The Lord’s Song Over Me

Coffee sign, Grand LakeThe warm smell of multiple brews of coffee enticed me to wait for my companion in the bistro area of the grocery store.  I approached the multiple 3-person tables and sat down at the only unoccupied set of chairs.  An unexpected sense of ease and peace rushed over me.

I mused that maybe it was simply the act of sitting and doing nothing that brought on that unanticipated calm, as the week just ended had been intensely focused on tasks and chores, long hours and short nights.

Yet what I experienced felt intensely social.  It was as if I were actually part of the small-table community and had stepped in to visit a familiar group of friends.  The sensation was both pleasant and curious, as I knew no one there and was sitting alone.  But that friendly hum of background voices was ministering to me like an uplifting song.

Then came an ah-ha moment…maybe it “felt” like a song because the Lord was actually singing over me right there, in the midst of the commonest of situations.

Zephaniah 3:17 states, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior.  He willIMG_5737 exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of Joy.” (NASB) The Living Bible translation phrases the end of that scripture with, “It is the Lord Himself exulting over you with happy song.”

I have been touched before by His representatives in nature — through a prolonged bird’s reverie or  the ear-catching sound of water navigating its particular path.  The Psalms frequently refer to Nature singing praise to its Maker, the Lord: “All the trees in the forest will sing for joy” (Psa. 96:12); “Let the mountains sing together for joy” (Psa. 98:8).  In Psalm 96, “Sing to the Lord, all the earth.” (Psa. 96:1)

But this song shared an undeniably Personal touch, weaving His Presence of fellowship and camaraderie into a moment of intimacy just for me, just for that moment.  It brought refreshment, energy, a deep sense of thankfulness and reset strength for the day ahead.

Mark 6:8 states, “For your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

I definitely needed His song on that day.  Each and every one of us have moments, hours, days, when the uplifting of His song in our lives brings much-needed renewal.

IMG_8463And I say, Thank you.  “You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar.”  (Psa. 139:2)

Thank you, indeed — my Friend, my Guide, “my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust”! (Psa. 91:2)

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)

Looking Up from an Avalanche: Why God Chooses Rain

The prediction of a significant mid-week “blizzard event” has indeed come to pass and is in progress.  As the snow piles up on our deck ledge, pushing upwards of 9-10-11 inches in stature, I am enjoying the view from inside, sitting close to the warmth of the fireplace.snowstorm from the window

Just twelve hours earlier, at midnight, I had been lulled to sleep by the steady and relaxing sound of rain falling on the deck, the roof, plunking on the outside metal BBQ.  As I drifted into a wonderful rest, I unexpectedly recalled the words to a mid-80’s song whose first line was, “It’s beginning to rain, hear the voice of the Father….”  The gentle, relaxing melody had whispered me into slumber.

In quick curiosity I looked up the title of the tune and discovered it was a Jimmy Swaggart creation, made perhaps more famous by Bill Gaither a decade later, when I had first heard it. The second line invites, “Saying whosoever will, let him drink of the waters, For He said, ‘I will pour My spirit upon your sons and daughters.’ So if you’re thirsty and dry, look up to the sky, it’s beginning to rain.’”

And as I looked out the window at the fierce downpour of wind-whipped white, I had the whimsical thought, I’m so glad God doesn’t offer us His Spirit as a snow storm instead of a gentle rain. leaf edge drops

At first I chuckled at the rather fanciful comparison. Then, as I thought about it, an ah-ha moment of sensing divine wisdom arose.  The word that came to my mind was avalanche.

Colorado’s winter-into-spring transition has already birthed a significant number of avalanches due to radical temperature swings: 28-degrees and snow one day, 60-degrees two days later, snow and 28-degrees two days after that.  Freeze-thaw-freeze….and then a white cloud billowing dramatically into the air when an avalanche is triggered and sheets of snow recklessly plunge down the mountainside.

This cycle of nature and the intervals of stress-ease-stress in our own lives forms a pretty good parallel.  Oftentimes, the triggering point in our lives is just as unexpected – and with little warning, here it comes, a significant emotional slide that leaves us bewildered and sometimes displaced, wondering just-what-happened and facing the uncertainties of what-comes-next.

This is not a back-slide, mind you…but a slide layered by frustration, unmet expectations and exasperation when the things we think we know about God’s nature, His transforming power in our lives and on this earth appear stymied, nullified, thwarted despite our prayers and anticipation of results.

