A Deeper Life podcast – Intro

Are you hungry for more but unsure of what will fill the restless place in your spirit? Do you wonder if you are walking with God in all He intends for you? Whether you are far from God or doing what you know to do in living for Him, A Deeper Life offers solid biblical insight on finding the “more” you were born to live.

The Reason

THE REASON

Part 1: Elena’s story

Elena Bogren paused at the kitchen window as a scene from across the street caught her eye. The front door was open, a slim figure silhouetted in the light spilling out from the Kelly’s festive entry way. Elena had a glimmer of recognition for that slight, erect frame. “Well, little Johnny made it in after all. Late, as usual,” Elena observed wryly. “That boy!” As she was remembering a much younger Johnny playing in her own front yard, a much plumper and somewhat stooped figure stepped up to enfold the young man in her outstretched arms. Elena could not help letting her eyes linger on the tender scene.

A moment later, Grandma Kelly glanced up from the embrace of her grandson to meet Elena’s eyes across the way. She gazed for a long second before turning to usher the young man into their annual family gathering. Elena’s brief surge of warmth on glimpsing her neighbors’ celebration now turned to burning shame at her own awkward gawking. It was not her party, after all. She turned back to the painful task at hand.

Her mother’s recipe books had plenty of ways to bake a ham; that certainly was not the problem. Jim had brought an enormous spiral-sliced beauty home this evening, the perfunctory gift from his office managers, and beamed as he set it down among cans of sweet potatoes and English peas. “I didn’t want you to have to shop for the fixings,” he proclaimed as he planted a sweet kiss on her cheek. “Thank you for doing this,” he added.

That cheek had seen more than one tear brushed away this evening. She must not let Jim see how badly it hurt to attempt this meal her mother’s loving hands had prepared so many times. Elena had assured Jim he would have Christmas Eve dinner, and a dinner he would have. She had resolved in her heart that no matter how badly it hurt, she would make it happen. Lord knows, he deserved that much. She had turned down his offer of help with the few preparations this one required and shooed him away to his armchair to relax with the paper, a pleasure he had only recently returned to occasionally enjoying.

Jim had supported her unflinchingly as her mother lost her battle, painful day by excruciating day, with cancer. He managed so well over those months, surviving on take-out food, sandwiches, and whatever a can could afford. Elena had only to focus on her mother’s care during the darkest days of her life. Jim had been her rock through those final hours and the service that followed, just three weeks ago.

She thought she had been handling the meal prep stoically enough until the door across the street had opened. The floodgate of her own happy Christmas Eve memories flew open with it: the faces aglow from the fireplace, little ones nestled in the laps of parents and grandparents, Christmas carols forming the backdrop for happy conversation.

Elena’s siblings and grown children had been spared facing this first empty holiday in the home where they had made lifelong memories. Elena did not expect any of them to make another trip to spend Christmas here, after they had exhausted leave time and finances to be with their mother and grandmother at the end. She had assured them she was fine.

Though she had tried to brace herself for what she knew would be difficult, Elena had not anticipated the pain simply preparing a meal, with the glow of a “normal” Christmas Eve so nearby, could bring. And when that glow had burst into even more robust light shining through her own windows, Elena did not bother to look out again at the beautiful decorations she knew the Kelly’s must have just powered on. She focused anew on her resolve to pull this one off for Jim, but she grew more convinced that Christmas was not a season she would celebrate ever again after tonight.

Part 2: The Keene’s story

“Looks like the Kelly’s are getting things kicked off in style again,” Ralph said to Jack, his faithful Schnauzer. Just as he had reached down to pick up the evening paper the lights had blazed to life down the street: not the inside lights–those seemed to have been burning around the clock for the last few days—but the brilliance of their outdoor Christmas decorations, worked on for weeks, but by their unique family tradition, only brought to life the night before Christmas.

“Probably has a lot to do with the power bill,” grunted Ralph, who knew Tom Kelly to be thrifty fellow. Gail Kelly on the other hand, “Grandma” to most, always got her way somehow, when it came to doing Christmas in a big fashion. Despite himself, Ralph had to admire the display a minute before heading back to rejoin his wife in their dimly lit home.

The sight of Cathy’s slumped shoulders with her back to the window and face toward that door–the one she almost never opened anymore–brought fresh pain to his heart. The Kelly’s yard decorations were now casting a soft halo of light around the frame of Jerry’s door. Ralph knew what his wife was thinking. He, too, pictured the mornings that door had burst open when little Jerry could stand the wait no longer. Ralph could still hear his scurrying feet and his gleeful voice urging them into the living room on Christmas mornings.

Cathy had seemed to enjoy those mornings as much as Jerry, and Ralph had to admit they were his joy, as well. Being able to provide a “good Christmas” for their only son had put extra pride in his fatherly heart. It made the long hours he spent away at work seem less of a burden. At this moment he wished for some of those hours back to just toss a ball around with his son.

“Cathy, maybe we should go out for a drive, find some place to grab a bite to eat. Don’t you want to get out for a little bit?” He always wanted to take her pain if he could, to fix things.

“If there is somewhere we could go that it wouldn’t be Christmas,” she snapped. Cathy wondered again why the whole world had to go so crazy over a day on the calendar. They assumed everyone was merry and bright. She only wanted to hide away until the madness ended. “I wish those infernal Kelly’s would stop imposing their perfect family celebration on the rest of us,” she added. “People should realize Christmas just isn’t for everyone.”

