Saturday, June 3, 2023

The Days of Summer

 June…. Summer!  


The concept of summer evokes a wide range of thoughts and emotions.  For most children and older students, summer means a break from school and homework and more time for fun.  But for adults in general and parents in particular, summer often means more challenges: shifts in the workforce, travel plans that go awry, and the need to keep children safe and constructively occupied if/as work schedules make that difficult.  And almost everyone of all ages and lifestyles needs to deal with the expectations that summer brings.


To be sure, summer brings wonderful opportunities and great plans.  But if we become too attached to those opportunities and plans, it becomes very easy to evaluate the days, weeks, and the season according to how they rate on our scale of expectations.  And then if our expectations are not met, it is easy to become disappointed and frustrated.  We can miss the joy of unanticipated opportunities to bless and be blessed.


There is no doubt that planning is essential in order to fulfill our responsibilities and use our time well—even for fun! Planning is, however, most fruitful and rewarding if we view our plans not so much as a rubric for success but rather as an outline to be adjusted and filled in as the days, weeks, and months unfold.  In the end, it becomes an attitude choice on our part: We can cling to our expectation-driven plans, or we can cultivate an eye of faith that allows us to find deep satisfaction in the Lord’s sovereignty that is more sure than our expectations and plans.



Do not boast about tomorrow, 

For you do not know what a day may bring forth.  Proverbs 27:1



Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.”  Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow.  James 4:13-14a


Thought For The Day

 "Who you are inside is what helps you make and do everything in life."

                                                                             Fred Rogers

Friday, May 26, 2023

Thought For The Day

 "Happiness is not a goal, it's a by-product."

                                        Eleanor Roosevelt

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Flowers and Fruit

 “April showers bring May flowers….”  So the saying goes.  And here we are: after those April showers, new life is springing forth everywhere we turn.  For the gardeners among us, this is a happy season indeed.  For those of us who are less enthused, we tend to bemoan the need to trim shrubs and pull weeds.  But all of us can appreciate the rhythm of the seasons with which the Lord has blessed us.  And, we can all learn and grow from it.


The seasons in our life do not always reflect the natural season outside our windows, but we, too, have seasons of cold and darkness, dormancy and rain, followed by growth and life.  


If we face a time of cold and darkness, even of trials and suffering, we can exercise perseverance and walk through it with patience, confident that the Lord works even the most acute hardship for our good: Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.   And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  (James 1:2-4).  This is faith life at its most potent: the assurance of hope and the conviction that God’s goodness is at work even if we cannot see it.  Our roots of faith must grow deeper in order to find nourishment and refreshment in a time of apparent drought.


A time of dormancy and rain can be dreary and frustrating.  Just like our trees and shrubs need time to develop and grow underground before they flower and grow above the ground, so it is sometimes the case that we must wait for the Lord’s timing before an active phase of spiritual life and ministry begins.  Jesus spent his childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood out of the public eye and then spent 40 days alone in the wilderness dealing with the temptations offered by Satan before He began His public ministry.  And just as Jesus relied on God’s Word to return those temptations back to hell from where they came, we must rely on the Word of the Lord: Christ Himself.


And then as we abide in Christ as the true vine, the time will come when we bear fruit, much fruit.  The fruit-bearing season is preceded by rapid growth and activity.  It is a time of energy and opportunity.  It is also a time of pruning: Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.  (John 15:2).  As we grow and minister, the Lord sanctifies us so that our fruit manifests His goodness and abundance.  In other words, He pulls the spiritual weeds out of our hearts and minds so that nothing restrains or detracts from the fruit He is bearing through us and the joy that comes with bearing that fruit.


While seasons of life are often individual and personal, there is a corporate element to abiding in Christ and bearing fruit as well.  As the body of Christ, it is crucial for us to join together before the Lord in worship, prayer, and study, to invest in deep relationship with one another, and then to bear fruit as we use our gifts in a coordinated manner to powerfully minister to those in our community.  Although we are a small body, we have an amazing collection of gifts.  And with the Lord doing His loaves and fishes thing, we can look forward to bearing some exciting fruit for God’s kingdom.

