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Redeemed

“Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—
    those he redeemed from the hand of the foe” (Psalm 107:2).

Facebook overflows with national headlines about politics and tragedies. Celebrity quotes buzz from Twitter as if it were a beaten wasp nest. Instagram, Periscope, and Pinterest offer the newest trends and latest tips on how-to anything. Blogs on every subject abound. I’ve shuffled through Books-a-Million’s vast aisles, wondering how many e-books exist for each tome on their shelves.

The overwhelming volume of written messages can bog the motivation of writers like me. Has it all been said? Maybe my time would be better spent folding laundry–again. At least my lips can be put to better use eating chocolate. After all, what words can I offer a world inundated by stories?

Scripture insists the world needs critical stories which I alone can share–my stories. Jesus redeemed me. The Lord crafted me as a vessel for a specific message to be poured out into a thirsty world. No matter how many books, blogs, or tweets flood the media, His words remain significant.Christ’s transforming breath deserves sharing. I must not prioritize laundry, chocolates, or statistics ahead of those still needing His rescue.

Telling my personal tales scares me a bit. I never feared speaking before hundreds, but was terrified the first time I shared my redemption story before dozens. Even if I weren’t a blogger, writer, or speaker, the Lord would still call me to share His effect on my life with others.

We’re all vessels, crafted with a unique God story. Each testimony carries a critical taste of antidote for the world’s terminal illness. Someone needs your message. A neighbor. Blog readers halfway across the world. Only God knows whether your outpoured life brings His rescue to one or to many. Either way, it’s certainly worth saving them.

Start where you are. With those in your immediate community. Include His praises in conversation. Pray for the Lord to create opportunities and guide you to share more.

Redeemed (1)

We each have inspiration which no one else can offer. Let’s encourage one another, and refuse to be stingy with our stories. Please comment about the Lord’s impact on others through you (past, present, and upcoming). I look forward to reading your testimonies!

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Cakes, red meat, and fresh neckties fly off the shelves this week. I’m grateful for the ease with which I could choose a card for my wonderful dad. But many struggle with this weekend’s holiday. I heard a comedian wish aloud for a card without overstated accolades, reading something like, “Well, Dad, I guess you did the best you could.”

Others experience deeper strife than choosing an appropriate card. Father’s Day torments the orphaned, abused, or widowed. A strong sense of loss comes with grieving a beloved man or aching over the empty hole never filled by a father’s love.

God never designed fatherhood to hurt us. Nor did He intend for the role to fill a permanent need. Fathers were built into our life cycle design as a model to help us better understand significant aspects of our relationship to the Ultimate Father. A temporary model to help explain the source Who fulfills our needs forever. The Creator employs earthly dads to point their children toward relationship with a heavenly Father. Dads are meant to serve as imperfect place-holders to demonstrate the role of Our Perfect Father who will fulfill our needs forever. Where humans can only attempt to provide, God sustains us with a sufficiency beyond our expectations. Whether you have a good, hurtful, or missing one, Christ offers us all access to intimate, fulfilling relationship with a Perfect Father. No one needs to remain fatherless.

Mothers raise and nurture children, also conveying certain God-head characteristics when fulfilling their roles well. Some of the Lord’s qualities can be modeled by both parents, in different ways. For the sake of Father’s Day, let’s focus on specific divine attributes reflected in the ideal design of a father’s role.  These include protection, provision, discipline, and fatherly love.

“The Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went” (Deuteronomy 1:31).

In Deuteronomy, we see the Lord’s provision and protection described in tandem. Earthly fathers are engineered for provision and protection, but cannot meet all physical or spiritual needs for a growing individual. Human insufficiency illuminates our need for God as the ultimate resource. Like a good dad, God doesn’t indulge our every desire, but only He can sustain us by identifying and meeting our true needs. Responsible fathers try to protect their kids without insulating them from opportunities to grow. While we might experience hardship, the Lord can use our struggles toward increasing our strength. He alone can guard us against the forces of evil.

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
    as a father the son he delights in” (Proverbs 3:11-12).

Discipline wasn’t fun when our parents delivered it. We often shrink from the notion of loving rebuke from God. Unlike the unreliable outcomes of human correction, our heavenly Father only sets boundaries which offer increasing benefit to us. His guidance prevents disaster and steers us toward glorious, abundant life. Sinful tendencies resemble nits in our hair, and the Lord removes them as often as we allow Him to comb them out.

As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13).