Part 3: Tawana’s story

Sin hurt worse at Christmas. Any other day, one could put off the effects of having alienated family and abandoned beliefs for a life of promised pleasure. One could believe on any other day that the promise would be realized somehow. But this night it was all pain and loneliness.

On her way back to a house that was not was not home, Tawana paused heavy steps for a moment outside the window of the only home on this street lit up for the holidays. She remembered how her father had decorated for her every year, a lifetime ago. As she was about to continue toward the place where another man was waiting, she heard a deep, aged voice as a man began to speak, the words carrying through the window into the cold air.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night.” Visions of little boys in bathrobes and girls in angel costumes flooded Tawana’s mind. She wanted to run from the pain of those memories, but her feet seemed riveted to the sidewalk for some reason.

“…Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger…” Why was she still standing here? She had realized a long time ago Christmas was not—and never would be again—for anyone like her.

Part 4: The Kelly’s story

“Grandpa, why did they invite the shepherds to Jesus’ birthday?” Little Rod was always interrupting, and his mother’s stern glance had no effect.

“What, Rod? What do you mean?” the booming voice replied, not without some irritation.

“Well, the rich wise men were on their way with the presents, right?”

“Yes, the wise men were traveling to seek the newborn king and came some time later. Can we finish the story now?”

“But wasn’t that enough for baby Jesus? Why would they want the old smelly shepherds to come to their party, too?”

Something in Rod’s innocent voice arrested Grandpa Kelly’s heart. He knew why the outcast shepherds had been invited to the birthplace of the King of Kings. Rev. Tom Kelly, retired from many years pastoring a flock, remembered the hurting people he had reached out to over the years and the joy of seeing hope come into their eyes. The youngster’s question touched what had been burdening his mind this holiday season. Now, he could put it into words.

“You see, Rod, Jesus wasn’t coming just for those wise men, and He did not care so much about their gifts. When He grew up and started His ministry, the folks He touched first and most often were the hurting, the lonely, and the poor—people like those shepherds.”

“People like that lady outside, Grandpa?” Rod was pointing to the front window. All eyes turned to see a slim disheveled figure go pale and turn away.

Just like her,” Grandpa exclaimed and moved quicker than he had in a while. Bounding to the front door, he threw it open. “Ma’am, wait! Ma’am stop, please!”

Tawana froze, mortified at being spotted, but she could not help turning back toward the kind voice.

“Won’t you come inside and join us?”

“Join…you?” she faltered. “But I don’t even know you. Why would you ask me to come in? Besides, I’m not the type you people usually invite to parties.”

“Well, ma’am, seeing you standing out here has helped us remember why we are celebrating this night. You see, it was you, all of us, everyone really, that Jesus came for in the first place. He would not want you to be left out. You are the very reason why He came!”

The old man’s words sounded so peaceful and inviting that though she felt painfully ashamed of the signs of a godless lifestyle she knew her appearance bore, Tawana simply could not resist this love she was feeling. It did not matter at this moment that she did not understand. She allowed the weathered arm of Grandma Kelly to slip around her shoulders and draw her into the warmth inside.

Once Tawana was settled in near the fireplace with a cup of hot cocoa pressed into her cold hands, a thought began to come into focus in Gail Kelly’s mind. Remembering the sadness she had seen in Elena Bogren’s eyes earlier, the grandmother of many years felt God leading her to cross the street and knock on Jim and Elena’s door.

About the same time, Johnny remembered how he had caught sight of Mr. Keene when he went out to plug in the lights. He and Jerry had been great friends, but he had seen little of Jerry’s parents in the years since his death. Life had worn on and circumstances seemed to have separated them all. With the hearty approval of everyone present, he decided it was worth a try to reach out to them as well.

As the Spirit of the One they were celebrating went with the two emissaries, hurting hearts—even the ones hardened by years of pain—began a miraculous healing, and the Kelly’s gathering gently swelled.

That night the Savior of the world did what He came to do, as His children lived out the very reason why He came. Grandpa led them all in one more reading of Scripture after the fine meal they shared:

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound…to comfort all that mourn;” Isaiah 61:1-2 KJV.

Part 5: Your Story

Our individual stories are being written as we walk through our daily lives. How they play out will depend on our own understanding of our value to the One who robed Himself in flesh to live among us and to shed His own blood to purge us from our sins. Once we see with eyes of faith the love He wants to shed abroad in our hearts by the power the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of God that can live in us, and we respond to what we have seen with repentance and the washing away of our sins in the name of the Savior who died for us, Jesus Christ, we have paved the way for His love to pour into our souls in ways we could scarcely have imagined possible in this life.

At this season of seasons, seek to understand that you–with your hopes, your fears, your dreams, and your pain–are the reason why He came. So is your hurting neighbor, and those kids down the street whose mother does not know what the future holds for their little struggling family. As you recognize this, and respond as God directs, you are in line to have a more deeply blessed Christmas this year than any you have ever known. May God be with you, as He came to do.

Which Way Is Up?

Isn’t that the question of the day — when all that we knew and considered routine a few months ago is now being upended? Fear of getting and sharing an illness we had never heard of this time last year is now causing our very world to be paused, and we honestly do not know how or when the uncertainty will end.

We each find comfort during unsettling times in various ways: exercising our faith, communicating with friends and family or, one of my favorites, reading. Words can inspire, challenge, and comfort us as no other source can, and the written word seems to provide an extra measure of stability amid a changing reality.

I have held off on mentioning this, but at the dawn of the developing pandemic, I had completed and uploaded a book for self-publishing on Amazon. It was the worst possible time, of course, for a book launch or anything else that involved self-promotion, as the last thing I needed was attention for my work when the world was falling apart around us. In the last few days, though, I have begun to think more about the book’s contents and how they might benefit others facing uncertainty.

