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“Suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

Magical characters reach from movie screens and beckon me into their world. Theme parks offer fresh visits to childlike wonder. Incredible masterpieces fill museum halls and garden paths. I relish each chance to drink in the inspiration of imagination.

The Father molded each of us in His image. He crafted unique works of art, kissing individual personalities with a different spritz of His creative sparkle. In a delightful chat with a 72 year old Christ-sister yesterday, we explored our different means of reflecting God’s ingenuity. When I shared my work as a writer, she first defined herself as devoid of creativity. Yet, as we talked, her amazing talents with children shone (along with other strengths) as brilliant examples of imaginative gifts. The Lord engineered our differences to glimmer in harmonizing shades as part of His glorious design.

Imagination inspires, motivates, uplifts–a fantastic blessing. My coaching and writing professions require consistent supply of this priceless resource. I cannot inspire unless I drink copious doses of inspiration. My incessant thirst deems me ever thankful for each sip of creative fuel.

While magnificent, imagination fails to bless us as an end unto itself. Creativity must encourage the soul to seek something greater. Inspiration toward anything less than true hope leaves us empty. Our sparkling kisses of ingenuity must reflect the Father’s love to others. Each imaginative work which honors His touch will transform others’ souls.

In the midst of a bleak, discouraging world, we need splashes of inspiration more than ever. God designed us to “poke holes in the darkness until light bleeds through,” as Margaret Feinberg so eloquently put it. Hope must radiate from the edges of all our creative endeavors. Imagination glimmers with us on earth for a season, a beautiful tool to point others toward eternal hope.

What creative works will God use from your spiritual and natural gifts to offer hope? Comment and share with all of us, so we can inspire one another to persevere in His work of providing hope.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

– Philippians 4:6-7

Afternoon rays highlighted splatter-spots dappling my kitchen window. I corralled piles of dishes toward the sink. The third time since breakfast. My hands trembled as I scrubbed the grimy counter. Why is it always such a mess? Recurring, ugly streaks, just like my failures in business and publishing. I tossed the rag at the sill.

I marched out the front door with an announcement to any ears in range. “I’m going for a walk.”

As I strode under the oak canopy, I grasped the air at my side. “Walk with me, Jesus.”

My morning time of prostrate meditation remains a precious way to center myself before the day’s mission begins. Bedside prayer also offers great benefit, laying all needs and offenses in divine hands. Sometimes, I wrestle with overwhelming angst and need to break out of my conventions to better connect with God. Fresh perspective unstops the ears of my soul.

This common need resounds from world headlines to the soul cries of our neighbors–financial crises, illness, general household chaos. Circumstances shatter our peace. Life whirls around our heads, distracting us from intimacy with the Lord. In this tumultuous life, we need help centering our spirits in prayer.

Kelly O’Dell Stanley’s new book, Praying Upside Down, offers novel tools to uncork conversations with God. She expands our view of divine interaction beyond the formulaic ideas of conventional prayer. A graphic designer, she crafts an artistic pathway to spiritual intimacy. Her analogies and suggested applications prove easy upon a reader’s eye and attainable to a beginner’s soul.

Have you ever struggled to focus? Railed at the ceiling as if it were a blockade? Or felt your heart too overwhelmed to summon a prayer? Upside down experiences might just refresh your mind and reveal the path to renew your weary soul.

If you’re interested in Praying Upside Down, find out more information from Tyndale or check out Kelly O’Dell Stanley’s website http://www.prayingupsidedown.com/

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“Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation.’ He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed,  ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation’” (Luke 22:39-46).

On the eve before His crucifixion, Jesus knew each detail of the unprecedented suffering awaiting Him. Jeering pagans would scourge him until near death. The priests who claimed His Father as God would insist they strip and kill Him. He would drag a beam through the dusty streets, as those He suffered to rescue spat upon His battered body. His raw flesh nailed to rough wood, He would hang to suffocate in the blistering sun. And that wasn’t the worst of it. He would also bear the immeasurable weight of every sin from the advent of time until the distant end of all days. Incomparable physical, emotional, and spiritual agony.

Jesus foresaw all this as He poured the Passover wine. Three years of cherished moments with these men culminated in this final message.He ripped the bread and explained its secret meaning to blank stares. In conclusion, He handed the elements to the dear friends who would soon abandon Him.

