Thursday, April 13, 2017

Fan the Flame

Fire is fascinating. My husband and I love to sit in our back yard around the fire pit in the evening and watch the flames. They are mesmerizing. Maybe deep in our DNA we recognize fire's importance. It's probably safe to say that without fire, our ancient ancestors would have perished.

If you've studied survival techniques our watched survival shows on television, you know that fire is one of the first requirements of surviving in the wild.

Starting a fire isn't easy without matches. Even expert survivalists can struggle to start a fire. If conditions are wet or if there is a lack of tinder, it's next to impossible.

No matter how it started, one thing is certain: without fuel every fire goes out. Fires must be tended. In a survival situation, once you get a fire going, you do everything you can to keep it going. That means it needs to be stoked every night before going to sleep. It might mean adding fuel during the night. It certainly means adding fuel every morning.

Don't let a fire go out if you want to survive.

Without enough fuel, the fire gets low. If your fire is too low, it is ineffective. You can't boil water. You can't cook food. You can't warm yourself.

The Bible is literal and historical. At the same time, there are many parallels that can be drawn from scripture: an additional meaning or application beyond the literal or historical account. There are many scriptures referring to fire; I think we can draw a parallel interpretation from many of them.

From the days of Moses until the death of Christ, the Israelite people lived under "the law" and were instructed to keep the fire burning in the temple.

Continuously Burning

"The burnt offering is to remain on the altar hearth throughout the night, till morning, and the fire must be kept burning on the altar. Every morning the priest is to add firewood and arrange the burnt offering on the fire and burn the fat of the fellowship offerings on it. The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out." [1]

Watch for Fire to Descend

David, King of Israel (reigned ca. 1010-ca. 970 B.C.) was a warrior, a poet, and a musician, as well as a King. He lived during a time when animal sacrifices were required for sin. But beyond the temple's bloody sacrifices, he saw a heart application.
"Every morning
I lay out the pieces of my life
on your altar
and watch for fire to descend." [2]

Fan into Flame

Hundreds of years later, another man, the Apostle Paul, told Timothy to    
"Fan into flame the gift of God." [3]

The parallel here is that the life of Christ within us, the Holy Spirit, is like a fire.

If you are struggling to survive, it is time to tend the fire.

If you are feeling cold, it is time to tend the fire.

If you are hungry, it is time to tend the fire.

If you are thirsty, it is time to tend the fire.


Years ago, I was a counselor at Bible camp. I had six girls in my cabin. One night, back in the cabin after chapel, one of the girls told me that her heart had grown cold to God. She told me that she knew she needed to get her heart right with God, but she didn't even feel anything anymore. Not a thing. Her heart was a stone.

I cared about these girls and when she told me this it broke my heart! It also shook me up. What could I say to her? What could I do to help her?

I didn't have the answer, but I knew the one who did. I started to pray and asked the other girls in the cabin to start praying, too.

After a few minutes, God dropped words into my heart for this girl who had grown so cold.

"You need to call on God," I told her. "The Bible says that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." [4]

I, and the other five girls in the room, sat on the floor around her and continued to pray. She sat there silently with her eyes closed.

I think about 20 minutes passed this way. All of a sudden, a raspy cry rose up from somewhere deep within her, and she cried out, "Jesus! I need You!" With those words, Jesus came, and changed her completely. She was no longer cold. Her heart was set ablaze.

Maybe the fire is burning low in your heart. To you I say what Paul said to Timothy: fan the flame.

Maybe the fire has completely gone out and your heart has become cold, or maybe you've never opened your heart to God. To you I say: it is time to call on God. It is time to seek the truth. 

If you seek for the truth, you will find Him.


Do you have a story to share? Feel free to post it in the comments below.

1. From Leviticus 6, New International Version
2. From  Psalm 5:1-3, the Message
3. From 2 Timothy 1:6, New International Version
4. Romans 10:13

Friday, January 13, 2017

Keeping On

"LeAnn, get out of this barn and out of my life!"

My brother, Pete, on his way down to do chores, heard my sister Carla scream those words from inside the barn.

Carla had reached the boiling point. She just couldn't take any more. Something had to give. She had been slogging along, doing her barn chores, trying to finish distributing the grain prior to bringing the cows into the barn for milking.

LeAnn was a pet cow.

While a pet cow might sound like a nice idea, in this instance, it wasn't so nice. LeAnn's problem was that she had no respect. Not for other cows. Not for my brother. Not for my sister. LeAnn was having the time of her life, having once again escaped the confines of the pasture and munching along in front of the cow stanchions, eating the grain my sister was so faithfully putting out for the 69 other cows who would soon be coming in to get milked.

Making things worse, LeAnn was leaving a trail of cow pies behind her.

