Don’t Take the Bait

Offense is some the best bait the enemy has in its tackle box.

Even sound, kind, good intentioned words can be twisted by an offended mind into something different than intended.

So when speaking: We should aim to never be intentionally offensive with our words — and never compromise the truth out of fear that it might offend.

And when listening: We should aim to not read or hear with an offended mind — but take every opportunity to listen, consider, respect, love, and freely forgive others even when we believe they are wrong — and pray for them and for our own forgiving hearts even the more fervently if we believe they have been hurtful towards us.

Because their saying/writing something hurtful once in a heated moment is not nearly as dangerous as us replaying it against them repeatedly in our hearts and minds.

I realize that a lot of what we as Christians share is convicting and easily leads to offense for those who do not believe and are still enemies of God. And even us sharing with each other because of season and circumstances can have us sharpening each other and disagreeing at times.

Friend, I still love and respect you whether we agree or disagree at any given moment or discussion. Please don’t ever think that my friendship or love is contingent upon you living up to any expectations on my part.

Dealing with sensitive discussions about sin and repentance is hard in a world that seeks to justify anything and everything that a person feels, desires or believes as “their own truth”.

And politically speaking in this election year, neither liberal/Democrat nor conservative/Republican match perfectly what I believe is the Christian Kingdom way of living that is just+loving and fiscally responsible + generous. Walking the narrow path rather than choosing a clan/party leaves a lot of room for others on both sides to hate you — just because you aren’t “along with them for the ride”. The religious people killed Jesus, not the lawless — so we can expect very challenging issues from the religious side of others — and even from that nature within ourselves — making war against whatever in us is bringing the good fruit into the world.

I’m too often very direct and not very personable in my writing. I too often state facts meant in love, but that I haven’t taken the times to knock off the sharp edges with a gentle delivery. I can at times use the poor excuse that I’m trusting the Word will not fall void — but in actuality, sometimes it is my laziness and apathy that has me sowing seed without first tending to the ground. It would be better building a trusting relationship that can accept my fingers poking seeds into the ground, pulling up weeds, or even hard plowing. And too many times I’ve been quick to use the plow in my hand because it was there, not necessarily because it was the right tool for the season.

I’m sorry for the times that in my ignorance and zeal I may have torn through a beautiful flower garden someone else was already working on.

However, it is beautiful how the Lord uses all of it, even turns all of it to His good and His glory when we each can humble ourselves to admit our weaknesses and acknowledge Him. He has used these things to teach me things I’ve done that missed the mark, and even in the foolish of my preaching, to teach others things that they did that missed the mark too. But whether we are missing the mark or not should not have us questioning His ability to save, or the blessed assurance of our own salvation — even when it does produce in us a renewed fear of God and call to repentance.

In our natural, we link fear and conviction to “negative feelings” — but by His spirit, these are the very vehicle He uses to humble us to the only true “positive truth” that there is only one true way and that is to die to self, give up everything that we have been clinging to or desiring or demanding, and sit at His feet like sweet, childlike Mary, not like busy, judging, active, offended Martha.

And even though it is a repeated process, like sheep prone to go astray at the next distraction, we need each other bringing us to remembrance of that process or we won’t do it. In most cases, I see Him using two people with slightly different “missing the mark” issues in their heart at the time — not to show the one that the other was right — but to show both how He can use sheep in opposite ditches to remind them both of their need for the shepherd, even by their cries towards each other, “Hey, watch out, you’re in a ditch!”

It really is a beautiful thing, and I appreciate how the more pastoral (tending personality and up close to the hurt) and evangelical (longing for the lost) gifts — in these times can temper and correct the prophetic (calling for repentance) and preaching (proclaiming the written Word of God) gifts. I’ve seen Him work far beyond our individual “good intentions” at the time, opening my eyes to an awareness of areas He is still working on in us — and assuring me that even sparring with a fellow warrior for Christ is not a death match, but a journey in humility and love and appreciation for Him and for each other. I’m glad to have been sharpened and humbled by so many wonderful Christian friends and been rescued to repentance when I’ve found myself initially offended instead of humbled.

Breaking Through

More good questions from Brian Eshleman:

Then many came to Him and said, “John performed no sign, but all the things that John spoke about this Man were true.” And many believed in Him there.

