Choose to Bloom – No Matter What!

25793902315_8d81dfa3ec_z

The truth is that I would prefer to choose where I was planted rather than where I bloomed.  But life’s not wrapped up with a shiny bow like that!  In fact, many aspects of life are not chosen.  We don’t get to select our parents, our skin color or place of birth.  Things which turn out to be pretty significant in life.

However, we do get to choose our responses.  Free will is one of the greatest blessings or curses depending on how you look at it.  As 2017 has already started emerging on the planet, we stand at a new threshold.  2016 has revealed some of the ugliest underpinnings of the human experience both domestically and abroad.  A New Year presents new opportunities to make new choices.  We can’t always choose where we’re planted, but we can make a decision to bloom anyway.

A prayer for 2017

When life requires bold strokes,

May we meet the threshold with

Courage and Bravery.

When tensions rise and tempers flare,

May the power of Grace + Peace

Put out the flames.

May we rise to unite

When division threatens to undo us

And may we re-find our voice

And blend the hot tremors of our harshest tenors

To speak with each other again.

Lola Audu

Trapdoor Grace: Overcoming A Spiritual Siege

One of the most heart breaking news stories this year has been the on-going siege of the city of Aleppo in Syria.  Watching the daily distress of people trapped within the ruins of war without access to basic and vital necessities is a reminder of how despicable war is.

64481341_sTrapdoor grace is the kind of grace that happens when all avenues of relief are blocked.  The support systems which we have carefully cultivated spring leaks, the bank account is drained, the Doctor’s and experts don’t have solutions, the job has left the country.  When we are under siege literally or spiritually, it is important to know that God has avenues of rescue which open when windows and doors of escape are unavailable.

The weapon of a siege mounted against a community or city is an ancient one.  A siege can be mounted in a variety of ways, but always has one common characteristic – the enemy surrounds you. When a place is under a siege, every means of escape appears to be blocked in some fashion.  A siege not only blocks the path of escape, but also prevents anything from entering.  So, essentially, the community slowly starves to death without food, water, medical supplies and sometimes even means of communication with the external world.

A siege is effective because it eventually causes such despair, that in their desperation, people will even cannibalize themselves. We read about a situation like this in 2 Kings 7.  The siege against the King of Israel was ironically mounted by the King of Syria (some translations refer to him as the King of Aram).

As the two sides eyed each other, 2 Kings 6:24-33 tells the story of the King of Israel walking on top of the city wall and a woman calling out to him to tell him the dreadful tale of how she and another woman had agreed to eat their infant sons.  Her heart wrenching complaint is that the other woman reneged on her word and hid her son.  The King was overcome with horror. He vows to hunt down the Prophet Elisha who somehow becomes the scapegoat for the King’s frustration.

The meeting between the two nemesis is rife with mutual dislike and name calling.  But, the Prophet Elisha prophecies to the King that the impossible is about to take place.

Within 24 hours, there will be a turn-around that is so extraordinary that basic foodstuffs will sell at bargain prices!

The prediction is so bizarre that an officer who supports the King physically scoffs and in effect says, ‘that’s madness!’

And it did appear that there was no way out of this certain destruction.  But, that night God does something incredible.  Because mad situations need to be handled with equivalent or greater levels of mad power.

The Bible indicates that the well equipped Syrian army heard a sound and became convinced that the bankrupt Kingdom of Israel had somehow managed to hire an army and the tables were turned.  In their fear, the entire Syrian army fled at night to escape what they were convinced was certain annihilation.  The discovery of the situation was discovered by a most improbable lot – some Lepers who were considered untouchable and thereby consigned to the outskirts of the city.

The Lepers had decided to throw themselves on the mercy of the Syrian King and approached the camp, only to find the entire encampment vacated of people!  But thoroughly stocked with provisions, clothes and unimaginable wealth in silver and gold.  Wow!  Of course the good news is shared and the entire city rushed the city gates, trampling on the officer who scoffed at the idea that this kind of deliverance was even possible.

Trapdoor Blessings:

A trapdoor blessing reveals the God who makes impossible situations possible.  It also reveals a mercy which is super abundant and awe inspiring.  And often utilizes the most improbable persons or situations.  It’s never an avenue that you would previously seriously consider.  A trapdoor blessing has the ability to turn what appears to be a curse into an uncommon blessing.

Here are some elements of encouragement hidden within trapdoor blessings:

  1. God can handle our sorrow, despair and anger.  Be real.  Desperate situations call for a desperate response.  Pray and don’t stop. Seek counsel.  The Bible says that when waging war, we should have many counselors
  2. Be open to unexpected solutions.  Hidden within those who have been written off and marginalized may be some of the best talent available and hitherto unused due to our prejudices and preconceived ideas.
  3. Know this – God may not come within our time frame, but He is never late.  Examples of deliverance at the mid-night hour abound in the Bible.  Think – Daniel in the lions den, Moses saved from the water and certain death by an Egyptian princess, Paul and Silas escaping from prison while singing praises at mid-night, Peter being rescued from prison by an angel…
  4. Trapdoor blessings are generous!  And perhaps we appreciate them more because the contrast is starkly evident when you’ve experienced deep bondage.  This type of blessing can be so overwhelming that in receiving it, you must find a way to share it and give it away.  Similar to how the Lepers had to let the city know that deliverance was just a few steps outside the gates.

