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Shine Where You Are Planted

 

Uncertainty is one of the most significant barriers to a prolific life. There is a formidable enemy who loves to entangle our eyes and command our concern with questions such as, what if…?

In the presence of the unknown, and that would be every moment forward, it is easy to stumble into the mire of temporal thinking. The danger here is that we are rendered useless in the present because of our preoccupation with the worrisome possibilities of the future.

Lord Jesus, we often lug old crosses into the New Year, some shaded in a cloud of ambiguity. Help us to fix our senses on You, our unwavering Father, not an uncertain future. Give us the grace to be fruitful where we are right now, not where we think we need to be.
Comfortable, peaceful and problem-free are not prerequisites for productivity, as evidenced by the life of your Son. May we remember that and move forward with the perseverance that only comes from a dependant heart rooted in You.

Friend, I pray 2018 is a remarkable year for you, but this I know for sure, trials will come. There will inevitably be a voice telling you, “I cannot do anything until I get through this, (fill in the blank).”  If we live our lives listening to that lie, we will be shackled by stagnation.

We are just as valuable in the midst of our limping as we are running, sometimes even more.

Shine where you are planted and watch what grows not only inside of you but also around you.

I wish you an abundant New Year! I love you all.

 Photo: Havana, Cuba.

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…And The Light Cannot Be Extinguisged

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More and more the theme of my days seems to be an abundance of friends who are enduring hard times. Seasons that squeeze the wind out of the sails of souls, and disrupt the dance of beating hearts.  Last night I lit a fire, and as I sat praying and gazing at the fire I was drawn to the light.  It was as if I was being nudged to come closer and look with further scrutiny.  I went and sat on the hearth and was drawn into the sight of the fire.  I was so captivated by the bright light that I failed to notice until I got close, that surrounding the beautiful, brilliant flames was a lot of smoke.  The smoke, however, did not dim, disturb or diminish the multiple, flickering flames.  It occured to me that life is a lot like that fire.  Even though we do our best to build things just right and keep our light burning bright, there will always be smoke around.  It actually appears that the brighter we burn for Christ the heavier the smoke.  One fact for certain, if the fire is burning bright, the smoke cannot disturb its brilliance or perseverance without our permission that in times of chaos has to be guarded everyday.  Right to keep your lights burning, friends. You are loved!

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The Power of Thorns

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What “thorns” are you living with today?   We all have at least one.   The thing we pray and pray that God will take away.   Sometimes He does, and sometimes He does not.   Maybe it is a chronic illness, a prodigal child, a broken relationship, a deep loss, addiction, or simply life did not turn out as we planned on many fronts.   Even the Apostle Paul lived with a “thorn” in his side.   He prayed to The Lord for the thorn to be removed, but He did not.

Paul demonstrates for us in 2 Corinthians 12 that it is possible to live with a “thorn” in our sides and still reflect the character of a loving God.   Whatever “thorn” you are living with today, maybe there are many, there is power in your “thorn.”   They afford us access to greater amounts of grace.   “Thorns” are the seeds that grow virtue, build character, perseverance, humility, empathy and so much more.  

We may never understand why God removes some “thorns” from our lives and not others.   Psalm 131:1 says, I do not concern myself with matters too great or too awesome for me to grasp.   Asking why is futile. Resting in what is for now, is faith.

Father, I confess the “thorns” in my side sometimes steer me down a path of unbelief and away from you. Enable me to remember and practice their power that leads me down a path towards You.   Help us all remember today that the condition of our heart is always more important than the conditions of our life. Amen.

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The Sweetest Fruit

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When I was a child, we had a ditch that ran alongside and behind our property. It was a ditch, but from the perspective of my childhood imagination it was a rocky, dangerous ravine. The ditch, formidable as it was or was not, did have some steep, slippery spots. I would often fall and slide into the murky, water that sometimes housed water moccasins. Snakes terrified me, so I was hesitant to be too adventurous.

In the summertime, berries would grow on vines along that ditch. I distinctly remember that the biggest, most shiny and sweetest berries were in the most challenging spots to maneuver. I was a fearful child, so I didn’t venture to those places often, but when I did; oh to taste such sweet fruit! It could not compare to the berries growing in the flatter, less intimidating topography. Although I can remember being very afraid to pursue those berries, I knew the reward that was waiting for me, so I would muster the courage from time to time. I can still hear how loud my heart would beat. I can feel how fast it would race as if it would break out of my chest. My breathing would be fast and heavy, and I would be sweating but I would risk it all because I had experienced, and come to know the superior taste of the sweeter berries.

