Hearing The Call: An Ocean’s Story, Part 2

“There is the sea, great and broad, in which are swarms without number, animals both small and great.  There the ships move along, and Leviathan, which You have formed to sport in it.  They all wait for You to give them their food in due season.  You give to them, they gather it up; You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good.”  Psalm 104: 25-28

Mother, Mother Ocean, I have heard you call.  I wanted to sail upon your waters since I was three feet tall.  You’ve seen it all.  You’ve seen it all.  Watch the men who rode you, switch from sails to steam.  And in your belly, you hold the treasure that few have ever seen.  Most of them dreams.  Most of them dreams.

Whether gazing out over the Gulf of Mexico or taking in the ongoing horizons of the Pacific, these lyrics from Jimmy Buffett’s A Pirate’s Look at Forty drifts into my mind.  It is within those words that holds my amazement for this enormous frontier.  There is so much history to be learned from it.  Cut across its surface, and far beneath, lie hundreds of stories of what has unfolded, in the course of time.

  Within these waters, tales of those who first sought to explore uncharted territory.  Chapters have been written of those that set out looking for the New World, not knowing if they would ever see land again.  Personal adventures of everyone that first braved turbulent storms and violent waves; a true test of their mettle.  Accounts of numerous battles that took place across expanse of blue in hopes of claiming fortune and glory.  Novels about the first steamers sent on maiden voyages, going much further than their predecessors.  Sagas of steel machines created to explore the depths below.  Not to mention the mysteries of the ships and lives that have been claimed in Davy Jones’ Locker. 

That is just part of the story.  What about the creatures that reside beneath Earth’s largest biome?  While there are many aquatics that we mankind has studied, there are more undiscovered mysteries.  While it would be partly terrifying, I would love to be part of a voyage to explore the deepest realms and make new discoveries in the one frontier that has not totally been explored before. 

These tales are whispered to me through the winds that come off the waters as I sit on the shores, at total peace with my surroundings.  The waves roll toward me, the water stretches out along the sands, reaching out to pique my curiosity, before receding back to the deep.  The salty air lends a seasoned taste for my consciousness to want more of it, to unlock its countless treasures.  It is a thirst that I know I cannot quench in my lifetime.

Much like the sensations that the oceans give me, so our eternal Father gives us a taste of His endlessly flowing fountain.  As I sat, staring out on these ranges of wonder, I marvel at the works of the Creator.  Without His hand, I would not be enjoying this moments of peace and harmony.  God desires that we should remember, daily, who created the surroundings that we get to enjoy.  Whether it’s the high mountains or the lush green forests, birds in the air or the largest mammals in the oceans; it is He who made it all.  Reflect on Him and He will unlock countless treasures for you.

“Let my meditation be pleasing to Him; as for me, I shall be glad in the Lord.”  Psalm 104:34

The Vast Blue: An Ocean’s Story, Part 1

“So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”  Ephesians 3:17-19

Over sixty-two million miles covers forty-six percent of Earth’s surface.  With the deepest point reaching over seven miles below the surface, it is no surprise why the Pacific is the largest ocean.  A weekend ago, I had the opportunity to see it for the very first time, and I was just looking out at it from a beach.  What small portion that I did view absolutely filled me up.  While I grew up riding the surface and fishing freshwater lakes, I have always maintained an admiration for the vast oceans.  It fills me to the brink and I can contain the entire ocean within me.

Obviously, I am referring to the essence of the ocean, not the water itself.  Everything about these beautiful and pristine tides, I can pack down deep inside of me.  The majesty.  The mysteries.  The bountiful life.  While there is so much of it, a lot still beyond my own comprehension, I can still wrap myself around it all.  If I can do that, I can hold something even larger.  What could possibly be larger than the oceans?  God’s love!

From the moment that we choose to live a life in God’s light, we choose to put God inside of us.  Once we have repented of our old ways, confessed to the grace of Christ’s sacrifice for us, and our baptized and cleansed of our sins, we open ourselves up so that God may step inside.

