Pentecost – A Sincere Fire…

I love researching the origins of things.
One of my favorite docu-shows is ‘Mysteries At The Museum’ where they tell stories and uncover some mysterious tale from long ago that I never knew existed. I think my love for television shows like this has to do with knowledge and better understanding the world around me. There is this hunger for understanding who I am as a human being and that of this creation around me. I would imagine in some way you are the same as me in this search for truth and understanding.

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I recently came across the etymology of the word “Sincerely”. What’s funny is I know the origin story, but I liked the erroneous version of its origin better. I think I like it because I think it speaks to me on a spiritual level, and carries with it a deep connection of awe and wonder for me.

The story goes like this:
In the Middle Ages, painters would use wax to conceal blemishes in their artwork. It was a technique to cover up these mistakes so that the painter would not have to start over and could sell these paintings to potential buyers. No one would know what was under the surface of the wax, nor would they notice unless they were to carefully analyze the surface of the canvas.

Zest It Cold Wax Painting Medium Review - Jackson's Art Blog


Thus, when a painter would paint their masterpieces they would sign their paintings with ‘Sincerely’ at the bottom in order for the buyer to understand that the artist had created this masterpiece “without blemish”, or without the use of cover up wax. This was a guarantee of honesty, vulnerability and transparency…

Regardless if the origin of the word “Sincerely” didn’t come from these painters and artists, I find the context here to be absolutely stunning and profound. Painters did indeed use wax to cover up blemishes on their canvas and many times without owners ever knowing that they made a mistake.

This is how the Lord has whispered into my heart this week as I approached Pentecost this year. For the first time in fifteen years I am no longer an ordained minister. For the first time in my career as a pastor, I have found a sense of emptiness that had been occupied by busyness and it was all my own doing. There were times that I covered over mistakes on my canvas. Times where I could fool everyone else of my sincerity and yet there I was waxing over the obvious blemishes without ever acknowledging them to anyone, let alone God.

This isn’t some sort of deep confession of moral failure, this is an admission of pride and arrogance. I was the painter covering things up and feigning my innocence. And through it all God wanted and still wants my sincerity.

Many of us approach Pentecost, the day where God’s holy presence literally fell upon those in that upper room with a certain amount of wax covering our canvas. We cover up the mistakes and pretend that God doesn’t see them. Perhaps deep down we know that He does, but as long as we keep fooling everyone else, all is well. But you see that isn’t the way things work with God. He wants us blemishes and all. He desires our vulnerability and our honesty. He wants for us to admit to Him that we haven’t got it all worked out yet. That’s okay. He wants us to stop pretending to be some thing we are not. God longs for us to just take the wax off of our canvas’ and SINCERELY come before Him with contrition and reverence.

So let me ask you today, how sincere is your relationship with God?
How honest are you being with your walk of holiness? How much are you truly striving to live like Jesus every day? I know that there is so much to unpack here. I know that perhaps you will have to do some soul searching. Don’t wait to do it by saying “I’ll get around to it”. Don’t hesitate to come before the Father spiritually naked and without wax. He sees us completely and already knows. So if we truly want to experience Pentecost today in our lives, we MUST be sincere in our minds, hearts and lives.

The Way of Love | Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Federal Way


Something more to ponder on this day of Pentecost.
God Bless you today!

https://pastorsponderings.org/2013/11/22/catching-fire-at-pentecost/

Finding What We Seek…

“One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.” -Psalm 27:4

There is the old testament story about a woman named Hannah.
Hannah did not have any children of her own and she desperately wanted a child. So after one of the Jewish celebrations, Hannah goes to the temple and fervently prays to God to give her a child. She prays and weeps and is in deep anguish over this heartfelt need to be a mother. As she is praying and weeping, the priest Eli sees Hannah there, and he thinks she is drunk because her lips are moving but no words are coming out. So Eli goes and confronts her and even tells her to throw away her wine.

Imagine that for a second, this woman is crying out to God in one of her lowest moments and she can’t even catch a break without having Eli confront her in judgement. Hannah doesn’t lash out though, she just tells the priest why she is there and that she is not drunk. Hannah outlines her heartache and even says “I am very discouraged and I am pouring out my heart to the Lord.” (NLT translation).
The priest responds by saying, “May the God of Israel grant you the request that you asked of Him.”

Scriptures then tell us that Hannah goes home and is at peace and starts eating AGAIN. Let’s stop for a minute and recognize that in Hannah’s distress she had stopped eating and was so discouraged in her heart.

Have you ever been there?
Have you ever been so heavily burdened that you lose all appetite and thoughts of self-care?

