Saturday, July 12, 2014

Eight Days of Hope, part 1

Her story was so incredibly poignant that it broke my heart. A woman in her mid-eighties, who has spent all her adult life caring for her handicapped son, along with that very loving and kind son, were in their small home when the tornado struck. They were pinned inside by fallen trees. 

Once the trees were removed and they were out, the sad state of affairs was evident. Of the three rooms left standing, one would not be standing long. They made do, despite no power or running water, and people began to help. Eventually, they were moved to safe housing and their plight was made known. Eight Days of Hope adopted their need.

In case you don't know, Eight Days of Hope is a faith-based ministry that responds to disasters with a team of volunteers to help put lives and homes back together. While repairing houses is what they do, serving Jesus is why they do it. They work for eight days. Whatever can be accomplished in eight days is done, and each volunteer agrees to work at least three of those days. 

When I heard that this fine ministry was adopting this dearly loved woman, I queried the site. I wanted to work on her home, and no other. I wasn't trying to be unreasonable, but my time was very limited and I wanted to spend it helping this dear lady.  They assured me I could pick my job, and I signed up, then promised her I would help with her new home. When I went this morning to "pick my job", you can well imagine my dismay when I found that her church was working on her home today, and Eight Days of Hope would be going later. The only thing that kept me from going back home was that I had given my word to work. 

In anticipation of landscaping work, I had driven my pickup, stocked with shovels, wheelbarrow, hand tiller, and cooler. As I glumly perused the list of jobs, I found one that required the exact set of tools I had brought. "Well, Lord, I wasn't planning on "filling in a large hole" today, but since that's what I'm equipped to do, I guess I will." As I signed up for the job, I realized that I would be Project Manager, as well. Suddenly, it was my responsibility to be sure the job was completed. I had no idea how big the hole was, and that was a good thing. 

When we arrived at the house, there was a mountain of dirt. Really. I looked at the two women and two young boys who made up my team and said, "Well, since we need to move a mountain, we had best ask the One who moves mountains to help."  After a few moments spent in prayer, we started shoveling dirt into the wheelbarrow and hauling it around to the hole. 

A young man walked by, looked at our task, and said, "Girls, don't worry. You are about to have some help." I silently told The Lord that I hoped he had brought a shovel. He had something much better. He had a Bobcat!  Before we could dump what we had shoveled, he was scooping up dirt with his machine and filling my wheelbarrow, as well as his own. His wife was there to help, along with his friend and his family. Suddenly, that tiny team was big and powerful. God was moving the mountain, and he was using Robbie and Alan, and their families to do it. I was amazed at their strength and at the sweet relationships they all enjoyed. 

It was the body of Christ in action. The entire combined team worked like crazy, stopping only briefly for a sack lunch. There was no fussing or arguing, and no one thought their contribution was more than another's.  Everyone was quick to help, especially when I had trouble moving the loaded wheelbarrow! 

In five short hours, we paused to assess our progress. I was amazed at how much was done. The hole was filled! 

I'm not sure why God wanted me to fill a hole today instead of doing the landscaping I had planned, but it was obvious He did, and I'm really grateful for the divine change in plans. I saw God move a mountain today, literally, and He used the body of Christ to do it.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Parable of the lamp, part 5: the placing

"Now no one after lighting a lamp covers it over with a container, or puts it under a bed; but he puts it on a lampstand, so that those who come in may see the light. (Luke 8:16 NASB)

The word translated as "those who come in" is eisporeuomai. As you would expect, it means "to enter", but an alternate definition is "to be placed". This "coming in" involves more than just wandering through your area. The word denotes intention of proximity, but not necessarily personal intent. It may seem hard to believe, but not every one who crosses your path actually wants to do so. Some of the people who come into contact with you are there by divine design, rather than their own. 

When a divinely-orchestrated encounter occurs, it may be the most amazing encounter of your life, but it is not always "warm and fuzzy". It is no less important in those difficult encounters to clearly demonstrate the truth of God in our lives.  This God-light in us is to shine in such a way as to help those who are placed by God in our path to find their way, no matter how pleasant (or unpleasant) they are. 

