Warnings & Responses

Early in the pandemic, my son and I went for a walk.  I asked him what his thoughts and feelings were in regards to the COVID sickness and its escalating consequences.  With no hesitation, he announced the pandemic was a warning and not a punishment.  He went on to explain that God wanted his children to consider their ways in light of His Word.  I do not think it is a coincidence the Holy Spirit has led the Anderson household to the Book of Ruth and its truths during this time of uncertainty.  (Pause for Thought:  “If in spite of these things you do not accept my correction but continue to be hostile toward me, I myself will be hostile toward you and will afflict you for your sins seven times over.  And I will bring the sword on you to avenge the breaking of the covenant.  When you withdraw into your cities, I will send a plague among you, and you will be given into enemy hands.  When I cut off your supply of bread, ten women will be able bake your bread in one oven, and they will dole out the bread by weight.  You will eat, but you will not be satisfied.”—Leviticus 26:23-26   What’s your opinion in regards to the pandemic?  Is it a circumstance of nature, mankind, the Lord?  How have you been responding to the pandemic in behavior and attitude?  Have you any peace?)
 
In the first chapter of Ruth, we understand a famine, one of the Lord’s ways of warning his people as described in Leviticus, was upon the land affecting Naomi and her family.  The family left for Moab; a country reviled by the Lord for it incestuous and self-indulgent origin, further leaving the promises of God behind.  All but Naomi and her two Moabite daughters-in-law would survive after ten years of living in Moab.  Ruth knew about the Lord and his promises to Naomi and her people, so she refused to live in Moab.  She wanted to be part of the promise.   (Pause for Thought:  “Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.  For he wounds but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal.  From six calamities he will rescue you; in seven no harm will touch you.”—Job 5:17-19   How have you considered God’s ways during the pandemic?  Have you thought them relevant or irrelevant?  How have you advised yourself?  Others?  To what effect?)
 
When Ruth returned with Naomi to Bethlehem, she met Boaz.  Boaz had stayed in the land steadfast on the promises of God.  He knew the famine that had gripped the land was the Lord’s way of calling and disciplining His children.  Boaz’s understanding of God’s ways caused him to not only trust in God’s words, but also to apply them to everything he did in his life.  The evidence is in the facts of Boaz expanding his fields, leaving food for the foreigner, and becoming the kinsman redeemer of Naomi’s family.  He not only heard but practiced God’s words to Joshua, “Be strong and very courageous.  Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.  Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful.”  Ultimately, Ruth and Boaz would literally make the way for Jesus’ first coming (see Mathew Chapter 1).  Read the Old Testament Book of Ruth.    (Pause for Thought:  “Hold on to what you have until I come.  To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father.  I will also give that one the morning star.  Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”—Revelation 2:25-29  What is the Father asking you to do right now?  Is he asking you to be decisive, like Ruth, and turn away from false promises and hopes, and enter into His truth and His ways of living?  Is he asking you, like Boaz, to be disciplined and steadfast in His will, so you may benefit others and pave the way for Jesus’ 2nd coming?  What will you do?)  
 

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Gratifying Adversity

My son and I witnessed our first Bald Eagle of this year a week ago.  The stark white head and tail sandwiching the dark brown body was on full display in the sunlit afternoon sky as the eagle took wing from a copse of trees overlooking a small pond and marshy area adjacent to our subdivision.  We happened to be out for a walk to break up the monotony of the “stay home” order due to the COVID-19 outbreak.  The eagle’s majestic flight was just what we needed to ponder God’s plan in these adverse times.  (Pause for Thought:  “Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”—Psalm 103:2-5  How has God’s Spirit captured your attention in these days?  What good things has He provided you to ponder?  How has He used you to be a “good thing”?  How has current adversity caused you to feel?)
 
The eagle is an animal familiar with adversity and acquainted with the pain and discomfort of life circumstances nature throws its way.  In a high, solitary nest, the eagle prepares a home for its eaglets.  The nest is extraordinarily large—sometimes 10 feet wide by 20 feet deep—because the eagle wants a clean, clear perch from which to survey its surroundings and launch its flight.  It will have to carry tens of thousands of sticks to provide such a sanctuary.  Because of its lofty, isolated establishment, it will have to be the umbrella for its young from the rain and wind, since no natural cover is afforded.  The high take-off point for the eaglets allows the parent eagle to swoop down and provide the up-draft from its own wings to keep the young ones aloft when their immature wings falter during flight instruction.  (Pause for Thought:  “In a desert land, he found him, in a barren and howling waste.  He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft.  The Lord alone led him; no foreign God was with him.”—Deuteronomy 32:10-12  How would you measure your soul these days—Mature? Immature?  Growing?  Stagnant?  How has adversity shaped your relationship with God?  With yourself?  With others?)
 

