The Kingdom and a Cup of Coffee

June 11, 2019:  I must be tired this morning, as evidenced by the fact I poured the sugar into my coffee cup…before I poured in the coffee!  That may be the common sequence for you or most of my coffee-drinking friends, but not for me.  And as I stared at the granulated crystals in disbelief, I started to chuckle.

The Lord often brings Scriptures to my mind at the oddest times.  In that moment, glaring into my sugar-only coffee cup, that act represented the futility of effort without purpose, and I thought of Ahimaaz.  No, not by his exact name at first…but I recalled the Old Testament incident of the youth who insisted on running a considerable distance to King David as if he had an urgent message — even though he had been given no message to carry.

In 2 Samuel 18:19-32, Ahimaaz the son of Zadok earnestly requested that Joab allow him to carry news of Absalom’s death to King David.  Joab refused his request, stating, “You are not the man to carry news this day, but you shall carry news another day.”  Ahimaaz repeated his request to run, to which Joab responded, “Why would you run, my son, when you have no reward for going?”  Finally, Ahimaaz insisted that even without a message to deliver, “But whatever happens, I will run.”  Joab finally gave consent for him to go ahead and carry out his plan.

Ahimaaz not only ran the full distance, but ran with such great speed he actually passed the Cushite messenger Joab had commissioned to perform the task.  And, upon arriving, bowed before King David with a greeting of generically good news.  Since he was unable to answer the specific questions on the king’s mind, he was instructed to “Turn aside and stand here.”  The actual messenger had been observed from a distance and was now approaching.

Sugar in a cup devoid of coffee.  That’s what Ahmaaz was, on that day.

And unfortunately, we all fall into that category at one time or another.

Path up mtn, RMNPThe apostle Paul pointed out to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may win…therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air…” (I Cor. 9:24, 26)

Tiredness.  Distraction.  Misdirection. The monotony of too-full days following one after another.  The world and the enemy work overtime to procrastinate or eliminate any sense of divine destiny we may contemplate. The goal is to conform us to a role of subservience, being little more than slaves whose lives unceasingly focus on meeting worldly obligation and expectation.

IMG_9112Prayer.  Worship.  Reflection on His thinking, His priorities, His lifestyle.  Aligning choices with His wisdom.  Discovering our part in His plans and consciously choosing to focus and move forward in that direction with deliberation, acknowledging that we are His hands, feet, and voice on the road we travel.

In Acts 20:24, Paul makes reference that he needed to “finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus.”

It is not only Paul who had a course and ministry to finish, but the same Christ Jesus also gives to each one of us a course and a ministry.  Paul taught those in Ephesus, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10)

Some of our courses are what the world labels “grand” or “extraordinary”…and some are what the world would consider modest, perhaps even inconsequential.

Zach with cakeYet, was Jesus’ command to His disciples, “Permit the children to come to Me” (Mark 10:14) any less holy, God-breathed, or manifesting-the-Father’s-love than His command to Lazarus, “Come forth!”?  (John 11:43)

Not really.  There is no greater wonder than an omniscient, all-wise and loving God who states that “The kingdom of God belongs to such as these,” with respect to children.  As translated in The Message, Romans 9:21-22 asks the question, “Isn’t it perfectly obvious that the potter has a perfect right to shape one lump of clay into a vase holding flowers and another into a pot for cooking beans?”

IMG_9172And there we are.  Some of us shaped as coffee cups that are truly breathtaking in their intricately shaped handle and elaborate gold-leafed, colorful adornment….and some who are one-shaded, simply designed, functional without any specific distinction.

The shape of the cup is not ours to choose…our choice is to liberally be filled with His coffee and not conduct our lives as empty vessels containing only a small scoop of sugar.

Bird Steps and the Path of Wisdom

I was watching a small black bird carefully weave its path through piles of birdseed recently kicked to the deck by a sunflower seed-thieving chipmunk.  I was amazed at how carefully the bird chose which seeds to eat, walking right over some kernels while stopping to furiously peck at others.  Despite a diverse mixture of shapes, sizes and textures, I consider the round-and-the-long to all fit into a single category:  birdseed.  Each and every kernel providing a perfect diet fit for any bird to eat.

And then the Lord brought the word wisdom to my mind.  That quite-small bird possessed an even tinier brain.  Yet its loving Creator had instilled the appropriate amount of divine wisdom within it to recognize and choose which seeds were most beneficial to eat when presented with a wide selection to choose from.IMG_5447

And in that moment, I “got the message” — at least one of the messages:  quite often the seeds we choose to accept for our personal life-nourishment lack the wisdom God gave a bird.

