Why is ‘your God’ the one we all have to follow?

To answer people who think that because I am a Christian, that I “want to force my religious beliefs, customs, and traditions on them”,

(and who have understandably pushed back hard against some people who are fighting hard to force certain religious beliefs and practices through government upon those who want no part in such things),

And to answer those who ask:

Why is ‘your God’ the one we all have to follow?

My answer:

“My God is not the one all have to follow.  In fact, He freely gives all of us our own independent free will to choose to either follow Him or deny Him. I don’t even demand that you follow Him or obey some list of rules in order for Him to accept you.

I just want you to know that He loves you enough to not just show you a better way and expect you to walk it — He demonstrates it and says that if you believe,  that He will come live in you and help you walk in the fullness of life.

And “the rules” aren’t even there for you to have to “live up to” — but so that you can see as He lives in you and through you — that you are actually being changed to be more like Him — by Him. I don’t expect those who don’t know Him and love Him to live up to a set of Godly morals or principals,  because I believe that isn’t even possible without His help.

And I know very few will actually know and love Him, and many will hate Him — and because of that,  they will also hate the things that we see as valuable and important to the successful growth and progress of humanity,  society,  etc. I’m not here to force anyone to follow my rules or believe what I believe or practice what I believe.

I’m here to introduce you to Almighty God the Father through the person of Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Spirit of God who lives in me. He is my closest friend and my greatest comfort and encourager. He is my strength, and my hope, and my peace when times are tough. And He is the love that I want to be able to share with you in a way that you can see — past what seems like outward religious traditions and practices — to know the difference inside that makes all the difference.

When you find that thing that you know needs to change and you aren’t strong enough to change it yourself — you can humbly reach out to my God, because He opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble, and because He hears and gives justice to the oppressed.

When life’s circumstances become dark and worrisome and hopeless — you can reach out to my God, because He lifts up the downtrodden.

My God is not a tyrant, but a servant and a friend. Amen.”

If you know me, and if you listen to what I have to say, and if you watch how I treat others — I pray you will see a stark contrast in me to the ugly things that we all know about people who are driving political and religious agendas.

Very religious people (who are dead on the inside and worried about forcing everyone into compliance) have committed atrocities in the name of God throughout the agesbut their God is not my God, and their father is not my Father. Those people are dangerous,  and no matter how much they want to paint themselves white, as pure, as good — my God says that “their insides stink of death”.  He says that you can see it in how they “are jealous and envious”, how they “brag and are arrogant”, how they “are rude and self- serving”, how they  “demand their own way” and “are easily angered”.

But I tell you that I was those things too, and would still be those things but for the grace of God. So let’s not just throw rocks at each other,  but let’s show love to one another — that is The Way that I choose to follow my God..

And if you don’t think you are capable of loving such wretched religious hypocrites — or loving such wretched, filthy sinners — I’ve been both,  and I pray that my God will make it possible for you to forgive me for my many shortcomings and love me — and I forgive you and love you as well.

That is a great place to start — forgiveness and love — because that is the whole of what my God asks of us — not some laundry list of rules.  Amen.

Hurt isn’t a Seed to be Buried

Hurt causes us to see enemies instead of our fellow man. Truly praying good (and meaning it) for “our enemies” — and not wishing justice or vengeance upon them is a shift that needs to happen in all of us.

This shift (into “loving the undeserving”) is aligning ourselves with the gospel instead of opposing it.

Even when we have differing perspectives or even when we have unresolved hurt — the resolution doesn’t come by both sides ignoring it to fester or by continuing to feed the hatred, the bitterness, and the division.

We all need to pray good for them — and that they would pray good for us — and that if either or neither of us are yet able to do that for each other that others will know and pray for us until we can.

And we should seek out those who are hurt and hurting and divided — and pray genuine, heartfelt prayers for reconciliation — that we will all not see enemies but brothers and sisters and the beloved of God, created in His image — who He was willing to come live among us, die for or sins, and be raised to new life as The Way, The Truth, and The Life.

In these politicized, divided times, where hurt people are hurting each other — where people’s words and actions tear at each other violently like two wild animals fighting to the death — we all need to not just hear the gospel or speak the gospel, but to be the gospel.