The work is a collection of essays on a variety of ideas. A few are personal experiences, and others are truths that I felt were worth passing along to others. Each is intended to inspire, challenge, and encourage.

I am offering a few insights into the first few pieces, to give an idea of what is inside. Some have a splash of humor, others are more serious. All are from my heart.

Up Is Just Backwards When You’re on the Way Down: Thirty Doses of Wit and Wisdom on Staying Upright

Chapter 1) SUNSHINE IS FOR EVERYONE, FIRE FOR A FEW

Ah, the warmth of the sunshine! One of the few things left on earth that is free is the benefit of that great glowing orb in the blue sky. Thus far, no government has found a way to tax it or to ration it out. If you can get to it, you can enjoy as much sunshine as you want. (Just remember the sunscreen.)

Fire, on the other hand, requires some effort. We are not told exactly when fire became part of the human experience, though our impression is that man has always warmed himself in that manner. The earliest specific references to fire in the Bible come from chapters 19 and 22 in Genesis. The first reference speaks of fire from Heaven raining on Sodom and Gomorrah, and the second reference mentions fire for the impending sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham (when God tested Abraham before providing a ram for the sacrifice).

We know that fire requires effort. Wood must be gathered (or chopped and split), laid in order, and lit by some source of flame or heat—unless you have one of those push-button, flame-throwing, gas-burning fireplaces. But I digress.

Freeware, anyone?

We love the sound of that word “free,” don’t we? I mean, the pulse quickens just a little to think we might be getting something new, and we owe nothing for it.

Recently I bought a new laptop, and as I readied it for use, my twenty-something-year-old daughter advised it would run a lot better if I wouldn’t put all that “stuff” on it. I was mildly offended, as I was sure my “stuff” … was necessary for making the device run optimally …

Chapter 2) UP IS JUST BACKWARDS WHEN YOU’RE ON THE WAY DOWN

Have you ever been lost? I mean the scary kind of lost that says, “I have no idea where to go from here.” I am not talking about the feeling of, “Where in the world of this vast Walmart parking lot is my car?” I am asking if you have ever felt the kind of lost that says, “If they don’t come looking for me soon, this is going to make the papers!”

There is no more helpless feeling, I suppose. It hasn’t happened to me more than once that I can remember, but it left a memory of fear when the familiar woods where I played began to look frightening and strange when it was time to get home.

When you are lost, things happen differently in how you relate to the world around you. Reason and intellect can assure you that a particular direction has to be right. But, taking off in that direction (instead of staying put, as all the scouting and survival manuals tell us to do) only leads further into hopelessness. Often, lost people who were later found had simply gotten turned around yet were convinced they were going the right way. The innate directional signals that should have helped them reach familiar territory got scrambled in their minds. At that point, they could not believe their map, compass, spouse, or…well, you get the picture, I am sure …

Chapter 3) THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS ME…NOW

“Yeah, I did that, but I was much younger, then — just a kid, really. I like to think I have a little wisdom on me now…don’t I?”

We may as well face it: we care how others see us; what they think of the choices we have made and the things we have done. If some example of our being less than wise is brought up, we are quick to put some distance between us now and the person who could have done that then. After all, we are allowed a few missteps in the teen and early adult years, right?

But, what if “then” was just last week?

What if we hurt someone’s feelings, forgot an important event, yelled at our kids, or jumped in front of an older lady in the check-out line because we were running late? And what if we did those things, like…yesterday?

What if we can’t put distance between ourselves and our less-than-stellar actions?

Maybe the more important question is, “Why do we want so badly to distance ourselves anyway?”

Perhaps because our actions seem to define who we are. We crave to be validated by others, to be part of a bigger group, to have others simply like us. The smile or chuckle we get from listeners for a comment we intended to be funny lets us know it was well-received. A blank stare or raised eyebrows says it was totally off-point and poorly timed. Our feelings about those responses weigh heavily on even the most independent, introverted among us …

Chapter 4) HOW TO SCRUB YOUR BATHROOM FLOOR IN 30 EASY STEPS:

Ladies, be sure to keep this handy for reference — you will want to try this at least once.

1) Start deep cleaning the kitchen and doing laundry.

2) Notice your cell-phone ringing.

3) Try to ignore it because you are on a serious roll with this cleaning.

4) Side-eye the phone and observe the number is your 76-year-old mother’s mobile phone.

5) Remember, she always uses her land-line phone from home, unless something goes wrong …

Chapter 5) FOUR MINUTES THAT CHANGED THE WORLD

  1. True ____ False ____ An inch is a large unit of measure.

The answer is obvious…isn’t it?

This was an actual question on a Physical Science exam during my freshman year in college — possibly a final, since I remember vividly my agitated state of mind upon reading it. After all, it cost me what could have been a perfect score and helped earn only my second “B” at the school (the first was in Volleyball, but enough said about that).

I was only in the class because of a foul-up on the part of my academic advisor (another story in itself) resulting in my having to abandon the biology minor I had invested three courses in pursuing. Physical science seemed downright hokey to me after sailing through zoology and botany. Adding to my somewhat wounded pride was the undeniable fact that I simply did not like the instructor. He seemed to teach at a level of challenge designed to keep the university’s sports teams winning, with or without the players having to apply themselves academically.