The adult eagle knows how important it is for its young not to count on the sustenance the parent eagle provides.  If the eaglets become too comfortable in its solitary confines, the parent eagle will often deliver the food—sometimes a captured and killed lamb—to a nearby branch, forcing the baby to make a decision.  The young can rise and meet the parent at the offering—gaining faith and strength, or it can sit, emaciate, and die within its current circumstances.  I write this article on the heels of Easter; the celebration of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.  I consider Him my sacrificial lamb and the Father as the one saying arise and join my Son.  After all, it’s His Word that has taught me, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity”—Proverbs 17:17; “Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes your will see them.”—Isaiah 30:20   (Pause for Thought:  “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”—Isaiah 40:29-31  Has Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection taught you about adversity?  What specific adverse event has shaped you into the person you are?  Have you taught the “weary” and “weak” through that experience?  What does Jesus want to teach you right now?  What does he want you to teach others?)


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Counting

I told him his fish didn’t count.  Though it was one of the few fish our boat consisting of my grandfather and me had caught, and the only one he had wrestled to the net, I told my uncle his large rock bass didn’t count as part of our bag limit, and he needed to throw it back.  This greatly displeased him, and he let us know it in no uncertain terms as he released his fish back into the water.  He continued to complain about it through the day and around the campfire that night.  (Pause for Thought: “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn!  Turn from your evil ways.  Why will you die people of Israel?’  “Therefore, son of man, say to your people, ‘If someone who is righteous disobeys, that persons former righteousness will COUNT for NOTHING.  And if someone who is wicked repents, that person’s former wickedness will not bring condemnation.  The righteous person who sins will not be allowed to live even though they were formerly righteous’.”—Ezekiel 33:11-12  What measure of goodness or worthiness do you use to evaluate yourself?  What measure of goodness or worthiness do you use to evaluate others?  What thoughts and emotions course through you as you read God’s proclamation to Ezekiel?)
 
My prejudice against rock bass kept my uncle’s fish from becoming part of dinner that night.  While rock bass are fun to catch, they just don’t count as table-fare for me.  God’s prejudice against sin was determined before he created the world.  He knew the chances for sin, its allure, and its consequence of death, was possible before creating Adam and Eve.  He knew what it would cost Him to deal with it.  It would take nothing less than the life, death, and unprecedented resurrection of His perfect Son for us to be counted as His.  This is true love in decision and action form.  It illustrates how much we count to Him who created us.  (Pause for Thought:  “Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will NEVER COUNT against them.  For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.  The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.  In the same way COUNT yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”—Romans 4:8; 6:9-11;   “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, NOT COUNTING people’s sin against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”—2 Corinthians 5:18-19   How does Paul’s determination in these Roman/Corinthian passages measure with God’s words to Ezekiel?  Where do you “count” in all of this?  Do you think it is possible to live in mind, body, and spirit like Paul describes?  Why or why not?)
 
My uncle passed from this life two weeks ago.  Though he struggled through many physical and relational traumas, he knew he counted for and in what mattered most.  His life reflected the journey described by Ezekiel and Paul.  My uncle knew he was counted as righteous and his sins counted no more.  Thank you, Lord, for your Son and my uncle.  (Pause for Thought:  “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been COUNTED worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.  Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah”.—Acts 5:41-42; “All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be COUNTED worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.”—2 Thessalonians 1:5  How can life’s circumstances be an affirmation of our righteousness in Christ?”  How can measuring our life through circumstances result in following a lie?  Are you living a “counted” life today or are you living a lie?  What are you willing to do about it?)
 

