Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Paradise Now







"Deer!" I craned my head to catch a glimpse, as we drove the minivan toward the park. The one with the playground near the city dump. You can't see the dump around the bend. But, the Captain has packed up hazardous wastes and left them there, hoping they'd know what to do with it.

But, before the dump. Before all that trash. 
Trees. 
Conservation area, as it's called here.
And, then deer.
Not just a doe.
A fawn.
With slender legs and spotted side.

I spotted them. Then the children were bouncing in their seats. All grins and giggles.

Our world, our crazy, messed up, beautifully broken world is like that. The stark contrast between the innocent eyes of a fawn and the garbage dump.

And as the deer pants...
So the Psalmist says.

The deer thirsts, it's tongue hung loose.
So thirsty.
Longing,
Like us.

We are thirstier than we know.

Thirsty for a world made new.
Yearning
For death to be gone.
And war a faded memory.
Needing 
To know God.
Pleading to be right with Him.
Without Him, we would wither and die.

I lay me down. Struggling with discontent. And a sadness I couldn't put my finger on. Then I remembered. The escape.
 I don't have to feel this way.

Turning my thoughts from the broken things that linger. I gave thanks. (Isaiah 30:15)

Light pierced through the fog.

Heaven came in.

A life of thankfulness brings heaven here right now, in our hearts. 

We notice the good. Shun the evil. We wait and pray. Our hearts are still. Residing in the green.
That God-shaped hole, giving us palpitations
 Is in the shape of a cross.



Letting go of our idols, we let God fill that empty space.
Only He will suffice.

Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.
Proverbs 11:28, NIV

Seeking the Lord in thankfulnesss
Letting Him fill us
Is a glimmer of grace
A taste
Of heaven on earth.

Paradise found.

Living in the now and the eternal.



What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.






Sunday, August 3, 2014

Baby Steps: Learning to Walk With Our Savior



A friend in her sixties revealed to me something profound. One time, she was about to go inside a store and caught a glimpse of an older woman in the glass door. Then she realized, "I'm that old woman!"

On the inside, in her inner person, she didn't feel old. She saw herself in her thirties.

Sometimes I wonder how old I am on the inside. In some ways, I feel much older than my years, with all the pain and suffering of life. 

But, there are times when I feel like a little child, not really knowing where I'm going or what I'm doing. Coasting along life. Feeling a little lost. Letting others make decisions for me. Making the same mistakes over and over again. Feeling overwhelmed by the bigness of the world.



I don't want to feel old and exhausted by the blows of life nor stuck making the same foolish mistakes and never growing up.




How does a person grow up and be who they were meant to be?





Trying to do things in my own strength is bound to exhaust. Venturing beyond the boundaries of my present naivety is impossible when I'm overwhelmed. What I need is

{GRACE}

Grace. Grace. And more grace. All the time. In every circumstance. When my eyes are opened to my own unworthiness, my sinfulness, my trusting in anyone or anything other than Christ and His power to save. I am undone.

I have nothing to give to God. It's all Him. All is grace.

And He gives it over and over again.

Each and every time, I receive His grace, I am placing my hand in His and receiving His mercy, His strength. 

I am right where I need to be. Walking with Him. It doesn't matter how old or how young I am, He is with me. Leading me. Guiding me into all truth. Creating in me a pure heart. Making me like Himself.





Walking with God is not a moon walk with giant leaps. It's putting one foot in front of the other, leaning on His dependability. He is with us to the very end of the age, every step of the way. In thoughts, words, and deeds.


"The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but theLord looks at the heart.”
1 Samuel 16:7 NIV



Saturday, July 26, 2014

Simple Faith



If the gospel is true, then why doesn't everyone believe in Christ? 

To put it simply, 

Predestination. 

It is the destiny of those who are chosen to believe. 

But, those who believe still have a job to do. To seek out the lost and to present the gospel to them.

Most people are visual learners. What we see is what we believe.

But, we can't see Christ. He is in heaven until He returns. Which may be soon.



Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:1 ESV


How can we believe in Someone we cannot see? And, how can we expect others to believe in Him?



{Agape'}


Which means love in Greek. The kind of love expressed in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:



Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.


Love is invisible until it is expressed, with not just words but in deeds and in truth. The gospel must be lived out in love for people to see it.

That is when the unveiling happens. The revelation. The Divine moment of truth.

Words become reality. The Word becomes visible. Real. 


{Love in the flesh}

So many times, we make Christianity about politics, a cultural standard of morality or living the "American Dream," but it's not about that.

I struggle with this too. The gospel is simple. So simple a child could understand it.

When we stray from it's simplicity, we are going down the wrong path and steering others away from Christ.

The gospel is simple, yet crucial to salvation.

There is One God, One Word, One Faith, One Savior (1 Timothy 2:5).

God loves us and wants us to know Him. He wouldn't make Himself so elusive that we wouldn't know how to find Him.

What makes Jesus

The Christ, our Savior, the Son of the Living God?