Life is a lot like the scary parts of that ditch, and the fruit experienced at its most precarious locations. We sometimes find ourselves in places where we risk falling, getting scraped and cut, and often that does happen. Life has a way of cutting us up, but God has a way of carving us from our slips and falls.

As I look back now, the sweetest and most nourishing fruit has been acquired in the most treacherous places. Sure, life is good when I am living on level land, but oh to taste the fruit of growth that only happens when we are in the ravenous ravines. It is here where we gain the sweetest rewards. Unlike capturing the berries, we may not immediately taste the sweetness of life’s valleys.

As I came to know the nature of those dangerous berries by taste, though, so I have come to know the character of God also through experience. If we are looking for God not just in the safe places but in the scary ones, too; if we know His faithfulness, we have confidence what joy awaits us. Experiencing God is what gives us the endurance and the strength to persevere through all the ditches we fall into throughout life. Also, knowing Him gives us the courage to get up and keep pursuing life, not from a position of safety but surrender. God enables us to walk victoriously through life’s intimidating places. Psalm 18:33 promises us this: He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights.

The fruit found in our most perilous places yields the greatest growth and the sweetest victories. If you are walking a rocky road right now, be encouraged. Dirt roads are paved with fertile soil.

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Fear Versus Faith

My daughter and I have a tradition every morning during our commute to school.   She picks a Bible verse to read to me, and we discuss what it means and how we may apply it to our lives.   It has become a very special time for both of us.   It is my favorite time of the day!

Two days ago she read me Romans 12:2.   I loved that she picked that verse.   Our discussion was rich and applicable to our lives on many fronts.   It was a treasured discussion that I won’t soon forget!

The beauty of God’s word is how it imprints our hearts and ministers to us in our times of need. Yesterday was the perfect example.   I had a fearful day. I was thankful when I awoke at 3 AM this morning to have Romans 12:2 and many other appropriate verses that immediately became my defense against the enemies of the night such as anxiety and worry.

It is funny because the day before my daughter read Romans 12:2, I had listened to a sermon by Tim Keller on Romans 12:1.   Romans 12:1 says: And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you.   Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind he will find acceptable.   This is truly the way to worship him.

In the old testament, sacrifices were made in the form of animals.   We thankfully do not practice that style of sacrifice anymore.   Alternatively, we are the sacrifices we present to God each day.   It is an ongoing process of presenting our will, our desires and our needs to God and relinquishing our hands from them.   In his sermon, Keller humorously noted that the problem with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar.   He makes a great point!    In all seriousness, though, we are to be constant living sacrifices, and that takes intention, effort, determination, and time.   It is a marathon and not a sprint.

The truth is, whether we are running life as a marathon, renewing and committing ourselves to God daily or running as a sprint under our authority and sufficiency; both are challenging.   What the first gives us that the latter does not are promises of hope and joy.   It equips us with an ability to fall in all the pot holes along the race, only to rise, dust ourselves off and keep running.   The circumstances and conditions of our race do not define us, but they depict the character of a living God who lives inside us.   I would much rather be eternally equipped for the marathon of life, than dependent on myself or someone other than Jesus, to run this race with me.

When I fail to present myself coonsistently to God, renewing my mind daily, life gets messier than usual.

Fear is born of the world. It constantly lurks around vying for my attention.   It is an invisible assailant focused on extinguishing faith.   This is what fear looks like for me when I am not vigilant about soul maintenance:
F–fragile
E–emotional
A–alone
R–reactive

Alternatively, faith is not nurtured by the things of this temporary life, but an eternal one. Faith is a wiser choice, but it requires a constant renewing of my mind. Faith, while never perfectly mastered leads me closer to where I desire to be:
F–free
A–anchored
I–insulated
T–together
H–hopeful

Romans 12:2~Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

May we all run this race with joy and perseverance friends!   It is not efficient, but highly effective.   It is not for the weak but the wise.   It is not a promise of a perfect life but a purposeful one.   It is a promise of a perfect eternity.   That is good news!