With such a positive mindset, the exam question asking whether an inch was a large unit of measure set my brain to screaming, “COMPARED TO WHAT???!!! MILES OR MICRONS???!!!” With a fifty percent chance of getting that one right, as you might guess, I did not. I can’t remember which I chose but probably checked “True,” just to make my point.

Great choice …

THE REST OF THE STORY

Here are the titles to the other chapters, or doses, if you will. I would love to know how you like whatever you choose to read. Leave a comment below, or a review wherever you purchase the books. God bless.

WHAT’S UP WITH HIM??

FROM COLORS TO CHEMISTRY, FROM ADDITION TO ALGEBRA

THE SAGA OF SALLY

TWO THINGS I BET YOU CAN’T DO AT ONE TIME

THAT’S WHAT YOU GET!

JUST DON’T PLAN ON DOING ANYTHING TOMORROW

WHEN YOU HAVE TIME

WHAT ARE YOU HERE TO DO?

HOW DO YOU WALK ON WATER?

WHAT GETS TO YOU?

WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST FAITH MEMORY?

GOD WITH HIS SKIN ON?

“ARE YOU GOING TO EAT THAT?”

HOLINESS

FENCE OR GUARDRAIL?

THE TRUE WONDER OF THE SEASON

MY HEART ON CHRISTMAS EVE, 2013

CHECK IT OUT!

THE SHOW-ME STATE…OF MIND

SOMETHING FOR NOTHING?

WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR WATER?

FATHERLESS DAY

THE CLOSING OF THE DOOR

ALL DONE!

WELL, WHAT IS IT GOING TO BE?

WHATEVER

WHATEVER life appears to have thrown at you, turn your face toward Jesus, put your situation and yourself in His hands, and seek Him with all your heart. You will not believe what He will bring out of your troubles and put into your life once you lock on to Him and refuse to let go.

I am not speaking some namby-pamby “Name it and claim it” words into the air. I am talking about a search for Jesus that brings one to an altar of repentance with tears and heart-wrenching prayer. I am talking about total commitment to obey the Acts 2:38 gospel message or to realign with it or to simply declare you have been living it faithfully and do not understand what is happening to you, but you will die holding on if God doesn’t deliver you.

Things WILL happen, somewhere in your heart and life and world when you do this.

You see, God devises means (2 Samuel 14:14) to bring about His plans: not often obvious, but always intentional.

There was a Hebrew family who was prophesied to serve in a strange land four hundred years and afterward come out with great substance and be brought into a promised land to possess it. The plan for getting them there called for a Hebrew youth to rise to power in that strange country first, save the day for them, and win the right to establish his own family in the choicest part of the land. We know that beautiful part of the story.

But the ugly part was used to bring about the beautiful part. Joseph was not likely to wake up one day in his father’s house where he was favored above his brothers and decide to run off to Egypt to find his fortune. Yet, he had to be gotten to Egypt.

So, God’s plan called for a cruel crime to be committed that broke his heart and his father’s, and must have seemed to both to have no possibility of any kind of happy ending.

But Joseph was rock-solid faithful to God, and after going through more and worse trials he was brought out and made the centerpiece of one of the greatest deliverances of the Old Testament. His family saw what God had done, repented and reconciled to him, and planted themselves where they could grow into a mighty nation from a small nomadic family.

Not every story turns out so well. Many testimonies have beautiful stories of redemption and restoration because of faithfulness.

Daniel 3:17-18 KJV

If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods…

We know this story for how gloriously it worked out for these three young men. Even if it had gone against them (as it did for some referenced in Hebrews 11:36-39), their battle cry of “But if not…” would have still rung in our ears as the way to give it all to God no matter what. It can become our own rallying cry at at altar of prayer.

The time is short, and the door is closing. Some will fall, but we do not have to. We can let the forces coming against us propel us to an altar, or back to one again and again. We can see what God will do, trusting Him to bring unbelievable deliverance for us or our loved ones out of what presently does not make sense to our human eyes. If we see nothing else from it, we will see His face in peace one day, and positively declare that it was worth it all!

Do Not Immerse

I enjoy getting kitchen gadgets. I love trying out new things and seeing what they can do. Of course, I try to be good and discipline myself to read the user manual first. You know, operation may seem obvious, but no so much with all safety issues. I want to get the most out of my small appliance after all, and have it last for years of solid use.

The things they warn you not to do in the manual can be a little humorous, don’t you agree? I picture the developers sitting around a table talking through all the crazy things that could happen to pose hazards. “Do not use while sleeping” is my personal favorite.

Then again, the warnings may be the product of a table full of lawyers talking about the unbelievable claims they have defended against.

And then again, maybe it’s the government thinking of ways to protect us from ourselves–scary in its own right.

Small kitchen appliances, made to be around liquid and reasonably built to be proof against it (as opposed to, like, box fans or something), should be ready for some splashing and a good soapy rag being applied as needed. The recommendation may be more of the “wipe clean with a damp cloth” variety, but it takes a lot of elbow grease to get that spatter-you-overlooked-until-it-turned-to stone to let go.

You would really love to scrub that thing with some good hot dishwater sometimes, wouldn’t you?

That being said, one thing the designers probably never debate among themselves is slapping a “Do not immerse” stamp on the outside of your shiny new appliance. For good measure they plaster that directive right at the top of the WARNING list in the manual.

I suppose the engineers can only do so much. They make sure the appliance is sealed in a way that keeps the user safe from the splashes, the wiping, and even the elbow grease applied with an extra damp rag. The outer case is designed to withstand these limited exposures to moisture,so that the liquids drain right off, are wiped up, and no harm is done. What is different about immersion?