No one else claimed to be Divine, did the miracles He did, lived a life of perfect love, and was willing to die for us.

For the bad things we have done.

This simple fact sets Christ apart from all other ways to transcend the earthly to the heavenly. To touch the Divine. The One who holds eternity in His hands came down, as a human, 

A defenseless, helpless baby




To live the perfect life we should have lived and die the death we all deserve to die for our sins (Romans 3:23, 6:23).

Once we place our faith in Christ as the sacrifice for our sins, we are no longer condemned (Rom. 8:1).

Not only that but we are given the righteous standing of Christ Himself. We are marked as a child of God and given the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of the things to come (Eph. 1:13,14).

It seems so simple. Enough for a little child to understand. But, the thing is, none of us would believe if God didn't reach out and give us faith.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of Godnot by works, so that no one can boast. 

Ephesians 2:8,9 NIV

We're too proud. Too attached to living life without Him.

Things would change if we made that commitment.

We would have to make choices.

And, some of them would hurt for a time.

But, all of them would be for our good. And for a greater good and purpose.

Believing in Jesus and following Him is simple, yet life changing. If you haven't made that commitment, I urge you to consider Christ and His salvation. 

There is no other like Him. And, for those who have made the commitment, continue to press on, making the hard choices that come with following Him. He has a plan and purpose in everything. 

One day we'll see.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes...

Romans 1:16 NIV



Thursday, July 17, 2014

Discipleship Matters




I don't know who was more excited about the new film showing at the science center, me or the kids (I would guess, me). This National Geographic lover was swept off her feet by the newest 3-D movie playing, Pandas: The Journey Home

I absolutely adore pandas. They're cute, cuddly and hey, they rhyme with my name. 

Though some may beg to differ, I believe pandas are the most lovable bear on the planet. They have that sophisticated tuxedo look with little beady eyes that say, "Take me home with you."




The film takes place at the Wolong Panda Center, deep in the heart of China. The rescue center was designed to train pandas to survive in the wild.

In order for that to happen, all the baby pandas born at the center were to have no human contact. Then they would be trained to live like a wild panda before being set free.

Although it was a harder life, it was one worth striving for.

No human contact. That reminded me of times in my walk of faith. 

Lonely times when I didn't have a community of believers to come alongside me to encourage and support me. 

It wasn't that I was trying to isolate myself. I would have preferred to be in a fellowship of friends, but I was stuck in a wilderness sort of place and I didn't know when it was ever going to end.

At the same time, I don't think I've ever felt closer to the Lord. 

In the wilderness, I've learned to lean on Him like never before. 

I know that He meant those times to train me. To teach me. to disciple me. That I might have a more closer walk with Him.

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
    and bring her into the wilderness,
    and speak tenderly to her.
15 And there I will give her her vineyards
    and make the Valley of Achor [trouble] a door of hope." 

Hosea 2:14

Sometimes our friends have to be taken out of the way so that we might see Christ better.

It's not punishment, it's discipleship. And, it's meant for our good and for His glory.

And, one day, those times will bear fruit to share with others going through hard times. 

When you have learned to lean on Christ, you can help strengthen others in the faith.

It's always good to be in fellowship, but in those alone times, know that God will shine through. 
He will use this time to draw you nearer to Himself and teach you that 

He is our strength, our satisfaction, our salvation.











Friday, July 4, 2014

Give Me Liberty



It's been more than a year since we moved from our home. Now, we're kind of in limbo. Or "in transit," as I like to call it. Living in a three-bedroom apartment until we can save up for a new home.

Surprisingly, the square footage is slightly larger than our old house; one of the reasons it seemed like a good idea to move. The other reason was The Captain being laid-off from his job, and we wanted the freedom to be able to move to another state for work if need be.

Thankfully, we are still in the fair city of Orlando, and after a year of searching, The Captain is sailing in an ocean of numbers doing accounting work for a company in our area.





Apartment life has it's perks. No lawn to mow. The kids are loving the pool. Aside from the stomping occasionally heard overhead, I sometimes forget this is not a house.

But, then we run into problems like the time The Captain ordered a book from the library, forgetting that he hadn't changed his address on his account. Forwarding at the post office had expired, so the book got sent to our old house.

We either had to find the missing book or buy it. Being the frugal guy that he is, The Captain made a trip down memory lane to our dear old home. He saw a car in the driveway, so he proceded to knock on the door, hoping the new residents would be amiable.

When a middle-aged woman opened the door, The Captain waved. "Hey, uh, I used to live here. Have you received a package with a book for me by any chance?"

The lady shook her head. "No hablo ingles."

Racking his brain for the right word in Spanish, he blurted out, "Libre! Libre!"

On the drive back home, he wondered why she took a step back and shut the door in his face. Why couldn't she have at least tried to look for his book.

It wasn't until later, after watching one of our family's favorite movies, Nacho Libre that we figured out what was lost in translation.