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Pursuing Permanent Relevancy

I knew the odds of my finding the wedding ring in the middle of the frigid Canadian river were slim to none, but her riverside weeping kept me searching.  The cold water, dwindling daylight, and muscle spasms had caused my uncle, the owner of the lost ring, to leave his pursuit in futility and frustration.  With a few more dives left in me, I literally saw a glimmer of hope.  Too far north to be a bottle cap, I figured the shiny object had to be my quarry.  Taking my final, large breathe, I plunged to the river bed and came up with the ring.  My aunt’s wails turned to screams of joy.  What was lost had been found…as far as the ring was concerned.   (Pause for Thought:  “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one.  Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?  And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’  In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”—Luke 15:8-10  Have you ever passionately pursued something or someone only to leave the pursuit due to exhaustion, indifference, and/or forgetfulness?  What are your feelings on the matter to this day?  Have you ever pursued something to its completion?  How did those results make you feel?)
 
In His story about the lost coin, Jesus describes an Israelite woman who had lost one of her ten pieces of silver given to her by her husband at their wedding.  The silver was never to be used, unless in widowhood, and couldn’t be taken as a payment for debt.  In fact, if the husband found out the pieces were missing, it was safe for him to assume the wife had used the silver to finance a lover.  You can see why the frantic pursuit of the coin was pictured and the heavenly response of joy was described.  Heaven rejoices with those who pursue and find the “rightness” of life, even to the point of changing direction (repentance) to seek and stay in righteousness.  The Kingdom of Heaven is never irrelevant or out of reach.  (Pause for Thought:  “He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity, and honor.”—Proverbs 21:21; “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”—Psalm 34:14  Have you ever been so distracted, or even misled, to the point you forgot or neglected who you were, what you were about, or to whom you belonged?  What result did this have on your emotions and behavior?  If you sought to correct the matter, how did you do it?  What were the consequences others encountered throughout this time?)
 

I would like to tell you my heroism in the pursuit and capture of the lost ring was remembered and appreciated to this day.  The marriage the ring represented dissolved less than a year later, and the memory of the recovery isn’t near so significant or relevant at this point in time.  I wished and prayed my uncle and aunt would’ve pursued each other with the same intensity and conviction I pursued their ring.  This is how Christ pursues us, and it’s His desire we pursue His desires.  Pursuing Kingdom matters and people with the heart of Christ is the most significant and relevant thing we can do.  The need to do so is greater now than ever.  (Pause for Thought:  “Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs.  He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand.  This too is a grievous evil:  As a man comes, so he departs, and what does he gain, since he toils for the wind?”—Ecclesiastes 5:15-16    What are you pursuing right now?  How relevant and lasting is it to you and your relationships?  Is God part and result of your pursuit?  How does knowing God wants to give you your desire, so you can pursue it, capture it, and leave it help you with your decision making?)


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The Forgotten Servant

During the early stages of World War II, the United States Coast Guard vessel, Icarus, was tasked with patrolling the East Coast of America.  On May 9, 1942, the Icarus detected and sank German submarine, U-352, off the coast of Cape Lookout, North Carolina.  Icarus then rescued and detained thirty-three crew members, including its captain, from the sinking U-boat.  These were the first German prisoners taken during World War II by any branch of the United States military services.  (Pause for Thought:  “However, as it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’—the things God has prepared for those who love Him—these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.  The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.”—I Corinthians 2:9-10  Have you ever come into new information or knowledge about someone of something that caused you to have a greater respect, affection, and/or appreciation of that someone or something?  How did you behave after gaining this knowledge? )
 
The United States Coast Guard (USGC) is often called the “Forgotten Service” because many people do not recognize it for being part of the United States military services.  In fact, I now see it listed as the sixth military service, AFTER the recently established United States Space Force.  I just found out about the Icarus while my son and I were watching one of his WWII documentaries he received for Christmas.  I would probably have slept right past the exploit of the Icarus were it not for the fact my son wants to join the USGC someday, and he woke me with a, “You got Coast Guarded son!” during the Icarus snippet.  I’ve become extremely sensitive to USGC headlines because of my son’s passion for their service.  I think this is how it is with our recognition of the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity.  We remember and pursue God the Father and Jesus the Son, but we forget the Person who makes all of us one, and we can only truly appreciate the Holy Spirit when we are passionate about the Father and the Son.  (Pause for Thought:  “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.  He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.  He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.  All that belongs to the Father is mine.  That is why I said the Spirit will receive what he will make known to you.”—John 16:13-15  How does knowing the truth unite people?  How have you been pursuing truth?  How at peace is your soul with the Holy Spirit and with other people?)
 
