Blessings, Beloved!

the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:25‭-‬26 ESV

What a wonderful blessing, for the Lord to lift up His countenance upon us and give us peace. To be returned from our rebellion and restored to our place as image bearers of the Almighty. He has truly been gracious to us in doing this thing for us. Let’s rejoice, beloved!

All the way from “Do No Harm” to “Being a Blessing”

One of the promises that doctors make as part of the Hippocratic Oath is to “do no harm”. And every level of society would do well to abide by this in our lives — to not trade someone else’s harm for our own improved well being, etc. But business goals, personal desires and all kinds of things can create conflict with this relatively low bar of “do no harm”.

I say “relatively low” because we can probably realize that “do no harm to anyone” is slightly lower “do good to everyone” — and we might even realize there is another difference between just “doing good” to someone versus “being a blessing”.

So then, while we [as individual believers] have the opportunity, let us do good to all people [not only being helpful, but also doing that which promotes their spiritual well-being], and especially [be a blessing] to those of the household of faith (born-again believers).
Galatians 6:10 AMP

In our daily lives, in our workplaces, within our families, within the challenges and struggles of any given day, we can probably get real and admit that there are times that we’ve either “done harm” or at least wanted to do harm to others. That person that cut you off in traffic. That person who disagreed with you on social media. That person who opposed you at work. That person who said offe did something that offended you. That opportunity to advance your own prose or goal by manipulating or taking advantage of someone else.

Many might say, “That is just business” or “survival of ther fittest” or many other things to clearly illustrate that their own life goal is not to “do no harm”. In fact, the reality of how often and how easily people choose to do harm to others for personal gain should be easy for our minds to comprehend, because we have done it ourselves. So if we have fallen short of the “reality” of “do no harm” — many would say it is pointless or useless to discuss such lofty ideals as “do good to all” or “be a blessing” many would say that all things that appear as good or blessing are still somehow rooted in an “angle”, a “manipulation”, a “strategy”.

For example, people might see charitable people or organizations who don’t truly believe in or live out the “do no harm” in their lives or business practices — and assume that these are financial maneuverings in order to get themselves into a better tax bracket or to gain influence and positive publicity within the marketplace. Or they might see church people who do all kinds of religious things regularly that conflict with how they treat others — and assume that these are trying to “buy their way into heaven”, etc. And isn’t this what all of us look like when we have our good intentions trying to cover up and hide on the outside our selfish motivations and desires that are hungry on the inside?

Flipping through the channels recently, I heard Andy Stanley talking about the “real” versus the “ideal” when discussing foster children that had never seen a stable home environment. He shared how one in particular said that he didn’t even know that it was possible until he saw it — and then that was the goal he set for himself to provide for his family one day.

I also heard a story shared recently by a branch manager where I work about an opportunity to open a home equity line of credit at low interest to rescue a family that was trapped under almost 100k in high interest 35+% debt. They were paying over $33,000 in interest alone each year and it was crushing them. And until someone showed them a different way, they were slaves to a hard lender that was arguably doing them harm. Now, a new lender comes along, looking to help them improve their situation, not just looking to sign them up for a profitable loan. Things like this can change trajectories for families. I know what Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University did for us once we saw that it was actually possible.

Seeing the ideal in God come in the flesh as a little Jewish baby to dwell amongst us had opened a gate for us to walk through and follow. And in following Him, we can not only easily achieve those low hanging bars that once seemed so high, we can reach for ther brightest star.

Merry Christmas, beloved. Come see the babe born in a manger, Emmanuel, God with us. Amen.

Unshakable Trees Weren’t Always

Psalm 16:8: “I know the Lord is always with me.
    I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.