Monday, May 8, 2023

The Power of Repentance


"A stiff apology is a second insult… The injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged; he wants to be healed because he has been hurt."

                                                                                                             G.K. Chesterton 




Friday, March 31, 2023

Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus

 For believers, April brings a resounding cry: He is risen!  Indeed!  This is the time when we remember Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross for us, for His death as payment before God for our sins, and then His resurrection as the first fruits of His redemptive work on our behalf.  The death and resurrection of Christ are two of the best attested events in ancient history.  And all four Gospel accounts bear witness to the fact that Jesus Christ died and was raised on the third day.  For us.


The death and resurrection of Christ is the bedrock of Christian faith.  And while believers are quick to profess belief in that truth, we are not always quick to remain grounded on that bedrock.  Not unlike the Israelites who quickly forgot the LORD’s work in parting the Red Sea as they grumbled in the wilderness, we often forget that our foundation is Christ and His death and resurrection.  We thank God for His sacrifice and praise Him for the power of the resurrection.  And then we go through our days hurried and distracted, looking for ways to feel good about ourselves apart from the Lord.


I think it might be helpful to consider that Good Friday and Easter are not events that are isolated from Christ’s entire time on earth as God Incarnate.  In Philippians 2, we read that in becoming incarnate, Jesus emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant.  He patiently grew through His childhood as a member of a family.  And even though He knew who He was when He spent a good bit of time in His Father’s house—the temple—as a twelve-year-old (Luke 2), He remained patient through almost two decades before beginning His public ministry.  Jesus submitted to baptism (Matthew 3) and then spent forty days in the wilderness fasting and being tempted by Satan (Matthew 4).  Christ’s life as God Incarnate was a series of choices that reflected His ongoing relationship with the Father as a day to day commitment.


Jesus was able to fulfill His mission on earth by living out His relationship with the Father on a day-to-day, choice-by-choice basis.  And we have a mission as well!  The Lord has created us for good works, prepared by God beforehand, so that we would walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).  If we are to walk in those good works and obey Christ as He calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Him (Luke 9:23), we must abide in Him as branches on a vine and follow Christ as we live our day-to-day lives on a choice-by-choice basis.  As we learn to do this, something amazing happens.  We become increasingly free from the appearance, performance, and status standards that the world would place on us.  We become less driven by self interest and more driven by the Holy Spirit.  We become better able to love.  We become more like Christ.  And we are able to experience the peace and joy that He offers.


Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Thought For the Day and For the Year

 "More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness."

                                                                Charlie Chaplin

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Faith For The Day

 Mental health professionals often stress the importance of being present in the here and now moment as we live our day-to-day lives.  These mental health professionals have recognized an important truth in the way the Creator has created His creatures, even though they might be surprised to realize that their position is actually grounded in Scriptural truth.  


God Almighty is eternal, without beginning, without end.  The I AM is the essence of unchanging being, at all times.  He has created us in His image, for unending relationship with Him.  Christ died to cover our sins to make that possible.  The eternal Holy Spirit dwells within us as the first fruits of an abiding relationship with the Triune Godhead that will be fulfilled in heaven as we spend eternity in His presence.


I am not good at living in the present.  Scars from my past tend to make me quite apprehensive about the future, and so I am continually scanning the horizon looking for threats.  Many if not most of us spend a good bit of time looking backward in time as we process a myriad of experiences and then forward to prepare for future experiences.  But when we do so, we risk missing the here and now (Matthew 6:25-34).  


The Apostle Paul and the author of the epistle to the Hebrews both encourage their readers to avoid bitterness.  Avoiding bitterness requires us to exercise forgiveness so that we are not bound to past hurts and offenses inflicted by others.  The Apostle Matthew records in his Gospel Jesus’s exhortation to not worry about the needs of tomorrow but rather be seeking God’s kingdom in faith. 