The scent of roast lamb floated through the streets. Jesus led them beyond the hard-packed roads until the murmurings faded and lush grasses eased their steps. With the steep incline, His legs strained under the added weight of His coming journey. They settled under a favorite cluster of trees in the garden. Gentle breezes lulled His full-bellied companions into repose. Jesus offered a vital exhortation to his too-comfortable students.

“Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”

He surrendered Himself in a crucial prayer. Angels responded to strengthen Him. Christ continued His fervent interaction with the Father. Until—

Every nerve and hair prickled as He recognized this moment. The time had come.

Jesus returned to wake his dozing supporters. Yes, He realized their frailty. But He must impress the concept of crucial prayer. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

Christ’s insistence upon prayer at this moment renders it a crucial matter. The word ‘crucial’ derives its significance from its parent term, crucifixion. Though comprehension eluded the disciples until after the resurrection, we now benefit from Christ’s magnificent teaching delivered on Maundy Thursday. He

  • Forgiveness. He fulfilled the secret meaning of Passover as the Messiah Lamb Who redeems us from the consequences of sin. Despite impending betrayals and our continued undeserving nature, He demonstrated ultimate grace.
  • Service. He modeled the nature of a servant, explaining an additional impact of His coming sacrifice as providing inspiration for selfless living.
  • Submission. He surrendered Himself in prayer to the Father, Who strengthened Him to face unimaginable agony. During His crucial prayer, the Lord sent angelic support.
  • Crucial Prayer. He exhorted His followers to pray against temptation. He knew the trials awaiting them in the coming season. He knows prayer is our essential resource to fortify and equip us foll all that lies ahead.

This Maundy Thursday, as you reflect upon Jesus’ message to the disciples at the Last Supper and Gethsemane, will you join me in committing to a discipline of crucial prayer?

“Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12:1-3).

Half the carrot harvest tumbled in the broth around chunks of their only lamb. Rich herb aromas billowed from the stew and pressed smiles into the sisters’ faces.

Mary patted Martha’s back. “You did a beautiful job, as always.”

“What better use of the food? I’d give Him all of it, if only we had more room at the table.” She stepped back from the kettle and peered into the next room. Eyes brimming, she laid a hand on her chest. “My heart leaps like a gazelle at the sight of Lazarus laughing alongside Him out there.”

Mary put an arm around her sister’s shoulders and gave her a quick squeeze. “Yes, we know how well the Lord cares for us. God will provide another lamb for Passover.”

As they ladled the extravagant meal into a pot, a refreshing cascade of peace washed over Mary. She felt joy and calm as if a divine breeze cooled her perspiration-drenched skin.

Steam filled Mary’s head covering, infusing her hair with rosemary fragrance as she carried the pot toward the reclining circle of men. Her brother’s charming smile warmed her heart. The familiar faces surrounding him included curious neighbors and cousins. The Teacher’s closest followers dominated the conversation with animated gestures and challenging remarks.

Mary’s gaze secured on one pair of callused feet. Extended from the table, the rough heels bore cracks from miles of travel. Bruises and insect stings framed the sides and toes. The battered, lovely feet of her Master and Teacher. She rested the pot on the table and glanced at His marvelous eyes. In their infinite depths, they seemed to bear a wistful gleam of both joy and care at once. Her Lord.

“Tell Martha she outdid herself,” Lazarus said.

Mary fled the table without responding. She sprinted, not to the kitchen, but to the sleeping quarters she shared with her sister. She grabbed a stick from the table and dropped to her knees at the room’s corner. Five hand-breadths from the wall, she hacked the earthen floor broke open. Mary reached into the cool hollow and wrapped her fingers around the chilled alabaster vessel inside. A treasure meant to seal her in marriage.

She clutched the vessel to her chest and stood, recalling how she once considered this the only thing of value she possessed. Tears careened over the rising apples of her cheeks as she raced into the main room. There they were. The priceless feet of her Lord.

Mary knelt. The conversation buzzed on as the men gave little notice to the one so often drawn to the Master’s feet. The vessel trembled in her grip. Fingers slippery with tears, she broke its neck. The crack of alabaster silenced the room. Her chest burned as she poured her heart out with its contents. Mary drenched every beautiful, bruised inch of those feet with the rich oil. The overflow soaked the tattered hem of His garment. Her eyes blurred as she kissed the blisters on his toes.

More. Her core ached with adoration.

She tore the covering from her head. Untethering her locks, she wrapped them around his soles. Pressing, patting her hair against the magnificent feet of her Savior.

