Of Streams and Stones

A cool spring afternoon, the sun shining as a soft breeze meanders across the freshly greened landscape; a perfect day for a stroll, hand in hand with my sweet bride. The path follows a small stream bordered with lush greenery, blooming flowers and small trickling waterfalls. Stopping at a footbridge, we sat listening to water cascading over stones both large and small, relishing this quiet time together.

The water’s surface reflected my wife as the beauty that she is; however, my image was obscured by protruding rocks, honest enough as I am hard headed and a bit dense at times. Sharp edges proved these rocks were recently quarried, as natural river rocks are smoothed by years of passing waters, yet here they stood, various size, shape and color, creating a masterpiece in water and stone.

Limestone is comprised of ancient shells and fossils, creatures who once thrived on an ocean floor, dancing with the ebb and flow of the waves of their day. Compressed by the ravages of time, they have become firm foundations for the places we dwell. I, too, am a product of my forefathers (and mothers), who in every size, shape and color thrived in their day. Solidified by faith in the Mighty Hands of the Creator, they became the foundation of all that I am.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

As with the oddly shaped stones, I have sharp edges as well, being only part of the larger rock face of those who traveled before me. Years of being washed by living waters of faith have softened the rough surfaces with small broken pieces again becoming sediment flowing downstream. Gathering with others, I pray God will form them into foundations for those that will follow.

And that we would continue to be
Blessed in Great Measure

 

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Keep and eye out for the release of my upcoming book Echoes Intertwined, a collection of parables, lessons and God whispers.

Rhythm of Grace

Guitar intro to James Taylor’s You’ve Got a Friend, Elton John’s piano intro to Yellow Brick Road or the driving guitar of DC Talk’s Jesus Freak – rhythms that grab your attention in a few notes. It is a songwriter’s challenge as song skips and channel changes are but a quick button push. It was not as easy when it was on vinyl. It is about finding a rhythm.

Recently, being first to a meeting, my counterpart’s phone lit up and he responded in a “less than Christian” manner. I could sense a pumped up, AC/DC type of guitar riff and he was coming in hot. I whispered “Hosanna” like the crowd two thousand years ago, announcing Jesus as Savior and imploring His help. A quick prayer for all those in the room and the meeting proceeded, concluding with a positive outcome. I had found a rhythm, a rhythm of grace.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:19-20

Two eyes, two ears, one mouth – use proportionally.

Should a situation come roaring in like the Rolling Stones’ Jumpin’ Jack Flash, retreat to a quiet spot (even if just a corner of your mind) and whisper “Hosanna” acknowledging Jesus as Savior and asking His help. I have found it settles my mind and focuses my thoughts. A rhythm of grace. Even in quiet times, embrace the rhythm and appreciate the calmness of a sunrise, the sweetness of a smile or the dedication of someone struggling but giving all they have.

Share the grace that we have so abundantly been given by our Heavenly Father, for our rhythms will echo through others whether they be of grace or otherwise. There is a rhythm of grace in the giving as well as receiving.

A rhythm of grace, amplified by prayer, will reverberate more clearly when life surrounds you with wind-up-toy monkeys and clashing cymbals. Rhythms can be drumbeats or heartbeats and when the Holy Spirit touches a heart, the rhythm slows to synchronize with the very heartbeat of God.

Take a breath; find the rhythm. As in all things, a simple prayer makes the difference.

 

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Blessings in Pieces

A mosaic at first glance is a random collection of small stones or ceramic shards, but in the hands of an artist with a greater point of view, an intricate image of beauty emerges. A stained glass window is also a mosaic, dark and light, brilliantly colored pieces of glass, arranged by the hands of a master into a stunning masterpiece.

In the midst of beautiful artwork is evidence that we too are mosaics, fashioned by the mighty hands of The Master, the Creator of all things, beauty in grandeur and in the smallest detail.

If we only focus on the our broken pieces scattered across the floor, we fail to see the people God has sent to envelop us in kindness and care, being held together by His grace, blessings in pieces that create a greater good.

Our hearts, too often stained by failures, do not allow light to shine through, either in or out. However,

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

God graciously forgives our sin and remembers them no more, though we as imperfect creatures are not as lucky. Our failures remain in memories as lessons of our stumbles and how God loves us even still. These spots in our past stain our reflection, but just as in church windows, God surrounds those pieces with radiant colors of His mercy and grace held together by His loving hands.

Passions in our lives struggle like flickering candles in an empty church, cold and lifeless. As the sun rises, God’s light shines through stained glass casting a prism of colors into the darkness of our souls, stirring embers, fanning flames, re-energizing our faith. When shadows of evening consume daylight, the love of God creates inner light, shining out in brilliant colors, guiding those who are lost to a place of comfort and care.

I pray God continues to stir our embers as He sees fit, so that we may become beacons of hope and reflections of His great love.