We are not the point of these encounters. That fire of God in us, shining the light of God, is the the objective. He is placing His person in the path of the flame He fastened to the lamp which He created and which is fueled by His Spirit. The objective is seeing Him more clearly. What is amazing about these divinely orchestrated encounters is not that God  chooses to place someone in the path of the fire of God. What is amazing is that God chooses us as one of His instruments. 

How useful are we as instruments in the hand of God? Are we available and willing to be used? Would we prefer to choose our encounters or do we embrace whatever and whomever comes our way?

Today, pray that we and our loved ones would allow the fire of God to shine brightly so that all with whom we come in contact would clearly see the path of God for them. Pray for hearts that are equally receptive to the most pleasant and the least pleasant person who comes our way. 
Don't forget to pray for the terrorist of the week, Nasir Al Wuhayshi, especially that his plans for evil would be thwarted. 
Praise: at last count, at least 60 of the Nigerian schoolgirls have escaped! Keep praying!
Link to last night's guest post:

Friday Night with Friends: Greedy Chicks by Dr. Walter Downs

Dr. Walter Downs is a retired educator, now serving as a Methodist minister. He also raises chickens. This is his first guest blog, so be sure to share some love with him.   
(Based on Luke 9 & John 15)

We have begun a new venture at our house.  My wife and I bought nineteen baby chickens.  They are fun to watch, but all we really get to do is either watch them eat or put them up at night if one or more of them fail to go into the coop after the door closes.  Oh yeah, we have an automatic door and it's set to open at 6:30 am and close at 8:30 pm......fancy aren't we?

Did I mention that they are fun to watch?

Early on, just for fun, we would dig up an earthworm and throw it in amongst them.  It was ON then!  One would grab that worm and run, trying to hog it all up them self.  The others chicks would see that  hoarding action and the running away.  Those are clues that "I have something good and I am not going to share".  Well, then the chase was on!  Another lucky chick would grab the loose end of the writhing worm and pull against the original culprit that was hoarding the prize!  Then we had a tug of war.

Did I mention that they are fun to watch?

All of a sudden the worm would break half in two so now we had two chicks with only half the prize!  But that is not the end of the story.  Two more chicks wound grab the loose ends of the now half worms, and the tug of war would ensue yet again.  It is hard to watch the action when you have two or three tug of wars going on.

Funny thing is:  They do the same thing with catalpa worms, or corn ear worms, or blades of grass, or even a useless corn shuck.  They know no compassion for the hungry or the weak.  It is all about me in our chicken pen.

As a pastor I look for simple truths to share with my congregation each week.  Some are better than others!  The truth is that chickens and folks are a lot alike. The Bible even speaks about our human condition.

Luke chapter 9:  21 Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22 And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

Matthew, chapter 16 records a similar passage:  21 From that time on (after he fed the 5000)  Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life[f] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

As humans we have been conditioned to think that more is better!  Much of the time we act like those baby chickens.  Corporate America, the capitalistic empire, even drives us to think that way.  The key questions become how big is your portfolio of stocks, bonds, etc.
In Agrarian America, we desire more land, more livestock, more offspring, more this, more that.

Regardless of where you work and reside, how much is enough? 

Pause and consider that for a bit.  

I am reminded of a young entrepreneur who had just gotten out of the service.  His name was Forrest Gump.  Forrest befriended a fellow soldier named Bubba.  Bubba hailed from Bayou La Batre.  He grew up in and knew everything there was to know about shrimping and he convinced the simple minded Bubba to go into the shrimping business when they get out of the service.  

Despite Forrest saving Bubba in the jungle of Vietnam, Bubba died.  During the recuperation period, Forrest learned to play ping pong, and traveled on behalf of the Armed Forces to play ping pong.  He even won a ping pong equipment endorsement.  With that healthy check he still thought of a friend, old dead Bubba.  He could not get that shrimping plan our of his mind, so, for lack of a better plan, when Forrest mustered out of the service, he headed to shrimping country, took the endorsement money, and bought an old shrimp boat.  