Twice in Scripture, the word “leaven” is mentioned and each time it shares the same warning: “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?” (I Cor. 5:6, NASB) To the Galatians, Paul spoke, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.”  (Gal. 5:9)

These are short but significant statements, worthy to serve as launch pads for personal reflection and assessment.

It’s no secret that the world offers us many different seeds; on some occasions, they are hurled in our direction with such force that it feels like we are being blasted by a sandstorm.  Like the bird, we need to proceed with caution as we look around us and see what has landed at our feet.  For each one will bear its intrinsic destiny of fruit.  Just as we have the free will to choose nutrition-anemic Twinkies over vitamin-packed blueberries for our bodies, so we have the same free will to choose “junk food” (or even poison!) to plant the rudiments of future devastation into the soil of our souls, into the gardens of our faith. IMG_3318

Which brings us back to being mindful regarding the leaven in our lives.

Hebrews 5:4 teaches, “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” (NASB)  The Passion Translation states that scripture in this manner:  “But solid food is for the mature, whose spiritual senses perceive heavenly matters.  And they have been adequately trained by what they experience to emerge with understanding of the difference between what is truly excellent and what is evil and harmful.”

Perceiving spiritual matters.

The most public current flowing through our culture is to portray “spiritual matters” devoid of any relationship with a relational, holy and good God.  Or, to flip the coin, that same current pulls in philosophical and socio-political dregs that attempt to redefine the nature of the phrase “spiritual matters,” blurring and twisting boundaries between “truly excellent” and what may be categorized as “evil and harmful.”img_7251

Think about the practical applications of knowing and embracing this discernment:  The difference between what is truly excellent and what is evil and harmful.

I sometimes feel like the Ben Gates character in National Treasure, when he reads a key phrase on future destiny from the Declaration of Independence and then states, “Nobody talks like that anymore.”

The truth is, we should.

We breathe and walk in the midst of a generation and culture in desperate need of understanding these two concepts.  We carry out our everyday lives in the midst of a generation and culture whose surrounding influences have flipped and twisted the concepts of “truly excellent” and “evil and harmful” nearly beyond recognition, enticing us all to eat that harmful seed of non-distinction.

And some of us have.  The leaven of each concept, mixed and roiling internal conflict within us, silences our voices and dulls our convictions.

Yet His Spirit encourages us with the words, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if IMG_8744there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” (Phil. 4:8, NASB)

These are not mere “good thoughts” to keep a smile on our faces throughout the day.  These are terms of warfare.  Standards by which crooked paths may be set straight.

Truth.  Honor.  Right.  Purity.  Loveliness.  Good repute.  Excellence.  That which is worthy of praise.  Each of these is leaven to be stirred into the dough of our conscience, courage, and love towards others.  Each of those, once planted, is a seed from which roots will form and a powerful crop will emerge.  The enemy is always seeking to supplant each one with a counterfeit, a substitute loyal to himself.

Urgently, brethren, we need to order our path with “bird steps” – carefully examining the seeds that are thrown before us, rejecting as unpalatable those seeds that defy His wisdom.  Let us carefully embrace and nurture those that will enable us to walk as He walked, “making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” (Eph. 5:16, NASB)

What Mary Knew And We Often Forget

baby feetThere are three passages in Luke 1 that are well-read and often shared. The first is Luke 1:38, in which Mary responds to Gabriel’s announcement that the Holy Spirit would come upon her, and she, a virgin, would conceive a child. Her response is, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38, NASB)

I prefer The Message translation of Mary’s answer: “Yes, I see it all now: I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve. Let it be with me just as you say.” (Luke 1:38)

Part of the reason I prefer The Message translation of this brief statement is the different perspective that is expressed: In the New American Standard translation (and many others), what comes across most clearly is that something is being “done” to Mary. In The Message, her willingness to serve is revealed more clearly, even dramatically. In The Message translation, you can almost hear an audible, “Ah-Ha!” as Mary receives a flash of divine revelation regarding the moment and time in history she is about to enter….Yes, I see it all now.

I find that…well…profound. And maybe even provocative. Encouraging. If God can reveal so amazing and outrageous a plan, this fulfillment of prophecy, in a brief second of time while Mary is in the midst of her mundane, daily activities…there is certainly hope and encouragement for us, Continue reading “What Mary Knew And We Often Forget”