REF: These people who now find their faith rooted in Christ had to uproot from their usual influences, leave the orbit of the Jewish leaders who are moving toward condemning Jesus, and go TOWARD Him on the other side of the Jordan.How has Christ preceded greater intimacy with and confidence in Him by challenging you to put distance between yourself and what or whom you previously trusted?ANSWER:I have many friends who are preachers, pastor, missionaries, and good and faithful Christian servants. And every single one of them is a fallible man or woman. At certain times, the Lord has brought me closer to certain ones for a season, and He has then brought me closer to others for a season. And this has truly been the pattern of my life — changing from school to school, neighborhood to neighborhood, church to church, job to job, circle of friends to circle of friends. Change is a constant in my life — like a wanderer with no place to put his head for very long before moving on, I have found myself a traveler through this world.

And accusations will arise (whether only in my mind or even in the mouths of my accusers) that I cannot build relationships at anything deeper than surface level, that I do not remain amongst them because I was not of them, that I am a coward that runs away when the battle comes, that I am headstrong and unteachable, that I do not love whatever doesn’t agree with me or challenges me. And while I do not believe these lies against who Christ says that I am, I am not either wise enough or foolish enough to try and defend myself from such accusations that might have mountains of evidence gathered against me to prove the claims. If I am these things, it is my own fault — and if I am not these things, it is only by the grace of God.

I say this about myself to assure you that I am just as fallible as the next man. And at times, the Lord has drawn me close to others — close enough to have a good wrestle and sharpening that might have two warrior brothers wondering afterwards at the powerful struggle — whether the other intended to spar for skillful sharpening or was driven to wound or kill. Good training can look and feel so much like real warfare that we can become fully immersed and forget the true enemy is not flesh ands blood. Like someone suffering from PTSD, common stimuli can even trigger a reaction as if we were in a very real battle for our lives. And at times, wounded sparring partners who we once trusted to wield their sword against us for the equipping of the saints, may lash out at us — or we may do the same to them.

These are the situations that I have encountered most frequently requiring distance for a time between me and others who were once intimate and close.And in every case, it was profitable to put my trust fully in God and not in man — and trust that He has a plan and purpose even for the tides that pull the shells onto the beach (like gathering stones) and that also pull the shells away to scatter them across the ocean (like scattering stones). I’ve found, like the author of Ecclesiastes alludes to, that intellectually trying to put God’s ways into a box of human understanding and cataloguing and prediction is futile.So when distance is necessary, I tend to my wounds best by inspiring that I am praying for my brother or sister — not that God will “fix whatever I think is wrong with them” but to fix everything in my heart or my eyes towards them that isn’t aligned with how He sees them — washed by the Blood of the Lamb, cleansed of all righteousness, walking by the Holy Spirit, with their footsteps established firmly upon the rock of Christ alone or Cornerstone — ridding myself of any bitterness, strife, jealously, envy, unforgiveness, offense, accusations, etc. that I might have towards them. This is not always a one prayer or overnight process.

And even once cleansed of these things (to insure that the distance is God’s will and purpose in our individual callings and not just my own foolish pride creating distance) — there are seasons where the distance truly makes the heart grow fonder (whether that distance be only physical separation or even a withdrawing of the times of trust). We must allow people to go through challenging sessions. We must allow people to fall ands get back up. We must allow for the weaknesses in our brothers and sisters to not have us readying stones to throw at them because there is something we could rightly accuse them of — because Child of the Living God who has ears to hear me, WE ARE NOT THE ACCUSERS! If we find ourself an accuser, we must repent now while there is time.

After this I awoke and looked around, and my sleep was sweet to me.