Physics class (or was it chemistry?) taught me the powerful effect of pressure applied under the surface of a body (or sink-full) of water. The concentration of water molecules exerts pressure that grows stronger with the water’s depth (think about those heavy metal diving bells needed for deep sea exploration). The pressure exerted all around an appliance means water will find a way inside if you immerse it.

Trust me on that one, but please don’t ask how I know.

Are we made that way? As an Apostolic Pentecostal I have long known the value of following holiness principles in my life. Being pulled out of the filth of the world when I repented, getting cleaned up when I was baptized in Jesus’ name, and having God Himself come to live in me when I was filled with the Holy Ghost was the defining moment of my life and brought a treasure I want to always guard. So, living by holiness principles for me simply means I recognize that what goes into my heart matters because it affects the Holy Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost, living inside me.

I know it is unavoidable that splashes of things the world thinks are awesome but God detests will come in contact with my mind and spirit. I do not live in a cocoon: I work, I read, I drive, I shop. I cannot insulate myself from every word or image that would be offensive.

I have recently learned more clearly, however, that it matters whether or not I immerse. Splashes are one thing; immersion is another. One is unavoidable for anyone living a full life. The other is a choice I make consciously.

Where am I most in danger of choosing immersion? Most often with the type device you may be using to read this post. The hand-held super-computer we blithely call a mobile device: a cellphone, tablet, or laptop.

The device itself is not so much the issue. (I will insert here, though, that I made a choice years ago not to utilize a television, because, as I see it, the only function of that appliance is immersion, bringing a constant barrage of seeing and hearing.)

With a cellular device (euphemism for phone), I can opt to use the thing for talking to friends, family, or businesses. I can send messages, check my email, consult my weather app, peek into my bank account, or dive off into whatever social media platform my friends and family utilize.

While the list of what that little device can do is pretty encompassing in itself, the “diving in” part is where I see the immersion coming to bear. When I subject myself to scrolling through a feed, such as on social media, I,

a) don’t know what is coming next,

b) have little control over what someone might throw in to spice things up a bit,

c) tend to lose track of time.

Worse still, that behavior–much like eating sweets–tends to create an appetite for itself. I have seen occasions where I laid the phone down for about 15 seconds only to pick it up again because my brain felt the momentary lack of input as a problem to be corrected.

What is the real problem? I became aware a few years ago that I was being affected by something that was keeping my response to the things of God from being as fresh and immediate as it had once been. I asked God about that, and the response I felt in my spirit was that the root cause had to do with the things I was seeing and hearing.

Does that sound familiar?

“For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds,” 2 Peter 2:8.

Peter was referring to Lot, Abraham’s nephew, who made some very bad choices and lost his family because of it–some in the fire that consumed Sodom and Gomorrah, one who looked back on the way out, and two who fell apart after getting out just before the city was utterly destroyed.

According to Peter, though, Lot was not that person until he pitched his tent toward Sodom and immersed himself in that sinful culture. What he, that “righteous man,” saw and heard in Sodom worked on him and worked on him until he became part of it. We have no record that Lot was committing the sins of Sodom, but he became tied to that culture to the point that he could not cleanly remove himself or his family when the time came to do so.

How hard is it? I can remember how it seemed simpler to me to keep my heart pure from the world in the old days when a television was the main thing I had to stay away from, in order to avoid unwanted influences. It was even easier to avoid walking into the library and picking up a book I knew was not healthy or driving off to a theater to watch something conjured up by a heart that was not after God, because it took effort to get myself into contact with those things.

This little “appliance” is almost always with me, so convenient, that no one even has to know what I am seeing on it. I bear responsibility for what I could easily allow it to become to me: a television, an adult bookstore, or even a movie theater if I so desired. And you would never have to know.

My spirit would know. My responsiveness to the Spirit of God would be further diminished. As it is lately, I have received reminders through preaching and other input to back off my interaction with that device, limit my time on social media, and increase my time in the Word, the presence of God, and in service to others to fill up what should be on the inside. That type behavior has to provide some insulation against immersion.

How about you? Are you mindful of where your inner self receives its influences? Be careful how you conduct yourself around input that would short-circuit all that is good and meaningful in your life. Make up your mind to heed the warning: DO NOT IMMERSE.

Denying Jesus

What does denying Jesus look like? How does it sound?

We who are striving to serve the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Ghost are aware there is a time coming upon the earth (that has already begun in many places) when believers will have to choose to deny the Lord or be killed. We know a man of sin is to be in power who will require a mark to be taken by all living upon the earth in order to buy or sell, but to take it will be to damn one’s soul to hell.

We are fully assured that we will stand for Jesus to the end, if we are doing our best to obey and serve Him now. I want to be ready for what is coming on the earth and be serving God with all my heart in this hour, to be ready for that hour.

The idea of denying Jesus is on my mind this week since reading the gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ arrest and Peter’s responses. Jesus had just told the disciples they needed swords (Luke 22:36). They told him they had two, and Jesus said, “It is enough.” Not surprisingly, one of them belonged to the bold and sometimes brash Apostle Peter.

Peter was no doubt sure of his course of action as he faced a multitude from the high priests and Pharisees carrying swords, torches, and lanterns. He drew his own sword and made a stand, though greatly outnumbered. Though Jesus rebuked Peter for this response and allowed himself to taken into custody, we see that Peter’s desire to fight for his Lord was strong.

No doubt confused and uncertain where this would lead, Peter followed the crowd from afar. John records another disciple being there, but all the rest had all fled. I cannot claim to understand what Peter was thinking; we only know what he said and what he did with what was going on around him.

