Building Forts

Earlier this week I was washing the bed sheets. Taking them from the dryer, one of the sheets was still a bit damp, so I took it and draped it over one end of the dining table and two chairs. It was then I had a “deja vu” moment. Did your parents let you build forts in the dining room as a child? Did you toss blankets and sheets over the table and chairs? My mother even let me have some of the kitchen pots and pans to add to my private dwelling. It was not an attractive sight, doing nothing for the room’s decor. Even so, my mother enjoyed watching my creativity. She knew I would not grow into an adult throwing blankets and sheets over dining room tables to play beneath it.

Building forts was the extent of my imagination as a child. I wasn’t ready to travel to foreign lands alone. I had no experience in which I could write a book. I could never have prepared a lesson plan or given a talk before hundreds of people, but I could build an amazing blanket fort. I had the strength and the know-how to do that much. Other things would come later.

Isn’t it the same in our spiritual worlds? Sometimes we sense God leading us to do something new, to crawl out from beneath the familiarity of our blanket forts, but fear takes hold. We hear the lies of the enemy, Satan, telling us we will fail if we try. We believe we’re good for nothing more than building a blanket fort. It reminds me of Gideon.

Gideon was discouraged and afraid, but he was doing all he could think of doing to feed his family. He was actually hiding in a winepress, threshing out wheat for bread during a time of Midian captivity. His imagination could think of nothing else. He was building forts. Then, God spoke to him, telling him it was time for something more. It was time for him to lead the nation of Israel away from the imprisonment of the Midianites.

Imagine Gideon’s surprise. Why, he and his family were surviving on the wheat he could find. They would get by. They were comfortable and safe enough. He didn’t need to do anything more, but there comes a time in all of our lives when we have to stop building forts. We can be afraid, but we must come out from under the dining room table. Read what God said to Gideon in Judges 6:14, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of the Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” You see, God will never lead you or me to do anything without giving us the strength and ability to do it. Gideon succeeded. Why? Because he did what God told him to do, trusting that God would give him the strength and ability to do it. Always remember, obedience brings blessings, not some of the time, but all of the time. If each of God’s children would simply believe that fact, then we would all climb out from beneath our dining room tables.

There’s a time for building forts, for stretching the imagination, for learning and practicing; but the time must come, when we fold up the blankets and walk into the bigger picture our Father has set for us. Oh, what indescribable joy when we crawl out from under the dining room table, walking instead in the masterful design our Father has drawn out just for us, “plans for good and not bad, to give us hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Flip Over and Wiggle

The weather in the UK continues to be warm and sunny. I just came in from a morning walk with our dog, Jack. I never tire watching him just be happy. He’s happy sniffing, running, and meeting his dog friends along the way. This morning, in a particular show of bliss, he flipped over onto his back, wiggled around in the grass, and kicked his legs in the air. I laughed, as did some of the other nearby dog walkers. What a show of sheer happiness. When he finished his joyful demonstrations, one ear was turned back, and bits of grass stuck to his head. It was of no worry to him as he continued on with another exuberant flip onto his back.

As we were returning home from our walk, a passage in Psalm 139:15-18 came to me, “You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in Your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are Your thoughts about me, Oh God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, You are still with me!” Isn’t that absolutely beautiful? From the very moment of our conception, God has a plan already laid out for our lives, a plan to give us hope and a future of good and not bad. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Those plans He has for us does not exclude storms of life which comes to us all, but remember, while strong winds can cause damage, it can also blow away life’s debris. It can aid us in seeing what is really important. A storm helps us to focus, to lean forward watching for a clear sky. Storms that rock our spiritual world serves to make us lean in, too, to shelter in the arms of our loving Heavenly Father, to gain His strength as we trust His plans unfolding. He has made us all with a particular, unique plan; so beautiful that even in the hardships of life, when you can’t imagine what’s around the corner, He will give inner peace, hope, and abundant joy.

Just think, from the moment of your conception, God had plans for you. Therefore, go ahead, flip over on your back and wiggle! Kick your legs in sheer happiness at all your heavenly Father has done for you. Make someone smile in your joy. Let your uniqueness show through. Be filled with God’s Spirit and be unforgettable!

