Welcome

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!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Faith before works



The inner cell of the jail was dark, dank and smelled of mold and mildew. A very thin sliver of light fought to find its way into the inner chamber. A rat scurried and stopped standing on its hind legs long enough to smell two men who were chained to the concrete floor. It was midnight and the men, who had been beaten on their backs with canes, were carefully leaning against the damp cold rock walls singing hymns to God. 

While Paula and Silas ignored the searing pain that radiated over their entire bodies they both began praising, praying and singing praise to God. While their situation seemed hopeless to men, with God all things are possible and deliverance was actually very near, even knocking at their cell door.

 Suddenly, there was a great earthquake that shook the ground even to the foundations of the prison. As the violent shaking subsided all the doors became unhinged and opened on their own. Every chain that fettered a prisoner to the floor became loose. They were free indeed as the keeper of the prison, who awoke from sleep and realized what had happened. Thinking that the prisoners escaped, the jailer drew his sword and was preparing to dispatch himself. 

Paul knowing what the keeper was thinking called out to him in a loud voice “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here”. 

The keeper of the prison breathed a sigh of relief and called out for an oil lamp. The man ran into where Paul and Silas were now standing and fell down on his knees pleading with them “What must I do to be saved?”

Of course the law and the sentence at this Roman colony for allowing one prisoner to escape was clear to the jailer and God preparing his heart had led him into the inner prison to beg for mercy from these two missionaries sent by God. You can almost hear the pounding of the jailer’s heart and feel the adrenalin coursing through his veins as he humbly asks for instructions on how he can obtain salvation for his soul.

As he takes Paul and Silas back to his house and family he is already becoming renewed inside as the tough outer layer of his heart is being removed. As the entire family hears the good news that Paul and Silas are speaking they immediately believe and ask to be saved. 

The Philippian jailer then washed their wounds that they had received at the hands of the magistrates.  He also prepared food for them to eat and rejoiced having believed in God with his entire household.
What a great testimony it is to be praising God in the midst of a trial. To sing praises to our God when we are broken, beat up and strung out. Keeping our eyes on God is the secret along with being empowered by His Holy Spirit. Without God the plethora of pitfalls, disappointments and distractions cause us to become unbalanced and fearful allowing anxiety and panic to fill our minds. 

The answer to overcoming anxiety is found in Paul’s letter to the church he established in Philippi through Lydia and this jailer.  Philippians 4:6 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” 

Oh what a joy it is to be firmly planted, unmovable, in the hands of a loving God. Our God is not angry with us; He doesn’t want to punish us and has stated this fact in the gospel of John 3:15-18. Many of you have one of these  verses recorded on your hearts; these are wonderful verses that have been written on sacred parchment in Israel as well as spray painted on bridge abutments in Southern California.

For now there is no condemnation for those of us who have believed in Christ Jesus. Just believe in your own heart that God has indeed raised Him from death and then confess with your own mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord and you will be saved. He is a God who really cares, not a wrathful tyrant wanting to injure and maim His creation in the name of terror. It is our enemy who is filled with that kind of hate!

“Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”






Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Remembering



 In the afternoon twilight the quaking aspens moved and shimmered with each gust of the wind. It was as if I was watching an ocean wave build then crash into a reef where it boiled and churned in several cyclonic eddies. I couldn’t actually see the wind and therefore never knew from what direction it came from or where it was going but still I had the evidence that it was a real phenomenon as it tossed and turned the shimmering aspen leaves. Near my feet the waters of the Blue River made their way around the white bark of the aspen trunks as several orange colored brook trout treaded water, patiently waiting for something to eat. 

The waters around the pacific atoll were pristine, crystal clear as glass and took on several shades of turquoise as the trade winds gently gusted and the sun warmed the sand beneath my feet. Several schools of brightly colored red and white clown fish darted in and out of the coral as the ocean’s surge rocked a baby octopus to sleep. Several turtles nibbled at clumps of eel grass that swayed and danced in the waves; pulling and pushing them around like beautifully arrayed Polynesian hula dancers performing at a sunset luau.

The swallows glided past my window in perfect swooping arcs as they gracefully reached out their talons to grasp the rims of their mud layered nests. Baby swallows also reached out to receive their morning breakfast of regurgitated flies and gnats. There was no wind this morning as amber streaks of sun light illuminated weeping leaves on several eucalyptus trees that sat as motionless as a cat waiting for its prey to surface from an underground burrow. The warm radiance of the sun brushed my face as it bathed and tumbled over me in waves.