Think on Peter a moment. Here is a man who has been told he would deny his Master. He had vehemently insisted that this would not happen, and then had demonstrated his readiness to fight when the first wave of danger hit. As he stood by the fire in the hall where Jesus was held, his thoughts had to be on what the Lord had told him: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat…” Luke 22:31. Jesus had warned them all that they would be offended, and when Peter protested Jesus said, “…this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice,” Mark 14:30.

Peter, I believe, would have been on guard about Jesus’ warning. Knowing a pit is ahead should, in theory, enable you to avoid falling in, right? What if Peter intended to watch for an opportunity to grab Jesus and get out of there when they let down their guard? We know he was watching what he could of the proceedings, and I imagine he was playing out in his mind the scenes that might occur. If Peter and I have anything in common, he would have been the hero in every one.

Would this be a possible reason for his brushing off questions from the crowd watching Jesus as he was? The ones questioning him were not officials, just servants or other members of the public as far as we are told. If Peter intended to make a stand for Jesus, even one where he could lose his own life, surely he pictured it being with the high priest or some other official demanding to know his allegiance, don’t you agree? These minions standing around the fire with him were not who he had come to stand against.

Could we pretend for the sake of creating a picture of his mental processes that he was trying to keep his cover intact so that he was not escorted out of the hall, or else arrested and kept from any role where could have helped?

Make no mistake, I make no excuses. I am only wondering whether Peter recognized too late that these small occurrences were what mattered so much to Jesus. Peter had in fact denied Jesus three times before he realized the real test of his allegiance had already come.

Perhaps in his bitter weeping, he remembered some of the words of Jesus:

“He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much,” Luke 16:10.

“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heave,” Matthew 7:1.

“Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are: depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity,” Luke 13:27

The spirit of the words of the Apostle Paul would pen later could been in his spirit as well:

“They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him…,” Titus 1:16.

Peter knew in that moment that nothing of what he had said for Jesus could redeem his failure to act on His behalf in what may have seemed mundane at the moment.

Peter had intended to stand, and had even made a stand. Perhaps he failed because he was unable to recognize that this scenario mattered. He was ready, he felt, for the big moment when he would show his fierce devotion, but he tragically overlooked the little things that mattered to Jesus right at that moment.

Jesus turned and looked Peter in the face as the sound of a cock crowing rang out in his ears.

Are there things in the Word of God you are overlooking while holding on to the image of walking boldly to the executioner to take your stand for Jesus? Are you being faithful with what is put in your hands: time, money, or the intercessory Spirit Jesus longs for you to use?

Worse, yet, have you undersold the idea of whether obedience to the commandments of Jesus is even essential to see Him in peace at His return? I submit to you that unless you are committed to being diligent in obedience, you will never make it through the the things that are coming on the earth, not the least of which is the prominent spirits of lethargy and apathy.

Obedience matters.

Details matter.

Holiness matters.

Will you take a closer look at how you have viewed your obedience in the light of how Jesus views it? Have you stepped over the original message of salvation in favor of a more modernized version that doesn’t make as many waves? Are you sure your obedience qualifies you to hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant…” when Jesus returns?

Check out these other ideas on standing for Jesus or denying Him:

BUT IF NOT: Coming to a city near you

What’s Up with Those Pentecostals?

If you are in our area and need an Apostolic church to attend, where the real power of God moves and the Word is preached without fear or favor, come and check us out:

First Pentecostal Church of Bay Springs, Sunday 10 AM and 6:30 PM, Wednesday, 7:30 PM.

Strongly Rooted or Dangerously Disconnected?

pexels-photo-247537.jpegThere was no real reason to notice it that day — the strong, stately pine with a lone branch suspended over the narrow side street.  It was familiar area I travel almost weekly, yet I was “seeing” this sight for the first time.

Something about the way that bough shot straight out, forming a canopy over the road, supported by nothing but the trunk that wore it so gracefully, caught my attention. “What on earth would seem remarkable about a pine branch here in the middle of Mississippi?” you might wonder. Large, stately pines are just about everywhere you could look in our area.

I’m sure a few weeks ago I wouldn’t have appreciated this one nearly so much.  But then, a few weeks ago I would have probably laughed at the idea that a near-record snowfall was about to hit our little piece of the South, with a crushing load that would leave most every roadway littered with pine boughs.

The branch I noticed that day had held on when others hadn’t. Its strength had a chance to speak to me in a special way.

THE STRENGTH IS NOT ITS OWN

A tree’s limbs are only as strong as their connection to the trunk. The branches grow there in the beginning because life-giving sap is able to move within the channels at their core. As long as this process continues unhindered, they are likely to remain intact. It doesn’t always work that way, of course. An almost imperceptible flaw can develop from some insult to the tree — a high wind that loosens some fibers or insects that burrow deep to make their home. Over time this process can progressively work against that branch, leaving it vulnerable to fall in an event that others might withstand.

Jesus used this analogy in the spiritual realm: “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing,” John 15:5. He taught His followers about the life He was soon going to place within them, when He would fill those who obeyed Him with the Holy Ghost. Oh the joys of becoming connected to the Vine! The power He would pour out on the Day of Pentecost — which Peter told the crowd was “to you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as our Lord shall call,” (Acts 2:39) — would turn the world upside down. But Jesus was showing them ahead of time that what He would place within them was not going to remain a strong, vibrant force unless they fought for it.  It was a connection that would have to be maintained for them to remain alive and productive in Him. 