Jeremiah 31:26, New King James Version

REF: Previously, Jeremiah has confessed/complained that it is wearying being God’s messenger, but everywhere he goes he seems to stir up contention with a complacent culture. Jeremiah 31:26, then, is a healthy celebration of the other side of that role. Carrying message and ministry for God can also be renewing and invigorating. We should remind ourselves, those around us, and those who follow us of this.Who have you known who did that in a particularly noticeable and memorable way? For whom has telling and living out God’s message to you been a delight rather than a source of drudgery, seems to recharge them rather than deplete them? Have you seen this same person persevere through times when it seemed the opposite was true?ANSWER:It is especially encouraging to the hard laboring, sword wielding warrior — who has either been zealously sparring to equip for battle, or literally charging into the active fray — to realize that stirring up contention may indeed “feel wearying” in the moment, but when carrying message and ministry for God’s glory (and not for self examination or condemnation of others) that renewal and restoration will come after the day’s “workout”. Like a good strength training coach would remind his team, “Nopain, no gain” could be a quite common reality cry for the active Christian life. So my mind is drawn to both the “noticeably joyful” pastors like Sal Barone at First Baptist Spartanburg, and the “persevering and celebrating” saints like the late Reid Bowyer, the late Justin Sage Williams, and more recently Dave Walton and Grace Pierce who I have seen face uncontrollable challenges and still praise the Lord in the middle of their storm.It is hard to single out just one example of a saint who is noticeable or memorable in their handling adversity, because I see Christ all around me in this way. Whether it is my mother, Jean Ballinger, who cares so steadfast and reliably for my grandmother each day and praises the Lord even when the day reveals the limits of her own strength. Or whether it is my father, Jim Ballinger, who loves ands cars for us all and who has weathered the loss of his mother this season while clinging to God and serving God faithfully without missing a step. Or whether it is Christy Pierce and Tom Pierce, seeing their daughter face what seems like such an unfair hand of cards dealt to her and to their family, and trusting that somehow God has a plan and a purpose. Or whether it is so many friends who have lost jobs, family members, friends in this pandemic, and who have drawn closer to God rather than just rail against Him for how it feels in the moment. Or even those who did break under the pressure and blame God and tail at Him, but who had the chance to let the tears and surrender come that drew them back to the only one strong enough to carry them through it all.Honestly, I’m not as amazed at the people as I am amazed and in awe and wonder at an amazing ands wonderful God who fulfills His promises to His people. Instead of just seeing heroes in each of these names, and pointing them out as “good people” — I’m going to tell you that if you look closer, you will see flawed, imperfect people carrying something quite different, quite noticeable, quite wonderful along with them through this journey — the Holy Spirit of the Living God. What seems like a ridiculous claim is actually true — Emmanuel, God is with us! Sleep well, my hard laboring warriors, He is with us, and the victory is already won! Amen.


A few great questions from my friend Brian Eshleman this morning:

40 And He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was baptizing at first, and there He stayed. 41 Then many came to Him and said, “John performed no sign, but all the things that John spoke about this Man were true.” John 10:41-42, New King James Version

QUESTION: There isn’t an exact parallel. Christ is omnipresent. Yet surely there are times when we sense His Presence more, times, even, when He might withdraw that most intimate sense to teach us to persevere, to make an effort to seek and celebrate Him as superior to any other option.

How has He brought you through a similar dark night of the soul? How has He challenged you to push your roots deeper than what you already knew of Him in familiar circumstances?



I recently lost my job unexpectedly in the midst of the COVID pandemic. While facing the very real possibilities of this impacting my family’s ability to remain on the farm in the house that we had built together and made a home — I found myself having to stand on the promises of God, even while making special efforts to shore up our financial situation and find immediate employment. And I found myself needing to praise Him even more loudly and boldly in order to reassure myself that He had not forsaken me or forgotten me.

24 And there shall dwell in Judah itself, and in all its cities together, farmers and those going out with flocks. 25 For I have satiated the weary soul, and I have replenished every sorrowful soul.” Jeremiah 31:24-25, New King James Version

QUESTION: Similarly to the first question, God points here to the satisfaction of the weary soul and the replenishing of the sorrowful soul, something different, deeper than we experience if our experience with Him has been steady.

What means has God used to point out that your satisfaction in Him is more profound because of the difficult seasons He has brought you through, that by His grace, you see the same old Judah, the same old surroundings, as something profound because you are more aware He placed you in them, or in them again, by specific grace?


In this special season of having to trust that God has a plan and a purpose in this recent change, He not only brought us to a place where we dispatched our slavery to our debtors (by paying off all lingering debts to improve our monthly cash flow by eliminating those debts) and we committed to a seed of faith to the church (by scheduling payment of what would have been our old tithe amount — but immediately after our obedience in these small matters, He provided new employment offers from 3 different companies that even competed with their counter-offers to hire me. This now provides me a new position with a new team of individuals to encourage and lift up and help them shine — even as I stay in touch with my old teammates from the previous job.