“Push, Push, Push! The baby is almost here!” cried the nurse as she coached the new mother who was delirious from pain. Perspiration dripped down her forehead and across her face which wrinkled with each push as her hands firmly clenched the rails of the bed. The epidural was in place but barely cutting the pain as the baby’s head finally popped out then within seconds and with one last push the nurse was holding a very pink newborn baby. The delivery room’s door swung open as the patient’s doctor burst into the room reaffirming the fact that it was indeed a girl and that the traffic was very heavy this morning. 

The service was packed to overflowing and some people found themselves watching from the overflow room down the hall and around the corner. The Salvation Army’s chapel was completely full with people who came to pay their last respects to the pastor’s wife. Many people approached the microphone to share how this woman had made a difference in their lives.

“How is it possible that one life could touch and influence so many people?” As a service dog plopped his haunches down on my new black leather shoes “I wonder if I have made any difference in the world and if anyone would show up for my memorial?” I thought to myself.

King Solomon also once reflected on his life “What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away, and another generation comes; But the earth abides forever. The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it arose. The wind goes toward the south, and turns to the north; the wind whirls about continually and comes again on its circuit. All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; to the place from which the rivers come, there they return again.” 

In the end Solomon looks at all the labor of his life as vanity and grasping for the wind. But for the woman being memorialized there was living evidence that she had poured out God’s love through her own life and actions which touched so many people around her. So it’s at the end, when we cross the finish line, that God will judge us.  Many works will be burned up in a purifying fire but all selfless acts performed and relationships we have built will pass through to the other side.

“Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.”  

  








Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Death's sting


 I’m sitting here looking out my kitchen nook window as the sun rises, a few clouds slowly roll by as a flock of swallows dive and dart in the beautiful light that gracefully radiates through a partially cloudy sun rise. It’s pleasing to me that each new morning brings more of God’s eternal grace and mercy. I’m aware of my breathing as my chest inflates and exhales and think how many things there are to be thankful for.

“I’m still in my fifties” I think to myself and take another sip from my favorite mug that holds the rich, dark Sumatran coffee that was dispensed from a one cup coffee machine. I glance at a picture of myself with a couple of my kids taken twenty years ago and realize that I am helpless to stop the years from their fleeting escape. 

Several distant mountain ranges are hidden in the fog that blankets them in varies thicknesses and  hint at and reveal their distance from me. I recall that only the day before I was hiking up and around the peak of the furthest range. But today they seem so far away, hidden in the mist, untouchable and forbidden. 

Just like the mist that hides the mountains from my physical eyes there is also an invisible veil that separates us from eternity.  Sometimes the veil thins a bit allowing us to glimpse into it but never fully lifts allowing us full access for a short visit. It’s a like a narrow European one-way street, only wide enough for a one horse drawn cart, that forces us to go in only one direction with no chance to turn around in traffic.

Growing old and aging is not what we were told it would be. The golden years are more like flakes of fool’s gold that float away from us in the fast moving stream of life. So this morning it’s time’s sharp arrow that I am feeling as the dark, rich Sumatran coffee begins to resurrect me last night’s slumber

.
So don’t marvel that Jesus once told a Jewish religious leader that he must be born again! The Lord explained to him that what is born of water is physical and that flesh and blood cannot pass through the veil that leads into the eternal spiritual realm.

The apostle Paul, after being pelted with stones and left for dead, was taken up in the spirit into the third heaven. There he witnessed such things so beautiful that he could not put them into words. He said it wouldn’t be lawful even to utter the words. Whatever Paul saw through the veil was enough to empower him to live a life full of travel, adventure and risk for the sake of spreading the gospel.
So what’s the good news?

The good news is that there no longer a sting to death, that annihilation no longer has to be a fear for the pilgrim who is traveling through this physical world. But what’s the catch?

In his letter to the church in Corinth Paul writes “But someone will say, how are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come from? Foolish one, what you sow is not what is made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain-perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.”

Have you ever stopped to consider the miracle that happens each time a seed springs to life? First a lifeless kernel is placed in the soil then with the right amount of water, warmth and sunlight life begins to sprout up from what was once a dried, lifeless seed. Science can observe and explain the process a seed goes through but are at a loss for words when it comes to the life giving spark that comes from the Creator of our universe.

Paul goes on to in his letter to the Corinthian church to apply this truth to our human existence. “So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”

In closing the words of Jesus “Let not your hearts be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself.”