If you have stumbled here by accident let me first insist that there really are no accidents in life. If however, you came on your own free will then please by all means open your hearts and your minds to the "New Wine" that God has prepared for you!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Beauty for ashes

My life, these days, I live by faith. However, it has not always been that way. I started out in life working as a carpenter building many of the homes, condos and apartments that many of you are now living in. I loved working with my hands building beautiful porticos, patios or an elegant gazebo out of a nothing but a pile of raw materials.  The satisfaction that came out of cutting and assembling something out of nothing was very rewarding. To stand back and admire a structure that grew from just having an idea and a measure of faith was quite an accomplishment.

Now, I’m a pastor and live each day by my faith in God. I love the people God sends to me and get satisfaction in watching what God is building. He moves mysteriously, never doing the same thing in the exact same way. He is a master choreographer who carefully and patiently explains each step to us before we take them. 

Tom and Carol had been together for twenty-five years and recently decided to get married about two and a half years ago. Last week, on Halloween, Carol began coughing and the coughing became so violent that Tom drove her into the emergency room. While Carol was being admitted to the hospital she had a massive stroke and died. What started out as a routine trip to the emergency room ended in heartbreak and loneliness leaving Tom with many unanswered questions.

While at a pastor’s conference last week I received a phone call from Tom asking if I could help with Carol’s “Celebration of Life” on the following Saturday. I said yes, and asked if I could pray for him. I had grown up with Tom but did not know his wife all that well. On Thursday, I called Tom to see if we could meet somewhere and discuss things. So, we met the following day and after a nice time of reminiscing I gathered a few notes and we parted company.

I love to write when God gives me ideas and they flow from my mind as fast as water running over Niagara Falls. But sometimes ideas are as scarce as rain on Southern Californian mountain sides. It’s also nice to have plenty of time in order to put these words together in a way that will comfort friends and family who are gathered to remember and grieve. 

While I was able to pull the main body of the service together, I still did not have the opening greeting or the closing. I went to sleep Friday night not knowing how all this was going to congeal but I had faith in God that He would give me the words to say.

As I pulled up the road there were cars lined on both sides of the curb. As I got closer to the house I still was waiting for God to give me words of comfort. With less than five minutes left, God literally gave me a section of scripture in the book of Isaiah chapter 61:1-3, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, To console those who mourn in Zion, To give beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness”. 

Jesus, while visiting his home town, stood up in the synagogue on the Sabbath, and read the verses recorded in Luke 4:16-21. He stopped abruptly after quoting the verse having to do with His first coming “To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,” Jesus stopped at “And the day of vengeance of our God.” where He closed up the scrolls.

Jesus knew He was coming to the earth twice. The first time He was born to die for the sins of the world by laying down His life as a lamb led to the slaughter. The next time Jesus comes to the earth He will bring a sword of vengeance.

No matter where you are in life, no matter how lonely you are or how dark your future seems there is still hope. Jesus has come to comfort all who mourn, to give them beauty for ashes and the oil of joy for mourning. He can break those chains that bind you and open doors that have you imprisoned. He is the giver of life and invites you to partake in the Living Water. He has come to heal the broken hearted!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Time for everything

The store is crowded today. I’m running behind in my schedule so I rush through the sliding doors to get ahead of several other people who were walking in front of me. While looking down at my shopping list I turn a corner sharply and bump into an elderly lady who was surveying the shelves for pickled okra. As we collide, her glasses fall to the ground.

Embarrassed, I quickly say “I’m sorry” and pick up her frames off the floor. She has a frown on her face and doesn’t seem to notice that one of her lenses is missing but I don’t have time to wait for a scolding so I hurry on my way.  

Shortly, I’m ready to leave but all lines are backed up. I rush to the only open self-serve kiosk pushing myself in front of a clean cut, young man wearing mechanics overalls. He looks a bit miffed and irritated but I’m too late to be sympathetic or courteous so I punch the English button and scan my items. As I key in my pin number, several customers begin inching their way forward practically breathing down my neck like a pack of wolves.

But I’m losing time and need to get to work, so I shoot out the door leaving my cart in front of them at the kiosk. As I rush out, I whisk past several girl scouts selling cookies at a table. On the fly they smile and ask me if I could support their troop, but I’m in a hurry so I pat my pockets and say I’m out of cash, feeling my money clip that is full of cash. One of their dad’s is dressed in his patrolman’s uniform and gives me a sullen look as I dart past. I turn around just in time to see an SUV slamming on the brakes. Then looking down at my wristwatch and back at the driver I shake my fist at them and trip over the island curb.