He went on to say, “ If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned,” (John 15:6).

THE DANGERS

Beside our house, a beautiful cedar which had seemed to be growing a safe distance away when we built there, now has branches that stretch over that part of the roof. As it sits on the side where the power line comes in to the house, the power company recently trimmed up limbs closest to the line to avoid a catastrophe. During our snow event, branches that had seemed a safe distance above broke under the weight fell onto the  line.  It could gone very badly, pulling the line completely out of the house.  The tree will likely have to come down, as it has now become a hazard.

The same boughs that had blessed us with shade and beauty became a liability very quickly once they were disconnected from the trunk. Likewise, our disconnection from the Source of strength and joy affects so much more than our own lives.

Eve in the Garden discovered that what seemed to be a simple choice she was free to make on her own affected her husband, the children she would have, and all generations to come. All she could share with them of the Garden of God was her memories of being there and the shame of what caused them to lose it.

A disconnection that produces a fall inevitably brings someone else down as well. Others look to us, whether or not we are aware of how much we matter.

IT’S A FULL TIME JOB

Staying connected requires fighting our tendency to drift, to pull away from the Source of life. It requires a diligence to push ourselves to fervently pray every day.  We must read the Word of God with a goal of examining ourselves in the light of the Scriptures — exposing any area where some slight damage to our connection may be forming — rather than simply justifying ourselves that we are “close enough” to what it teaches. Faithfulness to the house of God where the Word is preached in power and anointing can never be neglected, for even in our best efforts, we will not always be as honest with ourselves as is required to stay connected on our own.

It is indeed not a comfortable thing to walk with God. We serve Him in a fleshly body with a carnal nature. “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24).  These words of desperation were spoken by the man who wrote most of the New Testament.  Can we conclude he was only able to accomplish what he did because he saw his fight for spiritual health as it truly was? He told the Corinthians, “…I die daily,” (I Cor. 15:31), and “…I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection…,” (I Cor. 9:27). He knew how to stay connected, and the vital importance of regularly experiencing the power of God that Peter described as “joy unspeakable and full of glory,” (1 Peter 1:8).

CHECK YOUR CONNECTION

Where are you with being connected to the Vine? Have you established the connection Jesus promised His followers? Are you checking your connection consistently? Do you understand the fight of pressing toward the mark?

Dangerous disconnection often starts with satisfaction in where we are with God. Reaching for Him, calling on Him, seeking Him daily is truly the way to keep the life flowing from Him through us, to refresh, revive, and strengthen our hearts and lives.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on becoming, and staying, connected to the Vine. Feel free to leave a comment below.

SOME NEWS

Start to Finish: Starting a Walk with God That Can Finish Strong — some observations from my fight to stay connected over the past thirty years — is due to be published soon. I look forward to sharing these insights with you when the process is complete in a few weeks.  Look for it on Amazon, or find a link here on my site.

In the meantime, let’s stay connected!

 

 

 

Never stop dating

“Never stop dating!”

That advice is given to those who want to know how to keep their relationship strong, perhaps from those who have realized just in time that their love had cooled and had to be rekindled.

We often struggle in various types of relationships to hold on to the sweet, close times. Life so strongly comes along and wedges its way between people who were once perfectly attuned to one another. How can we keep this from happening? What can be done?

Never stop dating. 

Be intentional about finding what brings a smile to that person’s face, and go out of your way to make it happen. 

The couple who graciously agreed to let me use this picture from a few years back has certainly been a shining example of this advice. Through cancer, strokes, unspeakable family losses, and health declines that most would find hard to comprehend, the light of love still shines so brightly between them. As this picture captured, they are beautifully intentional in showing their love and fierce devotion for each other. When God referred to the marriage relationship as demonstrating His commitment to us, I’m sure this is what He pictured.

As I was preparing breakfast the other morning, something caught my attention: I recognized a “little thing” as being something my Jesus had provided for me. In that moment I thought about what had happened over the past 30 years. The beginning of this beautiful walk with God was often marked by moments of becoming keenly aware of some small thing, and acknowledging how sweet it was that Jesus noticed that and addressed it; of how touching it was to feel His presence in the otherwise mundane occurrences of life; of how different that awareness and closeness were from what I thought was an equivalent walk with God in my denominational upbringing and the years before the Holy Ghost came.

I was still amazed for years at the depth of His presence I had been allowed to know, when in the past, I had only read about and imagined such a true closeness. I knew this change had come because of the Gospel of the Apostles (Acts 2:38) which I was allowed to see as being still  relevant today, and which would bring this power when literally obeyed. I knew that my doing so, by His grace and mercy, had brought all the difference.

When one person in a relationship who reaches out for a close, even intimate, moment is rebuffed or ignored, they often withdraw and become unreachable to the other party. We are formed in the image of God — not only our physical being, but our emotional make-up as well. God penned, through the hand of Solomon, the story of the maiden’s Beloved knocking at her door at a time she found it inconvenient to answer. By the time she decided to arise and open the door, her Beloved had withdrawn himself and gone. 

I remember wet tears rolling down my face once to read that story, and to understand the implications for the treasured walk with God I had been given: if the Spirit of God moved on me for prayer, for closeness, and my heart was “busy” and uninterested at the time, He could very easily move away and be unavailable when I found a “convenient season”. (Felix, who trembled at the preaching of Paul in Acts 24, and chose not to yield to what God was doing until a “convenient season”, never was recorded to have had God deal with him again.)

