Fishing New Waters

          A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.”  Proverbs 1:5

          I have fished the lakes of Livingston, Limestone, Conroe, and Belton.  I have cast my line out into the Trinity and Brazos Rivers.  I have utilized a spin casting, spinning, and bait casting reel.  Fishing the bottom with a Carolina rig or using a top water popper in a brushy area, I’ve done it.  Under my belt, I have hauled in various species of bass (white, black, largemouth, smallmouth, and striped), while also tangling with catfish ranging from channel, yellow, and high fin blue.  Whether sitting in a boat jigging a roadbed or casting off a bank, I’ve learned diversity and utilizing the right combination of lure to location.  I was pretty well set.  Then, I started checking out the fresh water lakes around my new home in Colorado.
          Trout and pike seem to be the more popular species in this area.  The first moment that I had looked at my tackle, I knew that I had a situation!  I wasn’t geared to fish for those little buggers.  GREAT!  Now what?  It looked like I was up a creek…. you know the rest.  What do I do?  Hope that the fish are dumb enough not to have a favorite “menu”?  Hope that they’ll go after anything that passes by?  Yeah, sure!  Maybe pigs really will grow wings, too!
          I knew what had to be done.  I went back to the research board.  I had to start learning again.  Sure, I knew a decent bit about fishing.  However, the circumstances have changed.  I’m in a colder climate.  I’m going after a different species of fish.  I needed to know their habits and patterns.  Where are the best spots in the water to cast my line into?  What lures and bait will they most likely strike?  Based on the climate and shallow river systems, it looks as if I will be learning two more types of fishing: ice fishing and fly fishing. 
          The point that I am making is that my previously acquired knowledge was no longer enough.  I was required to “hit the books” again.  My lessons were not over.  Oddly enough, many “believers” tend to think that after they have accepted God as their Father and Jesus as their Savior, that is all that is required.  BZZZ!  Wrong answer!  The learning never stops, especially for Christians.  Could that be the reason that so many “Christians” today tend to agree with societies view of accepting sinful practices as things that should be tolerated and allowed?  Many are quick to agree with a liberal view of what they believe God accepts, without studying for themselves.  Folks, that’s a little scary.
          Studying God-breathed scripture (2 Timothy 3:16) is not a one-time thing.  It is constant.  I continually need go back and look up verses, to ensure that I am not misquoting them.  I constantly read one scripture, then look at other scriptures that apply to what I’ve just read, to fully understand the meaning that God intended to give.  My wife and I, have begun to study together, every evening.  We discuss what the passages are saying, sharing our perspectives with each other, ensuring that we are not attempting to add or take away the knowledge that God expects us to gain.  As Jesus’s beloved disciple tells us, in his second letter in Ephesus; if we are to move forward without following Christ’s teaching, then we do not have God (2 John, v. 9). 
          As we continue down the pathway of life, we need to have God’s Word in our hands.  We will face new challenges and new experiences.  Without proper knowledge, how are we expected to handle those situations properly?  Simply, we won’t.  We will fail.  If we hope to succeed, then we must be willing to take time to arm ourselves with knowledge.  We want to keep the data fresh in our heads.  We need to make sure that our spiritual “tackle boxes” are properly stocked to handle what lies below the surface of those new waters.  After all, we are fishing for keepers, aren’t we?

          “And He said unto them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’”  Matthew 4:19

Continuing the Journey: The Path Ahead (part 2 of 2)

And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ And He said, ‘Write, for these words are faithful and true.’”  Revelation 21:5

