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IMG_3282Pennsylvania was the venue for a major ministry in the cool winter climate.  In my computer were five messages and one workshop ready to be delivered in the course of two and a half days.  That is a load of work.

When I consider that each time a speaker delivers a word from God, the responsibility is massive.  Representing Him accurately each time and then fending off spiritual challenges and physical challenges at the same time is a daunting task.  All of us who preach and teach love to respond to God’s call yet we know that the preparation and delivery of our calling is weighty.

After the first presentation, I was feeling the task in front of me.  It is a lot like the first lap on a long foot race.  Or it is similar to the first leg of a long bicycle ride.  Your mind wonders if your body is already spent.

It was time for a walk.  So, I went outside.  My coat and cap were tightly worn to insulate me against the cold winds of the NE.

There on a hill I could enjoy the scene of the valley below.  Grass cushioned my feet.  Trees that had long since shut down into winter mode stood like bare sentinels waiting for warmer temperatures in the distant Spring.

Clouds heavily laden with moisture fly overhead looking for comrades to share their moisture loads and find an excuse to drop it on the earth.  Birds flitted about scarfing up stray seeds.  Squirrels had escaped their nests and foraged for food and chased each other relentlessly as if their energy levels would burst if they stayed docile for too long.

Caught up in the middle of God’s great creation, I realized that my load had disappeared.  The weight of representing Him was now a distant memory, swallowed up in the greatness of who He is and the certainty of His presence.  Standing as part of His creative hand with life teaming around me reminded me that ministry is all about Him.

I breathed in deeply.  The air was fresh and clean.  My lungs relished the moment.

He would be faithful and I surrendered myself to His assurances.  Faithful friends from around the nation and the world would be praying for this ministry.  Studied up, prayed up and rested up I was ready to keep going through the weekend of service.  God would do His amazing work and I was privileged to be a part of it.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3284My morning walk was through the cold windswept countryside of the Pennsylvania farmlands.  Clearly it was winter.  Grass was now a light brown with so much of the frigid months weighing heavily on the foliage and outside near-unfriendliness.

Dressed right for this climate and time of year, I enjoyed being outside for a moment of contemplation.  Breathing in the freshness of air that had blown clear and struggling rare rays of sunlight sneaking through a heavy layer of low hanging clouds was invigorating.  Often I would pause and look over the valley below.

A farm was quiet on the other side of the highway.  There were a few hardy animals slowly meandering in the pastures.  They would graze contentedly.  God gave them a natural coat that grew thicker in this time of year.   Each one was comfortable, unconcerned about any inclement weather.

Then a gust of wind moved me.  Quickly, I pulled my cap down a little tighter and pulled on my gloves a little tighter.  My down coat was doing its superb job of keeping me well insulated against the dropping temperatures.

I looked up and found a reason to gaze.  The trees that surrounded me were mostly sporting naked limbs.  All of the deciduous trees had gone into winter mode, hibernating for months until the temperatures rose again in Spring.

My stare above continued.  A smile followed.  The scene captured my mind for a long moment.

While the whole valley had tightened down to survive another winter, there was lingering presence of perseverance.  Above in the limbs of a tree, several leaves had stubbornly refused to “let go”.  They were still hanging on.

The wind was swirling about trying to bat them off of their perch.  But, tenaciously, their grip kept them locked into place.  They would occasionally flutter but they would not be moved.

A large blowing wind moved the tree trunk, swayed the branches and even shook the cluster of leaves.  However, they remained rigid at their connection.  Several hold out leaves from a neighboring tree surrendered.

The sky was dotted with the last of the Autumn leaves that were driven out of their high perches and laid out as another piece of the natural carpet on the ground.  Millions of leaves already gave the ground an insulated coverage.  This cluster was still holding on.

I smiled.  With a wink of my eye, I left them to stay their course.  The picture of perseverance is a power vision to behold.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

2 Thessalonians 2.13-15

During my early leadership days, I was a mere teenager elected by my Boy Scout Troop 255 to serve as the Sr. Patrol Leader.  One of my forays in the role of leading our troop was on a weekend backpack trip to a favorite campsite along one of the many unnamed sloughs in the Sacramento Valley.  Many in our troop were Tenderfeet, not only in rank but also in life.

