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Archive for June, 2013

A writer loves to pound the keyboard into a first draft of his or her soon-to-be New York Times best seller. Ha! That’s fun. But before any story begins, the author must determine where and how the story will end—the point of destination.

Yes, that’s necessary, in writing and in life.

 “…that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19-20 NAS).

Every manuscript, from the beginning scene is pointed toward the appointed conclusion. Within the page allotment. And not over the word count limitation.

Our lives have limits too.

God made you and me and numbered our days, before we were born. Scripture says He even numbered the hairs on our head. We are of utmost importance to the Almighty Creator of the Universe. And He alone knows the end of our life stories. But we have a responsibility and a privilege in this equation. We get to choose our destination.

“For Thou didst form my inward parts; Thou didst weave me in my mother’s womb…My frame was not hidden from Thee, when I was made in secret and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth…and in Thy book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Psalm 139:13-16 NAS).

 

Writers infuse their pages with a variety of characters, from silly to sullen and lovely to licentious, depending on the story. We develop their personalities, characteristics, and appearances. Some are keepers and even journey through multiple books. Others are troublesome, don’t move the story forward, and just aren’t a fit. So we push them into the shadows or delete them from the text.

During the course of our lifetime we meet many people. People who impact our lives for good. There is an old rhyme that says: “Make new friends, but keep the old. Some are silver and some are gold.” Precious gold and silver friendships bring encouragement, love, and joy. But we also meet folks who just aren’t a fit, who may even be harmful. And we must choose which relationships we desire to develop, and those we need to dissolve.

“How blessed is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding. For its profit is better than the profit of silver, and its gain than fine gold…Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not proceed in the way of evil men. Avoid it, do not pass by it; turn away from it and pass on”  (Proverbs 3:13-14, 4:14-15 NAS).

Writers always, always, always develop a plot line. A thread, weaving through the story, with twists and turns to entertain, to offer the reader a satisfying conclusion. We become absorbed in our character’s actions or words and can often be surprised, forcing a change of plot we never saw coming.

And like these story book characters, our lives twist and turn consequentially with our good and bad choices. We become ensnared in the consequences of choices others make.

 “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore, I have hope in Him. The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. It is good to wait silently for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:22-26 NAS).

 

Next? Those pesky edits. Day. After day. After day. Edits done to adjust the ebb and flow of words in the pages of our manuscript.

God develops a plot line for our lives, a line in accord with His perfect will.

 “For I know the plans I have for you, ‘declares the Lord,’ plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11 NAS).

Problem is, we often reject or catapult over His line into enemy territory. Like the characters in our books, we become proud and haughty, demanding our way not His. But there’s good news—our immaturity and rebellion doesn’t surprise God. Nor does He throw us on the trash pile. He knows exactly what we’re going to do and what we’ve done. And He edits our lives and loves us in spite of wrong choices. And every sin, if we tell Him what we’ve done and determine to turn and walk in obedience to His Word.

And He promises His children He will take the messes we make, and work out our off-the-road-and-in-the-ditch moments for good to bring glory to His name and to conform us into the image of Jesus. Our Father in heaven continually edits the cadence of our lives and transforms our testimony about Him to benefit others.

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren” (Romans 8:28-29 NAS).

 

 A manuscript ready for publication can be years in the making. And even when these scripts are accepted, every writer knows there will be another year or more of a kazillion edits by the publisher before the book goes to press.

God has charted a course to develop His story in each one of us. We are a WIP (work-in-progress). The difference is our life stories remain for eternity. Somewhere. Depending on the eternal decision we make now. While life and breath remain, there is always time to edit our destination.

Because of the grace of God and Jesus death, burial, and resurrection, we can know our where we will spend eternity. You either trust Him, or you don’t. You either obey Him, or you won’t. You either love Him, or you don’t.

 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17 NAS).

  

Writers choose the times, circumstances, and places for their stories to begin and end.

God has already chosen the time, circumstance, and place your earthly story  will end. However, He loves you so much He allows you to choose your eternal destination.

Twice born or separation?

Heaven or Hell?

No limbo. No in between. No non-decision.

Life with Jesus now and forever. Or life now and an eternity without Him.

Which plot line are you traveling? Which map are you following? Which destination have you chosen this day?

“…we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain—for He says, ‘At the acceptable time I listened to you, and on the day of salvation I helped you,’ Behold, now is the acceptable time. Behold, now is the day of salvation—” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2 NAS).

 

“My son, keep my words, and treasure my commandments within you. Keep my commandments and live, and my teaching as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart” (Proverbs 7:1-3 NAS).