As we leave 2016 and approach 2017, there is a palatable sense of apprehension for many in our world.  It has been a strange year in many ways.  One filled with loss, unpredictability and dis-ease in various ways.  But it is in this type of darkness that light shines most brilliantly.  And it is here that Trapdoor grace reveals itself most readily.

 

 

 

Knowing the difference between Wisdom, Knowledge and Understanding.

“Wisdom is the principle thing; therefore get wisdom. And with all thy getting get understanding”

Proverbs 4:7

There are few messages more powerful and necessary in the world of business today. The business world is one that is filled with power (or ambition), mystery, intrigue, theft, betrayal, loss and victory. Contrary to what many assume, it is a highly spiritual world and all experienced practitioners know this to one degree or another.

So, when the proverb says, get wisdom – this counsel is vital for life, success, protection and progress. Understanding is also necessary and is differentiated by the fact that while knowledge reveals facts, understanding gives context and insight into why a fact is pertinent to a situation or person.

Sometimes, we get a gut check about something or someone and can’t fathom the reason why. It is understanding that allows us the insight to know the reason behind the hesitation and why ‘the check’ is important to our situation in particular.

I have found that acquiring wisdom can be very costly, but infinitely worth the effort. Wisdom is what helps me to know what to do next or how to correct mistakes. In fact, the costliest mistakes are not the ones you pay for and learn from; rather, they are those you never catch or understand – and thereby continue to be ravaged by.

Acquiring understanding helps us to gain a comprehensive picture of the situation and/or individual; this level of insight now becomes an intrinsic part of one’s being. It also provides a strong basis of clarity for the future.

Ultimately, God is the Provider of wisdom because only He knows completely, the thoughts and intentions of the human heart – including my own. #wisdom #understanding #insight #inspiration © 2016

Strong Food – Super Nutrition

“Because the Lord disciplines those He loves, as a Father the son he delights in.” Hebrews 12:6

2893279673_58518aa808_z

Not all foods are equal.  In fact, today many of the processed foods we eat are not really food at all.  Some are solely the creation of scientists in chemical laboratories mixing together flavor profiles and artificial ingredients to create concoctions that incite the senses through the wizardry of mimicking real food.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of mimicry in the practice of the Christian faith today. I was stunned to hear a statistic that indicates that the average Evangelical Christian who indicates they attend church regularly, visits a house of worship about once a month.  If we were having ‘church’ in our homes, that might not be so problematic.  But, many do not read the Bible on a regular basis and prayer is a real struggle.

I don’t think this is coincidental.  God’s word is spiritual sustenance.  Prayer is like the fuel which charges our souls through connection with God.  Going without both for sustained periods of time is akin to spiritual starvation.  When the assault against vital health has severely weakened the health into bare life support, only watered down nutrition will even be tolerated. So while milk is a complete food and OK for babies who need to be carefully weaned to solids, it was never intended to be the sole or main support of adult nutrition.

A lack of interest in spiritual things – reading the Bible, prayer- often operates in tandem with lots of time for trivial pursuits and mindsets that are at cross purposes with what God desires to grow us into with Strong Nutrition.

Discipline for me is God’s way of bringing me back to my right mind.  We will all go through periods of trials and testing.  That’s just part of life.  However, a test is meant to be passed and the transforming power of God is able to transform the victim into the victor.

This summer has been rough with the passing of my beloved mother and the emotional trauma for our family.  It has been a strong primer from our Heavenly Father to learn about areas which needed attention and reassessment. However, I can also see that God has been disciplining me and my family through this process and I am a different person as a result.  For this I remain humbled and grateful.

Strong food, like strong discipline is not given to the immature.  If God chooses to discipline, it is a sign of His deep love.  He alone knows who you are and who you can become.  Just as a muscle requires exercise and training to strengthen to it’s fullest capacity, so too do Children of God require tuning and pruning to show up and shine right in an increasingly dark world.

The Art of Meditation…

12171_RAIN DROPSWhat do you know about meditation?  The response to my question was largely blank stares from the folks in the class this Sunday.  This was not really surprising as to most modern day Christians, the practice of meditation is a lost discipline or worse…one associated with traditions which are not aligned with the Christian faith.

But, the truth is that the Bible speaks about mediation; there are over 20 specific references.   One of the first references is about Isaac meditating just prior to his first encounter with his future wife Rebecca.  In the book of Joshua 1:8, God tells the Israelites to meditate on on His Word during the day and night so they will be careful to obey it.   David starts the book of Psalms and in verse 2 refers to the blessings of meditating on the law of God.  In fact, David speaks about mediation several times.