#Forgiveness #Prayer #Reconciliation #FellowMan #YouAreNotMyEnemy

“This is My commandment, that you love and unselfishly seek the best for one another, just as I have loved you.
John 15:12 AMP

And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should also [unselfishly] love his brother and seek the best for him.
1 John 4:21 AMP

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this [present] darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) places. Therefore, put on the complete armor of God, so that you will be able to [successfully] resist and stand your ground in the evil day [of danger], and having done everything [that the crisis demands], to stand firm [in your place, fully prepared, immovable, victorious]. So stand firm and hold your ground, having tightened the wide band of truth (personal integrity, moral courage) around your waist and having put on the breastplate of righteousness (an upright heart), and having strapped on your feet the gospel of peace in preparation [to face the enemy with firm-footed stability and the readiness produced by the good news]. Above all, lift up the [protective] shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one . And take the helmet of salvation , and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. With all prayer and petition pray [with specific requests] at all times [on every occasion and in every season] in the Spirit, and with this in view, stay alert with all perseverance and petition [interceding in prayer] for all God’s people.
Ephesians 6:12‭-‬18 AMP

The Real Battle

There is one side that is trying to convince everyone that love and kindness is a weakness — and another side that has proven that love and kindness is the only true strength.

The real battle isn’t about your struggle between you and someone else — but to win you over into believing that love and kindness is a lost and abandoned and failed solution. The battle is to convince you to give up on love and kindness, forget about The Way, and go the way of the world.

Note: This convicting revelation came to me during a discussion on the topic of “liars” with a friend, Jonathan Reeves on Facebook.

Lying

People who are not content and at peace with reality choose lying as an escape.

Sometimes they use that escape just to cope – because they don’t know any other way to handle reality. Sometimes they use that escape to try and manipulate others around them to fit how they want things to be.

Lies hurt those around us — either immediately or later — but they eventually bear out the fruit of their seed. Our lies will not remain hidden forever. Nor are they harmless.

When dealing with hurt from those who have lied, deceived, manipulated and used me – it helps me love and forgive when I can see what’s going on “inside them”, and remember what has driven me to lie in my past as well.

It helps me even more to remember all the lies I’ve told and that Jesus still went to the cross for me — and for them.

It’s hard when trust is broken — but we can expect broken and hurting people to pour out hurt onto others — until they find healing from The Healer.

Has someone lied to you, deceived you, hurt you? I’m sorry you’re feeling it. But I know that God has a lesson in this for us, and an opportunity for us to show undeserved mercy and grace — for His glory. Amen.

Have you shown love and kindness so many times that you have wondered whether it is pointless to continue? Have you given up hope on them?

I guarantee that in our past someone said of each of us “he/she just doesn’t get it” after trying to help us and we just weren’t ready yet.

Keep loving. Keep forgiving. Keep praying. In due season, God’s will and purpose will be revealed.

I am sorry for the hurt and broken trust you have received. My virtual hug, my words, and my prayers for those reading this may not erase the wound — but maybe it can at least be salve to ease the healing process. If you are dealing with this, I know that God will bless you and your friend when we humble ourselves and pray.

I know that people can be tiresome. I know that the roar of chaos around us can seem deafening. That’s why we have to help each other in those times — see a brother who is tired and beaten up, and we pick him up and encourage him.

And not be afraid when we are the tired one to be helped by another.

By reading my words, by commenting, by responding — many of you have encouraged me and picked me up from my ditch different times, and maybe today was your time to do this again — and you didn’t even realize it.

Getting to talk and look at my own failings in this area today has been good for my heart and helped me take steps towards forgiving those who I felt lied to, and deceived me, and hurt me and my family. At first, I thought I was helping you — but I’ve realized it was God again revealing His great mercy towards me and my need to repent, forgive, and be renewed.

Let’s not buy in to the lie of the enemy — love and kindness ands forgiveness is the only way. And when by the grace of God we possess it ourselves (unreservedly), we must extend it to those around us who don’t deserve it. In fact, the ones who hurt us the most, need it the most. The ones who lie, deceive, manipulate, use us and cause us to want to give up on them are the ones we must pray the strongest for — for the sake of our own hearts not becoming hardened, bitter, and unforgiving — for the sake of our own faith not failing– for the sake of our not forgetting the great sacrifice ands undeserved mercy God has shown us.

