Boxing Week — That’s a Wrap!

In North American, Boxing Week inspires shopping sprees as people seek post-Christmas discounts. For others, it’s a time to give to the poor. For many, it represents time to wrap up gifts that don’t quite fit or don’t serve them well to exchange for something more appropriate.

This may be an opportune time to perform a deeper, internal clean. Before we leap into a new year with hopeful resolutions and lofty goals, let’s take a look at the year that was.

Maintaining Christ as the focus, let’s bravely and boldly assess these past few months.

What Worked

First, let’s consider what worked well. I know from previous farming experience that often crops do better when they have undergone stress. Was there unexpected pressure this past season that served to refine or teach you? What efforts and investments of time and devotion proved successful? Let’s take a few moments to thank God for our successes and celebrate each one.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
James 1:17

Yes, celebrate the successes despite difficulties. Rejoice in the harvest of God’s grace and goodness which you have received, recognizing that everything good ultimately comes from God. He gives us the wisdom and ability to accomplish everything we do.

“For the Lord gives wisdom;
    from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

Proverbs 2:6

What Didn’t Work

As an artist of sorts, I prefer the medium of watercolor. The paint soaks deep into the fibres of the paper. Often, errors are irreversible. Oil and acrylic paints are far more easily repaired. Mistakes can be hidden under new colorful and glossy layers.

Life resembles painting. Sometimes the things that didn’t bring the outcome we expected can be easily remedied. Others are not as forgiving.

“It is better to fail in a cause that will ultimately succeed than to succeed in a cause that will ultimately fail.”
– Peter Marshall

Failure is only final when we stop trying. Honestly, I invested a considerable amount into some areas that have reaped little or no benefit. I can relate to the old prophet’s assessment.

“You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away . . .”
Haggai 1:9

This boxing week, let’s carefully consider these areas. What can we learn? What can we redeem from our effort? Are there some aspects we need to “box up,” refusing to expend further resources or energy? Let’s not let any past failure linger, marring the blank canvas of the approaching new year.

What Can be Improved

Most of our efforts land in the “long haul” category. Tangible results won’t be achieved in the short term. Perseverance (not my favorite word) and continuous effort will pay off if we don’t quit. Try again, test the results, and tweak where necessary!

Farmers don’t plant seed one day and then continually turn the soil checking for growth. They know the viability lies anchored within the seed.

Jesus told a simple parable in one of my favorite passages of Scripture.

“Then Jesus said, “God’s kingdom is like seed thrown on a field by a man who then goes to bed and forgets about it. The seed sprouts and grows—he has no idea how it happens. The earth does it all without his help: first a green stem of grass, then a bud, then the ripened grain. When the grain is fully formed, he reaps—harvest time!”
Mark 4:26-29

Jesus makes it clear that success didn’t result from the man’s careful planting, faithful watering, and application of the right amount of weeding and fertilizer. He threw the seed out there and went to bed. Huh! I could take a lesson from this one on how to stress less and trust more!

This boxing week let’s examine which seeds of effort we need to leave to germinate a little longer, confident God will bring the growth in some future time. Which seeds should I water with a little more effort or investment? How can I improve or improvise to produce the greatest potential?

“Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.”
Francis Chan

What Has to Go

Some things will never serve a truly useful purpose. Allowing shame to cloud our perspective, blaming others for things we need to be responsible for, unforgiveness toward those who have wronged us, and casting shadows of judgment all lead us to bitterness rather than to betterment.

Let’s be honest! We all face things the enemy desires to use to disrupt our progress and stall us into ineffectiveness. This past year held painful disappointments, misunderstandings, and points of rejection. But God made a way for us to overcome.

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect . . .”
1 Corinthians 15:10

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
2 Corinthians 7:10

Be confident that God’s grace works powerfully in and through us. He works at changing and transforming us into all He intends for us. Let’s honor God’s process in our lives and in the lives of others. As we repent for whatever part we play in negative circumstances, no residue of shame or regret remains.

Obey the Call

Perhaps the most important aspect of looking back over the past year, considers the question, “Am I obeying God’s call?” God calls each one of us for His purpose and His glory.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Ephesians 2:10

Time remains our most precious commodity. Are we living it to full potential? Whatever the “good works” includes — as a husband or wife, father or mother, servant or leader — let’s do it well! Let’s continue to obey the call. Whether we feel like we are succeeding or utterly failing, stay the course! God will remain faithful.

“When God calls you to something, He is not always calling you to succeed, He’s calling you to obey! The success of the calling is up to Him; the obedience is up to you.”
David Wilkerson

Obedience remains far more important to God than any measure of worldly success. Let’s not fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others but stay true to the call of God over our lives. To love God with every part of our being and love others sincerely and deeply stands as the greatest and perhaps most difficult call — although, one worthy of all our effort.

Boxing Week

This boxing week, let’s “box up” every ill-fitting, purposeless thing to prepare for what awaits. Let’s not allow our perceived successes or failures to hinder us from stepping into what God has ahead.

Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.”

Isaiah 43:18-19

Past successes may lead to inflated egos and pride. Failures easily lead to feelings of defeat. God instructs us for “forget the former things.” The word for “forget” doesn’t mean to not remember, but rather to no longer respond or react to them. After examining this past year, let’s box them both up and move forward.

“See, I am doing a new thing!” God promises.

Lord, grant us eyes to see and a heart to perceive the new thing awaiting us. Give us the strength and courage to walk into this new year with a confident assurance that You are with us. You know every twist and turn ahead, and You are making a way for us. There will be moments of refreshing awaiting, even in the “wasteland” — in those places we thought were hopeless. We box up what was. We put our hands in Your hands and our rest our feet upon Your feet as we move into what is ahead. Thank You, Lord, for Your faithfulness as You teach us to love more and well.

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The Beautiful and Bountiful Discipline of God

Although painful, the discipline of God brings comfort and reassurance. Often His discipline comes through hardship or suffering. Biblical discipline includes the concepts of training, teaching, instruction, and correction. In the strongest form, it comes with chastening and warning.

Let’s make one thing clear, no one likes discipline in the moment. We all find it difficult, but we need God’s discipline to become all He created us to be.

A key life verse for me comes from Isaiah.

“Indeed, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested and chosen you in the furnace of affliction.”
Isaiah 48:10

The refining of silver occurs at a relatively low temperature. However, God says that our refining requires more extreme measures. He purifies us through the blazing “furnace of affliction”. Silver never resists the process. We, on the other hand, often do! As we recognize the beauty of discipline, we find peace in the process. We may even begin to anticipate the bountiful results of discipline.

God’s Love

True discipline flows from the depth of loving relationship. The discipline of God demonstrates the Father’s deep love for His own.