At first he nearly starved but, due to several blessings that come his way in the form of a hurricane that wipes out the shrimp fleet, and one certain Lt. Dan, he finally enjoyed immense success.  The Bubba Gump shrimp company was formed.  He named his shrimp boat Jenny.  Lt. Dan took the money and invested the extra dollars in Apple Stock. They both become richer than kings!  

Lt. Dan mailed Forrest a letter declaring that they never have to worry about money again.  The classic line in the movie is this:  "Lt. Dan said we don't have to worry about money ever again."  To which Forrest replied, "That's less thing to worry about!"

Why did I share that illustration? Because Forrest and Bubba, since they are friends,  made a covenant to go partners, Forrest gave half of the company proceeds to Bubba's surviving momma.  An element of trust weaved its way through the movie.  Forrest trusted Bubba.  He even followed Bubba's dream.  Then, Forrest trusted Lt. Dan with managing of millions.  Forrest's trust even extended to Bubba's momma.

The bible talks about this business of friendship, too.  “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Folks,  friendships are precious and we must work at them.  That last passage from John 15 is Jesus' third major teaching about love.  Let me repeat it:  12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Back to those chickens.  I can tell you this with certainty!  Those chickens will not lay down their life for each other.  They are greedy guts!  They rob, steal, fight, peck, and hoard.

Which will you be this next week as you face the week?  Will you be like simple minded Forrest who gave up half of his assets?  Or will you be like the chickens who stingily fight for anything of value, hoarding it from your friends?  It's your choice.

Parable of the Lamp, Part Four:

"Now no one after lighting a lamp covers it over with a container, or puts it under a bed; but he puts it on a lampstand, so that those who come in may see the light. (Luke 8:16 NASB)

The lamp has one purpose only. It is not as a repository for oil, nor a storage site for flames. The lamp exists for one reason, and that is to give light. There is a reason the lamp is placed in a prominent place, Jesus explained to His disciples. It is so that the light given by the lamp will be dispersed in such a way that those who come near can see the way. 

The word translated as "see" is blepō, and is used to mean both physical sight and mental understanding. Seeing the light of the lamp (the work of God in our lives) can help others to understand with their heart what it is they are to do with their own light. The same word is sometimes used to describe understanding obtained through experience. 

Putting it all together, we find that "seeing" the work of God in our lives can help others to understand with their hearts how God would have them shine, and also help them to emulate that "shining" in their own lives. The critical part of this process begins with our shining, and requires that we actually dispense the light of God. We must be certain that what we are dispensing on the lamp stand is worth emulating. 

There is a lovely outcome from our shining on that lamp stand. If we allow the light of God in us to shine in such a way that others see it and emulate it, the glow of the lamplight can combine so that it is both increased and expanded. As the area of light expands, it encroaches on the darkness, for darkness and light cannot coexist. 

If darkness overwhelms and fills a place, it is not a fault of the darkness. That darkness is simply doing what darkness does best. It fills the void created by the absence of light. When darkness fills the void, it is because the lamp intended to shine has failed in its responsibility. 

What is most required to dispel darkness is light, and when light shines brightly, darkness flees. We must understand this principle if we are to understand how such darkness can fill our land. We must do our part, and shine from the lamp stand on which God has placed us. 

Dwight L Moody's most famous quote came from words spoken to him by Henry  Varley. "The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to Him. By God’s help, I aim to be that man.” Mr. Moody allowed his light to shine so brightly that thousands of people were brought to Christ through his influence, and God can do the same with us, if we are willing. 

Pray today that the light we dispense will be worth emulating and that God will use it to transform the lives of those closest to us as well as all who come near. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Parable of the Lamp, Part 3:

“No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a washtub or shoves it under the bed. No, you set it up on a lamp stand so those who enter the room can see their way.” (Luke 8:16 MSG)

Previously, we learned that the Parable of the Sower dealt with how we receive the Word of God. This Parable of the Lamp deals with what we do with the Word once we have received it. In fact, the shinning light comes straight from the hand of God. The fuel for the lamp represents the Holy Spirit and is supplied by God. The fire is supplied by God as well, and is "fastened" there as a permanent flame, intended to burn forever. 

