Render to Caesar

Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marveled at him. Mark 12:17 KJV

Yes, yes, April 15th is approaching, and it is again time to “Render to Caesar.” The Pharisees asked Jesus a “no way out” question about if it was right to pay taxes. A “no” would have angered the Romans, a “yes” would have angered the Jews oppressed by the Romans. Yet, as often is the case, Jesus finds a way in “no way out” situations. He asks, “Whose image is stamped into the coin?” “Caesar’s.” “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Acknowledge Caesar’s authority over his earthy kingdom but acknowledge God’s authority over His Kingdom, both earthly and heavenly, “including” Caesar’s kingdom.

Matthew took it one step further in the NIV translation:

So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s. Matthew 22:21

Give back to Caesar but give BACK to God what is His. Our time, our talents, our blessings, and every breath was given to us by our Heavenly Father so it is only right we should return it all to Him.

But then there is Caesar, always Caesar. We spend our 9 to 5 laboring in exchange for our “denarii”, a necessity to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. But what do we do with the time not owed to Caesar? I am guilty of exchanging too much of my “not Caesar” time for more “denarii.”

For the pagan world runs after all such things … Luke 12:39

Ouch.

… and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Luke 12:39-31

Jesus showed the image of Caesar was imprinted on the coin and returned to him. Yet we are imprinted with the image of Jesus himself, made in His own image. All that we are should reflect Him and all that we do, even to our next breath, should return to Him.

Render to God the things that are God’s.

Hundred Reasons

A hundred reasons not to move. Insufficient preparation. Not enough sleep and what I found was not restful. Not enough prayer and what I did was clumsy at best. Not enough of many things.

But for each hundred reasons not to, there were a hundred people needing me to be where I needed to be. A hundred people put food on the table because I found my way to my desk. Today, a hundred mourned and celebrated a life well lived because I found my way to the church piano. A hundred more reasons to move and less to stay put (though spending the day with nothing to focus on but my bride’s soft green eyes is hard to beat). Still, I ventured into the fog to do what needed to be done. A hundred steps, a hundred notes, a hundred prayers (well not yet, but I’m working on it.)

When I think there is no good reason to move is exactly when I should be moving. When I think there is no good reason to pray is exactly the time to pray. Apathy and a warm bed are dangerous places to be when there are a hundred reasons to move.

A hundred reasons to let her stay snuggled in her old bedroom, but she had a hundred reasons to hop a flight halfway across the country. So, we took a hundred steps forward. With each step, a hundred more reasons to pray.

Lord, please bless those that I love and hold dear, and those that I do not, yet…

 

If these words have been a blessing, pass them along to another who needs to hear. Reach out to me at John@LiftedKeys.com and tell me your story. I would love to know where and in what way God has guided His words through my pen.

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Nudges

Taking an alternate route to avoid traffic, I traveled on a faster but less crowded highway. Approaching an exit, 40 tons of truck ran the stop sign into my path. Only swerving to the far-left shoulder and the Hand of God avoided catastrophe. I sat shaking from thoughts if there had been oncoming traffic or if it had happened one second later. Only by the Grace of God am I writing to you.

Replaying it over and over, I wondered if my blinker had inadvertently been on for the last few miles. Was the other driver paying attention? Was I paying attention? Probably not. Only by the Grace of God am I writing to you.

My journey of late has been a fog, making the same footprints, steering into the same ruts. Passions have dwindled in the mist to where they could be extinguished by the splash of a roadside puddle. Digging through the dusty recesses of my mind, I uncovered my shield and sword, yet I lack the strength to carry them, let alone carry them into battle. Only by the Grace of God am I writing to you

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.    1 Kings 19:11-12

The Lord speaks in gentle whispers and sometimes heavenly nudges. When I fail to listen to either, it takes an old fashion, playground shove, off balance, stumbling to my knees. But there is where I find strength, true strength, HIS strength.

There must be more to say.
Only by the Grace of God am I writing to you.

If these words have been a blessing, pass them along to another who needs to hear. Reach out to me at John@LiftedKeys.com and tell me your story. I would love to know where and in what way God has guided His words through my pen.