IMG_2571In I Thess. 5:24, Paul teaches, “Faithful is He who calls you and He also will bring it to pass.”  (NASB)  The Message translates that verse, “The One Who called you is completely dependable.  If He said it, He’ll do it!”

That’s not a bad place to securely hang your hat, once you’ve gone through the effort to retrieve it from the snowfield.

The Amplified Bible, Classic Edition offers a rendering that is the most thought-provoking to me: “Faithful is He who is calling you (to Himself) and utterly trustworthy, and He will also do it (fulfill His call by hallowing and keeping you).”  (I Thess 5:24)

I admit it – I have never spent much time thinking about the specific intent of my heavenly Father hallowing (setting aside for holy use) and keeping me expressly to fulfill His goal that my ears and heart would be open to hear, respond, embrace His persistent and loving call.Single rose in the spruce

In similar theme, Hebrews 12:2 describes Jesus as “the author and perfecter of faith.”  (italics added)

What encouragement and hope to strengthen ourselves in Him!  In I John 3:2, we are reminded, “Beloved, now we are children of God and it has not appeared as yet what we will be.”

We are creations in process and He Who saw us before our beginning, also sees us beyond our life on this earth.  That fully includes those times before the avalanche, after the avalanche, and – especially — during the avalanche.  It is unlikely we can fully declare our lives a “No Avalanche Zone,” and Jesus warned those who listened, “In the world you have tribulation. (John 16:33)

He did, and we do. And He encourages us to “take courage; I have overcome the world.”

raindrop on leafHis Spirit gently sends us His comfort, loving reassurance and guidance in the soft kindness that mirrors rain, not the chilling touch of snow.  It is a metaphorical rain that melts the frozen and hard areas of our hearts and lives and allows us to firmly embrace and stand in the security of His Love.

Singing for Joy in the Temple

Overwhelmed by a sense of joy in the Lord, I wrote this quick post and want to share its moment of exultant praise with you!

February 27, 2019:  It is a beautiful morning and I have received a wonderful and unexpected gift:  this warm, sun-filled morning with many different species of birds passing through, singing and wing-flapping and chirping on the way.  Psalm 84:1 reads…Fall-Winter Journal, 2018-19

bird on feeder roof macro

Thoughts on Being Blessed, Post-Thanksgiving

As I’m changing out my fall-themed coffee mugs for those reflecting the Christmas and winter season ahead, I work around the single autumnal-themed coffee cup kept in the cupboard year-round.  It is not creative in shape or size, but amidst a background of rust-and-yellow-leaves and fanciful flourishes the word BLESSED scrolls across the front of the mug three times.  Once for each Person in the Trinity, I think to myself.

BLESSED.

Blessed – by the love and guidance of the Father.

Blessed – by the Life-instilling, reconciled-with-God work of the Son.

Blessed – by the indwelling Presence and daily ministry of the Holy Spirit in my life.

That coffee cup is a visual a reminder of this truth – a truth that needs constant reinforcement as I go about the inroads and outroads of my daily life.

Merriamwebster.com shares general definitions of the word, separating out the category of “religion”:  venerated, hallowed, beatific.  The rest of the descriptions include “of or enjoying happiness; bringing pleasure, contentment, or good fortune.”  Vocabulary.com   includes the context, “highly favored or fortunate (as e.g. by divine grace); if you say you’ve been blessed, you feel lucky to have something—health, love, fame, fortune, talent, etc.

Feeling lucky to have something; enjoying happiness or contentment:  while not necessarily inaccurate, these are perceptions that can be stripped from us like sheets from a bed.  Perception and feeling are as passing as are shadows with the movement of the sun…so we find the truest clue of the word’s meaning within the parenthesis, those three little words:  by divine grace.

“Blessed” is not in celebration of what we feel, things that can be unceremoniously removed, not “livin’ the life,” “rolling with the good times” or even experiencing a temporary 14-er height of ecstacy in God’s Presence.

It is a truth about us which He has created and sustained.  I believe we are to tenaciously and persistently seek, walk, live, and breathe in the amazing awareness that He has made us something we were not, and instilled upon us His favor, extended His divine grace into every fiber of our being.

God blessed Creation in Gen. 1:19-22, transforming what was “formless and void” into what was His sovereignty and creativity actively manifested and grand, spectacular and awe-inspiring; He blessed the creation of Man, male and female, in Gen. 1:27-28; and “of dust from the ground” (Gen. 2:7) completed the physical creation of Man, “made in Our Image, according to Our likeness” (Gen. 1:26).