My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”
Proverbs 3:11-12

Because God loves perfectly, He brings correction into our lives perfectly — with perfect timing and in perfect ways. Many people perceive God as harsh, judgmental, and uncaring. Nothing could be further from the truth! “My son,” He whispers, “I delight in you! I want you to be all you can be!”

” . . . My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
Hebrews 12:5-6

The discipline of God proves our value and position as His sons or daughters. How wonderfully reassuring!

God’s Word

As a parent, I wanted my children to listen to my instruction and obey. Discipline only became necessary when my words were ignored. God responds in a similar fashion. He desires for us to hear and heed His Word, willingly responding to His direction.

“For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life.”
Proverbs 6:23

Those who never experience corrective influence become a hazard to themselves and those around them. We thrive within healthy boundaries, productive routines, and predictable parameters. God’s Word, the Bible, offers all these things to us and more.

Through His commandments and instruction, we discovery to path to a fulfilling life. When we stray from His sure ways, He graciously draws us back. He loves us too much to leave us to our own destruction.

“To learn the truth you must long to be teachable, or you can despise correction and remain ignorant.”
Proverbs 12:1 TPT

The psalmist wrote under divine inspiration,

Blessed is the one you discipline, LORD, the one you teach from your law.”
Psalms 94:12

God’s Purpose

I find a repetitive pattern both in God’s Word and in my own life. During affluent times, it becomes easy to take our eyes off God, to become complacent about our relationship with Him, or even drift away. The greatest spiritual dangers come with wealth, power, and privilege, giving room for pride and presumption.

God uses hardships to refine us, setting us back on course.

“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.”
Revelation 3:19

In other words, we must take the discipline of God seriously, learn from the struggles we go through, and quickly align ourselves with His heart and His ways.

What if we welcomed difficult seasons as God’s purest blessing toward us and validation of His love? What if we approached hardships with tender responsive hearts, desiring to learn, grow, and mature?

“Now all discipline seems to be painful at the time, yet later it will produce a transformation of character, bringing a harvest of righteousness and peace to those who yield to it.”
Hebrews 12:11

As we yield to God’s instruction, correction, and training, He transforms us to bring righteousness and peace.

Discipline of God

Only God can transform trials into triumphs. Only God then uses them to refine us.

“And now, isn’t it wonderful all the ways in which this distress has goaded you closer to God? You’re more alive, more concerned, more sensitive, more reverent, more human, more passionate, more responsible. Looked at from any angle, you’ve come out of this with purity of heart. And that is what I was hoping for in the first place . . . ”
2 Corinthians 7:11 MSG

Oh, that we would come through discipline, “more alive, more concerned, more sensitive, more reverent, more human, more passionate, and more responsible.” With God, we can!

May we determine to not waste a moment of God’s instruction, correction, and discipline. Let’s become better, stronger, and more fruitful.

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Releasing Christian Creative Artisans

Twenty years ago, a cluster of women prayed together, calling forth and releasing Christian creative artisans to their God-given destiny. Multiple other clusters were doing the same. Since that time, an explosion of Christian artists in multiple streams have risen to fame. They are surging to the forefront, using their gifts and talents to bring glory to God.

Though it might appear new, the Bible, which was written centuries ago, applauds the value of artisans. We find the most famous accounts during the building of the Tabernacle in the wilderness and Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem.

Creation

God set the ultimate example of creativity when He spoke all creation into existence. In six days, God created the most magnificent of diversity — from the expansive heavens to the most intricate of organisms. Each functioning in perfect harmony and design with all others.

“Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.”
Genesis 2:1

It took Leonardo da Vinci sixteen years to paint the Mona Lisa. The construction of the Notre Dame Cathedral spanned two hundred years, beginning in the 12th century.

Creative artisans the world over understand the painstaking labor of transferring internal imagery to tangible results. Yet, our Creator God released each element with ease in spectacular fashion.

How daunting, as creative artisans, to reflect our Creator through architecture, sculpture, music, poetry, paint, and more.

Oh, how I wish I could have witnessed His awesome splendor expressed in every detail of creation — to watch as heaven and earth exploded with brilliant light and vibrant color and as life streamed out the darkness.

The Tabernacle

On Mount Sinai, God instructed Moses to release creative artisans: perfumers, weavers, tentmakers, metal and wood workers, jewellers, and more — each skilled to work in intricate designs.

“All who are skilled among you are to come and make everything the LORD has commanded:”
Exodus 35:10

Bible versions express this passage in different ways calling these workers “gifted craftsmen,” “skilled and talented,” “gifted artisans,” and even “wise hearted.” Moses called out artisans from within the vast community of several million people — young and old, male and female — releasing creative artisans into active service.

Even today, the complexity of the design would be difficult for craftsmen and artists to replicate even with modern technology. These sandalled artists came with meager tools. Yet, their creative genius pulsed within them to create a worthy dwelling for the LORD Most High.

Two men led the troop of creative artisans, Bezalel and Oholiab.

“So Bezalel, Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the LORD has given skill and ability to know how to carry out all the work of constructing the sanctuary are to do the work just as the LORD has commanded.”
Exodus 36:1

Every artist possesses the God-given “skill and ability to know how to carry out all” the creative processes. Yes, artists train and hone skills. They collaborate and construct. However, God imparts the “know how” to get it done.

The Temple

David desired to build a temple for God — a place where God would permanently dwell. He possessed the right heart. However, his son, Solomon, would be the one to carry out the plans. David designed the details and gathered the material, making massive preparations. He commanded Solomon,

“You have many workers: stonecutters, masons and carpenters, as well as those skilled in every kind of work in gold and silver, bronze and iron — craftsmen beyond number. Now begin the work, and the LORD be with you.”
1 Chronicles 22:15-16

Early in the process, Solomon sent a letter to the king of Tyre requesting cedar logs for the temple. The king responded generously!

“I am sending you Huram-Abi a man of great skill . . . He is trained to work in gold and silver, bronze and iron, stone and wood, and with purple and blue and crimson yarn and fine linen. He is experienced in all kinds of engraving and can execute any design given to him. He will work with your skilled workers . . .”
2 Chronicles 2:13-14

A foreign king sent his very best craftsman to oversee the work of the temple — a man “of great skill” or “endowed with understanding” who could “execute any design given to him.” Amazing! Huram-Abi, an otherwise unknown man, came prepared, trained, experienced, and ready to be released as one of God’s creative artisans.

Musicians

The magnitude of the task was incredible. Tens of thousands of workers achieved the goal in seven years, building and preparing the temple for God’s habitation.