Thank you and God bless.

Does He know you?

Amazingly, for reasons I can’t even comprehend, He does. So I praise Him and glorify His holy name as best I can. I bring my best filthy rags and ashes to the altar — and beside gifts of seemingly greater “value” and “honor” in the minds of men — He accepts my little unworthy song, my little unworthy prayer, my brokenness in exchange for a crown.

Even just speaking of it shakes the ground beneath my heart, throws down the mountains around me, and parts even the seas from blocking my path back to Him. Amen.

He hasn’t abandoned you, friend. He is there, waiting for you to either believe, confess, and be baptized by the Holy Spirit for the first time — or to be still and quiet enough to be renewed by the very same flowing waters of the Holy Spirit (for the strength needed for the cross you should bear today).

We each have a unique purpose and use in God’s Kingdom today, or we can choose to resist and oppose that purpose — wasting the day and our opportunity. Don’t get discouraged if you have wasted days before. We all have — up until that day we decide to abandon that broad road to destruction in favor for the narrow way of a restored relationship with the One true and living God.

Choosing to walk in The Way is a decision to be weighed seriously, so count the cost and see that He is truly our prize and portion, beloved Child of the King!

Truly taking up our cross and walking “holy as He is holy” within a foreign land where “there is no one righteous, not even one” — imagine like a child what that looks like. Even those who think of themselves as “the best of men” would hate such a glowing revelation of the death and wickedness that truly fills their white washed tombs.

The Way may gather some followers for a season, but when one speaks, walks and lives those striking and radical “One Way, One Truth, One Life” things of the Holy Spirit and of God — it culls the herd as quickly as chapters like John 6 and John 18 where we see the truth of Matthew 10:34 proven first in Christ Jesus, and then in His bride. This so clearly reveals the stark contrast between the normal human nature that breeds both immorality and religion — vs God ordained and empowered vessels walking through this land filled with the Holy Spirit of God.

Again, imagine in your mind like a child — It creates quite the uproar when the humble walks amongst the proud, the free walks amongst the enslaved, the healer walks amongst the blind sick and infirm, the living walks amongst the dead, and the light shines in the darkness.

When He bids “pick up your cross and follow me”, He isn’t kidding.

When He says “if the world hates you, understand that it hated me first”, He isn’t kidding.

Luke 6:22-23 is just as true as John 3:16, beloved Child of the King. Hallelujah!

Throat Punch Thursday

A friend posted this convicting encouragement on Instagram recently:

My immediate tempting thought was “Can I throat punch them first?” — not even realizing that today is “Throat Punch Thursday”.

Surely Jesus must have covered that and it just got left out of the book? Every mean, aggressive, unfriendly, unfair person could use a good throat punch to humble them, right?

But no, that’s what they already know and understand. We need to bring something new and peculiar into the realm of possibilities within their world — underserved, unmerited, unexpected grace.

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Matthew 5:43‭-‬48 NLT

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord . Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.
Romans 12:17‭-‬21 NLT

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
Romans 5:6‭-‬8 NLT

You know, we laugh at this because we don’t normally go around assaulting people or we would be locked up in jail or prison if we did.

But what about those unkind responses we “throat punch” others with online and justify to ourselves that “they were wrong”, or “they deserved it”, or “they needed to be corrected”?

We can’t use the excuse “I’m sharing truth in love” when we haven’t virtually extended our hand to help them up but we’ve shocked them with a virtual throat punch.

Lord help us. Lord help me. Amen.

Strawberry Shortcake Poke Cake

My daughter and I are baking today. We are going to make a “Strawberry Shortcake Poke Cake” (think of all the flavors, textures, and pleasures of Strawberry Shortcake in a two layer cake format). We came up with this cake idea together and used some other people’s individual recipes for individual components on the way to making our vision into a reality.