Shaken, I survey the parking lot and notice the elderly lady with the missing lens pushing her shopping cart into the cart corral. She misses the opening by half a cart, opens the door of her 63’ Bel Air coup and sinks down to the exact height of the dash board. Meanwhile her cart begins to slowly roll away. As the cart picks up momentum, I realize it is pointed directly at my car. I know in my mind that if I could fly I still would never make it in time.

While looking at the new dent in my door, I watch the Chevy Bel Air getting away. I begin pursuit and speed through a school zone going slightly over 45 miles an hour. Several parents honk their horns at me to slow down but I’m losing sight of the perpetrator and push the accelerator to the floor. Something catches my eye in my rear view mirror and I watch in horror as the flashing red lights of the patrol car invite me to pull over.
“Where’s the fire?” asks the patrolman with a smile as he begins writing in his little yellow ticket book. I tell him about the okra lady, the runaway shopping cart and the new dent in my door. He removes his sunglasses and glares at me “Do you know how fast you were going? No?, well I do, because I’ve been following you since you pulled out from the grocery store.”

Thirty minutes later, after the patrolman finished an impromptu vehicle safety inspection, I pull back out into traffic, down the street, around a corner and into my office parking space. I briskly ran up several flights of stairs to the main hallway. After several steps, I arrive at my office where a clean cut, young man dressed in mechanics overalls is standing in the doorway.

“Sorry mister, the men’s bathroom overflowed into your office. We are evacuating the sludge now and then will be taking out the carpet, so you won’t be able to enter for at least a couple of hours,” said the familiar face of the young man that I think I had seen earlier that day.

I didn’t even bother to ask if he would do me a favor and let me in. Sitting down in the hallway, I opened my briefcase, took out my work for that day and began working on the chapter I would be teaching on Sunday. “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

More like Jesus!

 As I’m driving home last Sunday, after teaching at Oakzanita Springs Campground, I turned on my radio to hear Keith Green singing these haunting heartfelt words “As each day passes by, I feel my love run dry, I get so weary worn and tossed round in the storm. Well I’m blind to other’s needs and I’m tired of planting seeds, I seem to have a wealth of so many thoughts about myself. I want to, I need to, be more like Jesus. I want to, I need to, be more like Him.” The words hit me hard, piercing into my heart like one of the spikes into Jesus’ hand. 

 “I want to be more like Jesus!” I said as I continued to listen to the late songwriter as he encouraged us to deny ourselves, pick up our crosses, and serve others the way Jesus did.
 So, as these words softened my heart and the rain poured down in a solid sheet of water, I prayed inside my head “Heavenly Father, I know I have not lived up to Your holy expectations. My vessel has never really been completely emptied for only Your use. Lord, I ask that You would forgive me of my sin and cleanse my heart from within. Father God, You are so precious, much more precious than diamonds, gold or any other created thing. You alone are worthy to be praised and receive my worship. Please help me to surrender to Your will becoming more like Jesus; in His name I pray.” I realized right then that I wanted to be more like Jesus!

In Psalm 127: 1,2  it says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat, for He grants sleep to those He loves.”  
The wisdom of the wise is foolishness to God. We plan, we write books and scheme how to draw men to God but we do this in vain. God is still on the throne and His Son Jesus Christ will one day rule on the throne of His father David over an everlasting kingdom. Today, God is building that kingdom, as well as His church, one living stone at a time with perfect craftsmanship. 

If you say you are a Christian, then how do you fit into God’s kingdom? You are either helping to build, tearing it down or sitting on the fence content with watching others. The first step in any building project is to read the plans. Becoming acquainted with the job site, materials and proposed building will go a long way to see the project to completion. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God so a good start is to read your bible. 

Trusting in the designer is paramount. He is the one who has pre-fit everything together, calculated loads and made allowances for all additional work. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. All who follow His precepts have good understanding.” Following good directions will always lead you to your desired destination. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.”

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8. God is the designer and He is building according to His plan and timetable. We just need to surrender our will to Him, making sure to follow Him, as sheep following the shepherd’s voice, and He will make our path straight, our destination sure.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10. Divine appointments are opportunities that cross our path during the day or night. They were created ahead of time by God that we should participate in them. However, we have many distractions, projects and responsibilities that distract us, drawing us away from being used by God.
We might not be able to financially help everyone that crosses our path. However, we can plant seeds of encouragement, offer prayers for help and healing, feed or give someone water.

Jesus said “Come, you who are blessed by My Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”  Be more like Jesus!