Finally, when all was ready, the musicians stepped forward, “dressed in fine linen and playing cymbals, harps and lyres . . . accompanied by 120 priests sounding trumpets” (2 Chronicles 5:12) Can you imagine? I can’t! But there was more!

“Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the LORD and sang: ‘He is good; His love endures forever.’ Then the temple of the LORD was filled with the cloud . . . for the glory of the LORD filled the temple.”
2 Chronicles 5:13

God refused to listen from far away. He joined the celebration, filling the temple with His Presence!

High Value

The solitary work of creative artisans gives the impression that their impact may be insignificant. I cannot image a world without music and the amazing diversity of creative expression.

Throughout the ages, victorious armies often confiscated works of art, stripping defeated nations of literature, paintings, sculptures, and artistry embedded in precious metals. Palaces, museums, and even private homes were ransacked of valuables.

The Bible tells how Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, went even further.

“The king of Babylon also deported to Babylon the entire force of seven thousand fighting men, strong and fit for war, and a thousand skilled workers and artisans.”
2 Kings 24:16

Nebuchadnezzar considered the skilled workers and creative artisans to be too valuable to leave behind. He wanted them working for him. He knew the incredible value and influence these creatives possessed.

Release of Creative Artisans

Babylon means “gate of god” (notice the small “g”). It represents a system opposed to the true God. The enticements of counterfeit systems hold many skilled workers and creative artisans captive. But we have passed the threshold of release of Christian artists in every creative domain. Their talents are exploding on to the scene, having a dynamic impact as they use their gifts and talents to bring glory to God.

Those bound too long under domes of silence are being released and finding their voice. They are being promoted to stages and platforms. Their God-honoring expressions are being amplified across the globe.

Creative artisans arise! Sing the new songs of the Lord to this generation. Write like you have never written before. Sculpt and design! Be released! This is your hour to shine, reflecting the creative genius of God. Pray together. Work together. Build together. Train together.

God calls your name, bringing you to the forefront. He equips and prepares you. Though you may have been a captive of “Babylon,” you are free! God has set you free from your captivity.

When Ezra returned from Babylon to rebuild the destroyed temple, he brought back the creative artisans. When Nehemiah returned to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem, he, too, brought along skilled workers. The captivity in Babylon was a season.

The season of captivity has ended!

Arise artisans! Take your place for God’s glory, stepping into your true purpose.

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Making Adjustments to Stay on Course

The constant changes and transitions of life require the adjustment and tweaking of priorities and schedules to stay on course. During the last two weeks, I’ve been reminded in various ways about the importance of maintaining godly priorities. Misalignment, especially in the area of work, has been causing me to veer off course.

My daughter-in-law mentioned that during a flight the plane’s internal systems continually make adjustments to keep the plane on course. Wreckages throughout history give us ample evidence of the dangers of veering even slightly off track.

Samson blindly believed he was on course to walk out his destiny.

“Then she called, ‘Samson, the Philistines are upon your!’ He awoke from his sleep and thought, ‘I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the LORD had left him.”
Judges 16:20

Too late, he realized his error. His spiritual blindness led to physical blindness when his enemies gouged out his eyes and turned him into a human mule to grind their grain.

Following our own life track might appear to work for a while. But when we take God’s Word and His call on our lives casually, be aware. We are heading for a crash.

Mount Erebus Tragedy

Though the crash of TE901 occurred almost fifty years ago, it remains New Zealand’s worst peacetime disaster. The air cruise over the Antarctic turned fatal because the navigation system was off by two degrees. Yes! Two degrees! In the scheme of life, we may easily dismiss two degrees as inconsequential. But if we don’t remain “on target,” we, too, may be heading for disaster.

Each person on board trusted the pilot to take them on the scenic flight to McMurdo Sound and back. The pilot trusted the navigation system to guide him as he made two familiar loops, descending through the clouds to about 2,000 feet to give his passengers a better view. He saw the ice and snow through the cockpit window; only seconds before impact did he realize it was the side of Mount Erebus.

No one was more blinded by pure zeal for God than Saul of Tarsus. Trained as a Pharisee of Pharisees, he expended immeasurable time and energy to eradicate the radical Christian sect that contradicted his understanding of God’s laws and ways. He headed straight for a crash.

“About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked . . . My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.”
Acts 22:6-11

Zeal counts for nothing when you are off course!

Blinding Light

Even moments before impact, tourists walked around, drank their chosen beverages, and took pictures inside the cabin and outside the window. Until . . .

Air NZ flight TE901 before it crashed into Mt Erebus. Warning: content may be upsetting.

Every one of us walks around doing life as usual. None of us know the moment of impact — that millisecond between this life and the next. It is a sobering reality waiting us all.

Thanks to previous prompting by the Holy Spirit, encouragement from my pastor, and an extra nudge from my daughter-in-law, I’ve been making adjustments to stay on course to reach the destination God desires for me. Honestly, I’ve been further off than a few degrees.

Usually, it’s the demanding pressures of work which lure me off track. For others, it might be positions of power or the praise of people. Even one of Jesus’ disciples became confused.

“Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.'”
Matthew 16:23

Jesus warns Peter and us, that whenever human concerns outweigh our concern for God, we have switched allegiance, joining enemy ranks. There is no such thing as neutral ground.

Jesus went on to explain that discipleship costs. Maintaining healthy boundaries around godly priorities will always cost.

Stay on Course

Forfeiting God’s best for a pat on the back or a few more dollars in the bank amounts to nothing in the end.

With Samson, Saul, and Peter, God gracious confronted them, redirecting their course. Their lives impacted multitudes of people. What we do today influences and affects generations as well. May we choose wisely.

The carnage from TE901 that still liters the side of Mount Erebus campares little to the painful aftermath of the crash. After many years and multiple investigations, the blame first placed upon the pilot shifted to the airlines. God won’t need further explanation or investigation. He already knows both the obvious and hidden reasons for our losing sight of what is most important. Excuses and self-justification will disintegrate and fall like ashes before Him.

To stay on course means to continue until something is finished or until we achieve something we planned to do. It means to not vary from a predetermined plan. God has a predetermined plan for every life, in which, as Brother Andrew said,

“The joy gets bigger and life gets better.”

We all plan to finish our life’s journey well. We all plan to please our Heavenly Father and hear Him say,

“. . . ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!'”
Matthew 25:23

Take Action

The deceptive blindness of this world too often pulls us from eternal perspectives. The counsel of others will forewarn us when we are shifting off track, whether by two degrees or more. Here are other steps to help us stay on course:

  • Listen to Holy Spirit.
    • Push the “Pause” button on busyness and rest.
    • Ask God to show us when and how we are getting off track.
    • Ask ourselves if we have set a godly destination?
  • Listen to wise counsel.
    • What are those who love us saying? (e.g. spouses, family, pastors, counselors)
  • Soul search.
    • What unmet need am I trying to satisfy through things other than God?
    • Why is it easier for me to trust in my own ability and efforts rather than in God?
    • Why am I willing to sacrifice the most important things for temporary satisfaction?