Lord, when I am thankful and grateful for where you have taken me as part of your intentional, blessed, sovereign plan — I can even rejoice in what the enemy meant for harm, because you turned it for good. But even moreso, I can praise you in the dark before I see evidence of this turning of my circumstances — trusting each time that you are faithful and true, proclaiming that thou haven’t failed me yet and that you never will — regardless of the darkness of night, because the morning dawn lies close ahead. You are not just “as close” in those dark times, but it is you who carry us through those times. It is not one set of footsteps in the sand because you have left and forsaken us, but because you carried us through it, even when we were too weak to do it ourselves and it was beyond our own abilities to resolve. May the root of our faith be firmly founded in you, not in our own abilities, and may our attitude, love and service towards those around us humbly reflect this in our every day — so that they see you because we see you — no matter the dark of the storm we see you like a lighthouse shining forth, leading us home. Amen.


Just as the rich rule the poor, so the borrower is servant to the lender.

Proverbs 22:7 NLT

“Rule” is good when generously and justly serving the people, so we mustn’t mistake “rule” as always having a negative connotation. This isn’t saying poor is good and rich is bad, or vice versa. It is stating a fact about the relationship. If we are fiscally responsible and wisely steward the gifts and talents given to us, we will be in a position to help others who are not in our position — but whether we lift them up or push them down will determine what our “rule” looks like.

Matthew Henry’s Commentary on this verse: “Those that have little will be in subjection to those that have much, because they have dependence upon them, they have received, and expect to receive, support from them: The rich rule over the poor, and too often more than becomes them, with pride and rigour, unlike to God, who, though he be great, yet despises not any. It is part of the affliction of the poor that they must expect to be trampled upon, and part of their duty to be serviceable, as far as they can, to those that are kind to them, and study to be grateful.

And when we are borrowers, we are accepting the rule of others over us. In general, “borrowing” most of the time isn’t for covering our “needs”. Most of us could have a place to sleep (even if in a shelter or a friend’s couch), and enough food and water to survive and live a very simple life of survival until we work hard enough to save up and pay for things. But we see the way of the world is to sell us loans, credit cards, and payday advances to encourage a “enjoy it today and worry about it tomorrow” mindset that signs over our financial freedom to someone else. This is a hard lesson when learned through foolish financial decisions.

More of Matthew Henry’s commentary on this verse: “Those that are but going behindhand find themselves to lie much at the mercy of those that are before hand: The borrower is servant to the lender, is obliged to him, and must sometimes beg, Have patience with me. Therefore it is part of Israel’s promised happiness that they should lend and borrow, Deu. 28:12. And it should be our endeavour to keep as much as may be out of debt. Some sell their liberty to gratify their luxury.

More credit/finance related verses can be found here:

Our family has benefited greatly from Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University — which should be basic elementary school teaching right after kids learn math, not optional necessarily something that they learn at college age or later in life after having been raided by high interest ands bad decisions. What Dave teaches isn’t radical, it’s elementary. Unfortunately, it is counter culture in the middle of a prosperity and instant gratification world that swirls around us tempting our senses and feelings to buy so many things that we don’t need, but that we want — and that convinces us that we must have it RIGHT NOW even if that means using credit rather than patient planning and saving in order to get it.

Pressing On

A friend from church, Katie Waters, who leads the 4Kids program at 4 Points Church, recently highlighted this encouraging verse in the Bible App, and it especially caught my heart this morning:

Paul in his letter to the Philippians, recorded in this new testament book of the Bible, makes it clear that he has not yet “arrived” at perfection, but that he is pressing on to possess it — and he reminds us of the most important part, “for which Christ Jesus first possessed me”.

Yes, knowing and believing that Christ Jesus loved us first while we were yet His enemies, and that He did it out of mercy ands grave towards us that eas totally undeserved is the key that truly unlocks the shackles of our old way to a new way, to The Way.

In fact, good Christian lovers of your enemies, we aren’t even striving to live perfectly in the eyes of other people — we are pressing on for more of the old “me” to be burned away by these trying fires and for more of “Christ in me” to be revealed.