One such moment comes to my mind in my life. My Wife had just tragically lost her mother in a horrible accident and for the next couple of days in the midst of our mourning we couldn’t eat and we barely slept. It was gut wrenching sadness and heartbreaking pain. Scripture tells us that there is a time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3)…and in our lives, most of us have experienced those times of mourning. I believe Hannah felt a certain kind of mourning in her life as well and that is why we are made to understand in 1 Samuel 1:9-28 that Hannah was not eating…or probably sleeping. Her heart was so heavy and burdened with this deep longing and sadness for a child.

In the Seeking – We Find.
Hannah sought out God in this dark moment of her life.
She knelt before God and didn’t care if anyone else was watching, and as she poured out her heart to God, and He was there listening.

Praying for Women to Hunger for God · TWR Women Of Hope


It had nothing to do with a priest answering Hannah’s pleas…although Eli certainly did that. There wasn’t some sort of mystical words that Eli spoke that eased her heart. Rather, it was Hannah’s faith in the God that she prayed to that allowed her to find peace again. There was a certainty that filled that place where her mourning had been. Faith blossomed while her mourning decayed and faded away.

There is a truth of us in this.
David certainly found it when he wrote this:
One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.” -Psalm 27:4

When we seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, ALL these things will be given to us (Matthew 6:33). But it starts with our seeking.
Are we willing to search God and know Him? To truly know Him?! Not know of Him. Or about Him. But to truly KNOW Him?

What does it look like in our modern day to “dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life”? Let me give you a hint: it’s not just about going to church, but that’s a great start. It is about allowing God to dwell in your life every moment of every day. To literally breathe Him in and out in your actions, thoughts and words. So much so that your old self-induced life fades away to be replaced with a self-less holy one that reflects Christ completely.

Then, when we are heavy burdened, when we face daunting days of uncertainty (that can seem be insurmountable at times) we can seek God. We can know Him, and we can get up from our places of prayer and be rejuvenated in life by His spiritual nourishment, provision and love.

Questions to Ponder today:
What is currently weighing on your heart?
Have you prayed about these things to God?
These prayers can be spoken out loud or silently. They can be written down or thought in your mind as you go about your day. But one thing that truly helps is that you verbalize your burdens to the Lord. Even though He already knows them, speak them to Him.
Lastly do you trust that God is not only listening to your prayers, but that He is in your life and is a participant in it?

May we find what we seek today…and may we be seeking God as well purposely strive to dwell in the House of the Lord forever.

-Amen.

Something more for us to ponder today.
To God be the glory.

Look What I Discovered Today…(Amazing Grace on the Wind)

For the past two weeks I make the morning and late afternoon drive between Prattville Alabama and Selma. It is a forty six minute drive each way. The scenery will beat any urban bumper to bumper drive hands down. There are rolling pastures of green all splendidly infused with waving deep purple wild violets. They bend and bow in the wind as if in a southern Alabama greeting long lost to the world.

Driving down this two lane highway, where the speed limit is 55 miles an hour, but the raging trucks blow black billowing smoke from their diesel engines as they speed by at 75…I am unperturbed because I am attempting not to miss a single detail of this pastural marvel.

To the right there is a deep shadowy canopy of trees, all purposefully planted years and years ago as cows lazily graze beneath them. There is a bountiful buffet of grass and their bellies attest to this fact as they chew on their cud. I see all of this as I speed by at 60 miles an hour.

Further on down the next curve in the road are workers in blue coveralls and up with the sun as they attempt to raise the frames of a barn. Their labors will soon provide roof and shade to tractors and the large green harvester parked near by. There is a slow steady rhythm to their movements as they languish underneath the heavy beams, ensuring they fall into place only to hoist up another one…on and on down the line.

Lastly I reach the next hill top on the country road and find myself before a bronze historic placard. The placard prominently announces the entrance to an old country church. A United Methodist Church by the name of Ivy Creek. Its name matches the long, majestic driveway curtained on each side by trees and ivy. The old iconic white washed walls with steepled bell-tower top marks years of use and if you were to listen very carefully one can still hear the old church bell, long since removed, calling mournfully for its ancient parishioners and the ghosts of church services of yesteryear.

Perhaps many of the old oaks that line the dust gravel path contain within their own rings a time stamped record of the numerous times “amazing grace” has wafted on the wind and embedded each note and each refrain sung into the porous grains…,embedded so deeply in fact, that the sap running down on the outside of the bark could joyously proclaim the occasional “Hallelujah” to the wind as it passes by.