Ouch! Though difficult, the answers may save our lives and the lives of those around us before we crash against the mountain of our own doing.

When not corrected, small things always become big things.

God may not provide a blinding light to stop us in our deviant tracks. Failure to realign ourselves may cost us our physical and emotionally health, our closest relationships, and, more importantly, ministry effectiveness.

A minor course adjustment and a little rise in altitude would have been enough to save everyone aboard TE901. In the same way, a few simple personal course adjustments and a small rise in our spiritual altitude may be the preventative measures we need to avoid disastrous consequences.

Let’s heed the warnings and move toward a life where “the joy gets bigger and life gets better.” Blessings, my friends.

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Want More?

You might appreciate this message about setting priorities.

Godly Priorities | Pastor Rob Reimer | September 25, 2022

Look! The Good Side and the Ugly Side

An embroiderer weaves the thread looking at the good side everyone will see, but flipping the beautiful project over reveals an ugly side. On the good side, symmetry and order create an attractive design. On the opposite side, the ugly side, threads criss-cross in weird angles and knots hang limp.

Illustrations of the good-side-ugly-side of things are revealed in innumerable ways around us.

Instinctively, we all try to hide our ugly side, even pretending only the good side exists. Jesus consistently flipped over pretty facades to reveal hidden uglies underneath. He wasn’t, and isn’t, sadistic, taking pleasure in tormenting or humiliated people.

Jesus purposefully flipped and turned, looking for those responsive to His teaching and drawing the humble to maturity and order.

The true masters of needlework produce artful pieces, beautiful on both sides. Although I tried, I never reached that level of excellence.

Good or Ugly?

At times, we may be quick to form opinions and cast judgments. The good side might not be as good as we first think. The ugly side might not be as bad as we think, either.

John the Baptist called people to repent in preparation for Jesus’ coming. Tax collectors and sinners, the ugly side of society, responded to his ministry. The religious elite held fast to a different view.

“(All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)”
Luke 7:29-30

Those who fought to maintain a strict apprearance of looking good ended up nullifying everything — even God’s divine purpose for their lives. Strutting in distinguishing robes and high hats to fit their high heads, they failed to realize the cost of their unyielding pride.

When the good-side people rejected John’s call to acknowledge their bad side and turn their lives around, they forfeited all God had waiting for them.

This Generation

Jesus spoke directly to His generation. They dismissed the invitation to turn — to humbly admit their ugly side, so He could bring out the good side. No one could twist His meaning for some future time, although similarities would exist for every generation.

“Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like?”
Luke 7:31

Jesus broadens His focus beyond a limited group of religious leaders to “this generation.” All of us!

What He reveals isn’t pretty! The more we attempt to hide our ugly side, the uglier it becomes. The longer we wait, the greater the mess we create in and around ourselves.

The Ugly Side

How ugly is the ugly side? Down right ugly! Immature, idle, stage-seeking, groupy ugly! Ouch! Truth stings!

“They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:
“‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not cry.'”
Luke 7:32

What would Jesus say about me? Forget about brushing this indictment off to others. If Jesus flipped me over publicly, what would He find and others see?

Where are the areas in my life where I childishly resist taking responsibility — where my attitude or behavior exhibits immaturity? Am I idly “sitting” around when there is Kingdom work to do? Do I seek a platform to be heard or a spotlight of attention? Do I expect others to adjust to my command to “dance” or “mourn?”

As I read this passage this morning, I knew God wanted my full attention. Maybe, He desires to speak to you as well, but I’m just sharing about a little flipping Jesus is doing right here with me.

The Good Side

Even as I felt the pain of my ugly side being exposed, I heard God’s sweet voice of grace inviting me to the good side — the beautiful side displaying His creative hand at work. Again, I felt His nudge to harmonize my life with His good, I mean really good, purpose and plan.

May you hear and feel Him too. May you sense Him drawing you from childish ways into maturity, taking you by the hand, lifting you to our feet, and mobilizing you to a place of fulfillment. Why? Because He doesn’t want anyone, including you and me, to miss out!

Jesus gently draws us away from the crowds and distractions of business and busyness — away from conforming to like-minded, going-no-where thinkers. Instead of setting our own pace and demanding others march to the beat of our personal drum, He welcomes us to the good side.

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ . . . “
2 Corinthians 5:16-18

Point of View

Honestly, it is okay if Jesus or others point to my ugly side. By His grace, He continues to take that ugly old side, with warped and knotted ends, and recreates it into a beautiful design no one could imagine. Through Him, even my ugly becomes new!

Oh, may we not resist His perfecting touch! May we each look into the mirror of His doing and see the miracle of the “good side” — His new creation worked in us.

May the tune of our song align with His truth:

“The old is gone!
The new is here!
All this is from God!”

Oh, sing it saints! Sing it again and again until it settles in your soul. Sing it mature, active, humble followers of Jesus. Don’t try to hide your ugly side from God or others, but let the world see your truly good side.

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From “Misfit” to Beloved! Chosen and Loved by God

From "Misfit" to Beloved

Going from “misfit” to “beloved” requires more than a simple name change. To realize how loved and chosen by God we are reshapes everything!

“Misfit!” they called me. Whether within my family and outside, belonging seemed distant, often unattainable. I never quite fit in among the predominantly male student population in our one-room country schoolhouse. Nor did I quite measure up to family expectations and standards. The name “misfit” fit me well, eventually becoming an invisible internal compass, determining personal expectations, goals, and desires.

Even in adulthood, echoes of the nickname infiltrated relationships and clouded personal perspectives. Until one day, God spoke, not in audible words, but rather through deep impressions to a wounded heart, “I love you! I have chosen you!”

Have you heard Him whisper your name within your inner recesses? Have you sensed His loving Presence?

“Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the LORD called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name. He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow (and) said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”
Isaiah 49:1-3

Was Isaiah referring to God’s call over his life. Or was he speaking of the nation of Israel or to the ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ? Perhaps all three and more! All who are “hidden in Christ”, who have a personal relationship with Him, can identify.

God knew each one of us “from our mother’s womb.” He continues to speak our names, wooing us close.

Chosen

I love these verses. Before conception, God has a plan for every life. No one enters the world by mistake or arrives by chance.

Alone

We may legitimately place our names in this passage. I have used The Passion Translation as an example. Insert your name where I have inserted mine, then read and reread it. Allow the truth of God’s sovereign love and care to permeate our hearts.

