consistent kind of love and affection!  I am thankful today for the places, the face, the small joys that I have experienced along the way.  Something as small as green plastic army men on my parents bed still brings me joy.  

May we still find these simplistic moments in our ever complicated lives.  I hope we never lose our child-like innocence and faith.  I’m thankful for still frames, images, moments that still replay in my mind.  These aren’t just memories, they are a part of who I was and who I have become.  Dare I say that we all have these moments of pure joy and peace.  When we felt secure, warm and loved.  It was never about any kind of materialistic gift, but rather, it was about parents who took the time to care and to show it.  

Parents, never forget how it was to be a child.  Never lose sight of the fact that life is still full of mystery and wonder.  Don’t whittle it away with logic and skepticism.  Faith begins in the heart of a child.  Matthew 18:3 says, “And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  We need to return to the mystery of life once more.  

Just a simple thought of thanksgiving today.  

To my Lord of the Harvest (Poem)

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All my efforts, all my pains

nothing but the best for Thee

grant me Lord your loving heart

and others I might see. 

 

Plant me in the fertile soil 

so that these roots grow deep 

be my gardener and my Lord 

an abundant harvest to reap. 

 

And in those days that will come

when drought and famine be

these lips and service, action take 

to ever live for Thee.

-Amen.

The Waters of Faith and Fear – Find Jesus there!

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I’ve been looking at the painting.  I’m mesmerized by it.  Have you ever studied a painting?  Have you looked closely at the details?  The brush strokes?  The unspoken drama captured in a mere moment?  Look at the waves, how they list back and forth, how they swell to a crescendo and fall back down again.  It’s almost as if you can watch them in their lunar symphonic dance.  As I look into this painting I see so much of me.  I see evidence of my doubt, evidence of my fears and evidence of my lack of strength.  I see me drowning there, not just Peter.  I see what could happen if I fall down into the depths of this flowing tide.  The water filling up my lungs.  The panicked shock becoming reality.  My feeble life flashing before my eyes.  I can imagine it…can you?

 As I look at this painting, a story we’ve all heard before while sitting in those stiff backed, wood-oil scented pews that creak when you shift positions…the story of Peter walking on the water with Jesus.  We’ve heard the details of this story.  How Peter saw Jesus walking towards them and cried out to Him, “Lord if it is really you call me to come out there with you…and Jesus said ‘Come'” (Matthew 14:22-33).   So Peter gets out of the boat and starts walking towards Jesus on the water.  You see we often stop here in this story and think to ourselves “wait for the ‘but'” and we call this Peter’s doubting moment because he looked down, because he became frightened, because he took his eyes off of Jesus.  But what we often fail to look at within this story and it’s evident in this painting is that Peter got out of the boat…but where were the rest of the disciples?  Where did they remain?  In the boat.  If we look real closely they are way off in the foreground standing in the boat safe and sound but did they believe as Peter had?  Did they climb out of the boat with him?  No.  

Another thing that really hits home to me that is portrayed in this painting is the juxtaposition of his friends and peers in the boat as opposed to where Peter is located.  No, not just because of their doubt but because of their distance.  When Peter needed his friends and his peers the most they were too far away to help him.  He was well out of their reach to throw any kind of life saving device towards his sinking soul.  As I stare into this painting I begin to understand something that I didn’t before.  Perhaps I knew it to be true, but only in the back of my mind.  Here’s the truth:  Our friends, comrades in arms, loved ones and peers cannot save us all of the time.  There are times when faith takes us out further than perhaps others are willing or called to go.  Faith takes us into deeper waters where we have to find out for ourselves that not only is our strength not enough but our faith must be increased so that Jesus can save us.  It’s not about being better than our friends or our loved ones, it’s not about being more holy but God calls each of us to different waters.  So when we step out of our boats as Peter did we will find ourselves at times to be all alone on those waters without the support of other believers near us.  

Staring again at this painting I am struck by how the painter illustrates the expression that Jesus has on his face.  If someone lets you down what might your expression be? One of disappointment?  One of anger?  One of dismay?  To me, Jesus doesn’t seem to have any of these expressions on His face.  Instead He appears concerned, lovely so as He stoops down to pluck Peter from the depths.  Notice too that Jesus doesn’t grasp onto Peter’s slipper, wet fingers.  Instead He grasps Peter by the wrist.  What this says to me is that Jesus knows.  He knows that Peter can’t pull himself up out of these circumstances.  He knows that Peter’s strength have given way to doubt, shock and fear.  Jesus knows and so He pulls Peter up by his wrist and in so saying ‘My strength is enough, let me be your salvation’.  