The sun, golden and new in the morning sky, kisses the side of the old chapel as if God himself has declared that “it is good.” And deep inside of me there is this longing to be caught up in one of those sun rays, golden and resplendent, fresh and new…I want to hear God whisper “it is good“…of me.
I breathe this simple moment in, as I stand all alone at this entrance to this church with its shadow lingering over me. This little glimpse of paradise has been grasped at for just a moment…I am filled with a deep sense of love and warmth in this new day.

And then I get back into my car all the while whispering “Amazing Grace” to the wind.

The Problem With Submission…

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” -James 4:7-8

I have a tough time with one word in this passage.
It has nothing to do with God, faith or salvation…it has everything to do with how this word is used in the world, sometimes maliciously, in order to put people in their place.

What is the word?

“Submit”.

I don’t do well with submission.
Honestly, it makes me feel like a prisoner having to obey the warden. (Images of Shawshank Redemption come to mind)…

Perhaps it is because I have personally witnessed that word being used and abused.
Perhaps it is because I struggle with my own need for freedom.
Regardless of the why, there is still the issue with the how…how do I submit…and the ‘who’ – who am I to submit to?

For some of us it is the trust involved in such an act.
Questions like, “what if my trust is betrayed”, and “can I really trust them”?
Many time it isn’t even about submitting to God, but rather authority figures in our own lives; Bosses, business advisors, managers, family members…etc. Then, when we have been burned by submitting to a faulty human-led system, we transplant this disappointment and disillusionment upon God…as if He too is imperfect and will let us down.

I too have struggled with this notion, meanwhile transplanting my own mortal experience upon an immortal God. But have I short changed God when I’ve done this? Do I still struggle with these trust issues? Can I fully submit to God in spite of my past hurts and the numerous failed dumpster fires of attempted human submission?

Maybe I’m overthinking this…have you ever done that?
I’ve counted all of the variables, outcomes, pros and cons way before ever taking a step. My 1st Grade Teacher’s voice keeps ringing in my ear as she said, “look before you leap.” But maybe in this case, it’s the other way round?! Perhaps I just have to go for it and place my all before God when I do.

In James 4:7-8, perhaps it’s more about coming near to God than it is about submitting to Him…because wouldn’t we naturally do that anyway when we really, really know someone? After all, didn’t God come close to us first when He sent Jesus into this messed up world? He met us more than halfway as He hung on a cross for our sins.

You see, I know all of the theological implications of such an act. I know Jesus intellectually, but are there still times when my heart does not know Him…when I’m not near to God, in fact, I couldn’t be further from Him? Have you ever felt like that? We have all of the head knowledge, but when it really comes down to it, there’s a heart issue that still needs working out.

If you’re anything like me, perhaps you’re still trying to reconcile what submission looks like with God. I’ve been on this journey for quite some time, and I feel that the Holy Spirit has led me this far, I’m going to have trust Him in the things I have yet to figure out. He hasn’t given up on me, and I’m positive He certainly hasn’t given up on you either. Perhaps it’s not so much submission that He’s after, but rather a closer relationship with us. After all, doesn’t submission come from a place of trust? I cannot submit to something I don’t trust, and I cannot trust if I don’t come close enough to God.

The trouble with submission is we aren’t close enough to a God who desires a relationship with us…and I’m still working through this. I don’t have a Mary Poppins answer for you, just a notion and a nudge to deepen your relationship with the Almighty…we just might discover that is what was needed all along.

-Something more to ponder today.

Fear the Walking Faith…It’s a journey!

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20

Oh how our faith can waver sometimes.
It seems that the gusting of a slight breeze of discord or worry can shake our quivering feet of faith.

Have you ever come to a moment of realization that your faith is not as deep as you once thought it was? We all encounter times, while on this journey, where the feel as though we have entered into the desert and we are found lacking in our resolve and fortitude. This journey will take us into places that require us to dig a little deeper and to endure the dry and thirsty places – where we find ourselves questioning everything and reaching further for God…who seems to have gone silent.

Have you been to this place?

I remember when I first learned to swim.
My parents would take me into the deeper part of the waters where my feet couldn’t touch and then let go of me, and as they let go of me they step back out of my reach. I remember there was a momentary panic. The saving hands were no longer on me and I found myself struggling to keep my head above the waters. I remember having to reach out my arms while kicking my feet so that I could reach the safety again. As I did this, without realizing, I began to swim by myself for the first time.

My intentions were not to swim. My intention was to reach the safe arms of my parents who were just out of reach.

There is growth within the tension and fear.
Growth that can only take place when we are left to our own devices.
Growth that can only transpire within the turmoil and desert places of our faith journey.