“Listen to what I have to say, you islands. Pay attention to me, you who live in distant lands. Yahweh called (MaryAnn) as his own before (she) was born and named (her) while (she) was still in (her) mother’s womb. He gives (her) words that pierce and penetrate. He hid (her) and protected (her) in the shadow of his hand . . . prepared (her) like a polished arrow and concealed (her) in his quiver. And he said to (her), “(MaryAnn), you are my special servant; in you I will be glorified.”

If this seems like a stretch, it really isn’t. The Bible says that when we believe in and confess Jesus, we become hidden in Him.

“For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.”
Colossians 3:3

It is a profound truth. God loves the unlovely. He chooses the misfits, renegades, and outcasts. In Him, we all find belonging, family, identity, and purpose. Before, any of us proved ourselves worthy, He loved us. Before conception, He knew us and chose us,

Loved

Nothing we did merited such grace. Nothing we could ever do validates His love. In our worst, He loved. Nothing can stop the reckless, indescribable love God has toward us.

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 5:6-8

Lightbulbs Different

Jesus provided the ultimate demonstration of love to us by giving His life for us on the cross.

We all hold remnants of “misfit” stories — moments or seasons of profound rejection, cast-aways from the comfort or care of others. Isaiah again scribes a clear image for us,

“For your Maker is your husband — the LORD Almighty is his name — the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth. The LORD will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit — a wife who married young, only to be rejected.” says your God.”
Isaiah 54:5-6

Our husband calls us His beloved. He comes to us as our Maker, the LORD Almighty, the Holy One, Redeemer, and the “God of all the earth.” We have not been short changed! The One who knows us best — deeply and intimately more — loves us most.

Jesus tasted rejection. He, more than any of us, felt the sting of “misfit” — fully God, yet fully man. Divinity robed in human flesh. He understands. So, he reaches out with endless love to you and me.

Beloved

To be loved by someone is a privilege, but to be loved by holy, righteous, perfect God, is incomprehensible! To declare such things of ourselves would be presumptuous. But when God declares them, the truth becomes life-giving, sustaining, and powerful.

You are His beloved! One who is greatly loved!

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! ...” 1 John 3:1

Different Cubes

Right now, God greatly loves us. Right now, He secures us into His holy family as His chosen children. Not after we clean ourselves up or improve in some way, but right now. Now, He loves! He plays no favorites. Even though He loves everyone, only those who believe in Him and receive Jesus develop the capacity to truly experience it.

Receive

For those bearing the label of “misfit,” receiving love becomes a challenge. Thoughts of unworthiness invade the reality of His divine love, warping and twisting it. Far too many people carry the scars of failed commitments and broken promises, which mask the promise of love’s full potential.

Misfit Locker

When two people devote themselves to love each other in marriage, they often exchange rings as a symbol of enduring love. Though the rings may last, the pledged devotion too often fades — its essence cast away and discarded like an old garments. But not with God. God loves perfectly and permanently.

God speaks through Isaiah again, saying,

“See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands . . .”
Isaiah 49:16

God publicly demonstrates His lavish love for each of us, wanting everyone to see and know. Your name and mine, your identity and mine, He carves into His being. “Engraving” carries the sense of a commandment or decree. The engraving becomes God’s decree of His undying love and devotion before the entire world and throughout all ages.

A Prayer

You, too, can move from “misfit” to beloved. You, too, may experience God’s deep love. If this is your daily reality, then thank Him again for it! But if HIs love seems foreign, I would like to encourage you by faith to reach out, accept His love.

Dear Lord, thank You for loving me and making room for me in your family even before I was born. Thank You for offering me — the least, the misfit, the outcast — Your great love. Today, I simply receive Your love. May I experience the power and presence of Your love in undeniable ways. I possess nothing of earthly value to offer You in return. As You have loved me, I choose to love You. Thank You.

**********

Tenant or Landlord? Do You Know? Remember and Appreciate!

Beachfront Home

Do you rent your home or own it? Are you a tenant or landlord? Though there are benefits of both, the difference between the two becomes increasingly obvious.

Searching for great tenants is a skill developed over time. Try as we might, we don’t always acquire tenants that value our property as much as we hope. We’ve repaired fixtures, removed left-behind garbage and paid bills accumulated by others,

Fortunately, many people consider tenancy a privilege. They view it with respect, thoughtfully taking care of everything. These folks are the gems we usually come to view as friends.

Tenant or Landlord

Paul reminded the Christians in Corinth of this important principle. He admonishes them to consider carefully their position as tenants, because a new Landlord had taken possession of their lives.

Family Dwelling

“Have you forgotten that your body is the sacred temple of the Spirit of holiness, who lives in you. You don’t belong to yourself any longer, for the gift of God, the Holy Spirit, lives inside your sanctuary? You were God’s expensive purchase, paid for with tears of blood, so by all means, then, use your body to bring glory to God.”
1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Another version asks, “Do you not know?” Good question! Do I fully comprehend this truth? The word “know” includes “to perceive, be aware of, understand, remember and appreciate.”

Reading these verses again, I gained a new appreciation and understanding of their meaning.

Rights of Ownership

People often declare, “It’s my body! I’ll do what I want with it!”

Such statements verify that we’ve forgotten, failing to appreciate and recognize the complete ownership God has over us — not just the spiritual us, but ALL of us?

“Have you forgotten that your body is the sacred temple of the Spirit of holiness, who lives in you.
1 Corinthians 6:19

Country Cottage

Honestly, I’m no different from the Corinthians believers. I quickly forget that every part of who I am belongs to God. Too often, I stubbornly push for rights of ownership even after I have relinquished the deeds.

Attitude and actions reveal whether I live like a tenant or landlord in God’s house.

God has been challenging me over the last several months to value this body, His temple. Only by grace am I allowed to live in it. God desires that I value it as much as I want tenants to appreciate the home we lease to them.

Practical

For me, this boils down to daily struggles, like taking exercise breaks between writing spurts or ensuring I get adequate rest while juggling a busy schedule and shift work. When the temple of our bodies wear out or break down, God doesn’t provide a substitute. This is it, folks!

I don’t battle addictions or major issues, but God has led me to recognize my sweet cravings and to fast from sugars. I’ve gained increasing awareness of healthy eating choices. Though I might forget, He remembers I am spirit, soul, and body — one complete unit.

You don’t belong to yourself any longer, for the gift of God, the Holy Spirit, lives inside your sanctuary?
1 Corinthians 6:19

High-Rise Apartment

When the truth of this verse becomes my living reality, what lifestyle changes will I make? Living with eternity in mind influences my perspective, recognizing that even the “little” things matter.