I am Peter in the waters from time to time.  I am being choked by the lapping waters as I gasp for another breath.  I am given over to fears and doubts and I cannot save myself.  I look for my friends and for my peers but they are too far from me.  Yet Jesus is there willing and able to rescue me…again.  He grasps onto my wrist and says to me ‘My love, my strength, my courage, my grace, my hope…is enough!’  

Today I don’t know what kind of waters you’re walking on in faith, but I do know one thing Jesus is there!  Though our faith may take us out deeper than we’ve ever gone before, though we find it difficult or impossible to walk alone…Jesus is there!  Trust Him today!  Trust His strength.  Trust that He will never abandon you or be too far away to rescue you.  When you find yourself far from the saving mercies of other Christians, look up and find the One who has paid it all grasping onto your wrist and saving you through His strength and grace. 

 

 

The Original ‘300’

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The movie 300 is about to get a sequel.  According to IMDb 300 ‘Rise Of An Empire’ will hit theaters in 2014.  Like its predecessor this new installment will undoubtedly be a total macho movie with frequent action sequences and lots of blood and gore.  But before anyone ever yelled out “For Sparta” another army of just 300 soldiers fought insurmountable odds and completely decimated their enemy.  Although the Bible doesn’t specifically say how many Midianites Gideon and his band of 300 hundred defeated, they had to have numbered in the hundreds of thousands.

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Gideon’s name means ‘Destroyer’ or ‘Mighty Warrior’, and yet the first time we encounter Gideon in the Bible he is threshing wheat in hiding so that the Midianites don’t find him.  Our first impression of this ‘Mighty Warrior’ isn’t exactly encouraging.  Yet an Angel of the Lord comes and pays Gideon a visit, and uses his name’s meaning by saying, ‘Mighty Warrior’ the Lord God is with you!  Gideon isn’t exactly full of confidence and even challenges the Angel’s announcement by essentially saying, ‘how can God be with us when we are being oppressed?’  Still the Angel is unfazed by Gideon’s doubt and commands him to go with the strength that he has and save Israel from the clutches of the Midianites.

If doubt and shock wasn’t enough, Gideon’s next statement puts things into perspective, he says; “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest…and I’m the least in my family?” Has Gideon lived up to his name ‘Might Warrior’ yet?  No, he hasn’t, in fact far from it.  But can you blame the guy?  He has seen the devastation caused by Israel’s enemy and he also recognizes that his family is the smallest and weakest in all of Israel.  Why would God possibly choose him?  Fast forward nearly a hundred and fifty years later and God appoints another ‘least of these’ to be King of Israel, a guy by the name of David.

I think God’s plan for Gideon and even David had less to do with human might and more to do with His awesome power!

Gideon had a tough time believing that he was indeed called by God.  He even tested God numerous times just to be sure, and finally after Gideon had his requests met by God, He puts together an army that’s boasted 22,000 soldiers.  Wow, what a force of might by Israel!  But that wasn’t how the Lord planned to defeat their enemies.  Gideon’s forces are dwindled down to 10,000…but that was still too many soldiers for what God had in mind.  Finally after one more soldier ‘thinning’ episode at the banks of a body of water only 300 soldiers remained.   This battle wasn’t ‘for Sparta’ either, this was for the Lord!

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I don’t know about you but that math just doesn’t seem to add up.  How could an army of only three hundred ever defeat the vast and ferocious forces of the Midianites?   Enter God’s power, might and perfect battle plan.  He gives Gideon the battle plan and it’s unorthodox yet totally effective.  Isn’t that how God seems to work?  He uses the least of these for His purposes and when the battle is won there could be no doubt who it was that provided the victory!   So it was with Gideon and his army of 300.  Against all odds and an unorthodox battle plan, God brought a mighty army to its knees in defeat!

Still to this day, God can use us, the ‘least of these’ to win mighty victories in this world!  Our God can lead us against all odds and bring mighty foes to their knees.  Sometimes we may have doubts like Gideon did and faith just doesn’t come easy, but we serve a God who always keeps His promises and He will be there for us in the midst of our toughest battles.  Trust Him, He won’t let us down, and He calls us ‘Mighty Warrior’ even when we feel much less than mighty.

By Faith – Memorial Day Thought

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Hebrews 11:1-16 (NIV)
1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
2 This is what the ancients were commended for. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. 4 By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead. 5 By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. 7 By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. 8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.  11 By faith Abraham, even though he was past age–and Sarah herself was barren–was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise.  12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. 13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.
16 Instead, they were longing for a better country–a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

 These 16 verses and more make up the ‘Faith’ chapter in Hebrews.  The author evokes for us the necessity of faith in a world so wrought with uncertainties.  He recalls pillars of the faith who took leaps of faith and landed on their feet because of God.  Faith is important in this life.  Faith helps us get through many situations and if we persevere, God will provide the means for our survival.   Do you have faith? 