It is as if God steps back from us, and we are faced with the seemingly terrifying notion that we must step into the deep alone. The truth is that we are most certainly not alone, but rather there is growth that is only found in desert. And so we step out, unsure of ourselves…unsure if we can reach those safe arms of Christ again.

Remember Peter on the waters before Jesus?
He is asked to step out into a turbulent, uncertain space.
Peter takes a couple of steps, loses sight of the arms of Christ and begins to sink.
He takes his eyes off of Jesus.
He considers the impossibilities of such a journey.
He must have recalled his inability to do this feat, and as the doubt sinks in so does Peter.

We often chastise Peter for his lack of faith.
We often sermonize this passage to implicate the lack of resolve that ‘the Rock’ had…
But where were the other disciples?
Do we read about their steps of faith on the waters? No.
They were still in the boat watching it all go down.

We have to get out of our boats.
We will encounter dry and thirsty times in our faith journey.
It will feel as if we are all alone out in the wilderness, but we are not alone.
God steps back and watches us within the tension of deeper waters.
And it is within those deeper spaces that we grow.
It is through perseverance that our character and the very image of Christ becomes clearer in us.

Some have turned back and returned to the safe places.
Some have given up because they have felt abandoned.
Others have persevered and they have grown.
The Lord desires all of us to deepen our faith, and so these times of dryness should be seen as opportunities to grow up into this amazing faith.

Being like Jesus isn’t easy.
It takes determination and desire on our part.
Are you prepared to allow God to deepen your faith?
Is it your desire to get off of spiritual baby formula and begin to feast on more sustainable spiritual nourishment?

Take that next step…don’t be afraid, He’s got you, and He isn’t far from you right now!

Something more to ponder today.

Dear Salvation Army: Emergency Disaster Services – Touching Lives, Not Networks.

I have been watching and praying for my fellow Officers and Soldiers who have served and are currently serving on Emergency Disaster Services teams in Texas and Florida.
Some of the devastation is heartbreaking as many families have lost everything.  Many organizations have been on site since day 1…including The Salvation Army.   EDS2

Confession:
I have to confess something, I would often get upset when other relief organizations would get all of the press time on television networks.  I would grow weary of the lack of reporting of all of the good things my fellow Soldiers, Officers and volunteers of The Salvation Army were doing on the ground. It seemed that there were many media hogs seizing every minute of television and radio time but as soon as the cameras were gone…so were they.  On behalf of the movement I faithfully serve, I felt gypped.

I expressed this salty opinion to one of my corps members, I was in a cantankerous mood. This corps member is a far wiser person than I will ever be.  He had perspective and with calm, sage advice said, “You know, it has never been about how much press time we get…we aren’t there for the applause or public acclaim, we’re there to serve the hurting as best as we can as we rely on the Lord to guide us.”  With one fell swoop, he cut me off at the knees – which was a good thing.  He brought a great sense of perspective to my heart.  There I was, getting so upset in the halls of public opinion while completely forgetting the primary purpose for our ‘Army’ existing in those places of disaster – to faithfully serve others with the love and grace of the Lord – regardless if it was seem through the lenses of some camera.   prayer

I was reminded of a passage of scripture, and I don’t use this to get preachy or to sound judgmental, but rather to put some sobering perspective back into my heart and perhaps others who might be struggling with this as well:  “….Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.”  (Matthew 6:1,2)

-If we serve because we want to be seen, we have gotten it all wrong…
-If we serve because it brings fame to any organization, we have gotten it all wrong…
-If we serve because it makes us look good, we have gotten it all wrong…
…and we will have already received our reward, if so then God help us!

Instead, may our service, especially those unseen by the world around us, bring glory to God!  It should never be about our air time or the many external fund raisers on our behalf – The Lord will provide – be faithful in this!  Our consistency in serving Him is paramount to all of these things.  We are called to offer compassion, care, love, hope…with all of those things, who has time to worry about anything else?

Pray!!
Please pray for the many hands and feet of God currently serving in Texas and in Florida!  Continue to pray for this hurricane season…and the upcoming storms.  Don’t forget the Emergency Disaster Service personnel in the Western Territory either!  Prayer is not a last resort, but a means to continue to bring the needs of many before the Lord continuously!

Something more to Ponder…To God be the glory!!

Dear Salvation Army, Where Are We Going?

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” -Michelangelo

This is more of a collective pondering today. We need your comments, thoughts and opinions in order to carefully and thoughtful answer the above question: Where Are We Going?

What is our vision?

What should our vision be?

How do we make that vision a reality?

What are some of the obstacles in our way of fully realizing that reality?

Who will it take (e.g. soldiers, officers, volunteers, donors)?

How important is accountability in such a large movement/organization?

