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“They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. . .Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders . . .And let us run with perseverance. . .fixing our eyes on Jesus. . .so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” –Hebrews 11:35-12:3

Jack-o-lanterns and costumes lay waiting. Candy reserves mount inside each doorway. We muddle through the workweek amid the season’s orange and black decor. The time nears, and we do our best to prepare against the horror of facing a princess with nothing sweet to offer.

Halloween stirs mixed responses of aversion, occult obsession, or ambivalence in the name of family fun. Although pagan rituals once took place during harvest season, early Christians promoted neither ambivalence nor aversion to the October 31st holiday. On All Hallow’s Eve, shortened to Hallowe’en, Christ followers entered a two-day festival honoring those who  paid the ultimate price for their faith.

This week offers an opportunity to celebrate those who persevere in faith by living their example. Join those Christians who observe All Saints Day by taking a moment to learn from the stories of martyrs. Support contemporary missionaries who risk their lives daily to share Jesus. Better still, take the step of becoming an ambassador to shine His hope wherever you go. Instead of joining the occult practices or condemning the lost, we can reach out in love and prayer.

Like the story of the jack-o-lantern, we carry the light of Christ so that it can shine into the darkness of the world. Carve a smile onto your face this Halloween, and let His hope and love gleam toward all the little princes and princesses who cross your path.

happy jackolantern

Pumpkin Parable (Original author unknown):

First, God picks a pumpkin from the pumpkin patch and brings it in from the field. He chooses you.

He then washes all the “dirt” off the outside. He cleans away the outside influences. Old things are passed away and all things are become new.

Then, God carefully removes all the tangled messes of lies and confusion, pain and fear, and the slime of sin. He cleans out all the icky stuff from the inside. 

He replaces the seeds of doubt with the light of faith, hope and love. The Light of His Spirit warms and transforms us.

Then He carves a new smiling face. His powerful presence changes our life. 

 He shines through our life for all to see.  “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16)

Jesus, please cleanse me of fear, disdain, and sin. Fill me with Your brilliant presence and make my life shine powerfully for You. Amen.

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“Jesus answered: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.  You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. . . Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,  but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” – Matthew 24:4-6,12-13

In less than twenty minutes of evening news, we see evil circling our community. Spouses lie crushed physically–and worse, emotionally. Parents harm infants. Children shoot classmates by the dozen.  The dark-clad terrorists victimizing lands across the sea are not as far away as they seem. Evil plots against those created in God’s image, conscripting pawns to carry out its destruction.

Fields, once green with potential, stand browned and dry. Clouds gather over love’s light, and the earth shudders. Christians murmur about end times. Some huddle in fear as persecution mounts across the world. Ripened wheat fields look rather dead, even hopeless, to the untrained eye. Farm folks know the signs of harvest, as should Christians.

The advancing darkness casts an ominous hue over the world’s landscape. It comes, as Jesus said it would. When things appear beyond all hope of rescue, expect the Savior to show up for harvest. Not just at the end of times, but whenever dry circumstances creep in and threaten to steal our faith. Bleak days occur far ahead of the end days, for the world and for each individual’s personal experience. Instead of growing fearful, we should prepare to offer our fruit.

When things feel uncertain and situations drain your vigor, it’s time to raise your head. Declare and demonstrate your purpose. Show the tasseling Spirit’s power to reap unbelievable benefit when all the worth seems lost. Congratulations on your coming victory over evil’s doom. Thank the Lord for looming challenges, because it’s a certain sign of a magnificent harvest on its way.

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Yellow and white blooms wilted under the blood moon. Their papery remnants clung to the vine until autumn’s breeze tore them away. For a day or two, the evidence of fallen beauty littered gardens across the countryside. Within the base of those flowers who had used their season to pollinate beyond their temporary moment of loveliness, something more substantial had developed.

Lacy petal-cardigans slipped away to reveal which ones carried deep-colored treasures. Gourds expanded from the places once held for them by passing flowers. Skins thickened and bubbled with warts and valleys, guarding the prize within. Stout and solid, their weight anchored them more and more in steadfast positions. Each tough vine-dweller grew while patiently awaiting the harvest.

One must look deep to find the gourd’s riches. Beyond the tough, uneven skin lies a wealth of nourishment. At its life’s end, the harvester breaks open the body to feed his family with vitamins, minerals, seed protein, and fiber. Extra seeds and inedible matter provide an entire garden from one individual hull. He wastes nothing from the pollinated vinedweller’s life.

I gaze across the pumpkin patches and butternut squash displays, considering the investments of my time dwelling on Christ’s vine. Have I pollinated the inner station of my soul so it will bear lasting fruit for generations to come? What part of my life will feed the family of God after my body’s earth season has ended? How much have temporary things distracted me from investing in the eternal?