Not everyone enjoyed the overpowering rush of nard at dinnertime. The scent’s strength qualified it to perfume the dead. Most of the guests waited for Jesus’ reaction. Except the one most offended by heartfelt praise. Judas dwelt outside the capacity to appreciate sacrifice, to give or accept divine love, or to understand the fragrance of true discipleship.

As Easter approaches, the opportunity to pour our heart’s treasures onto the Lord’s feet dawns before us. Our worship will be unique in nature. However it looks for each of us, all genuine adoration flows with abandon. Nothing we could hold back compares in value to the One Who offers Himself so fully to us.

The fragrance of our love and commitment for Christ will fill the air around us. The impact lingers and spreads. No one can deny such a compelling effect, for it seems to cover the stench of death so common in the rest of the world. Not everyone will enjoy or understand it. Some will find our aroma offensive.

When others shame or ridicule our extravagant love for the Lord, we can assure ourselves that we’re in good company. They found Jesus offensive, too.

Let’s pray for tho who remain outside to grow appreciative of sacrifice, to accept divine love in order to pay it forward, and to comprehend at last the divine fragrance of true discipleship. And through all, keep that strong fragrance pouring forth.

“children running and shouting through the Temple, ‘Hosanna to David’s Son!’ . . . Jesus said, ‘Yes, I hear them. And haven’t you read in God’s Word, ‘From the mouths of children and babies I’ll furnish a place of praise’?’” (Matthew 21:15-16).

Easter dawned on the horizon as Christ marched through formidable gates to redeem His house of worship. With every step across the courts of women and Gentiles He manifested God’s presence among those furthest removed from the holy place. In strode the One Who would make all things new.

The resident authorities balked at change. The current state of worship served their lifestyle of disdain and exclusion. Sizable gifts impressed them, not whether men offered them from their hearts. The swindling of poor worshipers failed to prick their conscience. Priests and politicians shared the drink of corruption. The Temple rulers shrugged away such apostasies.

But, oh, those children.

Jesus foreknew the Temple purification would meet resistance. Sanctification always does. He took time to weave a whip, readying His physical instrument as He prepared for battle against unseen forces. While we don’t know the inner details of this quiet time, Christ maintained perfect concordance with His Father throughout His life. That He prayed during these moments requires little conjecture.

God’s maelstrom thundered across the Temple as He flipped wooden tables over onto the stone floors. Merchants pawed across the marble tiles to recover spilled coins. Christ’s whip cracked over their heads and spurred them to flee the halls. His voice echoed off the smooth walls, declaring the purpose of His Father’s House. And His task was not yet complete.

Sanctification requires more than cleansing filth away.

Enter those relentless little worshipers. As the children ran through the Temple, the Lord used their praises to help cleanse the Temple by renewing its divine purpose. It wasn’t enough to stop doing wrong. The right type of worship had to fill God’s house again. Worship like a child who loves the Lord.

Scripture defines Christians as “temples of the Holy Spirit” (1Corinthians 6:19). Just as the driving out of money changers represented something larger in need of removal from the place of worship, our lives tend to harbor elements that don’t belong. Our sin nature clings to its corrupt old ways and resists change. Despite human and supernatural opposition, Christ’s sanctification can renew our lives. If we submit to His ongoing work of transformation, He drives out residing powers that don’t belong. Pride, selfishness, all manner of sinful strongholds flee out of the halls with a pathetic squeal.

A purged Temple isn’t fully cleansed yet. After the Lord relieves my soul of a nasty attitude, renewed purpose must complete His work. I need to reorient my spirit and fill the cleansed spaces with the worship He desires. Whether He prescribes certain actions or a discipline of stillness, complete renewal means submitting to renewed purpose. I must worship Him with the relentless praise of a devoted child.

Not childish, but child like. Knowing my utter dependence upon Him, yet comfortable that He carries me. Filled with awe and wonder. Accepting the unexplained. Believing without seeing. Trusting with all my soul. Loving Him with all my heart.

Will you join me in worship today, accepting the royal status as His transformed child?

 Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there” (Matthew 19:14-15).

“‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me'” (Matthew 18:3-5).

“In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).

As we visited Busch Gardens’ one day, I observed a toddler patting the glass of a wildlife enclosure. A lioness sprang toward him from the other side. Massive canines flashing, she pounced again and again. Huge paws engulfed the outline of the child’s hand. He grinned over his shoulder into the camera’s flash, as if playing pat-a-cake with the alpha predator.