Religious people can fake “living clean lives” and justify to themselves and others why they are better than “those people who live filthy lives” — and be no more a true Christian with saving faith — than a crypt that a scam artist might repaint the outside and try to convince a fool to buy as mansion to live in.

You have not arrived at perfection, my friend. Nor are you lowly and forgotten of you whil lady down your life, believe upon Him, and give Him all the glory instead of seeking it for yourself.

How easy it is to fall off either side of the path when we set our eyes upon ourselves — think too highly of ourselves or too likely of ourselves — because we are thinking of OURSELVES!!! The beauty of the gospel is setting our eyes upon Jesus, upon Christ alone our Cornerstone. And in doing that, let the raging fire of His presence in our lives melt away both our pride and our shame to make it about pressing on to Him — not just “towards a better us”, but TO HIM.

Christianity isn’t about “being perfect”, or even “being better”, or even “living best” because all those are about “me”. Christianity is truly about surrendering our old life to allow Christ to live through us, and for Him to get all the glory for His work that He has done both at the cross, upon the throne, and through our lives here on earth.

Yes, this is a “simple fundamental” of the faith and isn’t some earth shattering new revelation or some wise, hidden treasure dug out from hiding — out is clearly on display for our minds to consider. But I wonder how often our mind hearing this repeatedly as a fundamental might have left it buried and undelivered to our hearts for the pressing and the crushing and the humbling repentance to have its way on not just our intellect, but our innermost.

Lord, thank you for everything that is worth anything. Help us to lay it all down for what is truly best. Help us to keep our eyes on you. Comfort us in love with your rod and your staff when we are distracted, and lead us along The Way. Amen.

Grazing or Bingeing?

My friend Brian Eshelman commented on a Charles Spurgeon sermon that thou can read here in full: I wonder not as much whether at times a sermon has been lacking in food for my soul so that I could point a finger at any certain teacher and question their anointing or the status of their closeness with the Lord (though we who preach should be quite mindful ourselves of such dangers) — but I wonder how often I may have been judging the value and purpose of a meal based on my own feelings, thoughts, and conclusions in the moment — expecting revelation to always and continually shoot straight up high into the like a weed that will wither, instead of trusting that the Word itself is doing work to build a strong root system that I might not even be aware of yet, but that will support a strong tree.It reminds me that the Lord promises grazing beside still, calm waters and peace in the storm — not immediate gratification of my wants and desires.Are my spiritual “expectations” like a “Karen” at Burger King demanding “her way” and demanding it “right now” — or am I content to wait for the smoker to cook to perfect tender perfection a steak that has been aged to perfection?Patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.While impatience is pridefully demanding an expectation that we have about how something “should be” because we disagree with what sovereign Almighty God has revealed in the reality of our circumstances.How often have we aligned with that enemy of God in our grumbling and impatience instead of glorifying God and trusting Him fully?I see much room for repentance in this area. Lord forgive me and help me. Amen.

Living Renewed

Colossians chapter 3 is all about living this renewed life. And to understand that it isnt a list of “you must” or “you mustn’t” statements, is to grasp the encouragement of the gospel, to rely upon the promises of God, and to surrender the throne of our heart to God.

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.
Colossians 3:1‭-‬2 NLT

Yes, being raised to life means putting to death our old life. It means resisting temptation, but that really means longing for God and His Way. A Christian who loves God ands is seeking first the Kingdom of God sees the worthlessness of what they are “giving up” in comparison to the riches they have found in Christ Jesus. Who would cling to stale bread that clearly has a deadly fungus growing on it when there is fresh, warm, good bread for our consumption? But this is exactly what we do when we don’t see sin for what it really is and we don’t fully trust that The Way is best.

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.
Colossians 3:5‭-‬10 NLT

And as we shift our focus and direction, and as we set our eyes on heavenly things — The Way we are to go of true holiness is not high minded and alone like a religious zealot, looking down on the sin of others. It is The Way of forgiveness, humility, mercy, gentleness and love — not of pride. Pride is sin that we are putting behind us. So we are not looking harder at ourselves in a mirror — or looking harder at others — but we are setting our eyes upon God.