 

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What a Frond We Have in Jesus

“The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! ” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” John 12:12-13

“Fronds” are palm branches that emerge from the crown of the palm tree, an adornment of sorts. I wonder if the crowd that day understood the symbolism. Perhaps. Palm branches have traditionally represented victory since the Israelites’ rescue from the slavery of ancient Egypt. The Lord commanded they celebrate with the Feast of Tabernacles with palm branches.

“On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees—from palms, willows and other leafy trees —and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.” Leviticus 23:40

They shouted, “Hosanna!” which in Aramaic meant “Savior” and laid victory branches before Him. They repeated the chant when Jesus cleared the temple as if to say, “Finally! our Savior has come!” The shouts were of praise but political as well as the people now have a champion who would save them from the harsh rule of Roman soldiers and the religious elite. Little did they know how right they were.

In Hebrew and Greek, “Hosanna” meant “help us” or “please save us”, not only proclaiming that Jesus has the power to save, but also a cry for saving. The rulers of that time needed to kill Jesus to remove the threat to their authority. In modern times, we have many who are making decisions, supposedly on our behalf, trying to do the same, seeing Jesus as a threat to their authority. This is when “Hosanna” is needed most.

When we gather on Palm Sunday, waving palm fronds singing “Hosanna in the Highest,” keep in mind that it is prayer, praise and petition, cries for help and shouts of victory, whether realized or yet to come. Welcome Jesus’ triumphant entry with open hearts waving fronds of praise for all He has done and the victory He has won, not just one Sunday morning in the springtime, but all the time.

Hosanna!

His Namesake

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” Psalm 23:1-3

His name’s sake” reads as if God does these things to make Himself look good, but God does not seek approval of the opinions of mortal men. Pride and vanity are human characteristics and certainly do not apply to the only One who truly deserves praise for all He is and all He has done.

The Hebrew word for “sake” means “purpose” or “on account of” so “His name’s sake” translates as “because of His name” and God’s name represents all He is. “Name’s sake” eventually became the word “namesake” meaning being named after another, usually referring to a father and his son and as a child of God, I am His “namesake”.

I often wonder why He loves me as much as He does, why He forgives my failures, why He always provides and why He leads me in the path of righteousness – not for His glory, nor the sake of His name, but because of His nature and immeasurable love for His creation. I do not understand it, cannot earn it, certainly do not deserve it; however, God is love; He just is.

“Therefore, we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” 1 John 4:16

As “He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness,” these paths may bring well-deserved glory to His name and in doing so, to Himself, but I do not believe that is His intent. He longs to cultivate a closeness to us, as sheep know the sound of their Shepherd’s voice; following in a sense of safety, knowing green pastures and cool waters await.

“Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23:5-6

Amen

Eyes of Heaven

I have seen glimpses of Jesus in other’s faces, heard angels singing in other’s voices and a nurse named Ava Maria once tended to my brother. All touches of heaven, but face to face? That had escaped me until today.

The morning was spent celebrating a milestone of a life in ministry, yet in the midst of tearful stories and notes of appreciation, I found myself somewhat convicted of how my energy had been spent, talents on the sidelines and time wasted. Along with cookies and punch, there was a bitter pill to swallow.

Continuing to lunch, we were attended to by a young lady with soft eyes and a gentle smile, whose name tag read “Heaven.” I asked if that was truly her name wondering if it was pronounced differently. I said I had met “Angels” and “Jesus-es,” but “Heaven” was a first for me, what a beautiful name. However, I realized I had met heaven before, just not face to face.

My mother recently passed into the “real Heaven” and I was inundated with stories of how she touched lives in just being Joyce (or Re-Joyce as she would say). I have received words of gratitude for a song or a story that tugged at heartstrings and undeserving credit for imparting wisdom granted to me by God, and a life spent struggling to pursue His will for me and His will for others through me.

It would take more than fingers and toes to count the times I have missed a calling and thanks be to God, He forgives my sins and remembers them no more.

“No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord . “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Jeremiah 31:34

The first step in overcoming your failings is to acknowledge they exist. While being dragged by those of my own, a glimpse into the eyes of heaven showed that there have been many steps forward as well as backwards. The difference is how I direct my focus; even more so when I stumble. I choose to look ahead toward the path God has laid before me and pray there are less missteps than those on solid ground, to see the eyes of heaven once again.

Be Blessed in Great Measure

Be-Livin’ What You’re Believin’

Awakened from a winter’s night slumber by concerns for those I love dearly, I submerged under a warm shower attempting to wash sleep from my eyes and the mental fog that obscured shouts of opposing factions in my head.

Ours is not to question why,” a loose interpretation of words from Alfred Lord Tennyson in The Charge of the Light Brigade, followed by the literary and theological “masterpiece” that is Bruce Almighty. Bruce begins a sentence with “May I ask …” and God breaks in with an enthusiastic “Yes!”

Al-righty then … Why?