Lord, help me stay focused on things of lasting value instead of the less important matters which pass away. Pollinate my spirit and expand my heart. Let my thoughts grow solid and steadfast in Your Truth, impenetrable to the pestilence of toxic attitudes. Cultivate rich nourishment within me until I am beautiful in Your sight, regardless of how I appear to passers by. Make me gourdgeous to You, Lord. Thank You, for planting me in Your garden.

What about you? Ready to grow gourdgeous on His vine?

 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. . .I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. . .This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:1-8

“I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. . .Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” – Phil.1:20-27

“if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.” – Phil. 2:17

Ruach gusted from the Creator’s lips into soulless forms on the earth. Life billowed into flesh and gave significance to the carcasses. Darkness shattered the perfection of Eden. Creation turned from its direct connection to Pure Lifebreath and distracted itself in a clamor to gasp for its own survival. The earth staggered and suffered in its putrid marshes of paganism and humanism while a remnant lifted their heads for the lilt of the Father’s breeze. After salvation dawned upon the world, new life rushed into a cloistered group of terrified disciples. Pneuma, as their language described it, set their breath ablaze with the advent of the Holy Spirit among believers. Revival whooshed across continents with unceasing demand.

An ongoing need to inhale fresh Spiritbreath persists. The breath of God alone begets life. Without His wind in our souls, we deflate to a gasping existence on dead calm seas.

We all need refreshment. In this stale pit of tragedy and confusion, our shoulders sag after so many miles of care. The norm can easily fade to drear and our words begin to lack flavor. Without a gust of divine breath, we suffocate in the dismal valley. We must seek His presence continually, and ask Him for renewal.

Florida’s sticky heat clutches at my chest as a constant reminder of my own Pneuma dependence. Our tropical summer waxed on for an extra month. The peak of hurricane season had passed, but the rains continued to pelt us. Nineteen inches drenched our September lawn. Temperatures wavered between eighty-eight and ninety-three, but steam hung in the air long after dusk. I attempted a prayerful walk around my neighborhood one evening. After less than a mile, I fought for breath.

Focus on circumstances had recently mired my soul in the doldrums and I struggled to keep moving in the work before me. Hot, sticky despair daunted my steps. Gloomy skies stretched beyond their due season. I pleaded for breath. I searched the heavens for a gust of Spirit to raise my flattened soul. And when I asked, ever faithful God demonstrated His goodness and breathed Pneuma into my spirit. Much like a gust of fresh, autumn-like air.

This weekend’s front gusted away the humid doldrums with a cool, refreshing wind. I snatched a sleeved blouse from the closet and leapt outside. Grins bloomed across the landscape–in passing cars, along the sidewalks, and throughout church. We held Sunday school outdoors to celebrate the occasion. Sighs floated on the breeze with contented remarks such as, “It’s so nice.”

I rolled back my sagging shoulders and drew in long drafts of rare autumn. Blues saturated the heavens, where the birds soared and dove to immerse themselves in fresh air.  I closed my eyes to offer prayers of gratitude. How magnificent is the Lord, revealing His creative glory in a breath of wind! Thank You, Father, for much-needed refreshment .

The temperatures will rise again mid-week. Humidity lurks in the near forecast, too. When the tropics settle over me, I can now face each day with the energy of revived breath. Pneuma alone renews the spirit. Thank You, Father, for a gust of Ruach to refresh my stagnant soul each time I ask.

How long will you gasp before calling for the LifeGiver to breathe refreshment into your soul?

 

“Send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.” Psalm 104:30

“Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:2
He sends his command to the earth;
    his word runs swiftly…
 He sends his word and melts them;
    he stirs up his breezes, and the waters flow.” Psalm 147:15, 18

“Teach me to do Your will,
for You are my God.
May Your gracious Spirit
lead me on level ground.
Because of Your name, Yahweh,
let me live.” — Psalm 143:10-11

September clung to the calendar by less than a week. I still hadn’t enjoyed my autumnal pumpkin spice latte. My conditioner ran out. I scraped at cosmetics to stretch them a few more weeks. I didn’t mind a few sacrifices to share time with my writer friends at a retreat. Sharing a dim bathroom? Doable. Cafeteria food? Well, it was only for three days.

But when the speaker questioned our willingness to suffer, I balked. Pain and grief didn’t paint a sparkly advertisement. I couldn’t say I felt eager to leap onto the hurt wagon. Yes, I’d make minor concessions here and there, but would I be willing to charge into suffering?

This  guarantee of trials peppers the New Testament, but I hadn’t considered my consent. The resolution to use faith to cope with trouble differs from volunteering for certain angst. I had often professed a desire to fulfill God’s purpose, but had failed to anchor my commitment in this depth. The resolve would need to burrow into my core to hold a Savior-sized beam of dedication. I’d have to reject the priority of my own comfort to embrace the splintery cross. Beyond confessing my love for Jesus, I must decide my reason for living. Will I live for Him … or for me?