Love Memories

Battle scars, we all have them. Multiple remnants on shins from stumbling in the dark, surgeries removing or replacing something bad, and most importantly, true battle scars of the valiant, life and limb on the line, fighting for God and country. Some scars are harder to see, cut deep and covered with years of overgrowth, yet scar tissue remains. Old injuries resurface in our weakest moments, and we tend to wallow in ancient pain. Blows of days past, left unchecked, take root in the fertile soul of an aching heart until we again are the crumpled mess of our former selves. We cry out to God for redemption, recovery and sometimes retribution for wrongs committed.

Scars, both seen and unseen, are reminders of days past, actions taken both good and bad, damage done of our own making and that of others. Jesus knows our pain and feels our scars, for He endured even to the point of earthly death. His loving Hands have healed our broken parts with more Love and Grace than we will ever know, let alone deserve.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

When scars re-emerge from the dusty corners of my mind, I attempt to refocus on the good things and ignore the bad. At times the cost is really hard prayers, salty tears and patience, lots of patience. Thankfully we have a Loving God who is patient with our weaknesses and holds us tightly until the pain passes.

When battles rage in our aching souls, hold on to “love memories” and let the others fade. Hold tighter to “love – present” for we are only here for a little while. Hold even tighter to “love future” for He is forever. When burdens of “scar tissue” seem too much to bear, know there are more of us who love you than those who do not. Jesus is at the top of the love list and always will be. As am I.

 

If these words have been a blessing, pass them along to another who needs to hear. Reach out to me at John@LiftedKeys.com and tell me your story. I would love to know where and in what way God has guided His words through my pen.

Strands

Dewdrops set on an unusually warm November morning, and I found myself struggling to take the next step let alone joining a group of gladiators for an early morning sweat. We were to match the exercise count of our teammates and if successful, proceed to the next marker. As others pushed ahead, it was painfully obvious which of us were well into our fifth decade and who were not. No doubt it is usually obvious, but the separation today took a shot at an old man’s ego.

Traversing the rest of my day with an aching soul (as well as knees and shoulders), I saw more separation I had not seen (or simply ignored) before. Young bucks running to get kids to their destinations before consuming the day chasing shiny things. And I, still pushing my pace yet taking more moments to breathe it in.

In the mirror, lines on my face reflect my father; the hair on my chinny-chin-chin, which once resembled my mother’s auburn, are turning to her brilliant white. Much less like a Christmas elf and more like Santa every day.

Like the turning of autumn leaves, each faded hair is but a strand of time. Memories, some pleasant others not so much. Seasons, of growth and retreat. Lessons, some difficult, others of merely patience (even more difficult).

These “souvenirs” of journeys traveled are more than just aging eyes and ankles, they sketch road maps of steps taken, places visited and hopefully wisdom gathered to point the way to where I’m going. A stride a bit shorter, a gate a bit slower, but consistently moving forward, onward, and upward, pressing on for the prize.

… But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Phil 3:13-14

 

If these words have been a blessing, pass them along to another who needs to hear. Reach out to me at John@LiftedKeys.com and tell me your story. I would love to know where and in what way God has guided His words through my pen.

Instant Oatmeal

Empty contents into bowl. Add boiling water and stir. Let stand for two minutes. Oatmeal in an instant. Gooey goodness that is warm going down on a day where winter winds blow through my bones. Convenience in our cupboards feeds our impatience as well as our bodies. No more slaving over a hot stove (though a good pot of chili and a cast iron skillet of cornbread is well worth the wait.) Technology provides a world of information at our fingertips instead of hours thumbing through dusty books in an old library.

In this era of stream on demand, we tend to carry this need for instant gratification into our prayer closets, disappointed when answers from God are replaced by a spinning buffer wheel exposing our lack of connection. Wisdom of the world may work like that, but true wisdom requires a closer connection. Some prayer is answered immediately, like a certain peace when you whisper the name of Jesus in a stressful situation and more importantly, heavenly forgiveness when you come to Him with a repentant heart. Other prayers are like seeds planted deeply in the earth.

Passing miles of South Texas cotton fields, emptied of their white fluffy blooms, I felt a kinship to its barren expanse, plowed under to endure the winter months. Yet underneath, plant remnants nourished the soul in preparation for the Spring. In seasons when it feels like our prayers are bouncing off winter skies, our time with Jesus replenishes our fertile soil lending protection and nutrients to seeds we have planted. In the time of the Lord’s favor, winter winds give way to spring showers, yielding tender sprouts, of which mighty trees grow.