Jesus addressed the issue of what we do with this Holy Spirit fire once we receive it. "“No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a washtub or shoves it under the bed." Of course, we don't put the lamp with an open flame under the bed. What would happen? The bed would extinguish the flame. Of course, we don't put a washtub over it. Again, it would extinguish the flame because both foolish choices would deprive the flame of the oxygen it needs to continue to burn. In trying to hide the flame to protect it, we would actually smother it. 

The purpose of the flame that has been kindled by God is clear. It is to show others the way. In fact, a road sign is not needed if the lamp is placed in the right place and allowed to burn where others can see it. When the light shines on the lamp stand, the way is made clear. 

This lamp stand is a critical part of the lamp's work, and it cannot do its work without it. The lamp will not be effective without proper positioning. The lamp stand is positioned so that the lamp can be placed in just the right spot to shine light on just the right path to show those who come near just the right way. The lamp stand, the lamp, the flame, the firelight - every part is a vital piece of God's plan. Nothing can be left out if His plan is to be fully accomplished. 

What are we doing with the flame God has kindled in us? Are we trying to hide it and risking extinguishing the fire or are we allowing Him to place our lamps on the lamp stand of His choosing to shine His light on the path He desires?

Lamps were never intended to be hidden away, and neither is the flame of God in us. 

Pray today that we will allow the fire of His love to shine brightly in us so that all who come near will clearly see the way. 
The terrorist of the week is Nasir al Wuhayshi. Don't forget to pray that God will change his heart and transform his life. 
Here's the link to last night's post:

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Forgotten Answers to Prayer

Many years ago, I coordinated a "prayer web" for my church. It was cutting edge at the time. People would email me prayer requests and I would forward them to a list of people in our church and around the world. It was very exciting, because, for the first time, we were able to connect a large group quickly to respond to an urgent prayer need. There was no Facebook or Twitter to spread the word, so this was the fastest connection available, and done via Dial-up internet access!

I've saved a stack of the printouts and was looking through them to see what we prayed about back then. People were having sick family members, bad diagnoses, job loss, marital stress, just like now. We were so excited about the use of technology that we seriously prayed (at least for a while) and God moved in very exciting ways. It was wonderful and we were so grateful. The sad thing about it is that those answers are almost completely forgotten. 

I came across a request for prayer for a young woman who was having a baby and was being induced. The information was completely incorrect, but prayers went up for a safe delivery, the baby was born without incident, and is now a fine almost-sixteen year old young man. God knew the correct info and did what needed to be done. The interesting thing for me is that the woman is now my prayer partner and we pray for that young man on a regular basis. 

Another young man had just been involved in a horrible accident and was near death. I saw his dad not long ago. He still has considerable medical problems, but, all things considered, he's doing well. That young man never knew we prayed, but our prayers were answered.  

Someone at Calvary wrote to say a family member had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was facing surgery. Prayer request went out, petitions went up, and God brought healing. She's still doing well today. 

Until now, it's been sixteen years since I thanked God for those answers. It seems a shame, doesn't it?  What about you? Has God given amazing answers to serious prayer requests in the past? Do you remember them? Do you still thank Him for His great and mighty gifts of grace and healing? 

Tonight would be a perfect time to think back on all God has done and thank Him one more time. Let's be sure we forget none.

Bless the LORD, O my soul, And all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget none of His benefits; (Psalms 103:1-2 NASB)

Parable of the Lamp, part 2: Fastening the Fire (Luke 8:16)

"Now no one after lighting a lamp covers it over with a container, or puts it under a bed; but he puts it on a lampstand, so that those who come in may see the light. (Luke 8:16 NASB)

In the overview of this parable, we saw that it follows closely with the Parable of the Sower. The Parable of the Lamp deals with what we do with the truth we are given. The "lamp" referred to in this verse refers to a hand-held oil lamp, representing our believing hearts, held safely in the Hand of God. Its fuel, being supplied in the form of oil, is representative of the Holy Spirit.