I find all this a little ironic, and at times, confusing.  To love the Spirit, I have to love God and Jesus more and more. And to love God and Jesus more and more, I have to love the Spirit.  The irony and confusion frustrate me only when I compartmentalize the Trinity.  He is the Three in One.  Every person of the Trinity is a servant to me.  He is my one and same truth, need, and desire.  Like the USGC is part of the US Homeland Security Department in peace, it is also part of the US Navy during wartime, but it never stops being the United States Coast Guard with its intent to serve the United States of America.  The Holy Spirit is like Paul declares in the New Testament…He’s a gift of a gift…grace upon grace…to us with the intent of serving Heaven on our behalf.  (Pause for Thought:  “For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them?  In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.  The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, ‘Who has the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.”—I Corinthians 2:11-12,15  How does it make you feel knowing you could, and probably should, have the mind of Christ?  How much do you know about Jesus’ thoughts and feelings regarding this existence and eternal life?  Is there someone you know who pursues and has the mind of Christ by the gift of His Spirit?  Will you talk with this person this week, and if so, what will you choose, or remember, to talk about?)
 

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Doer

“We see you more as a doer instead of a leader,” she said to me during our post-interview meeting.  It isn’t what I wanted to hear at the time.  After twenty-six years of service in the same position, I had applied for a supervisory position that made sense for my next career steps within my current department.  My employer was gracious enough to grant a debriefing time to discuss the hiring rationale and offer some advice to further my career pursuits.  I was disappointed, needless to say, but our conversation didn’t surprise me.  I turned to God’s word to understand more of His will and my purpose.   (Pause for Thought:  “But be ye DOERS of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.  For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a DOER, he is like unto a man beholding his face in a natural glass:  For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.”—James 1:22-24  Have you ever been rejected by someone?  What were your immediate feelings?  How long did your feelings last?  What did you choose to do regarding your feelings?)
 
She went on to explain what I needed to do, or more appropriately, what I must stop doing.  “Leaders”, she said, “must stop doing and start leading.”  This just didn’t seem scriptural to me.  Great leaders of the faith were always doing–modeling, coaching, and instructing, because the Holy Spirit had placed them in circumstances where what they had done, and continued to do, helped others achieve their highest good.  Even as she spoke, I reflected on Joseph, Moses, Daniel, and most of all, Jesus.  (Pause for Thought:  “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a DOER of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.—James 1:25  Who or what do you turn to for affirmation or consolation when rejected?  How stable are these individuals or things?  Do they have a history of being rejected themselves?)
 
I am grateful my Lord, King, and Savior never stopped doing for me.  Seeing Jesus lead in all righteousness as He prays for me, heals me, affirms me, makes atonement for me, and so much more– for me, gives me the encouragement to lead by doing even if other leaders are not.  (Pause for Thought:  “Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them.  ‘You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should DO as I have DONE for you.  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you DO them’.”—John 13:12-17  How has living in and encountering what Jesus has done for you inspired you to do likewise for others?  Do you fear doing what Jesus has done for you?  Why?  What can drive away the fear, so you can be and do more like Jesus?)
 

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Tents & Tabernacle

It was a strange sight that greeted my eyes as I peered through the coffee shop window that summer morning.  Coming from the distant trees, a lone figure of a man dragging some fabric and metal tubing across the expansive parking lot caused me to do a double-take.  The man, in his early twenties, kept approaching the coffee shop front door.  The only thing stopping his entrance into the shop was the fact the door was too narrow to fit, what I could now clearly see, what was a tent frame.  Much to the manager’s relief, I convinced the man he could leave his prized, and only, possession on the grass adjacent to the store entrance.  He complied reluctantly with the suggestion, and he told me he needed to keep watch on his tent because of the bad people looking to take it from him.    (Pause for Thought:  “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”—Romans 8:38-39  Have you ever lost someone or something that you loved?  What emotions developed your thoughts and actions during that time?  Have you ever lost the love of God?  If so, why and how?)
 