The response was like a highlight reel of scripture on the sidelines of my heart, waiting for their chance to play.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9
Jesus said … “Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26

In other-words, “Be-livin’ what you say you’re Believin’.” It is easy enough to say we believe until it is time to prove it. Faith and patience was not the answer I was seeking, but even so, there is no way I could comprehend the full wisdom of God, let alone the answers I sought. So I prayed that God would hold those that I love in the palm of His hand, knowing full well that He has never failed to do so.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

I am grateful for those I love and the wonderful creations they are. I will continue to lift them to the Savior, even after He’s heard it a thousand times. God knows the “why” and that is sufficient until I can ask Him face to face.

Looking forward to conversations in heaven.
And Blessed in Great Measure

Contrast in Souls

Strolling through the backyard with my sweet bride, discussing plant clippings and projects yet to be done, I glanced up to see the remnants of an old tree branch. This grand live oak provided climbing space for my father-in-law as a child and his father as well. It could have been a place to tie horses or a shady spot for Native Americans. All that remains is a stump outliving its usefulness, rotting from within – too many metaphors to admit to. Yet, to its side, was a young shoot, full of life and leaves in the afternoon sun. I appreciated the contrast and the deeper meaning that lay hidden within.

While lamenting how the ravages of time had affected us both, a new sprout appeared by way of a phone call from an old friend. A garden-side lunch table supplied an opportunity to relive deep conversations and general foolishness, discussing paths we had taken and those yet before us. Friendly dialogue challenged the where-s and why-s, leaving me with more questions than answers. A quiet drive home gave pause to peer down each separate path and consider the goals I hoped to find. Some reflection resulted in clarity of direction while obstacles of necessary patience and perseverance obscured others. With a new-found skip in my step, I forged ahead on the clearer paths and continued to climb unfamiliar mountains, relying on faith in the ONE who not only knows the mountain peaks and the green pastures beyond, but formed them in the palm of His hand, as with me. I pray I may be malleable that God would continue to mold me, contrasting who I was with who He is making me, and with others who He also longs to redeem.

Contrasting between dark and light
And Blessed in Great measure

Uncomfortably Numb

A lackluster open to a new year. Take a year of political unrest, quarantine and separated holidays; with my mother’s rapidly fading memories and being separated from love ones makes for a difficult season. As the year slowly ground to an end, my mother contracted a virus and re-joined my father in heaven on their 63rd anniversary. A poetic and peaceful end to a life well lived. Yet knowing she is where she always dreamed of being does not soften the feeling of loss. An already weary heart crossed a line into simply numb.

A bevy of “need-to”s, “have-to”s and “want-to”s I normally juggle with the skill of a circus clown on a unicycle, now stand in a socially distanced line waiting their turn as I struggle to focus on one ball, in one hand; no tossing, no spinning, no juggling.

Stumbling through the fog of apathy trying to remain upright by my supposed intellect, a tender whisper echoes, “This is the time to lean not on your own understanding”. Good thing because my understanding cannot hold its own weight, let alone mine.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

A welcome direction instead of walking in circles just leaning.

Is my current condition deep-seeded mourning that I try to explain away? Can a heart be broken and rejoice at the same time? Our ability to cry and love through difficult situations would suggest it.

“Lean not on your own understanding.”
Trust in the Lord.”

Amen.

Be Blessed in Great Measure

Somewhere Between Alpha and Omega

There are 24 letters in the Greek alphabet, Alpha being the first; Omega being the last. God refers to Himself as the Alpha and the Omega; first and last, the beginning and the end.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” – Revelations 1:8

Other letters fall somewhere in-between. “Beta” is commonly used as a time of testing a product that is nearly complete. “Delta” is a mathematical variable referring to the difference in two values. “Chi” and “Rho represent Christ as they are the first letters of the Greek spelling of the same. Often, “Chi” (X) is used in abbreviations for Christmas, (as in X-mas) and many churches display the combined symbols “Chi” and “Rho” (X and P) as a symbol meaning Christ.

God created the heavens and the earth in the beginning and only He knows the time when this world will be replaced by a new heaven and earth. Until that time, we are somewhere in-between.

In Genesis, the Israelites waited many years for their deliverer in Moses and many more before crossing into the Promised Land. The coming of a Savior was spoken of as far back as the Garden of Eden and God’s people waited hundreds of years for the birth of Jesus. The night before Jesus was arrested, He told His disciples that God would send an advocate, the Holy Spirit to guide them. Between Jesus’ death on the cross and His appearing on Sunday, the disciples gathered, not yet knowing the Holy Spirit, but being cared for by God. In each instance, God was with them in the waiting.

We do not recall our “Alpha” as God knew us before we took a breath and only God knows our “Omega”. We exist somewhere in-between. Our lives are the “Beta” as we are nearly complete while being perfected. Our “Delta” is the difference we make in our lives and that of others, yet most importantly is “Chi Rho”, or the Christ in our lives as we wait for our “Omega” and “The Omega”.

In our “Beta”, “Chi Rho” is our “Delta”.
In our time of testing, Christ is the difference.

Be Blessed in Great Measure