The Gospels are full of accounts of Jesus living in the present moment as He ministered during His time on earth.  One of the most powerful examples is described toward the end of the Gospel of Luke, in Chapter 10.  By this time, the Jewish authorities have given Jesus and His disciples good reason to believe that they are looking for a way to get Jesus out of their way, to eliminate their competition, as they see it.  In this chapter, Jesus is clearly preparing for His crucifixion as He foretells the suffering that is coming in Verses 32-34.  But instead of focusing on past conflict with the Jews or on His upcoming suffering, Jesus takes time to bless children—considered insignificant in that culture—to deal patiently with James and John as they asked Him for special treatment, and to heal a blind beggar.  Jesus remains present even when there was a good bit in His recent past and upcoming future to think about.



A few weeks ago, I went out in our back yard for my morning time of dog play.  It was damp, chilly, and foggy.  But as I walked past our miniature Japanese maple tree, I noticed droplets of water clinging to the ends of its many branches, shining.  It was truly magical, and I forgot about the dreary conditions and my lack of enthusiasm for the activity.  Dog play soon commenced, and by the time I walked by the tree again, the light had changed and the droplets of water, while visible, were no longer glowing.  I processed the incident as I collected dogs and tennis balls and went indoors.  Had I not taken that blink of time to appreciate our bare but transformed little tree, the Lord would not have been able to bless me with that glimpse of His creative goodness.  And once again, I am able to see a cycle of blessing: as I pay attention to what is before me in the present, I am blessed with glimpses of the Lord’s personal goodness.  And that attentiveness strengthens my mental health and the ability to remain in the present moment and see more of what the Lord is doing.   



To be alive to the wonder of the commonplace, I thought, that is the very gift of a wildly generous Creator, who ever invites his creatures to contemplate the exuberance of his excellent handiwork.  There is a deep and abiding joy at work in this worlds-realm, and we who toil through our lives do often forget this, or overlook it.  But look: it is all around!  Ceaseless, unrelenting, certain as sunrise, and constant as the rhythm of a heartbeat.

                                                                                                    Stephen Lawhead


Saturday, February 4, 2023

November in February

 February brings Valentine’s Day and thoughts of love and romance.  Perhaps a candlelight dinner at a secluded table for two, soft music in the background, and a special meal of … roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie?


Wrong holiday?  Not necessarily!  While the turkey, stuffing, mashed potato, and pumpkin pie menu takes us back to Thanksgiving, there is an important link between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day.  If we want to love well—romantically and otherwise—cultivating a grateful heart is essential.


At Thanksgiving, we are reminded to count our blessings and offer praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for His goodness and gracious provision.  That is a very good thing, especially since giving thanks does not always come naturally to us.  Giving thanks requires us to turn from our all too common and self-focused grumbling and look with eyes of faith toward the Lord and others.  And this looking outward, beyond ourselves, enables and empowers us to love more genuinely and deeply.  


This brings us back to Valentine’s Day.  While romantic dinners and kind gestures toward others can be appropriate expressions of love, I would like to suggest that applying the principles of thanksgiving to those we want to love can be more powerful and longer lasting.  If we want to generate thankfulness in relationship, we need to look at others with that intent, to see beyond their annoying habits, idiosyncrasies, and faults to those qualities that remind us that they are image-bearers of their Creator.  And as we come to appreciate them, we can love them more fully.


The essence of thanksgiving is the giving of thanks.  So as we become thankful for someone, it is essential that in addition to thanking God, we thank the person, express appreciation.  The Apostle Paul models this as he addresses the believers in the church at Thessalonika:


We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father….You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.  I Thessalonians 1:2-3, 6-7.


Paul shepherds the congregations under his supervision with care and attention.  He knows them, and what they are doing.  He thanks God for them and then takes the time to share his appreciation of them in detail.  What an encouragement that must have been for this early church, new in the faith living in a pagan world, and facing the ongoing threat of persecution.  And so it all comes together: Paul has committed his heart and mind toward cultivating gratitude.  He expresses that in the continual giving of thanks, encouraging and blessing others in love.  His encouragement of them reinforces his attitude of gratitude, generating continual encouragement.  It is a theme that runs through his epistles.  