When God described, through the prophet Amos, Israel’s disdain for the feasts and solemn days He had commanded them to observe — times He had ordained for them to draw closer to Him — He said in that context that he would send a famine unto them, not for meat and drink, but for the hearing of the Word of the Lord. Please know that we don’t come to God when we decide to: we come when He draws us (John 6:44), or not at all.

Over time what changed for me was the recognizing what sweet things were being done, and the remembering that it hadn’t always been that way in my life. Taking the ones we love for granted is something we struggle with in every type relationship. We can even begin to believe we are the reason for our own success in situations where we would look pretty silly propped up by ourselves to make our own way in the world.

Remember. Recognize. Acknowledge. Look for God’s hand in the little things, and take time to thank Him. Talk sweet praises and loving phrases to the God who came to make everything new, and who walks in things both good and bad — for you. If you’ve never seen the truth of Acts 2:38 as it applies to your life, then seek to know God that way — don’t shy away because it represents something different than what you have known. For me, that seeking represented the beginning of something more beautiful than even I could have pictured at the start.

“Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, for thou has left thy first love.” (Rev. 2:4) 

It need not be that way: Start dating again. . . 

Just don’t plan on doing anything tomorrow

Photo courtesy of Lynn Kelly Author via WANA Commons

The first week of our sixth year with Alpha Omega Christian Academy has just about come and gone. It’s been a full one, with numerous challenges and rewards, but as a day or two off before the next week draws near, it seems like a good time to revisit this post from July 3, 2012.

Let’s have another look, shall we?

JUST DON’T PLAN ON DOING ANYTHING TOMORROW

With tomorrow being a national holiday, that surely sounds tempting: just a day to do whatever comes to mind, or nothing in particular.  I feel having a day with a plan like that once in a while is beneficial.

There’s another way of looking at whether or not we’re planning on doing anything tomorrow:  it’s the “I’m going to get to that…Tomorrow!” list. At this point in my life, I’ve seen several things die of old age on my “Tomorrow!”  list.  But a few crumbling remnants did make it over to “Oh, why not go ahead and try?”, and those that did made lasting impressions.

Like the time I decided for real that credit cards were crazy, and that I was about to be.  Mind you, that was no heroic thing.  It came after I totaled my less-than-one-year-old car, and began to look at my budget, spending plan, frantically scrawled figures, to see what I could afford.  Answer:  “NOTHING”.  Very disappointing.  A single mom, I’d been digging a hole deeper and deeper in credit card debt, thinking I’d get straight “Tomorrow!” I really couldn’t afford much of anything with real money.

I was directed toward the solid financial teaching/debt-lambasting of Dave Ramsey, who had gone bankrupt before learning financial principles.  Of all the good programs on getting out of debt, his communicated to desperate, debt-strapped people (already feeling like idiots), “You’re no dumber than I was, just don’t stay that way!”  The courage to try was imparted. So, with much prayer, and a plan for trimming a few non-essentials from our new budget, the cards were cut up, and I humbly went shopping for something closer to my reality-range. The progress hasn’t been perfect, but having greater balance has been golden. As long as that decision to stop and turn around was on the “Tomorrow!” list, though, I got no benefit from it — only mounting anxiety.

Another thing off the “Tomorrow!” list, is what I’m doing now:  Writing.  In my social work career, the opportunities to compose and collaborate on documents seemed among the most rewarding tasks I had. I grew to see it as more than an interesting sideline and more of a worthy pursuit.  How did I discover that?  By starting.

So you may be processing that last idea: “You found out by starting, and you started by finding out?  Huh?”  Let me explain.  I read someone’s blog I wanted to comment on, and to do so, had to sign up for the blog-hosting site (wordpress.com). When I did, I realized that writing a blog was in my power to do (and was free). That was exciting — and scary.  But the overriding sense was that I felt I had something to say.

The chance to read others’ blogs through Word Press showed me there were writers out there actually encouraging the writing of people they’d never met.  Who knew? Kristen Lamb‘s blog was of this sort, and by looking at the blogs of others who’d commented on her posts, I found several more with solid advice, and the ability to help growing writers learn.  They actually seemed to care whether I wrote that book that’s been on my “Tomorrow!” list so long.

So, my point? One of my favorite sayings is: “It’s easier to guide a vehicle in motion.” Duh, of course it is.  Yet how often have we looked at things we’ve dreamed of and thought, “I just don’t know if I could.  Maybe I’ll look into it…Tomorrow!” The way to know if it’s time to begin is: to begin — just take steps.  Baby steps are great.  With so much of the world’s knowledge at your fingertips (through internet on computer and smartphones, or even your good old neighborhood library), you have the ability to learn about your interest freely. Just begin to inquire: try, and see what can happen.

One more story.  When I retired a year ago, after 27 years as a social worker, I had some misgivings of “What next?”. I prayerfully asked that, and by the time retirement was official, I was deeply immersed in opening our church’s Christian School — our pastor’s vision, but an area I’d felt a connection to many years before.  Learning as we went, all involved were all amazed at the resources and support we found.

Looking back on this first year reminds me of this phrase from God’s word: “…the Lord working with them…” (Mark 16:20). It describes men who didn’t sit back and wonder if they should start, but began, and knew they weren’t working alone. The Lord worked with these apostles who were following his command to preach the gospel (detailed in the book of Acts), and he confirmed their word “with signs following”.

Obviously there are seasons for things in our lives, but when there’s a tug to pursue a passion, even if your ability seems fragile, the doing something — moving it from the “Tomorrow!” list — is the only way to know what can happen. So, just don’t plan on doing anything “Tomorrow!”  See what you can start “Today!”