Likewise, He takes those formless and void areas of our lives, the areas which have been reduced to dust, and blows the breath of Life into them, that they may live.

Paul greeted the saints at Ephesus by saying, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.  In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” (Eph 1:3-6)

Blessed, indeed…so that we, like, Paul, may proclaim “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” (2 Cor. 4:8-10).

There is much in this world that afflicts, perplexes, and persecutes.  Because we are blessed, the abundant life of Jesus is ours to embrace as well as release to others, to strengthen us and provide the breath of life to those around us.

Peaches in October

It’s passing the middle of October.  Yet I am still attracted to the carefully-organized peaches on display at the grocery store.

My slow-walking-then-stop is accompanied by an internal conversation between common sense and my desire for yet one more delicious fruit….peaches in October?  They’re not going to be any goodstill, they don’t look too bad on the outside and I think I can smell a peach scentwhat if these were late-harvested peaches, and they really aren’t so old?

 Two peaches-in-October were carefully placed into the plastic produce bag and carted off to the brightly lit check-out stands.

The next morning, I discovered that the first peach gave me an “OK” eating experience.  Not as juicy or peachy as I would have liked; but peachy-tasting enough, a decent texture, and not too bad…for mid-October.  Then came Peach Number Two the following day:  the odd-colored flesh around the seed gave me warning #1.  The equally odd texture when I sliced it gave me warning #2.  Still, I took a bite…and I don’t know what the flavor actually was, but it definitely was not peachy, and it flew speedily into the nearby open trashcan.

Yep—in my book, peach-buying season really had officially ended.

The reality, of course, is that “peach season” had truly ended at least a couple months earlier.  I had hoped-against-hope that there were still a few “good ones” out there, although I knew the quality would be lacking, the flavor would have declined, and the texture would not be the same as an in-season, truly fresh peach.  Even armed with all these facts, however, the peach still looked so good from the outside I decided to give it a try.

And I felt like the Lord whispered, that’s how compromise gets its traction.  The enemy is a deceiver and what he offers is empty.

The seriousness of His statement gave me a jolt.  It was a weighty and unexpected thought when contrasted with my simple pondering regarding out-of-season peaches.

CompromiseSuperficial appeal.  I could picture myself standing with Eve in the Garden of Eden, contemplating that fruit as “a delight to the eye.” (Gen. 3:6)  The enemy always uses the same strategy — deception, misrepresentation.

Then Proverbs 25:26 came to my mind:  “If a godly man compromises with the wicked, it is like polluting a fountain or muddying a spring.” (Living Bible)

That description provides a vividly graphic mental image.  Although there is no moral consequence to unwisely betting on the quality of October peaches, with moral compromise does come consequence:  to our soul.  To our judgment and perceptions.  To our freedom and honesty in our walk with Him.  To our witness of Him to others.

The Message translates 2 Cor. 6:14-18 with Paul exhorting, “Don’t become partners with those who reject God.  How can you make a partnership out of right and wrong?  That’s not partnership, that’s war.  Is light best friends with dark?  Does Christ go strolling with the Devil?  Do trust and mistrust hold hands?  Who would think of setting up pagan idols in God’s holy Temple?  But that is exactly what we are, each of us a temple in whom God lives.  God himself put it this way:  ‘I’ll live in them, move into them; I’ll be their God and they’ll be my people.  So leave the corruption and compromise; leave it for good,” says God.  “Don’t link up with those who will pollute you.  I want you all for Myself.  I’ll be a Father to you; you’ll be sons and daughters to me.”

When I think of the phrase “gaining traction” I picture a car on the side of a road, slowly trying to enter the established lane.  It’s a deliberate, strategic, well-timed act that requires some element of friction between surface and tire to enable momentum forward.

In our lives, situations and people that generate friction seem to be abundant.  The momentum of the enemy to move forward into the lane of our lives is often easily achieved through simple and random interactions.

When Paul taught the Ephesians, “do not give the devil an opportunity,” (Eph. 4:27 NASB) it was preceded by several instructions, one which is phrased two different ways:  “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” (Eph. 4:25)

Laying aside falsehood.

Speak truth each one of you.

Don’t pretend your October peaches were picked in June.  Granted, that’s not scripture…but the principle is the same.  Don’t deceive yourself or others about the nature of what you contemplate. Through forgiveness and truth, compassion and  humility, keep your fountain clear, your spring of His life unclogged, and your lane of life cleaned of traction-enabling debris.