Uniquely Wonderful Gifts

You are unique and wonderfully gifted, my friend. I see you loving, encouraging and serving everyone around you.

It is beautiful to watch and even more beautiful to encounter personally.

Thank you.

Harold “Hop” Ballinger

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.

1 Peter 4:10‭-‬11 NLT

There is something wonderful about seeing the wonderful things in others — and in recognizing and honoring them for the unique and wonderful gifts God has given them!

Continue to Love Deeply

Continue to show deep love for each other, because love covers and heals wrongs.

Harold “Hop” Ballinger

I love the simple motherly advice of the NLT version and the strong and specific conviction of the AMP version of this verse. There seems to be a sweet marriage between the two.

Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 4:8

Above all, have fervent and unfailing love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins [it overlooks unkindness and unselfishly seeks the best for others].

1 Peter 4:8 AMP

READING THE RED WORDS: Morning Prayer

When you pray, don’t be like those show-offs who love to stand up and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners. They do this just to look good. I can assure you that they already have their reward. When you pray, go into a room alone and close the door. Pray to your Father in private. He knows what is done in private and will reward you.

When you pray, don’t talk on and on as people do who don’t know God. They think God likes to hear long prayers. Don’t be like them. Your Father knows what you need even before you ask. You should pray like this:

Our Father in heaven, help us to honor your name. Come and set up your kingdom, so that everyone on earth will obey you, as you are obeyed in heaven. Give us our food for today. Forgive us for doing wrong, as we forgive others. Keep us from being tempted and protect us from evil.

If you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, your Father in heaven will forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Matthew 6:5‭-‬15 CEV

https://bible.com/bible/392/mat.6.5-15.CEV

Loving our Wives

I’ve “messed up big” with my wife a few times recently and caused her hurt feelings by my carelessness or thoughtless words and actions. And proving the words “I didn’t mean to” in a court of law might free a man from any “criminal intent”, but it wouldn’t excuse anyone from negligence and liability. So I can’t excuse myself from applying healing balm to her wound just because I didn’t “intend” to do harm.

Even someone who cares very little about God can understand the pragmatism in serving and loving our spouses well. Even when I was living far from God, I knew the practical rule “you don’t sh#& where you eat” to help reduce and manage the collateral damage that might come from bad decisions, unhealthy influences, and unchecked desires — let alone carelessness.

But for the children of God, there are implications that reach deep into the spiritual realm that we might not know if they are not taught to us and we aren’t reminded of them regularly. I need to be reminded regularly to love my wife exceptionally like Christ loved the church — not because I don’t love her at all, and not because I don’t love her well, but because I have not yet perfected my love for her — and that is the direction that I must continue traveling.

My friend, Brian Eshleman, shares regularly through his own blog ( https://brianesh73.livejournal.com/ ), and we keep in touch with each other for discussion, encouragement, accountability, prayer and spiritual/Biblical discussion. He recently shared 1 Peter 3:7 with me and how it specifically convicted him.

In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered.
1 Peter 3:7 NLT

He commented on the verb “hindered” and emphasized:

“This is dramatic, even violent. Our prayers are cut down, uprooted, rejected before we get started, may be the equivalent of a shot blocked in basketball. Yikes.”

And I was immediately reminded of my own blog from 5 years ago: https://hballinger.com/2017/11/28/undeserved-treasure/

I quickly admitted “I would be served best by remembering it more than every 5 years, I think?”

We continued in our discussion as we encouraged each other towards repentance in our back and forth text messages, and I read down 3 more verses in 1 Peter 3:10 to find another hidden treasure:

For the Scriptures say, “If you want to enjoy life and see many happy days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies.
1 Peter 3:10 NLT

Before ending my day and heading to bed, I replied:

I wonder how often this week my tongue has spoken evil of my wife and my lips may have spoken lies — based on my own assumptions about “what she meant” or what was “behind what she said” — rather than like verse 11 tells me to “search for peace, and seek to maintain it”. To realize that not only does He turn his face away from these evils that I’ve committed, but that it is genuinely the source of why I’m missing out on the “enjoy life, and see many happy days” that are the “if you want to” of verse 10.

After apologizing yet again to my wife for my carelessness, I fell asleep.

I woke up this morning, not to a wife still hurt and mending her wounds, taking a self- defensive stance, holding onto bitterness, or withholding her love — but she was as refreshing as the morning sun and as the sound of the birds announcing a new morning. Her kiss on my forehead woke me to a brand new day of God’s mercies and grace.

So I had to immediately reach out to Brian, (in my own mind like some messenger with beautiful feet trodding over the mountaintops to bring good news) that God’s promises are proven true yet again!