We are starting with this recipe for the 2 layers of white cake:

https://sugarspunrun.com/the-best-white-cake-recipe/

Cake Ingredients

  • ▢6 Tablespoons unsalted butter softened to room temperature 85g
  • ▢2/3 cup canola oil or vegetable oil 160ml
  • ▢2 cup sugar 400g
  • ▢1 Tablespoon clear vanilla extract
  • ▢2 2/3 cup + 2 Tablespoon all-purpose flour 345g
  • ▢1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • ▢1 teaspoon salt
  • ▢1 cup milk room temperature preferred (235ml)
  • ▢6 large egg whites room temperature
  • Double batch Vanilla Buttercream Frosting (click link for recipe)

We created a Strawberry Puree from frozen strawberries,  strawberry glaze, and sugar.

Puree Ingedients

2 lb (32oz) Frozen Strawberries

14 oz. Marie’s Glaze for Strawberries

1/8 cup sugar

And we made a Cool Whip Frosting.


Classic Cool Whip Frosting

  • 1 3.5-oz package instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 8-oz tub whipped topping (thawed, if frozen)

The Best White Cake Recipe

“This BEST white cake recipe yields a fluffy, snow-white cake that’s light and soft but still sturdy enough to stack or cover with fondant.”

Prep Time: 35 minutesCook Time: 35 minutesTotal Time: 1 hour 10 minutes Servings: 12 slices

Cake Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350F and prepare two 8-inch round cake pans by lining the bottoms with a round of parchment paper and generously greasing and flouring the sides. Be sure to shake out excess flour.
  • In a stand mixer (or using an electric mixer), beat butter on medium-low speed until creamy.
  • Add sugar and oil and beat until all ingredients are well-combined and creamy.
  • Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and then stir in your vanilla extract.
  • In separate bowl, whisk together your flour, baking powder, and salt.
  • Measure out your milk.
  • With mixer on medium speed, gradually alternate between adding the flour mixture and the milk to the butter mixture, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Stir until each one is almost completely combined before adding the next.
  • Pause occasionally to scrape down sides and bottom of bowl.
  • In separate bowl combine your egg whites and using a hand-mixer on high-speed beat until stiff peaks form.
  • Using a spatula, gently fold your egg whites into your batter. Take care to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl so that ingredients are well-combined, and take care not to over-mix.
  • Evenly divide cake batter into prepared pans.
  • Bake on 350F for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake layer comes out clean or with few crumbs (should not be wet). For best results, rotate your cake pans halfway through baking to ensure even baking.
  • NOTE: You can work on the Puree while these are baking.
  • Cakes will be a light golden brown when done baking.
  • Remove cakes from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the inside rim of each pan and invert each onto a cooling rack.
  • Note, you willAllow to cool completely before poking holes in the cake that will be used for the bottom layer using a dowel, spoon handle or other cylindrical object. (You will wait to poke holes in the second one after it is stacked on top of the first, so WAIT.)

Puree Instructions

Add half of the frozen strawberries and half of the glaze into a blender and puree.

Then liquify.

Once liquified,  slowly add the rest of the frozen strawberries and glaze.

After liquified,  stir in the sugar and  blend consistently.

The puree can be refrigerated until the cakes are finished baking and are cooling. However, when the cakes come out of the oven, the puree should come out of the refrigerator to regulate towards room temperature.

Once the cakes are cooled and holes have been poked in the bottom layer, pour the puree so that it soaks into the poke holes.

You will need to make the Cool whip frosting so that you can top the bottom layer.

  • Pour milk into bowl add pudding mix and vanilla extract.
  • Beat with wire whisk for 2 minutes.
  • Gently fold in whipped topping.
  • Apply to top of first layer

Add puree drizzle to top of frosting

then stack the second layer

Poke holes in the second layer

Pour puree on the second layer

Top the cake with your frosting

Frost the sides of your cake

Add puree drizzle to the top of the cake (preferably with piping bags and decorating tips)

Keep refrigerated until serving

There were several times today while we were baking that we could have chosen to cut corners. We ended up needing a few trips to the store instead of just one. We made everything (other than adding the glaze to the puree) completely from scratch instead of using cake box mixes or ready made frosting. We had to make the frosting twice because we didn’t do the first one in the right order. But each time, we didn’t compromise — we gave our best effort.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
Colossians 3:23‭-‬24 ESV

We spent our day, from around 11AM until 4:30PM making this cake together. We did other things in between steps, letting the cakes cool, letting the frosting set up, letting the puree soak in, etc. But we weren’t in a hurry. We were enjoying the time together. You see, getting to eat the cake wasn’t the purpose, it was a product of the purpose. The purpose was to spend time together doing something special.  The beautiful cake to eat afterwards was an added bonus, but the real treasure was us laughing and taste testing and talking with each other throughout the whole process.

