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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.

“The heavens are telling the glory of God; they are a marvelous display of his craftsmanship. Day and night they keep on telling about God” (Psalm 19:1-2).

Tender grass bursts from the earth. Glimmering beetles scurry up to lily pinnacles and raise their antennae. My favorite gnarled oak ascends from a velvety ring of petunias. Its branches wield leafy poufs as live, rain-guzzling, sun-swallowing pom-poms.

Meanwhile, a masterpiece rolls overhead.

Coral rays claim the heavens, staking dawn’s entry. Glorious brilliance floods the earth with awesome energy, both life-sustaining  and requiring the respect rather than scrutiny of mortal eyes. The light reigns undaunted, despite the morphing hues of its backdrop and fleeting clouds to veil its position. Ten thousand bird species laud the majesty in song and aerial dance. Crimson explodes across the skies as the sun descends to meet the edge of our perspective. The world blackens against a fabulous gleam of twilight. Predators crawl out into the shadows, anticipating easy prey in the sun’s absence. The light never abandons us. A silver orb rises against the darkness to reflect the sun’s continued presence. Crickets and cicadas praise its faithfulness. It continues to guide and shine upon us in this new form as we hope for the new dawn.

Before a single word of Scripture inked the ancient papyrus, God authored creation as a living testament. The Bible anoints modern Christians with immeasurable benefits and deepens our understanding of God, but He foresaw those without access to the written word. The Father did not leave anyone bereft of His message. Creation’s magnificent design proves His sovereignty. He reveals Himself and His attention to us in the artistic, majestic, and whimsical elements of nature. The progress of each day reflects the gospel, a Son who remains with us and bestows His life upon us that we might represent Him to the world.

As we continue to cherish Scripture, let us also remain aware of its earliest writing–God’s love letter crafted upon the world around us. The story nature has read aloud since the dawn of creation.

“Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness . . .” (Ephesians 6:14)

Aim small, miss small. The tactical advice to aim for the chest cavity resounds across historical millenia like an ancient battle chant. Though a head injury ensures devastating results, an abundance of vital organs dwell in the soldier’s larger target–his core.

Experts in exacting fatal or torturous wounds, centurions knew the importance of guarding the chest and abdomen. Enemies could debilitate the heart’s life-sustaining flow or the liver’s toxin removal. Ancient Roman armor provided substantial protection with a breastplate of up to a thousand metal scales. Unlike full-body suits worn in later periods, this article only covered the torso’s front because a Roman soldier never turned his back on the enemy.

We all face constant attack from a strategic enemy. He aims to debilitate the vital areas of our spirits. An exposed heart leaves us vulnerable to devastation. The center of love, peace, hope, and joy  cannot stop its flow throughout our lives. We must also protect the ongoing confession of our soul to remove toxins from our lives.

“No one living is righteous before you” (Psalm 143:2).

Scripture underscores the importance of covering ourselves with righteousness, while illuminating how we remain devoid of it on our own. No matter how hard we strive for good behavior and perfect attitudes, we’ll never achieve holiness sufficient to protect our core. Jesus offers us what we cannot achieve–a perfect covering of His righteousness fit to protect us against all enemy attacks. We only need to accept this gracious gift and put it on each day.

Christian warriors wear Christ’s righteousness over the front of our spirits. Like the ancient Romans, we are called to stand firm and never turn our backs on the enemy for a moment. Yet, we have an additional level of protection for our backs–an army of breastplates. No Christian should face the daily attacks of the enemy alone. Our King designed us to stand together as a Kingdom of brothers and sisters, bearing one another’s burdens and covering one another’s backs. Scripture resonates across both Old and New Testaments with declarations of strength for those who unite in Him (See Ephesians 4, for one example).

Will you accept Christ’s breastplate and stand at the battlefront with me? Let the enemy find no more gaps between us than he can find in the scales of Jesus’ righteousness. Together with Jesus and one another, we are stronger.

 

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10).

“We have already charged that all . . . are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one'” (Romans 3:9-10).

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
    when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)

So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. 14 And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes\” (Nehemiah 4:13-14).

But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:10-12).

 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus,  that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6).

 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24).

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

“Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11).

Leprechaun impostors frolic along beer-scented streets. Shamrock patterned underwear hangs in the local department stores. Party favors honor the shamrock as a lucky charm, rather than a symbol explaining the Holy Trinity. Tavern patrons cheer St. Paddy without praising his evangelism. Most cities celebrate St. Patrick’s day with little regard for the saint or his legacy.