It Happened In A Moment

It was a beautiful afternoon with sun filtering through trees as my mother and I walked with our dog, Jack, beneath an avenue of trees along the coast of the English Channel. An hour later we were back home, sipping mugs of hot tea, when in a moment my mother grabs her head. “Oh! A headache has just come!” In another moment, “My right hand is tingling.” I stand before her and see her mouth drooping on the right side. I ask her name, “Pat,” she answers slowly. I ask her last name. She’s struggling to remember. She begins to speak but the sounds are only gibberish. I phone the ambulance. It all happened in a moment.

In ten minutes the ambulance arrives. Another ten minutes and our vehicle of rescue flashes blue lights with sirens wailing. Ten more minutes and we are bolted through double doors of the hospital emergency department. In a moment my mother is wheeled into an empty bay. Curtains are drawn. The stroke team get to work. So much taking place in moments of time.

Something else was happening in those very moments. In my heart I called out to the All Seeing, All Knowing, All Loving One. In a moment Father God has dispatched angels to the scene. In the same moment He has infused my mind with peace along with my mother, too, who remained perfectly calm throughout. In a moment He has spoken loving reminders of His truth, like, “Call unto me and I will answer and show you great and mighty things which you do not yet know.” (Jeremiah 33:3) I call to Him and wait. In another moment the Holy Spirit whispers, “Cast all your cares upon Him for He cares for you.” (I Peter 5:7) In those moments I sense God’s holy and loving presence. I know in my heart, whatever the outcome, all will be well — in a moment.

You see, to the child of God, life and death takes on new meaning. To live on earth is to be filled with His Spirit, guided by Him, and lead along paths of peace and joy no matter the chaos of the world. To die on earth is to live on in heaven where tears and sorrow no longer exist. When a Christian leaves earth, the above ecstasy —all happens in just a moment.

Father God stands outside of time as you and I know it. He sees the end from the beginning. Nothing takes Him by surprise. He is in our every moment, loving us through every nano second of time. Never fear what any day may bring, for when it arrives, He is already in our every moment.

Knowing The Truth

I overheard a conversation between two people sharing a difference of opinion. They debated back and forth until the conversation ended with one saying to the other, “You have your truth and I have my truth.” That made me think of what is indeed the only truth. You and I have available to us a guide book for life that contains only truth. It’s not to be debated, like someone attempting to present a case with hopes his or her point of view will be accepted. The truth of God is beyond human reasoning. It’s perfect without fault.

When it comes to God’s truth, we already have all we need. God’s truth is a measuring stick by which we have the privilege to conform. We need not argue as to whether or not we believe it, or whether or not God is right on some particular point. His Spirit within us bears witness to the truth of His Holy Scripture.

You and I have the very words of God available to us, but not only that, we have, residing within us, the Holy Spirit of God who is our comforter and teacher and life guide. I love those verses in II Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what it wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip His people to do every good work.”

When we turn on the TV news, we quickly see the whole world is growing in chaos. Increased crime and war, growing inflation, hunger abounding around the world, people dying in abject poverty, phenomenal weather disasters. We may understandably wonder, what in the world is going to happen next? The answers are all in God’s book of truth. How to get through these dark days with joy and peace intact is found in that book. To everyone who is a child of God, we have the Holy Spirit to point out the areas of our lives in which we need correction. We have the Holy Spirit that breathes life into God’s written Word so that when we read, we are reading Living Words to be our perfect guide. There’s nothing to compare with the truth of God. There is nothing that gives greater joy. Conforming to His words conforms us to the image of Jesus. Imagine that!

Debating the validity of God’s Word is a waste of time. Debating which parts are important, and which may be discarded, is ludicrous. To those who have the Holy Spirit of God residing within them, discovering God’s truths and obeying them, becomes a daily adventure that always brings blessing. (John 14:6)

I hope you know Him personally. I hope you know truth. I hope you engage in life’s greatest adventure.

Our Personal Prisons

Prison cannot be a nice place.  I’ve never heard anyone say, “my goal is to go to prison.”  We understand it to be difficult and scary.  It must be absolutely devastating when an innocent is falsely accused and put in prison.  Why am I talking about prison?  It’s because of Paul and Silas.  Their story of being in prison is recorded in the New Testament in Acts 16:16-34.  

