Become Like a Child

And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, ‘Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.’”  Matthew 18:2-3
I was chatting with my cousin this morning, catching up on what is happening with our families.  She commented on a particular breakfast phrase that her youngest had spoken this morning.  It was a cute child’s phrase, and my cousin wasn’t ready to correct her daughter just yet.  She was relishing on the last bit of the toddler phase of her youngest daughter.  Then we continued the discussion about the older kids and their individual successes.  Each of the kids carving their own little niches, from the middle school/junior high achievements to the academic triumphs of her oldest, a 1st year college student.  My cousin and her husband, were already making the discovery that “my child(ren) are reaching a point in life where they can function without me.” 
Every parent of a teen and older knows what I am talking about.  One day, they are holding on tight to you and before you know it, they hit that “let me do it” stage.  I know that my wife, Megan, feels these moments when it comes to her own child.  For the better part of my stepson’s life, it has just been him and his mother.  (I just recently became part of this little family, at his current age of 12.)  While he still has learning to do and parental guidance to receive, he is taking on more of life’s responsibilities on his own.  Megan would readily agree that it is tough to let our kids go, letting them do the things that we have constantly done for them.  It’s a realization that we have to let them grow up.  We, as parents, were meant to teach and pass on knowledge.  If we attempt to hold them back, our kids will pull away.  So, we must let them grow, whether we are ready for it, or not.
We, in turn, are meant to learn from our children.  They have the one thing that we no longer possess: the power of innocence.  Right and wrong are defined as simplistic “good or bad” situations, not yet made complex by the understanding of sin.  A child’s mind is not ready for such heavier responsibilities.  While I may be new to the realm of parenthood, I can say from my years of teaching young kids, we rue the day that our kids become aware to the higher realm of good versus evil.  Innocence is the most beautiful aspect that they have.  It’s difficult to see the point of life in which that changes. 
“Let the little children come to me,” Jesus said to His disciples.  He also instructed them (and us) that we need to be like children if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven.  We need to return to some of that very child-like innocence.  We need to lean on our heavenly Father to continue to teach us and guide us.  It may be difficult to admit that we, as adults, still need to be led.  It’s not something that we were made to do on our own.  Just as our own children will continue to need us as they continue to grow, for different levels of guidance, so we continue to need spiritual guidance every day of our lives. 

Enjoy the early years of your children, but let them grow as necessary.  Remember, as you are teaching them to grow, to learn from their youthful experiences.  

Walk Softly, and Bring Coffee!

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”  Proverbs 3:5-6

I AM NOT A MORNING PERSON!!  Now, when I say that I am not a morning person, it does not mean that I lie around in bed until 9:00a.m. or 10:00a.m.  That’s call lazy.  What I mean is that it takes me a little bit of time to function in the early morning.  Yes, I like to be up by or before dawn.  However, I don’t just spring out of bed and in two minutes I am fully ready to start the day.  For me, it takes time…and COFFEE!

Those that knew me while I was working as a sales specialist at a home improvement store, knew that the moment that I entered the building was NOT the time to start bombarding me with questions or problems.  In fact, certain members of my installed sales team would hit me with install problems as soon as I hit the door to their office.  Literally, one morning I responded, “Hold it right there.  When I walk in at the start of the day and this is the first that you have seen me, feel free to say ‘Hello’, give me a smile, or whatever.  Please, do NOT begin with ‘We have a problem’ or ‘I need your help with…’  I am going to go to my desk, with my coffee, get settled in, THEN I will come back in and we can look at problems that need to be addressed.  Thank you.”  Then, I turned around and left their office.

Some may say that I was being rude.  Not at all.  Blunt, yes.  Rude, no.  What I was asking them to acknowledge is to allow me to get into work mode.  After all, I had just stepped into the building.  Who wants to walk into their work environment and get attacked with problems, before you even get a nice morning greeting?  No one!  Those first few moments set the tone for the entire day.  If you are surrounded by people that are ready to panic or stress out upon first contact, then your day is going to be one of anxiety and stress.  NOT a good way to start…especially for someone that requires a bit of coffee to get focused in the morning.