I’m glad that His mercies are new every morning, and that the Holy Spirit that guides and teaches my wife (much better than I might try to teach her myself) has her arising not in the bitterness that I might deserve, but in mercy and grace and invitation.

I apologize for the complexity of this letter, my friends. Because you may read through this quickly, and see a man bragging on his own repentance — or bragging on his friendship — or bragging on his wife — or bragging on his God. And while honor should be given to these things, none of those things existed for me in an honorable way until I truly met Jesus one-on-one and personally.

My point is that God the Father in heaven, by way of Jesus the perfect Lamb of God, offers you and I the gift of the Holy Spirit to make the impossible not just “possible” — but “guaranteed” by His promises.

Thank you Lord for giving me an honorable wife worthy of my praise and appreciation and honor. In contrast to warnings about making idols and giving honor to things that are not worthy of honor, you don’t just encourage us to honor our wives, you DEMAND it. Thank you for disciplining us gently in this area of our lives when we fall short and convicting us to not remain satisfied in our disobedience. Help us to be a blessing and to enjoy your blessing daily and even moment to moment. Amen.

Awe and Wonder

A dear friend, Bryan Keaton, was recently sharing some of his own awe and wonder over the sermon on the mount.

Bryan Keaton’s Awe and Wonder at Matthew 5
My Awe and Wonder at Matthew 5

The verse we are both talking about is:

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5:48 ESV

I have seen this verse speak in so many different ways, depending on which specific word convicts us. He mentions how the word “therefore” hit him last night and sprung up praise in his heart that he shared with me. Then, I read his awe and wonder, which sprung up additional awe and wonder from me over the word “be” and what importance that holds as well.

I have also had times in my life where I needed to repent of sin or complacency and the Holy Spirit emphasized the word perfect/holy to me so that I might remember that we are to “be HOLY as He is HOLY”. We could read this sentence many times, placing emphasis on a different single word each time, and a different nuance of conviction, awe and wonder might come to light. The word “YOUR” might remind us that He isn’t just some “far away” heavenly Father and awesome Almighty God common to all of creation — but He is “mine”, He is personally close and individually mine.

Our awe and wonder over the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 together also reminds me of an interaction Jesus has with a Cannannite woman in Matthew 15.

And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Matthew 15:22‭-‬28 ESV

Thank you Lord, for your Word. Every single crumb is a delight. Thank you for giving your bread not just to the children, but even giving crumbs to the dogs. Amen.

Two Kinds of Treasures

What if there were two kinds of treasures?

What if there were short term treasures and long term treasures — but most people were only conciously aware of the short term treasures (because that’s what they were taught to chase)?

What if they fought over and chased and grumbled about not having as much of the short term treasures — while not realizing that the only way they ever got the short term treasures was when their enemies actually convinced them into trading away some of their more valuable treasures?

What if the whole way that our “enemies” marketed life to us was in convincing us that we need their short term treasures — and in selling us on the idea that they are better off because they have those things piled up?

But what if we were truly the rich ones, and they were truly poor, but they just learned how to try and convince us otherwise?


What if one of the greatest treasures was to be broke and not be able to help others or even help yourself —

So that you had to realize your complete dependence upon God —

And that even though everyone else is also still dependent upon God, you realize it and appreciate it, even while they don’t?

What if that was the greater blessing than a fat belly, a fat bank account, and a house full of expensive things that will eventually be worthless?


What if one of the greatest blessings was to lose someone truly dear to you so that you mourned and grieved strongly —

So that even while you questioned God in your pain from their absence from your life, you realized how amazing it was to have disturbed love so fully, and you had to genuinely thank Him for their part in your life —

And realize that God is able to comfort us in those hard times?

What if the greater blessing is to learn about love, the precious and unique nature of life itself, the value and unpredictable nature of time, and the faithfulness of God who holds it all in His hand?


When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat. “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
Matthew 5:1‭-‬12 MSG

Treasures

What if there were two kinds of treasures?

What if there were short term treasures and long term treasures — but most people were only conciously aware of the short term treasures (because that’s what they were taught to chase)?

What if they fought over and chased and grumbled about not having a much of the short term treasures — while not realizing that the only way they ever got the short term treasures was when their enemies actually convinced them into trading away some of their more valuable treasures?

What if the whole way that our “enemies” marketed life to us was in convincing us that we need their short term treasures — and in selling us on the idea that they are better off because they have those things piled up?

But what if we were truly the rich ones, and they were truly poor, but they just learned how to try and convince us otherwise?