How is this possible?  God is so much bigger than us!  How can a being that vast fit inside a tiny thing like me?  We are God’s vessels.  2 Corinthians 4:7 refers to us as “earthen vessels” (or clay jars) that is filled with a power that can only come from God, not ourselves.  Unlike most containers that we may use in our day to day lives, these vessels have no lid to close it.  That only serves as a block and limit of what we can contain.  As is, we are made to be open.  Open to God’s amazing power and His unbounded love. 

Another name is given for that divine being destined to live inside of us: The Holy Spirit.  It is the essence of Christ.  It is the part that opens to allow the works of Christ to come forth out of us.  It allows us to extend His love to others and not turn away in someone’s time of need.  It is an endless ocean, from which the waters will never run down. 

There are times that we all create some sort of stopper to bottle up our personal vessels.  That is poisonous to our hearts and dangerous for our spirits.  We need to ensure that we are not trying to find a way to plug up the eternal waters of God’s glory from our lives.  Instead, we need to keep making that opening even wider and let more room for His Spirit to dwell.

Garden Prep

Image result for tilling a new garden

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”  Galatians 6:7-9

Given the choice of what step in gardening is the toughest, I would say it is the initial preparation.  I can remember way back to my childhood when my family moved out of Houston, a little further north to the then small town of Magnolia, TX.  With almost a full acre of land, my parents saw the potential in utilizing much of that space to grow a garden.  THAT meant preparing the chosen part of the back yard to become a garden.  With a good-size Troy-Bilt tiller, they began to break up the ground; churning the dirt and pulling up the grass.  Next, all that grass had to be raked out and removed.  That alone took a lot of time and was very tasking.  However, it was essential that this was done.  My mother could go into further details about all that prep work, better than I can remember.  Hey, I was barely starting Kindergarten.  What do you expect?

My wife and I began working on our back yard, this past weekend.  I also began planning the preparation for our own garden.  I need to remove the landscaping mulch that was used and a little bit of the dirt.  This will allow room for some fresh, fertilizer-enriched soil that will allow our seedlings to establish strong roots.  This will involve raking and shoveling out the mulch, uprooting weeds and plants that were already there when we moved onto this property, breaking up the ground, mixing in the fresh soil, digging holes for the young plants that we already have sprouting in small plant trays, and ensuring that the plants have their required amount of water and sunlight.  There are supplies to purchase.  There is plenty of sweat and sore muscles coming.  The reward is worth every bit of the fatigue that will come from preparing the garden. 

Why so much work in the beginning?  This is the vital stage that will unfold the results of our labors.  To take any shortcuts can lead to weeds invading and choking the young vegetable plants.  Or, improper soil can lead to bad seed germination, corrupting the entire plant.  There are plenty of things that could go wrong if we don’t take the time to prepare for a good crop.  Not letting anything seep in to spoil the foundations is priority in this matter.

What about the essentials in our own Christian communities?  Are we ensuring careful and proper preparation or, are we allowing improper techniques and dangerous ways of thinking to control how we choose to continue the church that was built and recorded for us in the years that followed the death and resurrection of our Savior? 

Suffice to say that wolves exist in our Christian society, leading people down a dangerous path and a very fine line on God’s expectations of His people.  I have witnessed numerous congregations promoting a single-leader foundation, instead of following the setup of a plurality of shepherds (or elders) to oversee the congregation.  While Paul instructs, in 1 Timothy 3, what the positions and qualifications of the eldership should be, I see congregations utilizing the “eldership” as nothing more than department heads.  All decisions are left with a single person.  Who is holding that one person accountable if they are established as the congregation’s authority?  The answer is: no one.  In cases that I have heard, people are losing connection within the church society.  Unity is only seen on a shallow scale.  Respect is lacking toward one another, but mostly toward the sovereignty of God.  False interpretation (or omitting altogether) of scripture is being taught.  Instead of being embraced with open arms, many are left feeling pushed out of the obvious cliques that have produced in this sort of harvest.  How can each member inside that community be assured that they are not being led astray by improper teaching?  They can’t. 

