Uniquely Kind

Unique means “one of a kind.” Today is your opportunity to be the one of a kind person someone will meet. Will you be unique with your kindness?

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Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you. ~Ephesians 4:32

Remember to, clothe yourselves with a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. ~Colossians 3:12

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Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.
~Mother Teresa

His merciful kindness is great toward us, and the truth of the Lord endures forever.

Praise the Lord!  ~Psalm 117:2

Making Sense of the Nonsense

birdGrief and anxiety can be so powerful that you can melt in the heat of their presence like a dip of ice cream on a 110-degree day.   When the trials and tragedies of life assault you, God can seem so distant that his voice is inaudible and His care and compassion inconspicuous.

When you feel like you’ve been bullied by misfortune and beaten down by fickle friends, you can be blinded by a pervasive sense of loneliness and a warped perspective on life.  This was the case with Asaph when he wrote Psalm 73:

My feet almost slipped; my feet almost slid out from under me. For I envied those who are proud, as I observed the prosperity of the wicked. For they suffer no pain. . . They mock and say evil things; they proudly threaten violence. They speak as if they rule in heaven, and lay claim to the earth.

Whenever you find that you are walking with Asaph down the path of misery, you need to recalibrate your compass.  Instead of focusing primarily on your internals, you need to take an eternal perspective on life.  This is what Asaph did to reorient his direction in life:

When I tried to make sense of all this nonsense, it was troubling to me. When I finally looked beyond myself and quite beating myself down. I looked up to God and I entered His temple, and then I understood the destiny of the wicked (my paraphrase of Psalm 73:16-17).

In times like these, God may seem to hide, but He is still present to present you with what you need.  “Sometimes God gives us a gentle push of courage; sometimes He mercifully numbs us so we don’t experience the full intensity of our pain; at other times He carries us when we cannot take another step on own (Bruce Carroll, Sometimes Miracles Hide).”

One of the more comforting sections of Scripture that may help when you are feeling the pain of lingering bruises is Psalm 121:

I look up at the vast size of the mountains—from where will my help come in times of trouble? The Eternal Creator of heaven and earth and these mountains will send the help I need. He holds you firmly in place; He will not let you fall. He who keeps you will never take His eyes off you and never drift off to sleep. What a relief! The One who watches over Israel never leaves for rest or sleep. The Eternal keeps you safe, so close to Him that His shadow is a cooling shade to you. Neither bright light of sun nor dim light of moon will harm you. The Eternal will keep you safe from all of life’s evils, from your first breath to the last breath you breathe, from this day and forever. ~The Voice

A Good Friday To Remember

Happy-Good-Friday-2016-CardToday is Good Friday, and it’s a day that I focus my thoughts on the death of Jesus Christ for the sins of the world.  The essence of Good Friday and the hope of Easter is clearly stated in I Corinthians 15: “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures (3-4).”

In the death of Jesus, we see the innocent dying for the guilty.  Bill Crowder has said that “…death was not Jesus’ penalty; it was His destiny. It was not His lot in life; it was His mission. It was not His unavoidable fate; it was His purpose statement for coming to earth that first Christmas: ‘Born to die.'”

The crucifixion was an open display of the love of God for sinful man, and John Piper has commented: “The highest act of love is the giving of the best gift, and, if necessary, at the greatest cost, to the least deserving. That’s what God did.  At the loss of His Son’s life to the totally undeserving, God gave the best gift –the display of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.”

When Jesus spoke of His impending death, He would also speak of His resurrection.  In regard to His death and resurrection, Watchman Nee said, “Our old history ends with the cross; our new history begins with the resurrection.”

On this most somber day of Christianity, I ask you: What is your history with Jesus, and what is your future without Him?

Wear It With Love

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When I was in the military, the uniform of the day specified what I wore on a given day.  I usually wore drab olive fatigues and combat boots, but on occasion I was required to wear my dress blues and spit-shined shoes.

When Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians, he described their uniform of the day, and he instructed them to:

Dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.  ~Colossians 3:12-14: The Message

Regardless of whether you’re wearing blue jeans, a black tie and suit, or a stylish dress, don’t forget to put on the love of Christ—it’s your “all-purpose garment” and uniform of the day.

Goodbye Christmas and Hello 2016

hope-at-christmasWhat remains of Christmas?  Is the shredded paper in the curbside container all that’s left?  Is it the December delights that have been boxed-up with your dazzling array of decorations and stored neatly away until the arrival of Holiday Season 2016?

Since people quickly become bored with nativities and Christmas trees, how is the story to be told these next 12 months?  After hearing Silent Night sung for the thousandth time, how do we keep its message fresh and lively?

Christmas is more than the ashen remains of empty platitudes, it’s the colors and hues that imbues the message of Emmanuel:  God is with us!  Not just Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but every day:  His daily presence is His eternal present.

As you count down the final days of 2015, I hope your thoughts will be more than the fantasy of Star Wars, the NFL, and college football.  I encourage you think about the message of Christmas.  May it live in you and remain as the joyful refrain of hope, and a message that refines you and defines you throughout the coming year.

The Master Weaver: God At Work

quiltSob stories are often used to persuade people.  Some are brief like a short story in Readers Digest, while others are epic sagas.

Epic doesn’t do justice to the sob story I told in 1972.  The barracks I was housed in was a World War II structure that must have been built without any insulation.  It was as drafty as a tent with the flap up, and the cold wind blowing off the snow covered mountain peaks was a frigid and unwelcome guest—It visited too often and stayed too long.

With chattering teeth and artic adjectives, I began to spin a tale to describe my sorrowful plight.  My sob story had a clearly defined plot designed to convince Mom that I needed her to relinquish one of her beloved quilts.

To say that I wanted one of her quilts for the warmth it would provide, would be true; however, I also wanted one because it would have the loving touch of Mom’s hand on it.  Every square of her quilts were carefully stitched together to produce a beautiful piece of art that was also a piece of Mom.

I was reminded of my sob story while I was reading the 139th Psalm this morning.  Two words of the Psalm, “knitted” and “woven,” caught my attention and reminded me Mom.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Psalm 139:13-15

The quilts that Mom made were no accident.  They were carefully designed and crafted out of many separate pieces of cloth that had been saved for the purpose of creating a tapestry of love; likewise, you are no accident.

God loves you, and He is intricately  weaving  you for a purpose.  You may not understand how and why things happen, but God is at work in your life.  This is the message of the Master Weaver:

Our lives are but fine weavings that God and we prepare,

Each life becomes a fabric planned and fashioned in His care.

We may not always see just how the weavings intertwine,

But we must trust the Master’s hand and follow His design,

For He can view the pattern upon the upper side,

While we must look from underneath and trust in Him to guide…

Sometimes a strand of sorrow is added to His plan,

And though it’s difficult for us, we still must understand

That it’s He who fills the shuttle, it’s He who knows what’s best,

So we must weave in patience and leave to Him the rest…

Not till the loom is silent and the shuttles cease to fly

Shall God unroll the canvas and explain the reason why —

The dark threads are as needed in the Weaver’s skillful hand

As the threads of gold and silver in the pattern He has planned.

~Author Unknown

The Book of Ralph

ralphBooks like The Book of Ralph are seldom found on the shelves of libraries.  If you do an online search at book sellers like Amazon or Barnes and Noble, you find very little.

The reason for the scarcity is the rarity of the subject matter and the classification of the book—biography not fiction.  There are too few people who are as genuinely gentle and gracious as Ralph Lilley, the main character of the book.

I have had the privilege of knowing Ralph for over 25 years.  I have been his pastor, and he has willingly served his Lord as an elder, deacon, janitor, painter, teacher, greeter, volunteer, advocate for children, champion of the poor and needy, meals on wheels, and Chairman of Christian Service.