I have been reaching out to coworkers at my old job to wish them a Happy Thanksgiving recently, since I don’t get to speak with them now with as much or as frequency as I once did. And one co-worker was especially encouraged by a family member that had made some notable growth in maturity this year. I look at many of the struggles and challenges that friends and family face with tyrant toddlers, hormonal teens, mid-life crisis suffering 40 year olds, aging parents, etc. and I can’t help but look at how my own life has applied pressure and strain on my parents, my wife, my daughter, my closest friends, my co-workers — in those times where my life has seemingly left the rails and collided into their perfect little world, requiring their attention and help.

Isn’t this what relationships actually look like — being there for one another and weathering the storms together?

And doesn’t this weathering together and making our way through the dormant winters, through the long days plowing and planting in the spring, through the long days tending weeds during the summer, and through the long days of abundant harvest in the autumn — doesn’t it make for a beautiful journey?

I think of the strongest trees, and how they grow a lot more under the soil, establishing a firm foundation before they start making real headway up into the skies. Some of us can’t imagine a tree as big as General Sherman — rising 275 feet into the air, measuring 100 feet at the ground, and weighing an estimated 2.7 million pounds. Did you know that giant sequoia tree seeds are among the tiniest in the tree world? Doesn’t that make you wonder what God might have in store for you or your loved one whose life seems to be a hot mess right now? Isn’t it amazing how God works like that?

This morning, I’m especially grateful that He not only weathers the storms with us, but there is a purpose for us going through the seasons. I’m sure there were strong winds that easily pushed General Sherman around and swayed that tree this way or that way when it was young — but it’s anchor held. It’s foundation was firm. It’s roots ran deep. And those prevailing winds blowing against the tree influenced the growth of every branch, but they did not prevent the branches from growing strong and firm and unmovable over time.

This to me is a great encouragement for my life’s purpose and direction. It doesn’t give me an excuse to just let the wind blow me wherever it pleases — it gives me an assurance that no matter what the day holds that He has proven time and time again that I can trust Him — even in those times where I wasn’t trusting Him, wasn’t seeking Him — even in those times where I was clearly acting in opposition and making myself an enemy of God. It makes me grateful. It establishes that right relationship and attitude that allows me to enter into His presence, humble and in awe of Him.

Do you feel shaken, bent, torn and wearied by the winds of this season? Don’t let shame in self take hold — grab hold of the all sustaining one who promises that in our weaknesses His strength will be made evident!

Do you feel like you should be further along than you are? Don’t worry about what your eyes can see — you don’t know how deep your roots are spreading underneath in order to prepare you for what lies ahead!

Do you feel cold, dormant and still? Spring has not yet sprung — let your body rest like a tree whose sap has returned to its roots for a season of hibernation in order to prepare you for the explosion of new growth that is in store.

Do you feel overwhelmed by so much activity and busyness — do your best at what you can while the work is at hand, but do not worry about tomorrow, there is enough work at hand for today.

Do you know what makes a tree unshakable? Weight. So don’t fear the heaviness in your life — see it as an opportunity to praise the Lord even the greater. Remember, His never-failing promises are greater than our momentary “feelings”. So we can REJOICE!!!

Thank you Lord for allowing us to thank you frequently for your many blessings, your grace, your favor, and your hand upon our every step, our every breath. Thank you for this wild journey through this foreign land on our way home to You. Amen.

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
Psalm 9:1‭-‬2 ESV

Encouraging

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, But a good (encouraging) word makes it glad.
Proverbs 12:25 AMP

Can we agree that some seasons of life are heavier than others? But how much lighter does it become when we have an encouraging word from someone!

During COVID, I lost my job of 9 years unexpectedly, and I have now been working at a new job for several months. I am very thankful to be able to support my family and to be able to use my skills, abilities, training, and experience as a part of a new team. Yesterday, I had someone who used to be a customer at the old job approach me in person and encourage me about the work that I did for them previously.

Admittedly, part of their complimenting me also included noting the many “problematic changes” their company had seen as a customer to my old company (related both to the acquisition and then COVID), but we didn’t dwell in that heaviness of what can happen when long standing organizations are carved up and sold off and a global pandemic hits. In fact, we focused mostly on talking fondly of the other good, hard working, trustworthy people who have either also lost their jobs or are still there.