Despite its lighthearted intent, one holiday tradition reflects the influence of a saint. Authorities load small boats with special equipment. The sanctioned crafts launch a vibrant green dye into the water. Wherever they go, the river transforms into a beautiful new flow of color.

The Lord commissioned and equipped an escaped slave to transform the spiritual environment of a nation. Saint Patrick delivered the gospel to Ireland, leaving a glimmer of hope across the nation’s landscape. He blended new meaning into existing symbols. Wherever he went, vibrant news of eternal life sprang up alongside his path.

Scripture refers to all Christ-followers as saints. Equipped with the truth and anointed with the Spirit, we each have an opportunity to change the spiritual environment wherever we go. The culture around us starves for the truth, and a few small vessels can transform the world.

Will you celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day with me by greening a bit of the river around us?

“This grace was given to me—the least of all the saints—to proclaim to the Gentiles the incalculable riches of the Messiah” (Ephesians 3:8).

“I have become its servant, according to God’s administration that was given to me for you, to make God’s message fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to His saints. God wanted to make known among the Gentiles the glorious wealth of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:25-27).

Children’s sleighbell dreams dissolved from their slumber last night. Sugarplum visions faded before bedtime. A cacophony of wishes  from young lips and old circled the globe this season. The fortunate celebrated their satisfaction, while others clutched the pangs of unfulfillment on their way to bed. Seasonal anticipation shrivels with a turn of the calendar page. Other longings persist with little regard for date.

Wants and needs often construct dream content, the connection increasing during seasons insisting we expect happiness. Good dreams offer us the gifts and sustenance we desire or the restoration for which we thirst. Nightmares exchange hope for the peril we most fear.

The heart’s desire knits patterns for a common REM cycle, but wilder dreams exist. Not every notion grows from within. A dream beyond common notions strikes new vision into the sleeper. An unforeseen epiphany dawns upon the chosen one. Such a dream does not fade at a new calendar page. The refreshed dreamer rises with a passionate desire to obey the Lord’s call.

Before we tuck away the early chapters of Matthew and Luke with our Christmas decor, notice the divine messages offered in dreams. Scripture does not bother to mention ordinary notions entertained in slumber. Ancient folks longed for satisfaction, perhaps more than the average modern sleeper. Though we might relate to their dreams of want and need, the Bible omits the common content and cites the extraordinary dreams instead.

Beyond imagination, the Lord pressed His lips into minds and spoke through dreams. The Old Testament visions appeared centuries apart, but a heavy concentration of divine dreams occur as Jesus sets foot on the earth. God encouraged Joseph to wed Mary in a dream. The Magi received warning of Herod’s plot in a dream. The Lord spoke to Joseph again, urging him to rise from bed and flee to Egypt during the night. Unlike the visionaries of the Old Testament, the Lord inhabited the dreams of ordinary Gentiles and an impoverished tradesman. With the advent of Christ’s birth, the Lord established His plan to draw all of us near to His Word.

As Christmas Day settles behind us, the time of dreaming about a new year approaches. Common notions of resolution and wishes will fill the air until a strong wind gusts them away with the calendar pages. We can choose to dream of our own desires, as is customary, or listen for God’s voice. We can seek His purpose in waking hours, whether He visits our slumbering thoughts or not. Christ offers His presence within us at all times of day and night, every day of the year. He constructs a new way of thinking. Regardless of our material circumstances–whether fortunate or unfortunate by the world’s standards–He configures us with an identity of hope that revitalizes and exceeds life.

Will you choose to dream beyond common notions this year?

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” — Romans 12:2

Balmy breezes tickle the green lawns across my Florida neighborhood. Doughy cumulus clouds yawn and stretch until their shapes break. Puffs drift west across the iris-blue sky to visit their reflections in the bay. We could drive to meet them at the shoreline and fashion sugary sand into boulders. Sandmen wear shell buttons and wave palm branches to welcome tourists to paradise.

I needn’t ask my sons about such an outing. I know the beach offers little to appease their wintry longings. While ice threatens to sling our northern kin into misery, my children complain about the unseasonable warmth outside. To hands which never fashioned snowballs and eyes unfamiliar with frosted landscapes, no holiday wish outshines the dream of a white Christmas. 

Sunshine cannot melt carols. No barrier prohibits scripture or kindness from dwelling in the tropics. With purpose and meaning intact, eighty degree weather still seems strange. Whether in Florida or other unfrosted areas, we long for those winter wonderlands. The comfortable weather seems at odds with Christmas somehow, as if we are missing out on a vital part of the season.