Ideal dads show some compassion to their kids. Many never experienced this quality during childhood. Even those who had caring fathers didn’t get selfless adoration at all times. People in this broken world love imperfectly. Why did Scripture offer this insufficient analogy? Because the ancients living in Old Testament period needed a relevant starting point for understanding their relationship with God. Before Christ set aside His glory to dwell among us in human form, nothing on earth came close to the love of God. Jesus alone offered exact representation of the Father’s love.

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Unconditional. Suffering when we hurt. Willing to suffer for us. Selfless. Unlimited. Over-the-top. Amazing. Beyond all our imagination can comprehend. Blowing all other concepts of love out of the water. THAT is the love our Father extends to us.

This weekend, while honoring those designed to point toward heaven, consider the gift of the cross. Christ’s outstretched arms leave no one excluded from access to a perfect Father. If you’ve never accepted the ultimate love gift of eternal life, let this be your opportunity to respond to Jesus’ scarred hands and receive His embrace. It only takes a simple but sincere prayer, like, “I need You, Jesus. I’m all yours.”

Today could begin your endless Father’s Day.

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“Put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, put on love—the perfect bond of unity” (Colossians 3:12-14).

Genocide ravages our eastern neighbors. Oppression torments those to our south. At home, rioters crawl in under the shadows of corruption to raze cities. Power-crazed leaders clamor to bathe in the spotlight, spurring world citizens with rallies to “do something” against injustice. Armed with fresh rage, the masses rise to wreak destruction.

Thus humanity declares enmity with itself. War spreads like a cancer. In its wake, monuments erected by our creative souls lie in ruins. The earth reddens, awash in the blood of our brothers and sisters.

From the surface, many declare us a planet of incompatible nations and divergent races. Unique cultural shimmers harden into blade-like divisions. We reject a blend of spices which could enhance nourishment, and instead burn one another’s food.

All people hunger. Regardless of our native continents, we thirst. In our many-faceted ways, we yearn to reflect the Creator’s nature. And we all need togetherness. We are, in fact, more alike than different.

Fundamental sameness resounds in our design. First and foremost, we belong to the human race. All nations rest under the authority of One King. God’s authority isn’t dependent upon acknowledgement.

Christ rebuked division, yet stood against injustice with His Father’s perfect resolution. He responded to poverty, imprisonment, and affliction with loving service. He declared war against evil and forged a path of mercy for people. Without His deliverance, we all remain in the clutches of darkness and death. Our true battle must be as His, against the enemy behind all this destruction and not waged against one another. Jesus’ ministry rejected rioting in favor of healing, provision, and liberating souls. The King of Kings vanquished evil and remains Prince of Peace for humanity.

Let us follow in Christ’s footsteps, viewing our brothers and sisters as precious to our Father. Let us strive to celebrate our divinely sculpted variety while embracing the unity of God’s design. Will you join me in prayers and efforts toward peaceful healing? We cannot conquer the world’s darkness on our own, but each of us can act as a candle to dispense a circle of it with His light.

How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)

“With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.” – Dr. Seuss

We landed in Manhattan in search of great Christmas cheer. We strode among holiday shoppers and dined beside neighborly locals. Our eyes sparkled in the brilliance of tree lights and glamorous storefronts. Unbeknownst to us, a shadow rolled across the city. In the midst of preparing for the celebration of a Savior, darkness mounted its forces.

In the days before our arrival, hate-mongers stirred protesters to steam through those icy streets. Fists raised, a rally cry rose for murder. Blood thirst escalated and snatched up souls dangling near its edges. A fatal stabbing hit the news. Two officers fell prey to an ambush. Assassinations culminated in paranoia and division. With a stench far weightier than smog, resentment poisoned the air.

Media didn’t notify us first. The impact touched us through personal stories as we met people. The woman who sat with us on the plane told us about her son’s overtime demands. Nine to twelve hour shifts with little sleep between them. She shared her worries over her son and daughter, NYPD officers. A young man in the airport told us his friend was stabbed to death over the weekend. The report on television brought him the sad news. We visited mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral Sunday morning, where the priest said he learned of the assassination from sorrow-laden officers during the previous night’s event. So many lives burned by evil.

Each word, touch, and gesture ripples out with influence on other lives around it. I’ll risk overstating the obvious with a new and much-needed declaration: We don’t need any more hatred. Our scarred and fear-riddled world needs an infusion of love. The night has raged far too long, and our shuddering souls ache for light.

Let’s invite the Light of the World to shine through and among us. Adopt rally cries of love and peace. Seek healing and unity instead of vengeance. Lower our fists and reach out to clasp hands. Pray for our neighbors until we see enemies as brothers and sisters in God’s family. Sound impossible? Only if we attempt it without God’s strength to make all things new.