If not for the glass shield, the lion would have devoured him like a cupcake.

With the exception of sunscreen, we tend to give little thought to shields these days. Few of us encounter large predators outside the zoo. Battles rage in distant lands, where armored vehicles and fortified bases matter far more to others than to us.

First century military officials knew the importance of defense equipment all too well. An effective shield could win or lose the war. If a soldier lost his scutum, as they were called, he became a walking target. Warriors often chained or strapped their ultimate means of protection onto their forearm, lest they lose their grip.

Roman shields remain legendary icons in military equipment design. Curved to deflect arrows and layered for strength, the scutum was large enough to cover a man and overlap the next shield in reptilian shell formation. Centurions also used shields as an offensive weapon to charge enemy lines.

With faith, we can break through enemy strongholds. Matthew 8 records examples of faith breaking through to the disenfranchised and excluded. The next chapter reveals how the faith of our friends can bring us out of hopelessness into the presence of Christ.

Faith deflects enemy arrows hurtling toward our souls each day. Lies, toxic attitudes, and insecurities glance off the surface when we hold up our faith against them. The King advises us to huddle together in formation so the enemy cannot find any spaces open for attack. Christ’s victory seals our triumph in the protection of our unified and mutually fortified trust in Him.

We must not let our guards slip and get caught playing pat-a-cake with this lion. So let’s strap on our trusty shields and snuggle in close, fellow soldiers. We’ll keep our faith out front and charge onward.

Trillions of subatomic energy particles streak across space and dive into the atmosphere. Their scintillating wake revitalizes the air, illuminates my window, and massages vital warmth into cell tissues as they pass through my body. I cannot sense this process any more than I can discern which gases comprise my breath-concoction or count the microorganisms between my fingertips and keyboard. Invisible dimensions surround, fill, and impact my life at all times.

The symbiotic and causal effects of unseen physical things upon human life remains a matter of confidence among scientists and common folk alike. No one disputes the wind’s power or a mold spore’s destructive potential. The most plausible explanation for doubts regarding unseen spiritual occurrences is their existence. The evidence of supernatural activity stacks stretches far beyond records held in Tornado Alley.

The spiritual dimension surrounds, permeates, and exceeds the physical realm. Our interaction with unseen forces will affect us before, during, and long after mortal life. The symbiotic relationship between humans and the unseen remains true, whether we accept or deny its existence. Like the wind or an ion, the unseen forces of God and His enemies impact us at all levels. God can comfort a lonely widow or work a miraculous healing that goes viral on YouTube. Demons annoy some folks with mechanical failures while inspiring murder among others. The battle rages within our minutiae and throughout world events at every moment. God wields sovereign authority with ultimate power, but Satan fights on despite a guaranteed defeat. The enemy purports to devour or wound the highest possible number of people, causing grief to the Lord.

Though supernatural beings work outside the limitations of tangibility, our spiritual activities affect the battle’s tide. Ephesians 6:10-18 lists tactical measures which protect us and further the cause of God’s Kingdom. Join me in the coming weeks to explore each of these in greater depth. Let’s stand firm together as we face this new year and the future glory of God’s Kingdom far beyond it.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:10-13).

From the sun’s wink at the zenith, a blue of immeasurable depth extends in all directions to the horizon. I squint at the brilliant sky, wishing it could swallow me whole. Through a gullet of downy clouds, the stuff of daydreams would carry me into the heavens. I could float, suspended just below the stars. I’d peer through breaks in the clouds to watch over those still locked onto the landscape. A unique perspective for prayers. The rare snap of autumn chills my arms, reminding me a vertical dive would prove colder than I imagine.

What if all our dreams of flight were meant to show a lost part of our inner design? Could the Lord have inscribed upon our unconscious minds that we were meant to fly? The notion remains absurd if ascribed to our mortal bodies, but I have long pondered the spiritual meaning of our penchant for soaring. After all, we were not created for an eternal attachment to things of dust.

Since our souls must rise above earthly desires and things temporal, examining the spiritual aspects of flying could provide significant insights. The need to rise beckons us toward faithfulness in our entire journey with God, not merely the post-mortem span. Christ redeemed us for more than this life, even while we are still living it.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll explore these magnificent benefits through which Christ provides wings to believing souls.

Freedom

Perspective

Wind-Reliance

Peace

“those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles” Isaiah 40:31

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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.

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

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