What does snow have to do with Christmas? Perhaps the connection never rose to consciousness, but it remains a niggle at the heart. When winter stings our flesh with its icy grip, we swaddle our children and gather indoors at fires to share cocoa. One must be uncomfortable to appreciate comfort at its fullest. Those chilled by despair can experience hope as a precious blessing.

Despite its cold surface, however, snow cleanses and nourishes the land upon which it falls. While freezing the spread of pestilence, the blanket also incubates life. Glorious white reminds us of Christ’s impact upon a world deadened by its depravity. The dark and withered earth transforms as a fresh covering falls from heaven to cover its barrenness. 

That might be why I wish for snow at Christmas. My dream heralds the descent of the Lord’s radiant covering over our world. He makes all things new.

“The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned…

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

— Isaiah 2:2,6

I cherish my prayer walks. As I stroll, autumn sunlight glints through the oak branches overhead. The Lord holds my hand, as He often does. I snuggle against His arm and lean my heart onto His Spirit. He listens to me in a way no one else ever will. I love these intimate evenings. After I’ve open my soul, all my musings poured out onto His shoulder, sometimes I hear Him, too.

On one such dusky sojourn, an epiphany bubbled within me. Profound truths and life purpose have seeded into my spirit on prayer walks in the past. This was not an isolated incident. I believe this new philosophy has a contagious element. It will resonate with others and inspire new perspective.

Here it goes:

Every food is merely a medium for enjoying buttercream frosting and chocolate. 

See? Does that not captivate the heart?

Think about the culinary options surrounding us. Bread, cake, cookies, cheese, fruit, nuts, meat…all enhanced by frosting, chocolate, or both. I realize you might have missed the chocolate asparagus dish, but it’s worth a try. Any food that doesn’t compliment frosting or chocolate has no purpose. I’m certain smoothies and juices will benefit from a double portion of frosting.

In case you’re wondering about my favorite dish, I’ll specify. Dark chocolate AND buttercream frosting. Prepared as a lasagna, tossed as a salad, or as a roulade. Call me a purist, but I prefer the best ingredients as a centerpiece rather than an afterthought.

I can’t imagine a more spiritual philosophy. No sarcasm intended. I’m not speaking as a foodie. Eating doesn’t move my soul. The sweetest buzz endures longer than frosting and elates the spirit far beyond chocolate. I crave it several times each day. No other delight satisfies my pangs. Anything that fails to compliment my ultimate diet of Christ lacks value.

 “How sweet are your words to my taste,
    sweeter than honey to my mouth!” – Psalm 119:103

I’ll continue to enjoy them on prayer walks, as an entree unto themselves. Beyond those intimate strolls, all life’s encounters remain condiments and pie shells meant to be stirred with a an abundant filling of God’s love and grace. Christ deserves the central part of life, not the side dish, topping, or dessert course. We only add the extras if room remains. Our Main Dish nourishes us longer than a feast and offers a more uplifting satisfaction than the finest delicacy.

I challenge you to “Taste and see that the Lord is Good” (Psalm34:8). Once you’ve filled yourself with buttercream frosted chocolate, no other taste can compare. Perhaps you, too, will crave Him daily.

Mmm. Welcome to the sweet life, my friends.Image

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

 

Bruise hollows deepen my eye sockets. Despite attempts at heat-styling, my locks frazzle. I slouch before the mirror and marvel at the unkempt stranger glaring back at me.

When darkness surrounds the eyes, the body sinks into shadow. Matthew 6:23 piques my interest. Drained strength correlates with grey-shrouded lids the way focus aligns with soul health.

When I immerse myself in others’ suffering for a unrelieved stretch of months, their pain seeps into my heart and flesh. An intense gaze into evil’s poisonous spell upon this world, though studying it to devise a strategy to conquer it, can also burden my thoughts.

Heart, mind, soul, and body need divine rejuvenation. Spiritual retreats call me into the living waterfall of truth. Healthy focus requires adequate light to stave off the inky tide of soul-night. Praise and scripture cleanse me. Music, prayer, and meditation soak my mind with uplifting, scentatstic bubbles. God’s presence heals and renews my spirit and its perspective. 

He calls me to work for His glory, but at times He also calls me to rest in His arms. I cannot do one in exception to the other. 

I love You, O Lord, my strength. Illuminate my eyes and revitalize my soul, O Christ my Redeemer.

What’s your prayer of renewal this Holy Week? 

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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