FULLY ALIVE!

Your life will be as bright as the noonday sun. Job 11:17


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Taste Buds

Taste Buds. Also known as gustatory cells. Sometimes confused with papillae. Filled with very sensitive microscopic hairs called microvilli.

Okay. More than you want to know or even feel that you need to know? I get that. Just glad to have them? I get that, too! Without them a ripe peach, a juicy steak, even the quiche that is in my oven at this very moment just wouldn’t be the same! It is our taste buds that allow us to experience the joys of things that are sweet, salty, sour, and bitter.

Through the years my tastes have changed somewhat. As a child, I didn’t like okra; now, I love it. I used to like bananas; just don’t now, though. Beets, however? Never did and suspect I never will!

Why those particular tastes have changed for me, I am not sure. But guess what – God changes our taste buds. Probably not so much when it comes to things like okra, bananas and beets, but when the new life of the Holy Spirit resides within us and begins to grow His influence in our submitted lives, we change! Our tastes change! Again, not so much with regard to food, but certainly in regard to our desires, thoughts and passions.

Philippians 2:13 (NLT) teaches that “God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.” God’s work is to align our “tastes” (desires) with His “tastes” (will) for our lives. His desire is that our thoughts, will, emotions, attitudes and passions be progressively transformed to align with His so that we carry out the plan He has crafted for us – a plan for our good (Jeremiah 29:11), a plan to glorify Him.

When I was a child, my parents would put beets on my plate. Yuck! I didn’t like the smell, color or fact that the nasty juice from them spilled over onto the other good food on my plate! My parents would implore me to just try them; take a bite.  They believed my tastes would change, be renewed even to like beets.

When we “taste” God’s plan (accept Jesus as Lord and Savior of our lives and submit to the Holy Spirit), we will see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8); the spirit of our minds is renewed (Ephesians 4:23).  Renewed minds begin thinking God’s thoughts.  Renewed wills begin desiring God’s ambitions.  Renewed spirits result in emotions, attitudes and postures that align with God.

Many times I was too stubborn to taste those beets (or any other questionable food).  Sometimes I missed out on good things because of that stubbornness.  Admittedly, I am sometimes too stubborn to submit to God and accept His Word and His plan.  How about you?  Oh what we miss when we think we know best!  The more we surrender to God, the more we are transformed and conformed to the image of Christ.

Oh, taste and see.  Indeed, He is good and His plan for us is good!


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Time to Fret…NOT!

According to the National Cancer Institute, “in 2016, an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States and 595,690 people will die from the disease. The number of new cancer cases will rise to 22 million within the next two decades.” Cancer is no respecter of persons.  “In 2014, an estimated 15,780 children and adolescents ages 0 to 19 were diagnosed with cancer and 1,960 died of the disease.”

The New York Times reports that “for three quarters in a row, the growth rate of the economy has hovered around a mere 1 percent. In the last quarter of 2015 and the first quarter of 2016, the economy expanded at feeble annual rates of 0.9 percent and 0.8 percent, respectively. The initial reading for the second quarter of this year, released on Friday, was a disappointing 1.2 percent.”  Profit Confidential writes that there are “more than enough indicators to suggest the US economy will come under serious pressure in 2016.” Wages are falling, US companies increasingly rely on foreign sales, the global economy is anemic and roughly one third of American adults have no emergency savings; about half of Americans could only cover their living expenses for about 90 days which means that if they are not already at their breaking point, they’re only about three months away.

Headlines tell us that the distance “overseas” is not as far as it used to be.  Our eyes are on Russia, China and North Korea.  You cannot flip one page of the papers without noticing alarming terrorist activity in Iraq and Syria and signs of expansion that indicate that terrorism may present on US soil in ways beyond even the horrors that we have already experienced.

Economy in Crisis reminds us that we “import tons of food from third world countries that have much lower standards than we do when it comes to food safety.”  According to their reports, we get seafood from polluted Vietnamese waters and unsafe meats from China.  Add to that the currently unknown (or at least unshared) risks of genetically modified foods and the underfunded, overworked FDA that has resources to inspect only 1-2 percent of food imports.  We cannot be sure of what we are eating much less of the safety of what we are eating.

And then, there is the recent US presidential election.  I am actually less concerned about the final outcome and more worried about what the process from campaign to election says about our country – the polarization, the changing values, the mudslinging, the morality (or lack of) of our leaders and would-be leaders, the violence, the fact that “we” have not overcome but rather are just as divided across race and ethnicity lines as ever.

Time to fret.

Not!

We are commanded in Psalm 37 to fret not.  Specifically, we are told not to fret the evildoers (verse 1) and not to fret the wicked who prosper (verse 7). If we boil it down to the core truth, those are the two things that cause us to fret the most – the evildoers and the appearance that the evildoers are growing, prospering, winning.