Libro = Book, Libre = Liberty

In effect, he said to the woman, "Liberty! Liberty!"

No telling what she thought. El loco en la cabesa? Anyway, I'm just glad all she did was shut the door.

And, we paid for the book.

This being the birthday of our county's independence or it's day of liberty, it makes me think of something Thomas Jefferson penned in the Declaration of Independence.

That we the people have established the United States in order to be able to have 

"life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."





Life. Liberty. The pursuit of happiness.

All these can be found in Christ.

Life. Eternal life. 

Liberty. We have freedom from the penalty of sin (Romans 6:23), which is death, because of the promise of the Resurrection. The new heavens and earth at the return of Christ.

The pursuit of happiness. Our hearts our happiest when we know we are loved. And, in Christ, the love of God never ends.

May this 4th of July will be a Day of Dependence on the love of Christ to fill our hearts and help us to follow His pursuits as we await for True Liberty to come.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
    he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor...


Isaiah 61:1,2



Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Chosen



It feels good to be chosen. Set apart. Special. Gifted. From third grade on through elementary school, I kept being picked by different teachers to be in an elect group who were made up of mostly children in the gifted program. But, I wasn't gifted. I had an average IQ, even struggled in math.

I didn't understand why I got to be with the cream of the crop, when I didn't by any measurable way, measure up.


We studied humpback whales. Competed in Odyssey of the Mind. Created stories and artwork.


And, I loved every minute of it.


Although I shouldn't have been included, somehow my teachers wanted me to be. I felt awash with grace. 


Then slowly, as a teenager, I lost my spark.


I stopped writing.


I put down my paintbrush.


Somewhere along the way, I came face-to-face with shame. It stifled my creativity, and as a consequence, I buried my gift.


It wasn't until my heart was broken that I recovered my spark.


Through the cracked and hardened earth of my heart, suffering while trusting in Christ, a way was made for new life and creativity.


Christ used my brokenness to allow this heart to heal. 


I felt awash with grace once again and started blogging and joined a writer's group. Since then, I've been working on writing several children's stories and devotionals, which I hope to publish.


In a way, going though the valley of the shadow of death helped me realize how gloriously short life is. 


We have only a little bit of time to make a difference in this world for Christ.


And, the enemy of our soul hates any glimmer of grace, joy, and hope we have to offer to point others to Christ.


One of the most effective tools he uses to keep us stagnant and ineffective is shame.


The only way to fight against it is to know who we are in Christ and to know we are dearly loved.


While we may be feeling like a failure, we must remember this label does not come from God.


The early Christians suffered terrible persecution, and looked to the Scriptures for answers:


"Yet for your sake we face death all day long;

we are considered as sheep
to be slaughtered.

Rise up and help us;

redeem us because of your unfailing love." (Psalm 22,26)

And redeem us, He did.


By the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, God made a way for us to be saved. From all our sins. All our failures. All our shame.


The apostle Paul went on to write in his letter to the church in Rome:






Whatever we have lost. It is found, redeemed in Christ.


Because His love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8) and His grace is always enough.




Sunday, June 22, 2014

In the Zone


When we're in the zone, I mean in it, there's nothing we can't do. When others are weak, we can be strong. We have a purpose. And that purpose is for Christ, for His Kingdom and His glory. 


But, just how do we get there? Whether we realize it or not, most of us are barely surviving day-to-day. 

It helps to have a visual.

To see where we're at and where we need to be.

In the fruitful place of GREEN. 

It all starts with the heart. What zone we are in depends on Who or what are we living for.



THE FOUR ZONES






From thought, to word, to deed...







Bored 
Distracted 
Numbed 
Depressed 






Go to GREEN

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Jeremiah 29:11, NIV



You have a purpose. No matter what is going on in your life, if you've put your trust in Christ, you belong to Him. And, He has special plans for you. Keep looking for those glimmers of His grace to lead you back to Himself.







Thankful
Content
Connected
Intentional




Staying GREEN:

 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 

John 15:9, NIV



We can remain in the GREEN in famine and in plenty, in times of trouble and times of peace. Living according to the Spirit, thanking the Lord for whatever life He has given you, leads to glimmers of joy. We remain in the GREEN by loving Christ and each other. 





Worried
Discontented
Unsettled
Indecisive






Go to GREEN


"You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you."

Isaiah 26:3, NIV



It's a big and scary world. Some things are so huge, they threaten to crush us. But, there is nothing bigger than the love of God. He's got the whole world in His hands. Keeping looking for glimmers of His faithfulness, for He is our peace. 









Fearful
Upset
Impulsive
Vengeful






Go to GREEN

"In repentance and rest is your salvation,
  in quietness and trust is your strength."

Isaiah 26:3


When nothing is going right, be still and just breathe. It's not up to us to control our world. Keep looking for glimmers of hope. God is in control and He knows what He's doing.




It's easy to get caught up in BLUE, YELLOW, or RED. But, we need to go back to GREEN. And stay there. For that is where we are meant to be.