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.

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.

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.