If we fall into the shame of self criticism or into the pride of self exaltation, we will see others with pointing fingers, accusations, unfair expectations, etc. We must choose to see “them” and “ourselves” how He sees us, washed by the Blood of the Lamb, clean from the stains of sin, forgiven, beloved, and holy as He is holy.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.
Colossians 3:12‭-‬17 NLT

Smells like…

Have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Philippians 2:5 GW

Philippians 2:5 was my morning verse today, and it is quite a follow up to Mark Pangel’s sermon from Ephesians 5:1 calling us to imitate God:

Imitate God, since you are the children he loves.
Ephesians 5:1 GW

So I first looked at a few different translations to see the harmony between the different Bible translations:

And (laughingly) “like a good scholar”, then I started looking into the greek words themselves:

τοῦτο (“this” or “that”)

But as I began to dig this morning, it was as if I realized that the treasure wasn’t going to be in the digging into this particular verse — that I had highlighted in green (I use green to highlight commands/calls to action) — but in the following verses that I had highlighted in purple (I use purple to highlight verses about God’s character and nature):

If we are to have a mind (or attitude) like God, to be imitators of God, it seems our focus should be on Him, not ourselves.  So we should look to these following verses to see what that attitude/mind of Christ looks like — or in my experience, I like to say “smells like”. Outward behavior can “look” a certain way but also “smell” differently.  A common phrase to describe this is that we can see something “good” that someone is doing,  but that something can “seem fishy” about their motives. So we don’t just want to be a counterfeit hoping to “look” righteous ourselves — we want our lives to be truly filled with that sweet aroma of the Holy Spirit of Christ in us which does result in a different type of life testimony.

In these verses,  we learn about that “scent” of the genuine. Verses 6 tells us that He was on equal with God, but He didn’t consider his equality with God something to “cling to”. Verses that tell us about Christ being the head and we are the body come to mind, where we are reminded that we each serve a valuable purpose in the Kingdom of God come to mind. And that we should not strive to lift ourselves higher by our own striving for personal honor or glory, but let the vine dresser lift us up if He sees that we have fallen out of place and need to be moved for His glory.

As we look at the remaining verses, we see the pattern emerge — Christ emptied Himself of claims to titles and authority and chose instead to serve humbly. And in doing so, demonstrated the very nature and character that we are to imitate, The Way in which we are to walk — if we want God to be glorified.

Isn’t that the kicker sometimes? That we want to be appreciated, glorified, honored, respected ourselves? That we seek to demand from others the respect or kindness or assistance we expect they should be giving us? Or that we act the same way even towards God as if He owes us to let it go the easy way we think best, so we grumble, complain, or isolate ourselves from Him to chase after other things?

But this is not about accusations or condemnation today. It is about confessing our shortcomings honestly and boldly in the throne room of grace, and by our confessing Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, and trusting in God to fulfill His promises — that we can empty ourselves, humble ourselves — that we can bow our knee at the name of Jesus, and declare that Jesus Christ is Lord — to the glory of God.

This shift in mindset, in attitude, is to one of appreciation and gratitude — willing to face whatever lies ahead as opportunity for God to be glorified even in our trials, challenges, and suffering. And with it comes a peace that passes understanding, and a distinct aroma of a life on fire for God’s glory.

Lord, we are not seeking our own breeding laid low to martyrdom to be thought of highly by other men, nor to be lifted up high in position, title our authority to rule over others — even though we can confess that at times we have thought and behaved in such foolish, wicked ways before when we’r have made it all about getting drunk on the wine of our own gifts, talents, abilities and blessings bringing us attention. Lord, we are reminded that drunkenness of pride smells wretched like the fallen angel and is a stark contrast tho the sweet aroma of Christ Jesus the humble, suffering servant who you have lifted on high as our Lord and Savior. Rid us of the counterfeit, and make us imitators of God. We are Children of God, come walk with us and teach us, and let our time with you have us conformed to your image in everything we do. And let it be in our hearts, truly for your glory and honor alone. Amen.