Look to 1 John 5:4-5 (ESV) and be reminded, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

Fret? No. Believe? Yes!

Appearances can be deceiving and, if our eyes are upon the world rather than upon the Creator of this world, we will fret. “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3, ESV); “his eyes are on the ways of a man, and he sees all his steps” (Job 34:21), and our eyes are to be on Him. Hebrews 12:2a instructs us to keep our eyes on Jesus.

Fret? No!

Believe? Yes!

Trust? Yes!

Rest? Yes!

 


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The Perfect Gift

Tis the season.

To be jolly, the song says, but to go shopping for gifts is what the merchants (and my junk email box) say.  Each morning I awaken to find  announcements of one more sale, 20 additional percent off, another great buy and a last opportunity for a deal not to be missed.

Tis also the season to be stressed as you search for the “perfect” gift.

The perfect gift?  You know, the one that best expresses the giver while meeting a need or desire of the receiver.

It can’t be one sided.  Both the needs of the giver and the receiver must be met for the gift to be perfect.

My Sweetie opened his Christmas present last night.  Yeah, Christmas is six days away.  This seems to happen to us every year.  Sometimes it has been because I couldn’t wait to give him the gift.  Other times it has been because of schedules, travel and just other things that came up.  This year, it was because I had a perfect gift for him.

Now let me just say, it wasn’t what many would think a romantic gift.  It wasn’t a super unique gift.  It wasn’t an extravagant gift.  It was something simple.  But it was perfect because it expressed the giver (me) – my attention to his needs, my desire to see him happy, my recognition of his practical nature…  The gift also met a desire of the receiver (my Sweetie).

The gift?  His favorite hair tonic.

When you stop laughing, keep reading.

He has used this certain hair tonic ALL of his adult life.  His dad used this hair tonic.  This tonic has become increasingly difficult to find.  A bottle that used to sell for $8 when I first met him, was up for bid on ebay.  Bidding began at $35 per bottle!  He said a bottle used to sell for a couple of dollars!

Well, I had found a couple of bottles back in July when he was just about out.  We had visited stores, scoured the Internet and contacted the manufacturer.  I even visited a little country drug store and had the clerk contact their vendor.  It seems that those two bottles (found on Amazon) were going to be the last two bottles on this earth.  And then, I decided to search ebay one more time.  I found someone who had a few bottles at a ridiculous price.  I emailed this seller.  We went back and forth.  I made an offer to buy a case if he would give me a reasonable price.  I begged, pleaded and propositioned.  And, finally, we struck a deal – for 10 bottles!

So that was the gift.  A year’s supply of his favorite hair tonic.

So why did he open the gift early – and where am I going with this story?

First, two weeks ago he told me the two bottles from July were just about empty.  He asked if I thought I could find him some more tonic.  I laughed to myself knowing that I was sitting on a case, had been since July.  Last evening he asked if I had found any tonic because he probably had a day’s worth.  I said, “No.”  He asked, “Did you forget?”  I said, “I didn’t look.”  He seemed confused by this response.  (Probably because this would be the first time I didn’t respond to a request.  Smile.)  After a few minutes of silence, he restated his plight; he was almost out.  He had turned the bottles upright to drain every drop.  He was sure I, the Internet Queen, would have found some by now.

So, I gave him the nicely wrapped Christmas present.

And when he opened it, you would have thought it was keys to a new Ford F250 (his favorite truck)!

It was the perfect gift.  It expressed my love; it met his need and desire!

Where am I going with this long story?

My gift wasn’t really PERFECT.  But there is a perfect gift given by a perfect God.

God gave His Son, Jesus, as gift to us, a sinful world.

Jesus, perfectly expresses the giver, God.  “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…”  (Hebrews 1:3, NIV)  “He is the image of the invisible God…” (Colossians 1:15 ESV)

This gift, Jesus, perfectly meets our need.  “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19 ESV)  “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence…”  (2 Peter 1:3 ESV)

In fact, our deepest needs can only be met through Jesus.  He is the hope that will not disappoint and the hope that is renewed every day –  “His compassions never fail. They are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Jesus is the perfect gift given by our perfect, loving God.

Have you unwrapped His gift?


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Seed Snatcher

In the Parable of the Sower, we read:

“That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”  (Matthew 13:1-9 ESV)

This, perhaps more so than others, seems to be a simple parable.  The Sower, Christ Jesus, scatters His seed generously.  The seed falls upon different terrains – rocks, thorny soil, pathways and good soil.  The seed falling among rocks, thorns and pathways, as one might imagine, does not grow and mature.  Rather it is eaten by birds, choked by thorns or withered as the sun beats upon the rocks.