Simply stated, for me to deal with a day that will have moments of stress, I NEED to begin my day with moments of peace.  It prepares my mind for the mental conflicts that may come.  It prepares my body for the fatigue that can, unwelcomingly, wash over me.  I cannot keep the stress from appearing.  I can, however, control how I choose to prepare myself for it.  Galatians 5:22 states that, among many things, peace is the “fruit of the Spirit”.  Peace brings clarity of the mind, stamina of the body, and a strong resolve in the spirit.

If you have those around you that tend to start your day with piles of stress, take a moment or two to excuse yourself from the situation.  Take the time to get focused before engaging the situation.  Don’t allow others to throw the weight onto your shoulders the second that you walk into the room.  Also, take the time to speak with them about these actions and how toxic they can be for you, and for themselves.  Find your peace each morning.

That being said, could you pass me the coffee pot, please?

Gaining Altitude

Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”  Romans 6:11

          Today, I took my stepson to do something that I haven’t done since I was about his age: kite flying.  How I’ve missed the sensation of launching a kite into the air, letting out the line so that it could soar higher and higher, and finding that perfect level in which the kite just floats on the wind.  What a great feeling it was to be out doing it all again.
          It took a few attempts before getting the first kite up into the air.  At first, we did the “run and release” process.  That resulted in either nose-dives or not gaining enough altitude to stay aloft.  After a few adjustments, it was time for another attempt.  This time, I waited for a good headwind and releasing the kite.  Only walking, keeping a constant “tug-release tug-release” procedure, the kite began to lift higher and higher.  After getting a good breeze that it was sailing on, I handed the line over to my stepson.  Then, I launched the second kite into the air.  Before long we were each in total control of our kites, watching them ride the winds.  At times, one would want to zig to the left, or zag to the right.  At other times, they looked as if they were in suspension in the vastness of empty space.  The slightest pull could cause them to turn, or loop.  It all measured up to small moves, letting the wind do most of the work.
          Jesus died to give us the winds to lift us up from the burdens of sin.  He wants us to rise above those moments of temptations, being masters at overcoming anything that Satan throws at us.  God is holding the string to keep us flying steady.  We need to have both if we are to stay far above Satan’s grasp.  Without the winds, we cannot rise above our sin-filled lives.  With the control point, we may receive Jesus, at first.  Then we let the turbulence of life spin us out of control, turned the wrong way, and diving right back into the midst of sin. 
          The apostle Paul writes in Romans, chapter 6 about the necessity for overcoming a world filled with sin, by accepting the salvation of Jesus’s death.  It is something that we need to seek and once we have it, not let go.  Paul sums it up nicely by saying, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (vs. 14) We can keep sin at bay by accepting the reason for His resurrection, allowing our hearts to be conformed to the death that He suffered. (Philippians 3:10)
          Personally, when I allow the words of Paul to take hold of my life, I do feel as light as one of those kites that we were flying today.  Ready to catch the spiritual wind of Jesus.  Ready to soar high above the world of temptation and the sinful weights that can force me back to the ground.  I want to stay up and not come down again.

          How is your “spiritual kite”?  