I hope to be here for the long haul. There is so much more I would like to accomplish for God. Every day of this life is a gift from Him — precious and valuable.

Time and Talents

God always invest wisely! He didn’t consider any of us “junk!” He paid the highest price, an unbelievably enormous price, to purchase us for Himself.

You were God’s expensive purchase, paid for with tears of blood, so by all means, then, use your body to bring glory to God.”
1 Corinthians 6:20

We could never pay Him back for all He has done. Yet, when I experientially “know” and remember His ownership of every aspect of my life, I am able, if in a limited way, to “bring glory to” Him.

Our bodies are His! Treating His body with respect becomes a privilege. Remembering He is in charge helps us pursue His glory and praise with excellence.

Beach House

The things I consume, invest in, absorb or spend time on suddenly contain new purpose. When I know, really know, my Landlord, life holds increased potential and greater fulfillment.

Do I treat God like a tenant or Landlord within me? The answer to that question affects everything!

Set Apart for God

Earlier, Paul wrote,

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.”
1 Corinthians 3:16-17

We may falsely believe we get away with mistreating these jars of clay behind the priming and pampering, but God knows us better than we know ourselves. He calls our bodies “sacred” — set apart for Him alone. We are exclusively His.

There is comfort in being “exclusively His.” The landlord, not the tenant, pays the highest price for mortgage, taxes, upkeep, and improvements. The tenant enjoys the benefit of the landlord’s investment, living securely within.

Mountain Home

If my tenants destroy the building they lease, I have to send them a hefty bill to cover the costs. Why would I think God would do any less with what He values highly?

The choice is mine! Will I consider God a tenant or landlord, recognizing the blessing of relinquished ownership?

It is All His

Rather than being harsh, Paul invites us to discover the peace of resting and knowing that everything belongs to God. If I follow Paul’s example and willingly surrender the keys to God, the worry vanishes. Joy replaces struggle.

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
Psalm 100 1-5

Take heart! We have a wonderful Landlord.

Tenant or Landlord

Joseph – A Man Favoured by God

I know God’s favour is evident even in my little life, yet I often misunderstand what favour really is. The life of Joseph gives a clear image of a man favoured by God.

Does favour include the logical expectation of rapid promotion, public approval, unlimited opportunity and untroubled living? Perhaps not!

Psalm 5:12

Favoured Young

After years of barrenness, Rachel, Jacob’s second wife but first love, conceived and gave birth to Joseph. I appreciate the way God honestly reveals the dysfunction within this large family. They were genuine people with real struggles! Jacob openly showed favouritism not only between his two wives but also among his children.

“Now Israel loved Joseph more
than any of his other sons,
because he had been born to him in his old age;
and he made an ornate robe for him.”

Genesis 37:4

Joseph received more than his fair share of his father’s attention. While his brothers worked, he stayed close to home in his ostentatious robe. Of course, the animosity increased between him and his older siblings.

Then came the God dreams of seeing his brothers and father bowing before him, thus escalated the problem.

“They hated him all the more
because of his dream and what he had said
His brothers were jealous of him,
but his father kept the matter in mind.
Genesis 37:8,11

Perhaps immaturity contributed to Joseph’s inability to keep quiet about his dreams.

Psalm 30:5

Favour Needs a Place

A mathematician would become extremely discouraged digging ditches. An anointed speaker feels powerless without a platform! A teacher needs students! A musician needs an instrument to produce a melody?

Although Joseph was showered with support,  frustration and disappointment grew when he could not find his rightful place.

“Come, let’s sell him…”
Genesis 37:27

His brothers reject and sell Joseph into slavery at the first opportunity. A slight diversion from their initial murderous plan. I can hardly imagine the level of confusion and discouragement that overwhelmed this young lad on his way to the unknown.  He was dragged away from all that was loved and familiar.

Is this your image of favour? It isn’t mine!

Even in Egypt, however, God’s hand directs Joseph. One of Pharaoh’s officials seeing potential purchases him.

The LORD was with Joseph so that he prospered….
the LORD gave him success
in everything he did…
the LORD blessed the household
of the Egyptian because of Joseph.”
Genesis 39:1-5

Joseph rises like cream to the top! The righteous always do! The favour of God upon one man results in blessing for others. For the moment at least, the situation appears to improve.

Psalm 106:4

Often favour attracts adverse attention! It did with his brothers. Now it brings more of the same. Potiphar’s wife seductively pursues this vulnerable young man. Who would see? Who would know? Would anyone even care?

Godly Character

Yet Joseph does everything possible to protect his master’s honour and marriage. What is the reward for such integrity? A prison cell!

North American prisons resemble luxury suites in comparison to what Joseph experienced! This was no peaceful time off work!

“They bruised his feet with fetters
and placed his neck in an iron collar.”
Psalm 105:18

Yet even here, Godly character allowed Joseph to rise above circumstance finding favour with the prison official. Joseph continued to give himself for the benefit of others.

He even found a way to release others in their dreams while his own went unfilled.

“Within three days Pharaoh
will lift up your head and restore you
to your position.”
Genesis 40:13

Favour Takes Time

It is tempting to overlook the seemingly endless cycle of neglect, abuse, and suffering Joseph endured. We want to quickly rush past the process to happy endings. Favour cannot be rushed!

Psalm 90:17

For fifteen years Joseph worked out the true character of favour while living in the tension of unfulfilled desire. He came to understand favour is ultimately a call to serve.

Such commendation upon a life cannot be lived selfishly!

Wherever he was, Joseph served with uncompromising excellence. The favour of God is always and only for the benefit of others.

Did he ever lose hope of seeing his family? Did he doubt his calling? Were the dreams of long ago fading? Had even God forgotten him like people did?

“The chief cupbearer, however,
did not remember Joseph;
he forgot him.”
Genesis 40:23

I have more questions than I find answers for.

The Committment of Favour

For two more years Joseph continued unnoticed within the confines of prison. Then a need arose! Favour flourishes in the soil of someone else’s need.

Pharoah has a disturbing dream. The cupbearer remembers!

“So Pharaoh sent for Joseph,
and he was quickly brought from the dungeon.
When he had shaved and changed his clothes,
he came before Pharaoh.”
Genesis 41:15

I love the “quicklies” of God! I want to ignore the long preparation to reach them, however. God gives Joseph both the interpretation and strategic wisdom on how to save a nation from destruction and multitudes from starvation.

Psalm 84:11

In a single day Joseph goes from

the dungeon to the palace,
darkness of obscurity to public view,
bound in chains to riding a king’s chariot,
loneliness to the comfort of home and family,
disgrace to honour.

Why? Favour was ready, when favour was needed!