          Are you making resolutions for this new year?  Many do.  Many don’t.  I, personally, am not one to make a resolution, per se.  I continually set goals for myself, but I do them with realistic steps.  What do I mean by that?  I tell myself that I am going to work toward a goal, not I AM going to do this by such and such time.  Many get downhearted when they are unable to reach a certain goal or objective, even though they are moving forward to obtain it.  An example:  I quit smoking early last year.  I didn’t resolve that 2016 was going to be the year that I quit.  However, I planned on working toward the goal of quitting, whether I completed the task or not.  I wanted to be heading down that path.  Just so happens, I accomplished it early. 
          God gives us pointers and tips as we look at the road ahead.  He instructs us not to worry about what lies ahead (Matt. 6:25).  The apostle John tells us not to fear or give our hearts to troublesome thoughts (John 14:27).  There are still aspects that I am uncertain as to where I am headed in life, but God already knows.  He wants me to trust Him and to follow where He guides me. 
          Our Father has a plan for each of us (Jer. 29:11).  Instead of worrying about the unforeseen future, He wants us to look forward to it, while turning our lives to Him (Phil. 3:13-14).  We are asked to strive to do better.  To make better choices.  To be less selfish.  To be a guide to others.  Are we always going to succeed?  Possibly not.  There will be moments that our faith gets tested.  Our feet will stumble upon those rocks of doubt.  We will probably even slip and fall to the ground.  God knows that it will happen, but He doesn’t expect us to wallow around in self-pity.  These are the moments that He expects us to take His outstretched hand and help us back to our feet. 
          Life is the proverbial horse needing to be tamed.  It will buck you.  It will slam you into the saddle.  It will even throw you right off it’s back.  You can lie in the dirt, or dust yourself off and hop back on.  The choice is yours.  Just prepare yourself for the consequences of those choices. 
          As I stated in part one of this series, the beginning of last year looked a little grim.  As much as I tried to tell myself that I trusted in God’s plan, my heart wasn’t totally confident.  I still had my doubts.  He showed me that I had nothing to worry about.  He is at the wheel and He IS in control of my life.
          I look ahead to the path of this new year with anticipation.  Do I know exactly what will transpire?  No!  Am I certain that I WILL reach definite goals?  No!  So, what can I be certain about?  I can be certain that if I am working toward certain goals, I will succeed.  That doesn’t mean that I may accomplish everything on the first try.  It does mean that if I continue to persevere, God will see me through. 
This year, I have a new family to continue my journey with.  I will be able to guide them, and they will also guide me.  We will look ahead together.  We will trust that God has a plan for us, whether we clearly see it or not.  We will follow Him.
May I suggest that you look to this new year with eyes wide open.  Set yourself some goals, but resolve to continue to work on those goals.  Don’t set yourself to worrying about accomplishing them by a certain time.  Continue to work on them.  As long as you are pressing forward, you are gaining.
Happy New Year, everyone!

Continuing the Journey: The Path Already Travelled (Part 1 of 2)

          For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.  Romans 15:4

          It is natural to glimpse back into the previous three hundred and sixty-five days that we have lived.  The closing of another year.  We see the memories that gave us feelings of joy, pain, anger, desperation, and relief. 
          The beginning of this previous year was not one of hope and promise, to me.  Medical complications steered me into trying to create a manageable work environment, totally different from what I had been used to.   Still not having answers to what was (and is) ailing me.  I was feeling very much alone.  Granted, I focused more on God’s Word and sharing what I have learned, but I still felt isolation.  It was a feeling of uncertainty.  For the first time, I looked at a new year in complete loss.  I was in the proverbial jungle without a compass. 
          While I was certain that my condition left me fated for a single life (which I came to accept), God turned the tables on me.  He brought someone in my life that wasn’t concerned with my “status”.  This beautiful soul saw everything positive in my life and fell in love with those things.  She opened my eyes so that I could look beyond what was slowing me down, and to center my attention on those aspects that could help me overcome. 
          This year closes with my gaining a new status: husband.  I still look back and say to myself, “Who would have thought it?”  I may not have gained a handle or understanding of my condition (yet), but I gained a loving wife that I am absolutely crazy about.  Now, we continue the path together, hand in hand.
          The past teaches us that we shouldn’t lose hope, even when the chips are down.  As Paul tells us in Romans, the past is for our instruction, to learn from it.  Even in the earliest recorded times, we are advised not to forget what was seen or heard in the past (Deut. 4:9).  The events that are behind us are our stepping stones.  While we do not want to dwell in them, we want to use them as ongoing lessons for our lives.  I came across a quote by Dr. Warren Wiersbe, a theologian, that states, “The past is a rudder to guide you, not an anchor to drag you.”  Sound words!
          So, as we close this year, look back at the steps you have travelled.  Reflect on what you can learn from them.  If you had a life-altering experience, as I did, then remember that God is constantly in control and He takes care of those who continue to look to Him.