This is just the starting point.  It is nothing more than the improper preparation for what God intended to be sown.  I could continue in my observations.  However, the outcome culminates from the initial preparation.  If we, as Christians turn from God’s prescribed steps for His garden, are we not accountable for the tainted harvest that will produce?  How then can we expect to expand the God’s garden that Jesus began over 2,000 years ago?

We will all reap what we sow.  Following the Word of God will ensure a good, strong harvest.  Allowing changes or “upgrades” to His plan can (and do) result in a poor harvest.  Folks, I understand that nothing is perfect, where matters of human decision-making is concerned.  What does that mean for me, individually?  It means that I will follow the plan of preparation exactly as is required of me.  No quick solutions.  No second-guessing the main plan.  Just trying to follow the steps as closely as possible, if I hope to achieve the results that God wants.

Ready or Not!

“Therefore, you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”  Matthew 24:44

My wife and I woke up this morning to a power outage.  It was still dark, so I instinctively went for my camping lanterns.  A quick scan outside the window told me that the neighborhood had lost power.  The nighttime snowfall had caused a branch to knock down a power line somewhere.  My wife set to work lighting candles while I got a fire going in the fireplace.  After a while the power was restored, no problem.

For me, a power outage is no big catastrophe.  My parents raised me to have survivor instincts.  I can go into “camp out” mode any time the situation calls for it.  However, I know a lot of people that would be helpless, bored, and restless if they were forced to be without their creature comforts (cell phones, social media, etc.) for too long. Let’s face it, if an EMP knocked out the system nationwide, too many people would be at a total loss as to how to survive.  Thus, they’ve become the sloth.  Slow thinking, dependent, and lazy.  They aren’t prepared because they just expect everything to work as “normal”.  (Which is also the reason that there isn’t a great deal many people that I would want to take on an actual camping trip with me.  No tech allowed.)

Society, in general, has become too comfortable in settling into “convenience mode”.  If there is an easier way to accomplish a task or an app that will do the work for them, they will choose it.  They want everything laid out for them, no effort required.  That’s the first mistake.  Second, they get the attitude of “I’ve got time, I’ll prepare later.”  They get the mindset that there are more important things and that is at the bottom of their priority list.  The present concerns them more than the future.  That can be terrible thinking, especially when applied to our spiritual lives.

In the first thirteen verses of Matthew 25, we are told about a group of virgins that went out in the evening to await the arrival of the bridegroom.  Half of them took extra oil for their lamps, while the other half did not.  As you could probably figure, the night waned and by the time the bridegroom had arrived, the unprepared virgins could not keep their lamps going, for they had no oil to fill them with and were forced to find more oil.  By the time they were ready, the marriage feast had begun and the entrance doors were shut.  The prepared virgins were able to attend the marriage feast, without delay.  Verse 13 sums it up nicely by stating “Watch therefore, for ye know not the day nor the hour.” The bible repeatedly commands us to be prepared.  It warns us that we won’t know when the time will come. 

Folks, I keep fresh batteries ready in my lanterns.  I keep my emergency power packs charged.  There is fuel ready for my camp stoves.  Of course, I use these items for the luxury of being out in the middle of nowhere, but I keep them accessible at home, just in case.  I don’t know what circumstance might arise where they will be needed.  That is why I keep them handy.  I DON’T KNOW WHEN THE TIME WILL COME THAT I NEED THEM.  In that same mindset, I attempt to stay prepared spiritually, because I DON’T KNOW WHEN MY TIME WILL COME.  It will be too late then.  I will have no one to blame, except for myself. 

Ask yourself, “Am I prepared for when the Savior returns?  Will I be ready the day that I WILL be facing the Lord?”  It isn’t a question of “I didn’t know that I was supposed to…”  Are you a lazy sloth or are you a survivalist?

Which will you choose?

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”?