As I reflected on Ralph’s life yesterday, I spoke of seven lessons from The Book of Ralph, and I share them with you now:

#1—Remember your place in the line of life. 

He that will be first shall be last, and he that is last shall be first.

#2—Pick up the burdens of others, so you won’t let them down. 

Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.

#3—Display your manly meekness.

  Galatians 6:1:  If anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of meekness.

#4—Mind your manners.

  Ephesians 4:2:  Be humble. Be gentle. Be patient. Tolerate one another in an atmosphere thick with love

#5—Let the Spirit guide your speech.

 Colossians 4:6:  Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.

#6—Share the grace of God.

  Ephesians 4:29:  You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it may give grace to those who hear.

#7—Do more than just talk the talk:  walk the walk.

  James 1:26-27: If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.  Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

Remembering Ralph’s work of faith, his labor of love, and patience of hope in his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ 

I Thessalonians 1:3

Hope At High Tide

HopeEver have one of those days when you’re feeling down and out?  I have to admit that I do once in a while.  A sure cure for my “woe-is-me” mentality is a section of Scripture from Lamentations where Jeremiah said:

“I’m the man who has seen trouble, trouble coming from the lash of God’s anger. He took me by the hand and walked me into pitch-black darkness. Yes, he’s given me the back of his hand over and over and over again. He turned me into a scarecrow of skin and bones, then broke the bones. He hemmed me in, ganged up on me, and poured on the trouble and hard times. He locked me up in deep darkness, like a corpse nailed inside a coffin.” ~ The Message

After I read Jeremiah’s depressing account of his trials and tribulations, my troubles don’t seem quite as bad, and I feel even better when I read what Jeremiah said later in this chapter:  “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness (Lamentations 3).”

When Jeremiah began to focus less on his problems and more on God, his perspective changed.  He began to realize that the high tide of God’s hope has a rhythmic presence that’s just as certain as the appearance of the moon in the night sky.  He also concluded that the faithfulness of God is as cool and refreshing as an artesian well that never runs dry—it’s “new every morning.”

Whenever you try to view the world through the lens of personal pain, your comprehension will be skewed, and you’ll turn a blind eye to the potential of His promises. The riddles of life can never be solved through the emptiness of the world, but through the fullness of God’s blessing.

When the Psalmist was deluded by the dilemmas of life, he said:  I did not understand, “until I went into the sanctuary of God.”  He then offered this conclusion: “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever . . . it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all Your works.”

If you feel like your heartache has caused you to “fall away from God,” it may be time to “draw near” to Him again.  He’s right where you left Him and He is waiting to embrace you with open arms.  Run to Him now—“His compassions fail not!

You are a God full of compassion, generous in grace, slow to anger, and boundless in loyal love and truth.  ~Psalm 86:15

Operation Cross Country

fbi2Operation Cross Country IX is not a marathon, but it is a rigorous track and field event.  The trackers come from a diverse field of law enforcement agencies, and the event is focused on saving kids.

As an ongoing national effort, Operation Cross Country IX, is a nationwide crackdown on sex trafficking.  The FBI joined forces with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and took the lead in this effort that rescued 149 underage trafficking victims.

Additionally, more than 150 pimps were arrested.  These puss-pockets of humanity are so sleazy they were selling kids as young as 12 years old.

FBI Director James Comey said:  “Our mission is to protect the American people — especially our children — from harm. When kids are treated as a commodity in seedy hotels and on dark roadsides, we must rescue them from their nightmare and severely punish those responsible for that horror. We simply must continue to work with our partners to end the scourge of sex trafficking in our country.”

There are several organizations that focus their energy on rescuing those who are trapped in the commercial sex trade.  Shared Hope International is one of them, and you can gain a better understanding of their work by watching a brief 2 minute video.  Simply click here. 

The Lord says: “Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place.”  ~Jeremiah 22:3