Paul and his co-worker, Silas, had done nothing wrong, but they made some businessmen angry; therefore, were falsely accused and thrown in prison.  Knowing of their unfair treatment causes us to feel sympathy for them, but their reaction to their predicament causes astonishment.  They were singing!  Yes, singing praises to God, worshiping Him.  This incident reminds me of another verse found in I Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”  Has that verse ever been confusing to you?  It has to me.

For years I wondered how in the world someone suffering such injustice could end up singing and being happy.  I know they were rejoicing — but how?  I’ve often imagined that while I would indeed pray, my focus might be on getting a good lawyer or mulling over the unfairness.  Perhaps any one of us might slip into some level of depression — but sing?   

It’s the, “in everything give thanks,” that confused me for many years, but I realize now, that was because I was focusing on the wrong thing.  I made the mistake for the longest time of believing that we were to try and be happy for every bad thing that happens to us.  The truth goes far deeper.

Paul and Silas weren’t thanking God that they were falsely thrown in prison; they were thanking God that He was in there with them!  His presence and sense of love so strong, they had to sing His praises.  It’s no different for you and me today.  We can find ourselves in a prison on despondency when we are unfairly treated, or our circumstances are unfavorable.  Perhaps a relationship has broken apart or a dear loved one has passed away leaving one in a prison of grief.  

The important thing to remember is, no matter how deep the grief or shattering the situation, we are never alone in our prison, and with God, He can open the doors, as He did with Paul and Silas, and set us free in our spirits.  Never forget that God is always bigger than any problem.  He was bigger than the lions when Daniel was thrown in the pit.  He was ruling over the vast water when He parted the Red Sea for His people to walk on dry land to the other side.  

When we choose to praise Him that He is with us in all of circumstances, pleasant or terrible, the beauty of His presence fills us with hope and peace.  We are reminded that nothing is impossible with Him and He holds the whole world in His hands.  When we are down and in despair, remember who is right there with you in the middle of the darkness of your present world, bringing His light of comfort and all His own strength for you to grab hold.

Accepting The Invitation

Recently, I was the guest speaker at a large church. Beforehand a delicious dinner was served. There was a cost to pay in order to eat. However, I was with the one who had invited me. Therefore, I did not have to pay. I was welcomed to eat to my heart’s content, free of charge. Many of you will already have guessed what I’m about to say next. It reminded me of our anticipated entrance into heaven.

Everyone is invited to live in heaven for eternity, in that place where there are no more tears or sorrow. We know that is true because we are told in Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things will be gone forever.” However, while we’re all invited to gain entrance, we must be with the One who invited us. We must be with the One who paid the price for us. We must accept the invitation.

Obviously, I could not have eaten the church dinner if I had not first accepted the invitation to come. It’s the same in our spiritual world. God the Father tells us we are all invited. Look at John 3:16, “For this is how God loved the whole world: He gave His one and only Son so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” In other words, you and I deserve death because we all sin before a Holy God. His holiness determines that He cannot look upon or receive our sin. Therefore, Jesus paid the penalty, paying for our sin with His own death on the cross. Why was that detrimental to our eternity? Because, since He is the third part of the triune God — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Jesus had the power to conquer death by rising again. You and I cannot do that no matter how good we may be. You and I could not pay the penalty. It took a sinless Jesus to take on that responsibility and He did that solely because of His love for us.

Therefore, each of us are issued an invitation. We are invited to receive the gift of eternal life, by believing Jesus died for us, and accepting His gift of eternal life. How do we do this exactly? Just tell Him. Ask Him to forgive you your sins and thank Him for paying the penalty for your sins. When you mean it earnestly, are truly sorry for your sins, and desire to live a different life, you are saved from that moment for eternity.

When that happens, you become a child of God. You then have access to all the joy and peace and direction for life that God has planned for you. You are invited to live forever with God. You have free access — all because Jesus invited you and you accepted the invitation.

Ever Watching

It was growing dusk.  When I left the house in the late afternoon I believed I would be home before dark.  Now a gray cloak was dropping from the sky.  By the time I pulled into the drive, darkness covered the earth.  As I drove up a small hill, and then descended, I could see the porch light in the distance.  Nearly there my mother opened the door and stepped outside.  I pulled in, turned off the engine, and looked up.  Our eyes met.  We smiled.  All was well.  I had come home.