Likewise, somewhere in the Midwest stands an empty field which in due season produces an oat harvest. Through farmer hands to store shelves to little paper packets; water, warmth and a little patience becomes the gooey goodness that again warms our souls.

 

If these words have been a blessing, pass them along to another who needs to hear. Reach out to me at John@LiftedKeys.com and tell me your story. I would love to know where and in what way God has guided His words through my pen.

Dual Citizenship

Saul-Paul, the man who would become an apostle of Christ, was not a Roman citizen, but was afforded some of their rights because of the region he was born in, a dual citizenship of sorts. Saul-Paul was Jewish-born into a family of Pharisees, the strictest sect most adherent to the Law. “Paul” would have been derived from his official Roman name and “Saul” would have been his preferred Jewish name. He attended the finest schools and learned scripture from the best rabbis. He harbored such zeal for the law, Saul-Paul went door to door, dragging believers off into prison. Yet everything changed when he encountered the Risen Jesus on the way to Damascus.

Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized. Acts 8:17

All that he was, and all the gathered knowledge found new meaning in the light of the Risen Lord. The training he had used to deny Jesus was now his greatest strength to bring others to Jesus. And the name? In the Jewish community, “Saul” was more accepted, and “Paul” was more used in the gentile community. Two countries, two names, dual citizenship.

I am john, with a little “j”, part author, part musician, part goof-ball. In the 9 to 5, (7 to 5?, 7 to 7?, 25 or 6 to 4?) I am John G Adams, supposed important guy, signer of things, wearer of many hats. At times I wonder who I am and why I am here. Today, I am a teller of stories (if my boss is reading, fear not for I have donned many hats on your behalf today.)

Saul-Paul came to consider all his previous gain as garbage as compared to knowing Christ. Yet, all he was, the good, the bad, the really ugly, was but preparation for use by the Almighty. Likewise, all that I am, all the mud I’ve dragged through has brought me to this place, seeking whispers of God, scribbling words on a page to reach your eyes and hopefully your heart, for use by the Almighty.

We go by many names, yet one day, we will answer to only one.

You will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow. Isaiah 62:2

We are citizens of this orb we call earth and also citizens of heaven. Two kingdoms, two names, dual citizenship to be sure.

 

If these words have been a blessing, pass them along to another who needs to hear. Reach out to me at John@LiftedKeys.com and tell me your story. I would love to know where and in what way God has guided His words through my pen.

Catch My Breath

Rubbing tired eyes after nights of little sleep and what sleep I found was troubled at best. The alarm avoided my reach to the snooze button, and I found myself on the floor. The warm bed would take effort to get back in so I might as well get up. Pre-dawn exercise is calling but falling on deaf ears. It’s when I do not want to go that it is best to go, but the apathy monster has my heels.

Climbing out of a warm truck into the chill of an autumn morning made me question all sorts of decisions. Press on. Breathe. Dedication or foolishness? Not sure, maybe both. As aching muscles struggled through push-ups, sit-ups, and other diabolical manifestations, my tired heart was aching as well. Words whispered in my soul, “You fought through apathy to get this far. Does your prayer exercise deserve less?” As I fell to my knees in exhaustion, I fell to my knees inside as well. The sweat on my face hid the tears welling up.

It had been a few long days of really hard prayers seeing some answered in miraculous ways, Thank You Jesus. But fatigue exposed weakness which led to apathy. My prayer fire had gone cold.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Heb 4:12

Alive and active. I am feeling it in my joints and marrow (along with that extra set of lunges.) But in soul and spirit I feel the ones I love, awaiting their prayer blessing; waiting for me to catch my breath and resume my journey of faith.

A hot shower, a bit of breakfast and I’m human again. Quiet drive time at the feet of Jesus and I’m a warrior again.

In the midst of my health journey, a friend noticed the change in me and I needed the boost. My faith journey is improving as well, but sometimes I just need to catch my breath. To catch my breath, I must remember to breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

 

If these words have been a blessing, pass them along to another who needs to hear. Reach out to me at John@LiftedKeys.com and tell me your story. I would love to know where and in what way God has guided His words through my pen.