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. “Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is! “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money. “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Matthew 6:19‭-‬34 NLT

Precepts, Essentials and a Return to the Source of Truth

I’m continuing along in video two of a series that my friend introduced me to:

Points of interest:

  • “The most important issue of life is the source of your ideas… Where did you get them from?” ~2:05
  • Religion/denomination is a “school of thought”.
  • “Faith” is not a religious word, “it simply means belief”. “Faith… simply means you believe what he said.”
  • “This seminar is not about information. It is about precepts.”
  • “The precept is more important than the law. If you know the precepts, it is easy to obey the law. Because the precepts precedes the law.”
  • “Precepts make you hate unrighteousness.”

At one point in the middle of the video, the topic shifted enough towards knowledge and gnosis, that I was paying attention to try and make sure that this didn’t head down the path of “esoteric knowledge”.

But I feel that the teaching focused enough on “Holy Spirit”, “discernment” and “source” rather than going toward any danger areas like us “attaining” for ourselves light/knowledge/ understanding/faith (which would have thrown up some red flags for me — see esoteric gnosticism).

So far, I’m really enjoying the videos. Please, feel free to add your comments and feedback.

Kingdom Ideology

A friend recently shared this video series with me, and I’m walking through watching them. So I’m not trying to specifically endorse or convince anyone to explicitly trust them, but I thought that I might share my thoughts and encircled you to share yours in the comments as well?

I’d like to watch through the whole series once to just get the basic concepts, and then watch back through each one again considering and contemplating each point in greater detail.

https://youtu.be/mUOfg-a616o

Two talking points that jumped out to me during my first time watching this were:

  • “There are no new ideas, there’s just a new generation bringing it back.”
  • “Ideas can be generational traded. That’s what we call tradition.”

Some self-examination questions that came to mind:

  • Are we drinking down a soup of tradition that is a mix of milk, bone, meat and poison that is sourced from someone else’s philosophy and theology that came from their own flawed ideology?
  • Or are we going back to God, the source of divine, original, instruction straight from the maker’s mind?

Pretty Lawns but Hard Soil

I saw a post recently on Facebook that showed a beautiful lawn with someone trying to dig into it with a piece of equipment. The picture simply said “pretty but hard soil”.  This statement struck me as something to be considered, because it stirred up in me comparisons between gardening and things of the heart. Sometimes things can look pretty on the surface, but get any deeper than surface level and there is no life.

I then wanted to better understand what “hard soil” really was, so Google search found me a great video on the subject, where I learned that hard, compacted soil “has no life in it”. Wow, if that doesn’t speak to matters of the heart, what does?

So it got me thinking about what “tilling” and adding gypsum (“the clay-breaker”) might look like from a spiritual standpoint. Maybe some heartfelt prayer and confessing ours sins to one another — revealing all of the “crap” in our lives and instead of stopping it over into a corner or just walking around the piles, we till that living material into the ground? And if our hearts have grown hard, we need to remember the chain-breaker that we have in the gospel of Christ Jesus and what He has done for us.

There is a trend catching on right now called “no mow lawns”. The idea is that instead of having sod lawns that only allow surface level growth that is regularly cut and manicured for the sake of uniform appearance — what if we had lawns that were healthy gardens, flowers and eco-systems that made for a healthier soil and reduced unnecessary consumption of resources and time for maintenance?

It isn’t a huge leap to draw parallels between a hard clay soil with expensive sod laid on top — to people who present a clean and manicured surface level mask to hide what is really underneath. It shouldn’t be surprising to realize that if we focus our efforts on “how we are seen”, we aren’t using that focus and effort to actually work on deeper matters of the heart.

There is always a new opportunity for us to till up our garden, and let all of the organic material get properly mixed in, and maybe even move towards a more healthy eco-system that is abounding in life and producing much fruit.

Work your garden—you’ll end up with plenty of food; play and party—you’ll end up with an empty plate.
Proverbs 28:19 MSG

“What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams. “Are you listening to this? Really listening?” The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?” He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward a welcome awakening. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. I don’t want Isaiah’s forecast repeated all over again: Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing. Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing. The people are stupid! They stick their fingers in their ears so they won’t have to listen; They screw their eyes shut so they won’t have to look, so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face and let me heal them. “But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear! A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance. “Study this story of the farmer planting seed. When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road. “The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it. “The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it. “The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.” * * *

Matthew 13:3‭-‬23 MSG

Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. “The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer. “Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend.’ “Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of ‘Father’; you have only one Father, and he’s in heaven. And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them—Christ. “Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.
Matthew 23:1‭-‬12 MSG