We turn first to the lighting of this lamp. In fact, not only is the fuel for the lamp (the oil) supplied by God, but also the fire. The  word translated as "lighting" is haptō, and indicates a fastening of the fire to the lamp. The wording seems a little odd, but the idea of fastening fire to the lamp implies that the fire is not temporary but enduring. 

When God fastens the fire of His love to our hearts, it is supposed to stay fastened. This parable implies a personal responsibility in maintaining the fire. God supplies the fuel and the fire. We maintain the flame. 

Later in this parable we find the instructions of Jesus to "take care how you listen".  Listening to the Word of God and that Still, Small Voice is what helps to keep the fire burning brightly. Tomorrow, we will look at how we treat that precious fire of God in more detail, but today, consider the fire of God in the lamp of your life. Has it been firmly attached? Is the fire flickering and in danger of going out or is it burning brightly for all to see?

Today pray that we and our loved ones will cherish and maintain that fire of God in our hearts so that we can be the salt and light we were intended to become.  
Terrorist prayer focus: Nasir al Wuhayshi
Link to last night's post:

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Parks and Responsibility

As you might expect if you read last night's blog, my day has been FILLED with the buzz about the new Toyota-Blue Springs project. We've had great media coverage and almost everyone I saw today had heard or read about the project. 

There's been a tendency toward a little trouble with the name, however. It is a bulky name, but names are important, and this one is especially so. The reason is that this name tells exactly what the purpose of the project will be. The Toyota-Blue Springs Water Garden and Education Park. What will be built is a park dedicated to education. If you've seen the plans, you might not have recognized it, but there are several teaching stations throughout the park. Plans are already underway to offer field trips to area school children so that they can learn about how food is produced, how to grow food, the care of endangered species, and much, much more. I can hardly wait!! 

The wonderful thing about this park is that it has "something for everyone", just as Mr. Suggs said at the press conference. We are already looking at things like Friday Night Jam, where area musicians can "jam" in the park while families enjoy picnics and children play in the play station. Saturday morning Farmer's markets are on the horizon, with home-grown vegetables, baked goods, jams and jellies, and more. 

We are also looking at ways to be good stewards of the park and maintain it. It's going to be wonderful, but it will only stay wonderful with plenty of tender loving care. 

You might be thinking, "She is going overboard! That park was just announced yesterday! It won't be built for months!"  You would be right. The park is not scheduled to be built until September 20th. 

There is a very important reason for all my scurrying around. Responsibility. Accepting a gift of this magnitude implies an acceptance of the responsibility to care for it. It implies an acceptance of the commitment to education, to maintaining the plants, the facilities. It's all part of the project. Our part just comes after the building instead of before. 

The principle involved here is one you probably know well. 

...From everyone who has been given much, much will be required... (Luke 12:48 NASB)

Much is being given and much will be required. Understanding that in advance makes life much easier. It's true in civic projects and responsibilities, but it's also true in our faith life as well. When God pours out tremendous blessing on us, you can be sure there is an expectation for us in return. It makes life much easier if you understand that from the start. 

The way I see it, God has blessed me extravagantly. I would be remiss if I did not try to bless back in return. I sure don't want to respond to blessing with greediness and try to hold on with clinched hands, or to be a poor steward of what God has entrusted to me. 

What about you?  How has God blessed you? How have you responded in return?  Are you a good steward of His gifts? Do you keep them for yourself or respond with generosity to what God bestows? 

“Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities! (Luke 12:48 MSG)

Personal responsibility is not a very popular topic these days, but it is no less important. Be sure your response to blessings will one day bring the words we will delight to hear. "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Parable of the Lamp: Part one (Luke 8:16-18)

"Now no one after lighting a lamp covers it over with a container, or puts it under a bed; but he puts it on a lampstand, so that those who come in may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light. So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him." (Luke 8:16-18 NASB)

Here we begin the parable of the lamp. At first glance, these three verses seem a little disjointed, but closer examination reveals that it is, in some ways, a clarification of the parable of the sower. In the Sower Parable, the Word of God was compared to seed being broadcast along the way. Our hearts were compared to the soil in which the seed landed and our receptivity toward truth to the vigor of the seed's growth. 

