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“And his armor-bearer said to him, ‘Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.’”

Everyone is trembling in caves near a place called Michmash. Saul has been king for less then two years. His son is stuck in a rocky pass barely wide enough for one person to walk through and above him is a garrison of the Philistines, sworn enemies.

Jonathan sums up the situation with the conclusion this is impossible without God’s help. Along with that conclusion the notion that God must want to help. Why else would God put us in this mess?

He says to his servant that is helping him, “God could deliver us here where we are, or up on the top of that hill. Where does it matter. It’ll only be with God’s help. You make the choice and I will lead the way.”

The servants choice? “I’m with you!” That is leadership. Recognizing the position where you are, acknowledging that God must deliver you and inspiring others to see the same.

Then without hesitation Jonathan draws his sword and also without hesitation his servant walks with him. Read the rest of the story in 1 Samuel 14. And better yet try to inspire someone around you today.

Green With Growth

20140321-101652.jpgYesterday was the first day of spring. I spent the day at a garden with my wife. As we walked around the Des Moines Botanical Garden  we observed many beautiful plants.

Often, people compare the values of the Christian experience with that of a garden. Not a bad idea since life in the Bible framework it began in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. They enjoyed all kinds of things but were told to avoid one particular item, the tree of “the Knowledge ofGood and Evil.”

Throughout the Bible the theme of growth is emphasized just as one example: “But  grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

The idea that is given to growth is that it should always “A La Natural.” Many times it’s almost implied if we do anything that takes effort we are essentially working contrary to allowing God’s grace to work The idea forwards that “any works” are foreign to becoming a mature believer.

Yet my walk yesterday with my wife proved the opposite as much effort had been performed by many people in the garden that delighted our eyes at every corner. Yet, clearly the very people that put forth the effort understood and acknowledged that it was the forces of nature that brought about the true beauty. They only participated by being gardeners within that great power.

Being a fellow “participator/gardener with God is also invaluable to bring about the beauty that grace works in a life. Yielded-ness and efforts of obedience are not works for salvation but rather participating with the grace of God at work in our lives. I see three main areas within “organic spiritual growth” where participation is beneficial.20140321-101815.jpg

There is the preparation stage. This is where we as believers prepare by studying and examining the Scriptures. We look to see what is it that God would want of our lives. It is not wrong or evil to know what God would want of us. Learning what it is to be loving, kind or any of the other many characteristics that are clearly portrayed within the pages of Scripture is a worthy exercise. Encouraging the same traits in others is not evil either but rather the act of a person committed to see God’s grace at work in another’s lives as well as our own.

A second key stage is organization. It is fascinating to consider that the word organic and organization are actually related to each other. These two are not conflicting but rather complementing sources. It is not wrong to observe proper patterns and then seek to implement those same patterns into your own life. Instead this is by its very nature an act of love toward our Savior by being Christ-like and following the ultimate example and ordered life. “If you love me do my commandments” (John 14:15).  “The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.” Don’t miss the obvious, discipline lead others to observe they were Christ-like.

Finally cultivation is the ability to recognize the finer points of maturity. Just as cultivation in a field brings about a higher level of production so cultivation in our lives will bring about a higher level a living. It is not wrong to set goals or to aim for progress. It is not wrong to monitor the direction your life is headed. The difference between cultivated plants and uncultivated ones is often the difference between a garden and a weed patch.

20140321-102624.jpgAny farmer acknowledges his dependence upon rain sunlight and the seasons. He does this so that he can work at the best possible times to achieve the greatest possible results. It is completely appropriate to give God credit for the results of your effort in grace. “He makes the sun to shine!” A hot ear of corn buttered and salted to perfection tastes even better from your own garden in part because it is the reward of your labor. God is honored in part because you “trusted” in the sun and rain with your efforts in preparing, planting and picking. Yes you worked but your work was within the faith of the power of God unto salvation.

Not working is essentially a lack of faith on some level of the promise of God to the laborer in the harvest.

Promise to Purity

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“Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”
Often times people use the Commandments of God to promote holiness. Here instead of using the Commandments of God Paul appeals to the promises of God.

The appeal is obvious Paul is compassionately calling to us from a platform of love and respect to live a pure life. Could it be that love compels us much farther than commands? What might a person do in love that he would never do simply out of obedience?

A grocery list from your wife might bring home supplies for dinner but a heart for your wife will stop you by the florist for roses.

God’s promises are many and they were delivered long before our performance stood up worthy of them. A strong look at the love of God on the cross will bring about a purity no list of rules could ever instill.

What’s in a Name?

“Then Daniel went to his house and made the matter known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions”

The king had long since named these boys by other names. Within the halls of their governments within the classrooms of their schools and all the other public places they appeared these were their names. But at home where they still worshiped the God of Israel they chose to refer to each other by their names that honored Him.
It wasn’t so much an act of defiance against the king. It was actually more an act of alliance with the KING.
I find a great number of people that want to appear religious publicly, yet in their private lives do they really seek to follow him? It’s a hard question because often I can’t even answer it in my own life. It is easy to be concerned about perception of others instead of truly looking into the core of my heart.
Later these three young men are going to be thrown into a fiery furnace as they are thrown in their names the king had given them will be found in the text. But we know deep within them their real names are still born in their character. The flames will make that clear. What will the flames make clear in your life. The flames of trials, affliction and other challenges?