The Confirmation of Favour

God did not forget Joseph or his dream. Joseph’s brothers appear on their faces before him. The final test in the confirmation of favour is power.

Power to retaliate! Power to execute justice! Or power to forgive!

Only here do we witness the response of one truly walking in harmony with God!

“He turned away from them
and began to weep.”
Genesis 42:24

It is impossible to continue in the favour of God without tenderness — even to our greatest offenders. Joseph foreshadows another Man, Jesus, who one day would proclaim from a brutal cross,

 “…Father, forgive them,
for they do not know what they are doing.”
Luke 23:34

The test of favour is extending grace, mercy and forgiveness to the undeserving.

Joseph weeps so loudly the entire palace hears the agony of his wails. Abuse by and separation from those he loved, could not quench the genuine love Joseph freely expressed.

Proverbs 3:3,4

Joseph had made peace with the pain of walking in God’s favour. He recognized God’s plan as perfect.

“And now, do not be distressed
and do not be angry with yourselves
for selling me here,
because it was to save lives
that God sent me ahead of you …
to preserve for you a remnant.”
Genesis 45:5-7

Favour Defined

As I consider Joseph, I recognize there is a high price to walking in God’s favour. It is a trust given to only those willing to be refined in the fire of affliction.

Favour often marinades in obscurity for extended seasons. It is the preparation of those God chooses for specific times and needs. God’s favour is never for personal promotion, but rather for God’s glory and the benefit of others.

Seek God’s favour, but carefully. Then be prepared to accept the training and tests that accompany it. Through the painful process, favour will allow the recipient to rise to unparalleled heights.

Joseph’s conclusion was,

“You intended to harm me,
but God intended it for good
to accomplish what is now being done,
the saving of many lives.”
Genesis 50:20

**********

Further Reading:

The 3 Keys of Effective Ministry! Secrets of Success!

Leadership 101 – Take it from the Eagles

Transition of Seasons – Embrace the Change

September’s dawn hesitates with each new morning, weary perhaps from the busyness of summer’s unceasing activity. The long daylight hours are filled with a multitude of treasured moments to remember throughout winter’s dark freeze. Cooler nights and shortened days herald the transition of seasons and prepare us to embrace the change.

Our summer certainly was filled! A June wedding, God’s gift of a fresh start, in Nevada and our own 46th anniversary of life together. A jam-packed family camping adventure with hiking, fishing, biking, boating, lounging, campfires, games and giggles topped July’s memory making attempt. Mid August brought the completion of internship closing the chapter of Master’s Commission training. We laughed with friends marking birthdays from the north and south. Many moments captured forever in our grateful hearts!

Season of Change

As I consider personal transitions, the most dramatic came with marriage: single to united, independent to interdependent, under my father’s protective wing to another man’s, enjoying the benefits of my childhood home to making our own. Marriage brought a lot of change, that continues to this day.

Transition of Seasons

Seasons predictably come and go! Here in the northern hemisphere, the transitions may come subtly but the changes can be drastic!

The church that began with the apostles over two thousand years ago has seen major transitional changes, as well. Each change acutely different from the one before; each sparked by a fresh dawn of revival, while restoring an element of something lost.

With the Reformation and Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door in Wittenberg in 1517 came an awareness that salvation is by grace, and grace alone. It cannot be bought, earned or waggled into.

Luther - Wittenberg - 95 Theses

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith
and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God

not by works, so that no one can boast”
Ephesians 2:8-9

The price of redemption paid in full!  Jesus death and resurrection is forever enough! Nothing added and nothing taken away!  This cosmic event bridged the great, dark chasm between God and humanity. Now that’s enough to make one dance, leap and shout with joy!

However, it didn’t take the church long to grow lethargic. Another transition was needed to stir up the greying coals of revival.

The Great Commission

Prayer is always the unseen channel of fresh fire. It would take Edwards, Wesley, Whitefield and others to again stir the church reviving and awakening the desire for evangelism. The church jolted to action! God’s grace is for all!

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,
baptizing them in the name
of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I commanded you;
and lo I am with you always,
even to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:19-20

Go into all the world!

For the first time since the evangelistic wave of the apostles, “go” was back in the “go”-spel! The church took seriously the commission to bring the Good News to all peoples!

But how does one effectively go without the tangible Presence of the Lord?

Preparing for Change

There were many forerunners to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Azusa Street in 1906: D. L. Moody, Maria Woodworth Etter, Charles Parham, Evan Roberts and more. But Azusa Street became the fault line of the greatest quake of change in the church since the original Pentecost of the Book of Acts.

The outpouring! The Holy Spirit moved to the forefront with restoration of signs, wonder and miracles:

“These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe:
They will cast out demons in my name,
and they will speak in new languages.
They will be able to handle snakes with safety,
and if they drink anything poisonous, it won’t hurt them.
They will be able to place their hands on the sick,
and they will be healed.”
Mark 16:17-18

Miracles, signs and wonders will follow them who believe!

Every shaking of revival transforms those willing to change. Recoil or embrace? With each restoration of truth, fearless, faith-filled, hungry, even desperate, God seekers step from the familiar and welcome the inexplicable grace of God’s open hand.

The Father’s Heart

The most current transitional change broke forth with fresh awareness of the goodness of God, a revelation of the Father’s heart. With impeccable timing, it broke into an environment plagued by fatherlessness.

The Historical Atlas of the Twentieth Century quotes deaths through wars and oppressions alone totalled more that 188,000,000. The twentieth century became marked as the most lethal in mankind’s history. Each death represents families broken. Millions of fathers snuffed out, removed forever!

God’s heart most certainly must have wept over man’s ability to annihilate and destroy! Great grace flooded over chaos with a tsunami wave of His open heart of love through the Toronto Blessing. The impact continues worldwide!

God is good!

“For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
Psalm 100:5

While the outpouring of Holy Spirit at Azusa Street created more denominational divides than any other movement, the revelation of the love of The Father has drawn denominations together like no other.

Change is Coming

As distinct as the shift from summer to fall, I feel another change coming. It is an exciting time! The church is rising and growing at unprecedented rates secure in restored revelation:

  • Salvation through grace and grace alone
  • The gospel for all peoples
  • Filled with the Holy Spirit
  • Radically loved by The Father

Wait! Pardon me for mentioning it, but my bible neither starts nor ends here! There is more!

The first act of God in Genesis was to prepare a garden for the union of a special couple, Adam and Eve. It was a place of constant fellowship between God and man, filled with peace, joy and unbridled communion.

The last act of God in Revelation is presenting the bride to The Bridegroom. Can you imagine that wonderful day?

The bride is getting ready for the Bridegroom!