My family often laughs about the "LeAnn" incident, but at the time, it wasn't so funny. At least not to my sister. She was working hard to get a job done, and despite her best efforts, instead of seeing progress, things seemed to be going backwards.

Can you relate? Is there a "LeAnn" in your life? Someone (or something) that pushes all your buttons and makes you feel like your head is going to explode?

Was my sister wrong to react in the way she did? I don't think so. Heaven knows, I'm in no position to point fingers. One thing we can all count on: the LeAnns in our lives will keep coming, those button-pushing, troublesome people and situations.

How often have you been trying to get something done, only to have it all unravel?

What you and I do in those moments reveals a lot about our character.

What did my sister do? After she expressed her frustration, she kept on. She persevered. She cleaned up the cowpies and finished the job.

Sometimes, that's all we can do. Clean up the mess and go on. It's hard, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The Bible tells us that our good work is not in vain.

"Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." [1]

1. 1 Corinthians 15:58, New International Version





Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A Fresh Start

Need a fresh start?
Every New Year's Eve, thousands of people flock into Times Square and elbow-to-elbow, wait for the dropping of the ball. When the ball drops, confetti rains from the sky, noisemakers raise a din, and couples kiss enthusiastically.

Why does everyone love the New Year so much? Why all the hoopla?

I think it has something to do with starting fresh. Whether we want to do something better, or break a bad habit, the beginning of the year is a dividing line; we put away yesterday and look toward a new, and better tomorrow.

There is something within the heart of man that wants a fresh start. I think it has something to do with how hopelessly flawed all of us are. As Jeremiah put it, "the heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful,
a puzzle that no one can figure out." (Jeremiah 17:9, The Message)

Even one of the greatest giants of the new testament struggled with human weakness. "I do not understand what I do," the Apostle Paul said. "For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." (Romans 7:15 NLT)

We tell ourselves, maybe tomorrow will be better. Maybe I'll be a better person. Maybe my will power will be stronger. Maybe I'll lose the weight I've been struggling with. Maybe my health will improve. Maybe I'll make more money.

Mankind desperately wants a fresh start, but what many don't seem to understand or accept is the fact that followers of Christ have a fresh start every single morning. He forgives 70 times 7, and removes our sins as far as the east is from the west. How far is that you ask? I'm not a big traveler, but from what I understand, it's pretty far. In fact, I don't think the east and west ever meet. Wherever you are on this globe, east is one way and west is the other. There is no line separating the two. Neither is there a line we can cross over to find the sins that God has forgiven. They are simply gone. Removed. No more.


Friday, December 23, 2016

A Quiet Christmas

Into a Spiritual Winter

Like Narnia, the nation of Israel was
experiencing a spiritual winter.

The first prophecy that Jesus would come to save mankind was given way back in Genesis, right after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. God did not wait long to tell them that a rescue would be coming. Right after He dealt with Adam and Eve about their sin, He told the serpent:

"And I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel." (Genesis 3:15)

Jesus was the promised offspring of the woman, who would "strike the head" of the serpent.

Although there had been many prophecies about the coming Messiah, it had been 400 years since a prophet had spoken in Israel. God had been silent.  It was a spiritual winter. Almost like the Narnia of C.S. Lewis, where it was always winter but never Christmas.

Into this silence, a messenger arrived with a startling announcement for a young, Jewish girl.

Mary


Mary was probably between 12 and 14 years old.
Mary was young, probably between 12 and 14 years old. The day Gabriel came, she was probably working, quietly going about her daily duties. It was a regular day—a day of weaving, cleaning, and helping to take care of her younger brothers and sisters.

Mary’s future was a lot like that of most other young Jewish girls. She looked forward to getting married to her fiancĂ©, Joseph, and starting her life as a wife and mother.

Life was very ordinary. Nothing ever seemed to happen in Nazareth. But one day, something startling did happen. The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and said to her,

“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:30-33)

The future that Mary had imagined for herself was instantly shattered. She was a virgin, and had been keeping herself pure for marriage to Joseph. What would he say if she were to become pregnant? Besides that, how was it even possible?

The angel told her, “The Holy Spirit will come on you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35) The angel left and the room was once again quiet. In the silence, Mary breathed a prayer to God.

What would her parents think? What would Joseph think?

Joseph


It was quiet that night in Bethlehem. Crisp. Cold. Clear. Joseph leaned against the stable wall and looked out. The stars looked especially bright in the black ink of the night sky.

There, on the edge of town, the wind blew down from the hills, whooshing through the trees and whistling around the edge of the stable. Joseph remembered the words the Angel of the Lord had spoken to him in a dream:

“Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Joseph wondered, could it be his own Mary was fulfilling the words of the prophecy: “the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” which means ‘God with us?’”