It is the same with our walk with the Lord. The “blessings” aren’t near as wonderful as time with the “Blesser”. During this Christmas season,  that’s an important lesson amidst gifts and decorations and songs and meals that are all byproducts of us celebrating the rain for the season.

God bless.

Intimacy with God

The word “intimacy” usually makes us think of romantic movies like “The Notebook” or that special person that is close to us like our spouse, fiance, or beloved.

And for some, the thought of intimacy with a God they can’t see and don’t know personally might seem weird, creepy, scary, or fanatical/crazy. Even for the religious scholar who knows a lot “about” God but doesn’t really know God close and personal and intimately — the idea of an intimacy with God that parallels the intimacy recorded in books like the Song of Songs may be too much for them to wrap their theology and traditions around comfortably. But we are the Bride of Christ, beloved — He is our prize and portion, and He isn’t some far away, dead teacher who taught good things — He is our risen Lord and Savior and our beloved.

Does this stretch our faith, when we consider the love we have our have not shown in return for our beloved who didn’t just romantically say, “I love you so much I would die for you”, but He actually proved it on the cross?

Does this bring to light, not condemnation that we “aren’t doing enough for Him”, but conviction that leads to repentance out of the realization, belief, and gratitude does what our beloved his done and who He is to us?

Have we been out whoring with the distractions of the world again and neglected our quiet, intimate time with our beloved?

Just like I long for intimacy regularly with my wife — not just physical intimacy in sex, but relational intimacy in sharing our lives together, and emotional intimacy in love and care and sacrificial (willingly compromising) service to each other — I also long for spiritual intimacy with the Lord. Just lime my body aches for physical contact, like my ego aches for interaction and engagement with others in life, like my heart aches for emotional bounds with others, my spirit aches with a God sized hole that only He can fill.

David was considered a man after God’s own heart ands wrote Psalm 63 that touches upon intimacy with God:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth; they shall be given over to the power of the sword; they shall be a portion for jackals. But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by him shall exult, for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
Psalm 63:1‭-‬11 ESV

https://bible.com/bible/59/psa.63.1-11.ESV

Signal Fires Breaching the Darkness

The darkness of anxiety, depression, etc. is not comfortable for anyone.

A friend who is a behavioral therapist recently shared this photo as we discussed the challenges of dealing with anxiety:

In her thoughts on this illustration, Marsha shared from personal experience that:

“I’m an advocate of being very open in regards to mental health because I struggle so greatly and I know how dark the thoughts can get. I also know how desperately lonely it is to fight by yourself.

I have good days and then something shifts and I’m in tears from stress that’s out of proportion to the impact of the circumstance, the inability to not worry and constant obsessive thinking. Constantly needing reassurance from people you love and then when you get it you feel so annoying and obnoxious that there’s no way anyone can love you like this so why bother , why be around, why exist…
A waste.
Not enough.
Not normal.
You’ll lose their love.
They’ll get bored and over you.
You’re crazy… The thoughts never stop. They may be less some days and manageable , but some times …they are loud and invading every single word of every single thought.”

And this is a subject close to my heart,  because I know that enemy too, so my response to Marsha on Facebook was:

My wife and I were talking yesterday during lunch about our own areas of our lives where anxiety tries to come in and ruin the day, and how there are similarities and major differences. And even though we know each other very well by now, I think that our discussion gave me a better respect for what she and I call the “crazy things” that tend to stir up anxiety in us.

I think that you used the word “trigger” and that’s a pretty good description. But for me, it isn’t trigger like a gun (that quickly strikes and kills), but “trigger” like I’ve stepped in a trap and now the noose is wrapped around me and is cutting off my air or blood supply — and I’m frantic and don’t know what to do or how to get away. And it is easy to know while you aren’t in the trap that struggling and pulling against the trap just makes it cinch down tighter — but when it is on you and you are in the moment, being calm is the exact opposite of what every fiber of you’re being is screaming at you to “react”.