As simple as this parable seems, there are MANY deep, meaningful and relevant lessons.  Let’s look at two – first the Sower and then the Seed Snatcher!

Most sermons that I’ve heard that were based on this parable seem to emphasize the soil – the bad, the thorny and the good.  But this is not the Parable of the Soil.  The parable focuses on the Sower, Jesus.  It is Jesus who is sowing His seed, the Word of God.  As He is sowing, the seed falls seemingly everywhere – where birds feed, on rocks, among thorns and, finally, on good soil.  It seems that a quarter of the seed falls in a good place while three quarters falls in places where it will not thrive and grow.

I recently seeded my lawn for the second time!  I purchased one of those hand-held sowers.  You pour in the seed, turn the crank and the seed flies out the bottom.  You can adjust a knob to determine how much seed is sown.  The instructions say that the sower should walk in straight lines across the lawn and then walk a second path of straight lines that run perpendicular to the first.  Well, this would all be well and good for the person who has a big (think football field) lawn to seed.  But my lawn is tiny.  And it has beds of shrubbery.  It is also bordered by curbing and a street as well as a pea graveled driveway.  I don’t want seed in the beds and in the driveway.  I’d just have to pull that grass later or spray it with vinegar to kill it.  I also don’t want to seed the curb and the street.  So I determined that a better method for me would be to seed by hand.  That way I could be very careful about where my expensive, cool-weather, nutrient-rich seed fell.  It would fall exactly where I wanted it to – where I wanted grass to grow!

So why does Jesus, the Sower, scatter His seed so broadly and, seemingly, so mindlessly?  Doesn’t He know that seed won’t grow on rocks and among thorns?

Well, here’s what Jesus knows.  “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick” (Luke 5:31 NIV).  Jesus died upon the cross to save sinners.  His purpose was to extend salvation to all.  There are those who may dwell in thorny places and those who think their lives are “on the rocks;” they need to hear the Gospel, too.  They need salvation.  Romans 10:14 (ESV) poses three powerful questions – “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

We are to sow God’s seed, spread His truths, share His word and extend His hope to all.

Even though I’ve been careful sowing my seed by hand, there are still some bare spots in my yard.  What happened?  Lots of things – some of that seed didn’t get enough water, some fell on spots of thatch, my neighbor’s dog watered some for me as did my other neighbor’s cats and some of that seed – that good seed on good soil – was eaten by the birds.  I know; I saw them!  Even though I buy food for the birds and maintain two well-stocked bird feeders, some prefer to eat my grass seed.  Patches of my yard were invaded by seed snatchers!  They ate the seed before it could take root.

Satan waits and watches to snatch good seed, too.

Before the truths can take root in hearts, Satan snatches it.

Satan knows that seed has life in it.  He knows that seed has power.  He knows that seed is capable of producing more.

What, then, are the lessons?

First as children of God we are called to sow in faith His seed trusting that He will bring about a harvest.  It is not our decision to determine who is worthy to hear the truth.  Scripture teaches us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23 ESV). All need to hear.  All need to be prayed for – that hearts will be softened to receive the good seed.

Secondly, we are also to sow, water, nourish and protect the seed in our own lives knowing that the Seed Snatcher is watching for an opportunity to “steal, kill and destroy” us and our seed (John 10:10 ESV).

THIS WEEK as Matthew 13:9 says, “He who has ears, let him hear.”  Examine your heart.  Is it hardened?  Thorny?  Rocky?  Or has the world worn a path bare – too much television, too much time spent with the wrong company, too many wrong substances imbibed…?  Examine the soil of your heart.  Take action to improve its condition, to ready it to receive seed.

If seed has been sown and is growing, continually examine it and cultivate it for a good harvest!


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In a Flash

Summer, one of my favorite seasons, is almost here!  Already it is hot enough to be summer; today the temperature climbed into the upper 80s, but that’s a good thing because I like to stretch summer out as long as possible.  When the hot days come early and linger well past the official end date on the calendar, I consider ALL those days SUMMER.  But even when I do that – milk out a few extra days or weeks, summer is still just too short.  Always, it seems, I am left wondering, “What happened?  Where did it go?  I didn’t get everything done that I wanted to!”  For example, last year, we never made it to the ocean.  Not even once.

This summer will be different, or so I have promised myself.  I am making plans – plans that include time at the ocean, time walking on the beach, time sailing, time fishing, time watching the dolphins, time eating freshly caught seafood and time hot air ballooning!  Yes, summer seems to come and go in a flash, but I have a plan to milk everything out of it that I can.