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Deer on the horizonI love hunting because it gets me out into the woods. I have always enjoyed being in the woods, but there were times when it was scary. When you hunt you get to carry a gun so a walk in the woods isn’t nearly as scary. One of the extreme joys of walking in the woods is finding something you never expected to find: an antler, an old bottle, a long lost knife or perhaps best of all a hidden meadow filled with a golden arrangement of flowers kissing the morning sunrise.

Morning Glory MeadowSurprised by beauty, you are glad to be alone. Nothing needs to be said, and you have no one to interrupt the moment. The stillness and wonder capture your mind and years later you can still close your eyes and see the photo album of memories discovered. Part of the magic is the path that led there was narrow, and didn’t give you the clue of the full wonder that was only just ahead!

This is the marvel of walking with God. The path is often so narrow that only one can walk and that one is you. It is lonely and often scary, but there are wonders along the way that can’t be missed so the journey calls. It is not a journey to rush forward, but to explore. God has much to show you about Himself, but perhaps even more about you. There is something strange about coming to see yourself as God does. At first it seems like something you would never want to see, but truly no view is better than God’s view, even if it is the view of you.Flowers kissing the sky

The marvel of God’s path is that it provides you views of things you before thought irreconcilable as redeemed. The cross can make things before that were ugly now beautiful. God’s grace has a transforming property that is really beyond our comprehension or understanding.  That transformation often is found through a journey within a path of great restriction that ultimately opens to a wide area. Without the restriction (read narrow way) the wide place would not be.  The “narrows” of life can cause me to be frightened, but the reputation of our Guide brings peace as I trust Him to bring me out to a place of wide beauty.

Accept Without Expecting

The trouble with being God is people expect more from you. I read these two verses during my Bible reading today. “Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them. But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.” (Acts 14:18–19) First the people thought Paul and Barnabas were gods, then they stoned Paul because they didn’t like his preaching. Tough crowd! A dynamic is clearly visible: People are hard to please! Yet, underneath this obvious reality is a second: People’s expectations of God differ greatly from who He is and from what He does. Paul & Barnabas were not gods, and yet their message was from God. Just think, the crowd that stoned Paul was closer to understanding than the one that wanted to offer Paul a sacrifice! Understanding what God is up to in your life is not always easy to grasp and is seldom easy to accept.

All this is invaluable to the person who is seeking to live for God.

Lesson 1: Just because everyone likes you doesn’t mean that you are doing what God wants you to do. Evaluate your decisions not for what the crowd thinks, but for what God wants. Paul & Barnabas could have gone with the flow, but they knew God was holding them to a much higher standard as Truth Tellers of the new truth “Salvation in Christ.”

Lesson 2: Stay true to what God has for you and He will provide opportunities that you would have never imagined. Climbing out from underneath a pile of rocks Paul was a great blessing and incredible witness to the young church there. Okay he did have the stoning on the front end, but God provided through it and perhaps even greater to Paul than we can imagine (see 2 Cor. 12).

The most profound truth to me though is how close these two events happen to each other. Life is a turbo powered mixer, and catching your breath can sometimes prove challenging. I am rather grateful that I am not god. He can have all the challenges with running the universe. I am happy to just trust Him today, and follow His plan for my tomorrows.  I want to “ACCEPT” rather than “EXPECT” from Him. We so often want to hold God up to our plans instead of His leading. The great things God has for us often come wrapped in “paper” that we don’t at first like. It is in the accepting we find grace.

When your plans are not His plans.

When your plans are not His plans.

The first day I sat down in my truck I hardly noticed the spider web that covered my head. Then the second day I felt the spider run for cover on the top of my head before I could get my hand to him. The third day it was still dark and I ate some of the web. The fourth day I held the door open and saw the web clearly in the morning sunlight. I smiled and removed the web. The next day it wasn’t there.  Mr.or Mrs. Spider (not sure who does the spinning) had given up, died or just moved away. I won’t say I miss the web, but it did get me thinking about how frustrating life can be at times.

Doing all kinds of stuff and for some reason or reasons nothing good comes of it. Who’s the giant in your world that keeps tearing down your webs? I can imagine some might even blame the frustrations on God being against them. Everyone’s circumstances are different, but often we have chosen the wrong places to try and get ahead. We have chosen a place that is far removed from where God really wants us to live and influence. We have chosen a place where God’s protection is most visible by his frustrating our plans. He is essentially protecting us from our own self destruction.

Everyone who claims God as Savior wants Him to be involved in their lives until His involvement is a “NO” to our plans. We don’t want God messing with our future. What if what we think is a future is really a dead end? What if God keeps stopping us before we can see the bridge is out? Would a kind God sometimes stall us miles before the road ends in a gracious redirect? “Well sure, just be sure and tell me so!” But, where does faith come into this scene?

We want God to only mark the road with speed limit signs and never stop signs. Yet His way is far more complete. Often God first takes away our plans before revealing His. The process not only gives us direction, but more importantly it builds within us maturity. See God is even more concerned with what we are becoming than with where we are going. He is seeking to make us heaven ready. By the way, it is a lifetime project. He has the time, and He will give you the time He needs.

We love verses like Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” The reality is the people of God were not very open to these plans (go back and read the whole chapter if you don’t believe me). They were like a patient in need of major surgery who felt fine. Yet, the Doctor knew better. Following God demands a faith beyond my reason and desires at times, and sometimes He takes down my webs for my good.

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