The young man obviously needed something to eat and drink, so I offered to buy him a coffee and sandwich.  Concerned he would have to leave sight of his tent, I assured him I would purchase the breakfast and deliver it to him, so he could keep watch.  After he had eaten some of the sandwich, I talked about his tent, and his passion for it.  I told him his tent reminded me of a tent, a tabernacle, of Bible times, and explained the tabernacle was a tent God used when he stayed among His people.  I then explained how Jesus, God’s only son, “camped out” with us that first Christmas, and His dwelling in our hearts and lives could never be stolen by “bad people”.  (Pause for Thought:  “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”—Matthew1:23; “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”—John 1:14  Why did Jesus, fully God and fully human, have to come for you that first Christmas?  How has He been living or trying to live with you ever since?)
 
The man was intrigued enough I felt I could pray for him and the restoration of his soul.  He wouldn’t allow me to pray for his salvation, but he did want me to pray that he could “get his life together”.  I prayed for his physical tent, and I prayed for his soulful tent.  I prayed the baby of that first Christmas would someday become the Lord and King of this man’s heart, and an abundant life, an eternal life, would someday be his through Christ Jesus.  (Pause for Thought:  Jesus said, “I am the vine you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you.”—John 15:5 & 7  What have you wished for this Christmas?  How have you been remaining in Jesus?  How has he been remaining in you this Christmas?  Has there been a distraction in your life keeping you from remaining in Him?  What will you do about it?)
 

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Frayed Knot or Afraid Not?

My grandmother’s favorite joke goes something like this:  A piece of rope walks into a bar and asks the barkeep for a drink.  The tender tells the rope, “We don’t serve pieces of rope in here.”  The rope walks out of the bar dejected and discouraged until he gets an idea.  He tousles the strands of fiber on top of his head and twists and turns his body onto itself.  He then proceeds to walk back into the bar, just as the barkeep exclaims, “Didn’t I tell you we don’t serve pieces of rope here!”  The rope responds, “I’m a frayed knot.”   (Pause for Thought:  “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, ‘Fear Not!  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord’.”—Luke 2:8-11  What are you afraid of missing out on this Christmas?  How are your patterns of speech, behavior, and even attitudes reflecting these fears—Are they turning you into a frayed knot?  Where do you go or to whom do you turn to hear “Good News?”)
 
I love the visual in Luke’s gospel of the shepherds “living” in the wilderness at night doing their job just as was expected of them by the rest of the world.  But on the night described in Luke Chapter 2, tending flocks, as usual, wasn’t going to suffice for their highest good.  The angel had to tell them to, “calm down, rest assured, it’s alright tonight and every night hereafter because things are changing for the better.  Heaven is coming to earth and people will be saved from themselves.”  I would think I would be startled, if not terrified, by the sight of the angel, but I think I would be more afraid to change who I am and what I’m supposed to do in light of the message the angel brought.  I would be afraid to give up control of what I know or even what is expected of me.  (Pause for Thought:  “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manager.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”—Luke 2:16-18  Why did the shepherds quit what they were supposed to be doing?  What could have happened when the shepherds stopped shepherding?  Is there something the Spirit is asking you to stop doing this Christmas?  What do you feel could be the consequences of your stopping?  Are your feelings adequate in light of God’s truth and promises to you?)
 
This time of year hits like a freight train.  I tell myself the world will be more relaxed, less stressed, and more tolerant, but each year seems worse than the last according to my physical senses and emotional responses.  Truth is, the stress comes from everywhere except the Good News, and this time of year, Christmas Time, is all about the Good News.  I choose to add to my own stress by pushing myself into a mold of my own or the worlds choosing instead of changing according to the Spirit’s directive and power over my life.  This Christmas, I will choose not to tie myself into a frayed knot.  I will choose to let the Good News transform me and send me in Jesus’ Name.  (Pause for Thought:  “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will.”—Romans 12:2  What is the difference between conforming and transforming?  How does the Good News that Jesus saves us transform us?  How does spreading, sharing, and living the Good News transform us and others?  What will your transformation look like this Christmas?)
 