Traps, triggers, and anxiety seem to me to be all about a “feeling” generating a “reaction” – so it would seem that those who have learned how to avoid letting their “feelings rule them” might be more protected from such things. But how does a person do that without being cold and detached, but instead still maintain their sensitivity and compassion and emotional acumen?

I don’t have it figured out, but I’m learning that trusting something more than just my circumstances and my feelings really acts as a buffer — like a “wall of protection” from the “trigger”. And the more trust I can build up during the good times (with family, with friends, with God) — the better chance I have not to completely lose my mind when the trap tightens again.

Even with a good support system, though it can still be maddening and disappointing when my mind seemingly overpowers me once again and has me in the place this picture illustrates so perfectly.

So why do I share this if I’m not giving you an easy checklist to follow to “fix it”? To encourage you that this enemy has not defeated either of us, and that it has failed so many times in its attempts to crush us. We come back with a little more experience, and by sharing transparently like you have, we can tell the world that even though we may have wounds and/or scars from the trap, we have lived through it, and others are not alone if they have known this same enemy in their own minds.

Love you, sis. I think it is good when we talk openly about these things and “bring boldly into the light” things that pride, shame, or fear of judgement may have once told us to keep hidden. We never know when it might be the string of hope one of us might need for the next trap.

Today’s verse put a nice bow on all of that this morning:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.
Isaiah 9:2 ESV

And the Old Testament record of what God has done for His chosen people reminded me of the call to action in The New Testament of how we, His children, the body of Christ should react to that reminder:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 5:14‭-‬16 ESV

I share some of my innermost thoughts, dreams, beliefs, experiences, struggles, feelings, etc. publicly online through writing and singing.  I can be a little anxious at times about sharing because I know that not everyone will appreciate or enjoy it. But I see others around me being a bright light, and they bring an energy into the world through that pure, bold, vulnerability of not hiding themselves from the world. I want to be more like that too — not for the attention, but for the impact, and that God will be glorified.

Imagine a world where we were willing to bring out into the light those innermost and help each other in the process. Then look to today’s verses and know that He is the waymaker, the healer — the one who turns what was once dark into light. He is the chain breaker and the one who sets the captives free!

When I think about the picture above showing what I would describe as demons above the person’s head, I’m reminded that the Bible tells me that the demons are headed for the fiery pit, and I think about fire and flames. And this inevitably leads me to consider the flames of Holy Spirit fire above the heads of Christ followers at Pentacost.

What if we saw anxiety and such, not as a huge Goliath that could slay us, but as an opportunity for Good to show up and prove those things as fuel for the fires that bring Him glory? What if we made it less about our own shortcomings and more about who He is, what He has promised, what He has done, ands what He is doing in this process of reconciling us back to Him?

What if our bringing it out into the light was just the spark needed — to start a chain reaction of signal fires being lit across the tops of mountains for miles and miles — celebrating what God has done and sounding the trumpet for what lies ahead?

Lord, have us willing to lay down our weaknesses as fuel for the fire of your glory. And use us as you see fit to demonstrate your abiding presence, your kingdom influence here on earth as it is in heaven. Let them see you, ands let the darkness be overcome by your light. Amen.

Mark Pangel’s sermon at 4 Points Church today offered some great confirmation and a strong push if you’re interested in more on the subject:

A Pilgrimage

In 2020, many of us may feel like we are on a long journey. A close friend and I joked over text message last night to encourage each other:

So what does all of that have to do with today’s verse?

Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!
Psalm 126:5 ESV

Psalm 126 is 7th in a series of 15 Psalms that were for pilgrims coming to Jerusalem. There are several instances where Jerusalem (Zion) was restored from captivity, so tying this to a specific event like after the return from exile under Ezra and Nehemiah or after David’s brief exile from Jerusalem in Absalom’s coup is probably speculation rather than hard proof. However, the point of knowing “exactly when” isn’t nearly as valuable as recognizing the pattern. These pilgrims had been away from Jerusalem themselves — either from real captivity — or from things they might consider a season of symbolic captivity from their beloved Zion.