          Tomorrow, I will conclude this two-part lesson with a look at the Path Ahead.

Don’t Spoil the Treasured Gift

          “The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;” 1 John 2:4

          “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  1 Peter 5:8

         Growing up, it was no surprise that my brother and I attempted to “pull one” past our parents.  When they would go out on a weekend night, we’d stay up later than we were supposed to.  We’d watch TV, with all the lights out, until we heard their car pulling up, then sneak off to our room, acting as if we’d been asleep for some time.  Late Saturday nights meant sneaking out of bed to watch another exciting episode of Doctor Who (Tom Baker, aka The Fourth Doctor, remains the best!).  Then there was Christmas time.

          My brother had taught me the fine art of carefully opening a present and resealing it, leaving no traces.  I had it perfected.  I would slowly and carefully peel back the clear Scotch tape, holding down the wrapping.  I would take my time in this process, as not to tear the wrapping paper.  Then, slowly pull back the layers of wrapping to expose the treasure beneath.  After making the wondrous discovery, I would carefully refold the ends of the wrapping, placing the tape down exactly where it had been.  It was undetectable!  It was brilliant!  Now, if my brother had taught me NOT to go and grab that most treasured present to unwrap on our traditional “opening one gift on Christmas Eve”, it would have been perfect!!  But NOOOOOOOO!  I had to give myself away by picking that bigger gift to open!  DOH!

          In these times, we live in a world where it is difficult to take things at face-value.  We’d like to be able to take a person’s word on things, but it doesn’t happen that way.  We even hear people exclaim to “know Jesus” and “believe”.  However, you wouldn’t know it by their actions.  1 John 2:4 (quoted above) attests to the fact that God may hear those words, but knows what is in the individual’s heart.  They aren’t getting away with it as much as they think.  They will slip up.  If we are doing it, WE WILL SLIP UP! 

Sure, I wasn’t meaning harm by peeking at my presents.  After all, I was going to get them anyway, right?  That isn’t the point.  The point was, I was sneaking around and looking at them before the time that I was supposed to be given them.  The gift wasn’t mine yet, until Christmas morning, when it was proper for me to find out what was beneath all of that wrapping paper.

That brings up another point: having the gift in your possession when it isn’t yet time to receive it.  Jesus wrapped up a perfect gift for us: an OPPORTUNITY to live forever!  A chance to die from these earthly vessels and continue in God’s glorious kingdom!  The other side of that coin is: the gift only works when the receiver is truly ready for it, not before. 

That gift waits for me and every day I strive to do what I can to be an appreciative recipient of it.  I don’t get to see this gift early.  I don’t want to lose that gift.  No of us want to lose it.  However, we are expected to uphold our end of the deal; and that is to live as God instructs us to live on this earth.  A gift can always be taken back. 

This is one present that is too powerful to be careless with.  This is one present that costs more than ANYTHING we could possibly purchase ourselves.  This present lasts through the sands of time.  Can we earn it, or deserve it?  No.  We don’t deserve it, because we are sinful creatures that need God’s salvation through His Son.  We can’t earn it, because there is nothing we can do that will ever be equivalent to Jesus’ sacrifice.  So, what are we supposed to do?  Live by God’s commandments.  As Hebrews 5:9 tells us, He is the source of salvation to everyone who OBEYS Him. 

It isn’t worth attempting to “sneak” this gift early, “assuming” that it is deserved.  We need to set our sights on following God’s path, being honest to ourselves and others in our hearts.