How can we become more accountable to Christ within this Army? Where does Holiness belong in such a conversation?

I have disclosed numerous questions to ponder today…are you willing to take a chance at answering any or all of these questions? The larger scope question: Where Are We Going? In other words, if you were to envision where the Army SHOULD BE in 20 years, what would it look like? What would you want to see different, the same, the growth?

-If we have no plan or vision, then we will flounder and waver.

We look forward to your responses!

Something more for the Army to ponder today!

Vision without execution is hallucination.” – Thomas Edison

*Disclaimer: the thoughts and opinions represented here do not necessarily reflect the thoughts and opinions of The Salvation Army and are that of the writer of this blog, reader discretion is advised.*

Day 44 “We Hate The ‘S’ Word…”

It’s a word everybody hates.
For some it means relinquishing our freewill.
For others it means becoming a slave…and naturally, no one wants to be a slave.
Still others thing of this word as strange and even evil.

s-wordIt’s the word ‘Submit’…as in submit someone else.
-submit to the rules…
-submit to the will or whim of others…
-submit who you are to someone else’s identity.
This content of the ‘S’ word certainly seems negative and cause us to never utter it again let alone live in submission to anything other than our own freewill.

But what would you do if God requires this from you?
How do we consider the ‘S’ word then in the context of who God is and desires from us?
Even then, many (including myself) struggle with the notion of full-submission to God.
James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves then, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

This type of submission isn’t something that will hurt us, instead it will heal us. submit2 Submission to God means we can finally become all that God knows we can be.  There is this potential within all of us, but it can only be accessed and fully realized when we completely submit ourselves to God’s will.  This is probably the most difficult thing we will ever do.  Full submission to God doesn’t mean that we will lose our identity, no, it means that we will finally have our full identity.  We are called sons and daughters of God…when we finally submit to Him, this title becomes our identity.  The difficulty is letting go and trusting Him.  It requires us to say, “Lord, my life is in your hands!”  When we submit in this way, the temptations of the evil one will diminish and we can resist sin – through the power of the Holy Spirit.

You might now be there yet – letting go and submitting fully to God…but He longs for you to take that step!  He will not harm you.  He loves you and desires His people be holy.

Prayer:  Lord, I confess today that I struggle with full-submission to you in my life.  I fear letting go because it could mean that I have to make changes in my life.  Help me Lord to seek you and to let go.  I want to live for you in my life.  So in my day today, show me what this submission looks like.  I desire to be like you.  -Amen.

Day 37 “Thy Kingdom, Not My Kingdom”

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  -Matthew  6:33

Yesterday, we explored the topic of persistent prayer, and how this world needs more persistent prayer warriors.  This thing called prayer can be the most effective tool that we have in our spiritual arsenal.  Disciplined prayer warriors can change the world, and I believe we at a place in history that requires more prayer for our world than ever before!

As we ponder this idea of prayer, we inevitably search our thoughts and our hearts for the Seek First the Kingdommost important things to pray for.  Our families are brought to mind.  Our personal concerns and our stressors are also brought to the forefront.  When we pray these things are important and good to pray for.  We also should remember that we are Kingdom people, and as Kingdom people, our priority to Christ and His Kingdom should also be high on that list.  When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray the spirit of humility and servanthood were spoke:  “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done…”

How can we make God’s Kingdom a priority today?
How can we emphasize God’s will not our will be done today?
Is there a rebellious spirit within us that struggles with these components of submission to God today?  It is not easy to humble ourselves in this way.  We might fight against submitting our will to God’s will, but knowing He cares and loves us and desire to light our path ought to bring comfort and peace even if we struggle with trusting Him.

Seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness is never easy, but does bring us peace when we shift the focus from “me first” to God first.  There is a lightening of the burden when we allow God to carry it for us.  We don’t have to go it alone.  We have One who stands ready to help and to love us.  He comes to our level and desires fellowship and provides assurance and hope.  Thus, when we pray today…seek His kingdom before we seek ours.  As we talked about yesterday, be persistent in these conversations…and start off with accepting His kingdom first and seek after it with your life, heart, soul, mind.

Prayer:  Lord I long to live for your kingdom alone.  Help me in this discipline of pray and submission to you.  You know that this is not easy for me.  I struggle with taking control and selfishness.  I want to seek after you and your righteousness today.  I will not worry about tomorrow, but I will seek your kingdom in my life today.  Grant me your strength for what ever comes my way today.  Walk with me and help me when I become distracted and frustrated.  I pray for those that I will come into contact with today, allow me to show compassion, grace and love to all those I meet.  Lord, your will be done in my life today.  -Amen.

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