We are reminded by this verse that great joy is often preceded by a season of tears. Some joy may come suddenly like in verse 4 (like the dried up desert streams when the rains come like a pure gift from heaven) — while other comes slow like in verses 5 and 6 (where our laboring proves complimentary with God’s promised renewal). By nature, most of us want to reap the joy without sowing the tears — but would prove a fat, lazy, and ineffective faith that bears little fruit.

For me, this term “sowing in tears” can most often be tied to my prayer life — that place of “spiritual labouring”. I find that there have been seasons where my prayer life has “felt” like a sort of captivity, a time where my heart hasn’t been fully into my prayers and they aren’t “tearful” for the burdens and cares and pains of those around me, but they are a bit more repetitive, distanced, isolated, and cold.

And when I find myself clearly in this place because I realize that I don’t really know the details or circumstances of someone else’s hurt, pain, struggle that I would consider a close friend or family — not because I didn’t have the opportunity to ask, but because I did not care enough to share in their burdens because I was too worried with my own — I realize my own need to make that pilgrimage back to Zion with my people. I realize my own need to put in the work of sowing in tears.

F.B. Meyer noted that some farmers soak (steep) their seeds before sowing them, and then applied the idea: “It is well when Christian workers steep their lessons and addresses with their prayers and tears. It is not enough to sow; we may do that lavishly and constantly, but we must add passion, emotion, tender pity, strong cryings and tears.”

And Spurgeon has this to say: “He drops a seed and a tear, a seed and a tear, and so goes on his way. In his basket he has seed which is precious to him, for he has little of it, and it is his hope for the next year. Each grain leaves his hand with anxious prayer that it may not be lost: he thinks little of himself, but much of his seed, and he eagerly asks, ‘Will it prosper? shall I receive a reward for my labour?’ Yes…doubtless you will gather sheaves from your sowing.”

And VanGemeren: “The people were not to sit by idly, waiting for God to come through. They had to go out and sow, praying that the Lord would be true. The phrase ‘seed to sow’ (v. 6) is reminiscent of Haggai’s encouragement to the people to sow whatever little they had left, because the Lord will bless them.”

Lord, I fear how often I have let a word spoken, a lesson written, a prayer lifted go out as seed cast idly wherever it may fall — with not so much care and love as you clearly demonstrated towards each individual circumstance you encountered during your travel through this land as a pilgrim returning to Zion. But in my repeated and obvious weaknesses, your strength and power and glory is made all the more evident to me. Forgive me for my wanderings away into captivity, and my expecting the rains to “just come again” like they always do, and my forgetting that I have a blessed opportunity to participate. Forgive me for fearing the vulnerability that true intimacy with others and their challenges and faults will reveal so many of my own challenges and faults. Help me to instead long for renewal, fellowship, and relationship — both with my brothers and sisters — and most importantly, with you. Amen.

Loosen Up

The first thing that our dogs do when I get up to take them outside — is that they stretch. Even if they were already moving around and making noise to wake me up, once they see that it is actually time to get up and go — they stretch.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
Romans 12:12 ESV

Harvard Medical School has this wonderful article on the benefits of stretching: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-importance-of-stretching

And beloved, when we start our day rejoicing in Christ our hope, we have stretched spiritually in the way that prepares us to be patient in tribulation — The Way that starts the marathon of our day in that constant, abiding prayer of an enjoyable walk with the Lord.

Even though it is wrongly attributed to Confucius all over the Internet, my mind is brought to the quote first attributed to Princeton Philosophy professor Arthur Szathmary:

An old-timer I knew used to tell his students: ‘Find something you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.’

It is amazing how a stretch, a preparation, an attitude adjustment to start our day can have such a powerful impact — it is a right alignment with God’s grace.

Lord, thank you for so many blessings. Thank you for beloved friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, and a job and calling that allows me to serve others in a way that isn’t burdensome. I know that this freedom wasn’t free and that you have bought me out of that old life where I looked at things wrong and dreaded what lay before me — mainly because I did not start by surrendering, humbling, remembering what curses I truly deserve as opposed to what blessings I have received. Your grace is so deep, so wide, so strong. Thank you. Amen.

Side Note: This is a pretty good practical application video that I watched last night that you might find interesting and helpful: https://youtu.be/B1kMj5fIUNY