This parable again deals with receptivity to the Word. "Take care how you listen," He said. The result of that listening should be like a brightly shining lamp that beams forth light by which all can see. The question we must first answer is whether or not the truth of God kindles a fire in us. If we are to be the light of the world, (and we are supposed to be), then it must. 

But does it? Is truth like a burning flame in your heart? 

Today, pray that God would kindle His fire in us and our loved ones so that we might be the light we were called to be, and that it would be a warm and welcoming light for all to see. 
Don't forget about our terrorist prayer focus for this week: Nasir Al Wuhayshi
Link to last night's post:

Monday, July 7, 2014

Exceeding Abundantly Above Answered Prayers

The one thing I always told the Lord I would never do is POLITICS.  It was not open for discussion nor for negotiation.  I've seen all those yucky campaigns where every skeleton in the closet is pulled out for public perusal.  Even the repented-of-and-forgiven sins are fair game.  I didn't want any part of that. When Rita Gentry (then alderman) showed up at my shop to discuss the possibility of my running for alderman, I was outwardly uncertain, but inwardly determined.  NO WAY.

Some years before, I had heard Jean Wright say, "It's a sin to do what anyone else can do, and leave undone the one thing only you can do." Since then, I had tried hard to look for the "one thing". That evening, Jean's comment kept coming back to me.  Rita had explained that there was going to be some kind of manufacturing company coming to the Wellspring Project site, just outside our town.  There were tremendous challenges ahead, and she felt ill-equipped to handle it. "We need you to help," she kept saying.

I'd done a great job of hiding on my farm and in my medical practice for nearly two decades.  I was not about to give up my anonymity.  The more I prayed, however, the more it began to look like one of those "one things".  I couldn't have stood to campaign and go through the rigors of an election that first time, nor the second time.  God graciously allowed me to be elected by acclamation.

From the beginning of my time as an alderman, there was so much needed that all I knew to do was pray.  I was worried sick about the coming manufacturer and prayed countless prayers about the environment and the trees.  I was concerned about their commitment to our community and our area.  I fretted and prayed.  The day Toyota announced they were coming to Blue Springs, I wept tears of joy. Every prayer I had prayed was answered.  This was an environmentally responsible company that focused on renewable energy and recycling.  Nothing is wasted, and they are here to stay.  I was thrilled.

From day one, I wanted a park.  Well, really I wanted a lot of things, and a park was just a part of my big plan.  I wanted a library, too, but there were other priorities in those early years.  We needed a comprehensive plan, ordinances, zoning, a police department, a building code and inspector, annexation.  It was always one giant challenge after another, but somehow we made it through. I even found time to become a Certified Municipal Official.  There was so much more that I wanted for this sweet little town, but funds were nearly non-existent, and I couldn't see what to do but pray and dream.

Almost a year ago, Lynda Bramlett, a fellow alderman, and I attended Toyota's roll-out for the new Corolla. While there, we met someone from Toyota who was involved in the Monarch butterfly project. That was exactly the kind of thing that interested both of us, so we all exchanged cards.  Several months later, we received an invitation to meet with a group of people at Toyota.  They were interested in hearing what we needed and what they could do to help.  Lynda and I went, thinking that perhaps they could help with a beautification project for the highway median.  We were planning to plant monkey grass.

We went expecting help with monkey grass and found that they had a bigger plan in mind.  Someone said, "What would you do if you had several hundred volunteers for a whole day?" I'd been thinking about that for years, and all my dreams spilled out.  I cried as I talked.  I was terribly embarrassed that I cried, but I couldn't help it. At some point during our conversation, I remember telling them how grateful I was that Toyota had come, because they made me a public servant.  People in my family volunteer.  We help.  We try to make a difference.  Well, I didn't, but lots of us have.  Until Toyota. With the possibility of their arrival, I became a public servant, too.  Now, a year into my third term, it seems like something I was born to do. (The voters may not feel that way, but I do.)