 

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            Springtime in Florida was always a multi-colored landscape of hues of green, buttercup yellow, and pastel pink. We watched for those delicate white blooms to dot prickly vines that grew along roadsides and covered fence lines. Those tiny flowers with pollen-filled centers, swayed in the breeze and honey bees swarmed, promising yummy desserts and black stained fingers.

            Lumpy, green balls soon replaced the blossoms and confirmed this was indeed the perfect patch. Our very own blackberry patch. We kept an eye on those hard green spheres as they ballooned into hundreds of scarlet berries. And we waited for sunny days and spring rains to urge their yearly transformation into plump, delicious blackberries.

            Eventually the day arrived. And the berries were ripe for picking. One such day, our family piled into our ‘57 Ford, and headed toward our special berry patch alongside a country road near the marshes of the St. Johns River, outside of Jacksonville, Florida.

            The Gooding family joined this annual first-blackberry-picking event of the season. There were six of them—three boys and three girls. My brother and I brought the number to eight boisterous youngsters—ready for the hunt!

            Parents set our boundaries and issued warnings about snakes, stickers and sandspurs. They might as well-a’-been-talkin’ to the wind. We grabbed our buckets and raced down the slope to be first to find the biggest blackberry in the patch.

            Shouts of competitive exuberance filled the air.

            “I got the big one!”

            “ Nope, I do!”

             We shrieked and laughed and scrambled here and there, hoping to find the berry of the day—waiting to be picked by someone—hopefully me. And truth is, we ate as many as we picked, evidenced by toothy grins smeared with tell-tale black juice tinting our lips, our tongues, and grimy fingers.

            During one of those scrambles Elaine, running faster than all the rest, lost her balance, bounced bottom first down the sandy slope, and landed right in the middle of a patch of cactus.

            Her wails brought an end to our fun. We gathered our juice-stained buckets, full of  luscious berries and trudged up the hill. And deposited our black jewels in pans provided by the moms. The two dads carried the wounded berry-picker to the car where she laid, face-down across our laps, and cried all the way home.

            Our moms washed the black treasures, then mixed ingredients for the anticipated cobbler. My dad churned the homemade vanilla ice cream that would crown the scrumptious berries already bubbling in the oven.

             That left the unpleasant task of removing those nasty stickers from Elaine’s backside to her dad.

            I’ll admit, we were not sympathetic onlookers. She had spoiled our fun. We sneaked peeks around the corner and snickered and giggled with every shriek of pain—secretly grateful it wasn’t one of us.

            Glasses of iced tea with mint sprigs, bowls filled with warm cobbler and scoops-full of homemade ice cream proved our blackberry-picking day a success.

             Then we lingered in the backyard as the last moments of the day slipped away, swaying and singing in old wooden swings that hung by gnarled ropes from aged oak trees. But when fireflies flickered in the hedges, a whole new chase was on—to see who would capture the biggest, brightest insect.

            Everyone but Elaine, who stood with her bowl of cobbler and a sore backside. And her reward? The paddle from the ice cream churn!

            I no longer search country lanes, but drive to Walmart and buy expensive berries, packed in plastic—not a kid’s bucket—with a layer of moldy ones on the bottom.

             This evening I sat on the patio and watched the sun sink below the horizon, while the latest accounts of troubling information blared on the evening news, and my grandchildren texted me in three word sentences.

            I recalled these joyful childhood memories as I watched a couple of fireflies dart in and out of the bushes around our pond and marveled that times may change, but God is the same—yesterday, today, and forever. He is sovereign and on His Throne.

            But it makes my heart sad that my grandchildren will never experience the excitement of beating their friends to the biggest blackberry in the patch, or catching the brightest firefly in their jar, or joining lighthearted conversation with grown-ups as the day comes to an end.

            My memories of a tummy full of cobbler, topped with fresh homemade ice cream, wrapped in the blanket of love provided by family and friends, while holding my jar full of God’s miraculous, little lights, are safely tucked in the secret places of my heart.

            Precious memories this world of technology and idols can never duplicate.

“Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10 NAS).

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Behind the wheel for hours, I had driven by fields of ripe-for-harvest DSCF2553crops, from corn, to beans, to wheat, and I was starved. There were numerous exits along the interstate, but the only available food was greasy, fried, junk.

Yuck. Succumb to Crisco or hold out for healthy?

Ever had to make that decision on a trip?

Hungry and the only eatable morsel was junk food. Food that makes arteries slam shut, adds extra pounds in unmentionable places, and doesn’t begin to satisfy our bodies needs.