Are We Listening

If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise. If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding. Fear of the Lord teaches wisdom; humility precedes honor.
Proverbs 15:31‭-‬33 NLT

Listening doesn’t happen with our ears. Sound can be picked up by our ear drums and transmitted to our brains just fine and we can still completely miss it. When Jesus talks about having “ears to hear”, it isn’t about people who are physically sound and don’t need cochlear implants or hearing aids in order to properly receive the sound waves in their physical ears.

When someone has a different opinion from us,  do we diminish or dismiss what they are saying — or take the time to truly consider their perspective?

When someone has something to say about us personally or about something that we have said or done, are we only interested in what strokes our ego — or are we considerate and grateful for the opportunity to consider criticism that we can learn from?

When God tells us His way, are we grumbling and defiant like a child not getting their way in the moment — or are we trusting that He knows best ands that there is a purpose and plan in it that is worthy of us conforming to His way instead of demanding our own?

And I know from personal experience that “truly listening” isn’t just taking the time for my conscious mind to process something either. For example, even when something makes it through my eyes or ears and into my conscious mind to be weighed or considered — if I am already offended, or bitter, or unforgiving,  or hard headed in certain ways — I can see that I have not “truly listened” or given fair consideration to criticism, alternative perspectives, etc. So true “listening” is more than our auditory systems working properly, and it is more than a “conscious mind thing”.

Truly listening, truly hearing, is a thing of the spirit/heart/will of a man. A deaf man cannot hear with his ears, but a proud man does not listen with his mind — because He does not have a receptive spirit/heart/will guiding his thoughts, words and actions.

Do we see the distinction there between cannot (ability) and does not (willingness)?

I wonder how many times I (an able bodied man) have not listened and missed it like a deaf man? Have not seen, and missed it like a blind man? Have not walked with God, and missed it like a lame man? Have not lived an abundant life of humble repentance,  and missed it like a dead man?

And isn’t whether we are listening or not really an indicator of our heart/spirit/will — and whether it is surrendered  to and is aligned/imitating/emanating Christ — or whether we are still trying to rule over our own lives?

What a great opportunity this offers us for repentance, for listening,  for discipline,  for pruning — so that we can bear much great fruit and produce that fragrant aroma that is pleasing to God. What areas of our life need to be cut off and burned so that we can know joy that lasts and grows and expands — rather than momentary happiness, pleasure or escape that is fleeting.

Heavenly Father, we are so grateful for Christ Jesus who can not only heal the deaf, blind, lame, diseased, and dead bodies — but who can do even greater with our innermost being. Help us to eagerly listen, to willingly submit, and to humbly receive. Amen.

Knit Together Relationships

This weekend, my daughter and I are camping together at Orchard Lake Campground in Saluda, NC with my neighbor,  Austin Bruce, and his two boys. Austin and I used to work together and we bought adjoining properties together years ago where we could have small farms and our families could grow up together. We spend evenings together several nights each week in the pool, on the trampoline, in the yard, in the creek, or whatever the kids are interested in (depending on the time of year).

As I woke up this morning, I found myself in awe of “knit together relationships”. After a night where our inflatable mattress deflated and Mia and I found ourselves trapped warmly within our Teton Leef 0 mummy sleeping bags, with her on top of me and with both of us struggling to move (like caterpillars inside confining cocoons), laughing about how silly the situation was, then getting up in the middle of the night to walk to the bath house together — I realized how different this is from my normal nights sound in bed with my sweet wife.

I want them to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself.
Colossians 2:2 NLT

So the first thing I did this morning was to thank my wife. She isn’t here,  but without her,  this trip wouldn’t even be possible. It is the relationship that she and I have together,  it is the marriage we have, and the child we are blessed to parent, and the decisions we have made together,  and the friendships formed that have led to this moment. And I’m grateful to her. And I’m grateful to God for this amazing thing He has done and is doing.

I don’t always remember this. So I am grateful for today’s reminder that He wants us knit together in relationships, encouraging each other in love. And as Austin and I sat by the fire last night in the quiet of a night away from the “normal” that is so blessed and wonderful — this time of talking about God’s mysterious plan and spending time together encouraging each other has me appreciating these moments and also appreciating greater the renewed longing to share moments and encouragement with my wife, my real best friend.

May He knit together beautiful relationships for us, friends. And may our appreciation for Him and His many blessings toward us have us encouraging, appreciating, and loving one another. Amen.