My vision poured out, and Lynda's as well.  We left that day excitedly hoping for monkey grass, a little concrete and a pavilion for a farmer's market.  The Toyota employees just said, "Let us see what we can do."  There have been hints of a plan since that time, and they have assured us that it was going to be good.  "You can trust us," they said.  Indeed we could.

The press conference was scheduled for today. No leaks were allowed, so I had no idea how huge the plan was until the presentation.  At 9:45 this morning, Sean Suggs, Toyota vice-president of administration, announced plans for the Toyota-Blue Springs Water Garden and Education Park.  This generous company has poured out an amazing gift on this little town.  Thank you, Toyota. I wept as he listed the features of the garden.  You can read the press release for yourself (there's a link below),  but suffice it to say, it was "exceeding abundantly above all I could ask or think."  I am stunned, thrilled, incredibly grateful, and already making plans for how we will use this lovely education park.  I can't wait!

The amazing thing is that every step in the process was vital.  So was every prayer.  Every person involved had an important part to play. This great gift was not given just because I prayed, or just because I wanted it. The plans of God and the generosity of an amazing corporation coincided. Today, it all came together and I began to get a glimpse of God's great plan.  Do you know what's even more amazing? This isn't all of the plan.  That's how God works.  We just get a glimpse as He orchestrates more.

The God Soil: Part Six (Luke. 8:15)

But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience. (Luke 8:15 KJV)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 NASB

The Great Commision of Jesus was His last instruction to the followers before He returned to heaven. Go and make disciples. He expected His disciples to share the Good News throughout the world, teaching others His words, and helping them to become disciples of Jesus themselves. When we think of "bearing fruit", we often assume that refers to making disciples, and it does. 

"Making disciples" is not the only kind of fruit-bearing we need to do, however. Before we head out to make disciples, we need to first be disciples. To understand what the fruit of discipleship entails, we need look no further than Paul's letter to the Galatians. He listed the fruit of the Spirit so that there could be no doubt. 

 love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control

There is a tendency to think that these fruit are like spiritual gifts. We can have one or the other, but certainly not all of them at once. Not so, my friends. The expectation is that the work of the Spirit of God will produce all these characteristics in our lives. In fact, He will continue to work in us until they are present in our lives. 

When the fruit of the Spirit is present in our lives, the evidence of discipleship is there for all to see. How can this amazing  array of characteristics be present in our lives? When the seed of the Word of God is planted in a pure, honest, obedient heart and allowed to grow, it will produce the fruit of the Spirit. 

You may well ask, what if I need more patience? More faithfulness? More self-control? More love? If more fruit is needed, perhaps the starting point should be more seed, more of the Word of God in the form of Bible study. Don't forget, though, that the Seed needs fertile soil, free of impediments, to growth. 

What about our hearts? Are the fruit of the Spirit present in our lives and visible for all to see?  If not, why not?

Today pray that we and loved ones would be so filled with the fruit of the Spirit that all will recognize our Lord from whom they came. 
Link to last night's post (praying for terrorists) is here:

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Praying for Terrorists: Nasir al Wuhayshi

"You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45 NASB)

This is not really my favorite verse, but I have come to appreciate it a little more over the years. One of the things it makes clear is that God provides blessings of sun and rain for the "good" and the "bad" alike. This is not because He can't tell the righteous from the unrighteous. No indeed. He knows we are all unrighteous, and loves us anyway. Did you get that? God knows who is righteous (none of us) and who is unrighteous (all of us), and He loves us anyway. (His love does not exclude the possibility of judgement, but that is a topic for another time.)

Scripture is clear about our responsibility to pray for our enemies and those who hurt us. In obedience to that command, we have begun a regular program of praying for the world's most-feared terrorists. The second of the terrorists for whom we need to pray is Nasir al Wuhayshi. 