Impractical, Impossible, Unexpected

We tend to dream small for things that are reasonably attainable, a good job with good pay if we work hard, an “A” on tomorrow’s test if we study, and some rain, which we know will come sooner or later. We hold on to small prayers and small dreams as to not be disappointed, having less room to fall. But what about big dreams? Is it only when a friend is deathly ill or a baby fighting cancer that we pray really hard, sweat pouring off our brow like blood? When only a miracle will do? And when the intensity of the moment has passed, do we settle back into our lukewarm prayer life, scrolling past sports scores and the foolishness in our social media feeds? (index finger pointed firmly in my own direction)

I have prayed for healing, changing hearts, wisdom and patience always adding “if it is Thy will”, though it feeds my doubt, lack of faith, and gives me someone to blame when prayers are left unanswered or unanswered to my liking. Instead of asking, asking, asking, begging, pleading, I am learning to thank God for what He is already doing in each situation. He has heard my prayers, my cries, my dreams, and He “is “moving mountains in His time in His way. Too often I pray in ignorance of what I want or need only to see God fulfill what I truly need.

It takes bold faith to ask for the impractical, unreasonable, really big dreams for a really big God to display His Greatness. Perhaps it takes the impossible and unexpected to show, without a doubt, it is the Hand of God at work.

Do not fear praying big prayers and dreaming big dreams. For as His ways are higher than ours, His dreams for us are so much greater than we could imagine.

Unreasonable? Some call faith in the unseen foolish. Impractical? The Son of God took on human form, walked among us and died on a cross in our place. Impossible? He rose again, defeated death, and still lives. I know because I spoke to Him just this morning, so anything is possible for the Creator of all things.

I pray hard for miracles and sometimes wonder if He will, or when He will, but I never question if He can.

HE can.

 

Special thanks to Pastor Mark Batterson and “The Circle Maker” for teaching me to draw circles.

thecirclemaker.com/


If these words have been a blessing, pass them along to another who needs to hear. Reach out to me at John@LiftedKeys.com and tell me your story. I would love to know where and in what way God has guided His words through my pen.

Pray A Visit

A conversation with a friend about someone in need and the message came across, “I’ll pray her a visit,” an obvious auto-correct of “pay her a visit.” Yet this “typo” left me intrigued as I enjoy a good play on words. Our electronic companions learn our dialects, our shopping habits (grr) and may tend to lean toward our most used words and phrases. It’s good to know that “pray” rates so highly in her word usage. Conversely, if you frequent less than ideal verbiage, it may surface at the most in opportune times, or so I’ve been told.

A man who is known for using “colorful” language was shocked when his toddler used the same and in the correct context. Little eyes are watching, little ears are listening.

Jesus said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come… Mark:20-21

Seeds sown in our hearts yield fruit in due season whether good or bad. All things pass through the eyes and ears, but we decide which will find fertile soil and which will be cast to the rocks to wither.

We demolish arguments and every arrogance that raises itself up against the knowledge of God; we take every thought captive and make it obey the Messiah. 2 Cor 10:5 CJB

For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Proverbs 23:7 KJV

On the night Jesus was arrested, Peter tried to fade into the crowded courtyard. A girl recognized him as a follower of Jesus though he denied it.

After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.” Matthew 26:73

Do we walk close enough to Jesus that our “accent” would give us away? Would we deny it? Do we put our belief into practice or simply preach it? When a name comes to mind, whether we know their struggle or not, do we just let it pass by? Perhaps we should “pray” them a visit.

 

If these words have been a blessing, pass them along to another who needs to hear. Reach out to me at John@LiftedKeys.com and tell me your story. I would love to know where and in what way God has guided His words through my pen.

Lifted Team Signup

As a member of the Lifted Team, you will receive "Peek Beyond the Pages" a periodic newsletter of sorts, sharing the lighter side of the world around us, and exclusive access to "Sneak Previews" of the next installment in the Echoes series. Team members are encouraged to share Lifted stories with others in need of Lifting.

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Thanks for Joining Us. Be Lifted and be Blessed.