As I lay in bed later that night, picturing my mother looking for me, I thought about the trumpet sound which signals the event of Jesus meeting every child of God in the air. In I Thessalonians 4:16-18 we read, “For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God.  First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves.  Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  So encourage each other with these words.”  

Christians around the world are looking for this event.  Especially as the days grow darker around us, as we watch the world turn its back on God, as people are deciding their own ways are best, we strain to see Him coming.  As my mother longed to see the car’s headlights coming over the hill, so you and I yearn to see the One we love so much coming in the air.  Imagine the joy that will illuminate our faces and His.  We will have travelled far during the days of our lives on earth.  We will have experienced the darkness of ungodliness descend around us.  We will have anticipated in earnest the sound of the trumpet.  

Just as my arrival brought peace, relief, and joy, the arrival of Jesus will bring an even greater peace and overwhelming joy.  We will join Him.  We will be on our way to our eternal home.  Darkness for all who know Him will be no more.

“Oh, what joy for those who disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight.  Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of sin.”  Romans 4:7-8 

“For whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”  Romans 10:13

The Football Champ

He was a high school football player and he was drawing a lot of attention.  He could run fast, throw the ball with accuracy, and tackle with intended result – stop the opposition.  The TV sports reporter asked him how he came to be so good.  The teen answered, “I put in a lot of practice.”  His mother, standing nearby added, “He worships the game.”  Now, the player’s mother wasn’t actually meaning her son worshipped football like a god; the remark was intended to highlight her son’s love of and commitment to the game, but it got me to thinking about what we love and are committed to concerning our relationship with God.

This football player was indeed committed and he did put in a lot of practice.  There is no way he could be so fast, accurate and strong in defense without practice, and lots of it.  To be a good football player and to maintain excellence, practice is essential.  It’s the same in our spiritual world.

Our arch enemy, Satan, is always opposing us.  He attacks us with lies seeking to bring us down emotionally and spiritually.  An effectual counter attack can only come with practice.  I love a simple but powerful verse in James 4:8, “…come close to God and God will come close to you…”  The preceding verse tells us, “Humble yourselves before God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  It’s rather like football.

The opposing running back is coming.  There must be contact to bring the opposition down.  There must be a tackle before the enemy on the sports field flees — for a while.  He always comes back, just like our arch enemy, but as we practice, learning how to counter attack just like Jesus did, with the inerrant words of Scripture (Matthew 4:1-11) stating before the enemy, “It is written”  then satan cannot stand strong against God’s Word. He will be defeated time and time again.  Yes, he will come back for another attack, but the practiced player on the field is always ready.

When we mediate upon God’s Word, when we talk to God often throughout the day, we are “drawing near to Him.”  What happens then?  God’s Word tells us the enemy will flee.  It’s a constant battle, but winning is always on our side when we follow the coaching of the Holy Spirit.  When we draw near and worship, we become aware of God’s holiness.  We are reminded of the truth of Luke 1:37 that “with Him nothing is impossible.”

I hope we all practice and never stop training.  Never stop looking up.  Never stop calling out to Him.  Never stop worshipping Him for all He is and all He has done and always will do for us.  When we practice and follow our Holy Coach’s leading, we are always champions.  

The Happy Calf

The solid black calf with a white face is the cutest thing as my mother and I watch it daily frolicking about.  His happiness shows with his running circles around his mother or racing ahead as the herd goes marching on.  This was not the case last week.

Last week this calf first entered the world.  We kept our eyes on the proceedings the day he was born.  Only hours old he was laying in the grass with head lifted taking in his new surroundings.  The mother had walked away.  I’ve come to realize this is not abnormal after initial birth.  Perhaps mama cow is tired and needs some alone time.  

At any rate, as the sun began to set, mama came to check on her little one.  She licks him.  Feeling encouraged, the calf stands on shaky legs.  The mother finishes its bathing of her baby and walks away.   At about thirty feet she looks back.  Baby calf is standing, looking, not moving.  The mother doesn’t move either.  Fifteen minutes, which seems like an hour to my anxious heart, willing the calf to go to its mother, the calf takes tentative steps.  The mother keeps looking, waiting.  Finally, the little one takes one step and then another until he is next to his mother.  The baby gets another mother’s lick and discovers milk!  Relieved the calf has found its way to his mama, we let down the shades to shut out the approaching darkness of night.