Mr. Wuhayshi is from Yemen and was closely associated with Osama bin Laden, once serving as his secretary. Still a relatively young man (thought to be in his mid to late-thirties), he has also been closely associated with our terrorist from last week,  Ayman al-Zawahiri, who promoted him to "general manager" of Al-Qaeda of the Arabian Penninsula just last year. AQAP is considered one of the most dangerous branches of Al-Qaeda. 

Mr. Wuhayshi is a slight man with a very attractive smile. He has been described as "impish" but do not underestimate this man. Just this past April (2014), a videotape was posted to YouTube showing him speaking to a gathering of Al-Qaeda leaders. Of course, I do not speak Yemini, but here is a brief portion of the translation of his remarks. With a calm demeanor and pleasant smile, he said these words:

"We must eliminate the cross… The bearer of the cross is America."

Do not be frightened by these words. Let them serve as an impetus to pray. It is clear that he knows about the cross but not the One who sacrificed Himself upon it.  

Mr. Wuhayshi's remarks remind me of another young man who was also a leader committed to eliminating the cross and all it represented. Saul of Tarsus dealt devastating blows to the young church as he persecuted believers and watched as they were stoned to death. He, too, was bent on destruction for the cross until he was walking down the road to Damascas. He saw a light, and met a Man, and that Man was Jesus. Before he knew it, Jesus had transformed Saul to Paul and the persecutor became the preacher, impacting the world for Christ as few others have done. 

Mr. Wuhayshi will try to harm the cause of Christ. There is no doubt about it. What he doesn't yet understand is that Christ died for him, too. As you pray for him this week, please pray for a Damascas-road experience that opens his eyes and brings him to Jesus. Pray that this terrorist-persecutor will become a testimony-giving preacher who will impact the world for Jesus.

Is that likely? Only God knows, but we have not because we ask not. It's is certainly no more unlikely that the salvation of Saul of Tarsus. Let's not fail to asks for the redemption of this dangerous man. 

The Good Soil: Part Five (Luke 8:8,15)

And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience. (Luke 8:8, 15 KJV)

For disciples of Christ, their great desire should be fruitfulness, fulfilling that last command of our Lord to make disciples. In this pasage, Jesus explained how to become fruitful. It is not a byproduct of a fancy degree or untiring work, although both may be important parts of the process. Fruitfulness comes only as a result of the Sower's Seed, the Word of God, planted in the fertile soil of our hearts. 

Before we go further, it is vital to recognize that our hearts are the receptacle for the Seed, but it is the Seed that brings the fruit. Without it, there can be no fruit. Hearts that long to be productive must allow that vital Seed to be planted and grow, and that requires time spent in Bible study and contemplation. It requires obedience to the Word. 

There is one more very important characteristic of the disciple that is fruitful. Patience. The word translated as patience is hypomonē, and it comes from two root words that, taken together, mean "to abide under".  The word indicates constancy in the face of trials and incredible opposition. This is the kind of perseverance that endures all ills, all manner of bad treatment and discouraging circumstances, yet never gives up. 

It is the same patience with which missionaries serve and work for years without seeing a convert. This passage indicates that the Seed that finds a home in fertile soil and is nurtured consistently will bear fruit in time, if we are willing to persevere. It does not suggest that the waiting will be easy. 

The problem with waiting is that we do not like it, and we do not want to do it. I well remember overly-enthusiastic evangelistic acquaintances who were so aggressive with their tracts that I was delayed in finding a vital relationship with Christ. Impatience for fruit is common, and I confess to a tendency toward impatience myself, but it is counterproductive to the cause of Christ. 

If we are to bring forth fruit with patience, then patience is what we must have!  There is nothing in Scripture to indicate that the Seed of the Word can be rushed. In fact, 2 Peter makes it clear that God will not be hurried, and He is, Himself, waiting to allow more hearts to turn toward Him. 

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 NASB)

Have you planted seeds of truth that have not yet borne fruit? Wait. Wait prayerfully, but wait, just as our Lord does. In due time, He will bring the harvest. 

Today, pray that we and our loved ones will have fertile soil that welcomes the Seed of the Word of God and nurtures it until the harvest comes.
Link to last night's post: