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Sailing 101

One ship drives east and another drives west
With the selfsame winds that blow;
‘Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales
Which tells us the way to go.
– Ella Wheeler Wilcox

The winds will blow. Always have & always will. Oh, there will moments of calm but be assured the winds will return. Winds of adversity, misunderstanding, illness, strife, suffering & heartache.

So the question of the day (and everyday) is, in my heart, how are the sails set? Are they set to draw nearer to Father or farther away? It’s my choice. Drifting away from Him and blaming it on the winds is as old as – well as old as the history of mankind (See Genesis 3.) And the results are always the same; disaster.

No – I do have a choice. I can set the sail to draw near to the One who loves me with an unconditional, unlimited and unending love. It will not always be easy sailing but it’s always easier than the alternative. Experiencing closeness to Him enables me to sail through any storm. Drawing near results in joy regardless of the winds (Psalm 16:11.) He gives me strength to endure and even triumph in any kind of ‘wind’ (Pilippians 4:13.)

James 4: 8 “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”

Prayer
“Father, as the winds of life blow hard and menacing, please keep me near. I trust You to bring to my attention the times that the sail of my heart needs adjusting back to the course that draws me closer to You. In the name of your holy and powerful Son, Amen.”

More Love

This paragraph, from Thirsting for God by Gary Thomas,  is to good not to share.

“Today’s church desperately needs a renewed conviction that to be a Christian who doesn’t love is impossible. Love is an active, energetic, enthusiastic, initiating force – it’s anything but a feeling. When Jesus said we should love our neighbor, He was not scolding us to have fond feelings for everyone. Rather, He was calling us to put ourselves at others’ service. In this sense, unloving Christian – referring to someone who says he or she believes in God but who is not committed to helping others – in an oxymoron. We are not Christians if we are not growing in the grace of love. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1John 4:20-21).           –  Gary Thomas, Thirsting for God

Father, lead us down this path of loving others. Gently guide us to let go of our obsession for our own happiness and learn to seek the well being of others. Help us to see that to really live life to the fullest, to experience true holiness and happiness, only comes through  filling our days with acts of kindness done for the good of others in the spirit of love. Show us that to walk in this way is to simply  follow Jesus because this is the way He lived – simply doing one good turn after another to bring blessing to others.  Let us realize that the world is very thirsty and we have a cup of water in our hand. In His holy name – Amen.

God Uses Everything

As we study the book of 1Peter on Sunday mornings we’re noticing how much of the small letter deals with the subject of suffering, trials and difficulties. We’re also realizing that this is a topic dealt with a great deal throughout the New Testament and indeed all of scripture. Jesus Himself promised that in this world we would experience trouble (John 16:33.)  Paul reminds us that troubles of all kinds are tools in the capable hands of the One who is shaping our hearts into the likeness of His Sons’ when he wrote that, “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2Corinthians 4:17.)

I recently came upon the story of one man that personally experienced this truth in his life. His name is Gary Thomas. He relates:

“I used to be a vicious discipler. I never missed a quiet time, and if people I was working with did, I questioned the sincerity of their faith. Then God in His mercy crushed me for eight long years. Sins I had never faced before came roaring to life. Prayer became difficult. Ministry felt strained and awkward. I had no sense of God’s power coursing through me.

At the end of this period a door flew open, the darkness was lifted, and I was changed. I realized God doesn’t need someone who can preach better than anyone else, fast longer, pray more, or evangelize more. He wants somebody who loves His people. I knew a lot about discipline and commitment, but I knew nothing about love.

Difficulty teaches us to be pastoral people, something that does not come naturally to us. If we deny our own pain, we must also blind ourselves to the pain of others. We need difficulty because without it we become proud, self-centered, and uncaring monsters who are full of ourselves.

Difficulty is not to be feared or denied, but to be used. I’ve never heard someone say, “It was only after I made my first million that I finally understood the meaning of life, that my priorities were put in order, and my relationship with God was deepened.” But many of us have heard people say, “As much as I dislike the disease and the treatment, this cancer (or this unemployment or this betrayal) has taught me a lot about life.”

When we pray for ease and comfort, we are asking that God will allow us to remain shallow in our personalities and our faith. When we learn to see difficulty as the path of growth, our relationships will change. When we remember that difficulty can be positive, challenging relationships become a vital part of Christian spirituality. Difficult work, church, and family relationships, hurdles in ministry… all can be treasures if we place them in God’s hands.”                     – Gary Thomas, Thirsting for God

Maybe rather than asking God to remove our difficulties we should be asking Him to help us to be better students of what we need to be learning from them.


 

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”   – T.S. Eliot

I had a conversation with a lady last week which was just the most recent of several over the past couple of months. She is working through a study guide on the Gospel of John. She is learning, growing and literally being transformed by the Holy Spirit as she draws close to the Savior. Excited about her discoveries; her heart is filled with new hope and her eyes are often filled with tears.