Jesus was born in a stable while the animals looked on.

A Lowly Manger


The stable was mostly quiet. The cows, donkeys, and sheep gave off a friendly warmth that almost made the stable feel cozy.

Mary and Joseph could hear the shuffling of hooves as the animals moved in their stalls, and the fluttering wings of the doves overhead.

One small child, who would forever change the world.
Somehow, the animals had been more welcoming than the people of Bethlehem! Truly, Bethlehem was sleeping that night, physically sleeping and spiritually sleeping, completely unaware that the King of the Universe had just made His appearance.

The town was quiet now—everyone gone to bed—and the only other sounds were the low sound of the wind coming down from the hills and the occasional small cries of the newborn baby.

Who would have thought that this one, small child would forever change the world? He came so quietly, in the darkness of night, to such a common, ordinary family, and in such an unexpected way.

The people of Bethlehem had no idea who had been born in their town that night. They slept right through one of the greatest events of history.

A Bunch of Lowly Shepherds


A fire crackled in the darkness of the Judean hillside. A ragtag bunch of humble shepherds pulled their blankets tighter against the wind.
The angels announced the good news first to lowly shepherds.

The sheep were noisy as usual, the ewes and lambs baaing and bleating to each other. Suddenly, another sound exploded in the sky—it sounded like a rushing wind—and with it a bright light. An angel appeared in the sky, saying:

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)

The shepherds wanted to see with their own eyes the baby that the angel had spoken of. Could this really be the promised one? The one lamb who would take away the sin of the world?

"So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them." (Luke 2:16-18)

All For Love

He humbled himself as a little baby, coming into this fallen world to redeem us.

God incarnate, Emmanuel, entered a sinful world through a lowly stable. He left the glory and majesty of heaven and humbled himself, becoming a little baby, and ultimately giving his life for us on a cruel cross.

He was the one spoken of by the apostle John—“in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word was made flesh.” (John 1:1,14)

Why did he do it? Why did he cross the great divide between heaven and earth? Between God and man? He did it because He is love. Love crossed over with a purpose—the redemption of man, a gift from God to reconcile all mankind.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Trusting Daddy

Dad, with his three daughters, a.k.a. "fencing helpers."
I grew up on a dairy farm, and as a kid, we often had to go out and fix the fence that held the cows in. We used barbed wire - four strands attached to fence posts every few feet.

It wasn't uncommon for Dad to ask us kids, "want to go fencing?" We were expected to say "yes," and we always did.

Dad had an old manure spreader that he used strictly for fencing. It was a rusty old contraption that he pulled behind an old "Model A John Deere" tractor. The spreader contained rolls of wire, a wire stretcher, fencing staples, clips, posts, post-hole digger, and post maul.

Dad drove the tractor and us kids perched on the sides of the manure spreader, our bony little backsides bumping along as Dad drove over the rough ground.

When we got to a place that needed repair, Dad would pull over and us kids would pile out of the spreader to help. Sometimes we were replacing staples that had fallen out. Sometimes we had to splice wire or fix gates. Other times, we had to replace a post - one of my most vivid fencing memories.

Usually when Dad replaced a post, he used a metal one. Quite often, the metal was replacing a wood post that had rotted. My job was to hold the post while Dad pounded it in.

The posts were pretty tall and my Dad was pretty short, so he would stand in the spreader, one foot down in the spreader, and the other one up on the side. I would stand down on the ground, holding the post in position. The post maul was 20 pounds. Dad would swing it in a big arc, down, around, up over his head and then striking the post with a metallic ring. He would swing, and he would swing, and he would swing, the post inching down a little further into the ground with each strike.

I stood, a puny little kid, with a 20-pound hammer swinging right over my head. The post maul would hit that post and the reverberations traveled up my bony arms as I held on, keeping the post straight.

Was I scared? Well, maybe a little. If he missed, that 20 pound hammer would have come down on my puny little girl arms, probably shattering them. But he never missed. Never.

I could trust him. And trust him, I did.

It's that same kind of child-like trust that God looks for in us - His children. "Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven." [Matthew 18:2-4 NLT]

He craves that same kind of closeness and blind trust with us that a child has for his or her Daddy.

Now, as an adult, I don't know if I could bear to watch a grown man swinging a 20-pound hammer over his kid's head. I'd probably do some kind of intervention. But that kind of trust - the trust I had in my Dad when I was a child - is what our heavenly Father (Heavenly Daddy)
wants from us.

Can we trust our Heavenly Father? Absolutely. Even when it feels like life is pounding us down, He's right beside us, giving us strength, giving us peace, giving us hope.

Trusting Daddy is a good place to be.



Friday, June 10, 2016

Love. Love. Love.