As I drove the once a week commute home from my new office in a nearby city, I was thinking about how positive and encouraging this conversation had been. I realized that many others who miss the long gone great benefits, company picnic, employee appreciation, awesome bonuses, and supportive management and programs of the past may benefit from a word of encouragement this Thanksgiving week as well. It is too easy to get our self image and happiness wrapped up in our career, our status, our benefits, our compensation, or our perks in life — but the value of those wonderful friends hasn’t diminished even though we don’t talk and interact and help each other daily anymore. So I began reaching out to them individually to encourage them and to wish them a happy Thanksgiving — not because I’m a great person and thought of it on my own — but because someone started the avalanche by encouraging me first.

You, beloved, find your identity in Christ Jesus. And you are precious in His sight. So precious, that He looked past your shortcomings, your sin, your flaws, your weaknesses, because He knows your value and your purpose in His Kingdom Plan — and He went to the cross FOR YOU!

I hope this thought lifts the weight, casts away the heaviness this morning, beloved. If we have been encouraged in any way, let’s take that good, encouraging word out to so many around us who might be overwhelmed with the busyness of holiday preparations that have cast a veil over the true reasons that we celebrate these holidays.

Lord, help us to slow down and appreciate the good and encouraging words and the celebrations of the holidays in spirit and in truth — not just Rushing through the checklist. Help us top know how to help lift the load and to encourage others who might be overwhelmed. Remind us that encouragement comes through truly listening and truly helping even more powerfully than just speaking. Open our eyes to those opportunities to lend helping hands, and open our hearts to seize them ands not squander them. Help us to love, to lighten loads, and see a holiday season overwhelmed with hope, joy, love and the things of your Spirit, Lord. Help us to be part of the avalanche of a good and encouraging report, because have spied out and recognize what is so beautiful and valuable in the people around us. Amen.

Walking with God

Walking with God

I was recently having a very nice conversation about Jesus with someone I had recently met who brought up the subject. And I mentioned “walking with God” and “abiding in Him” — and this noticeably caught them off guard a bit. Even though they had been talking about the differences between the pharisees and the genuine Christians — it seemed afterwards that maybe their idea of the difference between the two was that the Pharisees were zealous and that the Christians were just quiet, peaceable folks who “didn’t push their religion on other folks”. This seems to be a recurring theme for mainstream “spiritualism” in portraying Jesus as a nice, hippie teaching “love, love, love” who is “just one of the many ways to God”.

Not Jesus

I wonder if many of us at times in our lives have been most comfortable with the idea of a quiet, sleeping, inactive, almost-dead faith, because it most closely resembles our own journey where we are far from an active relationship with God — not because that is how it is actually described in the Word of God?

Remain in Me, and I [will remain] in you. Just as no branch can bear fruit by itself without remaining in the vine, neither can you [bear fruit, producing evidence of your faith] unless you remain in Me.
John 15:4 AMP

Abide

I wonder how many folks have bought into the “have you said this”, or “have you been baptized this way”, or “did you ever” checklists to “get out of hell” — instead of the call to active, abiding faith that produces fruit and brings heaven to earth? It seems to me that I didn’t understand or believe or live my life in the latter way for much of my life — that “religion” was an afterthought, like a garnish to make sure was there on the plate, but was never to actually be eaten. But I’ve found that there is so much more than that.

LORD, thank you for awakening us to our need for you daily, even moment to moment. We are your beloved, not an estranged side piece that you call up once in a while when you need some extra attention. We are your bride. Forgive us for those times in our lives when we have not treated you with the same devotion and love. Forgive us for when we have been distracted by circumstances, feelings, people, passions, desires, pride and temptations to seek after other things first in our lives. Thank you for wooing us with your great love that sets us ablaze with a fire that drives us forward in your purpose and will for our lives. Thank you for using these vessels of clay to accomplish amazing things, but even moreso for the opportunity we have to the abundant life of a restored walk with you. Our walk with you is not the “good intentioned imaginings” that the faithless spiritualist might describe as a helpful practice towards self- enlightenment and self- improvement — you are the living God who abides in His people. Let this be our lifesong, our light, our seed, and our salt upon this earth. Amen.

On a related note, this song caught my ear and made me think of Jesus, my first love:

Puppy Breath

Yesterday, we picked up my daughter Mia’s puppy for an early birthday/ Christmas present. This picture is from right when we got her yesterday. The smile on my daughter’s face lit up my heart.

Picking Up Olive

Our dog Pompom is now 3 years old and sleeps in the bed with me because I was the primary one that she bonded with as a puppy 3 years ago. Pompom loves us all equally during the day, but at night, she is going to sleep as close to “daddy” as possible. This puppy, Olive, is being crate trained at night to sleep in my daughter’s bedroom and is bonding primarily with my daughter. Mia is the one taking her outside every 1-2 hours during the day, feeding her 3 times a day, and even getting up in the middle of the night when the whimpers come to walk her. A new puppy is a major new responsibility for a 9 year old, and Mia is learning to take Olive out after eating, after naps, after hard play, and whenever Olive “starts sniffing around”.

Olive Ballinger

As I think about all of this and how blessed we are this morning,  I can’t help but think about the graciousness of God. As I think of this sweet small gift that we have given our daughter,  and how much joy it gave me seeing her happy, I think of the joy it must give the Father when He can trust us with the good and perfect gifts He has in store for us.

We couldn’t turn over the life of this sweet, tender puppy into my daughter’s primary care until she was responsible enough to do so. We gave her more and more responsibilities in taking care of Pompom prior to getting this puppy. And we taught her about the specific types of things she would need to be aware of as a “puppy mom”. And once we thought she was ready,  we decided that it actually was an appropriate time for her to receive the puppy that she has wanted for over a year now.

Pompom contemplating no longer being the only dog

Even with the challenges of the nighttime whimpers interrupting sleep last night, and with our going outside along with her — and even with the challenges of added responsibilities — my daughter is loving her new puppy. But imagine how much of a horror it could have been if we didn’t prepare her in advance? Or if we hadn’t helped her at all last night and she was alone outside not knowing what to do to make sure Olive had walked long enough to “get it all out”? Or if we hadn’t shown her how to dry off Olive with a towel after her trip into the cold and wet grass so that she would be warm and not shivering? Or if we hadn’t shown her how to swaddle Olive with blankets in her crate rub her gently through the closed crate so that Olive knew she was not alone and wasn’t being punished/disciplined, but that the boundaries of the crate were for her protection? I’m not saying that otherwise Mia might have (in her tired, unprepared state dealing with the new responsibilities) just let the puppy sleep beside her — and rolled over on her in her sleep resulting in a dead puppy and a brokenhearted daughter, where a gift became a curse. But it could have happened if we hadn’t prepared her and if we hadn’t helped her.

Mia and Olive on Our First Morning Together

And if we have some idea (as fallible, human parents) how to give good gifts  in due season to our child,  how much better does God know whether we are ready for a blessing or not?

“ Ask and keep on asking and it will be given to you; seek and keep on seeking and you will find; knock and keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who keeps on asking receives, and he who keeps on seeking finds, and to him who keeps on knocking, it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will [instead] give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will [instead] give him a snake? If you then, evil (sinful by nature) as you are, know how to give good and advantageous gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven [perfect as He is] give what is good and advantageous to those who keep on asking Him.
Matthew 7:7‭-‬11 AMP

I’m reminded of my grandfather,  Bill Edge, being hesitant long ago about letting me use one of his tractors after we initially bought our farm land. He knew that tractors have through the ages killed many an experienced farmer — and he wanted to be sure that I was ready — not just with knowledge of how the thing worked — but wisdom about the dangers, the traps, the things to avoid,  and how to recognize the dangers specific to using a multi-thousand pound piece of equipment that is very good at breaking things down and tearing then apart. Bill’s hesitation in just giving me what I wanted immediately was well justified, and it was more loving to help me prepare in the areas of wisdom with regards to tractors there by his side rather than just send me off into danger “because I wanted it”.