Our culture invites us to live for our own comfort. We work to accumulate possessions, engage in costly hobbies, and obtain the security of others’ approval. Reward-seeking shimmers like a mirage and beckons us down its well-paved path. Though we experience less resistance on a self-centered path, the indulgences fail to offer us a satisfying existence. Happiness evaporates the instant it passes our lips. Hedonism leaves our souls empty, and our comforts abandon us at the grave.

Christ invites us to trade a dying body for eternal luxury. Our temporary investment of suffering on His behalf guarantees an exponential return. Unlike the selfish indulgences we savor on earth, sharing Christ’s joy never loses an iota of shimmer or a bit of thrill.

What will you choose to live for?

“Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing…A man who endures trials is blessed, because when he passes the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.” —James 1:2-4,12

I’m liking the candy corn around me, deep azure skies above, and an extra hour of sleep on the horizon. I like autumn, but it’s not my favorite. Before passionate fall-enthusiasts take defensive aim, let me just honor your right to like whatever you choose. Perhaps your heart skips a beat when pumpkin pie shows up on the table. My eyes glisten at herald angels singing, but my kids wretch at the first carol on the radio. Though I wish they could enjoy my favorites with me, it isn’t a household rule. My family knows what they prefer, and it isn’t always aligned with my wish list.

 

We often bristle against our dissimilar preferences in the family of God. Professing what we like and what we don’t can turn into household rules edging out those who disagree. Options diversify and thereby beautify the world, but make poor legislators. Scripture doesn’t command us to like everything, nor does God insist we all like the same things.

You’re welcome to enjoy the old hymns while I prefer the electric guitar. Both obey the Biblical call to worship. Please serve the homeless, but allow me to encourage the abused. Both follow the call to care for those in need. As long as we follow the Word of God without changing it, we can show His love in the unique ways we like. The Lord created us with intentional differences in likes and perspectives. He knows what His children enjoy better than we know ourselves. 

So, whether you eat candy corn by the layer, by the handful, or never touch the stuff, notice how the varied colors offer beauty to the season. The same ingredients flavor each part, however. In God’s Kingdom, each unique hue carries the potential to deliver joy sweetened by the same Spirit of Love. When we join hands in love, God transforms us into a beautiful family which honors our unique brothers and sisters to more perfectly glorify the same Lord.

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink… Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? …But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be…The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ …But God has put the body together… so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

– 1 Corinthians 12:12-26

 

Autumn’s cascading leaves and glimmer of auburn across the horizon offers a perfect setting to consider falling. Though I’m as prone as Lucile Ball’s screen characters to stumble through my home, today’s blog won’t highlight the comic relief of physical clumsiness. As we delve into squash season, let’s take a moment to plan how we deal with a spiritual spill.
Even the most grace-filled Christians trip over their tongues, attitudes, and fingertips now and then. Asking whether we’ll stumble remains a moot point. The significant issue lies with what we do during and afterward.
How do you cope with your fall?
1. Do not stiffen.
Bracing against the impact includes techniques such as denial, burying, avoidance, and blame-shifting. Take responsibility. Apologize. Don’t put it off.
2. Use your knees.
Pray. Ask the Lord to help you humble your mind and heart as soon as possible. Pray. Seek reorientation and transformation from the Holy Spirit. Pray. Listen for direction from the Lord, scripture, and mature Christians. Did I mention you should pray?
3. Take the hand helping you up.
Jesus might lift you up in Spirit, or also employ a Christian friend in the process. Once your heart has changed, take that grace extended to you.
4. Move on.
Only the enemy would have us remain defeated in the dirt. God convicts us in order to move us forward in His purpose.
If you absorb all the spiritual renewal Christ offers in the process, God can strengthen you beyond your pre-tumbled state. Learn. Transform. Proceed.
May Jesus bless your autumn and renew you through every fall.

“…only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’
‘No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.'” – John 8:9-11

Ninety degree steam settles over our neighborhood, suspending us in Florida’s extended summer. Our trees will hold onto their leaves for a few months more. Tropical chills will sweep them away without the colorful pageantry of autumn.

Garnet and orange decor brush hints of the season along our interiors. We bake pumpkin muffins and caramel nut pies to forge its aromas within our nesting places. Some of us turn down the air conditioning, desperate for a fresh taste of autumn.

We crave familiar comforts when journeying through a season of transition. Just as the sensory trappings of autumn carry us from summer’s warmth into winter’s chill, our spiritual paths encounter seasons of transition.

Periods of growth lead us to festivals of harvest, often followed by a time of intense dependence upon the Lord’s provision and protection. Whether circumstances announce obvious signs or not, acknowledging your spiritual season prepares you to optimize the purpose it serves in your life. Respond to growth opportunities. Reap and praise during the harvest, while storing some extra thanksgiving prayers to last through the winter. Remember that life’s chill can strengthen and sweeten the fruits of our spiritual gifts if we persevere in faith.

What spiritual season swirls in the air of your life right now? How can you use its aromatic lessons to bless your life and others?

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