Life comes and goes in a flash, too!  Never thought I would say that.  Remember being a child and waiting for your birthday?  Or Christmas?  Or recess?  Or the last day of school?  Time drug.  Time crawled.  Time slept.  My mother used to tell me to just wait, though.  She said, “When you get older, time will fly.”  “Just get to be 30 years old,” she said, “and you will see the years coming in multiples of five, possibly ten.”  She was right.  You go to bed one night and you’re 29, but you wake up 40.  You roll over for another snooze, and you wake up 50.  After 50?  Well, I won’t depress you “young’uns,” and those of you who are over 50?  Well, you already know.

The funny thing, though, is that we make plans for summer, and for Christmas, and birthdays and even for recess – who we will play with, what games we will play, which boys we want to walk past, which girls we will talk to…   But are you making plans for the most important time?  Where you will spend eternity!  Are you planning to go to Heaven?  If you answer, “Yes,” what exactly is your plan?  If it isn’t relying on Christ alone, you need another plan.  Works, good looks and being nice aren’t enough.  John 6:44 (NIV) teaches that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day,”  and John 14:6 (NIV) makes it clear that Jesus is “the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through” Him.

Even our best laid plans for the beach may go awry.  Life happens.  Things come up.  Plans have to change.  But we can have every confidence in God and the plan that He has laid for our salvation.  Instead of trusting our goodness and crossing our fingers and hoping we go to Heaven, we can trust Jesus and His goodness because He alone is God’s way of salvation.  When we place absolute faith and trust in Him, turn from our sinful way and follow Him, we know that we will live with Him in Heaven.  And not just for a summer.  Forever!

Now while some Christians would disagree, as I read and understand the Scriptures especially the teaching of Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:8, at death we immediately – in a flash – enter the presence of the Lord.  Paul led a life full of danger, and he knew that at any moment his life on earth could end. But he faced death with hope that we can share: “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord”  He further declared, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:23).

One last thought.  Summer is always best when shared – with family, friends, special loves.  I’m thinking Heaven will be extra special when shared, so don’t just plan on going alone.  Plan for others to meet you there.

THIS WEEK share the Gospel (click the tab above to visit our Salvation page) with others – friends, family members, absolute strangers!  Let’s plan for a heavenly crowd!


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Wet Feet

Just as the Israelites were on the verge of entering the Promised Land, God commanded the priests to step into the water.  Hmm?  Not exactly what you might expect, but no big deal, right?  Wrong!  The Jordan River was at flood stage!  We’re talking wet feet and probably a few other wet things here.

Now surely God knew the Jordan River was there, and He knew that it was at flood stage when He told the Israelites to cross over to their Promised Land. Still He gave the command to Joshua: “. . . Arise, GO OVER THIS JORDAN, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give them. . .” (Joshua 1:2).

Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t really like getting my feet wet – especially when I have my shoes on!  Ladies, you know the deal!  Confession – yes, I take certain shoes off in the rain – even if I am wearing hose.  The way I see it, I can buy another pair of Hanes for a WHOLE lot less money than I can a pair of shoes!  I learned the hard way, but it only took one pair of spotty leather pumps for me to learn to save the shoes!

Anyway, back to the Israelites and the Jordan River.

Now, if we didn’t know before, we certainly knew after the Red Sea episode that God could part the waters.  In Exodus 4:21 Moses stretched his hand out over the waters, and the Scriptures tell us that the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.  We know, too, that God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:24), so what’s up with the wet feet?  He parted the Sea for Moses.  Why not part the river for the priests?

I think it’s less about the wet feet and more about our desire for God to go first.  That way, we don’t mess up our shoes. We don’t have to work as hard.  We don’t have to wonder how things are going to go.  We don’t get wet feet.

It’s that hesitancy to get wet feet that can keep us camped out on the wrong side of the Jordan River.  It’s that waiting for God to go first that can keep us from our miracle.  Hebrews 11:6 teaches us that without faith it is impossible to please God.  Several examples in the Scriptures – the Red Sea and the Jordan River encounters being two of them – teach us that we are always to exercise faith in God.  Sometimes that faith requires us to be still and wait patiently (think Joseph in Potiphar’s prison), but at other times, it calls us to step up (think Nehemiah), step out (think Naomi and Ruth) and step into the waters (the Israelite priests).

Contrary to our belief, there can be just as much faith involved in taking personal initiative as there is in waiting passively for the Lord to provide.

Pray hard. Listen hard.  Swallow hard.  And go first!  Step out in faith knowing that our God sees, hears and is faithful!

THIS WEEK seek God’s desire for you – patience or a step of faith.  What would the latter look like?  What’s holding you back? Are you being obedient in patience or fearful in waiting?  Seek God’s direction for you and your life.  He will give you peace about what YOU are to do!