This was a first camping trip for a few.  They had overloaded their packs.  If we had a scale it would have screamed for relief with these boulder-weighted loads.

On the trail the inexperienced and burdened scouts were falling behind.  I dropped back to encourage the few and to keep them company.  They wanted to quit and go home.

It was time to urge them on because the destination was going to be worthwhile.  We would swim, dive and feast on great food.  The campfire would bring on Smores, stories and great laughter.  “Keep on, pace yourself,” I assured them.

We all did make it to camp.  The rope on the huge oak tree still swung scouts through the sky and sent them splashing and laughing into the cool waters.  We fished, cooked, ate, laughed and counted the stars at night.  It was well worth the hard hike to get there.  I marveled at how great it felt to lead lives to a destination and see them thoroughly enjoying themselves.

The Apostle and his companions think highly of the Thessalonian believers.  This affection is real and spiritual. It is a thoughtful relationship of gratitude.  Paul acknowledges that this is sensible since the believers are loved by the Lord.

Validating God’s love for His own is clearly seen in the ministry of God’s election process, a salvation experience.  We belong to Him, He saved us, He has a vested interest in us. Our salvation had an eternal price, it was the price of His one and only Son’s life.  He paid that on our behalf.  It was a great expression of love.

God not only arranged for the ransom that was required for the salvation of the Thessalonian believers, He took care of logistics to implement it as well.  The Holy Spirit accomplished the miracle of implementing this amazing gift.

In simultaneous sequence, the Father made certain that we would have the faith in order to believe in the truth.  Sin had affected us to such a degree that we could not even choose to exercise faith in the work of Christ.  God made sure that this key ingredient was also possible.  Everything to make sure that the transaction of salvation occurred; the Father orchestrated a plan to make it a reality.

The mechanism that God chose to make salvation a reality for His people is the gospel.  That it, the gospel is the good news about Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.  People hear the gospel, then by faith respond to its truth and live a new life that is made possible by the regeneration that follows this choice of faith.

There are amazing benefits to taking this step of faith.  Embracing the gospel by faith is more than resolving our past problems with sin.  It is important and it is the beginning.

We must repent of our sins when we come to Jesus Christ through the Good News of the gospel.  Then, we express our faith, we accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior.  God does a miracle in our lives.  We are regenerated, He is satisfied and then we grow steadily by way of maturity and service.

In addition to resolving our past and giving to us purpose for the present, God also makes provisions in our salvation for our future.  He gives us hope in what is to come.  One of the promises is that we who are born again will share in the glory of Christ when we arrive in eternity.

Since God has made so much possible and available to those who belong to Him, they should naturally respond.  God has invested eternity into the lives of those who follow His Son.  Therefore, they should be determined to be settled with deep conviction.

Choosing to believe and follow in the God who rescued a person is sensible.  There is a determination that is reflected in this exhortation.  In a resolve there is no room for hesitation or a change of mind.  The very nature of this serious decision and the kind of faith necessary to launch mitigate against a fickle spirit.

After a person chooses faith they must also choose their new faith with certainty.  God has made His part clear.  Now, people who benefit from His grace must resolve to hold on to the apostles’ teaching as well.

There are many dangers facing Christians in this lifetime.  False teachers are trying to win their ear.  Satan is actively attempting to thwart their life of faith.  Even their own sin nature is a major distraction and danger.  Holding on to the apostles’ teachings through conversation, teaching or in written form.  These will give them success in their spiritual pursuits.

Any and all Christians should discover in one another the intrinsic value that we all share.  God loves us.  He saved us, made it possible to do so and given us promises to keep us motivated until we are in eternity with Him forever.  If we dwell on all that God did in order to make our salvation possible, then we should be stunned.

He may have given us a task in this lifetime that will at first blush appear to be daunting.  However, He has given us a hope in eternity to motivate us to eagerly live our lives for Him.  We will even be able to share in Jesus’ glory once we get to heaven.