As we seek to love others in this “love month,” may we, like Paul, turn our hearts to the Lord in gratitude and thanksgiving so that we may love as He loves.


Monday, January 2, 2023

A DIWG New Year

 Now that we are past Christmas and the New Year is upon us, it easy to develop a dutiful “the party is over” mindset.  We return to school and/or work.  And, we gear up to pay for the party, so to speak: holiday bills, holiday pounds, exhaustion, and the all-too-common strained family relationships from family gatherings, all of which often generate or exacerbate fatigue, depression, and anxiety.  We pay more attention to budgeting, we ponder the fastest and least painful way to lose weight and gain fitness, we set a new bed time, and we promise ourselves to change our participation in family gatherings even as we sometimes deal with guilt and shame because of our present condition.


It is easy to understand why New Year’s resolutions are a common theme in January.  This is the time of year when we encounter and confront the consequences and the cumulative consequences of our choices, some of them poor ones.  The typical approach to a New Year’s resolution is to browse the ads and offers of a quick DIY fix on our medium of choice.  We plan to get our act together as quickly as possible and then get on with life.  


But the quick DIY approach can be discouragingly counterproductive.  It was first introduced to humanity by no other than Eve in the Garden of Eden.  She engaged in conversation with the serpent by herself, even though Adam was at her side and the LORD was certainly within calling distance.  She made the fateful choice herself, largely attracted by the serpent’s lie that the forbidden fruit would make her wise like God—so that she could continue to do life herself.  We can’t fix ourselves, and when we try, we become self-focused and vulnerable to the pride that was exposed and exploited in the Garden of Eden.  C.S Lewis puts it this way:

            Teachers, in fact, often appeal to a boy's Pride, or as they call it, his 

            self-respect, to make him behave decently: many a man has overcome 

            cowardice, or lust, or ill-temper, by learning to think that they are 

            beneath his dignity--that is, by Pride.  The devil laughs.  He is perfectly 

            content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled 

            provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride--

            just as he would be quite content to see your chilblains cured if he was 

            allowed, in return, to give you cancer.  For Pride is spiritual cancer: it 

            eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common 




Another problem with the DIM (“DO IT MYSELF”) approach is that it invites us to become performance oriented.  We follow the way of the world and measure our value and status in society by how well we perform and how closely we conform to the expectations of our culture.  This generates a competitive attitude, making it difficult if not impossible to find contentment and peace and to love as our Lord calls us to love.


We can give up and stay as we are.  We can charge forward to fix ourselves anyway.  Or, we can consider a Biblical approach.  We can put our need before the throne of God that is both perfect and full of grace.  We can DIWG—Do It With God.


The DIWG approach means that we find our identity and value in Christ and our place among His people.  We look for the Holy Spirit to do His sanctifying work in us as we walk in faith and in the fellowship of believers.  We not only talk the talk of faith, but we do our best to walk the walk.  As we worship and minister in the body, our weaknesses and sin patterns will be exposed.  We will be invited to confess and repent, to grow in conforming to the character of Christ.  And as we do that, we will find that becoming whole, as our Creator intended, involves our bodies and minds as well as our souls and spirits.  If we want to become who the Lord created us to be and to fulfill His purposes for us, we need to pursue physical and mental health as well.  


Research has demonstrated that a healthy lifestyle of good nutrition, exercise, and adequate sleep is essential for brain health and our ability to make wise choices.  And brain health and wise choices are essential in our faith walk.  And the cycle continues: Our faith walk—built on deepening and growing relationships with the Lord and His people—also supports a healthy lifestyle as it enables us to fail without shame and to grow as we both humbly and confidently abide in Christ and depend upon the work of the Holy Spirit within us.  


I, for one, find that I am surprised that 2023 arrived so quickly.  I don’t feel that I have managed to clean up after 2022 yet!  But ready or not, 2023 is here.  May we accept the Lord’s invitation to seek wholeness in Him as we in turn invite the resident Holy Spirit to make Himself at home, choosing to keep company with our spiritual brothers and sisters to prosper that work in all of us.