THE COMPLETE PLAN – Part 2 of 2: Armor in Parts

"Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints," Ephesians 6:11-18

                A belt, breastplate, shoes, shield, helmet, and sword.  What do these have in common?  While each of these items serve a specific purpose, how do they fare on their own?  Which would you choose?
Surely, the shield would be the best choice.  It is a defensive weapon.  It can protect you from a variety of attacks, right?  How will that one shield hold up against attacks from several positions at once?  Ok, a sword in skilled hands can really do some damage.  How well can that sword protect you against a speeding arrow?  Let’s try the helmet!  It will keep your head covered, but the rest of your body is vulnerable.  Fine, the breastplate then!  While it may protect your heart and other vital organs, you can still be cut down at the knees.   Give up yet?
Surprisingly, this is how many of us Christians attempt to “arm” ourselves daily.  We are not dressed for battle.  We aren’t even half-dressed.  Let’s be real.  If we try to go into battle with just one or two of those items, we wouldn’t last long.  It doesn’t matter how well you think your skills are with what you select, the enemy thrives on victory through weakness.  Satan excels in finding our weakest areas and exploiting them against us.  Having truth is nothing if Satan twists it to not include God’s plan.  Having righteousness won’t last without the Word to understanding the foundation of righteousness.  What good is having faith without accepting salvation through Christ?  Again, Satan is crafty.  He even challenged our Savior with scripture, correct?  Refer to Luke 4:1-13. 
Satan tempted Jesus with hedonism (satisfaction from hunger).  Jesus had fasted and was hungry, so Satan appealed to His humanity of needing food.  Jesus replied that more than bread was needed to survive, the Word was also required.  Satan tried to work on Jesus’s ego by telling him to jump off a high tower.  He was Jesus, nothing would happen to Him, quoting from Psalm 91 that He would be protected by angels.  The Son’s again replied that God is not to be tested.  God/Jesus is the very essence of righteousness.  Again, Satan tempted with wealth and materialism; offering all the Earth’s kingdom if Jesus bowed to him.  Jesus countered that only God is to be worshipped.  Every time Satan tried a new form of attack, Jesus had a new strategy to repel the attack.
The point is, each and every one of us should be prepared with EVERY item that God provides for us.  We need FAITH in the one that brought our SALVATION.  We need to be armed with GOD’S WORD which gives us the only TRUTH.  We must have PEACE from Jesus’s teaching to get us through the troubled times.  Having all of those, we will be successful in following the path of RIGHTEOUSNESS.  Helping each other obtained the missing pieces of our armor will be the strength in being part of God’s army.

What parts of His armor are you carrying?  What parts do you require to be better prepared?

THE COMPLETE PLAN – Part 1 of 2: God’s “Stew” of Life

     "Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints," Ephesians 6:11-18

     I LOVE to cook!  My favorite things to create are one-pot meals, stews and chili.   I remember the first time that I made a batch of Bigos, or Hunter’s Stew.  I looked through recipe after recipe, wanting to get this Polish dish as authentic as possible.  After finding out the necessary ingredients, I set to work.  The result of forty-five minutes of slicing, chopping, and measuring I had all the ingredients mixed together in a crock pot for a long, slow cook.  The result was spectacular!  Well, I HOPE that it was spectacular by Polish standards.  It tasted incredible, though.  Also, it was a perfect meal for those cold, wintery days.

     The reason that I love these types of one-dish meals comes down to the combination of several different ingredients.  It is an art of learning what sort of meats or vegetables goes with certain broths, herbs, and spices.  It must come together to complete the masterpiece.  Often, we may add or take away an ingredient here or there, to make it our own.  Quite frankly, I discovered my perfect chili recipe that way.  I took one recipe, that I loved, and did a little merging with my daddy’s recipe…. PERFECTO!  However, certain recipes need to be followed to the letter.

     In Ephesians, God gives us His "stew" recipe for living as faithful followers to Him:

Truth, righteousness, preparation, protection from sin, salvation, the Spirit, and the word of God. ALL of these ingredients are needed. One cannot be missed. It is the recipe that you don't dare alter, removing an ingredient or adding something totally different. Yet, it happens all around us!
Many concentrate on one part of this and forget the rest. The "stew" is incomplete. It does not contain the sustenance required by the recipe.  Some may feel that what they have is all that is needed, not realizing what they are missing.  Think of it like this:  Someone makes you a bowl of Hunter’s Stew, leaving out the meat.  The meat is why it’s called “Hunter’s” Stew.  Or, they left out the sauerkraut.  Again, that is also a KEY ingredient giving the stew that distinctive flavor.  You miss out on what the recipe is MEANT to be. 

     If we are to live a life following God, then we need to stick to His recipe. We need to follow all of His directions, completely. Otherwise, the result will not be what God intended for us to receive. 

Happy cooking!