As I walked back to my car afterward I caught myself thinking, “Wow, this gospel stuff really works.” Maybe not very impressive that a pastor would have such a revelation but then again I think that’s often how God works. We know something for years (even teach it to others) and then one day learn it all over again in a new, powerful and deeper way than ever before. Maybe we’re learning on a heart level what we’ve known intellectually. Maybe we’re learning in an experiential way what was theory.

Renewal is “…to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” Fresh insight. Awakened passion. New freedom. Opened eyes. A skip in our step that’s been missing for a very long time. The Apostle John recorded Jesus words and described it as ‘returning to your first love’ (see Revelation 3 paraphrased). Isaiah said if we would wait on the Lord he would ‘renew our strength.’ (Isaiah 40: 31 NKJV)

In a rut? Weary in ways that better multi-vitamins just can’t help? Your Father can. Turn to Him and seek Him with all your heart and He will renew you in ways you could never imagine.

“Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu felt called to ministry when she was a teenager. She did her ministerial training in Ireland and India. And one day she approached her superiors with a God-ordained passion. She said, “I have three pennies and a dream from God to build an orphanage.”

Her superiors said, “You can’t build an orphanage with three pennies. With three pennies you can’t do anything.”
Agnes smiled and said, “I know. But with God and three pennies I can do anything.”

For fifty years Agnes worked among the poor in the slums of Calcutta, India. In 1979 the woman we know as Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize. Listen, it is a long way from three pennies to a Nobel Peace Prize. And my question is, how did a woman with so little do so much? The answer is simple. Never underestimate someone who has the courage to come out of the cage and pursue a God-ordained passion.

Toward the end of her ministry, Mother Teresa was often asked by her admirers how they could make a difference with their lives the way she had with hers. Mother Teresa’s oft-repeated response was four words long: “Find your own Calcutta.”
– borrowed from Wild Goose Chase by Mark Batterson

“Nothing is sweet or easy about community. Community is a fellowship of people who do not hide their joys and sorrows but make them visible to each other in a gesture of hope. In community we say: “Life is full of gains and losses, joys and sorrows, ups and downs- but we do not have to live it alone. We want to drink our cup together and thus celebrate the truth that the wounds of our individual lives, which seem intolerable when lived alone, become sources of healing when we live them as part of a fellowship of mutual care.”

Community is like a large mosaic. Each little piece seems so insignificant. One piece is bright red, another cold blue or dull green, another warm purple, another sharp yellow, another shining gold. Some look precious, others ordinary. Some look valuable, others worthless. Some look gaudy, others delicate. As individual stones, we can do little with them except compare them and judge their beauty and value. When, however, all these little stones are brought together in one big mosaic portraying the face of Christ, who would ever question the importance of any one of them? If one of them, even the least spectacular one, is missing, the face is incomplete. Together in the one mosaic, each little stone is indispensable and makes a unique contribution to the glory of God. That’s community, a fellowship of little people who together make God visible in the world.”

- Henri Nouwen in The Only Necessary Thing, pg 124

“Behold, I will do something new,
Now it will spring forth;
Will you not be aware of it?
I will even make a roadway in the wilderness,
Rivers in the desert.”
Isaiah 43:19    (NASB)

In my childhood, the biggest mistake that could be made was to mention within earshot of my Paw-Paw Parish that you were bored. He was a farmer and there was always work to be done on the farm. So we were always busy – either busy working or busy avoiding Paw-Paw. Life with our Father is anything but boring. If we are walking in His ways with our hearts sensitive to His leading, we find that He is always up to something new (Isa. 43:19).

Abraham, Noah, Ruth, Moses, Esther, Jonah, David, Mary, Paul and hundreds of other Biblical personalities would attest to this truth. God is anything but mundane, predictable, or manageable. He is gloriously surprising – leading us into new challenges, spurring us on to greater levels of spiritual maturity, filling us with love for others we’ve never before experienced, calling us to serve others in ways we’d never dreamed. To paraphrase a Max Lucado comment, “God loves you just as you are – He just refuses to leave you that way.”

Jesus said, “My Father is always at his work…” (John 5:17). He never gets discouraged with failures, never takes time off, never gets distracted – He just keeps working. The only question is, “Am I working with or against what He is doing in my life?”

A friend of mine stepped up to the plate a little over a year ago and said, “I have a problem and it’s time to deal with it” (paraphrased).  Held in the grip of a vicious addiction for some forty years, he listened to what God was saying about his condition and said, “No more. The Enemy has robbed me of joy, peace and intimacy with God and people for long enough.” I’ve watched my friend over the past year and wondered many times if God or my friend was doing this amazing work? The answer I keep coming back to is, “Yes.” In a way I can’t fully comprehend or explain, my friend and God are working together to gain victory after victory. As bystanders, we are seeing a life transformed right before our eyes. My friend cannot do it without God, and God will not do it without my friends cooperation.

Howard Macey said,  “The spiritual life cannot be made suburban. It is always frontier, and we who live in it must accept and even rejoice that it remains untamed.” Don’t waste your life looking for a quiet little place on some tranquil cul-de-sac in spiritual suburbia. Get out there on the frontier and live the adventure of walking with God. You’ll never be bored (and Paw-Paw would love that).

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