On this weekend throughout the United States, this country celebrates and looks back at those who have gone on before us.  Our generations who have given their lives for this country…but we too should consider our family members, church members and pillars of our faith who have paved…no blazed the way for us!  The too lived by faith and every time we recall them in our hearts my it spur us on to keep going in our lives!  Their testimonies still live on in our remembering and we ought to not only honor them in our memories but consider the trails we too are blazing in this life at this very moment.

You are an inspiration to others!

Did  you know that?  Little one, children and others will eventually look up to you and in how you conducted your life…will you be an inspiration or a tell tale of how not to live this life?  I want my kids to remember me for being a loving father and godly man…I want my children’s children to consider me when they make crucial decisions.  I don’t say this to be prideful or arrogant but rather I want to live in a such a way that I please the Lord and by the faith provide a long term role model for others to follow as well.

By Faith I Want to Live…do you? 

Just a thought for today!

Got Faith?

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The other day I was driving down the road when I realized that I had neglected to fill my van with gas.  I was on ‘E’ and the warning light was on giving me an indication that I had less than ten miles to an empty tank.  It is never fun to be stuck in traffic only to realize that you have to get off somewhere and refuel.  For a time, panic set in and I was hoping I wouldn’t run out in the middle of moving traffic…I kept thinking of embarrassing It would be.

Are you running empty today in the faith department?  Is the warning light on in your life? 

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Faith.

What is it? Why is it so hard to grasp at times, and other times the only thing that makes sense? 

You’ve heard it said that faith is like the wind, you can’t see the wind but you can feel the effects of the wind.  So too it is with this thing we call ‘Faith’.  It is vital that we possess it, yet many people lack enough of it to sustain their walk with God.  

Does God supply us with faith?  Yes, Romans 12:3 says, ” God gives varying measures of faith to his people”  So how do we get more of faith when we lack it?  Because if you and I were honest with ourselves and with God we would find that there are times when we are lacking in the faith department.  James 1:5 says “If any of you are lacking wisdom let him ask God and He will give it liberally.”  The same goes for faith.  Do you lack faith in your life right now?  Is your faith tank on ‘E’?  Ask God to fill you again. 

The key is that we must ask!  It’s not that God doesn’t already know, it’s that He wants us to verbalize it in our lives to Him.  He wants us to make it personal, to realize that we need Him.  We are lost without His sustaining power and grace.  When we ask, the scriptures say that He will supply.  

Today, perhaps instead of asking for anything else we should ask God to fill our tank of faith.  We all could use an added dose of it, am I right?  The issues we face, the struggles, the stress, the doubt are nothing in comparison to the might and strength of our Father in Heaven.  If we allow Him access to our lives by asking Him to enter we will be amazed at what takes place.  

Do you lack faith today?  Let this journey of yours begin by asking Him to fill you up with His grace and to grant you more faith.  He will glad supply it to those who ask without agenda or selfish intentions.  

Seek Him, and ask Him today.  

Burn the Ships!

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The smell of smoke fills the nostrils and tears up the eyes.  The view on the beach is disturbing, the ships are on fire as the smoke coats the air and blocks out the sun at mid-day.  A sense of panic strikes at the heart of the sailors now marooned on this foreign soil.  Soon, realization will set in.  To find their way home, they have to move forward. 

 

Infamous conquistador Hernando Corte’s is well known for his brutality when conquering and claiming the Aztec lands for Spain.  He will forever go down in the annals of history as a conqueror that nearly wiped out an entire civilization in his day, but there is one saving act of leadership that begs to be examined.  When Cortes’ ships landed in the new world, to prevent mutiny he ordered his ships burned and sunk.  Imagine for a second being a sailor on one of those vessels and upon landing in this foreign environment your leader burns the only mode of transportation home.  Your world comes crashing in, and the only way home is forward without retreat.  It’s forward and never backward.

 

In a very practical sense, we ought to consider burning the vessels of doubt that reside within our faith in God.  These modes of transportation will only move us backwards into our old sinful lives instead of transporting us forward into a deeper relationship with our Father in Heaven.   Burning the ships of doubt has a motivational value that boldly declares that our purpose and our faith is all or nothing.   As an Ambassador for Christ in this world, there is no escape route or exit plan to abandon the cause of Christ!  We are either all or nothing; doubt can’t exist in the same place as our faith. 

 

If we have doubt and fear present, perhaps it’s time to burn the ships.  One might argue that fear is a part of our faith, rightly so…but it ought to be the fear (reverence) of the Lord not the fear of what the world might do to us within this cause for Christ!  These two types of fear are different.  Doubt on the other hand is something Jesus even confronts His disciples on… “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 8:26)   

 

Burn the ships…move forward in your faith and trust in the Lord for guidance, protection and strength!  He will never leave us or forsake us! (Deut. 31:6) 

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