We all meditate.  Meditation is simply the process of contemplation and deep reflection.  The question is WHAT are we meditating on…what’s the focus of our meditation.  For many of us, the focus of our deep and on-going reflection is the stuff we worry about.  We fret about the issues of our lives…what we will eat, what we will wear, what will happen tomorrow.  Jesus had something to say about this type of meditation…Don’t do it!

Instead, the Bible instructs us to mediate on the Word of God and to reflect on His goodness.  There are many ways in which we can incorporate the practice of meditation into our daily devotional life.  Meditation as a discipline can supercharge your prayer life by helping you to still your mind so that you can focus more completely on God and attach yourself to His truth and the guidance of His Word.

For the modern day Christian, one of the most attractive benefits of mediation is the guidance that seems to bubble up within us when our minds are stilled from the ceaseless, abstract relentless stream of thought that consumes our lives.  Through meditation we learn the true meaning of ‘being still and knowing God’.  In the stillness there comes guidance for the issues which affect our lives.  In this sense, Christian meditation is a way for us to download divine instructions for the everyday challenges we face and to gain insights which are not readily discernible in the hectic pace of everyday life.

Wikepedia reference on Christian Meditation

Christian Meditation…is it really Christian?

Love Lessons @ The School of Hard Knocks…

“Love is Not Proud

Resumés are interesting.  I’m not a HR professional, but I’ve had the experience of sifting through resumes trying to find an appropriate hire.  Sometimes, it feels like cracking a mystery code.

Looking at the nicely typed sheet of paper (or more commonly these days, e-mail),  it’s a challenge to discern what really motivates an individual.  Why did they apply for the job?  What sort of contribution will they be able to make?  Are they telling the truth?

Sometimes, it’s what a resume doesn’t say which is most valuable.  For instance, if there are gaps in the job history or sketchy details, examining these items more closely can yield valuable insight.

One of the most famous resumes in the world is found in the ancient book of Philippians 3: 1-9.  It’s the resume of Paul the Apostle.  Here Paul describes some of his proudest life accomplishments…circumcised on the 8th day, a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee, as for zeal, persecuting the church.  Whoa…How does one start as a Hebrew of Hebrews and then end up actively pursuing innocent people to put them in prison or kill them in the name of God?

Our weekly study on 1 Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter focuses our attention on the nature of Pride & Arrogance.  Here’s a question.  Is Pride always ugly? Can we instantly recognize the hazard for what it is?  And when we become depraved, when does the slide down towards hellish elements of our human nature start?

Can this downward descent within our moral/spiritual sensibility occur even while we are completely unaware…thinking that things are actually doing pretty good,  patting ourselves on the back for our accomplishments, pedigree, education, talents etc; not recognizing how indebted we are to the grace of God and to the contributions of others.  Becoming numbly blind to the remarkable coincidences and opportunities that we have been given?  And, perhaps more importantly, now knowing how close we stand on the precipice of a certain type of destruction?

Paul ( who was previously known as Saul)  had to be knocked of his high horse (literally) and blinded for 3 days before he became fully aware of far his heart had strayed and how craven his base instincts had become.  (Acts 9:3-17)

At the end of this experience with a revelation of the risen Lord Jesus Christ, the Apostle now enlightened by the presence of the Holy Spirit has a very different view of his lofty resume…he counts all the “stuff” as dung.

But gaining that perspective was a process aided by humility; one of the greatest lessons learned in the School of Hard Knocks.  And as Paul describes it in Philippians, these lessons changed how he judged the process of accomplishment.

Instead of aiming for glory, Paul emerged wanting to understand what is was to suffer the process of refinement to such a degree that it resulted in a Resurrection.  A new life freed from the petty boundaries which hinder so much of what God truly desires for us to become.

Love…In Defense of Itself or not.

first-spring-blushI’ve been thinking about tomorrow’s lesson. It’s been a couple of weeks since our last meeting as a group.

This week’s lesson is supposed to be about jealousy. We’re starting to delve more deeply into what love is NOT…

It strikes me that there is a central theme inherent in how 1 Corinthians describes what love is not. And it can be summed up in 3 letters. Ego.

Love is not about…

 

deflating another’s accomplishments or traits to enhance my own = envy

wanting what belongs to another = jealousy

puffing myself up to feel better = boasting

thinking myself better than others = pride

looking out only for my own interests = selfishness

All these types of activities fan the flame which guards the throne of our ego. They are a natural aspect of human nature when it operates with it’s baser instincts. At anytime in which these instincts inform our actions, intentions and motives…we are walking somewhere outside the sphere of true love.

One might actually conclude from looking at the list above that the manner in which love defines the defense of self is NOT to defend the egoic self at all. In fact, true love seems to require us to do just the opposite.

But does that mean that love weakens into a mushy sentiment devoid of any timber or fiber? Absolutely not! Infact, love is a strong defense; but in a way which turns ego on it’s head. Do you know the mystery of love’s defense? Have you witnessed the transforming power in your own life?