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Fish House Worship

It started innocently enough. I had just beaten the rain to the dock and entered the fish cleaning house with my morning’s catch, when the other two entered through the spring-hinged screen door. The typical fishing pleasantries were shared between the three of us—“Those are wall-hangers where we come from.” I asked where they were from, and they said the Monroe area. I was grateful for their compliment and congratulated them on the number of fine panfish lying on the cleaning table; however, my spirit said there was more to these two gentlemen than the smell of fish and rain-soaked outerwear. (Pause for Thought: “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear’.”—Luke 1:41-42. Have you ever sensed there was more to a meeting with a stranger than what was happening through your physical senses? To what did you attribute it?)

I could tell they sensed more to me, as well. The questions started becoming more personal and the explanations more detailed. Then it finally happened. The question and explanation we all were waiting to hear—“Are you a Christian? What does Christ mean to you?” The younger of us stated he had recently, within the last couple of years, surrendered his heart to Jesus and enjoys cooking for his church’s wild game dinner outreach. The older of us declared he was the retired pastor of a church in Monroe, and it was he who led the younger to faith in Christ. The worship began. Our hunting and fishing adventures took second-place to the miracles Jesus had wrought in our lives and how the Holy Spirit was changing us daily. (Pause for Thought: “It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God.”—3 John 3-6 When is the last time you were doing something menial or mundane only to have it turn into a worship-fest? Who was with you?)

I know our meeting was not by chance, and I know the hobby of fishing lends perfectly to my soul’s sense of the Holy Spirit when I meet fellow fishermen. Throughout the gospels, Jesus turned an ordinary outing on a lake or shore into a worship service. I know he does it with the many talents and hobbies He bestows upon His children. For the disciples who were fishermen and became fishers-of-men, no morning catch would ever be the same. (Pause for Thought: “I’m going out to fish,’ Simon Peter told them, and they said, ‘We’ll go with you’. So they got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that is was Jesus. He said, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish? Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.”—John 21:3-6,14. Has Jesus used your gifts or talents to make your spirit and soul aware of His presence and/or His presence in others? Have you thanked God for these gifts and talents and expressed your worship for the times He encounters you in your efforts?)


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Slave To Love

My favorite song as a child was “Kaw-liga” by Hank Williams and Fred Rose (1953).  The story-filled song is about a wooden indian, Kaw-liga, who “Falls in love with an indian maid over in the antique store.”  Even as a youngster, I related to Kaw-liga in his fear of the unknown and critical.  He was, “Too stubborn to ever show a sign, because his heart was made of knotty pine.”  Though filled with feelings of affection, Kaw-liga and I rationalized away opportunity after opportunity to act upon what we felt.  Living and loving became difficult to the point of isolation and loneliness.  (Pause for Thought:  “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”—II Timothy 1:7  When do you feel most vulnerable and alone?  What does, “perfect love casts out all fear” mean to you?)
 
My uncle was a guitarist and lead-vocalist in a country-music band.  He would always ask for requests when he knew I was in the audience, but I was too afraid to ask for “Kaw-liga”.  My aunt would make the request for me, and then she would do something that still amazes me to this day; she would whoop about the stage, dancing like an indian while my uncle sang “Kaw-liga”.  My heart still smiles every time I hear the song and reflect on my families’ love for a fear-crippled child.
 
David did something similar to my aunt when he brought the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God’s presence, into Jerusalem (See II Samuel Chapter 6).  Though he was a king, he took the part of a dancing slave at the head of the processional entering the city.  David’s love for the Lord was greater than his fear of ridicule and criticism.  His joy was made complete in the knowledge of who he was in the Lord’s sight.    (Pause for Thought:  “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?”—Psalm 27:1  Have you ever done something others thought outlandish, but another accepted your love because of it?  How did you feel before, during, and after your actions?  How was Jesus’ life on this earth “outlandish”?)
 
My uncle passed away earlier this Fall.  I was asked by my aunt to speak at the graveside service.  The joyful life my aunt and uncle lived had caused me to reflect on my own.  As a child, I knew I didn’t want to feel like Kaw-liga when he, “Just stands there as lonely as can be, and wishes he was still an old pine tree.”  I claimed the promise of my God and King when he promised me an abundant life; a life full of relationships.  That is why I could sing Kaw-liga at the service while my aunt danced.  (Pause for Thought:  “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”—Ezekiel 36:26.  Has Jesus’ outlandish life allowed you to have a heart of flesh?  If not, what fears are keeping your heart stone-cold?  Have these fears helped or hurt your relationship with others?  What can you do to live fear-free?)
 

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