The same Christ born into mad King Herod’s kingdom of paranoia and violence remains available to us today. He drew into one family the poor outcasts along with corrupt tax collectors. His teachings about love culminated in one equalizing point–the cross. He rent His body to make way for an otherwise impossible redemption, reconciling us with a holy God.

In Christ, we can reconcile with one another. No gap remains too wide for His outstretched arms to bridge. Even our modern “people walking in darkness” can see a great light. We who know the Light must step up and share it with others. Will you join me in reflecting the ultimate Star this Christmas?

“the people living in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
    a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16).

“The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2).

“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.

I don’t venture up onto my roof often. In fact, I only brave that weak-kneed climb if no one else volunteers to help with an annual task. My core tightens as I wobble those initial steps. After I reach the center and grip onto an anchoring structure, my lungs relax for a full breath. I look out across the treetops as dusk honeys the heads of our neighborhood live oaks. My view extends beyond our street to the school, ballparks, and the mass of homes further outward.

A moment on the peak shifts my perspective. The sunshine’s caress penetrates my cheekbones. The breath of a fresh season revives my senses. I consider distant homes as my neighbors. At this moment, when God secures my quivering frame, the world feels both larger and more intimate. Standing on the rooftop, I recognize myself as a saint.

As twilight darkens my view, time demands my return to life on the level earth below. I resume my daily routines, walking across the dust of the past toward the tomorrow from which it will grow. The miseries and burdens of passers-by permeate the stagnant air. I see despair in their eyes and feel the pull of hopelessness from their hearts. So much pain. I reach out with an urge to help, but hesitation quivers in my fingertips. I, too, have knees prone to buckling. Who am I to offer them strength? What if I let these fragile neighbors down? My doubts and fears tire me, and I begin to sink onto the curb of purposelessness. The suffering of life on the roads and in the alleyways tempts me to forget I am a saint.

Rays warmer than sunbeams lift my drooping chin. I need not search with my eyes to know Who is there.

“You are not made to be a saint for the rooftop,” He says. “Nor are you made to pour your own strength out to sustain these others.”

I want to leap from the curb and snuggle in His arms. Every muscle of my body, to the core of my soul, longs to soak in His presence forever. “Keep me with You,” I say.

My spirit inhales a heady draft of His invigorating fragrance.

“You are a saint because I am with you. Here on the road…” He turns my shoulders to face out across the vast neighborhood, through the nearby fences and into the world beyond them. “And out there. I am the strength you offer, the healing you convey. You got your bearings on the rooftop so you can live My purpose while you’re down here.”

I crane my neck, attempting to glimpse His brilliance. Though my eyes fail to capture a view of the Son, He has not left me alone. The Word of my promise-keeping God anchors my certainty about His location–within my heart.

I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (John 14:20).

The confidence that He remains with me girds my weak knees to venture out into the world and steadies my frail arms to reach out to bless those who suffer. I do not merely give myself to those in need, but I offer Someone far better. He alone can transform the unsteady roof climber into a earth-treading saint. The Son Who did so for me can change any willing soul. With such immense suffering, the world needs more saints to climb down and share His love on the roadway. Let’s reach out together, in His strength, to leave no neighbors to despair of hope.

“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John17:20-23).

 “For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:18-20).

She brushed past us in the school hallway. Her shoulders sagged beneath the weight of brimming tears. Flushed cheeks and nose betrayed her struggle to withhold sobs. She avoided eye contact.  The girl continued down the hall in silence, as if she hoped to take cover before the cry burst forth.

Did she know I prayed for her? As a complete stranger to her, I didn’t dare stop her or say anything that might add embarrassment to her morning. Of the dozen sorrow triggers I can imagine for high school orientation, I had no idea which one crushed her heart. I cannot say whether she whisked home without a single friend to ask what was wrong. I don’t know where she broke open to release that imminent flood of tears.

Perhaps the girl believed her stifled cries went unnoticed. If so, I pray she learns the truth. Though she’ll never know I cared, may her heart come to know One Who loves her without limit. If she sobs in a subterranean cave or weeps at the bottom of the sea, His heart will feel each stab of her pain. No cry is hidden from His ear.

I plead with the Holy Spirit to bring her a friend who will impart Christ’s love to her. She should not continue to feel unheard, unseen, or alone in her suffering. In more ways than one, she is not alone. Far too many people struggle in silent isolation from others, unaware of how precious they are to God. Christ reaches toward the lost and broken with compassion-scarred hands. I wish more people knew that He hears every moan and cherishes each tear as part of His own heart’s pain.