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.”
Revelation 19:7

Every season of change for the church, every transitional wave of blessing and revelation, is for one purpose! The bride prepares for the Bridegroom!

Pulled close by His grace, the global church rises with arms reaching all. She is alive in the Spirit, immersed in the Father’s love. She is being slowly transformed into the likeness of The Bridegroom. Christ is coming back for a bride fully representing His heart, His character, His nature and His glory. He will not be unequally yoked!

“The bride has made herself ready!” There she will stand, a glorious church filled with strength, dignity, purity and honour.

However, to be ready, she must be willing to embrace change.  The same transitions that have occurred corporately are to be approached personally and intentionally as well. Welcome each season with confidence that every change is, in fact, a preparation for the Bridegroom.

Get excited! The wedding day is perhaps closer than we think!

I Am the Vine You are the Branches – Fruit that Lasts

Fruit that lasts - I Chose You

The thrust of winter is sending one final blast across the prairies, but I’m thinking spring. The garden awaits under mounds of snow; the deep rich soil is prepared for another season of bearing fruit and vegetables. Gardening may be one of my joys in life, but I have been called to more than what my hands can produce.

“I chose you and appointed you
so that you might go and bear fruit
fruit that will last.”
John 15:16

There is only one kind of fruit that truly lasts – what we do for God!

The Vine

When we moved into town, I decided to try an espalier experiment with an apple tree. It sounded like a reasonable solution in a small yard and my personal repulsion to ladder climbing.

I bought a young whip, planted it in a secluded corner, and began aggressively pruning. At times, I was concerned whether the little tree would survive the drastic cutting and shaping process.

Blossoms of promise

Any branches that were reaching toward the back were cut; as were the branches pointing forward. Only those reaching outward to the left and right were allowed to remain. Only the stoutest branches, those equally spaced  10″ – 12″ apart up the main trunk, were left. This would allow sufficient air flow between the limbs and provide full support to each branch by the trellis.

Year by year the little whip began to take shape. Not the shape of a “normal” apple tree with bows spreading upward forming a rounded canopy. Rather the shape of the trellis upon which the branches were fastened.

Every blossom was removed those first few years, so the tree would gain strength. My vision were set for the future.

The Gardener

After the last several years of pruning and shaping my little tree, I can understand these verses more clearly:

I am the true vine,
and my Father is the gardener.
John 15:1

Just like with my little tree, my Father is only leaving me with the “branches” of my life that are willing to stretch outward, to the left and right, toward others. Branches that are pointing too far ahead, toward the future, won’t receive the support needed to bear the weight of a heavy harvest. Those branches that are pointing behind, anchored in the past lacking the present light of Christ, will be susceptible to “disease”of grumbling and complaining.

My fruit bearing ability will not be secure in either the past successes and failures or of the future dreaming.  To bear fruit that will last, I need to trust the Gardener to know what needs to go and what should remain. He is shaping me for future increase!

Resistance

My little tree has a natural inclination to grow full and lush, spewing branches at liberty. Though more beautiful perhaps, it is not the way of fruitfulness.

Me too!

I don’t particularly like the pruning process. As a matter of fact, I quite detest it!

“He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit,
while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes,
so that it will be even more fruitful.”
John 15:2

One of the greatest challenges I face with my little tree is “suckers” that sprout up from the outfacing branches. Their wild quick growing nature saps the branch of precious nutrients. Worse yet, suckers aren’t fruit bearers!

Pruning for fruit

Interestingly though, when these upward shoots are pruned off a few inches from the main branch, the remaining stub will be the source of much fruit in the years ahead.

“No branch can bear fruit by itself;
it must remain in the vine.
Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”
John 15:4

Fruit bearing branches must be “connected” to the vine, the main trunk! It isn’t enough to be connected to another branch!

My main connection must always be with God. When I attempt to sprout out from another man’s ministry, rather than from God Himself, the result may appear healthy at first, but it will be unsustainable. Am I thoroughly connected? And where?

I am thankful for the “fruit bearers” in my life:

apostles and prophets,
evangelists, pastors, and teachers,
forefathers and mothers of the faith,
mentors and counselors,
steadfast, faithful, “waymakers”.

Though appreciative of their input, my sustaining strength comes from only One Source, the Vine Jesus Christ. To be a fruit bearer, I MUST be connected directly to Him.

Clusters

The second greatest problem that requires pruning are the “clusters”.

Clusters of blossoms

I’ve never been able to walk by an apple tree in bloom – never! I must stop to breath in the aroma of the fragrant clusters of blossoms, watch the busy activity of pollinating bees, and let my eyes feast on the intricate God design of each blossom.

The Gardener knows that each blossom will not produce fruit. In fact, each blossom should not produce fruit! The branch can neither nurture nor bear the weight of that much fruit. So the Gardener sets to work, pruning even the fruit bearing branches.

This is the most difficult pruning for me to do in my garden. I want to see “abundance”, but wisdom tells me to trim, cut, and prune until only the choice fruit remains.

Clustered fruit will never grow to full potential. To ensure the quality of the remaining fruit, I must prune harder.

Humanly speaking, clusters are comfortable. Clusters are safe. We like to cluster! Denominational clusters, team clusters, recreational clusters, clusters here and clusters there! People naturally like to congregate in groups.

Clusters are good places to begin our faith journey. If staying in tight little clusters matters more than reaching out, we will never mature to be true fruit bearers. To touch the lives of those in our world, there must be a willingness to leave our comfort zones and stretch outward in love and care.

Chosen and Appointed for Fruit

As hard as pruning is, harvest will prove its worth!

As I walk around my little community, I notice apple trees flourishing in abundance. Each fall, large boughs bend earthward laden with enormous amounts of fruit. The appearance of fruitfulness is everywhere.

Harvest time demonstrates the true benefits of pruning. Every apple on my little tree is weighty, plump and full. Every cut I made with the shears was for the purpose of maximum harvest. Now it is payback time!

The reward of pruning - choice fruit!

While others are picking, peeling and processing buckets of undersized produce, only those willing to prune enjoy over-sized rich fruit.

The same will be in my life! The Gardener knows! He has a plan!

“I chose you and appointed you
so that you might go and bear fruit
fruit that will last…”
John 15:16

God has chosen each one of us. He has called us out and appointed us to produce – to produce in abundance and to produce fruit that is eternal. The Gardener isn’t looking for standard garden variety outcomes. He is working in us and through us to prepare supernatural fruitfulness.

Knowing His plan allows us to endure the painful pruning seasons with grace and hope. We may feel naked and exposed during these “harsh” pruning times. Truthfully, God’s loving hand of wisdom and perfection is in every touch.

He is looking to the harvest; it is coming soon!