Instant everything has taken over our nation and we have learned to crave. From food, to technology, to fad clothing, to gorgeous homes, and fancy cars. Yes, even to instant religion. We crave the newest and best of the world’s junk, in spite of the cost. And we want it right now.

But we are starving. Spiritually.

Historic Churches 0018We come to the sanctuary on Sunday morning hungry for comfort. Hungry for meaning and hungry for help with an unending list of trials and problems. And we sit for an hour, maybe two, attempting to cram our souls with enough spiritual fast food to last the next seven days—we hope.

Then Monday arrives and the rumblings in our soul match the rumblings in our tummies and we look for anything to satisfy the emptiness. To quell the loneliness. To rescue us from the jam we’re in.

Monday evening football and prime-time soaps creep in. Spiritual junk food snacks. And if that’s not available, surfing the web offers mind-numbing entertainment to snuff the hungry growl. We sit before the screened idols, running out of evening, with no time to sit before the God of all creation to feed on His Word. We fall asleep with our bellies and our souls and our minds filled with the junk food of the world, but never satisfied. And we wake up Tuesday morning to begin the process. Again and again and again. ‘Til next Sunday.

The challenge for the twice-born children of God is to provide those DSCF2559who come to the sanctuary with the necessary meat of His Word and not the deceptive—I’m okay,  you’re okay—social gospel message—useless blubber that makes us happy for the moment but fades when we must face life in the jungle of this world.

 We need spiritual protein, vitamins, and minerals found only in the principles and precepts of the Word in order to build-up our souls in His love, His strength, and His power.

Unfortunately many in the church are anemic, ineffective, powerless Christians. Christians who are not making wise dietetic choices. Christians who rely on the deceptions of the world instead of on the promise of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, given by the Spirit of God, when we seek and ask Jesus.

That’s why many churches are in decline, not experiencing a great DSCF2556harvest. The fields of our neighborhoods, cities and nation are white, beyond ripe, but we’re not prepared to reap. We’re too busy about ourselves, our families, our lives.

We are powerless to kick that lifestyle habit of junk. Only God can transform our life and only as we daily surrender to the authority and sovereignty of Jesus Christ as Lord.

Ah, but we don’t like to surrender. To anything.

Do you remember when we used to sing, At The Cross—“Alas and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die. Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?”

That hymn has had the misfortune of a face-lift. A scourging, if you will. We now sing about those people as sinners—not worms. And the reference is to a group, not an individual. To me. To you.

Yet in Psalm 22:6 King David referred to himself as “a worm, and not a man.” Are we better than this King—a man the scripture identifies as “a man after God’s own heart?”

In this age of every kind of correctness, the world teaches we must never refer to ourselves or anyone else as a worm. That would damage our self-esteem. And therein lies the heart of the matter—pride.

Jesus was nailed to a splintered cross where He hung, broken, and bleeding. Men gambled to win his clothes as His blood splattered  in puddles on the ground. Did He or anyone else consider His self-esteem?

God turned His back on His only Son, as this Passover Lamb took, in His own perfect body, the sin and evil of everyone for all ages—past, present, and future.

And He hung there and died.

God’s Lamb.

So that you and I might live.

The next few verses indicate Isaac Watts comprehended the grace and love and power Christ exhibited on that bloody cross when he penned these words in 1707:

“Was it for crimes that I had done He groaned upon the tree?

Amazing pity, grace unknown and love beyond degree. Well

 might the sun in darkness hide and shut His glories in, when God,

 the mighty Maker, died for man the creature’s sin.

Thus might I hide my blushing face while His dear cross appears,

dissolve my heart in thankfulness, and melt mine eyes to tears.

But drops of grief can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe;

Here, Lord, I give myself away, ‘tis all that I can do.”

 

All that I can do? Oh no. I can serve on the Board of Deacons, I can teach a Sunday School class, I can serve in the women’s ministry. I can—I can—I can—. Exhibit pride? Me, a worm? Never.

Unless we learn to humble, rather than exalt ourselves, blush and remember His cross, and our hearts dissolve in thankfulness that brings tears, we will continue to clench our fists and scream “mine” rather than “Thine.”

As long as we care more about coming back to the sanctuary next Sunday morning to chant the same seven-words-twelve-times-praise-chorus-performance, loud and long, in rock-star-fashion, more than we long to seek His face and more than we long for the coming of our Lord Jesus and His kingdom, there will be no power. No urgency. And no abundant harvest.DSCF2541

And the harvest we were instructed to reap for the Kingdom will lie rotted in the fields of this earth, left to be reaped at the end of the age, by the angel’s sickle and cast into the winepress of the wrath of God. (Revelation 14:17-20 NAS).

“Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. Already he who reaps is receiving wages, and is gathering fruit for life eternal; that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this case the saying is true, ‘One sows, and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labor” (John 4:35-39 NAS).

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Her text message was devastating.

Every ounce of joy along with every want-to-smile drained from my heart. And I wept like only another childless mother weeps.

My friend’s grandbaby died. An infant, a little over two months old. Future plans, hopes and dreams, gone in an instant.

My mind raced back twelve years to that other phone call. The first one that wiped the smile from my soul.

I remember wondering if my brain would ever again send a message that would  warm my heart and allow the crinkling lines that used to etch the corners of my eyes, relax the muscles of my lips, and direct them to remember their upward path?

‘Til then I found myself dumped on the sidewalk of life, gasping for air, flopping like a fish out-of-water. Hating morning. Fearing evening and everything in between. Part of me wanted to die and the other half lacked the faith to live.

In those-after-days I cried, “Oh, Lord Jesus, help my not-even-mustard-seed sized faith.”

Death. What an ugly word. My heart ripped open. A bleeding, gaping hole. Days saturated with helplessness and hopelessness droned on like a freight-train-to-no-where.

I was tired, but sleep fled. My neck and shoulders ached from the iron weight of grief. My stomach growled but food was repulsive. All were symptoms. Symptoms of grief from the unexpected death of our twenty-eight year old daughter.

But the loss of an infant adds a multitude of extra layers to grief. Not of what we will miss, but the loss of what will never be. This side of eternity.

Ambiguous thoughts randomly pop-up like troublesome boogers in a parent’s or grandparent’s mind. What would the little one have become? Who would this gift from God have looked like? Mom or Dad? Maybe a grandparent. Whose personality would the sweet dumpling have reflected? Each image is like grabbing onto Jell-O. Yet, each painful mirage must be grieved.

The “if only” mud puddles grow murky and deep. Storm clouds of anger and resentment over unfulfilled dreams and expectations bluster and, if we’re not careful, send us spinning in a vortex of self-destruction.

While the rest of the world continues to survive and thrive.

Everyone but the family.

Where do we go? What can we do? Will the pain ever subside? Will the anger and guilt leave?

Yes, but not as quickly as we hope.

But after God’s roto-rooter of grief has purged the frivolities of pretense from our hearts and souls, God Himself will have comforted our hearts and enlarged our capacity for joy and pain to reside. Together. Then we will become His physical arms of love and comfort to others about to enter this dark tunnel. We will stand ready to give witness to them that there is a day when their joy will return.

However, even when the light of the Son finally shines on our pathway, bringing us comfort, and our smiles return, tender scabs of grief will always remain, ready to bleed when scraped by another death.

Christ promises He will bring good out of the bad stuff—our certification that we have become conduits of His love. Conduits flowing with the river of His grace and strength, waiting to be poured out on those about to cross death’s threshold.

Christ told us death is an enemy. Adam and Eve didn’t understand and neither do we, until we are humbled in the presence of this powerful foe. Until we recognize our utter helplessness and are willing to lift our precious babies, with open hands, and give them back into the arms of our Father in Heaven.

King David’s infant son had been gravely ill and David mourned. But on the day the baby died, the King arose, bathed, dressed and ate and said, “He shall not return to me, but I shall go to him” (2 Samuel 12:15-23 NAS).   What a glorious promise.

One day those who have loved and trusted Jesus will be united with those who have gone before us. That’s a promise. Then we shall all attend the funeral of death. That’s God’s promise too.

As days grow darker here on this earth, know that your baby is alive. Healed and in the presence of God. Forever. And that precious one will never again have to die. And one day you will be with them, and there will be no more pain, no more tears and no more death. Forever.

So when your smile returns, and it will, that joy-filled-glow will radiate from deep in your soul and will give praise, honor, and glory to God and to The Lamb.

“The righteous man perishes, and no man takes it to heart; and devout men are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous man is taken away from evil, he enters into peace; they rest in their beds, each one who walked in his upright way” (Isaiah 57:1-2 NAS).

If you have lost a child, a month ago, two years ago, or twenty years ago, and you are still struggling with grief, I urge you to go to www.griefshare.org and click on Find-A-Group. GriefShare offers practical, everyday helps in dealing with the issues we all face when losing a loved one. Please find a GriefShare group near you today and go for help, hope and comfort.

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