Early the next morning the calf is already trotting around with all appearance of great happiness.  I found it interesting how like a cow you and I can be.  Our Heavenly Father washes us clean as we enter spiritual birth.  Joy floods us.  We have been forgiven of everything!  The slate is clean, but like the calf, we have much to learn.  

We know our Father’s presence is with us, but at times He seems so far away.  Why doesn’t He come to us?  Like the mama cow from afar, why does He do nothing more than wait for us to come to Him?  When we do, He fills us with that sweet sense of his love for us, but why not come to us in the first place?

The calf learns many important things in the act of coming to his mother.  He is assured she is there waiting.  He grows stronger himself with every step he takes.  Never forget that faith grows one step at a time.  The first steps are shaky, uncertain; nonetheless, each foot forward takes him to mama where his needs are met and where he may drink from his mother’s goodness.

It is no different for you and me when we take steps toward our Father.  Our faith grows as we are reminded anew that, “He will never leave us or forsake us,” (Hebrews 13:5), that He will forgive our delay and wash us in loving forgiveness, not some of the time but all of the time, and He will lead us to fresh pastures running with living waters where we may eat and drink, gaining strength to face whatever each new day brings us.  (Psalm 23)

Then, like the happy calf who has learned where to go for his needs, we frolic and run free in our Father’s care for us.   

Not As Good As…..

Maintaining a healthy self esteem is a battle at times for all of us.  Our arch enemy, Satan, understands how important a low self esteem is to bring us down.  He does not want you to be happy, peaceful, or successful. Never forget that this dastardly enemy never means well — ever!  If he fails in keeping you from knowing Jesus personally, his next endeavor is to keep you from having a close, loving, and joyful relationship with God.  How does he set out to accomplish this horrible task?  He does what he has always done from the beginning.  He lies with the goal to make you miserable!

Satan wants you to feel terrible about yourself.  He wants you to believe any good idea that comes to your mind is foolish.  He will whisper that you are stupid, appear silly to others, that someone else could accomplish any task better than you, that you were born a loser and will always be one, that no one respects you, loves you, or believes you to be anything special.  His lies are relentless. 

Your Heavenly Father, by stark contrast, tells you the truth at all times.  He tells you that if He puts an idea into your mind, it’s workable.  He is not concerned that someone else may do the task better than you; He is only concerned that you understand the truth of Luke 1:37, “For with God nothing shall be impossible.”  He also tells you in Zechariah 4:10, “Do not despise small beginnings for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.”  Why does He rejoice?  Because He knows what comes next.  He knows this small task He has assigned to you, that He has trusted to you, is not only doable, but that pressing on to accomplish all He has given you to do will bring inner peace and joy that cannot be measured.  God Almighty desires with all His heart of love that you grow in peace and joy.  He wants you to have a healthy self esteem, to understand that He loves you so much, that if you choose to receive the gift of His salvation, you will live eternally with Him.  He adores you so much it cannot be measured.  Satan hates you so much it also cannot be measured.

Our arch enemy always whispers it can’t be done, you’ll fail, how foolish to even attempt.  He always tells you you’re not as good as someone else.  Your Heavenly Father urges you to go forth, to trust Him to be your everything to get you through anything.  He whispers that He has a plan, custom designed for you, to give you hope and a future.  (Jeremiah 29:11)  You are in the center of His heart.  You are the object of His love; that’s why He sent His Son to pay the ultimate sacrifice so you may live in perfect joy with Him forever.  Concerning that future home, He gives us this magnificent promise in Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.  All these things are gone forever.”  Imagine that — gone forever.

God’s eternal joy is yours for the asking.  Tell Satan in Jesus’ name to take a hike.  Refuse to listen to his relentless lies.  Choose instead to focus on Jesus.  Do whatever He puts in your heart to do, knowing of a certainty, it’s not important that someone else could do it better — God chose you.  He wants to bless you for your obedience to His ways.  He knows that with His help you can do anything.  If He didn’t know that, He would have never asked in the first place.  So, lift your face to the heavens and go forth in joy.  Your Heavenly Father is your best cheerleader and enabler.  

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