"Love, love, love," sang the Beatles. "All you need is love."[1] The song's  message is deceptively simple.

Is that all we really need? Surely there's  more to it than that.

I think we all recognize the need to be loved; it is one of the most basic, and deepest of human desires. You can have virtually everything in life, but if you don't have love, what good is it? So that part of the Beatle's song is true.  

But I think we need to differentiate something here. There is human love, and then there is God love. 

Most of us have experienced human love at some time in our lives, whether the love of a parent, a friend, or a spouse. Human love is a beautiful thing, but it can fail. Just look at all the marriages that end in divorce. 

That's where the Beatles song is deceptive. There's a little more to it than just needing love. Human love can fail, and when it does, it hurts. Real bad.

While human love can be fragile, God's love is not. In fact, God doesn't just love. He IS Love. (1 John 4:8)

After the last supper, Jesus poured out his heart to his disciples. He told them that "greater love has no man than this, that a man lays down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) Jesus was speaking of himself. He was about to lay down his life for his friends, his twelve disciples, as well as for his future friends - those who would come to know and love him, decades and even centuries after his death on the cross.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16 NIV)

You might think, he was God! God can do anything. It was easy for him to die. But let's not forget, he was God in a man's body. A body like yours. Like mine. And he laid it down. He committed the ultimate act of sacrifice. The ultimate act of love and redemption. 

If you want to know real love, turn your eyes to Jesus. His eyes are on you, and His arms are open.


1. The Beatles, 1967. "All You Need is Love."

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Four Gardens


There are four gardens of great significance in the Bible.
When we think about a garden, we think about a place of beauty, refreshment, and rest – a place where delicious scents and bright colors delight the senses. 

The Garden of Eden


Of course, God was the first gardener. He planted the first garden in Eden – a place of utter perfection. That first garden was created before sin, before weeds, before blight – it was indescribably perfect.

God could have kept it as a place of pristine beauty for all eternity. But he had another plan. God formed man out of the dust of the earth, giving him shape with his own hands and crafting him in his very own image. The Lord gave him dominion over every created thing.

Genesis tells us that Adam walked in the garden with God in the cool of the day. It is hard to imagine what that would have been like. Adam and Eve were the only humans who ever had that privilege. 

Tasting the forbidden fruit changed things forever. The world, as Adam and Eve had known it, was gone. The Lord had to banish them from the Garden he had created for them.

Sin had come, and with it, a world of woes.

With the first bite of that forbidden fruit, sin entered the world, and with it, a penalty.  Adam and Eve needed redemption. A price had to be paid. God, himself, sacrificed animals and dressed Adam and Eve in the animal skins. For thousands of years, animal sacrifices continued – so much sin, so much blood.

Until the perfect sacrifice came. Jesus was the lamb sent from the very hand of God. One without blemish. One that would atone for the sin of mankind once and for all. Upon seeing Jesus, John the Baptist told his followers, “behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

The Garden of Gethsemene


The shadow of the cross had loomed over Jesus from birth, but that shadow became unbearably heavy in another garden – the Garden of Gethsemane. In that garden of despair, when he took our sin upon himself, the agony and travail of spirit was so heavy that he sweat great drops of blood. “Father, let this cup pass from me,” Jesus pleaded. “Yet, not my will, but yours,” he said, submitting to the will of his father.

Why did Jesus, the Son of God, allow himself to experience the humiliation and agony that came with this kind of death? Why did the Father sacrifice his one and only son? 

The answer is simple.  One word - love. He did it for love.


The Garden of Golgotha 


John 19:41 tells us that “in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.” Loving hands carried the lifeless body of the Son of Man from the cross to a tomb in the Garden of Golgotha, leaving him cold and alone, his battered body sealed away behind a stone.

Sin came in the Garden of Eden. Jesus took our sin upon his shoulders in the Garden of Gethsemane. And praise be to God - victory came in the Garden of Golgotha! Three days after his death on the cross, after what looked like the worst defeat of all time, the incomparably great power of God filled that cold and lonely tomb, and began coursing through the body of Jesus. He rose in glorious power, claiming victory over sin and death - forever.

Jesus conquered death and the grave, and we are more than conquerors with him. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Jesus said “I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am, there you might be also.” He is preparing a place for all the redeemed. And one day, perhaps very soon, he will come again to take us to the wedding feast of the lamb and to live with him forever.

He has given us a wonderful promise, but with it a warning – for it is only for those who have ears to hear.


The Garden of Eternity


 “To the one who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” Once again, we will be in a garden – a garden of eternal delight, ever and always with the one who loved us all the way to the cross and on into eternity.

Fan the Flame

Fire is fascinating. My husband and I love to sit in our back yard around the fire pit in the evening and watch the flames. They are mesme...