Grandpa Bill, Mia and the Tractor

The puppies and the tractors are such enjoyable gifts when received in due time — but the greater gifts are the love that insures we are prepared for the gifts to be “for us and not against us”. And while Mia saw us give the puppy to her, and I saw Bill give the tractor to me in due time — it is our Father in heaven who “owns the puppies and tractors in a thousand fields” — that are available for His beloved children.

For every beast of the forest is Mine, And the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, And everything that moves in the field is Mine.
Psalms 50:10‭-‬11 AMP

I love the smell of puppy breath, and I love that smell of my tractor running through a newly cut field, and I love that aroma of loving care when loved ones give us the good gifts that come from God in due time.

LORD, too often we long for the puppy breath “right now”, when you know the beautiful, perfect timing. Help us to better appreciate our many blessings and to prepare ourselves for whatever you have in store for us. Help us to not “demand” or “expect” because of our desires and passions, but to know that we can bring our every care to you — even when we want to give good gifts to those we love in the right way. Thank you so much. Amen.

Recharge

I recently read an article by a Psychiatrist about the benefits of recharging by accepting compassion from others. And while this secular author makes clear his not necessarily believing as we believe — he touches on describing the power of prayer and how he understands “why it works”. He first poses the question, “If you could encounter the most compassionate person in the world, what qualities would they have? And even though I do not walk the road of agreement in his explaining “Sometimes it helps to dialogue literally with these images, understanding that they are imaginary . Maybe you will recognize that this is what happens in religions, such as with prayer. And indeed, many people draw comfort and strength from these imaginary conversationswith gods. In CFT approach though, we are not giving these practices any spirtual meaning , but simply offering them as ways to stimulate our minds. I can’t help but appreciate that even a secular psychiatrist can recognize this need to recharge — even if my faith has led me to what I know is a genuine source of fresh waters and not just mental gymnastics of “stimulating my own mind”. Read his full article here: https://wp.me/paWTW2-2xC

We wait [expectantly] for the Lord ; He is our help and our shield. For in Him our heart rejoices, Because we trust [lean on, rely on, and are confident] in His holy name. Let Your [steadfast] lovingkindness, O Lord , be upon us, In proportion as we have hoped in You.
Psalms 33:20‭-‬22 AMP

Our morning family devotional was about recharging, about resting in the LORD. And we talked about what kinds of things make us aware of our own need to recharge. And my daughter very quickly and very easily pointed out two things that were examples where Mandee and I had recently been frustrated and “needed to recharge”. Instead of our reaction sending us into a self-preservation mode of defending our own actions — we both accepted it as true, confessed it, committed to repentance in those areas, and accepted forgiveness. In our weaknesses being brought into the light by our daughter during devotion, we were able to demonstrate resting in the LORD in order to recharge.

Our best way to teach resting in the LORD isn’t to just talk about it, preach it, journal it or publish it — it is to LIVE IT! And especially with those who live closest to us and know us best, they can see our many faults — even better than we might recognize in ourselves. Imagine the hypocrisy in reading and teaching such a lesson to my daughter about frustration and anxiety, etc and our need to recharge — if my perspective was “I’ve got this nailed, daughter, let me tell you what you should do” — while fresh in her mind was my frustration last night with AT&T DirecTV support not helping us (and seemingly just trying their best every step of the way to get us to buy more and pay more).

Yes, there are many things that I get wrong daily — there are many thoughts, words, actions and inactions that I can see afterwards missed the mark of the perfect way to handle the situation. But the point isn’t to ignore them and keep repeating the pattern. And the point isn’t to dwell on them to the point of anxiousness about my imperfection in a striving to be perfect. Neither of those roads are healthy or profitable for us. These circumstances, like a blinking low fuel light, can be a reminder that we need to rest in the LORD.

And we discussed how resting in the LORD isn’t just sleeping, or being idle,or going through the motions of a prayer/devotion/praise, but it is a genuine slowing down to hand over such things to the LORD in a transaction of our humbly bold confession for God’s all sufficient mercy and grace. And when we are making these transactions more regularly, and not driving our batteries to complete exhaustion — when we are maintaining that grateful attitude of peace in the storm because we know we are resting in the LORD and that He is walking with us — we operate properly and aren’t so easily frustrated or anxious or offended.

Frustration, anxiety, and offense are the product of our own expectations demanding something that isn’t so in the moment. If we are frustrated, it is because we think that it should have been X even though it was Y. If we are anxious, it is because we want it to be X but know that it could be Y. If we are offended, it is because we expect someone to be like X when they are like Y. If X is our will and Y is reality, how foolish and self-centered is it for us to demand that Y bow to X, that the universe bow to my demands, that the will of others submit to my will, that God do it my way?

So yes, resting in God isn’t giving Him a list of “do it my way” words wrapped in a rub of religious words and traditions — it is dying to self, confessing our weaknesses, and trusting and relying upon Him.

Opening the Windows of Heaven

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above; it comes down from the Father of lights [the Creator and Sustainer of the heavens], in whom there is no variation [no rising or setting] or shadow cast by His turning [for He is perfect and never changes].
James 1:17 AMP

It would be good for us to read the whole chapter of Isaiah 64 this morning, beloved — to contrast our own indebtedness to our cry for His mercy. But verses 1 and 5 are especially encouraging for me to include here this morning:

Oh, that You would tear open the heavens and come down, That the mountains might quake at Your presence— You meet him who rejoices in doing that which is morally right, Who remembers You in Your ways. Indeed, You were angry, for we sinned; We have long continued in our sins [prolonging Your anger]. And shall we be saved [under such circumstances]?
Isaiah 64:1‭, ‬5 AMP

And it would be good for us to read the whole chapter of Malachi 3 this morning as well, beloved. But again, I have included a small section of encouragement:

“Yet from the days of your fathers you have turned away from My statutes and ordinances and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of hosts. “But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings [you have withheld]. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, this whole nation! Bring all the tithes (the tenth) into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you [so great] a blessing until there is no more room to receive it. Then I will rebuke the devourer (insects, plague) for your sake and he will not destroy the fruits of the ground, nor will your vine in the field drop its grapes [before harvest],” says the Lord of hosts. “All nations shall call you happy and blessed, for you shall be a land of delight,” says the Lord of hosts.
Malachi 3:7‭-‬12 AMP

In James, we see the every good and perfect gift comes down from God in Heaven. In Isaiah, we see that God does indeed open up Heaven to come down to meet with those who do right and who remember Him in their ways. And in Malachi, we see that even in our turning away from Him, we can return, we can repent, we can bring it all to Him as we should, and He will open the windows of Heaven.

Now I must say, that “opening the windows of Heaven” is not some formula we should try to leverage in order to borrow against our blessings in heaven to gain health, wealth, and prosperity now. Isn’t it clear how foolish it is to be a slave to the lender within the financial realm, and don’t we see warnings in scripture about such things?

The rich rules over the poor, And the borrower is servant to the lender.
Proverbs 22:7 AMP

And how foolish would it be for us to trade our nice home built on a firm foundation that appreciates in value, and trade it for an expensive, flashy car that over time breaks down, rots and rusts.

“Do not store up for yourselves [material] treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart [your wishes, your desires; that on which your life centers] will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body; so if your eye is clear [spiritually perceptive], your whole body will be full of light [benefiting from God’s precepts]. But if your eye is bad [spiritually blind], your whole body will be full of darkness [devoid of God’s precepts]. So if the [very] light inside you [your inner self, your heart, your conscience] is darkness, how great and terrible is that darkness! “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [money, possessions, fame, status, or whatever is valued more than the Lord].
Matthew 6:19‭-‬24 AMP

Only a con artist and a thief, sent to steal kill and destroy, would try to convince a man to do such foolish things as trade whate is perfect and imperishable for what rots and rusts.

The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows].
John 10:10 AMP

What do good and perfect gifts look like? The world might answer, “Money, Physical Health, Powerful Influence, Talented Abilities, Beauty”. My 9 year old daughter with a birthday looking might say “a puppy”. I might open up the Amazon Shopping app on my phone and say “a radio tower” so that we can get reliable Internet service here on our farm in the rolling foothills of the mountains. But God tells us what the good fruit is:

But the fruit of the Spirit [the result of His presence within us] is love [unselfish concern for others], joy, [inner] peace, patience [not the ability to wait, but how we act while waiting], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature together with its passions and appetites. If we [claim to] live by the [Holy] Spirit, we must also walk by the Spirit [with personal integrity, godly character, and moral courage—our conduct empowered by the Holy Spirit]. We must not become conceited, challenging or provoking one another, envying one another.
Galatians 5:22‭-‬26 AMP

So, have we crucified our sinful nature along with its passions and appetites, like described in Galatians 5, beloved?

Are we eager for heavenly treasures that might look like unselfish concern for others, and an inner peace to wait patiently upon the Lord even in times of great challenge, like described in Galatians 5, beloved?

Or do we need to hear the call to return, like described in Malachi 3, beloved?

Therefore do not worry or be anxious (perpetually uneasy, distracted), saying, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’ For the [pagan] Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; [but do not worry,] for your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But first and most importantly seek (aim at, strive after) His kingdom and His righteousness [His way of doing and being right—the attitude and character of God], and all these things will be given to you also. “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6:31‭-‬34 AMP

Thank you, Lord, for tending tho our every need. Thank you for not letting us become so rich and fat that we forget generosity, thankfulness, and self- control. Thank you for not letting us become so poverty stricken that we forget your promises to provide for our every need. Thank you for not letting our appetites and our desires rule over us and steal from us the abundance you have in store for us. Thank you for making a way where there was no way. Thank you for opening up heaven ands meeting with us, and avoiding in us and through us to reveal yourself to a fallen world, and to spend time with us, your beloved. Amen.

Due Date

And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.
Isaiah 60:3 ESV

My pastor preached yesterday about the effectiveness of the fervent, laboring prayer of a righteous man. And he shared the example of Elijah pushing hard with his head between his knees for the rains to come — and that they came in due time. Just like a woman giving birth to a baby at her due date, Elijah’s prayer gave birth to the rain at it’s due date. In both cases, the due date was set by the seed implanted by the Father, but the fulfillment of the delivery came through their participation through the labor pains.

And when I saw today’s verse from Isaiah chapter 60, a chapter about “The future glory of Israel” — it reminds me of how Christ was delivered to the world in the same manner, as a seed of the Holy Spirit delivered through the vessel of Mary, and through her labor pains He came into this world.

Finally, isn’t this also the way that the Kingdom of God is brought into this world — by the seed of the Holy Spirit received by His beloved. And mustn’t we expect (as fervent, zealous, passionate lovers of the Lord) to go through laborious trials and challenges and suffering and persecution — so that the fruit of the Holy Spirit can be revealed through us? Doesn’t it take someone wronging us — for us to have the opportunity to bear the sweet fruit of Love in the undeserved grace type of way that reveals Christ in us? Doesn’t it take dry deserts of lasting weariness — for us to have the opportunity to bear the sweet fruit of patience that comes through faithful endurance that reveals Christ in us? Doesn’t it take storms and winds raging around us, and enemies around every side selling to destroy us — for us to bear the fruit of that peace that passes all understanding as we trust that even though it looks like we are surrounded, that our Lord is victorious and is mighty to save?

Today, I am encouraged that Isaiah 60:3 doesn’t just speak of the due date of baby Jesus “Emmanuel — God With Us”, a reminder of Christ near us, with a star in the sky and wise men bringing gifts. I am encouraged that it also speaks of this Good News and of “Christ in Us” — a seed planted in His beloved meant to go forth, multiply and bear much fruit.

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
2 Corinthians 13:5 ESV

Yes, we are carrying this light to the nations, beloved.

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
Isaiah 60:1 ESV

As He walked, we shall walk. As He talked, we shall talk. As He lived, we shall live. As He thought, we shall think. As He prayed, we shall pray. We bear the seed He has placed within us, our lives are a living testimony to the wonderful things He has promised and is fulfilling. Amen!

Sincerely Seeking

And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.
Hebrews 11:6 NLT

Seeking

I remember the task of picking up sticks and rocks from our back yard at one of the houses that I grew up in. I guess that the idea was that by regularly picking up the sticks and pulling rocks out of the soil, that eventually we might end up turning the bare ground under the trees into something more hospitable for grass to grow. And there was a big difference between going out there and making a half effort (just picking up the larger fallen limbs and loose rocks) versus sincerely seeking out the rocks that needed to be pulled from the soil and getting up all the small twigs. This verse about faith, about pleasing God, and about reward reminds me of the important difference between seeking and sincerely seeking.

There have been Sunday morning church gatherings where I showed up,  I smiled,  I sang,  I even thought and considered the “good advice” and “motivational message”, and I even enjoyed the experience — but because I let it be about me, it was only surface level,  it was only going through the motions, it was “what we do on Sundays”. And this can be true for Sunday church services,  daily devotionals, blessing our food, pretty much anything that just becomes empty tradition, religious practice, and habit. Amos chapters 5 and 6 should be a sobering reminder to us who have fallen into that trap. We should all be encouraged to read convicting passages such as those two chapters often enough for their weight to shake the ground of our complacency and remind us of our need to sincerely seek the Lord.

The question, beloved, is not whether we are seeking Him — because you are reading what could be considered a “religious text” right now. And if neither the author nor the reader of this are sincerely seeking God, then it is just religious activity with no real faith — and it is impossible for such things to please God. If that were the case,  we should stop immediately and do no more harm with our hypocrisy. But I do have faith that He is at work, and I am confessing and repenting from those times I have not been sincere. And regardless of my own weaknesses and shortcomings and repeated failures, I am seeking Him sincerely because I cannot do this alone — He is my strength. Even if it feels slow and repetitive, even if I become distracted and find that I have slipped into surface level auto-pilot for a while — He turns even that into a reminder that I need to draw close again, sincerely. And I pray the same for you, beloved.

We are His beloved. He is our reward. People seek the reward that they truly want most. Will He be our truest desire today? Do we truly believe He is our greatest reward?

One of the greatest things that I can do for my wife is to desire her above all other women. One of the worst things that I can do is to desire someone else above her. My actions,  my words,  my thoughts with respect to my wife will be a reflection of what I believe about her in my heart.

And the same is true of God. Our faith, our belief about who He is — as either a burdensome religious obligation to be met — or as a treasured companion to seek sincerely and walk with daily — this is our opportunity to please God. And what a reward it is!

Is my heart on fire with a sincere desire for the Lord?

Lord, I have been guilty. I have forgotten at times my greatest reward. I have forgotten at times my first love. But I have seen that your love for me is what keeps me seeking you sincerely, and that seeking you sincerely is a wonderful reward in and of itself. Thank you for revealing yourself to me in this way. Thank you for your many mercies, and your undeserved grace and favor towards me. Thank you for reminding me that I am your beloved, and that you are mine. I’m eager to spend another day together, and eternity too. Amen.