The Last of Thirteen Days

          “And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”  Revelation 21:3-4

          At midnight of March 6, 1836, Gen. Santa Anna ordered his senior officers to carry out plans for their siege upon the Alamo.  Young soldiers began to prepare and slowly move into their positions to attack.  This took several hours before they were finally ready to carry out the fateful order to storm the Alamo mission.  Before dawn, the order was given:  Attack, and leave no quarter!  (Take no prisoners, leave none alive.) 
          As history records, the Alamo fell on this day.  Over 180 men fought to the last, killing or wounding around 600 of the enemy forces.  Per Santa Anna’s order, none of the defenders were left alive.  As devastating as this battle was, it served an important role in defeating the Mexican army, once and for all.
          Word spread across Texas that the Alamo had fallen, along with the Texian armies at Goliad.  Tears were shed for the fallen soldiers, on BOTH sides.  The sorrow that was felt by Sam Houston’s soldiers became the fuel that would ignite them when it came their turn to strike back for Santa Anna’s ruthless tactics.  The deaths of their comrades would be avenged.
          I have attempted to imagine the feeling of these men, if I were one of them.  I try to understand the depth of the emotions that even one of them was feeling, stuck inside a broken-down mission, while a massive army is surrounding me.  I am sure that “SCARED” would be up at the top of that list!  Or, how I would feel if I were one of the soldiers that General Sam Houston was preparing for a final strike against the Mexican army.  The anger that would be flooding me, wanting to repay them for the pain that they have caused.  In both cases, extreme focus and dedication had to overcome any other emotions, for me to perform to the best of my abilities.  What about after that?
          The scripture in Revelation chapter 21, becomes a critical component to taking up a life modeled by Christ.  That component is to remind us of the destination that we want to seek.  A destination where there is no pain and misery.  There are no tears or sorrow.  There is no death.  What does await us is happiness, joy, and life; in a way that we cannot fathom on Earth.  While there does seem to be a “calm before the storm”, we must also remember that often the storm must rage most violently, before it ceases to blow and the skies clear. 
          As Christians, we will continue to face battles in our lives.  They will take on many forms and we will have varying degrees of success.  Medical conditions may slow us down, or slowly take life from us.  We may struggle with business or financial stability.  We will definitely face those (even family members or friends) that choose not to follow the ways of God and will rebuke us for our beliefs.  Satan will constantly try to snare us in his traps.  It’s the verse above that we need to keep in mind when these moments come (and, they will come).  Heaven is the ultimate goal!  It is the ultimate destination!  It is our gift and reward for sticking through everything that mortal life throws at us. 

It is the ultimate victory!

Victory, Or Death

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”  1 Corinthians 15:58

          Folks, I am a native Texan.  I take pride in my heritage and the history of my home state.  One hundred and eighty-one years ago, a man had to make what history might say as the most important decision of his life, in the most desperate of situations.
          At the age of 26, Lt. Col. William Barret Travis, commander of the Texians regular army, was in the direst situation of his life and command.  For twelve days, approximately 189 men defended the Alamo mission, holding back General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s forces, numbering in the thousands.  Already having received word that reinforcements would not arrive before the remainder of Santa Anna’s army would enter San Antonio de Bexar, Travis knew to stay and fight would carry a death sentence.  The Alamo would fall once an all-out attack began.  It was just a matter of how long his men could resist.
          The young Travis stood before a group that was already feeling exhausted from days of artillery bombardments and skirmishes, tests of strength by the enemy force.  Travis explained the situation to his men.  Stating that he would stay, defend, and even die, if necessary, he was not going to abandon his post.  He offered each one of them a chance to stay or leave.  Only one man chose not to stay.  The rest were committed to the cause of defending the Alamo, and Texas; even if it meant to only slow down the Mexican forces. 
          Will Travis had no delusions of grandeur.  He knew that each one of their days were numbered.  However, the General of the Texas army, Sam Houston, tasked Travis with one job: buy me some time to get in shape to fight Santa Anna.  Houston was still in the process of raising an army that would hopefully stop Santa Anna’s campaign and dictatorship over Texas once and for all.  He needed more time.  Travis vowed to do all he could to buy Houston every minute possible.

          As Christians, we are faced with times that just seem hopeless.  You feel outnumbered and under supported.  No reinforcements are anywhere to be found.  James 1:12 reminds us that those who persevere are blessed, being recipients of the crown of life.  Revelation, chapter 3 assures us that those who persevere will be spared from the hour of trial.  God expects us to individually make the choice to stand up for what is spiritually right.  He doesn’t promise that others will rush to your side.  He doesn’t set a condition of standing up only if others will stand with you.  Like Travis, we should be committed to say, “I will stand my ground to the last”, even if it means standing alone.  That sort of devotion to God will, at some point in time, inspire others to do the same.  Without it, we cannot hope to win the spiritual war.