LAPP: Every Christian must operate on the basis of convictions.  Know what is true, what we believe, seal it in our spirit that we will never compromise those value choices.  Instead we will strive to live with determination for Christ.

Thanks for joining on this journey to live the Scriptures.

IMG_1717April 15 is not a favorite date on anyone’s calendar.  It is more than a deadline.  It is more like a doomsday foreboding boogeyman ready to pounce.

D.C. doesn’t help.  All of the vitriol on the Hill annoys most of us hard-working Americans.  Those are the guys using words to confuse the general public to hide raising taxes.  Hey, how come all of us are watching our expenses, cutting back on vacations, scrimping on trips to save on our expensive gas bills while the lifestyle in D.C. is booming?

Well, whining doesn’t help change the government.  It does give a lot of relief while collecting receipts, reconciling documents and double-checking deductions.  My calculator is solar-powered, so at least I don’t have to pay for new batteries.

Most of the year I spend a great deal of energy on being positive.  I look for reasons to be cheerful.  Joy is under some rock out there.

Preparing my taxes is simply a matter of addition.  It is a lot of addition.  Piles of receipts have to be organized and tabulated.  No one else can do it. It’s a solo task.

During the year I try to keep organized.  My file system is ready to catch a handful of receipts whenever I throw them in my cabinet.  I graduated from separate shoe boxes decades ago.  Nevertheless, the sporadic task is very similar.  Now, with the deadline within sight on my calendar I plod on through my addition like a weary traveler slogging it through deep Michigan snow drifts.

Often I pause and remember the great fellowship that those receipts represent.  Sometimes it was hanging out with a fabulous staff.  Other times it was spending time with people who were guests to our church, men to talk to about the next steps in committed living or encouraging members who needed some shepherd time.

But, alas, the IRS is not interested in the back story, they only want the bottom line.  There is a number that they want.  I want to give it to them.

Time to push on, add more numbers.  Summarize more categories.  Funnel numbers down to one final addition.

It will come.  I will get there.  Eventually, the organized files will spill out the final sum.

Hey, look at this.  I remember when we met with those people and talked late into the night.  It was fun, deep, meaningful…hey get back to addition.  The deadline is closing in.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

October is a great month every year, as long as there is some baseball to celebrate.  For years I cheered on our Detroit Tigers.  Others had warned me not to do it.

There was no inquiry on why that warning was repeated by so many locals when I journeyed to the mitten state.  Instead, people just told me consistently, “They will break your heart.”  That explanation proved to be prophetic.

At the beginning of each season the anticipation of an improved team was all over the news.  Conversations picked up on our hopes and dreams for a pennant.  Spring training was promising and the young talent picked up during the off-season seemed to fill the holes in our roster.

But, reality set in when the umpire cried, “Play ball!”  There were stumbles and groans.  Mishaps followed other errors.  Trades were made and the new names became no-names.  Another season ended with dashed hopes.

Then, there was a change in the air.  A manager with a craggy face, stoic eyes but a remarkable knowledge of the game signed on with the team.  A fresh face took over the talent hunt for this historic team.  Wins began to mount up and surpassed the losses.

The play-offs were now on the horizon.  We went.  We played.  We won!

For years our Tiger team keeps changing faces but the head guys are still the same.  They are playing chess with pieces to find the combination to win it all.  We have been close but still have not been able to clinch the championship ring in a long time.

But, frankly, I still love my Tigers.  Twice in recent years we have been to the Big Dance but each time have not won.  Instead, we made it a wonderful memory for another team.

We will lick our wounds.  Then we will nurse our aches.  It will be time to rest. 

Then, the braintrusts will get to work.  How can the team adjust to make the chemistry work even better.  We want to get back to the dance again.  But, we want to win it the next we are there.

Until those decisions are done, we will watch the TV like everyone else.  The Giants are celebrating and we are happy for them.  Some day, though, rejoicing with those who rejoice will come to an end.  That’s when Detroit fans will celebrate with their Tigers for a series win one more time.

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