We can become the flesh of His embrace, reaching out to share love with the outcasts and the crushed souls. Whether today’s call is to prayer, an intimate conversation, or a blog post, the Spirit will prompt us. Offer hope. Show them Who cares. Though culture insists on qualifications like intelligence, vigor, or status, God seeks heartfelt obedience. Those who listen to the Spirit can brighten the world. One shivering soul at a time. In these chilling times, a throng of suffering hearts depends on us.

 

“The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;he delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:17-18).

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve” (Isaiah 61:1-3).

“When they cry out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate” (Exodus 22:27).

“You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;
    you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed” (Psalm 10:17-18)

Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering” (Isaiah 53:4).

“You Yourself have recorded my wanderings.
Put my tears in Your bottle.
Are they not in Your records?” (Psalm 56:7-8)

 

We travel the daily paths of life as vagrants. Our home exists in another Kingdom. We wear rags now, as opposed to the robes of our inheritance. Passers by hurl insults and treat us with contempt. Betrayal can dim the light around our campfires. Life’s rough journey can sap our strength. Chilly nights and painful days can tempt callouses to grow over our tender hearts. Some of us begin adopting the mindsets of the world’s residents.

Then the uncommon peddler arrives, selling without taking payment from customers. He wears rags, like we do, but dances in them. Expressing thanks for his walk, he wraps the blisters on his soles. The peddler grants compassion to the hecklers, the back-stabbers, and their victims. His smile blares a silent melody. The insults fade into background noise in his presence. He sings to brighten the fires, and springs onto the road with vigor each morning. The peddler discourages us from marveling at his indefatigable joy. Instead, he offers the secret to living an awe-drenched life. He refuses compensation, since the joy came to him free of charge. In fact, he insists all Kingdom citizens have access to it already.

We lean in, expecting a profound discipline of daily steps. His recipe seems too simple at first. “Seek God. Seek the Lord with all your heart. Cling to His love with your mind and soul. Let nothing else shift your focus from the love of Christ. What you seek, you will likely live by.”

If I look for sunshine, I can find its light despite a thick cover of storms. If I scour the day’s journey in search of beauty, I will find some remnant of creation to satisfy my pursuit. Complaints present themselves with little effort, and it takes no work to discover a shadow. I must choose my focus with determination, or my mindset will slide into the world’s default setting of darkness. I don’t want the common life of likely pity and despair. I will aspire to peddle the secret to indefatigable joy, clinging to the love of my Savior until I am no longer a vagrant. I might not model it with perfection at first, but Kingdom citizens don’t have to journey this road alone. Perhaps we can support one another’s efforts to dance on sore feet and brighten the campfires with His love.

“I say these things …so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them…the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world... I pray also …that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me… I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” – John 17:13-25

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13

I peer into a hole in the mud. About two and a half inches in diameter, it sinks at an angle to a depth I cannot see. No one has walked along this side of the house in months, so I rule out poles and sticks. The abundant squirrels and overgrown weeds offer prime real estate features for a snake. I straighten and back away, my soles sinking into damp earth and stirring its musty odor into the breeze. 

I leave impressions with each step as I head across the northern lawn. Robins weave their nest in our hedge and stir melodies into the backyard air. Slug trails glisten across the deck. All creatures leave evidence of their life’s path, even the cunning serpent. Will I leave more behind than muddy depressions?

Once inside, I remove my shoes and socks. If I don’t change out of my grimy footwear, I will undo all the cleaning I finished yesterday and ruin the pleasant accommodations for everyone else in our home. I slip on fresh socks and wool-lined mules, banishing the odor of mud from my soles.

As a child, I dreamed of wearing slippers made of glass or rubies. Life’s path ought to become a spangling dance to share joy with a technicolor world. Real life differs from my idyllic hopes. My tennis shoes don’t sparkle, and I must trudge through mud and dodge snake holes.

The walk of a disciple requires certain footwear–protective layers over the soul. Wrapped in the light of God’s truth, my spiritual feet shimmer with greater brilliance than any of my youthful dreams. There are serpents and worldly filth to contend with in my work, but I must leave the mud at the doorstep. Evil threatens to contaminate my mind, heart, and spirit each day. Dark attitudes set me back and their odor impacts others in my environment. I must remain vigilant with maintenance, or face a lengthy cleansing process. My soles need daily refreshment in prayer and scripture.

With the right footwear, I can leave liquid light prints behind me. I now hope to dance in squishes and shimmers. If I follow the lead of the King’s Spirit, a fragrant trail of compassion, generosity, and praise can stir Christ’s aroma into the air along my life’s path.

Lord, please guide me to leave sweet, fragrant impressions of Your splendor in all the steps of our dance together on this earth.

Matthew 5:14; 2 Corinthians 2:14-15

 

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